Silk Embroidery Testing: Progress

The embroidery is going pretty well in that I’m enjoying doing it. It’s progressing quickly, which is also really nice after doing super fine projects that take hundreds of hours. The colors are gorgeous, and I like the subtle variegation.

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But.

I think I need a hands-on lesson on the Bayeaux stitch, or laid and couched work in general. It’s such a straightforward concept to lay all those long stitches in one direction and tack them down with rows of stitches in the opposite direction. Keeping things straight on curved seams is hard, though. I have a lot to learn.

There’s a mix of satin stitch and a sort of but not really Bayeaux stitch. With the way the shapes spiral, I couldn’t figure out how to do a truly consistent Bayeaux. I went with keeping a consistent direction across the widest parts of each third of the design and winging it as things narrowed and spiraled. This makes me think it’s not the right stitch for the job.

I don’t know a lot about how Bayeaux works in applications outside of the Bayeaux Embroidery itself – this may be exactly how to handle the shapes. I don’t know how to fix the weird intersections or angles you can see toward the top, where the arms come together to make a triangle. I could definitely use some instruction on how to refine what I’m doing. It’s a fun, quick fill stitch that I’d like to use more.

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I have learned that there’s not really a difference between outline and split stitch in how the final long, laid stitches look. However, since this thread has a twist, it doesn’t lend itself to split stitch. It’s splendid for outline stitch. I got this great book on the Bayeaux embroidery for Christmas, and it was explaining how the twist works for and against the different stitches used. And when the twist is going in the same direction as the curve, it makes for an incredibly smooth line in outline stitch.

This is the first chance I’ve had to play with that, and it was interesting to see the difference. My stitching isn’t perfect (and this is way blown up with a macro lens), but you can see how the different sides of the curve are smoother and more jagged. Something to keep in mind with winding knotwork…

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Silk Embroidery Testing

My friend, Baroness Jac from Gleann Abhann, is an incredible dyer who works with natural dye materials. She’s spectacularly knowledgeable and talented. We got to hang out at ArtSci Crown, and the lady has a giant bag overflowing with hanks of every color and hue you can imagine – all from the dye workshop in her backyard! We got to dump them out in the grass and play a little. I wish I had a picture – you’d swoon. She sent me home with some samples of silk dyed with indigo and madder to see how they work for embroidery. Most of her customers use the fibers for knitting, crochet, and weaving, but I had to go and ask about embroidery…

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The silk she gave me is similar to perle cotton or Vineyard silk twists for needlepoint. Which is to say, it’s not stranded. I’m using it in a few different ways. Right now, I’m working on deep peacock blue silk dupioni. It’s shot with olive-gold that gives a nice teal finish when it moves. I don’t generally embroider on dupioni – particularly with thread this heavy. I changed to a crewel needle so that there’s a nice, sharp point to help make it through the tight weave.

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I’m doing a circular motif on a band of this silk. This band will be applique’d onto a panel that hangs from the turtle brooches over a Norse apron dress. The panel can be worn with any dress, so it’s an ideal place to put more elaborate, complex, or luxurious embellishments. This is one of my favorites. It’s also an ideal place for little treasures. Since the panel is maybe a foot across, it’s perfect for prized bits of weaving, wire weaving motifs, silk scraps, and the like.

I’ve drawn my motif onto Solvy in white gel pen (super historically accurate). There isn’t a lot of wiggle room to keep the design centered on the band, so there are some anchoring stitches above and below to add stability until the design is partially sewn. They just get pulled out later. To begin, I go over the outline of the shape first in split or outline stitch or some combination. This way, when I lay my long stitches over it, I wind up with a clean, raised shape.

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Koi Pillow – Details

This project is moving more quickly than anticipated. Insomnia and a new audio book made it easy to spend some time this weekend stitching away. I’m totally blocked on a monster work project and having panic attacks about it, so stitching was a good break from that mess.

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As you can see, my tension has issues. I’m doing my best to only use my left hand, with minor assists from the right – like when I’m coming up from beneath the piece and can’t quite get the needle in just the right place to butt up against the stitch from the next scale over. I’m doing better than I expected to be, but am glad that I didn’t choose an SCA project to work on for this.

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The tail is spectacular on this fish. I absolutely love it and am not sure how to do it justice. The koi fish, and the tail in particular, beg for the tiny stitches of an expert at silk shading. This is not that project. I’m limiting myself to stitches that I can actually pull off as a lefty, and I can’t do silk shading with my right hand. Stem outlines with little stitches along where the ribs of the fin are seem like a good solution.

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I kind of like the thin black lines between the small stitches. I’m thinking about going over them with skinny silk sewing thread in white or maybe black to emphasize the line better without adding much visual weight. Gold? What do you think? Maybe I’ll do some as an experiment at the end when my hand is a little more attuned to finer work.

Koi Pillow Project

I need projects and activities to improve the fine motor skills in my left hand while my right one heals. Simple stitching is a good activity for this, so I ordered a tambour frame that sits on a table and got to work. My few test stitches were perfectly good – split stitch, straight stitch, back stitch, stem. Not perfect, but good enough. I decided to do some embroidery for sofa pillows since I can’t find any that I like very much!

There’s this great koi fish in my tattoo coloring book, so I sketched him up on some Solvy. It’s my first try at working with Solvy after being told about it at Kingdom A&S last year. If you do much embroidery – particularly complex designs – it’s worth a try. The roll is 7 7/8″ wide and 9 yds long for about $8 with the 40% off coupon.

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You draw on it, stitch over it, then dip it in water, and the remaining Solvy just dissolves cleanly away. It’s an ideal solution for the complicated knotwork, Norse, and Celtic designs that my husband likes on his stuff. Pouncing them is a nightmare, as is painting them on in white gouache. This is super easy. You can get it in the frame with the fabric or baste it down. I haven’t dissolved it yet, but I watched videos online before buying it, and it’s pretty quick!

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Here’s my fish! His colors are sort of blown out in this shot, but it has a Thread Heaven box for scale. The box is almost a perfect 1″ cube. I’m working on some scrap linen I had intended to use for trim on a tunic. It’s a nice color, but an odd sort of yellow that turned out to not look very good with my skin tone or Kevin’s. I think will be a better choice on the dark, warm grey of my new sofa where we could use some fun color. There’s enough for a couple of nicely sized pillows.

King’s Gauntlets – the second one

I’m powering through the second one of these much faster than the first. I simply don’t have as much time to spend. And some of the choices I made took a very long time for an effect that wasn’t proportionally nice enough for the work required.

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My RSN Crewelwork book came in. While I’m working in silk right now (definitely not crewelwork!), some of the stitches and methods used for crewelwork’s curvy leaf motifs made perfect sense for the acanthus leaves on my project.

A combination of long and short with fish bone stitches has given a very nice effect that’s quick to do. I’m running about an hour per leaf instead of the 5-6 hours I ran on the first one where I tried to build dimension and shading with dimensional stitches. The gold work is moving MUCH faster than on the first one because I’ve stopped trying to make it behave and just accepted that it’s difficult.

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Three more events, and the reign is over, these Gauntlets get awarded, and I’m free to only do my personal projects and commissions! Ok, mostly commissions because I’ve gotten behind on those while doing all the calligraphy and random projects for the reign…

Appliqué coats for two – a tutorial, now revised! and expanded!

ED NOTE: We just went to the event, and this got passed around the internet some beforehand. I had people stop me all weekend about it. There are some questions answered down below and additional notes and photos based on what I kept getting asked about and what I learned from more experienced people.

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We needed new coats, and the big, cold November event was coming fast. I’ve never made one for Kevin, my cloak is kind of falling apart, and an actual coat seems more practical than a big cloak that’s always open in the front. There was a grand sale on wool at JoAnn’s. I might have bought by the bolt. So basically? It’s like the Universe is telling me that it wants me to make us really great Norse coats.

A friend does SPECTACULAR Norse. Enviable Norse. When she was impressed with my purple Greenland gown I was over the moon. I’m always jealous of her fabulous appliqued animals but thought they would be way too hard, till I asked, and she looked at me like I was crazy. Turns out this is really easy, and while not a half hour project, it’s something I could knock out in a day. That’s much quicker than embroidering something of the same size. It’s dramatic, colorful, and adds texture and depth.

This is my coat (almost done!) on the left. Those stags are about 8″ high if not more. I think it’s taken me a couple hours of tv watching to affix each and about an afternoon to put all the green on the white. Luckily, I have fine wool yarn galore in lots of colors from that crewelwork deer project I was doing. Some quick running stitch around all the seams, slap on some deer, and I’m going to be one fancy lady at BAM!

Here I am being a fancy lady at BAM (or War of the Rams II or whatever it is now) reporting in court with their Excellencies Bordermarch. I ran a charter design competition for scribal glory, fame, and goodie baskets. I ran out of time before I got to do white stitching along the gores, but it will be even better when that happens. The coat is comfy cozy and was pretty easy!

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The Tutorial Part!

Want to be a fancy Norse person, too? It’s easy! All you need is a printer, some heavy thread or embroidery floss, a big needle, and some wool blend felt (by the yard at a fabric store or online where they sell supplies for needle felting). If you have an especially large or complex design, you’re going to want a little fabric-safe glue, like Elmer’s or Tacky Glue or quilting spray to stick those pieces together while you stitch them down.

1. Blow up the thing you want to applique to the right size and figure out what parts of the design will be the base color and what will be the accent. A lot of Norse, Celtic, Pictish, and Rus designs make this easy. There are a bunch that could work or inspire you in my Pinterest board on garb embellishments and embroidery. If you have to draw your own lines onto a silhouette, just make them a little swirly and call it a day. Make sure your pieces are wide enough to tack down. I print an extra and color it to make sure I like the way it looks.

2. Attach your accent colored pieces to your base piece. For this bird, I cut out the accent color and attached it to the base, then stitched it down since that defined the shape of the entire piece. For the deer, I cut out a whole deer, then traced it plus an allowance of about 1/4-1/3 of an inch onto the base fabric. Stitch on the accent all around. Add on details you want, like the eye.

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3. Next, cut out the whole thing and trim any jagged or pointy bits or anywhere that your tracing pen shows. Repeat with the design reversed if you want animals that face each other on either side of the coat.

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4. Add any embroidered details you want BEFORE you put it on the coat so that you’re not trying to sew through lots of layers unnecessarily. I added wing and feather details to the raven. This is a good solution for details that are too small to do as pieces of felt but add a lot to the design by being there.

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5. Pin your applique in place on the garment. TRY IT ON. Make sure you like the placement and that it doesn’t do something weird like trail into your armpit or give a man the illusion of having boobs. Once you’re happy, pin or glue it in place, then stitch all around it in a contrasting color. Make sure to pick a thread with enough weight and tenacity to stand up to the garment you’re putting it onto. My coat is all wool, and the wool thread was a breeze. Kevin’s coat is linen canvas lined in polar fleece because he’s SO hard on his clothes. It would have destroyed the wool, so I used cotton pearl thread and took lots of breaks to rest my hands, and I have vowed to never hand-sew on polar fleece again.

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6. Wear it and graciously accept your compliments. Expect to be petted.

Brilliant Tips for Success –

1. Wool and wool-blend felt is an easy choice because it won’t unravel or fray. It would be a little heavy to put on most linen but perfect for wool clothing and other heavy materials, like canvas weight linen. Even though it won’t unravel, make sure your stitches go in far enough to anchor it well and won’t pull out.

2. If I were doing mid-weight linen applique, I would use a finer thread, make much smaller stitches, and be careful to research which stitches would be best to help bind the edges. Most people do a narrow, rolled hem through a serger before doing normal woven fabrics for applique. I hate sergers, so I’ll do it the hard way…

2-a. I got to meet up with Miriel from the comments. She showed me a stunning applique’d linen tunic she was entering in the A&S contest and told me that you use fray check on the edges of all the pieces, then still use small stitches to make sure the edges are well bound so that it stands the test of time and repeated washing.

3. If you’re going to do very much of this, it’s worth looking into buying wool felt online for projects. The color range is spectacular and the prices are better than the really thick sheets for needle felting.

4. 100% wool that’s not superwash can be felted in your washing machine at home, in case you find the perfect color or REALLY want to give yourself extra work. Toss it in a zippered pillow cover. HOT HOT HOT water, a tiny bit of detergent and a couple of towels. Let it agitate for at least half an hour.

5. You want to use a crewel needle since it has a large eye and sharp point. They’re in the embroidery aisle with the other needles.

6. For a dimensional effect, combine wool blend felt that’s sold by the yard with needle felting wool, which is sold by the 12″x12″ sheet. Needle felting wool is 2-3x thicker and not so tightly felted, and it makes for a cool 3D look since it’s puffy. Your color choices on it are limited, but if you get the white/natural kind, you can easily dye it at home in the microwave or pan with Kool-Aid, RIT, or any number of other choices.

7. For BIG designs – you or your graphic designer friend can make a big design in Photoshop or Illustrator, and you can have it printed out on a large format printer or plotter at Kinko’s. You can also get your printer to do it in sections that you tape together like tiles, then cut out. Or you can use a projector. Or you can be the bravest crafter of them all and free-hand that bad boy.

Crewel deer

20131016-185849.jpgI needed a no rules project. Every other thing I have my hands on involves stacks of research books from the library at UT, journal articles from all over the place, binders of examples and tutorials. There are complex stitches that require focus and good lighting. They’re going to be given as awards or put in to be judged in competitions.

A midnight stumbling upon a really cool site with great patterns I could download for only a buck sealed the deal. I was going to do some crewel work that I could frame.

Modern crewel embroidery has been whispering my name for a while now. I have a few pounds of superb cobweb weight wool yarn that’s undyed and waiting to become anything other than a monstrous knitted lace project. Some got dyed with cochineal, turmeric, wildflowers, and false saffron last fall. It’s too fine to weave with, so I’ve been thinking of over-dyeing it to create related and complex color palettes.

In the bottom bowl, the red and yellow to the left are my stater colors from last fall. In the top bowl, the pale purple color was dyed in the exhaust bath of the cochineal. The rest are over-dyed with washes of Kool-Aid or food dyes in a light vinegar solution. If you’ve never dyed wool with Kool-Aid, you really should because all you need is a Pyrex measuring cup, some Kool-Aid packets, and a microwave. This is the absolute best site ever for how to do it – and they give you like 136 different color combos you can get.

20131016-185918.jpgSo far, it’s turned out really well! I did have to go to eeeebil Walmart to find the blue flavor of Kool-Aid. For some reason, my Target only has pre-sweetened drops of the stuff, not the powder envelopes. DO NOT DYE with the sweetened Kool-Aid.

You just mix the stuff with water, put yarn that’s been soaking in water in, nuke it for a few minutes, and let it sit till it’s cooled to room temperature and the dye bath is clear. Rinse and let air dry. If you’re a control freak or a cheapskate, this is the secret skill for you! I saved a TON of money being able to do this, and I still have probably two pounds of yarn left, which is basically a lifetime supply if it’s going to be used for embroidery.

So! On to the part where I embroider things! Wool is pretty fantastic. It goes quickly, holds vibrant color, and looks so nice and full with not a lot of work. I love this deer, and I’m really excited to finish him up and get started on the beautiful and unusual owl patterns I downloaded from the same place.

This is Abraham, and he has been my faithful partner in dyeing all of this yarn (I think I’m up to 14 shades now?). Not even once has he gotten it confused for his ball and tried to make off with it.

I’ve been on and off the cusp of getting sick from wearing myself out, so Avi and I took a mandatory weekend of rest recently to hang out on the couch, learn about the wonders of embroidering with wool, and start watching the X-Files because neither of us have ever watched it. Here’s what I got done lazing around over the weekend and a couple of weeknights:

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Dublin Hood for Sable Swap

20131008-170709.jpgThe gift is out and on its way to its recipient, so now I can put pictures of it out in the world. I made a Dublin hood, which is a simple peaked hat in linen or wool. It’s a rectangle with one of its long sides stitched up to make an enclosed back. For the Sable Swap, I cobbled together a peacock out of two different birds in the Book of Kells, extending the tail around the whole of the hood so there’s a big embroidered part on each side of the front. (Photos are below.)

The whole thing is done on linen, almost entirely with silk threads. Silk is lovely for embroidery – soft, vivid, and it catches the light in the most beautiful ways. Something like this is a great place to play with it since you get a lot of bang for your buck by putting it somewhere so prominent that won’t get a lot of abuse. I’d carefully hand wash it without agitation and dry it flat, lest the silk lose its luster.

You could hand-sew a simple one in an hour, and it’s a grand use for scrap fabric. They can have a folded back cuff in the front or not. They can have ties hanging from the front edges. They can be plain, trimmed with silk or woven bands, they can be embroidered with motifs or done up with drawn thread embroidery around the seams. They can have this little peaked back or a rounded one. It’s nice to have an accessory that looks adorable and comes together quickly and easily.

This may be my new favorite take along handwork project! It’s compact, uses simple stitches, and I worked the whole of it in the hand rather than on a hoop (although a frame would have been a nice thing to work it on, if you really feel like you need the tension). I think that less elaborate versions would make a fabulous item to give as largesse, too! Here’s what the hat looks like on my mom. I made her model it on my way to the post office!

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Greenland Gown – Sleeves

Soooooo I got bored of yards of double herringbone and decided to do one of the sleeves for an excuse to do something different while still being productive. I needed to have a sleeve sewn up to attach into the main body and one panel of side gores to even try the thing on. It would have been smart to do that before embellishing. I was feeling brave, having done a great deal of measuring to pattern the thing, and somehow the sleeves wound up about 4 inches too long.

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20131008-163436.jpgThere’s nothing to do but chop off this beautiful sleeve, learn my lesson, and do it over. That’s ok by me. The wavy lines were totally freehand and got more inconsistent than I felt good about. Maybe the new ones will be big enough to do a little cluster of three glass beads inside each!

The good news is that the 2/3 of the dress I have stitched together and can try on seems to fit and hang very, very well. This is something of a miracle because I have an awfully hard time sewing for myself and having it come out right. I always doubt the measurements, make it bigger, and then wind up looking like I’m swimming in ill-fitting clothes that once belonged to a larger version of myself.

This dress seems like it will be pretty, comfortable, and free me up to wear fewer layers when it’s warmer here.