Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Alice Project

Ellen Collington was a participant in our 'Creative Use of Stitches Class' in Guelph. She drew her inspiration from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Salvador Dali. As well as these two creators, she also combined the learnings of three classes into this project. You will see photoprinting on fabric, a variety of stitches and the construction of an accordion book. On top of all these variables, her house was undergoing extensive renovation, her workspace was nonexistent and her stash unavailable.

Down The Rabbit Hole:

Sailor edge, feather, knot, seed, satin, straight, pekinese
Chain: square
Outline: whipped

Advice from a Caterpillar:

Antwerp edge, back, rope, knot, pearl, vandyke, outline
Chain: twisted, whipped
Feather: closed

"Who in the world am I? Ah, that is a great puzzle"

"Do you think I've gone round the bend?"

"I'm afraid so. You're mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I'll tell you a secret.
All the best people are."

"You used to be much more...'muchier.' You've have lost your muchness."

"And what is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversation?"

"My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that."

The Mock Turtle's Story:

Sailor edge, satin, web, knot, feather, back, straight, buttonhole
Outline: whipped
Chain: square twisted, whipped, detached

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Written by Lewis Carroll. Pen name for Charles Dodgson (1832 - 1898)

Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989)

Spanish Surrealist Painter

The Mad Tea Party:

Antwerp edge, back, knot, feather
Outline: whipped
Chain: twisted, whipped

My challenge criteria for the Alice Project

To develop a stitch sampler, using as many traditional stitches as possible.

To work entirely by hand, using only DMC: stranded cotton, spooled metallic thread
and number 5 perle cotton.

To use stitch only . . . no beads, applique, yarn, silk, ribbon, purchased or machine made embellishments.

To highlight focal points and allow at least 50% of the printed background to show.

To use the colours as they appear in the printed fabric rather than the brighter version in the photos.

There are eight embroideries in the Alice Project book. They are combined with the photos and text in a book that opens out in both directions like an accordion.

I hope that you have enjoyed seeing Ellen's creativity. I will be forwarding all your comments to her.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Trestles or Easels Specifications

Trestles or Easels can be made at home if you have the tools. They are an effective support for large sized rectangular or square stitching frames and for slate frames. Mine were made in a long time ago by the staff and patients in a chronic care hospital. At that time, although I knew what I wanted, I could supply neither picture nor measurements but they turned to be perfect. I will add as many photos as possible so that you can see how they are constructed and you can alter the construction as you wish. I was 5'8'' tall at the time, somewhat less now, but the size continues to be satisfactory.

1) The uprights and lower cross bars are 2" square lumber which is the finished size. The edges are bevelled and well sanded.
2) The front post is 29" high and the back post is 31" high. The lower cross bar is 30" long and the lower edge is 9" above the top of the foot.

3) The upper end of the front and back posts have a trough chiselled into them all of which are 2" deep and 3/4" wide. It would be preferable if they were 1" wide in that the upper cross bars would not then be wedged in place.
4) The upper cross bars are placed within these troughs and they support the stitching frame itself. They are made of a wood that does not warp and are 3/4" wide, 3/4" inch deep and 37" long. The sloped surface for the frame is efficient and comfortable for stitching.
5) The feet are each 12" long and 1 1/2" wide. Each of them has two extra pieces of thin wood added to their under surface to lift them off the ground a little and to level them. They are stable on carpet.

6) To return to the upper cross bars, at RSN these were thin pieces of wood like haberdashery yardsticks. The outer ends had holes drilled in them at regular intervals. The sides of the troughs in the uprights also had holes drilled into them. A cotter pin could be placed through the three holes thus allowing for the upper cross bars to be height adjustable. The cotter pins were tied to the trestles with string preventing them from being frequently lost!!

7) The front support for the stitching framed is 3/4" wide, 1/2"deep and 42" long. This is really longer than is necessary and it is likely something shorter would suffice here. Though, if your frame was really wide you would need longer support bars to accommodate the width.
8) The lower cross bars are held in place by a long screw, washers and a wing nut. The wing nuts are on the outside of the frame where there is no question of scraping a leg on them. This means that the frames could be dismantled but I have never done this.
9) The wood has never had any finish put on it. I wipe it with a damp cloth occasionally.
10) Then I added a couple of extra items which I find to be really useful.

The first is the addition of a piece of old lumber that is 8" wide, 3/4" thick and 33" long. I place it across the far end of the trestles/easels where it serves as a shelf and supports the far side of the frame. On it I place a stitching light. I have one with two adjustable arms with a light shade and bulb on each arm. One arm has a Daylight bulb in it and the other has a regular 100 watt bulb. The dual bulbs eradicate shadows and give me a good working light. This light fixture is decades old and you might now need two separate lights for the same benefit.

Supplies and tools can live on this shelf where they are handy but not in the way. It would be even better if the shelf was covered with a non slip surface such as felt.

The second addition is an electric socket attached to one of the upright posts. This means that the cord for the table lights does not get pulled and that I can attach the whole setup to an extension cord. I sit on a comfortable, height adjustable office chair with good back support but without arm rests. A footstool adds to comfort and eases any pressure on the nerves and circulation in the back of the leg. I find this whole set up to be extremely satisfactory and very comfortable. We have cats and they can decide that my stitching frame is a comfortable place for a nap. I place crossed yardsticks on top of the covered (using a towel or sheeting) surface of my stitching. This seems to be an adequate deterrent.

If you would rather purchase trestles/easels already made, Mary Corbet knows of a supplier.

If you visit the following website, the Unbroken Thread by Kathy, you will find an entry in the Older Entries entitled Friends at RSN. The fifth photo in this entry shows the details of modern easels. You will notice that the front posts are high and are drilled to allow for height adjustment. This is not necessary if you will be the only person using the trestles. You will also notice that the frame is placed directly on the side bars without the addition of the far shelf for a light and tools and also without that front bar that supports the edge of the stitching frame that is nearest to you. This means that the width of the setup is controlled by the width of your stitching frame. With the addition of the front bar allows the space to be as wide as you wish or is convenient for you.


And one final photo which I hope will explain everything!

Have fun and wishing you Happy Stitching.

Please email me if you have questions or comments.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Royal School of Needlework - Part Three

It is more than time to return to my account of being a student in the 1950s at the Royal School of Needlework. Part Two is dated March 25, 2013 and available for you to establish continuity.

On Friday, April 6, 1951, The Times Educational Supplement published a full page article called the Tradition of "Opus Anglicanum". After a brief historical review, the article continues to describe the syllabus and experience of the course and then mentions employment opportunities. A press photographer took some photos and three were published. This first photo was not one of those published but is the only one that I have in my possession. Efforts to obtain better quality prints of the others have been unsuccessful so we have done the best we could with a scan of a 60 year old newspaper page.

This first photo was staged and is thus not a realistic scene. For instance, we did not sit in a row. The first stitcher on the right and the furthest stitcher were older and had started a few months before the other three of us. This is evident in that they are working on the third sampler which was Crewel work. The nearer of the two young ladies stitching their second sampler is Gillian Cox and to her right is Carmel Leibster. The student stitching the sampler loose in her hand is me. And no, I do not recognize myself either! Both Gillian and Carmel are stitching on their own frames while I was given the work of an unidentified student to give the photos more variety. In reality, I was at that time stitching the same sampler as Gillian and Carmel. And we all hated that tedious piece of applique on which we learned to stitch accurately and with totally even spacing. And we also learned to stitch fast. If you watch the videos made by Erica Wilson, you will see how quickly she works. Note that our trestles (or easels) are ancient. We stitched with our work covered (like a surgeon) and not uncovered as is indicated. Carmel's protective cloths are folded and hanging on her trestle. Gillian has hers protecting the edge closest to her which is the part most likely to be snagged by leaning on it. Old white cotton sheeting is ideal for protection cloths. It does not need to have finished edges but it is desirable to launder them occasionally. Gillian now lives in the eastern USA, I am in Canada while Carmel remained in London. The parquet floor and panelled wall are original but the hot water radiator is probably a more recent addition as the house was built in the 1850s.

This is a general view of the classroom. Note that the students are sitting in a random manner, the normal layout. What is not normal and staged for the photographer is that the frames are uncovered. The student on the left is stitching on her goldwork sampler. Note how much larger is the frame and fabric when compared with our beginner samplers. Many types of embroidery can be rolled around the roller bar using extra fabric for padding and protection. Because of the padding within the motives and the desirability of not disturbing the gold thread in any way it is not possible to do this with goldwork hence the frame gets larger and larger.

A closer view of the student working on her goldwork sampler. All students first stitched the three emblems at the top - a pomegranate, crown and fleur de lys. The remaining three to six items on the sampler were our own design. This was a third year project and demanded a lot of time and skill to complete the technically demanding designs that we were inspired to create. Note the size of the frame and fabric when compared with our beginner samplers. She would have stitched the upper three motives with the extra fabric rolled onto the roller bar at the base of project. Having completed these, the fabric would have been unrolled giving access to the middle of the design. When that was completed she would have unrolled the rest of the design. Many types of completed embroidery can be rolled around the roller bar using extra fabric (such as sheeting) for padding and protection. It is not possible to do this with goldwork hence the frame gets larger and larger. Notice, too, that she has two spools of gold thread. Japanese gold is couched down in pairs. Having two spools means that the twist on both threads is the same allowing the gold thread to reflect light in the same way. As goldwork is all about light reflection this is the correct way to do this and it does make a difference to the finished piece. It would appear that she has included some silk shading in this dramatic and ambitious piece. I wish I knew her name.

Goldwork or Metal Thread Embroidery as it is often called, is a wonderful medium in which to work and I am glad that I had just enough time to include this in my studies. I do have my sampler but it is simple compared with the one in this photograph. I had three weeks to complete the whole thing before leaving to move on to college. It had to be simple and manageable in terms of the number of stitches needed. I love teaching goldwork though my students are encouraged to choose designs that are more contemporary than traditional. Even so, we all continue to use the techniques and skills that have been used since medieval times and even before. Goldwork had reached a high standard of technical expertise several centuries ago as is evident in Opus Anglicanum found in the Syon Cope and other works located in such places as Durham Cathedral and museums.

Our principal and senior teacher was Marguerite Randell. She is indicating a detail to the student who is one of our two older stitchers. Note that the protection cloths are hanging on her trestle and that she is stitching with one hand on the top surface and one underneath. Stitching this way is how the professionals do it and it helps with speed and accomplishing the project in a cost effective manner.

Marguerite Randell (1881 - 1955) was a superb teacher. She wrote three very detailed books on stitching: Simple Embroidery, More Simple Embroidery and Plain Sewing. All were published by Cassell and Company, Limited. These small, thin books contain a mass of information with detailed and accurate diagrams. I recommend them to serious stitchers for whom accurate information is more important than beautiful colour photography. I have originals but they have been reprinted and are available through AbeBooks.com. 1952 was her last year of teaching after which she worked in the workroom on commission pieces. She seemed very elderly to us young ones and she certainly did work long after normal retirement age. She was a gentle and gracious lady who knew exactly how to do everything. Erica Wilson acknowledged her as "my first teacher, who knew more about needlework than anyone I’ve ever known - the late Marguerite Randell".

Both Gillian Cox and myself echo this sentiment wholeheartedly.