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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Leek embroidery: Embroiderers' Guild of SA Certificate Workshop

The April workshop for the Guild's Certificate Course was presented by Nancy Williams and focused on Leek Embroidery, that is, embroidery developed and practiced in the town of Leek in Staffordshire, England. The Leek Embroidery Society and Leek School of Embroidery were founded in 1879 by Elizabeth and Thomas Wardle. Elizabeth established designs and kits for using the tasar silks her husband imported from India and for which he perfected dyeing and printing techniques. The Society and School produced furnishings and ecclesiastical embroideries of high quality.

The colours and designs achieved were in sharp contrast to the Berlin Wool Work that had been popular up to this point.

Nancy had prepared kits and a design for us to work. The fabric was a silk damask and the threads filament silk and gold.

I don't much enjoy using filament silk, but we applied hand cream lavishly and got down to business.

Nancy taught each of the stitch techniques - long and short, satin and gold couching.

The design was just the right size. We made good progress in the workshop, and I was able to finish it off in an evening at home.

I decided to mount this in the lid of a small box under glass to preserve it from tarnishing.

If I were enrolled in the Certificate Course it would simply be a sample to go in my folder, but since I am an interested acolyte of the Course I can put it to practical use.

Alison Cole has just the box I was after on her website!

So here is the finished product, looking rather splendid and a gift for someone special.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The River Matters

This is an unusually long post - recording the work of several months to create my entry in the   Guild's SALA Exhibition, which opened tonight. SALA, the festival of South Australian Living Arts, is held in August.  Entries in SALA have to be original. The Guild Exhibition is on until 11 August.

The Guild theme is  'a celebration of water'. The organising committee has printed some  sea dragons, sea horses and water lilies on to fabric blocks which can be purchased,  embroidered and developed in original ways. I bought some, but then I had another idea.

A conversation with my brother drew my attention to lines in John Williamson's 1988 song It's a way of life

With cotton in their ears and dollars in their eyes
Their banker grins and our country dies.

Last SALA exhibition the Guild's theme was 'Aviarius'' and I made a quilt around the song When the red, red robin. When a friend at the Guild asked me if I was going to embroider a song again, I formed the idea of creating something using John Williamson's words, in the light of the water crisis in the Murray River basin. We surely need to celebrate the life-giving river system as we seek to restore it.

In my stash I had a couple of felt flimsies I had purchased from Dale Rollinson. They were not the right colour for a river project, but they had potential in size and texture, so I searched Dale's Thread Studio site and ordered four more. When they arrived, I selected 'ironbark' as my background and 'emerald' for the river. This is the river affected by blue-green algae. I set aside the others for the back.

I practiced Quaker stitch on the lettering, initially using Appleton's wool, which I doubled to get enough coverage.

I then switched to tapestry wool, which worked better.

It was hard to keep the lettering straight on the felt flimsies. The lines and letters I marked with chalk disappeared into the felt within minutes. Even when I tacked lines the felt shifted as I stitched. I don't, however, mind the crude look.
I looked at a lot of photographs of the Murray-Darling river system and made a rough sketch of my design.

I wanted to show the connection of the river to land and life and the impact of the greedy use of water. I thought of using various Aboriginal words and symbols for water but decided I did not have the authority or permission to do this. Instead, I thought I could use Aboriginal fabric. I figured that this was commercial product, and therefore in the public domain, available for incorporation.

I also searched for Aboriginal designed fabric with water themes and ordered pieces called Baanbaan, On Walkabout, Waterhole brown, Possum land and water blue from Aboriginal Fabric Gallery in Alice Springs. They were immensely helpful, rushing fabric to me before Easter. I also bought Dancing Spirit Brown and Snake and Emu from the One Stop Fabric Shop.

Over Easter I appliquéd, a few pieces of fabric to the flimsy and then embroidered a large tree overhanging the river.

I cut some gum leaves from another piece of fabric I found and appliquéd, them around the tree. It creates, I think, a good sense of a tree losing its leaves and beginning to die.

In the centre of the river felt I embroidered a map of the Murray-River basin, using gimp. The only way I could see to do this was using Solvi. The background is too soft and absorbent to use any marker. I don't much like stitching through a membrane but in this instance couldn't find another way.

I removed as much as the membrane as I could by tearing, rather than dampening the whole thing, as I wanted to wet as little as possible of the felt. It worked, but did need a bit of stitch repair afterwards.

By now it was becoming apparent that the pre-felted flimsy was not sufficiently stable where I had embroidered the tree and appliquéd the leaves.  I therefore applied some strips of iron-on interfacing to the back of the tree and needle-felted any areas of the flimsy that were sagging. I then applied a fine cotton backing the whole piece.

It is not perfectly geometrical, but, I think, close enough. I added orange trees and finished the reeds.

I needed to add more dead fish so printed a couple more photos, incorporating them with embroidered edges and extending the reeds.While I was about it, I extending the reeds around the edge of the river on the right bank.

Somewhere along the way, I had watched an episode of Heather Ewart’s ABC TV series Back Roads, in which she visited the Riverland. Right at the end, a farmer commented that “the river matters”. It stuck in my head and became the title of this embroidery.
I tried embroidering the title on the river, using Quaker stitch and some lovely variegated reddy-brown thread. To try to keep it straight and even I once again used Solvi.

I was disappointed in the result. The words were lost in the felt.

On the other hand, I had a lot of fun adding orange trees - needle felting the tops, (Veronica helped out here) embroidering the trunks with stem and Bokhara stitch and adding French knot oranges in varying shades of green to orange.

Throughout this process I shared my progress with my regular stitching friends  whose opinions helped a lot as I decided what to include or leave out.

I had a couple of attempts at adding some grapes and grapevine to the riverbank. I tried creating grapes from felt - but couldn’t get the definition I wanted.
Eventually I remembered my collection of iron-on transfers. I found a book of transfers that included a grapevine! I ironed sections of it on to linen, embroidered the linen, then appliqued this to the felt.

Satisfaction at last! It worked, though it wasn’t an easy process. The layers were, by now, quite thick and the linen edges frayed.  I needed to go around the edges with French knots to cover stray linen strands. This time, the reddy-brown thread worked well for the grapes!

Having rediscovered my iron-on transfers, I used a 1970s Hobbytex one of an ibis to create a banner on linen, adding the title text in Quaker stitch.

This gave the prominence I was after. The top of the banner is appliqued with French knots, blending with the dots on the fabric. The bottom edge is stitched with detached fly to continue the ibis’s footprint.

Appliqued animals add, I hope, a further sense of what we owe to the river.

It was time to turn my attention to the backing of the piece. Because I want this to be in some way a useful object, rather than a picture on a wall, I had conceived it as a small blanket or rug. I needed to keep it soft and flexible. The felt fabric is wonderfully soft, but won’t take hard wear.

My original intention was to back it with another felt flimsy, then bind the edge using cotton fabric depicting fish, turtles and other sea creatures - creating the idea of an island - the land and the river surrounded by life-giving oceans.

However, in order to get the edges straight I would need to square off the felt, which I couldn’t do without losing some content. I discussed this with some members of the World Embroidery Study (WES) Group, who suggested the edge should be as dynamic as the river.

I wanted to use some appliqued panels of Spirits on the back, along with a Rainbow Serpent, who, after all, created the river.  I really wanted to use the Spirits - hoping, I guess, that they ‘have the back’ of the river. A double layer of felt flimsy would make a great rug, but not an even edge.

I went ahead and added the Spirits to the felt flimsy called “Federation”. I love the colours, and I also like the symbolism of federation - a difficult process, but one that gives all of us an obligation to the river system.

I backed them with iron-on fusible webbing, ironed them on, then stitched around the edges of each piece with French knots. It worked a treat on these fabrics.

I was then left with the challenge of putting the two pieces together. One suggestion from the WES Group was to layer the piece on to black, but to do this, I would need to put black fabric between the two flimsies and either needle-felt or applique the flimsies to the black.

After quite a bit of thought and experiment I decided to try to fold the back edge over the front and stitch it down with a fly stitch - more bird tracks!

The process of stretching the back edge over the front was not easy. I managed it on three sides, then added a strip from another flimsy to complete the last side. I used some lovely hand-dyed thread from the Stitchy Box subscription given to me by my daughter in 2017.

I am pretty pleased with the result. The piece is wonderfully soft to hold. I hope I have done justice to the river - and to its importance to those who live along its banks and care for it. 

I have turned this blog into a booklet that I submitted as part of the Exhibition entry.

Acknowledgements and Resources

There are still numerous Aboriginal language speaking groups along the Murray River (though nowhere near as many as there were before white settlement), including the Ngarrindgeri in South Australia and Yorta Yorta near Echuca in Victoria. They have cared for the river for tens of thousands of years and continue to do so.A helpful map and information can be found at

Fabric for this project came from:

·      Aboriginal Fabric Gallery, Shop 3 Capricornia Centre, 91 Todd Street  Alice Springs, PO Box 3098, Alice Springs, NT 0870, Australia, Phone +61 8 8952 6163 Email
·      One Stop Fabric Shop  PO Box 371,
Figtree NSW 2525  Phone: 02) 42299262

The fabric is Dancing Spirit Brown by Colleen Wallace, Possum Land and Water Blue by Heather Kennedy, On Walkabout Blue by Karen Taylor, Waterhole Brown by Arma Price Pitjara and Snake Emu Charcoal by W Evans.

The felt flimsies came from The Thread Studio, 6 Smith Street Perth, WA 6000
Australia Phone  +61 8 9227 1561,  Email:

Some of the threads were from those sent to me in 2017 as part of a Stitchy Box monthly subscription given to me as a gift by my daughter.

Photos of dead fish on Menindee Lakes were from:
The Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Buckingham, Ex-Greens MP Inspects Darling River Fish Kill 19 January 2019

Members of the World Embroidery Study Group of the Embroiderers’ Guild of SA provided suggestions and feedback, as did Susan Butler, Jennifer Stehn and my family.

Monday, July 29, 2019

3D Applique, Fabric Origami: Embroiderers' Guild of SA Certificate Course

This was a really fun workshop, taken by Melissa Walker in late February. We learned to apply the art  of paper origami to fabric.

Melissa brought along some sample fabric and we brought some of our own. These are made using Melissa's fabrics.

The square of Aboriginal designed fabric proved to work brilliantly with the hexagon design.

I decided to turn a couple of mine into pinwheels.
I find these useful. They fit compactly into a bag and the pins are secure.

It was an experimental and playful workshop with lots of interaction, laughter and sharing.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

North Ronaldsey shawl

Ever since knitting the shawl from Elizabeth Lovick's Patterns for North Ronaldsay and other 4ply/fingering and Aran Yarns last year, I have periodically checked the North Ronaldsay Yarn site to see if they had any yarn available.  Sheep on North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney Islands, live on seaweed and their wool is spun and sold from a local mill. It is sought-after and sells quickly once released.  Eventually I got lucky, and managed to buy two skeins of natural 2 ply North Ronaldsay yarn to try out.

I got a friend to help me wind it into balls and found a pattern In Elizabeth Lovick's book that could be made with two balls. It is a pattern for a Striped Triangular Shawl by Elly Doyle, on page 86 of the Elizabeth Lovick book mentioned above.

The wool is surprisingly soft to work with and lovely on the hands. The pattern is straightforward, working from an initial 9 stitches outwards with the line on the needle becoming the straight top edge of the shawl.

It has high lanolin content, so is lovely on my hands and carries a lanolin smell.

The wool is fairly evenly spun, but does have sections that are thicker or thinner. It is slightly heavier than an average two ply, each ply being a little thicker than the finest wool. It was easy to split - or even drop - a stitch. I suspect my knitting would have been a bit more smooth and even if I had I gone down 1-2 needle sizes.

The cast-off picot row was meant to be in the lighter main colour, but I ran out at the end of the last light colour band. I had plenty of the darker brown, so finished in that.  I like the effect in the dark colour. This is the first time I've used the picot edge and I will certainly use it again.

I was pleased with the overall effect of the finished product.

It blocked nicely, the stocking stitch stretching out to a slightly open effect.  I didn't have a recipient in mind when I made this, but liked the finished product enough to keep it.

It's been a fun exercise to try out some of this special wool.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Croatian costume embroidery

The June workshop for the Embroiderers’ Guild Certificate Course was taken by Dragica Sosa on Croatian Traditional Costume Embroidery. It was really interesting and a lot of fun. 

Dragica had brought along a number of costume pieces from the collection of the Lenek Folkloric Dance Ensemble, which we were able to examine in detail. Regretfully, I didn’t take photos. They were truly beautiful and a treat to see.

Dragica also talked about her own experience of learning and practising Croatian dance and of the differences between costumes in the four geographic areas of Croatia.

Much of the traditional Croatian embroidery is pattern darning and Dragica had charted a series of traditional designs for us to try. I used a 28 count linen. 30-32 is more commonly used but even with 28 I need magnification!

I worked my way through the designs. It took me several days to work them and there are a few errors in there. It was compelling - so satisfying seeing the patterns emerge. I found it easier to hold the linen in my hand and maintain tension by grip than keep moving a hoop. I find pattern darning is also better scooped than stabbed.

By the end the piece was quite raggy so blocking was required .

I decided to turn it into a pouch. I had thought to line it with silk but the red I had was too dark. I played around with two pieces of cotton. I went with the plain red, purchased a red zip and had it done in no time. I went with the red fabric on the back as well. Plain white 28 count linen didn’t feel right. I would always think I should have embroidered the back as well!

I am delighted with my finished piece. I could see myself using these patterns on the yoke of a dress. 

For now, however, I am very pleased with my bag and the learning that went into it.

Thanks Dragica and to Christine and Barbara who run the Certificate Course.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sashiko Workshop

I have a number of printed Sashiko cloths in my stash, so when Barbara Mullan offered a Sashiko workshop at the Guild, I jumped at the chance to enrol, even changing tickets I had for a Voces8 concert at Ukaria in order to go!

I didn't regret my decision.

An enthusiastic and eager group of us gathered on the day. Barbara had thoughtfully reorganised the tables so we could see and hear each other.

I had read my preparation instructions carefully and assembled a bag with the items. The day before the class I bought myself the last item - a fat quarter of blue fabric. My mind not being what it once was, I did not immediately put the fat quarter into the bag I had prepared, so found myself at the class without my fabric! 
Barbara, of course, came to the rescue, with some fabric she had 
indigo-dyed some time ago at a class at Marden TAFE. It was lovely, and I only used the minimum I needed.
Barbara had prepared templates of some Sashiko patterns. The suggestion was that we choose 4 of these and work them on four squares of fabric, backed with cotton.

I had my cotton, so tacked it on to my four squares (well, rectangles, anyway) and began with a very simple triangle.

We learned the conventions (rules?) of evenness of stitch, even numbers of stitches and dealing with corners. All these were new to me and invaluable in doing anything with the printed pieces I have.

I tried to move from simple to more complex. I had variegated Sashiko thread in blues and yellow/orange/red as well as white. I had thought to use the blue, but it didn't show up well on Barbara's lovely hand-dyed cloth so I went around the original blue, 

which worked, I thought, quite well. 

I then switched entirely to yellow/orange/red for the last two pieces.

We learned too, how to finish the edges off with slip-stitch so that the backing did not show. Miss Monk, who first taught me slip stitch, would not be happy with my work here. I had, however, by now the germ of an idea of what I would do with these pieces, and it didn't require invisible slip stitch!

I dug out a bag I had made ages ago (can it really have been 2011? Afraid so!) from an old pair of jeans and applied the patches.

From my fabric stash I retrieved a shirt of Jim's that I had kept because I knew he would have wanted to be part of future projects.

The two fronts were a perfect shape for cutting a lining for this odd shaped bag and the colour was just right.

The original idea stopped here - but the bag cried out for more - so off I went, using, after an initial experiment, the blue thread.

I kept going

and going.

I attempted to cover the whole bag with running stitch, but beyond this point the bag twisted out of shape, so I stopped. I added a button to the pocket where one was missing.

I'm not sure how and where this bag will end up being used, but I've had a lot of fun and learning making it.