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Monday, April 2, 2012

Blue Mountains Swallowtail

I was excited by the vibrant Ulysses butterfly project, by Helen M. Stevens, in Inspirations Issue 72 when it came out late last year. Until I was about 7, we spent two weeks each year on family holidays in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, walking the mountain trails, watching birds, butterflies and collecting 'mountain devils' to turn into little people.  The inclusion of Christmas Bush in the design clinched it for me - Christmas Bush was part of every Christmas in my childhood. It grows on the East coast of Australia, and, after more than 30 Christmases in Adelaide I still miss seeing big bunches of it in shops in December.

So, although I had no time to stitch the butterfly before Christmas, and had no experience at all of using flat filament silks, I bought a kit, which I took out and began working a couple of weeks ago.

I began badly, by unintentionally using an archive pen to trace the design, instead of an air or watersoluble pen, meaning I had to cover all the edge.

Next I discovered just how difficult the filament silk is to work with. I am not an expert satin stitcher, and probably for that reason I don't like doing it very much. I had difficulty getting the coverage I wanted, found the thread caught on my skin and my nails - and anything else that touched it.

I dreaded picking it up and began to think this was a big mistake.

Then I remembered that Mary Corbet had used this kind of silk thread in one of her projects, so I visited her website and read everything she had to say about filament silk.

Thank you Mary! It made the difference between being able to finish the project or abandoning it.

Her first suggestion is to prepare your hands in the hours before you work with the thread. It is really good advice. I trimmed and filed my nails then used hand-cream for a few hours before taking up the work,  washing my hands thoroughly before picking it up.  No more snagging, no oil transfer.

Mary also advocates the use of an awl to control the direction and flatness of the silk. I've never used an awl, but I did have one, so dug it out and tried it. It really does help.

I couldn't take up her advice to use a Japanese embroidery frame rather than a hoop, so I persevered with the hoop. I'm sure her advice is sound - I ended up with some sections that are not completely taut out of the frame. I can get by with it in a project this size but it would be advice I'd heed if I were to try this again.

It took quite a bit of patience to get the coverage, but became manageable with Mary Corbet's advice. 

Gaps show up (upper black wing left) and can be filled with a new thread and an awl (result on right).

Knowing how to improve the result and fix a problem makes all the difference in how I feel about a project. I gradually shifted from hating the project to wanting to work on it in every spare minute - and starting to like the result. It helped that Jim commented on how good it looked!

I began to appreciate the colour effects of the thread. It really does create its own shading, reflecting different shades in different light. It is quite vibrant.

I really enjoyed doing the Christmas Bush, although it was the hardest part in relation to tension, I think because of the shape of the leaves.

The final touch was the gold thread addition to the stamens - a lot of fun and satisfaction at the end. It really adds a realistic dimension.

So I got there in the end and the result is very pleasing. I don't want to mount this, as suggested in the project. I've had an idea that I'm following up.

The account of whether it works (or not) will be another post!


Monica said...

Wow, Jillian, it turned out great. I know I have to be in the right frame of mind to try something new, so good for you for persevering. Do you think you will use this technique again?

Jillian said...

I could see myself using it for some special effect. I got to quite like doing the work but the finished work is fairly fragile so can't be used on something that gets used. I'm not really into displaying things on walls and I can't see this in a bag or even a needlecase. I'd use the technique if I could see a way to use it - under glass, for example.

Anonymous said...

I love it and think you have done a great job. I have never used this thread before.

Janet Granger said...

This is beautiful! Well worth persevering with. I enjoyed your explanation of how you made your decisions, too.

Karyn said...

What a beautiful butterfly you have made. It is well worth the persistance. The thread is just gorgeous.