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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Smocked dress for Niamh

The challenge in smocking a dress for Niamh this Christmas was to come up with both a pattern and a fabric that was summery, different to Veronica's but equally desirable. I chose a batiked cotton I bought in Indonesia several years ago in mauves and gold - figured it would go with her complexion in the same way as the black in Veronica's dress worked with hers.

The pattern was a bit harder to find, but I settled on a sundress called Summer Dreams, from AS&E 61. . While this has not the drama of the ribbon ties on Veronica's dress, it had some potential for spectacular buttons.

The smocking was straightforward but lengthy as it goes all the way around the skirt. You join the back and front skirts, then pleat and smock the whole piece.

Once the smocking is completed, the construction was fairly straightforward. I added some piping in mauve. I also settled for Velcro, rather than button closure. Since it fastens at the back, I figured a 7 year-old was better off without buttons.

The result is pleasing. While the dress is not dramatic as is Veronica's, Niamh looks fabulous in it. And likes it, which counts most.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Smocked dress for Veronica

When Veronica was about 3 years old I bought a kit for a dress that I thought would one day really suit her. It was Poppy in AS&E 87. I bought the largest size - 7 - to give myself the maximum time to confirm my hunch that it had her name on it. When she turned 7 in September I did not have time to make dresses, so this Christmas really was my deadline.

The smocking on this dress took me several nights to complete. The pattern is on a yoke, and the bodice is back-smocked for about 3 inches, then smocked in black with two rows of very pale green and some white touches in the middle.

I initially made an error, and did the first trellis in white instead of pale green.  I doubted it would make a difference - but it did, and I replaced it.

There are interesting touches - like a wave over a double cable, creating almost a running stitch effect.

It was a little tricky working in black, but a really interesting design to smock, with a harmonious result.

The basic construction was, as usual, fairly straightforward. The trickiest bit was the piping and bias strips cut from white pique.
It has a very interesting cross-over back, tied at the side with wide ribbon, threaded through buttonholes. It is a great design by Susan O'Connor, really well suited to the fabric.

For a range of reasons, we have celebrated Christmas with our extended family a little early this year - the only reason I can post this before Christmas and give you a peak at the wearer.

I have, of course, another dress to write about next time - but that will need to wait until next weekend. It can carry my New Year wishes.

This one seemed an appropriate one to post at this time and to use to wish us all a very Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Italian Banner Progress

I managed to get the homework done for the second class of the Italian Banner sampler.

The most important preparation was the stitching of the background square for the Casalguidi initial.

The background was worked in Italian four sided stitch.

Mostly out of curiosity, I worked it around the square, rather than back and forth in rows. This gave the piece a mitred corner effect - probably not what was intended.

In the event, we didn't tackle the initial! The main stitch is, however, the same as that for the tongue of the Peruginan dragon - just a lot more of it!

We worked on our other piece of homework - the Sicilian cut and drawn dragon. In my last post on this sampler I commented that I had made an error in drawing the threads, but had fixed it. Ha! So much for smartness. In fixing it, I failed to take into account the need for absolute precision in the weave of the threads both drawn and remaining. I ended up, in both weft and warp, with two threads together with the same under-over pattern.

The idea with this style, is that you create an open grid by removing threads, then re-weave a picture or pattern into the spaces created. To create a smooth and perfect picture, you must weave under and over to match the weft and warp of the natural linen. In failing to retain the original unders and overs, I made it impossible to achieve this. So I spent quite a bit of time rectifying the grid threads.

In the end I got there - and I'm quite pleased with my dragon.

I will now put this aside. I might attempt a bit more of the Casalguidi initial - but the rest can wait until we have the additional class Christine Bishop generously offered us in January.

I am learning quite a lot through this sampler!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Italian Double Running

While I have read quite a bit about black work, and worked a border on dresses based on blackwork, I have not seriously stitched it. So when the Embroiderers' Guild of SA offered a 2 day workshop with Carol Mullan to construct a sampler in Italian Double Running stitch - a form of blackwork - I was very keen.

Carol, who also taught the lovely Hungarian Point bag, is a nurturing, knowledgeable teacher who encourages independence. The class ran over a weekend, 5 hours each day. The group was supportive and friendly. we had clear preparation instructions with a choice of project, so began with our linen marked up.
  • I chose the simpler of the two designs provided by Carol. While I love the look of the complex one and might well work it was one day, for once I decided to keep it simple!
The sampler was nicely graded in difficulty to help us get the hang of the application of double running.

Although I have used double running stitch in any number of projects, it's application in blackwork is something else altogether. The principle is simple - you work a row of evenly spaced running stitch, then return along the same line with a second row that fills the gaps, producing a reversible unbroken line.

The aim of reversibility commits the stitcher to finding an uninterrupted path back from every line and deviation - a real challenge and tactical commitment. The skill lies more in thinking through how to get a baseline from which to work, then planning the detours from that line to fill in all the twists and turns of the pattern than in the stitching itself - although the accuracy of stitches ( in this case over two threads) and the angle of the needle on the return makes a big difference.

We worked the first sample completely, then enough of each of the next three to ensure we understood how to do it.
The fifth sample was the most difficult, so I spent much of the second day getting it outlined and checking I understood it.

It proved to be interesting - the geometric logic making it predictable once a small section had been completed.

I am finding this addictive. I kept picking it up when I needed to be completing the preparation for the final class of the Italian Banner Sampler and continued to pick it up when I needed to be working on my Christmas stitching!

This is how far I got before I bailed out, knowing I wouldn't finish my Christmas presents if I spent another minute on it!

I will be back to it as soon as possible after Christmas deadlines are met!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Back to Basics

For the last three months I have been attending the Embroiderer's Guild Back to Basics group which meets on the fourth Monday of the Month. A couple of women in the Hungarian Point class were members and I thought I'd enjoy their company and learn a bit, so went along.

It's a great group, run and organised by Gay Sanderson. There is a set program of work for the class, designed to teach basic construction methods as well as basic stitches. You have your work assessed for certification. Everyone works at their own pace and there is a huge range of levels being worked across the group. Those who have finished the course return as tutors, or just to stitch along.

I am on Project One, which is a pin cushion, worked in running stitch over two threads on 14 count Aida with three colours of stranded cotton. Instruction and fabric is supplied, yarn and needles supplied by us. One of my Hungarian Point colleagues is also working on the pincushion.

It is a lot of fun, and very supportive.

I began by missing the requirement to work over two threads. Fortunately, the bottom of the pincushion has no requirement, so this outline of whipped double running over one thread will become the bottom!

By my second  session I was into the rhythm and had my head around the requirements, so played around with a variety of running stitch variations to produce the top of the pincushion.

At home I finished off the back with my initials, then stitched the back and front together at the third class.

I made the little calico lining bag by backstitching three sides.

I stuffed the inside bag very full and topstitched it, then closed the outer bag.

Here's the finished product, back and front.

The Back to Basic group does not meet again until February, when I move on to Project 2, a needlebook.

I'll have to wait until then for assessment - to see if my pincushion is up to scratch!

It is, however, packaged and ready to submit!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Last Saturday I did another workshop with Christine Bishop at the Embroiderers' Guild. This was a workshop for the Certificate Course the Guild runs. All members are invited to attend, whether or not they are enrolled in the Course. I have attended a few Certificate Workshops this year. On Saturday there were ten attendees enrolled in the Course, and ten not. Quite a big group for our generous and accommodating teacher.

Wikipedia has a bit of background on Cilaos embroidery. The Guild's description of this cutwork embroidery says:

This is possibly the easiest form of cutwork with the grain of the fabric.  It is worked on a 38 count Ricamo linen. This style developed in the village of Cilaos in the late 19th to early 20th century but was based upon the much earlier Spanish Teneriffe lace of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Christine had very generously prepared fabric for us -  cut ready to start. There was a choice of a heavier or finer fabric. I went with the heavier. 

We did the preparation in class - folding back the cut sections and overstitching them, before tacking the linen to calico to mount it in a hoop and removing the short cut threads in the dividing sections.

Then we began the process of laying the threads - from one edge, through the middle threads where they are secured with knots and over to the other edge.

The design is then woven between the laid threads. We used a DMC Cordonnet No 10 for all work on this heavier fabric. Those working on the finer fabric used a DMC 40.

It requires quite a lot of concentration. I needed to check my steps a number of times with Christine - who is patient, spots errors at a glance and always has a solution.

As this is the last Workshop for the year, there was a shared lunch with a lot of relaxed discussion.

Nevertheless, we got back into stitching in the afternoon. 

As I have a number of unfinished products from recent workshops I really wanted to finish this one, so continued working on it over the weekend. I got this first motif finished the same night - but had to undo a bit the next morning.

As I progressed the work I realised the trickiest bit, for me at least, is achieving an even tension. It is not easy to ensure each section is as tight as the last.

 I finished the motifs on Sunday, then embarked on buttonholing the edge.

My motifs are not even - but I have improved as I went along and could, I think, improve significantly with finer thread and fabric (assuming I can see to do it!).

Today I constructed the pincushion, using an ecru linen. 
It is a bit wonky- a beginner's piece. It will, however, act as a record of the class and a guide to the technique. I'd be able to work out how to make it more even and precise in future efforts.

Once again, I am grateful for the chance to attend the workshop, to Christine for her knowledge, skill, commonsense, generosity and patience and my fellow students for their companionship and sharing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Craft Fair purchases

I didn't want to clutter the post about the Sentinelles with my own purchases at the Craft Fair. I resisted all fabric temptation. I went with a (short) list of specific items I wanted to look at, culled from the booklet sent to me by the organisers - clips for holding layers of fabric, scissor sharpeners and a kit for a tablet bag. I came home with none of those. The clips were flimsy, the crowd around the scissor stall was too daunting to ask my questions .My main interest in the tablet bag was the handprinted fabric, which was great, but (fortunately!) not available on its own.

I did purchase three things - a pack of printable cotton in postcard size, scissors and some 2 ply alpaca wool.

I am very pleased with the scissors which are designed for carrying on board aircraft. At the moment I take a small secure bladed wheel to cut thread while stitching on planes. Adequate but not flexible. As I try to travel domestically with only carry-on luggage I often find myself buying small scissors interstate and posting them home to myself.

These scissors are sharp, short and have rounded ends. They will cut fabric (slowly!).

They come with a clip-on cover. This does clip on firmly, so may last the distance. I would prefer it to be coloured rather than transparent so it is easier to see when dropped - but I understand the argument for being able to see the blade.

These scissors were available from two stalls at the Fair. I bought mine from Tinkering Tools where you could buy 4 pair for $10 - a bargain. The 4 could include other small scissors as well. I went for three pair of the travel scissors and one other. This means I can keep a pair with three projects to grab and go.

My other purchase was two skeins of 2 ply alpaca wool from Dairing, , a Melbourne company. Their stall had a wonderful range of their innovative products - interesting combinations of yarn and some even more interesting knitted garments. Their website gives some idea of their range, but the stall gave a better.
Dairing top 

In spite of their interesting blends, I bought their Show Special - two skeins of 460 yds of two ply alpaca. I think these will make lovely triangular shawls.

I didn't know about this company before the Fair, but a number of Embroiderers' Guild members tell me they visit the Richmond shop whenever they are in Melbourne.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Visit to Craft and Quilt Fair

I don't usually write about craft shows I go to, but this year's Adelaide Craft and Quilt Fair has an exhibition that I couldn't resist sharing. This was the exhibition of the Sentinelles, a textile design originally stitched by Dijanne Sevaal, then expanded to include others who bought and stitched her hand printed and dyed panels.

I really loved them. They have given me so many ideas. A sentinelle  is one who watches, observes, remains faithful.

It is a project I would really have liked to have been involved in.

It has been touring the craft fairs in Australia this year.

My photos are not the greatest - but give the idea.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Second BATB class: French Birdcage

The second class I took at Beating Around the Bush in early October was a two day class with Christine Bishop, to make her French "Birdcage" Workbox and Accessories.

Christine was kind enough to hold up her finished piece so we could photograph it.

It has six panels - and quite a few accessories!

We spent the first day of the class learning the stitches required for the panels - by working one panel, not to completion, but to the point where the components were clear.

We worked Italian four-sided stitch, satin stitch and double running stitch, before learning Sorbello knots - which give texture to the birds.

On the second day we switched to the Scissor Fob and worked the whole thing in a day - helped along by Christine making all our cords for us!

It was terrific to go home with something completed. I have added a pair of scissors to my fob and will use them in completing the project - as an incentive.

Since the class finished I have worked on a second panel. I took it to one of the Guild's Thursday stitch-in evenings.

I need, however to take a desk light if I am going to continue to do this - counted thread work is hard on my eyes. I found even the double running stitch quite difficult without light. I found it hard to place my needle in the same hole on the return journey - you can see where the needle has glanced off by one thread. This, I learned from another class, is a common problem, addressed by angling the needle under the previous stitch.

Nevertheless, I have one panel finished - minus the bird.

I need to work on some Christmas items - as well as the other classes I am attending - so am not sure how much more I will get done in the next couple of months. This is a medium-to-long term project.