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Friday, March 31, 2017

Red, Red Robin Panel 9: When the Red, Red, Robin

The final panel in my Robins quilt began as a cluster of fairly generic birds. I cornered the market on robin panels and was short one panel. I figured I could adapt this one to suit my purposes. The plan is to turn these birds into a group of robins in a nest.

A bit of research told me that Scarlet Robins build cup-shaped nests in the forks of trees. They make the nests from twigs and leaves, bound together with spider web and plugged up with moss. I found a couple of stock images from Getty Images.

I began by sketching in an outline of the nest and branches and tweeking the shape of the birds.

I found it a bit hard to get the cup-shape around the group of birds without making it look huge.

A couple of days before I left for London, I paid a visit to Create in Stitch to find a range of threads that might serve as spider web and moss. I wanted to work on this while away and needed to take enough thread to keep me working and improvising - but not weighing me down.

I worked the birds first to help me define the area left for the nest, and to give me a colour-fix. I began to fill in the right side tree branch using Bokhara stitch to get a bit of texture. I finished working this on the plane from Sydney to Dubai, but didn't like the result. My tension was too tight - a product of not using a hoop, but also, I think, the length of the area I was working. Bokhara, I suspect, only works well on shorter distances.
I am not big on unpicking. but decided this one had to go.

Instead. I tried out the stitching we had used on the Phoebe Anne Trequair piece with Meredith Hahn Willett on the Scottish trip in 2015. I laid thread down on a diagonal angle and couched it down with back stitch. This enabled me to provide not only texture, but some notion of bark and markings on the tree.

Much happier.

I decided to shorten the side of the nest to get the shape more cup-like.

Anxious (and curious! about how I would manage to get the nest as complex as the real thing, I worked a small area on one side.

I worked a series of straight lines (sticks) across, then filled in the spaces with a variety of threads, colours and stitches. I overlayed this with some rough needle-lace to create the spiderweb binding.

It seemed to work

so I set to work on the whole nest.

This kept me occupied for quite a while! I used a lot of stem stitch, some of it whipped, some chain stitch, double chain stitch (some of these also whipped) some fly stitch, Bokhara, feather, weaving, couching and a few French knots. Most photographs showed the nests as greyish.  Grey also helped me to keep the nest distinct from the birds.

As I neared the end, I decided the nest was better expanded to the original right-hand boundary, so I added that in again.

When I had finished the basic nest I worked the spiderweb needle lace in sections rather than covering the whole thing. I figured this is what birds would do - gather bits of spider web and attach it, rather than coercing a spider to spin web over the nest!

The silk I had used on my little test section was a flat grey. I decided that a slightly variegated light brown would work better, so I reworked that section as well. The web effect does not show up well in photographs, but looks quite good in reality. The wide grey band in the front would be better broken up - but I'm not going back!

The final stage of embroidery was to surround the nest with leaves - since they are built in the tops of trees. I only had three useful shades of green with me. I had managed to supplement my greys from a thread shop in Keswick, the greens were more elusive. I used the three shades I had, and a little brown. It isn't hugely varied, but works, I think, well enough for a Eucalypt.

By now I was concerned that the amount of embroidery on the nest - worked without a hoop - had severely distorted the fabric in a couple of places. I thought I would be able to block it back into shape, but was anxious to try it.

I was by now staying in a hotel near Hampton Court and had almost a week before I would be home.

I improvised with what I had to hand and blocked the piece overnight.

To my relief it straightened up. There is still a bit of slack in it and I will block it again when I get home - but I know I have a usable block. It isn't perfect - but I have learned so much from this block alone. I am discovering, amongst other things, that I like narrative embroidery (not surprising, I guess - I like narrative!). I wonder where that is going to take me? (Not, methinks, into serious quilting!)

I will probably stitch over the wording on this one with black thread, maybe in the next couple of days. My eyes needed a bit of a rest before I tackle it.

When I get home I can back this one and quilt the edges. Then I need to MEASURE, trim and cut the joining strips. Can't wait to see it all together!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Red, Red, Robin Panel 8: Singin' a Song

Panel 8 is one of few words. I decided  'singin' a song' deserved its own panel. While the last panel  seeks to capture many of the activities I enjoyed as a child, I felt that singing deserved a panel of its own. My childhood was full of singing - both my parents sang as they went about their work, we sang around my grandparents' pianola, we sang at school and church. Even on those lunchtimes at Primary School when it rained and we were confined to eat in a classroom, we entertained ourselves by singing popular songs. My mother had two Hawaiian guitars she sometimes played and my father joined in with a paper and comb. This panel is a tribute to those times.

This is the panel on which I experimented with needle felting before I even began stitching the first panel! I happened to have some red roving, and couldn't resist temptation. So when I finally got to this panel, I thought I should keep going and needle-felt the whole bird. I'm not sure what this means for cleaning the quilt, but I figure I will  probably have it dry cleaned, so hopefully it will survive.
Of course, I had no black or white roving so set off to Spotlight and bought a bag of undyed roving in black and white and set about felting it into position.

It is a lot quicker than stitching!

The rest of the panel, however, made up for the time I saved. I began by adding a church choir.
and followed this up with a version of my high school choral group.

My mother would not be flattered by my version of her playing the guitar. My choice of variegated thread (to hand rather than carefully selected)along with my over-enthusiastic black French knots, has her resembling a clown.

The group around the pianola was a little more successful. I quilted the spaces in between with some musical notes.

I have continued to use the heavy stitching to quilt the borders and have stitched around the outside of the robin to create an outline on the back.

I really enjoyed stitching this one - it was a creative challenge and I'm pleased with the overall look.

I have been working on the last panel while I've been travelling in the UK. I hope to have it finished and the account posted before I leave for home next weekend.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Red Robin Panel 7: I'm just a kid again, doin' what I did again

Panel 7 is a a female robin and I worked it once again in stem stitch. The orange is true to the colour rather than the pink! This is also one of the smallest of the robin panels.
When I first conceived these panels, this was one of the first that I knew how I'd approach. I wanted it to reflect the activities that occupied my time as a child.

  playing quoits, swimming, reading

skipping, playing ball and Jacks (knucklebones in some cultures)

riding my tricycle and going to high school in my brown uniform carrying a briefcase.

The bird is completely our of proportion to the little figures - but I think that's part of the metaphor of this story.

I have continued backing the squares with the batik stripe and quilting the edges in a bold running stitch, now using six strands of variegated thread.

I'm very happy with this panel.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Red Robin Panel 6: Rain May Glisten

I am currently in the England, in the Lakes District, to attend the Spring Residential with The Crewelwork Company. I have set up a travel blog where I will be writing about the Residential. Interested readers are welcome to visit the travel blog.
In the wake of the reverse applique work of the African Tribal Inspired workshop from the Embroiderers' Guild Summer School, I thought I'd have a go at reverse appliqueing a robin. I tried it with a male bird which has simpler whole colours rather than the varied browns of the female.
I began by adding a layer of black cotton to the back of a panel. It was already backed in white sheeting, so that became the middle layer

The red layer I inserted from the front after cutting out the whole of the basic robin shape. It required rather a lot of pins to hold the layers in place and to catch on my thread as I stitched - but it worked.

I could then embroider the bird with feathery stitches and add some greenery. This time I decided on a flowering gum.

The size of the robin, is, of course, out of proportion to the leaves. This might be a pre-historic giant ancestor of the modern Scarlet Robin.

I used Ghiordes knots for the blossom.

For the glistening rain I found a metallic in pale, watery colours. Here is the singer of the song, sitting under her umbrella listening 'for hours and hours'.

The metallic doesn't show up well in photographs - but it does glisten!
Here's the total panel. You can see that the central robin panel is smaller for this one than most of the others. This is just the way it came from the Guild and will make, I think, the finished quilt quite interesting.