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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dorothy Wordsworth's Post bag

I am posting this from Adelaide Airport, about to undertake the first leg of my journey to London, from where I will  once again travel to Windermere, in the English Lakes District, to attend another of the Lady Ann's Needlework Spring Retreats organised by Phillipa Turnbull. When I attended last year's Retreat I had no intention of travelling to England again this year. It was, however, such a great experience and such a great group of people, that I, and most of my fellow students, decided to return in 2018.

When I returned home in mid-January from a beach holiday, there was a parcel waiting for me. It was canvas, wool and a pattern for Dorothy Wordsworth's Postbag, which we had viewed at the Wordsworth Museum in March 2017. Phillipa was inviting us to make something based on the bag in advance of the Retreat. She had also organised for the results to be displayed at the Museum towards the end of our Retreat.

I was mildly panicked.The next day I was to begin the first of my two Summer Week classes at the Embroiderers' Guild and I had an unfinished project from my beach holiday.  As a fanatical finisher, I was even more panicked at the end of my Summer School Classes.

Even though I have published blog posts on the Summer Week Classes, I prioritised Dorothy Wordsworth's bag over finishing those projects. I have been working on this in the background and only returned to Opus Anglicanum and Australian Bush once I had finished the work on this bag.

The story, however, has had to wait a bit to be told.

So panicked was I, that I began work immediately, using only the notes that came in the package. I decided, however, to approach it differently to Phillipa's suggestion.

The original bag is roughly A4 size. If I reproduced that size I would need to back the bag with something.  I decided instead to make the piece longer, so I could fold it in half to make a smaller bag embroidered on both sides.

I began by embroidering a set of diagonal lines delineating the different colours in the original.

I initially used cross-stitch in a single thread on the diagonals but soon decided that the coverage was a bit thin, and that cross-stitch was going to take me too long. After some experimenting, I settled for tent stitch using a double thread.

Once I had the diagonals in place I began to add the skeletons of the little trees, using a silk thread in my needle along with the two strands of wool.  This was a bit tricky, but I got into a rhythm of pulling the wool into place before pulling the silk into place - not perfect, but allowing the silk to dominate.

I completed a corner to make sure it was going to work. I  used the dark red and dark blue as my backgrounds, rather than their lighter versions - hoping I had enough thread.

I then went ahead and outlined the whole piece, filling in the tree skeletons.

It was about at this point that I got a link to Phillipa's tutorial . If I had waited, I may well have, as Phillipa suggests, started in the middle and worked out, working the skeletons in wool first, using the silk to form a cross over the wool stitch!

As it was I was too far in where Angels fear to tread!

I  kept going.

By now my panic had subsided and I was having fun. I had forgotten how addictive canvas work can be. This is especially so when the pattern repeats itself as it does here. I love being able to work from an outline without referring to a pattern.

While I am telling this story in a single blog post, it took me about three weeks of not doing much else to finish the embroidery. I'm very grateful to my family and friends at the Embroiderers' Guild who encourage me and dampened the panic!

The thread in the needle in the canvas is all I had left of the dark blue!

My stash yielded several options for lining fabric, but this printed linen seemed the natural choice.

A maroon zip, side seams and a neat, useful bag emerged.
The finished bag was slightly twisted, so I blocked it. It took a while to dry.
The bag has, of course, one side where the trees face the zip and one facing the other way. That's fine by me. There are inconsistencies and imperfections in my stitching. That's also OK by me. I'm not after perfection - but serviceability, harmony & tribute to Dorothy Wordsworth.

I really like the result. It will be useful and I'm happy to share it with my fellow students and the Wordsworth Museum. It is safely packed in my suitcase which is now booked all the way to London.

I will continue to post to this blog while I'm away but most of my travel adventures, for anyone interested, will be found at The first post should be there within 7 hours of this post.

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