Follow by Email

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The Original Illuminated Embroidery WIP - Gothick (The Design)

Greetings one and all, and a Happy Noo!  Now that we've come to the end of the William Morris Illuminated Letter, I thought it would be nice to go back to the very beginning, and take you step-by-step through 'Gothick', the original (and I thought 'only') design for a week-long class called 'Broderie Illuminati' several years ago.  I will be re-stitching this design over the coming months, in order to build a kit which will go on sale as soon as the whole thing is complete.

The very first illuminated embroidery design I did was based on several mediaeval English manuscripts - I didn’t know then that I would be creating many more alphabets!

Designing Gothick
As I assumed this would be a one-off project, I researched a number of English manuscripts from the Middle Ages, many of which can be found at the British Library.

Designing Gothick
Within these pages, I looked for repeating themes, colours, and styles.  I wanted to create a design that brought together the best of several sources. 

Hastings Hours c. 1480
I've always loved these manuscripts, and learned calligraphy when I was in my teens - the amazing detail and richness of colour always takes my breath away!

Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440
I also like the idea that the original illustrators often used the margins of the pages to make jokes and tell rude tales, hiding their fun and games in plain sight!

colour matching
I love matching colours with threads, and my DMC swatch book really gets a hammering when I'm working out which shades are closest to the source image.

colour matching
Just as I was looking for recurring themes and subjects in the manuscripts, I was also trying to build a 'universal' colour palette.  I narrowed down the vast amounts of possibilities later, but in the early stages I found the colours as inspiring as the manuscripts.

Belluno Herbal, early 15th century

Many of the illustrations were highly stylised...

Culpepper Herbal, c. 1553

...while others were specific and precise.

Huth Hours, c. 1485 

Some images were even '3D' in effect - the dragonflies above are almost flying out of their own picture space.

the first full letter, nearly ready

Most people don't realise that I design all 26 letters for each illuminated alphabet I create - I may only work one as a prototype, but the other 25 are available too!  I work out the details on one letter, and then determine which bits are important enough to repeat across all the letters, and which bits are more flexible, depending on the shape of the letter.  Then the letters themselves are designed, and the 'illumination' added to each individual letter as best suits the overall shape.  Hard graft, basically! :)

Hours of Anne of Brittany, early 16th century
The Hours of Anne of Brittany gave me the idea for a snail...

Hours of Anne of Brittany, early 16th century well as the strawberry plant!

I shall enjoy re-stitching this lovely design, and will be taking LOTS of work-in-progress shots along the way - the instruction booklet for the kit will be a photographic guide, of course!

Here's to a 2016 full of stitches!

Love 'n Stitches,

p.s. if you liked this, then read this!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Book Review - Goldwork Must-Haves

I adore art and craft reference books - and I have the excuse of the Love Stitch Library to justify all my forays onto Amazon!  This week I'm going to have a look at two of my favourite books on goldwork embroidery.  They're not new, but I find myself referring to them often, for myself and for my students.  There are several good books on this technique, but these two are probably my favourites.

Hazel's book was published by Search Press in 2011 and was a Christmas present via good old Amazon from my sister who lives in Texas.  Right from the start you can see that this book is a bit different from other goldwork books in that the design on the cover is very delicate and uses a lot of coloured metal threads.  The subtitle of the book is 'techniques, projects and pure inspiration', and there's plenty of all of this throughout the book.

Like all good teachers, Hazel makes sure she's covered the basics of the craft before diving into the experimental stage.  She makes sure she covers what the different golds are right at the outset, which is always helpful, especially if you're new to the technique.

A nice feature of this book is the amount of 'fiddling' the author has done along the way.  The above example shows all sorts of different things you can do with kid leather.  There are plenty of other similar displays throughout the book, and this is I think, the 'inspiration' aspect of the book.

As promised on the front cover, there are also projects you can work through, complete with very clear templates and instructions.  There are some very simple, small-scale pieces you can try your hand at, as well as larger, more complex and demanding pieces that will appeal to more experienced stitchers.

As always with Search Press, the photography is crystal clear, the large format and soft binding are a real help when you're trying to learn a particular technique, and throughout there is so much to simply look at and admire.  Definitely one of my favourites!

Ruth's book is another one of Search Press' publications, and it came out way back in 2006!  This is a smaller, thinner book than Hazel Everett's, but it has some very stylish and rather different approaches that I've not seen in other books.

I adore hard string padding - with gold and a lot of other techniques too!  For a long time, Ruth's book was the only one I could find which covered the basics of how you prepare your padding, and then how you couch your gold over it to achieve different 'basketweave' patterns.

Another focus in this book is the extensive use of couched silk threads - the author has combined them beautifully with the gold and, from what I have seen of historic altar frontals and vestments, recreated a very traditional look to lovely effect.

My favourite technique that is shown several times in Ruth's book is the use of highly padded kid 'teardrop' shapes surrounded by solid couched passing threads.  The ebb and flow of the couching stitches create little 'puddles' of colour where they converge, and the whole effect is very organic and contemporary.

The back cover shows a detail of one of Ruth's many sampler pieces, as does the front cover.  Every time I look at her book I want to do such a sampler myself!  Just need to squeeze in some time...

Search Press is one of the three major publishers of craft books, the others being Batsford and Milner.  I'm particularly fond of Search Press, not because that's who I'm writing a book for, but because I like the soft covers, the decent-but-not-huge length of the books, the really great photography, and the massive variety of titles they've got in their back catalogue.  It's always great fun visiting their stand at the shows! :)

So those are my two favourite goldwork books - what other books can you recommend?

Love 'n Stitches,

p.s. if you liked this, then read this!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Raised Embroidery - A Book of Inspiration

And now, something completely different…today I’m starting a series of blogs that will take me well into next year!  Some time ago, I was asked by the Royal School of Needlework and Search Press to write a book about three dimensional embroidery.  When I asked whether they meant that the embroidery itself was to be three dimensional, or that the object being embroidered was ‘in the round’, the answer was  - ‘yes!’  Thus began an adventure of what I fondly refer to as ‘off the wall embroidery’ - inventing, designing, sourcing materials and stitching beautiful objects to wear, to use, and to simply pick up and admire.

17th-century Stumpwork Casket housed at the
Holburne Museum, Bath

17th-century Stumpowrk Panel depicting a marriage scene

In the coming months I’ll take you with me as I tread a path through an unknown country - I’ve NEVER written a book before, much less one which needs to inspire and visually delight, AND provide accurate information on stitching!  Before I dive into the concept of a flat plan (!), I thought I’d chat a bit about this technique often called ‘Stumpwork’, but was originally known simply as ‘raised embroidery’…

The Lady and The Unicorn - 'Sight' by Kelley Aldridge
...and then I found this article in the Telegraph, which does the job nicely, AND includes some lovely images of historical pieces...

There is also a very interesting video from the Victoria & Albert Museum on a raised embroidery casket embroidered in 1671 by eleven-year-old Martha Edlin...

I never lose my respect and awed admiration for the embroiderers of these pieces - their very young age, not to mention the materials and working conditions they were challenged with.  Above all, I adore this glimpse into a bygone age.

Stumpwork Stitch Sampler by Kelley Aldridge
Stumpwork Violets Kit designed by Kelley Aldridge
Stumpwork Holly Spray Kit designed by Kelley Aldridge

I'm incredibly flattered and honoured to have been asked by The Royal School of Needlework to write what will be the second in a new series (the first book, Applique, by Kate Cross, is due out in April 2016).  The idea behind this series is to take 'the next step' in a variety of techniques which are set out in the first series of Essential Stitch Guides - my job is to bring the wonderfully varied and creative aspects of raised embroidery (also known as Embosted Work) into a very contemporary setting - and, I like to think, 'off the wall'...  More soon!
Stumwork Seasons Sampler (detail) - Corded Brussels Stitch
by Kelley Aldridge

Love 'n Stitches,

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Christmas! You're not ready, are you?

Some people say they have everything done and dusted for Christmas by now - such people are not to be believed…

Bizarrely, I'm feeling very festive, happy and buzzy about Christmas this year, and I wasn't expecting to - my gorgeous Mum passed away this time last year, and it was a really sad time for her daughters (and grandson) - but an eventful year has turned; here we are, nearly a year on and I'm planning the baking, the cards, the outings, the gifts, and the traditional kitschy cross-stitch kit.  

Thanksgiving for Canadians is in the middle of October and (with a side trip for Hallowe’en) is considered the starter’s pistol for Christmas preparations, particularly for crafters and bakers!  There’s a slightly bizarre fortnight when witch’s hats and pumpkins share shelf space with advent calendars and mince pies…  

Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, my sister and I were used to getting a special ‘frock’ for the festivities - mum would sit at her monster of a Singer sewing machine in the weeks leading up to December, and we would often be required to stand on a chair while she checked hemlines.  Unfortunately, the outfits were usually matching, which would drive my sister crazy but would make me proud!

Needless to say, these festive outfits were phased out by the time we hit our teens, but the handmade gifts continued.  I have a pair of ‘Christmouses’ which have pride of place each year, made by mum in the 1980’s - they sit next to the pair she made in 2000, and very fine they look all together!

Handmade decorations, whether for the tree, the front door, the dining table or the mantlepiece, are always special, and are like old friends coming out of their hiding place each December.  Each piece has a story, and every year I like to add to the collection.  The Stitching Tree (as I like to call it) is now displayed at my studio at The Old School House in Bristol - everything on it is either stitched, or associated with stitch (like my collection of antique wooden spools, threaded on ribbon and adding a lovely patina to the other decorations).  Some of my friends, family and students have added to the tree with more hand-made ornaments, which is simply delightful!  I’m hoping to get to the point where you can’t actually see the tree for the ornaments…

At home however, I love the smell of a real tree, and this year I’m having a go at making some ‘natural’ ornaments - dried fruit slices, orange pomanders, cinnamon sticks, popcorn garlands, and pinecones galore - I’ll heap the mantlepiece with natural greenery, and my long-since-stitched Polar Santa will preside over it.

Christmas is an odd thing when you really think about it - it’s a day (and a ‘season’) that is unlike any other time in the year, bringing very specific identifying markers with it - decorations only seen at that time, food only eaten then, music limited to a few weeks, entertainment tailored for the festivities - it is all-encompassing, and changes every aspect of our lives for a brief moment, every year.  Of course we remember earlier years, other trees, family traditions, and above all, stories.  Which leads me back to the Christmouses on the mantlepiece - they have an important story to add to the collection, and in putting my time and heart into a new decoration each year, the layers of tradition and memory grow.

What will I be stitching this holiday?  Now and then I treat myself to kit ‘series’ - and some years ago I bought half a dozen bird/envelope designs - each one with a wish for the season.  I’m not sure which one I’m on now!  Once they’re all finished, I shall turn them into wee doorknob scented hangs, to carry the spicy smells of the season throughout my home.

Have a glorious Yule one and all, enjoy all your hobbies amongst the bustle and rush of the season!

Love ’n Stitches,

p.s... if you liked this post, you might like this!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Illuminated William Morris - The Rest!

This is the final entry for my lovely William Morris Illuminated Letter - we've come a long way since the first blog in July last year!  Time to whack in the twiddly bits, but before I do, a word on the gold in the letter itself.

The thing about running a week-long class to returning students (they are a loyal bunch!) is that some techniques are repeated each year, and can sometimes, um, be glossed over in the instructions!  As the letter in the design was to be filled with couched Twist and Roccoco threads, without anything fancier than simple bricked self-coloured stitches, I kind of forgot to include any information on that in the course booklet! :\  This is one of the reasons why Morris will be stitched AGAIN (also because I want to re-do the fox with some Burr Furr (!) in order to include ALL instructions (sigh.....) :) :) :)

Moving on!  Chipping first - in this piece, I used Bright Check Gold, and cut small cubes with very sharp scissors, onto a velvet board (this keeps the chips from bouncing onto the floor, not amusing!)

Chips are attached like a bead - you bring your thread up through the chip, lay it down on the fabric (or in this case, felt padding), and take the thread back through to the back, fixing the chip in place.

Chipping can be 'scattered' but in the case of padded chipping, they need to be solidly worked, without gaps.  I find it easiest to come up where the end of the to-be-stitched chip will be, thread the new chip, and then tuck my needle snugly up against the neighbouring chip before going through to the back.  This ensures a good fit, without damaging the gold by coming up through it in the first place.  The chips need to be all at different angles as well, so that the light will bounce off the surface in all directions, and sparkle all the more.

You can chip with other golds as well, as long as they're hollow like Bright Check is, but you can't beat a nice sparkly patch of crinkles!

Pearl Purl is not a hollow gold, so you can't chip with it, but you CAN work a beautiful outline, because this gold does not need to be plunged and tyed back!  That's right folks, this is solid metal, and as such, won't fray or get damaged once it's fixed to the fabric.  Perfect for very thin lines in a gold design.  It can also be pulled slightly so it is stretched out with gaps between the spirals.

And of course, once you've created gaps between the spirals, you can add a colour to it, by winding a single strand of thread around it, like a screw.  I've used two strands of stranded cotton here.

I've outlined my Acanthus Leaf with this overstretched, colour-wrapped Pearl Purl, and I've couched it in place with another thread of the same green that's twisted into it - nice!

And last but not least - the Smooth Purl cutwork over string padding.  This is done at the very end, because it is the most fragile of all the golds and prone to damage - you don't want to put all the effort into your cutwork and then find you've damaged it by doing other embroidery an inch away from it - an accidental poke with the tip of your needle is all it takes...

The thing about cutwork is that it is almost the same as chipping, except that each 'chip' is custom cut and fitted to the string padding - too short and you can see the padding, too long and there is an 'air bubble' between the gold and the padding, and the gold can collapse, creating  cracking and bruising in the metal.  Not pretty!

The first time I did cutwork in year one of my apprenticeship at the RSN, it gook me an afternoon to get three chips in place without any damage!  By the time I got to my final gold piece, the Coronation Gold, I was whacking in those little critters quite quickly - I built up a rhythm and had a lot of fun...

Detail of Maple Leaf in Coronation Gold piece

Once the cutwork was done, it was time to take Morris off the frame and mount him - what a great design - I had such fun working this.  I will again, and as soon as it's in kit form, I'll let you know!  Who knows, I might even do a different letter this time...because I can... :) :) :)

Glorious!  I whacked in a few last-minute green things (stem stitch, French knots)
just to tone down the pink a bit...

I always enjoy my Illuminated Embroidery projects - can't wait to start the next one!  What's your most loved project?

Love 'n Stitches,

p.s... if you liked this post, you might like this!