Diligent fans of my website (I know you’re out there) may have already noticed that I have added a couple pages. Firstly, you can now get in touch with me even easier, as there is a nice simple Contact Me page.
But more excitingly, I have added a page called Classes: I now offer one-to-one teaching in my home studio in West Sussex. I have designed these classes based on feedback from my Instagram followers, and they’re all completely customisable to allow students to get tailored advice. Realising I also have followers overseas, I am also offering embroidery coaching, by the hour via Skype, to help with any of your embroidery issues or project problems. Go and have a look!
Finally, I’ve updated my Etsy shop – given it a makeover and made all my remaining Ritual Pieces pieces available for sale. There’s also a direct link from each piece here in my Portfolio to the listing where you can buy it. Easy!
This is a post of me showing off because I WENT TO THE ROYAL SCHOOL OF NEEDLEWORK AT HAMPTON COURT PALACE WHERE KING HENRY XII LIVED AND DID A COURSE IN COLOURED METAL THREADWORK YO.
So I had a holiday recently and spent 2 nights in Hampton Court having my first ever formal instruction in any kind of embroidery – in Coloured Metal Threadwork.
So here’s lots of pics of what it was like to study there and what I did in class and my homework!
That little round window that’s open was our classroom!
It’s the magical private staircase to the BEST EMBROIDERY PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.
The door! So unassuming! Behind which such skill is kept!
Ok so this was a class that people who had never done any kind of metal thread or goldwork or whatever could do, and this is what we were gonna be making:
This is the one the tutor Lizzy Lansberry had made. So on a wet Monday morning I was nervously huddled in a little room in the barracks of the palace waiting for my class mates and to be collected and taken to class. There were I think 7 or 8 other people in the class. Well, ladies, all ladies. There was a woman from Sweden, one from Hong Kong, one from the Phillipines plus the rest from all over the UK. The whole kit of materials is provided for you, and when we were shown in to the classroom it was all set out with our hoops in seat frames, with two layers of fabric and the pattern drawn on all ready to start. Also 2 pairs of scissors and a velvet board.
But first we (I) had to oo and ah about the views from the windows:
Ok, so first off we basted our two fabrics together with a techniques I’ve not done before (learning all the things!) where you just use tiny running stitches just inside the lines of your design where there’ll be covered with stitches, and then very neatly on the lines where they will only just be covered. This is a better way than basting like I did with the Snail in straight lines because you don’t have to pull them out at the end.
Then we started padding. We used three layers of felt padding and were taught how to stitch down properly for each layer. We used white felt as it was going to be covered with silver and blue metal threads – if it was goldwork it would have been yellow felt.
Then we couched down silver pearl purl:
I’m going to assume, maybe incorrectly, that most people reading this haven’t done goldwork before, so what pearl purl is is a tightly wound, round coil of wire. You can get it in different metals and finishes, and widths. We were taught how to handle the thread and how to manipulate and prepare it for stitching (you don’t just pull it out and go). We got some great little tips about placing the wire correctly and how to make sure we couched it correctly and preparing our stitching thread correctly. Always. The. Correct. Way.
Then we went on to learning chipping using wire check. Again, we all huddled around Lizzy as she demonstrated the technique on a student’s work then copied it on our own. This was the rhythm of the day.
Wire check is another coil of wire but coiled in a triangle shape with lots of edges and angles and you cut off a tiny piece and attach it like a bead, carefully placing each piece so it appears random. This is hard.
And that was what I got done in day one! About 5 hours work. We started just before 10am and finished at 4 pm, with an hour for lunch and a tea break which was roughly 20 minutes or so at 11. So the pace of the class I’d say was about right because I was KNACKERED when I finished. I guess it’s the unconscious energy you’re expending really concentrating all day and learning something new. Also the lighting in the room was amazing – a mix of daylight tubes and fluorescent tubes – but my eyes felt soooo tiiiired.
Added bonus to doing a course there – you are given a pass which grants you access to the whole palace, so I was at liberty to wonder round like a tourist both afternoons after class.
Did I mention the Royal School has a KICK ASS LIBRARY that I was DYING over. Literally any book you want on anything embroidery is there. Could’ve spent a day just browsing. Also the work they have on the walls there had me wringing my hands and wanting to just give up now. Just the most EXQUISITE work you’ve ever seen on every wall. But you’re not allowed to photograph anything unless it’s your own work. So, take my word for it.
Ok so Day Two. We all arrived bright eyed to start our lesson.
Today we basically did couching. Turns out I hate couching. Specifically I hate couching this stuff which is wire twist. More specifically I hate plunging which is where after you’ve couched which is actually easy you have to take the ends through to the back of the work with a large needle and then stitch them down on the back but only catching the underneath layer of calico.
It is a bitch.
My fingers were sore.
I was sweating.
My ego does not like things I can’t do perfectly with ease straight away because I am a childish person.
Anyway so this was the most beautiful iridescent kingfisher coloured twist. Twist is twisted cords. The cords are made up of three strands of metal that are twisted into a cord. Each strand of metal is made up of a thread core with a wire wrapped around the core so it does not show. And when you try to thread the end millimeter through a needle to plunge it to the back you are doing this with three threads and then one doesn’t want to stay threaded and falls out so you have to take all of them out and do it again and it hurts your fingers and then you get cross and want to cry but you swallow it all because you are here and you’re learning and you’re an adult.
Ok so did that.
Believe it or not ladies and gents, that took me 4 and a half hours. In fact I actually did less than this because I only plunged the pointy end threads down in class. There’s a hot mess going on on the back of the work I’m not showing you.
So I’m gonna finish showing you how I finished the piece and then I’ll tell you what I thought about the course overall.
There’s a colour change going on here so we had to blend 2 colours of wire check, turquoise to bright silver check. Then I couched down a thinner piece of pearl purl to the outer edge of the shape.
Oh yeah you can’t see that because I had to do MORE COUCHING.
Actually this bit was way easier. We used an even more beautiful iridescent purple fine 371 thread. This is basically a thread core wrapped very tightly with a coloured foil.
Again I couched this down in pairs using brick stitch pattern and then gritted my teeth to plunge again. It was so much easier with a thinner and more mobile thread and much quicker.
Then one final row of fine pearl purl to the inside of the shape.
You can see that slightly raised ‘seam’ through the middle of my 371 bit, this is where I’ve not plunged the threads tightly enough and it’s a bit overcrowded. I am assured this comes with practice.
Finally I had to attach little pieces of rough purl in little crosses to the middle. Rough purl is simply a fine coil of wire with a matte finish. That little gap in my chipping is where I ran out of bright check.
And here’s it done – my first ever piece of metal work:
How does it compare to the expert? >
So the most obvious flaw in my work is as I have already pointed out, the uneven couching where the two threads are alternating going through to the back – it should be much smoother.
But overall I’m OK with it.
So what else can I say about my experience. A couple of weeks since I came back and I really miss it. It was just a rare joy to even be in such a place. I’ve never been taught anything embroidery related formally and metal work was a technique I felt I wasn’t going to get by in by studying books and experimenting alone. Just being in the palace, in parts the public never see, and seeing all the amazing work on the walls, was so brilliant. The tutor was great, and all the staff I came across were lovely. You’re in a class of a handful of people from all over the world who have come here to learn something from the people who are best in the world at it. At any point you could ask a question and have an expert demonstrate the answer. What a privilege. I’m now going to save up for their intensive summer school in Goldwork – 2 weeks of perfecting it. It won’t be next year but there’s still so much to learn, so many techniques not even seen. But for now I will be able to include metal threads in my pieces, and I intend to with my next one (follow me on facebook or instagram if you want to see what’s in the pipeline).
Other learns: I reckon I must be really slow when I’m embroidering at home. I have the TV on usually and although on the one hand it’s good that I am looking up from the work (which I wasn’t doing that much in class and my eyes really suffered for it) but I realised when I was finishing it at home how distracted I am – getting cups of tea (no drinks allowed in class!), going to the loo, chatting to my husband, checking my phone, watching the telly…makes me think I need to try and focus on completing blocks of time with no visual distractions and see how much quicker I can be.
Next thing I realised was a bit inevitable. I could feel after the first morning there the seed had been planted that would grow into the plant of I’m A Bit Shit. Seeing work by the real masters of the art was for me disheartening. As I said earlier, I can be a childish person and my ego wants to be the best. But also wearing the hat of the artist has been a difficult fit for me too, so I’m trying to give myself room to develop as one, making the transition from when I would have defined my work as craft to now, art.
I am not the finished article, and it has always been a useful, albeit sometimes cringe making exercise to look at my archive page and see the development of my work, especially remembering that at the time of making all these pieces, I was very proud of myself. I did my first ever piece of freehand original work in 2010, the Fly Agaric and I still love it, it still makes me proud. However, being amongst these experts made me realise that part of being skilled is being quick and confident with your mark-making. All of my embroidered jewellery – virtually everything I have for sale now – was created as a completely one-off piece, and was the first time I had ever made each one. I mean that’s arguably true of all art, but technically it wasn’t made quickly with a practiced hand. I realise speed isn’t everything but with an art form as labour intensive as hand embroidery it does affect your pricing, something I’ve written about before. I do believe in the value of time and the need to acknowledge this but over the last 5 years of seriously pursuing high quality embroidery art I come to realise it is a sweatshop. The prices I will set for the large art pieces when I come to show them as a collection will likely price my time at something like £1 an hour or less. Because it’s hundreds of hours work. I now believe that part of my reward for producing my art is the very act of doing it. Of being lucky enough to be in a situation where I have a part time job to feed myself and pay my bills and get to devote the rest of my time to being creative.
What was really interesting about this though was illustrated in a comment from the tutor at one point where she basically said she is a traditionalist and really loves perfecting the techniques but is not creative. Virtually the whole class nodded in enthusiastic agreement! There are many embroidery and textile artists working today who are not schooled in the ‘correct’ techniques but their work is no less accomplished and beautiful or powerful or inspirational.
So, I took away a lot from this class and this is perhaps the most important lesson; I have always taken great pride and care in making my work to ‘heirloom’ quality – because it is the nature of being ‘handed down’ and precious in it’s longevity that inspires me to make something very carefully and taking my time with it. But to make ‘good art’, the skill involved is only equally important to the idea or feeling you’re expressing.
What do you think? Any artists, embroidery or otherwise, have any thoughts on this?
I’m still here, and I’ve not been idle. What I’m sharing with you today is some background info on some amazing and beautiful creatures that I have the good fortune of having the pleasure to embroider for a lovely private commission I’ve landed. I am creating a framed piece depicting 3 of the most beautiful moths in nature. It’s funny – when I decided to start accepting commissions I was very clear I didn’t want to be an ’embroiderer for hire’ and would only accept work on the basis that it inspired me; as such I would never do butterflies. But moths? They are of the night.
I’ve been doing all the ground work for the piece today and, as is my custom, did my research on their short lives. Enjoy:
The Atacus atlas moth. Considered the largest moths in the world in terms of total wing surface area. Their wingspans are also amongst the largest, reaching over 25 cm (10 in). Females are appreciably larger and heavier. (I am basing my embroidery on the female)
Atlas moths are said to be named after either the Titan of Greek mythology, or their map-like wing patterns. In Hong Kong the Cantonese name translates as “snake’s head moth”, referring to the apical extension of the forewing, which bears a more than passing resemblance to a snake’s head.
Doesn’t it? Great huh?
In India, Atlas moths are cultivated for their silk in a non-commercial capacity; unlike that produced by the related Silkworm moth (Bombyx mori), Atlas moth silk is secreted as broken strands. This brown, wool-like silk is thought to have greater durability and is known as fagara. Atlas moth cocoons have even been employed as purses in Taiwan.
There’s something beautifully poetic about me using silk to depict this great beauty, knowing this bit of trivia.
The Spanish Moon moth, Graellsia isabellae:
Unlike it’s tropical cousin, above, this moth is native to continental pine forests in mountainous regions of Spain, France and Switzerland, and due to its very localised distribution it is protected by law in the first two countries.
At the end of April and beginning of May the moth begins to hatch after overwintering in the cocoon. After copulation the female lays about 100 to 150 eggs on the favoured foodplant, pines. The larva hatch after 1 to 1.5 weeks and begin to eat from the very hard pine needles. The Spanish Moon Moth is widely regarded as the most beautiful example of moth in Europe and is arguably the most beautiful in the world.
The ground colour of the breathtaking adult is a type of metallic, pea-green, broken up with defined, reddish-brown veins.
Believe it or not, the final moth is found in the UK as well as across Europe, Russia, and into China, northern parts of the Indian subcontinent, Japan and Korea. Deilephila elpenor, AKA the Elephant Hawk-moth.
The larva is about 75 millimetres (3.0 in) long, green and brown in colour. Like most hawk moth caterpillars, they have a backward curving spine or “horn” on the final abdominal segment. The anterior of the caterpillar appears to have the shape of a trunk-like snout. It is this elephant look, rather than its large size, that gives the moth its name.
When startled, the caterpillar draws its trunk into its foremost body segment. This posture resembles a snake with a large head and four large eye-like patches. Caterpillars are preyed upon by birds, but these shy away (at least for some time) from caterpillars in “snake” pose. It is not known whether the birds take the caterpillar to actually resemble a snake, or are frightened by the sudden change of a familiar prey item into an unusual and boldly-patterned shape.
The preferred food plants of the caterpillar are willowherb (Epilobium) and bedstraw (Galium), though it will also take fuchsias.
Looking forward to sharing my work in progress on this one!
Groan is how I feel today. I might be feeling less groan had I not been robbed earlier, but there you go. Also groan because I spent a lot of hours embroidering over the weekend – more than I expected – and doing other stuff too, and ran out of time to blog, so I am actually blogging live today. As opposed to being terribly organised and pre-writing and scheduling my posts. This embroidery KICKED MY ASS this weekend and I only finished it past 10 last night, so I am having to just tell you about it now. It was a doozy…but it turned out beautifully so I’m not mad at it.
I had another 6″ square-ish antique doily I wanted to embroider in the same vein as the heart from last week, but combining both the slightly tricky ribcage motif, and using a different kind of thread for me; Pearsalls Filoselle silk. Mum has been encouraging me to use something altogether finer, with more of a sheen etc. and I happened to have a dozen or so little spools in my stash. I picked these colours only because they were the only 4 in a matching spectrum, so I knew I could achieve some depth. Having hooped up in the same way as I did with the heart (pain in the ass number 1: the edges of the doily being SO lacy I just couldnt get the tightest tension, despite using my little pillowcase-aperture thing, along with being nervous to yank it all too tightly considering the age of the thing and fear of it desiccating in my hands. I managed), I started with the darkest shade and began to fill in the spine in split stitch.
Pain in the ass number 2: This thread is so slippy. It had such a recoil and a tension all its own! That with the very fine weave of the fabric and I really had to be diligent of my stitches being teeny tiny to keep them from coiling back on themselves, and that’s despite trying to turn my needle each time to stop the ply from unravelling.
I actually started the ribs in split stich too, as you can see:
But then I decided it was too boring and typical for me and I wanted to have some different techniques in there, so unpicky-picky I go, and then began re-doing the ribs in satin stitch. Pain in the ass number 3: As soon as I started getting any length into the stitch it all coiled and sprang up giving a horrible uneven finish. Unpicky picky again…Back to split stitch.
We’re getting on better this time, split stitch and me.
By this stage I was beginning to appreciate the qualities of this kind of silk, and we were becoming better acquainted. Still not friends though.
I am always impatient to try out my whole colour palette, so I made the vertebra all stripey.
You’re starting to see how shiny it’s getting now.
At this point I was feeling both frazzled and pleased. I always know when I’m getting sick with a piece I am working on when I get this intense itchy feeling. Like I could just throw a tantrum any minute. I didn’t though. I got out some well-behaved cotton floss and I outlined the whole thing:
Man was I pleased to finish. But wait for it…The big reveal! (as always here is my disclaimer about the true SHITNESS of my photos – please understand I am snapping these on my phone as I go):
So it was all worth it in the end. And not a single tension problem either! I think she’s like a Neapolitan Ice Cream of a skeleton.
I reckon I probably put about 7 hours stitching in this so certainly a bit more than heart. I will frame her up and get her in the shop on Friday, if you would like to give her a home.
Here’s another reinvention. The grumpy toad design was always a dilemma as to be silk or cotton. So I try both and here is the cotton version.
I have been really perfecting my single-strand cotton split stitch with the two Boxing Hares and very pleased with the swirly-wirly patterns on Mr. Toad. I like his eyes better too, and he even has french-knot warts.
You may notice I have gone back to using my little 6″ hoop instead of my roller frame. I did like using the roller for printing up 6 designs and stitching them through, but as I was working through them so quickly I was wanting to take the fabric off and make up the embroideries to jewellery before I’d finish all 6. Plus always rolling it down meant I did sometimes have tension problems. So using the hoop means I can still print up 6, but they are widely spaced apart enough that I never hoop over the work, plus because each miniature only takes a few hours I always have drum-tight tension.