Back to the drawing board

Back to the drawing board


I just had a lovely 4-day Easter break. We ate, we slept, we did the traditional bank-holiday-Monday trip to Ikea with the whole world and their children. Good stuff. The best part was I got a new chair! Are you excited? I can tell that you are. No seriously, I was starting to get back and shoulder (and neck and hand) problems from sitting on my sofa for 8 hours at a stretch sewing, and really in the interests of wanting to keep on doing that for the next 40 years, I thought I’d better get a good chair. 

Here’s what I’m doing right now:

Little magpie in bullion knots.

Mini stumpwork toadstool. This is worked in aplique, french knots, tiny bullion knots, chain stitch and satin stitch.

Following the Death Cap I wanted to get back to making more miniatures for the jewellery collection. My mum had donated to the cause once again with a perfect-size roller frame and also a stack of very old (1950s) and very soft heavy cotton pillowcases. The perfect thing to be soaked in Yorkshire tea and covered in little art works. This is truly wonderful fabric to work on actually. Heavy and even and smooth and with a story to tell. Of many sleeping heads over 70 years. If pillowcases could talk.

Death Cap

Death Cap

So much learnt!

Here’s a brief summary:

  1. Dyed the Salamanca fabric in tea and backed it with cotton

  2. Raised stem stitch band in cotton (twice)

  3. Bullion knots in cotton

  4. Needlelace (Single Brussels stitch) in cotton

  5. Padded felt slip in wool viscose and cotton padding

  6. Brick stitch in Crewel wool

  7. Detached woven picot in cotton

  8. Couching in cotton

  9. French knots in cotton

  10. Lettering in backstitch and skull in padded satin stitch in cotton.

The afterglow of successful creation. I’m basking right now.

Finishing off the mushroom

Finishing off the mushroom

So we come to the end. I’ve skipped ahead a few steps in this post so you’ll see all the final stages.

After finishing the woven picots, all the main sections were done, and it was left to tart it up a bit. First, I couched in the cap.

I used two different colours, in groups of 4 threads, one on top, and one underneath.

Then I decided to use another of my lovely hand dyed variegated cottons in a browny, brambley colour scheme, first to couch a line to the base, tidying up the leaves and base, and then used 2 strands to do lots of french knot texture to look like soil. This worked beautifully with the varigation of the threads to give a really natural depth.

Tune in tomorrow for the final piece’s full frontal glamour shot.



When I first saw this stitch described in the RSC Stumpwork book, I got really excited. It was really the stitch that confirmed I needed to do another toadstool just so I could employ it.

Again, when I think of traditional Stumpwork I think of fancy little things like this. Some 3-pronged detached woven picots to be precise.

I used some gorgeous hand-dyed variegated dark green cotton. They were actually super simple to make. I thought I would leave them detatched but realised they would just flop to the front so put a couple of little holding stitches in there to make them undulate. Also realised my stupid mistake of transferring the (indelible) design of the outline of these to the fabric, even though it would be exposed by the detached leaves. So I coloured it in in pencil – it becomes a shadow!

Artistic revision

Artistic revision

At this point in the piece, I sat back and took stock. I realised that what at the start looked like a nice gradiation of colour in the initial panel of raised stem stitch making up the stalk, within the whole composition it now looked a bit crude; the colours are in fact not closely matched enough, so it looks a bit stripey. Also, the idea behind shading it in this way was that it would mimic a natural light source falling on the toadstool. But as I haven’t used darker colours anywhere else, it started to look a bit odd.

A choice was in front of me. Having read up on the history of Stumpwork I knew that originally in these kind of conversational samplers, no sense of scale or ‘natural rules’ applied; bees can be as big as houses and no need to apply the rules of perspective, light and shadow and so on.

On the other hand, this is MY composition and I intend to keep it alongside my Fly Agaric, a piece I don’t mind admitting I am very proud of, but also one that is pretty naturalistic looking in it’s composition.

As this Death Cap will accompany it, representing my first attempts at mastering new embroidery techniques, I definitely don’t want to forever look at them and think ‘Balls, I wish I didn’t shade that stem so dark’.

Time for a bit of a re – do.

Luckily, the thing about this stitch, is the thread is only attached to the fabric as a starting stitch, the bulk of the surface thread simply woven along horizontal bands. So pretty easy to pull the threads out. I still didn’t want the stem to be a flat monotone though, so instead of working bands again, I threaded up 2 tapestry needles in the 2 lightest colours and worked them alternately, to give a much subtler gradation of colour, much less jarring than previously.