Thursday, August 30, 2012


I finished redoing this a week or two ago, but only just got the stretcher made and the piece mounted. I signed it too, with both Louis Nicolas's initials and an estimated date, and my initials. I took the style of the letters from pages in the Codex that had a lot of text on them, so there is at least a vestige of Pere Nicolas's hand there.

And I am much happier with the revised version. It was definitely worth the mild tedium of picking out stitches and reworking them.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Educational Needlecraft

Okay, I admit it. I am a complete nerd when it comes to the intersection of embroidery, history, education and psychology. I hope you will understand my seemingly unreasonable excitement over a document that I just downloaded. Educational Needlecraft, published in 1911 by Margaret Swanson and Ann Macbeth, is a treasure, even on the computer screen. It cannot be imagined how incredibly thrilled I would be to hold the real book in my hands!

Swanson and Macbeth were very influential artists and teachers at the Glasgow School of Art. Although they  also worked in other mediums such as bookbinding and metalwork, it is their legacy to embroidery that is most remembered. Working in what would now be called "Arts and Crafts" style, their embroidery and design remains distinctively fresh, elegant and charming.

What is notable about their book is their emphasis on playful, exploratory learning and their respect and insight into a child's physical, intellectual and emotional development. Their lessons are indeed both fun and practical. I have never particularly wanted to go back in time. but I just might invest in a time machine if it could transport me into Swanson and Macbeth's classes.

I initially found information on Educational Needlecraft in Gail Marsh's Early 20th Century Embroidery Techniques, a fascinating volume that I fell asleep reading last night. She also mentioned other books by Margaret Swanson, including Needlecraft and Psychology, published in 1926, which I want to read so bad my hands are shaking just thinking about it.

Yes, a nerd indeed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Between Sea and Sky

My latest project was a fun one. My friend Jean-Pierre (he of the thoughtful comments and gifts of Japanese cloth) was given an old duffel bag, and he wanted it turned into something he could hang on the wall. The resulting piece, above, retains its rough, utilitarian air. I have worked in a few details to embellish the story.
This is the bag as it came to me. It appears to have been originally issued to a Cpl. H. Burrow of the RCAF. Given the vintage of the bag, he may have seen action in W.W.II.
After discharge from the military, he hung on to his bag and took it with him to his new job with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 
The only online reference to Mr. Burrow I found puts him at Bella Bella, way up the west coast of BC, in 1952.
The tough canvas bag had obviously seen a lot of use, probably been thrown in the back of planes, boats and god knows what else.
I took apart the bag and laid it flat. The canvas measured 36" selvedge to selvedge. I used a red thread to stitch around the perimeter of the piece, then used a graphite pencil to slightly darken the faded stencilled text.
There is another, more faded stencil under the handwritten address.
Since I am into animal images lately (Oh, and I finally saw, and was enraptured by, Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams!) I machine embroidered a pair of wings, based on the RCAF insignia of Cpl. Burrow's era.
And I embroidered a fish from the DFO's current emblem.
And as a final touch, I sewed on a row of notched metal buttons that look like little gears. They are spaced about as far apart as they would be on a shirt, so there is a relationship to the human body and the ephemeral presence of Mr. Burrow. They also work with the composition, keeping the eye moving around the piece.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Playing With Colour

Jane Stafford is known for her distinctive use of colour. She shared her approach in the workshop. First she created a huge colour wheel on the table with all the colours of 2/8 cotton. (It helps if you have a yarn store in the next room!)
Jane knelt on top of the table, and selected yarns to interpret the pictures we had torn from magazines. Any photograph, or artwork could be used as a source of inspiration with this method. The main thing was just to choose something that appealed to you.
Jane has a tried and true formula for choosing colour, based mostly on the usual elements of design. Her innovations include the use of a "zinger" - a small amount of a colour that is either brighter or from the opposite place on the colour wheel.
In the photo below, the image of a golden retriever lying in a cool toned hallway becomes an analogous blue-green colourway with a bright orange as the zinger.
It was definitely an easy and fun approach to designing with colour, quite different from my formal Bauhaus-style courses back in art school. The only caveat for me would be the random nature of my stash, based as it is on thrift store finds. I tend to work with what I've got, and sometimes have to really stretch to create a pleasing design. It's not surprising that my dreams after this workshop were filled with colour.

And speaking of all the colours of the rainbow, Sherri Lynn Wood over at Daintytime has a giveaway with a great story behind it!

Friday, August 10, 2012

SOS Mayday Mayday

Help! Dear blog friends, I think I have screwed it up. What looked so good on paper I'm now not so sure about. What do you think? Does the gap between feathers suggest the bird breaking out of a shell, or does it just look weird? Not only that, even though I traced the ring of feathers exactly as I had drawn it, it turns out to be a little askew to the grain of the cloth. I am prepared to rip it all out and start again. (Just the feathers, the birds are fine.)
Please, feel free to give your opinion.
*Update later that evening* Although it might seem I didn't take anyone's advice, I really appreciate your comments. Ultimately, even though I like the gap, I feel that my eye keeps being drawn to it and that it plays a stronger role in the "story" of the piece than feels appropriate. I'll save the gap in the egg idea for something else, and stick to my original intent of faithfully translating Louis Nicolas's drawings into stitch, and just keeping my own borders and such a bit more underplayed.

So, yes, I picked out the feathers and carefully handwashed the graphite tracing out. I will redraw the border a tiny bit bigger so the birds fit comfortably. And get it on grain this time. And thanks DebDeannaBarb, and Val for helping me to think it through.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Saving a Warp

What happens if you  decide half-way through weaving a dozen tea towels that you've had enough of that for now? Maybe you miscalculated the length you needed and there's an extra yard or two you don't want to waste, but you also don't want to weave it up immediately? Or you might have to take your beautifully tensioned warp off the loom before you've even begun to weave, as happened to Jane Stafford, when she had to reschedule our workshop for later in the year. She showed us a neat way to save a warp with the cross intact. 

One starts by weaving a half inch or so of plain weave a couple of inched above your completed cloth. Insert  a thin wooden slat into the open shed, then weave another half inch. Mix up a simple flour and water paste, and apply it to the woven strips. Let dry.

Take a couple of lengths of seine twine and open the shed again. Run one length of twine around the upper half of the threads and tie off in a bow. Do the same for the lower half of the threads. Now your cross is secure, and the warp is still under tension. Jane likes to say, "A thread under tension is a thread under control."
Jane demonstrates cutting the finished cloth warp ends between the hemstitching and the pasted strip, and removing the length from the loom.
 Now, keeping the remaining warp under tension, she walks backwards while her assistant Charlotte keeps an eye on the back beam.
When the back apron rod rolls around,  Charlotte slides the loop of warp threads off, and cuts it.
 Then Charlotte walks towards Jane, making a tight chain as she goes.
Voila! A neat package of warp. When you are ready to use it, overcast stitch the pasted end, stick and all to the back apron rod, insert your lease stick into the cross, remove the seine twine, and you are ready to rewarp your loom. Jane has a great foolproof way to warp your loom on her Help Line.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Colour and Design with Jane

I arrived home from two weeks on Bowen and immediately dove into a five-day weaving workshop with Jane Stafford. How lucky I am to live on the same island as Jane, who is a phenomenal teacher. Not only does she generously share all the tricks and innovations she developed over her 30 years as a production weaver, she is lively, engaging and possessed of a saucy sense of humour. ( And I must say at the outset that she is much sleeker in person than my camera would suggest.)

Eight of us were there to learn Jane's approach to Colour and Design. There were tons of samples to look at and fondle.
She talked about creating a "Consumate Cloth", a cloth that has optimum drape and perfectly fulfills the requirements for the purpose it is intended for. Jane demonstrated how cloth at different setts would drape differently by holding samples on the bias and letting them flow onto the table. She has a particular affinity for soft, light, touchable cloth, and isn't shy about hugging her favourites.
There was an awful lot of cloth on the table by lunchtime!
She introduced us to a brilliantly simple system of dividing space using the Fibonacci series of numbers.
Then we went to the lovely pre-warped looms, weaving eight samples each of various gamps that demonstrated the design and colour concepts were were to be immersed in for the next few days. 
One of the nicest things about the class is that I was allowed to bring Gracie too. Luckily my fellow students all welcomed her and it was quickly decided that she was to be our mascot.

Next posts will be on playing with colour, saving a warp, and exotic cloth.