…and just like that it is the First Day of Spring

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Where have the first three months of the year gone? With all of the madness going in around us I think it is time to take a deep breath and try to see the brighter side. For me it is that there will be even more time for stitching.

Unfortunately, as of Wednesday afternoon, the Royal School of Needlework has had to close our classroom, so for the remainder of this term we have moved to online classes. We will each be working from home, using online groups to keep in contact, and our brave tutors are going to try to inspire and keep us moving forward to complete the pieces that are currently underway. It’s a whole new world for both the students and the RSN, but for an institution that will be soon celebrating its 150th year, what is a new challenge but an opportunity to change and grow.

The major piece that I am currently working is a shaded Blackwork stitched portrait. Blackwork can be so very time consuming and I am quickly realising that this piece is likely to take a lot longer than any other I have completed so far on this course – yes even longer than that pesky Goldwork I just finished. I am learning so much with this piece, including that the portrait I have chosen to stitch contains all of the elements that make getting a realistic and lifelike portrait particularly difficult. Along with the expected eyes, nose, lips and hair, my portrait includes glasses, teeth, an ear with earring, floral clothing, and a lovely network of character lines across the face. I did set myself a challenge!

I am doing a lot of stitch sampling and then reconsidering/redoing constantly in an effort to get all of these elements to look just right.

Stitch sampling for Lips and Teeth, an Ear, and Eyes and Glasses

Along with the stitching that fills so much of my day I had been looking forward to a family visitor and getting to catch-up, but like for so many others, that is not going to be possible now.

I am still trying to take in some of the beautiful countryside around this part of the U.K. and to celebrate Spring here are some photos from the gardens at Hampton Court Palace.

The Palace has also closed its doors to visitors as of today, but the gardens will remain open and provide a wonderful place to breathe some fresh air – I am so lucky to live near here and have this to escape to. I hope you are enjoying your local open spaces as well.

Take care and stay well.

Stitching , Stitching, Stitching……..Goldwork.

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Continuing on my Future Tutor journey, the focus for the first half of the Second term has been on the techniques of traditional Goldwork – learning how to handle, stitch, and store metal threads. All Future Tutor students are required to complete a set piece of Goldwork which has three of symbols that have been worked at the RSN since it’s earliest days.

3 Gold Symbols

Traditional RSN embroidered work, from the RSN collection.

I have been stitching the three symbols across the top row of this piece.

The aim of the module has been to produce a embroidered piece that can be used as a teaching sample for any future Goldwork classes, so leaving half of each design element partially worked allows the method of working to be clearly seen. Interestingly this piece has taken the greatest number of hours to work so far even though we actually only complete half of each symbol in the design.

The Symbols we stitched are those traditionally used in “church work”. These are embroidered elements that are often found within the decorative work on vestments, banners, and various alter adornments.

Pomegranate

The pomegranate fruit is shown split open with the ‘pips’ or seeds exposed. This piece uses filament silk in deep red to satin stitch over the raised pips.

Crown

The crown has Jewels surrounded by S-ing (also sometimes called in embroidery books – Essing).

Fleur de Lys

This element gave lots of practice in goldwork basketweave but also had us making our own twisted cord.

Finishing

While each stitched element is not fully worked, the entire piece must be fully stretched and card mounted prior to handing in. The process of mounting Goldwork can take a significant amount of time as great care must be taken so that the work is not damaged during the process. Bubblewrap is your friend for this step! Thankfully I have now finished and the piece is ready to hand in on the last day of the term.

Enjoying the Mid term break

I rounded out the first half of this second term with a birthday celebration which included a 3 day visit to Bath, and lovely stay in a very well located traditional BnB ( Three Abbey Green) with a generous ‘cooked to order’ full English breakfast each day. Particular highlights in Bath being the beautiful city centre, the parks, the River, the Fashion Museum (lots of spectacular Embroidery here) and the Roman Baths. A must do trip!

Now it is on to Blackwork…..

Term 2 is underway.

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The second term of my journey on the RSN Future Tutors course is in full swing and I am currently working on a traditional Goldwork piece called Three Gold Symbols.

This is one of the set pieces on the Future Tutors course and takes us through learning many of the traditional Goldwork techniques and applications of gold threads. The Three symbols that we are stitching are a Pomegranate, a Crown, and a Fleur de Lys and these can all be seen in the top row of the photo of the historical piece below.

I am really enjoying working on this piece and have certainly come to appreciate how much preparation and padding is required before any gold is actually applied, and that the application of the gold threads is tediously slow, and then there are the all ends to plunge and tie back! However the end result is really worthwhile.

These same symbols have been stitched by apprentices at the RSN since the very early days of the school and I have been fortunate to view a number of beautifully stitched examples held in the RSN collection. In the photo here you can see one of the historical pieces stitched by an RSN student some 50+ years ago.

Student Goldwork from the RSN Historical collection.

While the Goldwork piece is keeping me busy right now, the other techniques to be mastered this term include an introduction to Silkshading, Stumpwork sampling, and Blackwork. Lots to keep me stitching every day.

Recreational Stitching.

Last weekend I did manage to find time to do one of the RSNs brilliant weekend classes, a bright Stumpwork Flamingo designed and taught by the lovely Sara Rickards. This Flamingo is a fun and challenging design with beautiful silk fabrics, goldwork and detached elements. Sara always packages up the most beautiful kits, it is like opening a wonderful gift.

I really enjoyed the two days of class though I have not quite finished yet. The class brought another pleasant surprise as I found out that one of the other students and I shared a mutual good friend back in Australia. How lovely to have a good catch up.

Stumpwork Flamingo by Sara Rickards.

https://wellembroidered.co.uk

I must now head back to stitch down more gold threads …

End of Term and a little more Recreational Stitching

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1st Term draws to a close

The end of my first term as a student on the RSN Future Tutors course is fast approaching and I am required to hand in my completed embroideries for assessment on Thursday this week. Then I get to enjoy a two week break for Christmas, before returning to class ready for Term 2 in early January 2020.

For this course each assessable embroidered piece needs to be stitched and properly mounted on card to meet the brief and RSN requirements – including my name tag stitched onto the back. The pieces also need to be accompanied by the relevant paperwork with includes the Design drawings, the stitch plans, any reference images, any sampling or testing of threads and stitches, a record of time taken to stitch, a materials list, and of course the self assessment forms. I will admit that completing the paperwork sometimes feels more onerous than the stitching, but in the end it does give me a good set of reference material for future development of my stitching, and hopefully will assist me to teach the technique in the future.

For this first term I have themed each of my embroideries around the ‘Grounds and Gardens of Hampton Court Palace’ and I will have three technique pieces to hand in, these being Jacobean Crewelwork ( Frolicking in Home Park ) , Canvas Stitches ( Dawn over the Thames at Hampton Court), and Canvas Shading ( Artichoke ). All of the embroideries in this term have used Appleton’s 2 ply crewel wool, with some stranded cottons, linen, and cotton perle threads also added into the Canvas stitches piece. My Canvas Stitches piece is based on a beautiful photo taken by the talented Noleen Wyatt-Jones, while the other two are based on my photos taken around Hampton Court Palace. A glimpse of the inspirations for each piece and a segment of the stitched works are in the photos below.

Rear Left Photo – Deer in Home Park, HCP. Front left – Deer element in Jacobean Crewelwork.
Centre Photo – Dawn over the Thames at Hampton Court – taken by Noleen Wyatt-Jones. Canvas Stitches in progress.
Rear Right Photo – Artichoke in the Hampton Court Palace vegetable garden. Front Right – Canvas Shading in progress

In addition to stitching the three main assessable pieces, this term we have also completed an initial set of introductory classes, had two ‘Master Classes’ in Mountmellick and Ribbonwork, enjoyed a number of interesting Art and Design Classes, and explored historic embroidery via a Collection Lecture on Counted work. It has been a very full term indeed.

Recreational Stitching

Amongst all of the coursework I have also managed this term to attend 3 of the RSN weekend classes that are offered to all stitchers. I attend these as recreational stitching just for my own pleasure, though I find I also learn a lot from observing various tutors and their teaching styles, along with getting to meet a great cross section of keen embroidery students.

This weekend I was fortunate to have attended Rachel Doyle’s 2 day class in Stumpwork Figures, and it was a wonderful class with a great kit and many tips and insights on creating a figure in stumpwork. I still have a lot of practice to do on creating hands and faces to get my figures looking realistic. I found that the sparkly blue fabric that Rachel used for the background gives a great icy effect to the piece but is very hard to photograph.

Stumpwork Figure – Ice Skater by Rachel Doyle

Here is my version of the little stumpwork Ice Skater. I think I might have to trim her ear muffs a little smaller yet, and that front hand needs to be smaller and tucked into her sleeve a little further, however it was a great weekend learning experience.

Now I must get back to finalising my assessment paperwork and finish mounting my Canvas Stitches ready for Thursday.

Wish me luck and Merry Christmas to you all.

Chat

Embroidery Exhibitions and a Mid-term break

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The weather has turned decidedly cold here at Hampton Court Village with it being 4° C at 10 am this morning. I walk across the bridge over the Thames each morning on my way to the Palace, so I check how cold it is before I leave the house and the temperatures are definitely dropping. Thankfully my dear friend Narelle had knitted me some lovely scarves and I have been finding these very useful along with a warm coat to make the walk more comfortable. This week they started building the Ice Skating rink at the front of the palace, and with the remaining few leaves on the trees shivering in the wind, winter is certainly on the way.

Last week was mid-term break for the Future Tutors course, and I am amazed to find that we are half way through the first term already as the time is really flying past. The course keeps me so busy that I didn’t think I’d have time for breaks from stitching but as it happens, by stitching throughout the mid-term break, I have finished my Jacobean Crewelwork and have my Canvas Stitches piece well underway so I made time today to visit a couple of embroidery exhibitions in London.

The first exhibition was the ‘Society for Embroidered Work’ and their International Contemporary Stitched Art Exhibition at the Clerkenwell Gallery, and the other stop was the to see the fabulous traditional Goldwork pieces at the Museum of Freemasonry. I really want to make the most of any opportunities to see embroidery while I am here and both exhibitions were worth the journey, with many inspiring pieces. I have included a few snaps to give you a taste of the items I saw though unfortunately they are not the best pictures. I do find embroidery behind glass hard to take good pictures of.

I am hoping to get to the Hand and Lock Prize for Embroidery display next week, but this plan will be dependent on how much of my two canvas pieces I get stitched, so for now it is back to the embroidery frame for me after such an inspiring day out.

The Clerkenwell Galley – venue for the SEW International Contemporary Stitched Art Exhibition

Inside the SEW exhibition

Machine embroidered landscapes on wool felt by Sue Nicholls

Two pieces by Alison Wake – ‘Tideswell Dale’ and ‘Tipping Point, Monsal Weir’

Two pieces by Amanda Hartland – ‘Peek-A-Boo’ and ‘A Dogs Life’.

Beautiful needle lace by Bridget Steel-Jessop called ‘Sisters’.

Blackwork by Christina MacDonald

Traditional Goldwork from the Museum of Freemasonry exhibition.

Abundant Goldwork

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Jacobean Crewel module and a little Recreational Stitching.

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The RSN Future Tutors course has a very packed schedule and we are now well into the first term. We have received our marks and assessors comments for our first Basic Skills piece and I am very happy to get the feedback on this as we have already moved onto stitching our next assessed pieces. Must remember that I still need to pay attention to the rebate when Mounting!

Jacobean Crewelwork

The first assessed technique I have stitched is Jacobean Crewelwork. Our tutor has guided us through developing our design, choosing colours, applying the design to the fabric and then finally commencing the stitching. I developed a stitch plan and, using traditional Linen Twill fabric and Appleton’s crewel wools, I am now almost finished stitching the design. In my design I have tried to represent the elements I have seen in the parks around Hampton Court Palace and I think it is coming along fairly well.

Dogs everywhere!

Art and Design classes have also commenced – this is an area that I do not have very much confidence in. The exercises that our tutor has set will hopefully build on my very limited skills, and maybe one day I will be able to get a sketch design down on paper so that it actually looks like the design I have in mind. Until then I will practice and continue to trace and adapt.

Recreational Stitching

I love to try new stitch techniques so when I saw Jacquie McDonald‘s Stumpwork Vegetable Garden advertised on the RSN website, I had to make time to take this one day class – luckily for me it was on the weekend. It was a wonderful kit with all the supplies so nicely packaged and the fabric printed ready for us to commence. Jacqui took us through all of the vegetables one by one as we created our own gardens.

Lovely Kit

Here is my finished piece still in the hoop. I think I might use it in the top of a box when I find time to make one, or maybe I will be able to find a wooden box with the right sized opening. Love the Cauliflower!

Jacqui McDonald Vegetable Patch design, stitched by Sally Randle

Knitting and Stitching Show – Alexandra Palace.

The other adventure I have been on recently is attending the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace. This event is huge and I found it somewhat overwhelming to see so many stalls and traders – and so many goodies – all in one place.

I was lucky enough to be demonstrating on the RSN stand and also assisting in a Learning Curve class along with two of the other Future Tutors. The class was lots of fun and the students so eager to learn that the hour and a half just flew past. What a great experience. I will need to be more organised for it next year as I will get to lead one of the classes myself. So exciting!

I will also have to get my shopping list ready so I don’t get so distracted by all the shiny objects on sale. I mostly restricted myself to some interesting threads and needles this year. As Canvas Stitches is our next assessed module I was on the look out for interesting threads to include in my piece. I also found some curved Tapestry needles that might come in useful.

What a guy!

My other surprise from this event was that my husband purchased me a pair of handmade Ernest Wright embroidery scissors for our anniversary, which just happened to be right after the show. They are very beautiful, feel very good in the hand, cut superbly, and certainly are one of those tools to treasure for a lifetime then pass on. Ernest Wright have a Utube video on how they make their scissors that is worth watching.

Thanks for reading, now I must get back to stitching.

Chat

Start with a solid foundation…

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As my journey on the RSN Future Tutors course gets underway Module One (the last two weeks) have focussed on building a solid foundation of Basic Skills. After the excitement of being handed a wonderful box of embroidery supplies we finally got down to the business of using them.

The 2019 intake of Future Tutors consists of six students with varied backgrounds and experiences, so we have spent our first Module focussing on the basic skills that we will all rely on to complete this course. When you bring together a new group of students it is a good idea to ensure that they all have the same basic understanding of the course that they are on, the standards that they will need to meet, and the guidance that will provided to help them along the way.

The RSN has this communication down to a fine art. With the assistance of a very calm, highly experienced, and patient tutor we were all taken through a planned series of steps – while working on a set Crewel embroidery design – with the aim of ensuring we fully understood the many components that work together to produce embroidery to the RSN expected standards.

During the Basic Skills Module we have reviewed:-

  • The style and history of the technique (Crewel)
  • Understanding the brief
  • Organising supplies and trestles
  • Discussing ground fabrics – Linen Twill
  • Reviewing the elements of the set design
  • Choosing colours and colour planning
  • Reviewing stitches
  • Framing up fabric onto a Slate frame
  • Applying the design
  • Threads and Needles
  • Commencing stitching – line & direction
  • Unpicking and restiching
  • Mounting and labelling
  • Preparation for assessment

My thoughts

This was a really great start to the course. I gained a good understanding of the steps and standards expected, and I know the purpose of each of our embroidery supplies. As a group of students commencing a three year journey we all got to know a little more about each other and the way we each like to work, and best of all we got to stitch!

Here are a few photos of my work in progress.

Framed up and ready to stitch.

First stitches go in

Happy with my colour choice

Gradually building up the stitching

. And then there is the mounting……..

Next Module

I have now moved onto developing my design for the first of the major assessed techniques – Jacobean Crewelwork.

Chat

Finally – The Future Tutors course commences

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The Future Tutors course has finally commenced and over the past week I have attended the first 3 days. These first days were an organised orientation program introducing us (the new students) to the workings of Royal School of Needlework, its Staff, and more generally to Hampton Court Palace.

Future Tutors – Class of 2022

After security passes were issued there were 3 days of tours and introductions to various sections of the school and the many wonderful people who keep the whole place running. There was an interesting lecture on the history and goals of the school from the CEO, and an opportunity to see some beautiful historical embroidered items.

There was a seek peek at the new RSN Faces and Figures exhibition – just before the visit and opening by the Patron – The Duchess of Cornwall. The exhibition has many really spectacular embroideries and I was particularly taken by the detail in many of the Shaded Blackwork pieces.

This little Robin joined us for lunch on our first day.

One particular highlight of the week for me was collecting our crate of Embroidery supplies, as these are the items we will be using for each of our embroidered pieces over the next three years. The crate was full of all sorts of items that any embroiderer would treasure such as slate frames and hoops, scissors and art supplies, tools such as a screwdriver and a stanly knife along with tweezers, mellor, stiletto, pins, and lots of needles. I had a relaxing afternoon unpacking and labelling every item before storing them all away in my allocated work crate.

Needle Books at the ready…

In preparation for the course we had been asked to make ourselves a Needlebook with at least ten pages, and after seeing the package of needles provided in our supplies crate I understood the reason for needing such a large needle book.

In designing my needlebook, I decided to use a book binding technique with a folded fabric spine, in order to accomodate the thickness of the ten wool felt pages. I used a cranberry coloured 28 count linen for the cover and a coordinating batik cotton for the lining and folded spine. Six of my pages are made are made from a pack of Sue Spargo felted wool pieces and I added in 4 more pages from wool fabrics in my stash to make the required 10 pages.

For some reason I had decided to decorate my Needlebook with Caselguidi embroidery. I have no idea why I choose this though I do like the combination of the pulled background ( in foursided stitch) and raised surface work that creates the Caselguidi look – however the embroidery does take a considerable time to complete. The design is my own, though it is based on traditional motifs.

Once I had completed the embroidery on the front, I made up the cardboard book binding, and inserted the pages and linings. I then added labels to each of the pages to help me identify the needles. I had obtained these woven labels a few years ago from ‘Plays with Needles’ on Etsy, though I am not sure if they are available any longer. A magnetic closure, which I found at a local bead shop, finishes of the needlebook and hopefully keeps my needles safe.

Caselguidi design on the front cover

Magnetic closure

Each page labelled.

After a few wonderful introductory days, the coursework starts in earnest this week!

Chat

Boxing up the Whitework Ship

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The second RSN short course that I had enrolled in – just for a little recreational holiday stitching – was Advanced Box Making with Heather Lewis. This 2 day course was conducted over a Saturday and Sunday in mid August at Hampton Court Palace.

Creating fabric covered boxes – usually incorporating embroidery – is one of the techniques that the RSN offers as an option on their Diploma. Heather Lewis, our tutor, has been working at the RSN for almost 20 years in a variety of roles across both Studio work and tutoring, and she has significant experience in box making. She is actually now in the final stages of preparing to release a book on Box Making, and she brought along a number of her beautiful boxes to inspire us.

Fabric hinge on Purple box by Heather Lewis.

This was my first attempt at making this type of stitched box and for this advanced class we were encouraged to design our own box that would incorporate both a drawer and a hinge. I decided that I would also like to incorporate the Whitework piece that I had worked earlier in the month. The little Ship motif in Rachel Doyle’s design led me to selecting a navy coloured outer fabric with small anchors printed on it.

My fabric choices

The fabrics we used for our boxes were standard quilting cottons, as these hold up well to being firmly pulled and stitched around the cardboard forms. There was a lot of curved needle stitching in this piece, and lots of math/calculations working out exactly how to make all the pieces fit together.

My box making in progress

I am happy with how the whole box eventually came together – though I do need to pay more attention to mitred corners and ensuring to that the drawer fabric pattern matches and fits seamlessly into the front.

I was really happy when I found these really cute little Anchor charms in a bead shop in Kingston to use as drawer pulls which I think helped to finish the piece off nicely.

The Future Tutor course starts this week – Can’t wait for the adventure to start!

Chat

Day trip to Exeter Cathedral for a special Embroidery exhibition

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With our little cottage is starting to feel more like home, we decided that the time had come to plan a day trip to get to see a little more of this part of England, especially with my course commencing in less than two weeks. The RSN had advised that some of their collection pieces were on display at Exeter Cathedral – alongside a display of some of the Cathedrals own vestments – so a day trip by train to Exeter was planned.

Exeter Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful building, commenced in medieval times, added to over centuries, with some elements repaired after bombing in WW2. There was an Organ recital underway as we made our way around the embroidery exhibition and the sounds were heavenly.

That soaring ceiling

Carved Acorns

Exeter Cathedral

Ecclesiastical Embroideries

The RSN pieces on display had been chosen with an Ecclesiastical theme – with many samplers of church related motifs, a few stoles, and some beautiful silkshading and goldwork on banners and alter frontals. It was wonderful to be able to see the fine detail in many of these pieces, which were displayed throughout the cathedral.

Exhibition Highlight

For me the real highlight of the exhibition was seeing six of the Litany of Loreto Embroideries. These pieces are very finely worked gold and silk framed embroideries, and seeing them in person surpassed anything I had read about them. I was able to closely observe the stitching and the work on most of the pieces. Photos of embroideries – particularly of Goldwork – simply do not give you a true representation of the beauty of the glistening gold and shining silk, however I thought I might share a few of my photos with you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.