RSN Silk Shading – 3rd Certificate Module finished.


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The third of the RSN Summer Intensive modules for 2018 has now come to an end. Jen Goodwin, Amy Burt, and Sarah Smith were the RSN Tutors for our class of 11. There was also another classroom with 6 students, so in total 17 Silk Shading students.

Like the prior modules it was a very solid workload  from day 1. RSN silk shading aims to produce a fairly photo realistic version of your design/image so is is a really good idea to have a very high quality image to begin. As I explained in my last post, lots of work was done on paper to refine designs and prepare before the design was pricked and then applied to the silk, then finally by the second day, or third day for some students, we were ready to begin stitching.

Photo realistic Silk Shading means that you try to match your thread colour accurately to the area you are stitching, while maintaining the correct stitch direction to follow the line of growth, and keeping the stitches a good length, but not too long, and shading in any nuance of colour change. This is were the sharp eyes of the tutors came in handy, as it is very easy for your brain to tell you that a certain colour was needed when in fact the shade should have been darker, lighter or muddier! The tutors are also very experienced at noticing where a thread or stitch my have gone off line, hopefully before you have gone too far ahead with the stitching.

I was happy to discover that I continued to love my design throughout the entire stitching – that is I didn’t grow tired of it – and I continued to find small colour variations in the piece each time I thought I finally had the colours right. In all I ended up using 33 colours of stranded cotton – mostly DMC with a few Anchor threads where needed for the correct colour match – and this number is considered about average for this small (less than 8cm square) design.

Stitching was slow work and I think I averaged 1 square centimetre per hour,  intense indeed but well worth it to learn this wonderful technique. I did manage to get the piece stitched and mounted via the RSN method, and handed in on the last day thanks to the support of some wonderful tutors. I was somewhat disappointed to find that even after all of my frame tightening throughout the stitching and the significant work to mount the piece a tightly as possible ( took all of the final day) that a few small ripples then appeared in the mounted silk. The tutors explained that this often happens when there are small unstitched areas between heavily stitched areas eg between the leaves in my design. Wish I knew this from the start as I would have left that right-most leaf off, or potentially laced the piece on as part of the mounting process.  This has meant that I am a little dissatisfied with the final presentation of the piece, and I am wondering about retrieving it from the RSN vaults to have another go at mounting but I will let you judge via this picture.

My attention has now moved on to the next module – Goldwork.




RSN Certificate Silkshading Intensive – Progress Update


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The first week of the Silkshading intensive class is over and I have been able to make slow and steady progress. The technique practiced at the RSN uses single stands of DMC or Anchor stranded cottons to replicate a photograph of the subject. At the certificate level we are able to stitch a flower, a fruit, or a vegetable  – with some set conditions around size, complexity etc – the image should also include stem, a leaf with a turn over section on the leaf or a petal with turn over.

Keeping with the theme that has emerged through my Jacobean Crewelwork and Blackwork pieces I had choosen to stitch an image of Oak Leaves and Acorns.  I did take many photos of Acorns and Leaves in the nearby parks myself but couldn’t seem to get one with just the right grouping or composition. The Oak trees here have been under considerable stress due to the extended hot and dry conditions and are not looking at their best. In the end I obtained an image from an online image source.


Original Image was purchased from high resolution image website.

The class commenced with a considerable amount of preparation work; choosing the design, editing the design ( I removed a good number of the leaves), shading in black and white, making multiple copies of your drawings,  a pricked version, coloured renditions, then a stitch direction plan, and finally order of work plan, and all of this before framing up calico onto the slate frame as a supportive base for the chosen piece of Dupion Silk.

The silk is attached ( painstakingly hand stitched at 4 mm intervals) while the calico is reasonably loose and then the two are tensioned up together. Then comes the fun of applying the design via the traditional ‘prick and pounce’ method. As I have chosen an Aubergine ( Deep Purple) coloured silk I had to use a fairly light coloured pounce and then paint in the design lines with a mid purple coloured paint.

With the design applied it was finally on to stitching the furthest away element first. As this was the largest leaf in my design I found commencing difficult, however this is where you just have to dive in and start. I can report the unpicking is reasonably easy if you just cut out the bit you don’t think is Ok and restitch it again – being very careful not to cut the silk underneath!

Progress is slow and I estimate that about one square centimetre per hour is my stitch rate. So now back to stitching.



Silk Shading – design applied to silk, colours choosen, stitching commenced.



RSN Silkshading Intensive – a leaf gradually emerges.


RSN Shaded Blackwork – 2nd Certificate class finished.


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I have now completed Blackwork, the second of the 4 modules in the Royal School of Needlework Certificate in Technical Hand Embroidery. This means I am half way through with Silkshading and Goldwork still to come, so I thought it was time for a quick update.

Overall impression.  The Blackwork module was a lot of work but still very enjoyable, and our tutor Jen was ably assisted by Sara-Jane and Sarah to get us through, and somehow I did manage to get through all the work and actually hand-in my finished piece on time on the last day. The fact that only 2 from the 12 students managed to do this by the end might give you some understanding of the intensity of the work. Lots of very late nights for me with this one. I am sure the others will get finished, as most were just a little way from completing their piece.

The Classes. Each student gets to choose their own image to stitch and in this class we had a wide range of subjects such as a giraffe, a hare, a tortoise, a matador, a horse, the Sydney Opera house, and images of people. My image was a fallen Oak Leaf with Acorns; not my first choice but this image was the one that best met the brief.

Being prepared with really high resolution black and white images is a good start for this class, and the tutors are very good at knowing which images will work best for this technique.

The Blackwork classes follow a series of steps that make you look long and hard at your chosen image to ensure you are really familiar with the light and dark, shadows, highlights and shades of the piece before you even commence stitching. The process the RSN tutors work through really does help with gaining realism in the stitching. After tracing, sketching, shading, and tacking, we then chose Blackwork stitch patterns that would work harmoniously with the design, and varied the thread weights to achieve shading across the design.

The stitch work is slow going and hard on the eyes, and regular breaks are recommended. Gradually your stitching builds up to what you hope is a realistic version of the image.  I think I have managed to achieve the requirements, though you can judge for yourself as here is my finished piece.


On to Silkshading now!




RSN Certificate, Shaded Blackwork Intensive -progress update


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The Royal School of Needlework  Blackwork Intensive course has truly been intense so far. The RSN has actually added in an extra ‘work on your homework’ stitch day into the two week program this year, and still most students are finding that their project is going to take longer than the allotted days.

In my opinion, in order to complete your Blackwork piece during an intensive,  you either need to be able to Stitch furiously for 10 days straight or else carefully choose a subject that meets all the requirements of the brief while remaining achievable within the time frame. The RSN tutors are very good helping you to choose the most achievable option if you can provide high resolution images of your potential options.

For  my Blackwork piece I wanted an image with contrasts, very light and very dark areas with a range of shades inbetween. After much discussion I moved away from Squirrel images and instead focused on an image of a leaf and acorns.

I thought you might like to see how I went about growing some Acorns.


The Shaded Blackwork class has been a wonderful learning experience with tutors Jen Goodwin, Sara-Jane Dennis, and Sarah Smith. Thank you all.





RSN Jacobean Crewelwork – 1st certificate class finished.


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I will start by saying that I have absolutely enjoyed this RSN Jacobean Crewelwork class, I have learnt so much, and I am very glad that I have had the opportunity to do it.

What have I leant? Anyone contemplating undertaking the RSN Certificate via Intensive mode need to be aware that in reality an RSN Intensive class really does mean intensive. There are no “days off”, stitching takes over your days and nights, there is no time for sightseeing, or as some of my class mates found out no time for doing washing, eating out or going to the pub.  In fact I have needed several days after the course to catch-up on sleep and generally get my equilibrium back before I could write this post.

The most important part of any RSN class is the brief that you are given when you enroll. This tells you all of the stitched components that need to be included in your piece. Based on the advice given in Catherine’s blog ‘Hillview Embroidery’, I have begun to think of each of these Certificate pieces as ‘a sample of stitches and techniques arranged in a pleasing design’. Thanks Catherine for that insight!

From the brief I knew the minimum stitches and techniques – eg Stem Stitch, Block Shading, Laid Work, Long and Short Shading, Whipped and Woven wheels etc. I knew that the design should reflect ‘traditional Jacobean’ elements eg tree of life and animals and that these elements would likely be out of proportion.  I tried to incorporate most into my design, while still making it personal and pleasing.

Here are a few examples from my piece:


Stem stitch, Bullion’s, French Knots


Block Shading,


Long and Short Shading,


Laid work, whipped and Woven Wheels


For a personal element of the design I wanted to find a creature to include – one that I had not seen in others work – but would still fit the Jacobean brief. Hence the frog (or toad) prince.

After all stitching is completed then it is on to mounting – the RSN way. I know that others have written extensively about this process and all I can say is that it is long and difficult, and now done. I will get lots of practice as mounting is the final step for each piece. Next class – Blackwork.

My finished Jacobean Crewelwork  piece:


RSN Intensive Jacobean Crewel 2018.

I am very grateful that my husband has taken on all of the support roles eg. Meals, washing etc, giving me the time to immerse myself in this unforgettable experience.


Growing a Jacobean Flower


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The slow progress on my Jacobean Crewelwork piece continues. I have been working away on my design for a week now and I thought you might like to see the progress I have made on stitching the main flower. My primary concern has been to ensure a good distribution of the colours and to keep it looking ‘Jacobean’. We are only allowed a limited palette of 5 shades in each of two ranges along with two highlights. I choose Dusty Pink /Red and Mid Greens, while Gold and Mustard are my highlight colours.

I am still considering adding more embellishment to the flower however I need to be sure that all the other elements in the design are finished first. I am not sure that there will be time for any more as only two days remain on this Intensive course, one more stitching day and then the long anticipated Mounting day.

The days a really flying past now! Back to stitching….



RSN Jacobean Intensive – half way there.

The long awaited RSN Jacobean Crewelwork class is finally underway, and like so many others before me, I have been so immersed in the work that there has been little time to blog. So let’s start with a view from the classroom window.


The very fact that I am getting to stitch inside Hampton Court Place thrills me so much. As I walk in and out each day, some times through very circuitous routes, I am gradually learning my way around. Having my lunch in the grounds each day is also another opportunity to explore.

There are a total of 6 students in my class, along with one Tutor (Lisa Bilby) and one Future Tutor assistant (Nikki Fairhurst).  I consider myself very lucky to be in this smaller class as there are 30 students in total undertaking the Intensive Jacobean Crewelwork Module and, due to the numbers attending this year, the RSN actually have 3 classrooms running concurrently with each of the other two classrooms having 12 students, two tutors and one assistant. The students have come from all around the world as well as locally, and there are 28 women and 2 men.

I felt I was reasonably well prepared for the class – with grateful thanks to those who have blogged about their experiences. I had my design mostly ready and this was approved with only a few small suggestions for additional elements.

The days absolutely fly past and I find myself amazed when the end of the day arrives as it feels as if I have just arrived. Officially the teaching period each day is from 10 am to 4 pm with a tea room break for elevenses, and a lunch break at 1 pm. Homework is set individually and expected to be completed each night.  I will try give you a short synopsis of the days activities, but so much is going on everyday that my mind is a whirl by the evening.

Day 1

Drawing up and having approved a final design, choosing colours of Appleton’s yarn, making multiple copies of the design, using one copy to produce a colour plan, another copy for a stitch plan, and finally producing a ‘clean’ copy and turning it into a pricking. We also stretched our fabric ( provided in the starter kit)  on to the Very Large slate frame. This involved a lot of hand sewing with strong buttonhole thread, and a very large and sharp Bracing needle for stitching the string down between the sides of the work and the frame.

 Day 2

Tensioning the fabric in the frame ( somewhat tight ), pouncing the picking, hand painting with a fine brush over the pounced dots  (the most nerve wracking thing so far), brushing and banging away the excess pounce. Working through the design to determine which areas to work first and which later. The RSN favours completing the larger areas and lower layers such as trellis work first. Then finally, after really tightly tensioning up the fabric in the frame, applying the first stitches to the design on the fabric.

Day 3 and Day 4.

The Tutors want to be sure that each stitch has been individually demonstrated to us, so they move around the students discussing the stitches, the placement, the best way of working. Demonstrating is done either on either the actual work or perhaps sampling over on the edge of the piece. Remember that everyone has an individual and different design. As student our work in the class is both completing areas of stitching and leaning more stitches. Home work is to complete any areas of stitching we have commenced or stitch where the same stitch occurs elsewhere in the design.

The real fun is getting the large slate frame to and from home. Thankfully the weather has been fine and sunny so I have not had to worry about rain. I had made a padded cloth Wrap for my frame before I came to the class and this has proved invaluable in making it easy to transport my frame and work back and forth. It has been so popular that other student have resorted to buying Iorning board covers ( these are available in one of the Palace gift shops) to emulate the effect of the wrap.  In a later blog I will give details of the dimensions etc.


Inspiration at the V&A and an RSN ‘Day Class’

Design Inspiration

Throughout the RSN Certificate modules I have to develop my own designs to embroider for each technique. Of course the RSN does set fairly detailed guidelines for what must be achieved in each technique, however this does still leave the vexing question of  coming up with a design that I would want to spend many hours working on.

A days outing to the V&A museum provided so much inspiration for future embroideries, and the photos only provide a small taste of these. I particularly love the interesting creatures on the embroidered bed cover, and was thrilled to see some actual Jacobean Crewel work in lovely blues and greens! The exquisite beetle wing embroidery was amazing, and William Morris designs have long been a favourite of mine,  so seeing originals of his work was a highlight.

Devine design inspiration. One day was not nearly long enough and I hope to be able to make some return visits over the next few months.

Orientation – step 2.

On Saturday I went back to the RSN for the second step in my own personal orientation plan – a day class in Metalwork with Becky Hogg – stitching her beautiful sleeping Badger.


On this visit I was able to experience a different set of RSN teaching rooms at Hampton Court Palace, though these were once again up on the top floor – so lots of stairs to climb. Stitching in these historic rooms with their wide creaking floorboards and beautiful windows provides a truly atmospheric  setting for classes. I also found the tea room were I had a cup of coffee with my packed lunch – a very important part of completing orientation!

With 13 students the classroom was full, but we were still able to move around freely and Becky broke us into two groups for each demonstration so we were able to clearly see each of the steps. Becky also had many examples of her metalwork designs for us to look at, along with some lovely detailed teaching examples. I especially liked the small piece she used to demonstrate layered padding with felt under Goldwork, and I decided to add a little padding to my own Badgers tail during  the class. Becky was really good about me making this small change to my piece, and in the end I was really happy I had.

I had been surprised and thrilled to see both kits and stitched examples of some of Becky’s metalwork designs during my visit to the V&A the day before. It is very likely that a little Foxy will be accompanying me home to provide a companion for the Badger.  Just need to get him finished first.

That completes my personal RSN orientation, and with the Intensive classes starting on Monday I am feeling ready as I can be. We are heading off today for a relaxing day at Kew Gardens – taking time to smell the roses before the madness begins.

I should have mentioned that I can only post low resolution photos in my posts from this location, as we have very limited internet capacity and the ipad is not the best means of creating blog posts, but I will persevere.


‘Orientation day’ at Hampton Court Palace


I had decided some months ago that, as a precursor to commencing the Intensive Certificate classes at the Royal School of Needlework next Monday (25th June 2018), I would attend two activities at HCP to allow me to get oriented – that meant that I would have time to get a feel for both the Palace and the RSN itself.

Today was the long awaited 1st event, a “Tour and Taster” class. This was a combined tour and lecture on the current RSN exhibition ‘Animals in Embroidery’ and a mini class with RSN Tutor Amy Burt.
I was so excited about getting my long awaited embroidery adventure underway that I had trouble sleeping and had the alarm set early to ensure I was waiting at the appointed time in front HCP Seymour Gate. From here our small group was collected by a lovely RSN volunteer and taken to the RSN studio.

A very interesting lecture was presented to our small tour group in one of the work rooms, and included information on the founding of the RSN, the work, the commissions, and the current exhibition. The lecture was accompanied by informative bites of information and many wonderful pictures of beautiful embroidery. Then we were given a tour of the exhibition itself, though understandably no pictures were allowed. Many of the iconic embroideries of birds and animals that have been used in RSN publications were on display along with many other exquisite works. The tour then concluded with a visit in the other workroom or studio were some fragile antique samplers were being conserved.

After a lunch break and a browse in the RSN shop we then moved to one of the classrooms to commence or ‘taster’ class with Amy Burt. The class was an Introduction to Silk Shading – Squirrel. Amy was very good at explaining each of the steps she wanted us to complete and kept the class moving along nicely.

I had a wonderful day and my head is full of the beautiful embroidery I was able to see. Next up – a one day metalwork class.


Tour group waiting outside the Seymour Gate.


Crewelwork – Keeping my fingers nimble


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I have been busy working on two complementary Crewelwork pieces over the last month. The Needlebook was offered as a class in Crewel at my local Embroiderers Guild, with Firdes Ali as the designer and tutor.

The second piece is an adaptation and extension of the same design. For the Threadbook I took her original design and extended it in order to make the larger matching book containing plastic packets, intended to hold Crewel Wool skeins.

Both pieces are very traditional Crewel designs stitched with Appleton’s crewel wools in lovely muted greens, pinks, blues and a little touch of yellow. Crewlwork is fun because there are so many stitches to try out, and I really like how these pieces have turned out … and I will get to use them soon!

The Exciting News! I am about to head over to the U.K. in a few weeks to start the Jacobean Crewel intensive course at the Royal School of Needlework (RSN). There is only one month to go till the course starts, and I am both so excited and terrified.

I welcome any advice from those who have done this course before me – what to take, what do I need to prepare?
I hope to find time to blog about the experience while I am there – internet and time permitting.