RSN Diploma – Module 1 completed


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I was privileged to be able to view some wonderful Canvaswork pieces during the Royal School of Needlework – Animals in Embroidery exhibition and as a result I have actually come to a much better appreciation of the complexity of this technique. The texture that can be achieved through a wide variety of stitchs is remarkable. It is a real pity that Canvaswork does not photograph very well as seeing the dimension and texture that can be achieved in real life has totally changed my opinion of it.

Canvas Stitches is the alternative module that you undertake either in the RSN Certificate or the Diploma, depending on which certificate technique you first choose (Blackwork  or Canvas). Having done certificate Blackwork, Canvas Stitches became my first Diploma Module.  When choosing the design for this piece I did a lot of thinking about whether to continue with the Oak leaves and Acorns theme that I had followed throughout my Certificate pieces or to move onto other images and options. In the end I decided to stay with my established theme so the all of my pieces would ‘hang’ together when displayed. The RSN brief recommends landscapes or water scenes as good for this technique, and the tutors advise against images with strong straight lines (including diagonal) as the nature of canvas is to produce blocky images. While most students will work from a photograph and try to recreate the image as closely as possible, I was keen to develop my own designs for my diploma modules and so this design was born.

My ‘Frog on a Windowsill’ certainly has to be my most travelled piece as I have worked on it at three different RSN schools – in Durham, in Bristol, and at Hampton Court Palace. The tutors in each of the locations provided great advice and each influenced different aspects of the final piece. Tracey Franklin made brilliant choices in the blended sky/mountain background colours, Deb Wilding had great suggestions on stitches that would give the frog his knobbly texture, Lisa Bilby was able to point out areas that shading would bring to life, and Rachel Doyle is an absolute star at problem solving. I think in all, as I moved around RSN venues, at least 10 tutors provided input to the piece and I feel enriched for having their support.

The personal learning that I take from this piece is that if I were to do the certificate over again I would actually choose to do Canvaswork first in the Certificate as I think the process of choosing and blending threads for this technique provides a really good grounding for being able to really see the colours needed in Silk Shading. This is only my opinion of course based on my recent experience of doing both techniques.

Another lesson I have learned in this module is the benefit of keeping the working piece very tightly stretched on the frame. Due to all the travel I had been at pains to be particularly vigilant with regularly tightening up my framed work and I was able to reap the benefits when taking my canvas off the frame to find that it had remained reasonably square. This made the mounting process just that bit easier though believe me that Canvas is a difficult fabric to mount well and very hard on the fingers!. Finally my Canvas Stitches is finished, mounted and submitted for assessment.  On to the next module – Appliqué.



RSN Diploma Module 1 – Canvaswork


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Undertaking the Canvaswork Module has been both a joy and a pain so far. I explained in an earlier post how I came to take on Canvas Stitches as my first module in the Royal School of Needlework  Diploma, when usually Appliqué is recommended as the starting module for this qualification. On the one hand I have enjoyed the process of working through selecting and blending threads to bring my project to life. Now that I have a better understanding of the types and qualities of some canvas stitches, I have even enjoyed the process of selecting stitches to convey the elements of an image. On the other hand I have not particularly enjoyed the sheer drudgery of have to fill ever single hole in the canvas – which is a definite requirement for this module.

Thankfully the piece is reasonably small. The module brief suggested it should be no bigger than 6 * 8inches and I have followed this suggestion. However that is still leaves a lot of surface to be stitched when all canvas threads must be covered. Ensuring good coverage means having sufficient strands of thread in the needle to fill the spaces – for example a lot of the areas I stitched  in stranded cotton required at least 10 strands in the needle. The technique chews up a lot of thread, and sampling stitches on the side of the work has been really useful.

The Canvas has 18 Threads per Inch (TPI) and is a reasonably stiff canvas with a rough surface as I found out on the first day when I accidentally dragged my knuckle across the underside of my piece while tensioning and took a layer of skin off the back of my knuckle joint. I learned to be a little more cautious of canvas after this incident. Having silicon thimbles for both protection and to grip the needle has been invaluable.

Once again the skilled RSN tutors have been really helpful in guiding me forward and on the whole I am happy with how this piece is coming together. I have used a range of threads; stranded, wool, silk, linen, metallic to name a few and think I have managed to achieve good texture on the bullfrog. I also wanted to convey the vibrant colours and semi transparency of Autumn leaves against an early Autumn clear sky and I think this has worked fairly well.

There is still work to be done on this piece but time is running out and mounting day approaches. I am now finishing all of the surface stitching including the twig stems that will hopefully bring this ‘Frog on the Windowsill’ piece to life.



Autumn leaves




The secret to protecting stitching Fingers



One of the questions I have been asked most often throughout the 12 weeks of this Stitching adventure is, “how have your fingers coped with all that intensive stitching” or “surely you must have holes in your fingers by now”.

As many stitchers will know it can be very difficult to continue working when your finger tips have been pricked multiple times, or a hole has formed where your finger has been pierced by the eye of your needle. Once the hole is there then the back of the needle seems to unerringly find the same sore spot over and over. Then there is also the constant fear of getting blood onto your work!

After lots of research and trial and error the answer for me has been thimbles – but not just any thimbles these amazing little Clover silicon thimbles. Many thanks are due to my friend Louise from New Zealand for introducing me to these gems.


Clover 57- 371 (16mm) Thimbles, 2 per pack.


I have worn two of these thimbles – one on the middle finger of each hand – since almost the start of my 1st RSN intensive class some 12 weeks ago. They have saved my fingers and I do not have any holes or sore spots at all. The two original thimbles are now showing significant signs of wear, so I have just moved onto a new pair in the last week.


12 weeks constant wear on the two thimbles on the right. New thimble on the left of the picture.

I will admit to being a ‘sometimes’ thimble wearer in the past; I would resort to one when I was having difficulty pushing the needle through the fabric. My thimble of choice has usually been an open top Tailors Thimble as I tend to push the needle with the side of my finger. In more recent years I have used silicon thimbles of various types, but these Clover thimbles which come in two sizes (16mm is the largest) are the clear winners.

They are so comfortable that I often forget I am wearing them and head off for lunch with my thimbles still on my fingers. They also have the added advantage of offering a little more grip on the needle as you are drawing it through the fabric, which has proved invaluable with canvas work.

They may be difficult to find but are really worth the search!


Clover 57-371 thimbles – Comfortable and lightweight



Visiting RSN satellites – Durham and Bristol.


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I have been off the air lately due to limited internet access as I have been travelling around the U.K. visiting and stitching at the RSN satellite studios in both Durham and Bristol – with a fly by of the RSN Rugby site along the way.

This part of my stitching adventure started with picking up a hire car in Kingston and setting off for Durham in the north east of England. I was accompanied on this trip by my Husband who is keen on trains, so stops along the way included the Tram museum in Crich and the National Rail mueseum in York. After spending a couple of days exploring York and a visit to Whitby to see the Abbey we arrived at our apartment in Durham.


The Abbey at Whitby

Tracey Franklin has a wonderful studio in a historic part of Durham in a street just behind the main town market square. The studio consists of one main room with a mezzanine office level, and Tracey has packed it out with all sorts of embroidery goodies.  During my visit I was tutored by both Tracey and Pippa Foulds and I managed to commence my Diploma Canvas Stitches piece under their guidance.


While Appliqué is usually the first technique worked on the Diploma course it had been agreed by all that a framed up Canvaswork would be easier for me to cart around the country, considering the many separate pieces that can go into constructing Applique. Regular followers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that my Canvaswork piece has Oak leaves and acorns included in the design, though this time the Oak leaves have taken on a decided Autumnal hue. Autumn is certainly coming in the North of England now and we saw some beautiful leaf colours as we travelled around.

After three wonderful days a Tracey’s studio we bid goodbye to Durham and started the drive south to Bristol. Along the way we drove through the town of Rugby and I managed to get a quick snap of the front of the Arnold House were RSN C&D classes are held in Rugby.


The RSN satellite at Rugby

We arrived in Bristol in the late evening and early the next morning I headed to the studio of Kelley Aldridge in the Kingswood Estate were the RSN classes are held.  Kelley herself was in attendance an gave us a guided tour of her studio.  Due to Kelleys busy schedule with the RSN Future Tutors course, the four classes I took in Bristol were brilliantly led by either the vivacious Deb Wilding or the calming Lisa Bilby, and they were both assisted by Chrissie Mann. Both tutors had great ideas on elements or stitches to incorporate into my piece and assisted me greatly to move my Canvaswork along – though by this time I had come to realise that Canvaswork is probably not my favourite technique. I think after the excitement of the certificate classes I have found the repetition of preparing lots of thread bundles for various canvas stitches a bit slow going. On the up side you do get to use lots of interesting threads in this technique.


Entrance to the RSN Bristol

This has just been a very brief summary of what was actually a really great opportunity for me to see how others lay out and manage their studios. I gained insight into the space and equipment needed and a better appreciation of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure every student has a good experience from their time at an RSN school.

I am very grateful to both Tracey and Kelley for allowing to undertake lessons in each of their satellites. I have so many ideas running through my head on how I can set up my own studio space once I return home – no more spare bedrooms at my place!




Summer Holidays – with recreational stitching


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For the last two weeks I have been having a short break from taking RSN classes.  The RSN doesn’t schedule classes during the assessment periods (there was an Assessment week at the end of the last of the summer Intensive classes) and the late August/ early September period is also their Summer break before classes start up again in mid September. I know that my RSN tutors have earned their break, and I think after 8 intensive weeks I really needed to focus my eyes somewhere else as well.

I have used these two weeks to get in a little travel, starting with five days in France and, after a short trip back to our U.K. base, another 5 days in Iceland. These trips were not meant to be anything more than relaxing sightseeing however I have not been able to resist a couple of thread and fibre related excursions.

In Paris, which was mostly hot and sunny,  I used the Metro to get around and managed to visit a few haberdashery shops – you can see which ones in the photo of business cards attached. Some beautiful silk and linen threads, some plain handkerchiefs ideal to Monogram, interesting beads, along with a couple of small kits from Sajou made their way into my luggage.


During our short break in Iceland, during which we experienced rain, sleet, freezing temperatures, blowing winds and hot sunny periods, my fibre explorations were limited to fondling Icelandic wool products, with some lovely felting to be seen in many shops. There were so many amazing sights to enjoy – waterfalls, tectonic plates, lava beds, and northern lights –  that each day was filled with excursions and exploring.


On both of these trips I took along recreational stitching in the form of a Rachel Doyle Canvaswork kit called ‘The Wool Rack’ that I had picked up in the RSN shop. Rachel has intended this small kit to be made up onto a pincushion and each stitched square is about 2cm square.


Rachel Doyle – Canvas Stitches ‘ The Wool Rack ‘

My reasons for commencing this kit included using it as an introduction to some basic Canvas stitches before commencing my next RSN class in Durham on the 7th September, and as a lovely reminder of the wool rack that can be found in the RSN studios at Hampton Court Palace, which I managed to get a photo of during a special studio tour.


The wool rack in the RSN Studio at Hampton Court Palace


I decided that to give myself more practice in Canvas stitches I would extend the stitching area of this small project out to 10 columns of 5 stitches. This gave me room to practice some of the additional canvas stitches that are recommended in the RSN brief for the Canvas Stitches Module. Rachel had allowed plenty of extra canvas around her design so it was possible to extend the grid of squares reasonably easily. I intend to make up my stitched piece into a Needlebook.

We have arrived back at our U.K. base tonight and currently I have 4 columns of stitches remaining on this project. After a couple of days here catching up on washing etc we will then head north by car aiming to reach to the RSN satellite site in Durham ready to commence my next class. My next update should be about the Canvas Stitches class.





Monogramming – a short course at Hand & Lock


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After stitching solidly on the RSN certificate in Technical Hand Embroidery for the last 8 weeks I decided that I needed to plan some recreational stitching to help me wind down. Scrolling across websites I noticed that Hand and Lock were offering a two day weekend Monogramming class in London on the very weekend after I finished the last of the Certificate modules.

Hand and Lock  have been Embroiderers since 1767 and they specialise in Military Goldwork along with bespoke embroidery and beading on garments. Their school offers classes in Tambour and Monogramming, and they will also be taking these classes to SanFrancisco shortly.

Louise, who was one of my classmates on all of the RSN intensives, decided to join me for these two days of fun, so we travelled in together each day by train and tube to attend the class at the H&L premises in Fitzrovia. It was great to have her along as a fellow adventurer.

Our tutor was the lovely Juliette Ferry, who had undertaken her Embroidery training in France (she is French) and has been working at H&L for a couple of years now. Across the weekend she took us through applying stitch guides via prick and pounce, and stitching three different styles of Monogram fonts (Block, Fishtail, and Script).  The class was very relaxed and lots of fun and I managed to get a few small monograms stitched on my working cloth.

The other wonderful part of taking a class at Hand and Lock was the opportunity to take a tour of their workrooms and see the wonderful Goldwork military badges, uniform elements, and goldwork supplies they have in their storerooms. I was drooling over the gorgeous gold braids and cords.

This was two fun days that have really helped me to wind down from  the RSN intensives. Tomorrow I am off on a short trip to Paris – where I hope to get to an Embroidery shop or two!


RSN Goldwork- 4th (and final) Certificate Module finished


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Goldwork is done – yeah! Time to relax and let it all sink in.

Stitching the RSN Goldwork on silk is challenging but fun, and the best thing was that of all the Certificate classes this was the most relaxed. Maybe I have just become accustomed to the pace of stitching needed in an intensive class?

With the fabulous Shelly Cox as our Tutor, and Nikki as her efficient assistant, and 6 willing students, they made the class a joy. We were organised and assisted, we were given homework sheets to follow, we were told what we had done well and also what needed to be redone, and we all managed to finish our piece on time.

Thinking back over this last two weeks, the thing I have enjoyed the most with Goldwork is learning the order in which to work all of the gold techniques and threads. Padding sets the foundation and getting this right is critical to the success of the final piece. Couching takes concentration and plunging the ends of couched threads is noisy and scary – so easy to get it wrong. Tying back the plunged ends is tedious but necessary. Solid Chipping is a puzzle to solve – can I fit another chip into that space. Cutwork is challenging and needs lots of practice to do well. However I think the end result is worth the effort.  Here are a few images of these steps as I did them on my Goldwork piece.


Padding with felt and string


Tying back plunged ends


Solid chipping


Couched work with Japanese, Twist and Rococco


Cutwork – Bright Check and Smooth Purl


RSN Certificate Goldwork Module – SallyR


RSN Certificate – Goldwork


I am having so much fun doing the RSN Certificate Goldwork Module. There are really great effects that can be achieved with Goldwork and I now have lots of gold bling growing across my design.

Background Fabric

RSN Goldwork at the Certificate level is worked on silk fabric which has been applied over a calico support layer and framed up on a large slate frame. I have chosen a dark brown silk to give a good contrast with the gold threads, and which I have subsequently found does not photograph well. If you proceed on to the Advanced Goldwork Module of the RSN Diploma you have the choice of Silk, Linen or Velvet as a background fabric.


Once again we get to create our own design for this module giving consideration to the elements that need to be included to meet the module brief and then the finalised design is applied to the silk via the prick, pounce, and paint method.

I based my design for this piece on elements in the design I had created for the RSN Jacobean Module. Goldwork needs fairly open areas in which to apply the couched threads, so I have used a couple of the leaves and the shape of the main stem along with a new version of the frog.

Stitching begins

After applying the felt and string padding I finally got to the fun part of couching down the gold threads. All those ends to plunge and tie back with the dreaded curved needle.


Couching gold threads over padded and non padded areas.


Ends to plunge!



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.