Friday, July 29, 2016

Fearless freehand

Fearless freehand

A few weeks ago I asked a group of sampler stitchers – “how do YOU define freehand embroidery within a counted sampler?”
There were lots of replies and varying definitions but one thing that did come across was that many who normally work within the safety of a counted chart are a little apprehensive about venturing into “uncharted territory”.
Hands Across the Sea Samplers will shortly be releasing a chart of a beautiful and unusual Scottish sampler that has small freehand motifs. They do not need to be included as the sampler will stand well without them, they could even be cross stitched. However, we want to take the fear out of freehand and for you to be able to stitch these with confidence and enjoyment.
I have designed a small chart and step-by-step photo trail tutorial for you. Whilst this motif has been made up it incorporates all the actual flowers that are freehand stitched in the Scottish sampler. The tutorial uses the stitches found in the orginal sampler.
When I first started stitching a freehand design I was a little nervous of drawing a shape onto my linen. Tracing a design has issues with dimensions in relation to the linen count. Without a guide line it is easy for the embroidery to “grow” out of proportion.
I prefer, where possible, to tack a loose outline with my needle, sketching out the shape in thread. The lines and placement of a motif are easily changed and refined without leaving the fabric marked.
Screenshot 2016-07-28 12.17.32
This is the method we have used for our reproduction and within the sampler’s chart there are guide lines for the freehand motifs laid out in the same manner as above . There are close up photographs of each of the stitched freehand motifs within the chart.
Using the graph above roughly tack out the stems and one flower head. There is no need to count this out exactly – this is freehand. Listen to your needle, she will guide you.
The sampler’s flower stems are made up of short satin stitches but stem stitch would work well if you prefer.
We do not recommend sewing tightly packed stitches to start – they are hard to unpick if your shape is not right.
Travel up the stem spacing the stitches out so that you are getting a feel for the shape.
When you get to the top and you are happy with the shape, work your way back down filling in the stem with the desired coverage. Repeat for the next stem.
I want my stems to curve and not bend in hard angles. To curve my outline I use a couching stitch to lift my loosely tacked line.
See how the shape softens.
Keep repeating the process.
Until all the stems are stitched.
Turn over your work.
Your waste knot and some uncovered tack lines will be showing.
Clip out the visible tack lines and remove the waste knot. There is no need to secure it. Be careful not to clip out the flower head !
Turn your work back over and stitch the stamens on the first flower. All you need are two or more straight satin stitches.
Do not worry about counting out your stitches. Your flowers will be individual, think about the shapes you are hoping to achieve and experiment.
For the third flower I tacked out the shape of the petals first.
I then used the same process for the stems to stitch the flower. Make your stitches a little shorter than those on the stem.
Each of the stamens are formed with a single thread with two passes.
The tips on the orginal sampler are over one cross stitches. Stitch them slightly on the loose side.
The next flower is made up of three steps. First stitch the vertical satin stitches. A single thread with two passes.
Then add the three long horizontal satin stitches and finish with the short diagonal stitches to the outer edges.
The final stem has a row of  hanging flowers.
Use a tacking stitch to decide on placement.
Then embroider the flowers with satin stitches.
The last step is to add the leaves. Leave the leaves until last so that they can be shaped to sit well with the flower heads.
Hands Across the Sea Samplers hope that you will stitch this small motif and that it takes the fear out of freehand for you. If you have any questions we are here to help. We would enjoy seeing some photos of your stitched motif.
The Scottish sampler will be released at the end of August and with its autumnal palette will be a perfect project for the Fall.
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Thursday, July 28, 2016


An interview with Kaffe Fassett

On Monday we looked at some knitting aids. If I think of knitting the one designer that jumps straight to mind is Kaffe Fassett who is best known for his signature knitwear and quilts: elaborate patterns rendered in layers of glorious colour.  His extraordinary passion and insatiable appetite for colour is apparent whatever medium he uses, whether he is painting, knitting, creating patchwork, needlepoint or mosaics. He is one of the most influential living textile artists.
Kaffe ventured into the world of knitting on a visit to a Scottish wool mill. Inspired by the colours in the landscape, he was thrilled to find the same colours in yarns. He bought 20 colours of Shetland wool and some knitting needles, and on the train back to London a fellow passenger taught him how to knit. His first design appeared as a full page spread in Vogue Knitting magazine.
Fashion house, Missoni and fashion designer, Bill Gibb commissioned Kaffe’s early commercial collections, and his one-of-a-kind designs have been collected by famous names such as Barbra Streisand, Lauren Bacall, Ali McGraw, Irene Worth, Shirley Maclaine and H.R.H Princess Michael of Kent.
His work was the subject of a 1988 one-man show at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the first time a living textile artist had such a show there. The show toured nine countries.
Kaffe gave an interview in 2012 that I have watched many times. The video clip is 35 minutes and is well worth watching.
Alternatively there is a shorter video available at 15 minutes of an interview with Kaffe Fassett which he undertook when visiting Aberdeen Art Gallery in July 2014 to launch the exhibition, Kaffe Fassett, 50 Years in Colour.
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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wordless Wednesday


Wordless Wednesday

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pressing Matters

Pressing matters

Last week I was starching and pressing a dinner shirt that had a bib made up of tiny little pintucks running down the front and just as I was thinking that this must be the worst possible item to press an Elizabethan ruff popped into my mind.
The quality of the ruff was a sign of status, worn by both the nobility and lower classes. The rich would have a ruff made of lawne or cambric, and decorated with fine lace, gold, silver or silk. The first ruffs were about 3 inches wide and 2 inches deep but a later single ruff could be 12 inches or more in width and made up of five yards of material.
As the ruff became bigger and more ornate a metal wire frame was used to hold it in place. Vast amounts of starch, were needed to help retain its shape and keep it upright. If it rained ruffs literally collapsed, becoming a soggy mess.
When ruffs first became fashionable the use of starch was not in wide use in England, Flanders was one of the earliest centres for starch manufacturing. Clear-starching allowed delicate fabrics from being clogged with starch granules in the loose weave, thereby avoiding thickening caused by visible traces of starch clinging to the threads. The technique was popularized in England by Madame Dinghen van der Plasse who came with her husband to London from Flanders “for their better safeties,” escaping from the bonfires of the Duke of Alva. Puritans called the liquid starch used for stiffening the ruffs as the ‘devil’s liquor’
Starch was obtained  from bran, flour and sometimes from roots of plants. The laundresses’  hands were irritated by the  poisonous roots of the starch plant they used, the wild arum lily.
The ruffs were originally shaped with unheated setting sticks that fixed pleats in damp, heavily-starched ruffs while they dried – a bit like setting hair. Poking sticks, also known as poting and putting sticks, came into use around 1570. They were like an ordinary fireplace poker.
As ruffs, cuffs, collars and ruffles came in and out of vogue through the centuries different tools were designed for shaping and pressing them.
The goffering iron, also called an Italian or tally iron was a hollow tube set horizontally on a stand.  The tube was heated by inserting a metal poker-like rod, fresh from stove or hearth. Then frilled cuffs and collars could be curled round the cylinder, and other trimmings, like ribbons, were moved across it. Some Victorians took pride in a display of expertly-ironed ruffles, and the well-dressed baby often had a bonnet trimmed with “Italian-ironed double frills”, as mentioned by Charlotte Brontë in 1849.
For rows of frilled trimming, crimping or goffering tongs could be used. These were applied to starched lace edging or ruffles, once they were arranged ready in a suitable position.  In 1863 Isabella Beeton, the Victorian “household management” expert, advised that the tongs should be “placed in a clear fire for a minute, then withdrawn, wiped with a coarse rubber cloth, and the heat of them tried on a piece of paper.”
By the mid-19th century crimping machines, fluted rollers turned by a handle, were in use.  Also called fluting irons, or fluters, many slightly different models were designed for creating rows of narrow, neat and even frilling.
19th century inventors thought of more and more ways of tackling specialist ironing tasks. and a combined fluting and sad-iron was patented in the USA in 1870. As well as the two ridged rollers way of making frills, fluting could be done between hinged sections, which would swing shut to create a general-purpose iron for pressing the flatter parts of garments.
Irons had to be kept immaculately clean and polished, and regularly greased to avoid rusting. The temperature had to be constantly checked otherwise the fabric could be scorched.
The task of crimping or goffering Victorian clothes was made easier by the fact that collars, cuffs and ruffles were detachable. I say “easier” but the thought of having to do so without an automatic washing machine, tumble dryer and a modern steam iron is enough to bring on a fit of “Victorian Vapours”.
Incidentally, a quilter’s applique iron is a very useful tool for pressing pin tucks.
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Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Musings

Monday morning musings

“When daylight is flitting we take up our knitting”
It is hard to think of winter evenings during the mini heat wave we have had in England this week, but after a hard day spent working in the garden or an evening of endless watering of hanging baskets and lawns, the thought of snuggling down with my needles in front of the woodburner is very tempting.
Time with my needles (whichever type) is very precious “ME” time, a treat to myself,  a pleasure that keeps me sane. However, for women in times past it was a necessity to provide the household with clothing, linen and other essentials.
In many families all the members knitted hats, socks and jumpers and every spare moment was used. Some households supplemented their income by making items for sale as well.
Working class women had to walk everywhere and they used this time to knit. A knitting sheath made knitting quicker and enabled people to knit on the move.
A knitting sheath was a holder into which one end of a needle was placed and then the sheath was tucked into a belt worn around the waist, a waistband or held under the arm.
Some of the knitting sheaths have a diagonal slot in them where apron strings or ribbons could hold them in place. The needle is held in position by the knitting sheath allowing one hand to be freed up.
The sheath took the weight of the work and prevented the stitches from slipping off the botttom of a double-ended needle.
‘Goose-wing’ or ‘Gulls-wing’ knitting sticks were shaped to be tucked easily into a skirt or apron top.
Knitting sheaths are rarely seen nowadays and make a fascinating field for collectors. Their charm is not only in the craftsmanship but in the story they tell. The design often enables their origin to be traced to a closely defined region.
Use of knitting sheaths declined during the 19th century as industrial machine knitting increased. However, in some areas of the UK, like Yorkshire and Shetland, commercial hand-knitting continued, using traditional sheaths and belts.
The knitting belt seems to have belonged mostly to northern England and Scotland.
A knitting belt had a pouch attached that was stuffed with horsehair and covered with holes where the needle was slotted in. In the Shetland Islands it was called a makkin (making) or maakin belt.
Antique knitting sheaths were made from many materials: wood, metal, straw, ivory and fabric and in a variety of forms. Wooden knitting sticks at their simplest were just hollowed out sticks but many were handcrafted and personalised,  made by men as love tokens with verses, hearts and dates on or by fathers for their daughters. Some were made by young men as love gifts, and have carved initials, mottoes, or dates.image
Could you imagine standing in the queue at the supermarket knitting or maybe even walking your dog?  Now there’s a thought for the next time your hands are idle !


Lost to backdrops scrolling past,
She sits knitting
in the carriage of a train.
The vague needles
They scintillate and glimpse
With the cadence of the wheels –
Upbeating ceaselessly.
Strips of tiny loops
And eyelets like dewdrops
Of condensation
Grouped on the superior rim.
Once in a while,
She gives a heave
To loosen more yarn from the skein
Of Filipino-made wool,
brushed worsted weave.
Spun and carded
from the richest fleece,
Deeper in the wicker basket by her feet.
The needles flash,
With ancient rhythms and attack
Of duellists in their chainmail coats.
With little hesitation she can tack
From plain to purl to blackberry.
Count back by rote or slip a stitch
While the fish-eyed gimlets gleam.
All gather profusely in her lap,
As windfall trove, rich-patterned
And warm with peach-fuzz nap,
All crafted from a single line of yarn.
Marvels fall continuously from wise
Spell-binding hands and all is well for now.
– Sy Lilang

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