Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Wintery Project

I hope everyone is having a great holiday so far. Things are good here. I managed to find some time to do some stitching, and that always makes things better!
This is another crewel work project. I really like working with the wools, but I still have a limited collection of colors. That will be changing soon! This was fun to work on.  There are actually quite a few stitches squeezed in there. To be honest I wasn't 100% happy with the placement of the flowers, but I will make a few adjustments!

I think there may be enough time to squeeze in one more project for 2011, but I will have to get going, time is getting short!!

Happy new year! May it be the best one yet!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Time to get that old Christmas feeling...

It's almost time! I made this little embroidery to celebrate:
I used Appleton crewel wools. They are sooo nice to work with. This time though I used linen, because I found out the hard way that it really isn't so easy to pull them through a tight, woven cotton - they just get worn fast. The size of this piece is about 5 inches.

This project is a bit special for me because I just started with an idea, not a complete design drawn on fabric. I wanted a reindeer head, and I decided it needed to be a realistic shape rather than a cartoon. So I found a photo on Wikipedia, drew the head on paper and transferred it over. Then I added the leaves. I used the edge of the hoop to help me make a nice circle shape. Next came the ornament, then the candles. I tried a red for the inside of the candles, but it was too intense. Since I had no orange, I tried a dusty pink and that worked great. It looks like orange in the photo and in real life too. Funny how colors sometimes become what you want them to be.  I then added the branches to anchor the candles and ornament a bit, then added the beads, and the little white stars and french knots.

This was just lots of fun to make. It's a bit scarey in a way, just picking up the needle and stitching without a drawn pattern to guide. But there is something so fun about just letting the feeling of the embroidery guide you. I would encourage everyone to give it a try. You just need an idea to start with.

I made this with crewel wools, so officially it's crewel embroidery. Just thinking about how my fall stitch school petered out a bit. I didn't quite carry it through to the end, but really it is just a beginning. I will be coming back often to this type of stitching. I hope this piece shows you that you don't have to do the traditional big flowers and leaves or birds with very long tails in order for it to be crewel work. There can be much, much more to this type of embroidery to learn - and for me, the exploration has just begun.

I hope to be finding some time for my needle over the holiday weekend, so I will be back early next week!  Until then have a great holiday!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Little Stumpwork Project

Last week I got some new embroidery books! I love getting them. There is always much to learn and see in them. One of them is the new RSN Stumpwork book.  It isn't a pattern book, but rather a book of stitches and techniques. The designs shown in the book are clean and more modern looking than a lot of the traditional stumpwork that I and many others have been doing. Anyways, here is a little project inspired by the book.
The leaves are a new stitch I found in the book. It's really cool how the leaves turn out. They have a little extra dimension without being a full-out wired shape. To be honest I found the book's instructions a little lacking. I'll be back with more on these leaves soon. I'll definitely be making more of them.

My ladybug has 4 layers of felt this time for a really nice rounded body. The little snail is my favorite. The body is a bullion knot with 3 different floss colors. The shell is 7 strands of 3 colors couched down in a spiral.

Bullions on the brain. I've been seeing a lot of bullion knots in the projects I have been looking at in my ever-growing pile of embroidery books. So I think this is the reason that I have included them in 3 places in this little project. Actually the pink flowers were going to be standard "berries" with french knots, but after I made a ring of knots, something said no, we are going to try something different. So it became rows of bullion knots and beads. I will say if I had known that project would lead me that direction, I probably would have made different color choices, because maybe the pink flowers are just a little bit strong, just a little though.  They are solid colors, but repeated in the project and with interesting textures, and so they work well enough with the other colors.  The third set of bullions are the little sepals beneath the pink flowers  or berries. When I added those, the whole thing looked much better.

So - the moral of this little embroidery story to not forget the details and not to forget interesting textures, they can really make a project! And don't forget to do something a bit unexpected now and then too. ;)

My books are wrapped up by the way, as they became my Christmas presents from Mr Floss Box. It was the only way to get what I really want for Christmas. ;)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Small Embroidery

I've been a little slow lately. Maybe it's the short days and grayness - we are down to about 6.5 hrs of light now. Soon things will turn towards slowly lengthening days again though, and it only takes a few weeks before you start feeling the darkness lifting.

I made this small embroidery for a change. I didn't follow a pattern just an idea.
I call this embroidery "Autumn Nights". It didn't quite turn out as I envisioned, but it's ok. It was a little experimental, as these small embroideries are intended to be. I wanted the sky to feel like a cool sunset in the fall. The tree is couched down yarn.  Then I added the first set of branches with linen thread. I thought it could be more interesting with further branching with 1 strand of cotton floss.

The ground is supposed to have fallen leaves made of wool with satin stitching. Then I filled in between the leaves with cross stitches using a thin linen thread. (Can you buy linen thread in the US? I never noticed it. It's a traditional type of thread in Sweden and is readily found in the stores.) 

I made the moon from angelina fibers.  My first time using them.  It looks a bit odd in the photo, much better in reality though.

It doesn't really matter if the design isn't quite what I had in mind. It's actually quite fun just to pick up some thread and follow an idea and try some different things without being bound by a pattern. I would definitely recommend trying it. Don't worry if you are uncertain of the result. It doesn't matter. You will find it interesting in time when you look back on it. And the most important thing is to take the opportunity to try new and different things. It's the only way to learn and make new and even better embroideries. I can't emphasize it enough, if you want to be able to incorporate new stitches in your projects, you have to learn them first, not just how to form the stitches, but how they look and feel. The best way is either sample cloths or small embroideries where you free yourself.

Anyways, this would be an embroidery journal project, but I'm not "officially" starting until next month. In January the fun begins, and you are all welcome to join in whichever format you like!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Embroidery Journal Project

Hi all,
Maybe you have heard of the Bead Journal Project or the Quilt Journal project, there is apparently also a crazy quilt journal project. For some time now, I have been a bit jealous of them and their projects. But not any longer. I'm officially starting the embroidery journal project. It's a bit informal to start with, as I don't know if it will just be me or others will be interested. And to start with, I'm running it from here. Perhaps if there are others who are serious about joining in, I will make formal lists of participants. I've made a page here on this blog for the 2012 embroidery journal project. Anyone is welcome to join in, even if you join in late.
I made this project because these little black birds that live around here have an incredibly beautiful song, but you can only hear it in the spring and up to the middle of  summer, then they are quiet. Attracting a mate is but one reason they sing.  The little bird sitting on the branch was planned, the rest just came out as I went.
I've already experimented a bit with this whole idea myself this year. The projects I am putting in this post to break up the texts a bit are my practices, if you will. There was some particular thought behind each of these that I stitched. The projects are all 4 x 4 inches. This is a size that I feel gave me plenty of room to create without being overly large.
This is actually one of my store patterns, but it's me also experimenting with using a lot of colors in this style of design. The rainbow type project coloring can be a bit of challenge to get it to work right.

So what is this about really? I believe there is something inside us that motivates us to choose certain themes and projects over others. We only have so much time after all. What is it that is trying to get out and what are we hoping to say?

I believe embroidery is an art form. We can use it to express ourselves, perhaps even learn to understand ourselves better. When you silence the inner critic and let the stitches flow, you let your right brain have its way, and amazing things can come out. Things you just can't put into words.
A fall project, of course. We have some maples on the property, they are beautiful trees. I wanted to use my summer stitch school stitches in a project, and experiment with texture. It's fun to do this type of embroidery. Of course, the leaf shape was drawn on the fabric, the stitches just came from there.

Everyone has a story, everyone has different experiences. Use your embroidery to tell those stories. Let others learn from you. Each of us has our own way of making stitches on a fabric, even the same exact stitch is different from person to person. Let those be part of your story.

There are really no technical requirements, just a willingness to try and share. The project can be anything, if you insist on following a pattern you of course, can, but it really is better to just pick up your fabric and make your own themes and motives. If you feel that is beyond you, then take a pattern you really like and make some effort to change or personalize it, so it's the way you want it to be.

The project can be any style, it can be very definite forms and shapes or it can be free and abstract. Neither is wrong. But do take the chance to go out of your comfort zone just a little, try some new technique or new stitches. There are many ways to tell your story, perhaps a new method will open new opportunities for you.
This was my first completely unplanned project. I started with letters. I knew I wanted a spring theme. Something to capture the exploding new life around me.

Just one more thing to say: that is this is part of my effort to help make stitching more personal, because this is what it is about. It isn't about making perfect stitches and perfect designs. There is enough press in the world for us to all be "perfect". In addition, our personalities are getting lost in the mass manufactured culture out there. Use your crafting skills to be unique.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Nutcracker Ornaments

I finished up the last in the series of Nutcracker ornaments this weekend. It seemed easier to do the ornament-making steps all at once when I had the materials and tools out. So here they are!
Clara
The Toymaker
And the nutcracker himself

The whole set in a photo together!

I have to say these were surprisingly fun to do. There was no expectation of super fine stitching like the stumpwork is sometimes. I actually managed to do a variety of stitches too. There is plenty of sparkly metallic threads, just as Christmas ornaments ought to be!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Flat Ornament Tutorial

Hi, all. I am working through the set of Nutcracker ornaments, and I thought it might be a good chance to write up how I make them. This kind of ornament makes a nice finish perfect for hanging on the tree or around the home. I'm putting a "glue warning" on this project for those of us that sometimes have trouble with getting it all over-;) Keep an extra piece of paper handy to wipe off glue and try as hard as you can NOT to get it on your embroidery. :)

First my pile of materials. (Not shown is some kind of  trim for the edges.)
I cut my fabrics about 1 inch bigger than the intended size. (I add about a quarter of inch around the embroidery.) I have two rectangles that I cut from mat boards, the kind used to frame pictures. Also, I use white craft glue, a piece of quilt batting, masking tap, and an exacto knife and clear ruler to cut the mat board.

I first glue the quilt batting to one of the cardboards. This will be for the front. Let it dry all the way, or you risk the glue seeping out to your embroidery, and that's not so nice.

Next I use the tape to attach the fabrics to the mat board. This isn't the fanciest of ways, but it works well. It can be annoying lining the design up nicely, but it's worth the time to make sure it is. I tape down the corners, then the sides.  Pull firmly on the fabric, so isn't loose on the front side. If you are a perfectionist you can make perfect mitered corners. It will make the corners less bulky if you do that, but the trim can hide some of the imperfections in the corners.





I do the same for the embroidered piece, using a bit more tape to hold it down evenly. Note, make sure the tape doesn't get too close to the edge or it will be hard to glue the pieces together in the next step.

Next is to glue the two pieces together. Spread a layer of glue around the back side of your covered mat boards. Make sure it goes to the edges and corners, but preferably not over, especially if you plan to sew your trim in place. I put the two pieces together, then put the ornament down on a flat surface face up. I cover the embroidered surface with a folded towel, and put on some heavy books. Then let this sit until it's all dry. 

Now it's time to attach the trim. You can choose to glue it on or sew it on. You can use pretty much any kind of trim, yarn, ribbon, or beads that you want. In this example, I couch down some soft cotton yarn. I like to leave my stitches a bit uneven.
I tuck the ends of the yarns a bit in between the two pieces to keep them out of the way.

I like to use beaded hangers for my ornaments. I usually use 2 strands of cotton floss and attach it firmly will several small stitches, then add the beads, and make several small stitches again before cutting the extra floss. And that is pretty much it!  It isn't hard or time consuming. :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fall Stitch School: Crewel Embroidery Seed stitches

Welcome to another lesson from Fall Stitch School with The Floss Box. This week I'm going to look at seeding stitches. And I don't mean "seed stitches", well I do, but I mean more generally stitches that can be sprinkled about in a regular or irregular pattern in crewel embroidery. These are filling stitches that don't completely fill an area. These types of stitches add a lot of interested to your stitching without requiring as much time as covering the area completely with long and short stitches or satin stitching. Plus it is a nice variety with areas that let a bit of the background fabric show through.

What types of stitches can be seeded then? Basically any stitch that can form discrete units. Detached chain or french knots are classic examples in crewel embroidery. Seed stitches are another. By definition these are small straight stitches sprinkled about randomly. But straight stitches can be placed in more regular patterns too.
The photo shows various stitches that could be used in crewel embroidery.

My Swedish reproduction wool embroidery project has examples of using scattered french knots - in this case they follow regular patterns.
You can see they add quite a bit of interest even without shading in a hole area.

Let your imagination guide you! These sorts of stitches are not limited to just the crewel world!

The Mouse King Ornament

I managed to stitch 1 of 5 Nutcracker ornaments. I am hoping to do all them. This one went pretty quickly for me.
I started with The Mouse King because he is the meanest of the lot and maybe that makes him the most fun! ;) I've already started the next one in the series.

These are store patterns and they are fun and make great ornaments! You'll find them in The Floss Box Embroidery Store.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Finished Squirrel Project!

Yesterday I put in the final stitches!
I took a few closeups too you can enjoy. I'm pretty happy with this project. It was a good challenge for me.

The squirrel was a bit tricky to stitch in place, but I made it work. The tail is made out of turkey knots that I trimmed and brushed out. That's a fun step by the way. It's fun to snip away the uneven strands and see things even out.


The acorns and leaves were easily set in place.

The berries were too. The needlelace leaves were a bit tricky since I had to push the wires through some thick stitches, but in the end it's all as it should be.

The mushrooms perhaps aren't so exciting, but I really didn't want them to draw much attention from the rest of the piece.

I am not sure what's next, probably a bit of Christmas stitching. You've got to start early!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall Stitch School: Jacobean Couching

This stitch is called by everyone Jacobean Couching, but everyone also seems to have another name for it, like Laid Filling or Trellis Stitch. This stitch is one of the classic crewel embroidery stitches. It creates a nice patterned filling stitch and is often used in stitching larger areas.

There are three steps to this stitch, making a grid of long stitches which can be either upright or at an angle, anchoring down the long stitches at the intersections, and making a filling stitch in the grid's squares or diamonds. Actually the filling stitch is optional, but it's very common to have one.

It's straightforward enough to make the grid. Making an upright grid is easiest, the diagonal grids can be a real challenge, since it's so easy to change the angles.
Then make small anchoring stitches. These can be whole crosses or half or some other variation of your choosing, but they really are a must as they hold down some very long stitches.
Then I just added a simple filling of french knots.
I made a few other samples. The first is with a diagonal filling and a single horizontal anchoring stitch.
Another option for fillings is detached chain stitches.
And finally, you can do a satin stitch filling, but you stitch this first, then the grid on top of it, followed by the anchoring stitches.
An example of this stitch used in a project.
It's an easy way to add some interest to a larger filled area.

I hope this lesson was useful! There will be a little project to stitch at the end of this Fall Stitch School lesson, so you can practice a bit of crewel embroidery yourself!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Embroidery Exercise

Hi, all. I found a little embroidery exercise in an embroidery book I picked up at a flea market. I thought it was worth sharing, and maybe some of you might like to try it. First though, I have to say that to allow yourself to do this, you have to turn off your inner critic. This isn't about making a fabulous project, or making any thing at all. It's just to practice stitches. Let your needle and your fingers work together without so much steering from your brain.

Gather up all the different white threads, yarns, and flosses you can find, thick and thin.
Here is my collection that I used. If your wondering where to get all these fibers, my advice is to try flea markets. I picked up many there. Even if you have a limited selection of threads, don't let that stop you from the exercise, you can use what you have. Feel free to compliment your threads with buttons and beads as you like.

Next, pick out a piece of a looser brown or tan woven fabric. A linen or sack cloth type of fabric is perfect. What you will do is make stitches, bunches of stitches of all kinds to cover your cloth. Feel free to use a stitch book to help you try new stitches. Don't worry if they aren't perfect, that isn't the point. Combine the threads in different ways, use several at once on your needle. As you make your stitches, don't make them regular, vary the size and shapes and angles, make them overlap, switch between stitches, however you feel as your work the stitches. Don't tell yourself it's not good enough because that is not the point with the exercise. I just bet at the end you will see some interesting textures and structures emerge.

Here is my result:
I most certainly did battle with my inner critic, but I didn't let it win. I continued until I felt satisfied with the amount of stitches. And I can say that I definitely found a few interesting effects in there.

The books suggests that this exercise is a "must" if you want to do free-style embroidery. I can definitely understand the author's reasoning. If you like this, you can try it again, or you can try it with some idea of making an actual composition. I myself have never really tried free style embroidery - too much of a pattern person, but never say never! Perhaps it just might show up in stitch school someday, but until then, I got to go practice a bit more. ;)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fall Stitch School: Long and Short Stitch

Welcome to another week of Fall Stitch School. This week, we're studying long and short stitch. This stitch is troublesome for many embroiderers, but I'm hopefully going to show you that it is not any harder than any other stitch and it can be quite fun to fill an area in. Long and short is very useful not only in crewel embroidery, but thread painting as well. Embroiderers can achieve beautiful shading affects with this stitch. It really is worth a little practice to improve your technique and gain confidence in your abilities.

The basic idea behind long and short stitching is simply to vary the starting and ending points of the stitches so that you can get a smoother color shift and to be able to easily stitch contours. I've made three sample shapes with long and short to show you a couple ways to use it. The first thing to do in crewel embroidery and (thread painting too) is to outline your shapes with split stitch or split back stitch.


First shape is a basic box. The first row of stitches is composed of some longer and some shorter stitches. For the rows following, you use only long stitches (except at the end of the shape, of course), but this isn't a precise science, so the stitches will have some natural variation in length anyways.
Notice my stitches aren't made perfectly even with each other. You will see that it hardly matters, in fact maybe it's better because it's so important to vary the placement. I went ahead and added another row of this color. It's very important to always, always bring the needle UP through the stitches and never down into them.
The next row of stitches is started by bringing your needle up in the color above.
Again you see I haven't made a perfect row of stitches. It looks a little odd in this contrived example, but in a real project, it will look fine with the variation. Start the next row bringing your needle up through the color above. This picture shows how far in you need to bring the needle up - it can be surprisingly far in.
 

The next shape is a flower petal. Another thing to keep in mind, is that it's important to work from the outside edge inward. This example shows how you may need to change the angle of your stitches to get a nice shape.
Some of the shorter stitches end up tucked under the longer stitches since the stitches are converging toward a single point and there won't be room for them all.

The most challenging (and fun!) thing to do is fill complicated shapes that bend around curves. This is particularly useful when filling animal shapes. 
To move around a curve, you  make stitches with varying starting and end points (this is really important for the making a nice filling), but the angle of the stitches changes a bit as you move around the stitch. The stitches are placed quite far up into the row of stitches above. Only a little part of each stitch is left showing, so you get a nice progression of stitches at different angles as you move around the curves. If you make the stitches a little shorter you will get a really smooth curve.


Here you see all three shapes filled in. I have limited colors on hand, but I think that you can still see the potential this stitch offers.
I have a small example from a project stitched with long and short using crewel wool. You can see how I have made contours around the shape of the animal

I hope this lesson was helpful in demystifying long and short stitching just a little bit. Give it a try! It's not so hard as it seems. :)