Fragments of antique cotton, silk, and lace, hand-stitched to tea-dyed vintage linen and cotton.
It only named itself this afternoon. The past is always present. We carry it with us wherever we go. I guess that’s what memory is.
And these fragments from the past are still present too. Clothing and accessories made by hands long dead and yet still here. Their voices still speak to us, and the sheer beauty of their work still moves us.
The fragment of MJ’s monogrammed chemise became a pocket for some vintage needles.
New stitches on old cloth, layering new memories over old ones
It hangs from some tea-dyed silk ribbon, which may or may not be strong enough – the cloth is heavier than it looks.
A short view of the other side:
There are lots of frayed and ragged edges. Time made visible. The marks made by a quilter’s needle are still visible in this fragile cotton:
We all have some – the precious, fragile treasures that are taken out from time to time, admired, and then carefully laid back in their box. Relics from another age, fragments of a life long ago laid aside. Somehow they stay with us, surviving war, flood, and other catastrophes.
They’re far too lovely to live in a box, but that’s probably the best place for them, long term. I’ve chosen a few very fragile, ragged fragments and I’m in the process of stitching them to a long, layered cloth made from pieces of vintage linen and cotton.
I’ve had these beautiful lace fabrics for many years, and somehow it just seems time for them to be out in the world again. The vintage embroidered monogram below had been glued to a paper label by its manufacturer, and is gradually coming away. The paper is very fragile, but I want to stitch the whole piece to this cloth so I’ve stabilised the paper by brushing acrylic medium on the back and then sticking it to some antique cotton bobbinet. I don’t know if this will hold, but it feels a lot more robust than it did.
The very fine cotton cutwork trim on the section below has been hand-embroidered, and was once part of a petticoat. The monogrammed silk fragment is from a chemise, also hand-stitched.
The tiny pintucks in this silk are from a christening dress. Looking at the quality of the machine stitches, I think it’s probably been sewn on a manual treadle machine.
And the nineteenth-century fragment below, impossibly fine, is from a tippet, a cross between a shawl and a scarf, worn around the neck or shoulders. The fabric is thinner than tissue paper.
The embroidery stitches are tiny, and I think it’s been done by hand. If you look at the back, it lacks the rigid regularity that machine work has.
Inevitably, as I’m stitching, I’m thinking about the women who made and wore these fabrics. It seems strange to think of them as dead, when what they left behind is so alive and has such presence. There is a kind of sadness, a touch of the Miss Havisham, perhaps, about this piece; but there’s also an immense strength and a palpable sense of survival. How something can be so insubstantial, so easily torn, so translucent, and yet still so strong and beautiful, amazes me every time.
I made a start on translating some of my recent watercolour doodles into stitch.
I’ve applied some tiny fragments (mostly about an inch or two) of hand-dyed silk, cotton, and linen to a strip of hand-woven (not by me!) cotton cloth, stitched them down around the edges, and then embroidered each one to illustrate the coming of Spring.
It’s a lovely opportunity to find a use for the very tiny precious fragments that we all seem to end up collecting. I’ve added bits of vintage lace motifs and a metal charm, and a flat white bead. Each fragment ended up as a tiny collage expressing hope and new life.
It measures about 4” x 17.5” and hangs from a piece of hand-dyed thick cotton boucle. After a couple of hectic months in my new occupation, it feels really good to be restarting my own work.
I’ve been looking for a set of good quality watercolours but haven’t been able to find anything that doesn’t include a lot of colours I would never use. After falling down a few online watercolour rabbit holes, I found that you can make your own half-pan set from tubes.
Imagine the possibilities! I have quite a few little tubes already – probably far too many, but colour is too enticing to resist, and I will use it all eventually. I’m not a painter, but I do like to paint. Getting all the tubes out feels like too much hassle and mess for a quick sketchbook page, so making a pan set with the colours I’ve already got is the perfect solution.
You can buy empty watercolour tins quite cheaply, and many of them come with empty half pans ready to fill from tubes.
The result is a perfect set of watercolours, conveniently in a metal box that takes seconds to set up.
There’s a lot of green, but then that’s what I like. There’s a mix of brands here – mostly Daniel Smith, with some Winsor & Newton, Schmincke, and Jacksons. They all sit quite happily together and mix well. Some set harder than others, but it seems to make no difference to the paint itself. The Jacksons paints still haven’t set hard after a few days, but this palette lives in a drawer and won’t be carried around, so I don’t think it matters if it doesn’t set.
I’d like to spend a bit of each day on sketchbook work, and this convenient set-up will make it so much easier to restart a daily practice. I’ve been doing some doodles just to see what happens and already they look like possible textile/stitch samples.
There’s nothing like a well-stocked shop, and at present I have nothing like a well-stocked shop. If you did manage to get your hands on some of the latest batch of hand-dyed thread – thank you so much, it’s on its way. If you didn’t, don’t worry – there will be more.
So now I need to start all over again. It takes a long time to hand wind every skein in preparation for dyeing. I wondered if a yarn swift would help to make the process a bit more efficient. They’re designed for hanks of thicker knitting yarns, and I was sceptical about whether it would work for finer embroidery thread, but so far I’m impressed. In the photo below there’s a textured yarn skein in progress, but it also works perfectly well for threads.
For the next batch I’m going to try dyeing larger skeins initially, and then wind them into smaller skeins after dyeing. I’m still trying to figure out what works best here, both for me and for everyone else. I’m not sure that I will continue with so many different textured yarns indefinitely and will probably instead start to focus on just embroidery threads after current stocks run out. I might make an exception for silk boucle, which is one of my favourite textured yarns.
Also I’m not sure that I’m going to do the big announcement thing when threads are ready. While I’m really grateful that there is so much demand, selling everything in a matter of hours is exhausting. Ideally I’d like to keep the shop stocked at all times, so I will add threads as they become available. If you’re interested in buying thread, please bookmark the shop products page here and keep checking regularly. It will be at least a couple of weeks before there are any more, but I’ll be working on it in the meantime.
In other news, March has begun, and the theme for this month is windows.
You can see that I skim off a few of the threads for my own use. Dyer’s perks, I call it. They’re just skein ends and seconds really. The purple cotton slub has a few white bits in it where the dye didn’t quite find all the yarn. This does happen with thicker yarns, and you can easily cover the white bits with couching stitches.
The first two days are based on images seen through windows. The cherry blossom, along with so many other signs of spring, seems very early this year. The wheel is turning and time carries the colours of spring and the changing light.
Interesting how different the dynamic is when stitching round shapes as opposed to straight-edged ones.
I like the space around the shapes, but I also like the full page of January. Just another way of seeing, I suppose, where neither is better nor worse than the other.
Spring is growing louder here in this part of the northern hemisphere. It amazes me every year how life just comes back so easily, how nature wakes up after her winter snooze and immediately picks up the thread again. Spring is maybe just the other side of winter.
This week I’ve made a notebook using some light weight cotton rag paper – somewhere to collect colour palettes, swatches, and notes about colour.
The paper signatures were easy enough – just folded pairs that could be stitched to the spine of a cover. The cover itself literally dropped through the letter box one day. I cut a corrugated cardboard mailer box to size and painted it white:
The depth of the box turned out to be exactly the right size for a spine to fit the pile of signatures:
I painted some abaca tissue paper with acrylic inks and collaged/stencilled it a bit and used that to cover the white cardboard. I’ve reinforced the spine with another layer of painted tissue.
You can still see the texture of corrugated cardboard underneath the colour but it’s functioning pretty well as a book.
Next job this week is to find a way through these, when they’re dry:
If I can get through them all (and if I can stop myself from keeping them!) they’ll be available from next week.
In my new life of freedom from the nine to five treadmill, I’m trying to set aside Fridays for research and development (AKA playing).
I was given these beautiful super-granulation Schmincke watercolours for Christmas but have been really busy since January and I’ve been trying to set aside some time to try them. It turns out today was the day.
I’m no great watercolourist but what I like most about watercolour paints is that it’s quite hard to make anything look ugly. I really like the granulation effect.
While I’m waiting for more thread to arrive in the post, I’m compiling for myself a thread catalogue. This is really just somewhere for me to organise and categorise the various types of thread that I will be stocking and dyeing.
Initially this was just going to be a notebook and cover, but, well, these things often get a bit out of hand, and now it’s slightly more complicated than that.
The colour palette came about by accident, after I dyed these thick cotton boucle yarns, which will wrap around the whole thing to tie it shut:
I really like the way this very thick-and-thin dimensional cotton slub yarn can be flattened when it’s couched with long stitches:
Anyway, back to over-complicating things, and now it’s a notebook in a wraparound cover, with a pocket for index cards carrying samples and information about the various threads. The pocket came from a silk shirt that I dyed.
I find it very useful to round up information for comparative purposes, so that I can see at a glance how (for instance) silk and cotton threads compare in terms of weight or thickness. Thread weights are sometimes given as an nm figure, which I don’t find particularly helpful. Broadly, this system translates as the number of meters per 1g of thread (the first number) and the number of plies or strands in the thread (the second number). So the silk thread pictured below has a nm of 8/2, which tells you it’s a 2-ply thread, and you get about 8 metres of it per gram. For comparison, standard sewing thread (the kind you would use in a machine) is usually something like 60 or 70/2, which is a lot finer. As a visual thinker, I find it much easier to picture thread weights in terms of wraps per inch – I’m not certain but I think this is a system that is more commonly seen in the knitting world, to help with substituting yarn weights in patterns. I find it much easier to understand that the silk thread below has about 23 wraps per inch (the number of times you can wrap it around a one-inch strip without leaving any gaps).
Finer silk threads, which have an nm of 16/2 and 30/2, have wraps per inch of about 29 and 44 respectively. I find this easier to visualise.
I’m using commercial cotton perle threads as controls, just to see how the weights of my various hand-dyed threads will compare. And even that isn’t as ‘standard’ as you might expect. I’ve used DMC perle 3 to 8 to count wraps per inch, but I didn’t have enough DMC perle 12 so had to use a Valdani perle 12 instead. And here’s the surprise – there isn’t a huge amount of difference between DMC perle 8 (43 wpi) and Valdani perle 12 (44 wpi). I can see by enlarging the photos that the 12 card maybe isn’t wrapped as closely as the 8, but that would only account for another 3 or 4-ish.
This is turning into quite a rabbit hole, isn’t it? I expect somebody somewhere will tell me I’ve got too much time on my hands, but I find this kind of thing really fascinating. Ultimately I suspect this will end up being a self-referencing closed system that only I will understand, and I think that’s probably ok. As soon as thread reinforcements arrive, I’ll be able to start winding skeins for dyeing again – but in the meantime I’m enjoying some quite reasonable down time.