I don’t know where the first quarter of this year went, but at least some of it is here in daily stitches.
The whole page is about 8” x 11”.
A few stitches every day, some more meaningful than others, some more attractive than others. Some days are like that too.
This cloth is a long strip, like last year, but this time horizontal rather than vertical. The plan is to make it into a book, concertina-style, folding the months into pages and stitching them to the spine of a cover. I’ve made a start on the cover, which is vintage linen and a lovely surface to work on. There isn’t a plan for the design; I’ve just started with some simple lines of running stitch and I may or may not add to it.
The page for January will be stitched to the inside front cover, then the gap between January and February will form a valley fold that can be stitched to the spine of the cover. February and March will then have a mountain fold between them, making two pages, and so on. It isn’t nearly as complicated as I’m making it sound. I think it will work.
This cloth is the first in a series exploring the timeless marks found on ancient rocks. Circles, rings, spirals, and lines – all quite abstract but eternally symbolic and full of meaning.
I’ve used hand-dyed silk bourette yarn for couching the rings. It has a lovely soft texture and, unusually for silk, doesn’t have so much of a sheen. It looks and feels more like very soft wool.
The rings on the grey silk band are made with very fine silk tulle, which weighs almost nothing but has a strong will of its own and can be quite tricksy. You have to work very slowly with it and pin it down as you go, otherwise it tends to wriggle away and wander off. This is not a great photo but was only intended to show myself where the rings needed adjusting a little before committing to stitching them down.
A few stitches later, they’re sitting quite nicely.
It’s taking its time, and I’m sitting with each mark to see where it needs more. These plain running stitch circles may or may not be finished. The cloth in this section is textured silk, similar to silk noil but slightly heavier and thicker.
Taking time to make time. All the time is already there. It’s just a matter of finding it.
Daily paint doodles have produced these little pictograms, influenced by prehistoric art and the images found on rocks and in caves everywhere in the ancient world:
Prehistoric art is something I’ve always found really interesting. Not so much the figurative drawings of the various beasts fleeing from human hunters, but more the abstract mark-making and simple patterns. They seem to crop up everywhere from the same kind of time. Shapes like circles, spirals, wavy lines, squares, short lines – basic marks. These are the marks I make most often in my sketchbooks too, and a lot of the shapes will translate very effectively from pen to needle and thread.
I’ve prepared a few long cloths, about 10” x 40-ish”, for adding timeless marks with thread. Just to see where it goes. I’m using linen or cotton as the backing fabric, and brushed cotton in place of batting. The top layers are strips of hand-dyed silk, cotton, and linen.
I’m beginning with circular blanket stitch on hand-dyed textured silk fabric and looking forward to following the thread.
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.
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.
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.