Tuesday, November 14, 2017


I'm still waiting for the passing thread for my goldwork flower. So I took out the next piece on my pile of WIPs, my phase 1 Japanese bead embroidery piece and...ran out of beads.

I knew this was going to happen (Carolyn warned me ages ago) and should have placed another order. I guess I was too optimistic.

I could have started on the last bit that needs to be beaded, in between the leaves, but I decided to wait. That piece went back in storage and the next piece came out, Hedebo Enchantment. The border all around is done for now and I've moved onto the center.

I wasn't planning on stitching the center portion as I though it would be finished into a table center and that area would be hidden by a vase or something. My mom asked me to finish it into a pillow instead, so now the center has to be stitched. This also means that eventually I'll have to figure out how to do the actual pillow finishing. I think I will contact Jetta, the teacher, and see what suggestions she may have.

There are three different patterns for the center: the center circle, four small drops and four larger drops. I've started with the larger drops as it doesn't involve any cutting. They're stitched with a pulled thread pattern and then surrounded by two rows of chain stitch. They're kind of hard to see because it's all done in white. In retrospect, I think there should have been more color in the center. Maybe the chain stitch could have been done with the other linen thread that came in the kit.

The plan now is to keep stitching on Hedebo Enchantement until the passing or beads come in. I'm hoping it's soon as I'm not really inspired by my hedebo piece right now. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Craftsy Goldwork Class - Part 3

After a few days of rest from my Japanese embroidery class, I went back to stitching goldwork. The next part is the stem which is stitched with over stretched pearl purl wrapped with floss. The instructions say to wrap with green floss, but that didn't appeal to me. It took me a few days, but I decided in the end to use the same silk thread I used in Pearl Butterfly. The silk is a cream Soie d'Alger by Au Ver a Soie.

Wrapped pearl purl is exactly what is sounds like: you over stretch the pearl purl by gently pulling on it and then wrap the thread around the pearl purl so that it slips in between the coils. For this piece, I used four strands of soie d'Alger.

You wrap as much as you think you'll need. Before cutting my silk thread, I guesstimated how much I would need by laying the silk along the outline of the stem and added about an inch on each end for finishing. Once the coil was wrapped, I started couching it down using a single strand of matching thread.

I couched every 2-3 coils. I might add more depending on the curve to really set my line properly. For sharp corners, I just bend the pearl purl in the opposite direction first before laying it down.

You'll notice that I left a strand of silk at the beginning. That's on purpose. Once I reached the other end, I unwrapped the silk so that the wrapped coil ends at the edge of the stitching (if that makes sense).

The extra pearl purl is cut-off so I ended up with a length of silk sticking out and proceeded to finish couching my pearl purl.

Below you can see my stem couched with the wrapped pearl purl and the silk is sticking out on each end. These will be plunged later in the same way we plunge Japanese and passing thread.

Japanese thread was then couched on each side of the pearl purl. Luckily this is the last bit that uses it as I had very little left in my kit.

Once everything was couched, it's all plunged to the back.

I'm very happy with my choice of thread. It came out very nice and the silk thread looks like little pearls. By the way, the little leaf outline is stitched with overstretched pearl purl that wasn't wrapped. You can see that it gives a completely different effect to the piece.

Since I was doing so well with the piece, I decided to continue onto the next bit. This technique is called basketweave stitching. It adds dimension to the piece and looks very pretty once you get it going.

The basketweave effect comes from alternating where the thread is couched between the hard cord padding. You couch at intervals of 2, alternating which ones between the rows.

I was really in the groove, until I realized I ran out of passing thread. This is the last section passing thread is used in. I still have three rows of double passing to couch and only have a single short strand left. I wasn't wasteful and didn't have to unpick anything so it means there was a miscalculation when my kit was put together.

I posted a picture on Instagram and got a quick response from the San Francisco School of Needlework and Design where Lucy Barter teaches. They said to email Lucy and she would send me more passing. Isn't social media amazing! Lucy said she would mail me more on Monday, so I've set my piece aside for now. In the meantime, I'll just work on something else.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Japanese Embroidery Phase 1 - part 4

On the third day we got to learn something I've been wanting to try for a while now, the Japanese knot. It's not a French knot or a colonial knot (it is a little like a colonial knot). I found a video a while back that makes it looks so easy (they do it with one hand!) and they always come out looking pretty. By the way, from here on out the light is horrible. We had rainy days for the last two days with zero sun.

To stitch a Japanese knot we had to learn how to do a new twist. So far we'd been doing a Z-twist, but for knots you need an S-twist thread (read more about twists here). I'm not a 100% sure but I think that if you use a Z-twisted thread, you lose the twist when you do the knot. We did some practice on the side first before we worked on our actual piece. Once we were ready, we stitched some knots at the tip of the petals which were then covered with flat silk. So all in all, it didn't really matter if the knots looked pretty so we got some extra practice there. I love how mine came out, they're so plump.

I left my flat silk in there so that I can cut thread and re-use it later
From there we moved onto more flat stitching on the diagonal. This is very similar to how we stitched on the large petals of the iris but with flat silk instead of twisted. I had a better time with the flat silk, not sure if it's because I had practice or it was the thread. The flat silk plumps up more than the twisted, covering more area, making it look nicer.

I started off with a smaller leaf as they are harder to do. I did pretty good with the first one, but kind of lost my way on the second. They don't say it in the books but there is a better side to start on: if you start on the wider side, then by the time you get around you can angle your stitches better. I'm not going to take it out, instead I will try to figure out how to fix it.

We got more demos than we did stitching on the third day. Sue showed us how to twist silk with a strand of metal thread and how to make our own couching thread. You can buy couching thread from the JEC, but they come in limited colors. Knowing how to make your own means you can use any flat silk from the more than 200 colors they have in stock. We also covered how to make a tight twist which involves wetting your silk to set it.

At the end of the day, we prepared the wrapping paper for stitching the next day by putting in guidelines. This time we also outline the edge of the paper. The reason for this is once the paper is embroidered, we will be stitching a couched outline all around it. Putting in the guidelines lets us know where to start and end our stitches.

Day four started out just as dreary with bad lighting. I found the bad lighting affected my stitching. I was very frustrated with my morning progress. You can clearly see in the picture below that my line is not perfectly straight.

After a talk with one of the more advanced stitchers (thank you Pam) I realized two things. One, all that I'm doing now will be covered with so many other layers plus the couched outline that you won't even see much of the foundation I'm embroidering much less the jagged edge. And two, I was stitching in the wrong direction. I should be stitching top to bottom, not bottom to top as I had been doing. After flipping my frame around, things progressed much better.

Afterward, Sue gave us a demonstration on the wrapping paper on Pam's piece which was ready for the last layer to be applied. I'll have to check my books, but I think on top of the weft layer foundation we started stitching, there are about 3 or 4 layers of held lines and on top of those we stitch a lovely geometric pattern with gold threads.

While Pam was preparing her piece for another demonstration, we jumped to another area of the piece. I'm really loving flat silk stitching.

I had time to finish my strand of silk before we got called over to Pam's frame for a demo on padded cords. There was so much to cover but so little time to do it in. Luckily we have an excellent group of advanced stitchers here in Montreal that we can consult later and Sue isn't very far away from us (she lives in Ontario).

In the confusion of the packing, I forgot to take a picture of the entire piece. Sue demonstrated how to stitch the pinks last. I had already cut the flat silk and didn't want it to get ruined, so I started a bit of the first petal.

And then it was over. I'm sad and annoyed it passed so fast. Just when we finally got the hang of things and were ready to really do some stitching, it was time to pack up. We also had so much fun just being together under one roof, I wish we could meet up more often. Many of us live in Montreal and work full time, two members of our group had to travel to Montreal (Patricia from Quebec city and Pauline all the way from British Columbia). So understandably we can't meet very often.

Top from left: Pam, Suzie, Marilyn, Sue Sprake, Patricia, Jose, Pauline
Bottom from left: me, Natalie with Eva and Noah, Nancy
But I will be seeing some of them next month. We've scheduled to meet at Nancy's house on December 2 and for the first time I will be doing actual Japanese embroidery at her house instead of beading :) It won't be the last time I will see Pauline and Patricia either, they'll both be going to PEI in July for seminar. Something else to look forward to.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Japanese Embroidery Phase 1 - part 3

On the second day, we started stitching with flat silk. The four small petals at the center of the iris are padded and then covered with flat silk. I found that it was easier to stitch with the flat silk. I was even able to stitch with one hand on top and one hand under the fabric for the first time ever. The only drawback, my left hand was at the top. In Japanese embroidery, you embroider the design from left to right, top to bottom with your right hand on top of the fabric and the left below. This means that your hands are never placed on stitched areas. It's still a step forward for me. Now I just have to figure out how to do the same with twisted silk.

Afterward we really started to jump around the piece. We learned how to stitch a chrysanthemum. This one has more padding and stitching with twisted thread. More diagonal stitches here.

We then moved onto the weft layer foundation technique. Sue gave us a tip on how to ensure that our lines are straight: stitch guide lines using couching thread beforehand. These stitches are left as they are and just covered over with silk. I found it such an excellent idea that can transfer to other types of embroidery.

Once I laid the guidelines, I had just enough time to do a little stitching before the day ended.

Here is my progress at the end of the second day.

Natalie was nice enough to take some pictures for me with her professional camera. She has an excellent micro zoom that takes gorgeous pictures. I just love how that yellow comes out. Doesn't it look like gold?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Japanese Embroidery Phase 1 - part 2

The first day of class started bright and early at 9 am. We had a lot to cover and very little time to waste. The first thing Sue did was give us each an extra reel of silk and had us start with learning how to do a 4 into 1 twist. I'd been dreading this for a while. I watched a video a while back and the whole licking your hand thing was kind of a turn off.

What I ended up learning is one, sweaty hands are a plus and two, twisting threads warms your hands. Being someone who always has cold hands, that second one is a great byproduct of twisting silk. Cuticles are a definite disadvantage, silk catches on EVERYTHING. I'm going to have to be very careful this winter. My hands get very dry and my skin cracks because of the constant heating at the office and at home.

Another thing I realized, twisting thread is actually really fun and relaxing. Japanese embroidery needs a certain mind set. They say if you can't stitch, twist silk instead. Students should never be sitting at their frame doing nothing.

Once we were competent enough with the twist, we took out the blue silk and twisted the first strand for our piece.

We started off with the iris. The three large petals are padded with twisted thread and stitched on a diagonal.

The padding is then covered with the same twisted thread. The angle is very important. I started out great, but then I had some trouble once I go to the tip at the center. Lots of compensation stitches there, which is something that should be avoided as much as possible.

By the end of the day, I only had that bit done. We were very sad to have to leave for the day. Below you can see my set up. The rules are, there should be nothing on the fabric. All tools are placed on the mounting fabric that's on either side. So on the right is my awl for twisting thread, needle felt, threader, tekobari, blue silk reel and my Sajou tin box. I anchored the tin on the bottom with a magnet so it wouldn't move and placed all my ORTs in it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Japanese Embroidery Phase 1 - part 1

Thursday night we made our way to Natalie's house where the class is being held. I got the chance to finally meet Marilyn in person. I "met" Marilyn a year ago through another Japanese Embroiderer from the UK on Instagram. When this opportunity came up, I sent her a message to ask if she would like to join us. For this class, we were 4 stitchers starting phase 1, one stitcher was continuing hers and 5 other stitchers working on various phases.

The purpose of meeting the night before class starts, is so that those of us starting phase 1 can setup their frames. I knew this was a complicated process, but I never imagined it would take so long. We were there for about 3 hours.

Sue Sprake and I
Our stands and frames came from P and G Enterprises. The stand comes in 9 pieces. It's very compact and easy to assemble and dis-assemble. Dis-assembled, Marilyn was able to fit hers into a large gym bag. The frame is pretty easy to assemble as well, the hard part was getting the fabric stretched just right. The first step is stretching the fabric along the weft. My fabric kept coming out crooked or I wasn't able to do a full turn on the scroll bars on each side.

Lacing under Sue's supervision
I think I had to redo mine 5 times before it was approved for lacing. It was time well wasted, because now I know what to look out for.

Here's a close up of the lacing.

The fabric is drum tight. So tight, every time you pull the needle in or out of the fabric it makes a really loud puncture noise. It's very funny to hear, especially as we're supposed to stitch in total silence.

The frame all set up and ready for the first day of class the next day. More tomorrow.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Preparing and Packing for Class

It's finally time! As you read this I will be in class starting my first step into Japanese Embroidery. After five years of saying one day, that day is finally now.

If you remember my post from August, I was hesitating between stitching Hanazume and Bouquet from the Heart of Japan. After consulting my senpais (that's Japanese for those who have more experience than myself), I decided to go with Bouquet from the Heart of Japan.
This piece containing more elements will introduce me to many different techniques and help me prepare for the phases to come. In my excitement to start, I decided to get myself familiar with the design. To do that, I traced the design from my Japanese Embroidery book to color in my sketchbook.

Here is the design all transferred next to a photograph of the finished embroidery.

I colored the drawing using my color pencils, noting in color-coordinated markers what technique silk combination is used. Ignore the paper wrapping, I kind of ruined it there, and the cords are not colored either. Setting that aside, coloring it gives me a good understanding of where everything should be and also made me realize there is a lot of green in this piece. I kind of hope we won't be using a single green color.

Onto my packing. My frame and stand will be waiting for me in the class room, I will post pictures of those later. For now, here is what I'm bringing with me:

  • My copies of Japanese Embroidery through the millennium by Mireille Amar and Techniques of Japanese Embroidery by Shuji Tamura.
  • A clamp light from Ikea with extension cord.
  • Pillow case to cover my piece between classes
  • and my embroidery tools all nicely packed

I found this zipped case at Hobby Lobby when I went to visit my friend in the US. It's meant for planners, but I love all the different zip-pockets. It also has space (I hope) for the silks when I get them in class. I like having everything in one place.

Here is what's inside:

  • sticky notes, note pad with pencil, eraser and pen
  • tin container for ORTs
  • Embroidery scissors with tweezers attached
  • Awl
  • Tekobari
  • Komas
  • Felt with needles
  • Various rulers, including the very important triangle rulers (I'll show you why later)

I hope I didn't forget anything. If I did, it should be fine as I can bring it with me the next day.