Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Glitz and Glam of Embroidery

I love watching "period" films and TV programs like Downton Abbey or "Game of Thrones", partially, of course, for the glitz and glam of the intrigue and romance of the story, but mostly, for the glitz and glam of the costumes and the sets. When "Lady Mary Crawley" dresses for dinner, it's the lavish needlework on the gown that has my attention. In "Game of Thrones", London embroiderer Michele Carragher hand embroiders many of the intricate designs, that she has also created, onto the costumes. Her website is worth checking out (

Thinking of all of the detailed beadwork embellishment and intricate embroidery in these gowns, made me remember these "petites cigales" (hidden somewhere in my stash), that I started in 2006, the first full summer we spent in Montpellier. That summer, I did not have a sewing machine there, and I had not as yet taken up "Boutis". So armed only with my basic sewing kit, but with easy access to a marvellously seductive bead and yarn store in town, I began these cicadas, while the days were gloriously warm and sunny and "les cigales" were singing their song, from morning until night.

This project started out as a simple applique wall hanging using only regular quilting cottons. With the discovery of the "all things glitz and glam embellishment boutique", the cicadas soon developed a life of their own. (Quite beyond my control)!

So, the simply appliqued cicada got seriously "glammed up" with beads and baubles and all manner of embroidery fun.

Before appliquing the body of this little guy, organza wings were stitched onto the fabric. Outlining the wings with a gold metallic thread soon became a project of gold lace embroidery.

There are 9 cigales in total, all in various stages of completion. When doing this type of work, there's always a danger of going seriously overboard with the "glitz and glam", but oh my, what fun!

All of "les cigales" are hand appliqued, hand embroidered, (including the gold lace on the wings) and hand beaded. The background was done several years later, after I had purchased a sewing machine.

Before the cicada was appliqued onto the silk background, the branches were machine embroidered and the flowers were hand appliqued. I liked the crinkled effect that the machine embroidery created between the branches, so I left it in place.

Here, leaves and branches are machine embroidered with some hand embroidery used to add detail. I'm not quite happy with the way the leaves look, so "more" of "something" is needed here!

After I had completed the background, I decided that the trapunto branches needed to be extended. Although stitched, they still need to be corded. (Maybe some more beading somewhere as well?)

As you can see, before I decided to "enhance" these guys with "bling", I had already appliqued them onto a previous quilt block and added embroidery, like the legs and antennas.

The wings are made from some Edwardian lace that I found in an antique market at the Portobello market in London. I fussy cut around the different patterns in the lace and appliqued many little sections to the wing separately.

Always hopeful that one day, all (or at least some) of my almost finished projects will meet their destiny. Sigh!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Boutis: The Straight and Narrow of Silk

Cell Phone Pouch

On the learning curve once again.

As with any type of hand stitching like embroidery or quilting, (or machine stitching for that matter), precision and accuracy are key to a presentable product. Being familiar with silk fabrics from machine quilting and from sewing clothes in a former stitching life, when I started this little boutis pouch on dupioni silk, I was not at all concerned or intimidated by the fact that I was working on silk.

Around the central motif, where all the channels are rounded, the stitching was fairly straightforward and presented no unsual circumstances.
The above photo is of the front flap of the little phone pouch, where the rose window motif is stitched with a back stitch.

However, once off of the central motif and onto the body of the pouch, where all of the lines and channels are straight, two things became apparent very quickly.

First: When working with silk, appropriate lighting is crucial.  With insufficient light, the lines become muddy and seem to run into each other. When there is too much direct light, or misdirected light, it creates a glare that makes the line disappear entirely. Both were a serious hindrance to me, since most of my hand stitching is done in the evening when artificial light is the only option.

The next two photos both show what happened because I could not see the stitching lines clearly enough. The starting point and stopping point of the lines, especially the short diagonal lines in the pattern to the right and left of the centre vertical channels, almost disappeared. (The pattern is called "points de vauvert". I will be more specific about the stitches I used in this piece in my next blog on boutis). As I was stitching these lines, they all seemed to run into each other.
It is imperative that the diagonal pattern lines up precisely. The stitches in the "points de vauvert" pattern to the left are acceptable, but notice how the short diagonal lines to the right of the channels are quite irregular. Aside from the way it will look, this will present problems when cording.

In this close-up of the diagonal pattern, you can see how the tops and bottoms of the short diagonal lines do not line up. You should be able to place a ruler along the top and bottom edge of each line. The other problem that this photo indicates, is the way the marker bled on the silk.

As I just mentioned above, the second problem was the pen that I used for marking. Although generally I have great success using the water erasable blue marking pen, in this case it was a huge mistake. Because the pen bled dreadfully on the silk, it created a sloppy line that was much too wide to follow with precision, and where the starting points and stopping points were approximate. The result was indecisive and sloppy stitches.
This is the back side of the rose window motif. You can see how the marker even bled through to the back in some spots.

The blue marking pen created messy inaccurate lines throughout the piece.
So what's next? After all that work, even with all of it's imperfections, this project will be corded and finished with the hope that some of the sins of the poor stitching will be hidden in the relief created by the cording.

My next project on silk is a needle-fold envelope. Two things will change at the outset. In France, I have an excellent lamp with a magnifying lens, specifically designed for hand work. I have ordered the same lamp for myself here in Vancouver, but it is taking it's sweet time in arriving. And secondly, I will audition different marking methods to find one that creates a more visible and more precise line. In the meantime, I have a few other smaller boutis projects on cotton ready to stitch (see my post of Jan.18, 2014) that will keep me gainfully and happily occupied. I'll post updates of todays project as the cording progresses.