Thread Wrangling

For the needleworkers and organized people in the crowd, Mary Corbett shared her thread cabinets on her blog and reiterated the right tools-right job concept.  Other readers have shared their systems.  Here is mine.  I store most of my fibers, frames, fabrics, and kits in this one closet.  I do have some small decorative chests that also hold thread, including all my DMC.  I also found a map cabinet on clearance, which I use for fabric – satisfying my desires for 1) a map cabinet and 2) flat fabric storage.  Half of the closet contains a portable coat rack and shelves.  The other half contains the following series of cabinets.

Here are the fiber drawers.  Originally CD drawers from Bed, Bath, & Beyond (I think they have been discontinued 😦 ), they allow you to store your skeins flat and are handy for storing rolls of tape.

Yes, I also have a wooden tackle box.  Got it at Marshalls for $40 or $50.  The drawers are felt-lined and contain my soie d’alger and miscellaneous items/tools.  To the left you see three storage cube units, stacked on top of one another.

I store framed needlework projects, empty frames, kits, fabric, and patterns in the cubes. As you see, the pre-made fabric drawers are handy, but optional.  When Target put them on clearance for $2, I bought a bunch.  You don’t have to use them in the cube system.  I use them on regular shelves.  When I don’t need them, they collapse and are easy to store.  I did splurge for my Kreinik and other spooled thread storage.

Sadly, I was unable to purchase the spooled thread holders on clearance.  You can get lucky with Jo-Ann’s coupons.  You don’t always see the big racks in the stores, though.  I don’t like plastic, so I try to use wood as much as possible.  Plus, I like to see my pretties. Michaels, Hobby Lobby, AC Moore, and Jo-Anns also go through phases of stocking fabric lined chests of various sizes.  Use the coupons to your advantage and troll the stores every so often.

My advice for folks is to focus on the items that you are going to store, not on the type of container.  Beaders have used watch boxes for years, because the form fits the function.  My continually trolling of Home Goods, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls has yielded nice faux leather office desk drawer organizers that I actually use in my bathroom drawers.  Bed, Bath, and Beyond has jewelry drawer inserts that can also be used to hold small items, like beads or charms – using your 30% off coupon.  Know what you want to store, how you want to store it, and then look for container that fits your needs.  I spent a decade working on my system.  I’ll probably tweak it, but I am now reasonably satisfied with my set up.  If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them.



EGA Finishes

Within 6 months of class end, I have finished both projects from the EGA seminar in September.  The first finish is a goldwork piece designed by Michele Roberts:  California Golden Vine.  The leaves and tendrils are gold.  The grapes are two shades of purple and are padded with differing elevations.  The photograph is mediocre – doesn’t capture the dimensionality of the piece.  I went with natural light to avoid the weird shines from flash, which does give some sense of the layering.

California Golden Vine - copyright Michele Roberts

California Golden Vine - copyright Michele Roberts

The piece has a very rustic feel with the brown-gold duponi silk background.  I am not a fan of the Pearsall silk used for the grapes.  A bit too fine for my tastes.  The snagging was a nightmare.  Eterna is shinier.  My preferred silk vendors remain Eterna, Needlepoint Inc, and Soie d’Alger.  I fear the tendrils will be too tempting for Phoebe.  Safe display will a challenge.

The design is stunning, and Michele is a wonderful teacher.  Quite the Southern lady and very dedicated to teaching.  Both of my teachers this year were very good.  Phillipa Turnbull designed the second piece:  You Can’t Catch Me, based on old bedhangings.  Phillipa graciously showed us the original bedhangings and other historical pieces from her collection.

As some of you know, crewel is my first love.  I have seen Phillipa’s designs in UK magazines and was thrilled to see her teaching at the EGA seminar.  She was a blast.  Here is a photo of the finished piece, which should also remind you of a certain special greyhound:

You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

(It’s still on the blocking board – thus the pins.  I’ll turn it into a pillow.  Good Friday is going to be a finishing weekend.)  That’s right:  the dog is Preston.  During class, Phillipa suggested that we customize the dog to our own puppykins.  Great fun!  I really should have changed the butterflies to squirrels, but creating a flying squirrel is a bit beyond my skills at the moment.  The brindle was tough enough.  Let’s enjoy a close up of the real thing:

Preston's Brindle

Preston's Brindle

The brindle can be very strong or very faded.  To recreate the look, I wove the black thread underneath some of the champagne threads.

Dog Closeup - You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

Dog Closeup - You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

I am pleased with the results. The piece was great fun to stitch.  The rhythm of crewelwork is so relaxing.  While the Tree of Life designs are classic crewel, I do enjoy the animal studies.  Furry beasts look good in wool.

Now I have to dedicate myself to WIP slaying.  I still have a few military family kissing pillows to complete.  I also need to finish the Chatelaine Misty Morning Vineyard and the Mirabilia Christmas Couriers, which will become a wall quilt.  Those two projects are quite large, so I’ll throw in a few smalls for a sense of accomplishment.

Yes, I am still waiting for my notification letter from Loyola.  Should arrive within the next week and a half.  Still on pins & needles.  Ha, ha, ha!  In the meantime, let’s chill with Serena:

Serena Snoozing

Serena Snoozing

Preservation vs. Restoration

When last we left the goldwork project, Phoebe was concerned and needed some time to plot her next move. She is a trooper and once more stepped into the breach.

Phoebe ready to go

Our hopes that gently washing the fabric might help with pliability were crushed.  The fabric continued to turn to dust.  Piercing it with a needle proved impossible.  We quickly realized that we would not be able to apply a backing fabric via needle & thread.  I hesitated to iron anything to the back.  In the end, we chose preservation over restoration – hence the shadowbox.

Goldwork Shadowbox

Basically I cut the goldwork into pieces, salvaging the best parts.  Then using rust-proof archival pins, I pinned the pieces to the shadowbox, going through the padded goldwork for greater stability.  Hopefully the beauty of the pieces can be enjoyed for a few more years before completely turning to dust.

I do have a few sections left and will try to attach the individual elements to velvet, which can then be stretched and framed.  The silk background is unworkable.  I do not suffer from the illusion that my needlework will be treasured as heirlooms for years to come.  I do use the right tools for the job.  How else can you learn proper technique?  I am shocked that an embroiderer who could do such lovely goldwork and stumpwork was so clueless as to not use the proper double layer fabric technique.  Such a shame.

Phoebe and I learned a lot doing our background research and trying different techniques.  I just wish we could have saved more of the embroideries.

VS Cyberclass Update – Heirloom Christmas Sampler

Yes, I am woefully behind, but Phoebe demands to sleep on my chest for part of the evening.  Cuts into stitching time.  I wanted to catch up when I traveled to a conference this week.  The room lighting was horrible.  We forge ahead and have accomplished the following:

Sampler Progress - Main

I’m using a Wichelt fabric, which is pretty stiff.  I actually don’t need stretcher bars or a hoop.  Yes, I am using the alternate red-green scheme.  Let’s look at the tree:

Tree and Presents

Can’t wait to do the beading on the tree.  Every tree should have lots of ornaments.  And presents.  The gorgeous “lacework” is one of the main reasons why I love this sampler.  Each lacework band is a bit different and very detailed.  It really pops on the raw fabric.  I have made one little adjustment.

Middle Bands

I mis-ordered my print-outs and missed the ray stitch band.  We forge ahead.  I know it looks a little crooked now.  After I stretch it for framing, all will be well.  I did print out my final set of instructions (hopefully in the correct order), so my goal is to finish up by the end of May.  I do have to add the branches on the middle holly band here.  They are tedious.  I tend to move through the hardanger reasonably quickly.  No fears about cutting the fabric.  No guts, no glory.  At the end of the day progress depends on Phoebe.

I'm Mommy's helper.

The Victoria Sampler cyberclasses are great.  This is my fifth.  I heartily recommend them to help you learn new needlework skills or to have a stitching group to cheer you on as you work on a sampler.  Overall, I think I have done about 10 of Thea’s designs and have about another 10 ready to go.  I have given some as gifts to folks who aren’t particularly needlework devotees, but who do appreciate the sophistication of Thea’s designs.  Back to work!

Reviving the Roosters

Laura sent me two identical goldwork on silk embroideries that are in terrible shape.  She thinks I may have the skills to save them.  I appreciate the thought.  After a year of restoration research (I really don’t want to screw up), I began the restoration process.  Let’s see what we have to start with:

Yeah, it’s pretty ugly.  Take a closer look:

When you do goldwork embroidery, you use layers of fabric so the weight of the gold doesn’t rip apart the fabric.  The goldwork itself is stunning, which is why I am so surprised that the embroiderer screwed up the fabric layer part.  This is one layer of silk on a layer of netting.  The roosters and other birds are padded and therefore 3D – making them that much heavier.  The silk has now hardened and crumbles like paper. The weight of the gold is too much for the silk.

Let’s enjoy the goldwork:

I’m not giving up without a fight.  Today, I cleaned it using Restoration, a fabric cleanser made specially for antique fabrics.  Using a paint brush, I applied it to the fabric only and then used the same technique with plain water to rinse.  The silk is so hard.  I had hoped the water would soften it.  We shall see.  Phoebe is very concerned.

We’ll see what happens after everything dries.  Theoretically, the next step will be to insert a layer of muslin between the silk and the netting – adding some support.  Then I can use Miracle Muck (an archival polymer adhesive) to glue everything back into place.  Then I would add some quasi-quilting stitches in invisible thread for more support.  To quote the inimitable Tim Gunn:  this concerns me.

If the silk remains too brittle, then I may have to cut out the centers and try to save the goldwork edges.  You could stick a gigantic candle in the center or a tricked out Christmas tree.

Ultimately, the pieces would be matted to a velvet board for further support.  In future, they would have to be displayed on a horizontal surface, like a glass table or shadow box on a table.  Next weekend, Phoebe and I will try to muck!  Fingers crossed for the miracle part.

The Third Dimension

A couple of years ago, I took a class in stumpwork (three-dimensional) embroidery with one of the world’s leading experts:  Jane Nicholas.  She jetted over from Australia to teach a week long EGA class.  She is probably best known for her anatomically accurate bugs.  She also has a series of bugs done in stumpwork and goldwork that are unbelievable.  She uses a magnifying glass to work them to size.

My Bittersweet & Butterfly Medieval Panel - designed by Jane Nicholas

Our class was “Bittersweet and Butterfly Medieval Panel”, which contained a butterfly, caterpillar, and a bittersweet plant.  To create the 3D leaves, petals, and butterfly wings, you couch wire to a piece of muslin and then embroider over the wire (leaving a tail of wires) and muslin.  After completing the embroidery stitches, you cut out the object and insert the wires through the background/main embroidery piece.  On the back you tack down the wires.

3D Effect of the Panel

The berries are made by wrapping silk around beads and then attaching them to the background.  The border is actually a hand-dyed, red-copper silk ribbon named Hot Flash.   Then gold wire is twisted through beads to create the lattice effect.  The threads are all Soie d’Alger silks.  Love Soie d’Alger.  Needlepoint Inc silks are the best; the Soie d’Alger are a close second.  Both are very soft and supple.  Eterna Silks are good, too.  They have a twist and sheen to them.  NPI and SdA have a matte finish.

Another 3D View

The caterpillar is worked by layering threads and embroidering over the thread layers – gives him a pop.  The dragon fly wings are organza with blending filament for the veins.  The effect is very sparkly.  The whole piece is actually sparkly  – hard to capture in a photograph.

As you can surmise, the process is a tad tedious, especially for a large piece like this.  It’s about 4″ by 9″.  Typically stumpwork pieces are about 2″ to 3″ per side.  I’ve seen some museum pieces that are over a foot per side, which is why those embroiderers went blind at young ages.  I have a few more stumpwork pieces that I plan to do at some point in my lifetime.  Given Phoebe’s proclivity to help, I may have to wait a few years or win the lottery & rent an art studio.  Go Powerball!!!