Friday, April 4, 2014

Elizabethan Black Work Coif, Materials

The inspiration piece for this coif is in the V&A Museum, and can be seen here.  It is made of linen, using silk thread for the black work and silver gilt threads for the metal embroidery.  The black work is done in stem stitch for the outlines, with speckling around the edges of the motifs.  The metal embroidery uses plaited braid stitch for the scrolling vines, chain, vandyke, web and ladder stitches for the details on the motifs.

I used a piece of linen that had been set aside for use as a veil.  In hind sight, I wish I had used a better linen.  The thread count is low, making this very open (as you can see in the close up above.)  This has affected the speckling, as the tiny stitches needed either got lost in between the thread gaps, or were too large.  I finally got into the groove and was able to work with the linen.  It also affected my goldwork.  I had done wome preliminary filling in one of the motifs using Ceylon stitch and the Japan silk I am using did not lay even, so I took the stitches out.  The linen threads loosened and created gaps where the gold had been and I have carefully had to put the threads back, using a blunt tipped needle.

Speaking of threads...I used a black silk from White Wolf and Phoenix, a size 10/2, I believe.  I chose this because I was not certain how much I would need for this project, and a ball of this stuff was only about $4 or $5.  Otherwise, I probably would have used Splendor, as I love the flat sheen in the silk.

The gold is Kreinik Japan silk #5.  While there are better behaving, and better looking, metal threads, I had a bunch of the Kreinik on hand, so it was efficient and economical for me to use.  It doesn't always play well, going in and out of the fabric (it couches much better than it stitches.)  However, with a careful hand and a lot of gentle untangling, it is doing okay.  So far, I have used it for the plaited braid in the vines, and the web stitches in the rose and the pea pods, as well as with chain stitches in the honeysuckle.  I need to practice my vandyke and ladder stitches before I attempt to use them in the motifs, however, the rest of it is looking okay to me.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Elizabethan Black Work Coif...Why?

(Progress as of last night...)

Today is one of those days where my hands are not behaving and embroidery progress hasn't been made.  So, as suggested, I thought I would give a little insight into this project...

Years ago, I wound up needing to research Tudor clothing for a theater project.  At the time, I wasn't as well versed in historical sewing, and I had not embroidered anything since the French know flower I embroidered on a pot holder, in the sixth grade.  I did not think I could embroider, and the thought of trying it just had not occurred to me.

I started researching Tudor headwear and under garments, because they seemed the easiest areas to start with.  Contrary to the current project, I actually prefer middle and lower class clothing.  So, I researched plain Tudor and Elizabethan coifs, the culmination of which you can find here (I actually came up with my own patterns for them, during my research.  Oddly enough, they are the most popular pages in this blog, lol!)  I was so excited about this, that the subject became the first class that I ever taught in the SCA (and, I may add, it was attended only by Laurels!  Mind you, there were only two students, but they were both Laurels!  What a first teaching experience; they gave me all sorts of feedback, advice and encouragement.  It was actually a great first teaching experience!)  Anyhoo...whilst doing my research, I fell in love with Tudor and Elizabethan embroidery.  The styles, motifs, colors, they all appealed to my aesthetic.  

A little about me...I am a redhead, and my personality is such that I jump in with both feet when I see a challenge.  While many people learn the basics of embroidery first, I jumped right in to raised Elizabethan embroidery.  I am not ashamed to show my early works; I think it helps newer embroiderers to not be so overwhelmed by your work, if they see that you started off imperfect, as well.  This is the first thing I ever embroidered (aside from that pot holder, mentioned above, which I actually found I had posted here.)  Yep, my first piece of embroidery, loosely based on the partlet sleeves in the portrait of Helena Snakenborg.  Some of my early impressions of the detached buttonhole stitch-it is somewhat like the mechanics of crocheting.  

Eventually, my efforts with Elizabethan raised embroidery became decent.  However, I stuck with polychrome styles; blackwork appeared too precise for me.  At least from what the other embroiderers were doing...  Now, in all my research,  two styles of blackwork seemed to emerge: the Holbein stitch style, and a freeform style.  Everyone else seemed focused on Holbein blackwork, and at the time, I was too young in my embroidery to want to rock the boat.  My passion in embroidery stoked, I began looking at other styles and cultures, eventually encompassing everything from Viking age, to or nue and Opus Anglicanum.  However, Elizabethan has always remained my favorite.

Last year, we found out that my guy was going to have to undergo open heart surgery.  When he went in for the surgery, I knew I would need something to take my mind off of everything.  I began planning out this coif.  I knew that the speckling and goldwork would need an attention to detail, and every little bit of my mind that could be put into my embroidery, was less worry happening.  It was time for his surgery, and it was time for me to finally do one of my dream projects...

So, that's the long and short of it.  This, and a polychrome Elizabethan waist coat, are my two dream projects.  The progress that I have made on this coif just absolutely excites me!  I really do love embroidering, which is funny when you think about how I almost never even tried it!  I am really glad that I did, though, especially when I look at a project like this.  It just gives me a sense of self-worth :)

Tying Up Lose Ends!

I received some really great suggestions on how to make my blog better.  This is something that I have struggled with, for some time.  In the last couple of years, my self confidence in embroidery took a huge hit.  Part of it was an innocuous comment made to me that hurt deeply.  Part of it was feeling like I am fighting a losing battle with my body.  I have fibromyalgia, as well as Rheumatoid arthritis, and then two years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain injury known as Chiari Malformation, where the back part of my brain has slipped into the brain stem.  I do not like to talk about any of this, as I see it as a weakness and I don't like having weaknesses.  However, I have built up an amazingly supportive circle of friends and loved ones who have kept me encouraged and allowed me to discuss my illnesses without feeling ridiculed or weak.

At any rate, this past year, my confidence has started to come back, little by little.  Pennsic, last year, was a HUGE help.  I participated in the Artisan's Display and received so much encouragement, that I went back to camp in tears, that did not let up for days.  I still carry the little bag of tokens that people left with me.  Its heavy, and I have endeavored to remember the face of every person who gave me a token, as each of them made such an impact on my outlook!  Among the most memorable were the children!  One young man, who saw what I was doing and lit up wanting to learn, gave me a special coin that had been gifted to him at Battle of the Nations!  I asked him if he was certain he wanted to give it up, and he was emphatic that I take it.  Yep, here I go tearing up, again!  Another highlight that has greatly helped my outlook, I became an apprentice to a very respected friend and Laurel.  I have had a yellow belt for 8 1/2 years, but my Pelican is not an artistan.  At Pennsic, I was floored by the invitation to take my green belt.

(A small selection of the tokens.)

So, today, a lady who I have admired for all of her knowledge and help, gave me some suggestions for my blog.  Some of her suggestions, "why are you making the choices you're making," "what's inspiring you to create this piece," and "what was the societal context of the piece?"  I know that my blog has lacked "meat,"  (heck, its lacked general posts, lately, lol!)  So I am going to work on adding more content to my posts.  This has given me a great spring board!

I would like to say that, for me, embroidery is a true labor of love.  It hurts; there are days where I can not even type, much less stitch.  My joints swell up and my hands get too stiff.  For me, the draw is in the challenge, as well as the passion.  I LOVE embroidery.  I can't quite explain why, but it just fulfills some sort of need within me.  I love everything about it, too, not just doing it.  I love the research on each piece.  I love learning the dynamics of new stitches, and also seeing what other people are creating.  I love feeling the threads, and just centering, by playing with the fibers.  And, I love being able to make something beautiful with my own hands.  There is something to be said for bringing life through art...something beautiful...

Among my struggles, there are those problems not physical for me.  I also have adult ADD; sometimes, just figuring out the stitch gives me a sense of fulfillment and I wind up setting the project aside, not finishing it.  I am working hard on that.  I also struggle with time management with projects, and life in general.  I am a graduate student, and a single mom/homemaker, and I have always had a hard time organizing all of my tasks.  I have recently been working on that, as well.  I am factoring my blog into my time management, as a way of staying more accountable where my projects are concerned.

So, if you have any suggestions or advice on bettering the content of my blog, please feel free to let me know.  I do appreciate all feedback;  that is how I learn :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Teaching Children to Love Stitching!

I started organizing a new class, after being asked last fall to create an embroidery class for children.  I have started making up cards for the children to keep, that will have the stitch steps illustrated on them, so that children can follow with yarn, through holes in the cards.  Now, the brain learns best when you hear something, do it with your hands, and repeat it with your voice.  Its a three prong approach, and works well for children.  So, along with the cards, I want to come up with rhymes to teach the stitches.  For example, with the basic running stitch, the card will have a series of holes labeled 1 and 2.  The rhyme is, "up through 1 and down through 2; and that is all you need to do!"

Now, I am thinking of sticking with 5 of the more basic stitches seen in Medieval and Renaissance embroidery-running stitch, chain stitch, split stitch, satin stitch and stem stitch.  This should give the young ones a decent understanding of basic stitch mechanics.  The hard part is coming up with rhymes that are easy to say and remember, fun and help with the dynamics of each stitch.

Anyone have input on this idea or suggestions?