Monday, 28 April 2008

Treasure Ship

I wrote in an earlier post about a Perfect Stitching Day, well the last week has been the opposite!!

Japanese embroidery demands a great deal of practice and patience, and even after almost five years of practice and patience there are times when my stitching isn't as good as I would like it to be. My fellow student Carol-Ann has written about the routine she goes through before she starts to stitch, well I go through a similar routine, it helps to settle my mind and prepare me for a number of hours of strict concentration.
At the JEC and Kurenai-kai both students and professional stitchers start their stitching day with a few minutes of meditation. In the last week I'm not sure that even this would have helped settle me into the right frame of mind for stitching, and even though I did a little work on the Beginning of Spring it was just rubbish and out it all came again (I'm not simply talking about stitching which wasn't perfect but stitching that was just horrid).

Anyway, I'm pleased to say that everything has settled down again and I'm back to stitching Treasure Ship. The photo below is of the edge of the ship, the edge is formed from padding cotton which is twisted and then couched tightly down and covered with flat silk worked in a diagonal layer.

The vertical lines are temporary holding, they hold the twisted thread in place while stitching is worked over the top.

For the thick lines along the length of the ship more padding is worked. This is the same thickness as the padding round the edge but instead of being twisted and then couched is it couched so it it much flatter. Once the padding was in I removed the temporary holding and then covered the padding with flat orange silk in a diagonal stitch.

To finish the ship diagonal lines are worked on each plank, still have some more to go on here, but I feel I've done enough for now, so I'm not going to push it.

And last, a quick picture of what I've done so far. It's starting to take shape and I've really enjoyed working the ship section. It was nice easy stitching, using simple techniques (although I did have to put a call into my sensei for a bit of help, thanks Margaret), and it's eased me back into the routine of stitching after a week away.

I've got a few days holiday this week, so am planning to spend them working on more of treasure ship, now I'm back on form I'm sure there will be more posts later this week.

I've not been completely idle for the last week - have made some more jackets and posted them on my Etsy shop -

Saturday, 19 April 2008

The Beginning of Spring

Well, Bamboo Circle has gone off to the framer, and I have started a small design for some light relief for when I want a break from Treasure Ship. I've called it The Beginning of Spring.

I have a book of kimono designs from Tashio 7 (1919) from which I've taken this design. All the designs in the book follow the same format, a few are coloured but most aren't, and of course one of the few I don't have a photo of is the one I'm working on!!

The simple and clear layout of the designs make them perfect for turning into embroidery designs, I quite fancy the idea of making 3 or 4 and displaying them all in a row.

I've spent some time figuring out the best way to transfer these designs onto the silk fabric. For this design I've used a product called Tracedown, which is much like the waxed paper used in dressmaking. It seems to work ok, but is already starting to fade, so I'll have to use one of the air soluble pens to top the design up.

My first task was to choose colours, being on black I know they'll wash out so I choose nice bright colours. A nice pink for the cherries, bright blue, yellow, and greens for the flower and grasses along the skirt of the kimono.
I simplified the original design a bit as this piece is a bit of an experiment, and I didn't want to get bogged down in too much delicate work (will save that for the next one).

I also left this design it's original size, a little larger than A5, in retrospect I think maybe I should have sized it up a bit, but never mind I think it'll work ok. A number of the designs in the book include kanji, I'm guessing that they have something to do with the type of kimono that can be ordered using that particular design, but not reading kanji I really don't know. Anyway, this one does so I decided to leave it in.

First I stitched the kanji using a flat silk, then I stitched some branches of the weeping cherry, also in flat silk. Actually on the original I can't decide if it's a weeping cherry or a willow tree, the flowers/leaves are just little lines so it could be either. I decided to make it a cherry just before all the blossoms come out, so there are only buds on the branches.
I've worked the buds with what we call a blister stitch, it gives a nice 3D effect on a very small motif.

For a bit of bling(!) I'm working the outer line of the kimono with a line of imitation gold thread.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Bamboo Circle - completed

Well my #1 gold arrived, thank you Sensei, and Bamboo Circle is finished. Hooray :-)

I am so pleased with how this piece has turned out. I'd avoided doing some of the earlier phases on metallic fabric because after hearing various people talk about how difficult it was to stitch on I was worried that I wouldn't be able to manage it. But after finishing phase 8, about to start 9, and with 10 (the graduation piece) in sight, I thought it was really time to be brave and bite the bullet. Besides, stitching on metallic is part of the JEC curriculum so I needed to have a go.

There were a number of designs on metallic to choose from, and I thought that, since I was a bit hesitant about the metallic to start with, the best idea would be to choose a design I really liked.
That way it would give me an incentive to carry on if I started to struggle with the metallic.

So Bamboo Circle it was, I love the simplicity of this design, and the colours are just wonderful, the photographs here really don't do it justice. The surface of the fabric is a lovely soft mottled gold colour, which is also difficult to show in photos as light just bounces off it.

After worrying about working on metallic, I have to say it turned out not to be as difficult as I thought. I did worry about having to take stitching out because once holes have been made in the gold it may not be possible to disguise them. On the few sections where I did have to take stitching out it was possible to cover the holes left by the first line of stitching as I'd stitched inside the lines of the pattern.
It is also physically harder to stitch on metallic rather than plain silk simply because it takes more pressure to push the needle through the fabric, but it's easy enough to take a break and do something else for a while to give your fingers a rest.

Stitching this piece has helped me get over a big hurdle on my journey along the path of nuido, and I am really going to enjoy living with this piece on my wall. I may even decide to stitch one of the other flower circles on gold to keep it company.

The design is part of a series of 10 flower circles which were designed for students of the late Master Saito. You can see the Pine Circle on our Japanese Embroidery Gallery, go to the advanced pieces gallery, it's the second row of pictures. If you have access to the Kurenai-Kai Japanese Embroidery Series books, you can see the all 10 flower circles in book 4.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Making beautiful mistakes

One of the sayings we have in our school of Japanese embroidery is "The hands are the exit of the spirit", this saying was coined by the late Master Saito and it has always spoken to me deeply. I was never great at creating/drawing/writing beautiful things but always felt that there was some kind of creativity in here somewhere. Now, having discovered Japanese embroidery, I feel that my hands have an outlet to express the spirit that is inside this fairly plain, 40 something exterior. I am absolutely the worst critic of my own work (and myself!), but I've just been reading a post over on SweetPersimmon, a blog about Tea Ceremony and related thoughts that I visit regularly, which fits in beautifully with my philosophy of Japanese embroidery, and which I think I ought to expand to life in general. There are two lines in particular which I feel fit with the quote above and which I'd like to share here - "Making mistakes are other opportunities for learning and growing." and "If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully." I think I should fill a whole pad of sticky notes with these sayings and the one from Master Saito and stick them all over the house and office. I'll certainly write them in my notebook and think about them when I'm fretting over one or other piece of stitching (or life in general). The full post is called 'It's not about perfection' and you can read it here, I think you'll enjoy it. Well, this post didn't end up quite the way I'd intended, but that's part of the fun of blogging isn't it?

Monday, 7 April 2008

Plum blossoms in the snow

Yesterday as I sat and stitched it was snowing quite hard, and although it didn't last very long, it was very pretty. I was working on the plum blossoms on treasure ship, which unlike the snow haven't faded away, but have grown and settled and are now here forever.

The petals are padded with a mix of padding cotton and self padding. The section with the tiny little dots is where I've started of finished off the thread, these little dots will be covered by real gold thread which will form the handle of the broom (the yellow silk).

Here are all the blossoms completed. This photo gives a better idea of the shape of the broom.

These plum blossoms don't have stamens and pollen in this design. So all that was needed to finish this section was to put in the plum branches which were worked in a twisted 2-1 thread.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Treasure Ship is slowly growing and I've been doing some work on the treasures, and have learned an interesting new technique. I've seen this technique on pieces in books but have never been able to figure out how it was done. Sometimes it also seems to include padding, although not in this case.

The new technique is used on the magic mallet and is used to create a wood grain design. This motif is quite small (only about 3cm across) so required a very fine needle (#7) and only one strand of flat silk. Carol-Anne recently wrote a post on working front to back or back to front where she talks about how, in Japanese embroidery, we normally work the foreground first, this new technique is one of the exceptions to the rule.

If I was stitching this drum in the usual way the tiny little piece of woodgrain you can make out on the transfer at the top of the picture ought to be worked first as it's in the foreground. However for this technique each section of woodgrain has to overlap the one underneath it, so we start at the back and work forwards, stitching each layer into the previous one.

You can see here how the wood grain is starting to take shape. I had to take this out a couple of times before I was happy with it, I still think it could be better but it's the first time I've tried this technique so next time it will be better.

And here it is with the woodgrain completed. I still need to put in some gold thread to finish this motif, but I'll do that later after some more work on the sail has been done. I really like how this technique looks, think I'll have to look out for a design to try it out again, maybe on a larger scale so some padding can be incorporated.

There are three 'treasures' on the sail of the treasure ship (well four if you count the shippo background), the magic mallet, sedge hat, and straw cape. All these treasures are worked with flat silk, the lines on the cape and hat are couched karayori threads. All need various ties and edgings worked in gold metallic but they will be stitched after the shippo design is completed.

For anyone who is wondering what's happened with Iris Stream it's getting there. The stream is all that is all that is left to be completed and I'm working on it a bit at a time.

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