Thursday, 22 April 2021

Fly By Swans Stitchscape

It never ceases to amaze me how much love a greyscale Stitchscape gets on social media. I pride myself on being fairly good with colour and confident with colour mixing, spending a long time looking for the perfect combination of colours to make a piece sing and yet it's the pieces I embroider that have nearly a complete absence of colour that really seem to appeal to my followers. 

I find working with grey, or black and white, quite challenging actually. It becomes more about the balance of light and dark rather than balancing the colours themselves and using the different tones of grey to create interest. Some greys are warmer or colder, slightly more brown or slightly more blue and they don't all go together well so it's just as important to get this selection right. 
I think with this one I actually cheated slightly as a couple of years ago I picked up/was given a pack of fat quarters which had been designed to go together so the grey shade was exactly the same. 
If I recall correctly I used three fabrics from this pack, the bottom layer, the polka dot layer and the top wavy layer so the way they were placed has balanced out the two darker fabrics used where it alternates between light and dark and always back to the same shade of grey. 

The most important fabric was the Lewis & Irene Down by the River collection, 'Swans in Flight Grey' fabric, which I have used a couple of times before as a feature fabric in a Stitchscape (see my Swan Song piece here and a Mini Swan 'Scape here). I like to use the same technique on the Swans which is a straight stitch/satin stitch started at the tips of the wings following that angled line and then working longer and shorter straight stitches closely to each other to turn the curve of the wing until I can just work long stitches up against the body. 
The body itself has one long straight stitch down the centre-ish, from head to tail and then more straight/satin stitches to fill in the gaps either side. I'm not always that willing to call this a proper satin stitch technique as it can be fairly messy and I'm not using the proper technique of passing my needle under the fabric each time so as to always start on the same side for every stitch. I like to save my thread and come up next to where I last put my needle down through the fabric where I can. 

I have been asked whether I can turn this sort of piece into a Stitchscape kit but unfortunately this is a design from an old collection of Lewis & Irene, 2017 I think(?), so I wouldn't be able to get enough meterage of this print to make enough kits to be worth my while designing it. The swans are also pesky little things and you have to really fussy cut and choose your section so I'd have to give out massive pieces of fabric for you to choose the best placement of the swans. 
You can see, if you look at the previous swan blog posts, how much they have been moved around and are never in the same position. Sometimes I also get confused between which way is the correct way, whether the swans are flying upwards or downwards. I guess it doesn't really matter. 

Anyway, this has been a great project to work on whilst I'm on the bus as everything was fairly easy and I could do approximately a layer a day or even, for the smaller layers, a layer in a journey! It takes about an hour to get to work on the bus with all the stops and starts and side roads it goes down, which is a decent time to sit and concentrate on a little project. Because this hoop is only 12cm/5", I just stick it in my rucksack with a small tin of threads and away I go!

The bottom layer was finished first and I've used two strands to work back stitch around the tops of each of the fan shapes, grey thread on top of the grey fans and white thread on top of the white fans. I've then filled in these shapes with the matching colour of two strand running stitch, following the upper curve down as much as I could. The layer has been edged with bullion knots in the grey thread colour used below. 
Actually, I've just thought this would look really nice if I'd done the opposite colours! Something to think about for next time maybe. 

The swan layer has been covered in single strand seed stitches using a matte stranded floss on the dark grey background and then a single strand of metallic stranded floss in the cloud areas to give a little bit more interest. This was actually really nice to do on the commute because this week has been sunny and a new golden sunshine has come through the bus windows to catch in my clouds. The thread itself was a real pain!! Metallics have a nasty habit of splitting and breaking mid stitch as the fibres are tiny little metallic strips combined with a fibrous thread all wound together to give stability, but really they hate each other and try to go their separate ways as quickly as possible. 

I've couched more metallic strands to the top of this layer, twisted in with some of the cotton floss as well; it's a nice, easy edging that matches perfectly.

The swans were worked on one Saturday morning whilst I was sat in the car waiting for my other half to have his hair cut (he was desperate for a trim after not being able to have one during the last lockdown but I wasn't allowed to touch a hair on his head to help him out!). As well as the straight/satin stitch worked on the body and wings in white, I've done some rough satin stitches on the black for the head and in orange for the beaks. The orange is the only pop of colour so they really stand out. 
I'm not sure if I've made the beaks too big though? The bleed from the print was quite wide so I was trying to catch all of the printed orange under the thread. 

Going up, the polka dot fabric has been re-spotted with four or five twist french knots (using two strands) and the trick with covering these with knots is to not bring your needle up in the centre of the dot. You need to bring your needle up on one side, twizzle your knot and then bring the needle down on the opposite side of the dot so that your knot sits exactly in the centre.

The layer above is quite a busy spotted print and I initially toyed with the idea to make tiny one strand, one twist french knots in all of the black spots in this print and then questioned why I would subject myself to such an arduous task (speaking from experience!) and went with a single strand of running stitch instead. I'm glad I did actually because you can still see all of the lovely colours underneath and it has helped to make this piece less 'spotty' overall. 
When using running stitch in rows like this I often like to edge from both sides at once, working a line of running stitches following the edge of the below fabric and then also going along the top, raw, edge. As you bring the two lines together it creates interesting little sections where the rows are shorter and meet at angles - it also means that you have nicely edged that top edge ready for a stitched edging to be added, reducing fraying. 

The very top layer (which you can see in the next photo up) has also been really simply treated with just a single strand of white thread following the wavy lines in back stitch. Please don't look too closely at this layer, it isn't my neatest work ever! It turns out that these waves aren't all the same size so it affected my rhythm of working four stitches in each dip so some stitches are different sizes and there could be three - five stitches in each 'u' shape. 
I've topped this edge with more bullion knots (love a bullion!) and my little kiss stitches. 

I also went back down to the bottom and added the loose cross stitches that appear in most of my Stitchscapes in the dark grey from the running stitch layer to bring a bit of dark down. 

In total, the stitches used are; back stitch, running stitch, bullion knots, straight stitch, satin stitch, seed stitch, couching and french knots.

I'm interested to hear what you think about the colours here, do you prefer the more colourful Stitchscapes I make, or are you in the greyscale camp? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Monday, 19 April 2021

Arizona Glow Stitchscape

Fun Fact: "Arizona Glow" is actually the common name of the Thunbergia Alata flower, a reddish brown, five petalled vine flower which looks fantastic when all in a jumble with flowers everywhere.

Oddly, I discovered this flower by accident when trying to name this Stitchscape with one of my terribly cheesy names. I'm really fed up with using 'hill', 'mountain' or 'valley' etc in my titles, although most of them have some kind of hill in the actual landscape, and I was trying to come up with something a bit more original. The colours in this piece reminded me of the red rock you see in photos of Arizona and I happened to type in Arizona Glow into Google and came up with the delightful Arizona Glow flower! 

 This piece is so vibrant my camera couldn't take the vividness of it all so I'm afraid you aren't really seeing the true colours. It's much darker to look at in person, the colours warmer and more saturated. It's a real POW piece!!

I hadn't actually intended for this Stitchscape to have rocks in the foreground, but I came across the most amazing assorted pack of 100% wool felt in all different colours a few weeks ago from Billow Fabrics and now I have a massive bundle of felt to use up! 
Included in the pack was this gorgeous deep, dark red (like a real cherry kind of colour maybe?) which worked perfectly with the floral fabric at the bottom of the piece so I thought, why not? It really helps to weigh the piece down and actually I was a bit worried about what I was going to do to the bottom layer in terms of embroidery so this helped me out enormously. 

Starting at the top though I used a slightly stripy batik ombre fabric and used a single strand of pink thread to work back stitch along the vague stripes. This was then edged with bullion knots and some little crosses added to the calico at the top of the piece, all in the same pink colour. 

The next sky layer down is a space dyed fabric I have which has the most amazing deep pinks and oranges in it to look like a sunset. I didn't want to cover this too much because I love the colours as they are so instead I've just added some single strand straight stitches horizontally across the upper part to hint at darker wisps of cloud blowing away from you. Where the colours dramatically change from pink to orange I have highlighted these by working a single strand of back stitch in pink and then orange to highlight edges of clouds. All very delicate and simple so far!
Birds were added in a dark navy by using a single strand and making wide, flat fly stitches. The smaller you make these the further they appear away so they are a lovely thing to add to skies to give it some perspective.

The big hill ended up being the biggest problem and I had to keep throwing techniques and stitches at it before I decided that I liked it. The fabric is a wide stripe in pink, you can just see the two pink tones under the seed stitch, and I made sure to cut it so that these stripes were horizontal to maybe look like ledges or clouds passing over (I wonder what it would have looked like with a vertical stripe?). 
I worked seed stitch all over this fabric layer using two different colours and kept the colours to their specific stripe but then it looked too stripy... if you know what I mean? To combat the stripes I used single strands of each of the colours to work vertical whip stitch over the seed stitches to try and blend the layers, and then french knots around the fabric edge, again keeping the knots in the same two colours when it changed stripe layer. 
For a while I left it like this, thinking it was done, but it was nagging and nagging at me. It was just too pink, too bland and there was no contrast or interest in it. I hope that by going over and adding yet more vertical whip stitch in a variegated brown/dark purple thread I've managed to pull that back a bit. I've also worked little french knots in the darker pink colour along some of these whip stitch lines which add lines of a different width and depth. 

The green layer was a nice easy section to do with a single strand of back stitch along every shape outline. I think it really lifts this piece because otherwise it would be so boring and pink but the green helps to break it up and adds a lovely contrasting colour to keep you interested. 

The bottom layer I got completely and utterly carried away on! On the rocks themselves, which were made in the same way as the felt rocks in my Rockscapes, I have added a mixed colour of matte red beads and french knots which kind of creep along the crevices I created when stitching the rocks down and adding texture with the little lines of back stitch. 
The fabric all of this is covering looks fairly similar to what I've ended up with on the front actually, a mass of orange and red and purple with some sticks of green sticking out of it. I wanted to help bed the rocks into the landscape so I went over any green stems that were in the fabric print and added those in with straight stitches in two or three different green colours and then carried on these stems off the fabric and through the rocks so that they are more three-dimensional as well. 
For the purple flowers I used two strands of Stylecraft Highland Heathers acrylic yarn which has a mottled effect to it, that worked perfectly with the two colours of purple in the print, making chunky french knots which have been layered on top of each other to create a jumble. 
Around these I worked orange french knots in normal stranded Anchor thread over the patches of orange and more of the mixed red beads in all of the red areas. 

The texture of this combination is wild and amazing. The acrylic yarn is matte and fluffy, the orange is neat and tidy and the beads are slightly shiny so they reflect and twinkle at you. Combined with the slight fluffiness of the felt it's a party for your fingertips and a feast for your eyes!!

There has been a lot of back stitch used in this piece. I hadn't really thought about it until now when I'm typing through what has happened on every layer, I don't think you notice it specifically though as it's just something that adds to the texture and overall image. 
The full stitch run down for this piece is; straight stitch, bullion knots, back stitch, fly stitch, french knots, seed stitch, vertical whip stitch and beading. Possibly one of the shortest lists I've done! 

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Moon Rising Stitchscape

This was such a fun Stitchscape to do! A few weeks ago I put together lots of new Stitchscape hoops - it was just a weird urge to have lots of projects on the go at once in all different colours so I had a full afternoon of going through my stash, all of the boxes and baskets out and just playing with colour combinations and being inspired by what was in front of me. 
This piece came about because all of these fabrics had been stacked next to each other - that is quite literally it! The blues were all in a 'blue' section from when I first had the draws and tried to keep it colour co-ordinated, and a yellow had snuck in there next to them. 

It just spoke to me of a warm sun (or moon that it now is) rising over blue hills. To be honest I'm never quite sure how these landscapes appear. I don't usually have any kind of plan, the scissors meet the fabric and I go wherever they want me too, it's a severe case of wiggle cutting!
The title of this piece came about because an account I follow on Instagram (you should follow her, it's @phoebeganderart) shared a photo of the brightest moon I've ever seen rising over the sea in New Zealand. I believe Phoebe is an ex-pat now living in New Zealand and oh my gosh I want her life next to the beach and studio in the garden where she can just get covered in paint and dance like crazy! 
The moon in the photo was so bright it could have been the sun and just stuck in my head so that is how the name came about for this piece. 

 I think this Stitchscape was always going to be about contrast. Blue, orange and yellow just sing so joyfully together that it just had to happen here. I love the serenity in this piece actually, it seems really calming and I kind of wish I had made it bigger now (it's only a 12cm piece) although then it might lose a little of it's charm I suppose. 

I think part of the peace is because I have let the fabrics be what they want to be rather than adding my usual additional embroidered layers. The top layer is a gorgeous quiet cloud print I have and most of this has been left bare, apart from the one cloud area on top of the hill where I've gone around any sharper cloud lines with a single strand of back stitch, and any frothy cloud sections (which were paste printed) with tiny french knots. For the edges of the fabric I have added a single strand of running stitches just to help keep everything in place but it's so discreet it could just be puffs of wind encouraging the clouds along. Topping this fabric edge is a line of whip stitch over back stitch which I think I went over a couple of times to make it slightly thicker as the fabric was starting to fray slightly.

The blue behind the moon has just been treated with two strand seed stitch - a favourite of mine for plain fabrics, you may have guessed. It's a good one to add texture but not more colour or pattern as you can blend it with the colour of the fabric it's covering and then it just becomes a blur of light and dark in tones of the one colour. 

The moon itself has also been mostly left as it was. I loved the random splashes of orange in this fabric which reminds me so much of the craters and crevices we can see as shadows in the moon itself so I didn't want to cover them up but also didn't think I could do it justice with a stitch over the top. Circular running stitch in a single strand was a good solution I think and really draws your eye in to those colours and the centre of the circle. It makes it almost look like it's spinning, do you know what I mean?

The daisies are already printed on the fabric at the bottom and I've gone over each petal with a detached chain stitch to bring them out, and a mix of yellow and orange french knots for the centre. The stems have been done with split stitch to keep them nice and neat and I've added more detached chain stitch leaves (which weren't in the fabric pattern) and a little bead on the opposite side of the leaves for the smallest amount of bling. 
In some cases the flowers were just buds so these were brought out with white french knot clusters and as I had some orange left over from the centres I've also tried to create some fly stitch butterflies flitting between the daisies. I'm on the fence about these, are they too stylistic? There were just some gaps between the flowers and I thought butterflies would be a nice touch. Still not sure about them though.

The big blue batik mountain was again simply treated with a single strand of back stitch around all obvious shapes and then I used a full 6 strand thread piece to be couched down along the edge. This is such a neat way of edging fabric and there are so many different things you can do with this technique; adding other colours or different types of thread or yarn, couching it in loops or bumps, or pulling it straight for a tauter line. 
This one is a medium line I think, some bump-age but not much. 

Once it was finished though it was just too blue!! I pondered for a little while about what to do and ended up using a dark orange (as if the side of the mountain was in shadow) and trailing some tiny french knots down the side, using the shapes where I could or just tumbling down the hillside freely. 
I think this has really made the piece pop and the layers gel together with the different oranges and yellows in it. 

The same orange as the french knots on the hillside have been used to finish off the bottom of the daisy fabric with big crosses so that colour blends it all nicely together. 
I think the nicest thing about this piece is how easy on the eye it is and that is due to the composition (positioning of the shapes) mostly but the colours definitely and a little bit of the colour balancing with the white in the clouds at the top and daisies at the bottom, lighter orange in the moon and in the daisy centres, light blue at the top and bottom and just a big band of dark blue matched with delicate leaves. It's all about the contrast!

The different stitches used in this piece are; back stitch, whip stitch, straight stitch, running stitch, french knots, couching, split stitch, bullion knots, seed stitch, detached chain stitch, fly stitch, beading and couching.

Monday, 12 April 2021

New Stitchscape Pebbles

I am often getting myself bogged down in multiple projects at once and these last few weeks have been no exception! If you follow my social media you'll have recently seen the stack of new Stitchscape hoops I put together a couple of weeks ago and then, halfway through embroidering the first one, I decided to start a hoop of Stitchscape Pebbles as well!
I can't remember why I decided that I had to make pebbles there and has been a while and they are good fun to make. I was making quite a few this time last year but my Etsy shop had mostly sold out so these ones have gone straight into the shop to hopefully find new homes. 

If you haven't seen how I make the pebbles before, multiple ones are worked in a hoop at once to save time and fabric. All of my scraps and offcuts from kit creating and hoop making get saved in a bag and every now and then I'll go through and try new combinations in a pebble. The pebble template gets drawn out on the back of the hoop with both the cut line and the safe stitching lines (which looks like two eggs drawn inside each other), then there's a bit of flipping backwards and forwards between front and back to layer up the fabrics and make sure the outer lines are covered. 
These fabrics get tacked down to hold them in place and the fun embroidery work can begin!! 

These ones are quite good examples of the different ways I approach pebbles. You can either work with the fabrics that are there, much like in an actual Stitchscape; so the sheep, for example, are embroidered with a healthy dose of french knots covering the pattern below. Or, you can kind of ignore the fabrics underneath and go wild with flowers and fun stitches. My current favourite floral ones (in case you haven't guessed) use woven wheel flowers and fly stitch leaves. The flowers work up quite quickly and look so vibrant against the green leaves. 

You can see how it looks on the back in these photos, all of the stitches stay in the inner shape (the safety zone) but the fabrics on the other side of the hoop are covering the size of the outer shape. 
A lot of people have said that these are very egg-shaped (great for Easter?) but that wasn't intentional, it's just the shape that worked best when I first started designing and making these. You could use them for Easter eggs I guess though.

For the woven flower pebbles I make the flowers first and draw out the circles on the back so that I can design the composition a little bit and it then helps to draw in the spokes for the initial five stitches you weave in and out of. The size of your circle will be roughly the finished size of the flower when it's all done and I like to vary the sizes of them to make them look more natural. The only thing to remember here is that you are drawing the circles on the opposite side of the 'egg' to where they will appear on the front. That always catches me out and I draw a lovely curve of flowers leaning to the right, then when I make them and look at the finished side, they are leaning to the left. 

These hoops always look a little bit tatty and raggedy, they certainly aren't the prettiest things to look at and the actual stitching can look a little lost without the final form providing an edge. It all comes together in the end though.

Once everything has been embroidered, the tacking stitches come out and the shapes cut out along the outer line so you can start to see the form better and how they would look finished. 
When making these up running stitch is worked just inside the outer line and, before the stitches are pulled up, toy stuffing and cereal card the same size as the safety zone are laid in the centre of the egg. The running stitches are pulled up tight and I like to check that the embroidery on the front is nicely in the centre then I secure the pulled thread. Felt, also cut to the same size as the safety zone and card, is then laid over the back and whip stitched with the same thread as before, covering those running stitches and all of the loose fabric edges. More stuffing is added before I finish stitching all of the way around. 

I actually came up with a new technique this time around, which I can't believe I never thought of before! It's quite tricky to get the stuffing under the card and pull up the thread all in one go when padding the front (embroidered) side and I've often felt that I didn't put enough stuffing in but once you've pulled the thread you can't add any more. But(!) this time around I cut a little circle out of the cardboard before I added it to the pebble, with a little bit of stuffing underneath it to start things off. Once the edges have been drawn up and secured, I can then continue adding more stuffing through the hole in the card, making sure that all of the edges are nice and padded! I cannot believe I didn't think of it before! What a numpty, such an easy solution. 

I love making these, and they are a great way of using up your small favourite scraps of fabric you can't bear to throw away. I tend to only use two or three fabric pieces depending on the size of the pebble but it really doesn't matter how many strips you use. 
They can be slightly fiddly to put together and not everyone likes the turning backwards and forwards to see whether you're covering the outer lines enough, but I think they're worth it. If you are interested in making your own I do have Stitchscape Pebble Embroidery Kits in my Etsy Shop where you can choose the selection of fabrics that interests you and everything you need apart from the card and sewing tools is included. You can obviously add anything you like from your stash - beads, ribbons...whatever you fancy! If you already have a mega stash but are interested in seeing how they are made and just need the templates and some ideas, there is also a digital download version that will pop straight into your email inbox!

These pebbles are also all available in my Etsy shop if you don't fancy stitching your own. Every one is unique and I really love the colour combinations this time around. You cannot go wrong with a bunch of woven wheel flowers!