Wow time really does fly when you are having fun! I have now completed lessons four and five of my first module as part of the RSN Certificate in Jacobean crewelwork (so I’m more than half way through the module!), and I have a lot of homework this fortnight (which is by Friday!). One thing I will say, is there is a lot of homework to complete between each class – much more than I imagined. I’m neglecting a lot of things (mainly boring ones like housework and grocery shopping, but also fun ones like blogging and telling you all about it!) as I am finding it very ‘consuming'(in a good way!). I’m loving the process and everything I’m learning. My husband is a little miffed at the status of some home things, but he is very supportive and doing most of it for me! When I look at the piece as a whole, I feel I will be getting close to the finish line if I can get all my homework done.

The majority of my fourth lesson was spent on the long and short stitch on the top left hand leaves. I have always thought that the outline you put in with split stitch was to be put in a mid-range colour of your colour groupings. However I learnt that the best way to do this is to actually change your thread colour so your split stitch outline matches the colour you want to stitch in that area. So a little more fiddling around, but it does make sense when you stop and think about it! To work some of my accent colour into the piece (this is a contrasting colour from the other two main colour groups you use extensively on your piece, which is part of the subject brief), I decided the tip of my leaf wouldn’t be in green, but in a few stitches of the lighter purple. I actually really like the effect! Another tip I learnt when working the tip is the first stitch doesn’t ‘stop’ on your split stitch line. Instead, it is taken a distance further (of more than I would have expected-about three millimetres). This gives the shape (in my case a leaf), a nice point and helps to shape the leaf. Obviously this isn’t going to be appropriate for all shapes, however it’s a good thing to keep at the back of your mind for any shape where you would like a point. The stitches subsequent to this initial first stitch are then stitched just over the split stitch line.

long and short stitch in Appelton's crewel wool

Working the back leaf first, I started this process. Some other points I learnt from Heather that I found quite interesting were that firstly, she didn’t recommend finishing the first row of colour and then moving onto the next, then the next etc. She recommended working this first row part way down the leaf, and then going back and filling it with the subsequent colours and rows. Then when that area is complete, moving down the leaf and stitching the first and subsequent rows. This definitely helped my eye to mix the colours more than if I did all of row one, then row two, then three etc. The other interesting point (which is ironic given my above explanation!), is that thinking of the leaf in terms of rows isn’t an ideal way of thinking of the process, as you are more likely to develop ‘ridges’ in your shape and not blend the colours as well. So something very different from the approach Tanja takes that I learnt when completing the pansy and fox. I also noticed when completing this first leaf that my brain seems to automatically think in terms of rows, and I was getting a very definitive ridge in my leaf with the colour changes. When I started again (yes, I’m getting good at unpicking!), using Heather’s tips, it was definitely an improvement! I’m interested to see how I am taught to approach the silk shading technique when the time comes for that module to find out if this is a crewelwork approach, or Heather and the RSN’s approach.

For homework after the fourth class, I was supposed to complete the second leaf. But I just couldn’t get it right! My stitch direction was all over the place and it just looked messy. With Heather’s help, I have now managed to complete this leaf, and it isn’t too bad. The trick with this was to make each stitch really short. Whereas in the back leaf, each stitch is about a centimetre up to one and a half centimetres long, in this tricky leaf, all stitches are less than half a centimetre until that tricky corner was worked! Such short stitches make it a lot easier to gently turn the stitches and follow the direction you want them to, without having to put stitches in at ‘odd’ angles.

The last part off the fourth class was spent negotiating with bullion knots! I have to say, I really have a love hate relationship with these guys! Sometimes they just work, and other times you are wondering how it is possible to have such a great disaster with nothing more than a bit of thread and a needle! But like most things, practice is key here. On leaving class, I had successfully managed a couple of them. At home it got worse before it got better, as I somehow managed to slice my finger with the needle and drip blood on my work! Not a good moment, but after slightly changing the shape of the acorn to accommodate blood and my attempt at eliminating it, I think it’s all ok! I also went back to the notes I had made from the day class I did on crewel work with Lizzy earlier in the year, and worked out where I was going wrong with them. The real trick I find with these guys is to make sure you pull the thread through to the back of the work before┬ápulling the needle through your wraps on the needle. When I use this technique I find I rarely have any major problems with the knot. If I pull the needle and the thread┬ábasically at the same time, that is when the mess comes about, and in some cases results in the knot being cut out!

Working bullion knots in crewel wool

My fifth lesson, after sorting out that leaf I had problems with, was spent doing some block shading and starting work on the squirrel. So my squirrel now has ears, and by Friday, he needs to have a body! I’m going to have a chat with Heather about the squirrel’s tail, to see what she thinks about using a little bit of turkey rug stitch on the edge to give him that fluffy look. Even though that stitch is in the RSN Crewelwork book, I’m not sure if it is really a traditional crewel stitch or not. His ears were nice and easy to complete, again using that tip of slightly extending that first stitch over the split stitch line to create a nice point. With his body, I am going to use more of a tapestry shading stitch rather than a long and short stitch. What this means is that I don’t have to worry about stitch direction lines, as each stitch is worked vertically. So it’s just working the shading through his body to worry about.

The block shading section under the main stem I eventually decided to work with one of the orange colours and two greens, as I am a little worried the piece is looking too green. I’m not overly happy with my first row – you can see where I went too far above the split stitch in two spots. I also got a little confused as to how to finish the stitching on the sides, so I’m hoping it is ok. One thing I found a little odd with this stitch is the way in which it is stitched – unlike long and short stitch and tapestry shading, rows subsequent to the first row are worked in the same direction as the first row each time, and the stitches are taken down into the first row. In long and short stitch and tapestry shading, the stitches are worked up through the sitches and down into the fabric to give a smoother finish. I’m still not sure if I should have made the third colour here an darker orange or not, but with the squirrel being all orange, I’m hopeful the colour balance is going to be ok. But I might yet take it all out and start again, so lets see!

Block shading - a traditional Jacobean crewelwork stitch

The last couple of stitches I did in my fifth class were stem stitch and heavy chain stitch. Stem stitch I’d worked before, and still my biggest problem is getting each stitch the same size. As the frame is rather large, the tutors recommend turning the frame so the section you are working on is closest to you to avoid any unnecessary strain. At first, working upside down is really strange, however you get used to it relatively quickly! So even when working this stem stitch area and needing to work out when to stop and start the various colours to fit into the uneven branch width, I was ok. Something I didn’t expect!

Heavy chain stitch I have worked on the branch holding the acorns – firstly, I have a lot of stitches to work into this design, and secondly, they are some big acorns so they need a sturdy branch to hold them up! I have to admit, I really enjoy this stitch! It is a chain stitch combined with a weave into previous stitches. It works quickly, and is really fun to work!

heavy chain stitch

And that is where I’m up to! I will try and keep you updated a little more frequently with my progress, but for now, I have a squirrel to stitch!

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