Last Sunday, I had the great privilege of attending a day course at the Royal School of Needlework, An Introduction to Stumpwork. I had been looking forward to this for weeks so it as no problem jumping out of bed at the hour I do for work (which at times is not an easy task!).

Despite taking about an hour and a half to travel by train to Hampton Court Palace, it was an easy trip, and I was able to see a different part of London than I have seen before. There was a nice coffee shop half way that might have helped too!

The Palace is a very short walk from the train station, and beautifully positioned with the river on one side, and a charming bridge to walk over to arrive at the gates to the Palace. It was built by King Henry VIII,  and I believe it was his country retreat. It takes about forty minutes on the train from London now, so I imagine it would have been a country house back then! I don’t know how much of his original land remains attached to the Palace, however it looked like there was a rather extensive park outside the formal gardens.

walking to Hampton Court Palace.jpg

After admiring the view, a young Palace guard pointed me in the right direction for where to meet up with the rest of the group. We gathered over the next few minutes, and took the opportunity to enjoy some rather mild winter air! The teaching assistants joined us soon after, and we were taken up to our classroom for the day. It felt like we were walking up the servants stairs! Up on the top floor, we were welcomed by our teacher Rachel Doyle, with all our kits neatly layed out, and our fabric all set up in the hoops ready to go!

finished product by Rachel Doyle

Our project for the day – designed and stitched by Rachel Doyle

Our first task was to make the thimble on the design. I found the first few steps nice and easy – buttonhole stitch along the bottom, although I could have done with making my stitches a little longer! We then applied our felt padding, making it a nice firm layer of padding.

padding the thimble

Then it started to get a little trickier for me. The outside of the thimble is made by making a needlelace cordonette. The first step of laying and couching down the outside thread was fine, as was the first two layers of the needlelace – one row of buttonhole stitch over the top of our outside edge, and the second into that row, using corded buttonhole for stability. We then moved onto Double Brussels stitch. I got thoroughly lost! I’m not sure if I made life harder for myself by choosing to complete the stitch in one strand rather than two, but I had visions of not picking up two strands when weaving! Part of my problem stemmed from having quite a tight buttonhole, which made it difficult to work out where the loops were that I needed to work into. This tightness of the initial row of buttonhole also made it difficult for me to count the loops for skipping one then stitching two into the next one. As you can see, my first few rows are dreadful, but I started to get the hang of it about halfway down the thimble, and towards the bottom I finally understood what I was meant to be trying to do! Working back into the cabled buttonhole stitch was a little tricky, you can see especially  on the right side of the piece it looks as if I missed some stitches.

Despite the rather shaky start to needlelace, I did really enjoy the stitch! I’ve decided to attempt a second thimble. One reason is I’m not overly happy with the first attempt, and the second reason is I want to practice this stitch and really improve it! I need to work out the ideal tension to give the piece the required structure,  whilst also allowing for relatively easy definition of what loops to sew into and which ones to skip. I’ve also set up a sample of an enlarged thimble to work on. I’m hoping the slightly larger scale will make it a little easier. If nothing else, there’s more room to practice! An added bonus is that yesterday my delivery from Hazel Blomkamp of her ‘Needlelace Techniques for Embroidery’ which has some great and detailed instructions on a wide range of needlelace stitches, so I should be set for instructions!

new books

After an intense morning of needlelace it was time to break for lunch. We were lucky as it was a lovely sunny winter’s day, and not cold, which meant sitting and having lunch in the gardens was wonderful! I ‘took a turn’ around a small part of the gardens, and found some very fat ducks! They are lucky King Henry VIII is no longer a resident!  They would have made for a tasty dinner I suspect.

After lunch, we started work on the buttons. The first step was to make eyelets, something I have always shied away from since you have to cut the fabric! But in this example at least, it was nothing to worry about. My first eyelet is very messy. I really needed a stronger light, as I couldn’t see the blue on blue thread to see where I was placing the stitches! Out of experience and turning into the light more, my second one was a greater success, though more practice to get them nice and neat and tidy is required. One of the tricks here  (and I’m sure I’m missing more than one!), seems to be not crowding the stitches, and getting them to lie quite flat and neat next to each other. Not easy when you are going through the hole made, but like most things, I suspect practice will make this easier and neater.

Attaching the wire I found very interesting! The first step was to couch it down, which I am used to. In all other books I have read,  the covering of the wire completely is done just the once,  in either overcast stitch or buttonhole stitch. But we were taught to first overcast the wire in full, then cut it out, and then as the last step, buttonhole around the wire. This feels like it will give a much neater finish to the end product! You are more likely to completely cover the wire, as you are going over it twice, and as the final buttonhole is finished after cutting the shape out, those tiny strands of fabric will be caught up, completing the shape nicely. We didn’t cover off how to avoid those holes I get in shapes that are silk shaded to the wire, but I will be giving this method a go! I’m also going to have another go at making this button, so will show you the finished result another time.

a button.jpg

The final techniques we covered off were wrapping wire and trailing. The wire wrapping was nice and easy, though I imagine if you had a long piece of wire things would get a bit tangled! We used this to ‘make’ a needle and the thread that is elevated off the fabric. The trailing (which I haven’t yet tried), forms the remainder of the thread, and is where you couch down thread using thread. The couching stitches are right next to each other, which I believe (and someone please correct me if I’m wrong! ) is the difference to couching as a stitch.

wire wrapping.jpg

I will let you know how I get on finishing this piece after I’ve reworked some of those elements.

It was such a wonderful day and I’m truly blessed to have been able to attend the course. I learnt a lot, the setting was amazing, the teacher wonderful and encouraging, with a great group of people. I’m determined to improve those techniques I learnt, so I will be dabbling in samples. Maybe I should set a few up around the house! (Except then no house work would ever get done!).

Have you got at tips on how to improve needlelace? I’d love to hear them!

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