Nicola Jarvis’ Crewelwork Birds
When I first moved to the UK about five years ago, I was quite keen to go to the William Morris Gallery, and see the exhibition they had on at the time featuring Nicola Jarvis’ work, and her beautiful crewel and canvas work birds.
It was a lovely day, and I was really taken with her beautiful birds (although not the ones with crowns – they aren’t for me!). At some point after this trip, I purchased three of her bird kits in crewelwork. I can’t recall why I didn’t commence stitching them immediately. Now I have stitched the ‘Robin’, I do have a suspicion it may have been because I wasn’t a confident enough stitcher, as the instructions are somewhat limited.
As I was eager to get back into some crewelwork, now was the time to stitch up the first one. I wasn’t particularly fussed which one was worked first, so I turned to my husband, and he choose the ‘Robin’. Though I’m not sure how closely he looked at the three of them!
Nicola’s Crewelwork Robin
The legs and feet
The first element to work was the legs and feet. This was all worked in satin stitch, and is a good way to practice getting neat edges!
There are no markings on the transferred bird of where to change colour, so using the photo as a guide, I worked my way up and down the legs.
I’m not really a fan of bird’s feet – I just don’t like the look of them! And I have to say, these are no different. But I managed to survive the ‘creepy’ looking feet. It’s not I think these feet are creepy – just that all bird feet are!
Always remember to outline your shape with split stitch before satin stitching the area. Use small and tight stitches. This helps to create a smooth edge.
Split stitch as a decorative stitch
Until I had stitched up this kit, I would never have given any consideration to using split stitch as a decorative stitch. I consider it to be the stitch used before stitching satin stitch or long and short stitch.
I did find this part a little bit laborious though. It is a lot of split stitch, not made easier by the Appeltons thread. I find this thread isn’t strong enough for such a hard wearing stitch. So very short lengths (of about 15cm) were required. At times this was too long, but on the whole it minimised the breakage.
Once all the split stitch was completed, it was time to add in the seeding stitch! This is a surprisingly difficult stitch to ‘get right’. It needs to be random, but only in the direction of the stitches! The stitch length needs to remain the same length.
After having one too many fights with the Appletons thread for the seeding stitch, I actually ended up changing to a Renaissance Dying thread. My problem with the Appeltons was it was just too inconsistent in width, and the useable parts of the thread to get that consistency in width were very short.
I didn’t have an exact colour match, but I decided this was close enough. It also didn’t involve an inspection of the length of thread before stitching to decide if it was useable or not, so was a much more relaxing process.
Nicola doesn’t sink the threads until all the couching is completed, and uses two couching stitches at the beginning and end of each couched section.
I decided to use a bit of a combination of techniques!
I didn’t sink the thread after I had completed the couching. I opted to bring the thread to the front after securing it, and then couch it. But I did use the double couching stitch method, as that sounds like a really sensible idea to me!
The Back – lots of long and short shading!
Differences to the kit image
I was a little bit disappointed here, as the photo of the finished piece looks like the chest is brown, and the back is grey. But the actual kit (and instructions), are more shades of brown.
I did contemplate changing the browns for the greys, but decided against it. And I’m glad I stuck with the browns, as it is really effective!
Changing the approach to stitching the area
I changed things up a bit here too from what Nicola’s approach was. In essence, we are just finishing things in a different way. I like to finish elements, whereas Nicola’s instructions were to finish colours.
Don’t forget your split stitch outline!
As always with long and short stitch, more split stitch is required! Nicola said to work this all at once, but I decided to work on it as I came to each element.
Working the shading
There are no clear shading pictures or diagrams, so it was a bit of a make it up as you go along situation. Nicola said to work each colour (so all the dark stitching, then all the medium, then all the light). But this really didn’t sit well with me.
Firstly, for me to be able to achieve the shading I like, I need to be working with more than one colour at once. I’ve also learnt from my rose, that if you get too far into a section and then discover the direction lines aren’t right, it’s easier to undo sooner rather than later.
When looking at the image, I’m not sure ‘soft shading’ was top of Nicola’s mind though, as some of the elements do look almost like they have been block shaded. So it’s just a different approach to the technique.
I started by using the photo as quite a ‘strict guide’ to colour placement, but in the end I was a lot more fluid and went my own way of stitching it up. There is one very pale leaf that I wish I had done more ‘my way’ than the image, as I think it is too pale. But I decided to just leave it as it was. The direction lines were a little tough to work out, so I wasn’t in a particular hurry to undo it all and start again!
Finish the area with a couched outline
The back is again finished in a couching stitch, and really does give a lovely clean finish to it!
A VERY bright breast!
After working with all those shades of brown, when the red came out it was a bit of a shock to the eyes! It’s a real blood red, so rich, and a great contrast to the subtle browns. The orange is another contrasting colour, and is a real ‘carrot’ orange. Not two colours I would have put together, but when it is all finished, it does work!
Laid Work with Trellis
The first two areas worked were the laid work with trellis areas.
Laid work is a lot like satin stitch, except all your thread remains on the top of the fabric. This is because the area is too wide to cover in satin stitch. This isn’t just from a thrifty perspective either. If you use satin stitch over wide areas, the density of the stitches can almost gather the fabric.
Getting the first few stitches in laid work is the hardest part I find. Once you’ve got a few straight, it’s easier to follow the pattern!
The trellis is stitched in the same colour (but interestingly with the red, almost looks a slightly different shade), over the laid work. Getting the distance between the stitches even is the hardest part here! Everyone has their tricks. Mine seems to involve a tape measure, though I’m tempted to put some marks on a piece of paper or my finger in the future to make it easier.
One of the most useful tricks here I have found is to lay the thread down where you think it needs to lay, and move it around until you are happy with it’s placement. Then, rather than moving the thread and not being completely sure if you are going to be in the right spot, stitch through the thread at the point where you want to take it to the back.
The remainder of the breast is worked in satin stitch, alternating each section between the orange and the red.
I actually feel the sections are a little wide for satin stitch, as the stitches on occasion are covering a couple of centimetres. I did contemplate using something like a block shading technique, but you really do get a nice effect with the satin stitch. So with a regularly stretched frame I went forth with the satin stitch! It does give a fantastic finish.
The finishing touches – a flower centre, a beak and an eye!
The centre of the flower was worked with French Knots and gives a really lovely variation to the texture of the laid work and satin stitch.
The beak is worked in satin stitch, and the eye in padded satin stitch.
I’m always terrified of the eye – it really can make or break a piece! But I’m quite happy with how this one turned out.
When you need to change direction around a shape using satin stitch, don’t be scared to use ‘nudge’ stitches. These smaller stitches will help to ease you around your corner. Just be sure to always make sure the start of this nudge stitch is covered by the next full length stitch.
The Crewelwork Robin all completed!
And here is my take on Nicola’s crewelwork robin!
Nicola Jarvis Crewelwork Robin Kit – A Review
And before we go, a quick review of the kit!
Fabric and Design
The kit comes with your linen pre-printed with the design, which means you can dive straight in and start stitching.
My kit contained linen twill, however the instruction booklet says ‘upholstery fabric’. All three of the kits I have use a different fabric. So it may in part depend on what Nicola has on hand at the time, what fabric you get.
A Kit for Intermediate to Advanced Stitchers?
On the outset, I would say this was a kit aimed at the more confident stitcher, and someone with some experience of crewelwork.
However, that doesn’t mean a beginner couldn’t stitch this kit, as the individual stitches themselves are not difficult (with the possible exception of long and short shading, but that does just take practice!).
Some considerations before starting this kit:
Lack of detailed and clear instructions
The instructions are written from the point of view that you already know how to stitch the stitches used in this design.
There is some guidance given on where to place the split stitch, and a few pointers (like the couching – which I decided to do my own way!), but on the whole, you do need to have a reasonable idea of basic stitches to follow along.
No clear image of finished piece
There is no clear image of what the end piece will look like, which alongside the less than detailed instructions, does make it a little difficult to see exactly what is meant at the various stages.
Included in the instructions are Nicola’s (very well drawn) images of each section, which are more useful than the blurry image on the front. However sometimes it is nice to see clearly stitched images!
So many variations on the design…
When working this piece, you will see there are a number of different variations of this design.
There is the design printed on your fabric, which is ultimately what you need to follow, as the design lines are permanent.
There is the (somewhat blurry) image on the front, which is different to what you have printed on your fabric. In my case, the colour of threads was also different.
Finally, there are the images drawn of the design in the instructions. These are again different to both your fabric design and the image on the front of the instructions.
Whilst they are all similar, there are differences between the three, which if you aren’t confident, or you would like to create an exact replica, might cause problems.
Once I got over the fact the back was brown (and I’m glad I did, as I really like it!), I was fine with it. And I’m now confident enough to be able to stitch the shaded areas without needing to rely on exact images.
So no major problems which make it difficult!
But just some to be aware of. If you are a beginner, and you have someone you can ask for assistance, or you are just determined, I have no doubt you could successfully complete this kit. I would say however, that you would need either someone to help you, or to use other resources for how to complete the stitches.
Read on to find out how I can help you stitch your own crewelwork bird!
Some personal preference points
As I mentioned, this kit does use Applteon’s wool. This is really neither here nor there, but I do find that you need to be aware that your ‘thread wastage’ will increase, as you do need to cut out the extra thick and extra thin sections of the wool. And in the same way as DMC and Anchor react to the colour, Appletons does too. This just means you need to be aware that some colours are stronger than others.
The kit came with a size 5 embroidery needle. I personally don’t like using embroidery needles with wool, and definitely not when combined with Appleton’s! So I changed the needle to a size 24 chenille needle – the eye of the needle is a little bit wider, making it easier to thread the wool through.
Closing thoughts on the kit
Other than my personal grievances with Appleton’s, there really isn’t any negative things about the kit, provided you are an intermediate/experienced stitcher. If you are just starting out, this would be a tricky place to start – and only because of the instructions. I suspect this is why I didn’t proceed with the kits after I’d purchased them!
Better and clearer images of the end product would help, as would a more accurate image of what your piece will look like. Whilst I wasn’t overly upset that the colours were different to what I was expecting, this could be a problem for some people.
It is a reasonably easy kit to stitch up, and there is a lot of repetition in the stitches. So once you get into the section, it’s a nice ‘easy’ project. Which could also help those who are just starting out or are less confident, as you have lots to practice on!
A Final Tip on Working the piece
This is a very heavily embroidered piece. And the combination of heavily stitched areas and empty spaces on the back of the Robin, mean this is a project highly liable to puckering.
I stitched it on a slate frame, and was particularly vigilant with re-stretching it before each stitching session. I’ve not yet taken it off the frame to see how well it has ‘behaved’, but I suspect blocking it might also be a good idea.
If you don’t have a slate frame, you could stitch it in a hoop. I would recommend something like an Elbesse frame (affiliate link) with both rings bound, to give it that extra grip on the fabric. You will also need to frequently stretch your fabric in the hoop (several times a stitching session). Also, be prepared to block it if it does show signs of puckering once completed.