Getting started on a new canvas work project takes a lot of planning - and a lot of threads! But it's a bit of fun once you get past the initial mental block of how to work it! Designed and stitched by Catherine of Hillview Embroidery

Slow Progress with Canvaswork – and a mental block!

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last told you about the next module I’m completing as part of my RSN Certificate – that being canvaswork, and if I’m honest, the one I am least looking forward to. That seems to be a common theme about this module, but I’m hoping I will be pleasantly surprised like a number of people I have spoken to have said they were!

Last time we looked at this, the design had been finalised, and I had re-framed my canvas on the slate frame due to the rather dubious quality of the webbing I used first time round. Now, it just looks like a great big mess!

Transferring the design

Transferring your design onto canvas uses a very different approach to that of the prick and pounce method used in the Jacobean piece. And I liked this approach a lot! Though it would have limitations for other types of surface embroidery.

Firstly, an outline of the ‘major’ lines you want to capture of the design are traced. The key seems to be not capturing too much detail – just broadly, where the major ‘changes’ are in your design. I wasn’t sure how much detail to capture with the castle in particular, I may have traced in too many lines, but I guess I will find out in due course!

After photocopying your tracing at a level to make it quite a bit ‘darker’, you attach your tracing to whatever it is that you are using to lean against (as your fabric is all framed up!). In my case, it was a stack of books. Then, it is a simple activity of tracing your design onto the canvas using a permanent pen. Then, before moving the frame and your canvas away from your tracing, using a pin, you mark the four corners of your design area. You don’t draw this on in any way, as it might show on your completed piece – not what we want! Instead of a hard permanent pen line, after you have pinned in the corners of your design, you tack in the border around the piece, and this is how you know where your design finishes.

I found out at this point that only using main design lines was a good idea. As although the above sounds nice, easy and straight forward, seeing through the canvas to your tracing is a tad difficult, so the less lines the better! I used the initial tracing (before it was darkened for the tracing exercise), as a guide whilst I worked so I had a better idea of what I was aiming for!

An example of how a design looks once transferred onto 18 point canvas. Designed and worked by Catherine of Hillview Embroidery

Thread choices!

Oh glorious thread! I think most of us who enjoy embroidery have a ‘thing’ for thread. The two seem to go hand in hand!

Anyway, now was a time to ‘raid’ my stash, to see if any of the threads I’ve got stashed away (a considerably large amount as it turns out!), would be of use. As I mentioned before, Heather is keen for a variety of different threads to be used, which is a good thing! I have some threads which I have no idea how to use them, or even what they actually are (or to be honest why I even have them – I have to assume they are the result of goody bags at shows!), but I’m excited as I now might be able to use some of them!

After bombarding my floor with threads of all colours, types and effects (and my husband commenting that perhaps I had enough thread for the rest of my life – to which I replied that I still didn’t have quite the right threads for this project!), I picked out a rather large supply of different threads that matched with the colours in the photo. Jessica Grimm (definitely check out her website if you haven’t already! She’s a superstar embroiderer), recommended Heathway Milano threads as being a good woollen thread to use for canvas work. So I went through the various colours they have online, and picked out some wools in colours I was lacking. The service at Pearsalls Embroidery was fantastic if you live in the UK where they are based! They were shipped the next day, and I was thrilled when they arrived! So beautiful and soft – thanks Jessica! I think you may have converted me.

Whether I use all of these threads remains to be seen. I suspect not, as there is a rather large pile of thread here! But doesn’t it look great?

How to use your threads

Heather has said on a number of occasions that canvas work is the most creative module on offer. And I think I now know why!

When choosing what thread or colour to use for each part of your piece, you are not bound by any ‘rules’ of it has to be one type of thread or one colour. Quite the the opposite! Your only limitation seems to be what you have on hand and your own imagination!

Each stitch can be worked with a variety of different colours, and different types of thread. So you can combine wool with stranded cotton or silk or perle – whatever will give you the effect you want. And you can change part way through a stitch! So if you want a darker background to the stitch and a lighter foreground – just use two different thread combinations to complete the stitch!

This is a lot of fun! It’s time consuming getting set up with all the different threads and needles, but it is fun trying out different combinations to work out what works well and what doesn’t!

Starting to stitch

The time had come for me to start stitching away! I have to admit, it is a little daunting having a blank canvas with your design staring back at you. Despite working some sample stitches over Christmas, I really feel out of my depth.

Going against everything I know about embroidery, canvaswork is actually worked from front to back, rather than what I thought about embroidery, which is back to front. I’m not entirely sure why it is different in canvaswork, although there seem to be a few different ‘rules’ to canvas work. I always though you worked back to front so that what was closer to you in your picture became that in your embroidery.

So the first thing to stitch for me is the bush at the front (it’s actually a thistle in the picture, but I’m taking some artistic license and making it into a bush). In my first lesson of stitching canvaswork I worked through ‘leaf 2’ stitch in Mary Rhodes’ book. It is essentially a variation of normal leaf stitch, although it is slanted, and has a ‘vein’ to it.

Examples of leaf stitch and variations used in canvas work. Stitched by Catherine of Hillview Embroidery

I struggled with finishing this for homework though. I seem to have a mental block on working canvaswork, and I pulled everything out three times before deciding that maybe it was ok.

So yesterday was a day of trying to move past that mental block! Heather was generous with her comments, and got me started on the rocks in the front. I’m working these Rhodes Stitch, Half Rhodes and, if I’m game, Octagonal Rhodes (all again from Mary Rhodes’ book). I have to say, I actually found these stitches very enjoyable to work! They are quick to work, although they do eat up the thread quite quickly, and I like the effect of them!

Examples of Rhodes stitch and variations, worked in canvaswork. Stitched by Catherine of Hillview Embroidery

I also started working on the ‘moss’ area at the front (I truly can’t remember what exactly that was, so I’m going to say it is moss!). Using Heather’s knowledge of what would work in that area, she suggested a couple of different cross-based stitches. One that really grabbed my attention was the hourglass stitch. I’ve decided to stitch it horizontally rather than vertically, as I think it suits the area more. This is another quick stitch to work!

A cross based stitch worked in canvas work - hourglass stitch. Worked with three strands of Appeltons wool. Stitched by Catherine of Hillview Embroidery

So whilst there isn’t a lot of progress to show you, I do think I am starting to get over my ‘mental block’ of this style of embroidery. I’m hoping that by the end of the weekend I will have made some good progress on these couple of small areas, and that I will feel better about this whole piece. I’m still completely at a loss as to how to blend from one stitch to another (which is a requirement), but I’m sure when I get to that, Heather will show me how. I’m also ending up with a few ‘blank’ squares as a result of how the stitches fit together in my design, which I’m going to have to cover.

Working various areas of a canvas work design. Designed and stitched by Catherine of Hillview Embroidery

I am linking up today with FnWF, hosted by Cheryl over at Gone Stitchin’


19 thoughts on “Slow Progress with Canvaswork – and a mental block!”

    1. Yes, I am definitely converted! And they have a great colour range too. It was hard picking just a few colours! I have noticed that at times it is a little difficult to pull all the threads through those tiny holes. Imagine if it was finer! I would really struggle. I’m starting to see that I might enjoy this style…

  1. I adore canvas work and this is looking gorgeous already. I particularly like the thread blends you’ve created. I could really go for stitching some canvas work right now, if only there were fa few more hours in the day…

  2. When I was looking at the RSN curriculum this one was the most daunting for me. I’ve seen some beautiful projects come out of this class. Maybe that will change one day. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product.

    1. I’m amazed at what some people can produce from this module! I’m completely daunted about it myself and am forever finding other things to do as I’m still scared of it! I just need to get on with it!!

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