Today we meet Carol-Anne and get a special look at the world of Japanese Embroidery! The facets of embroidery are so diverse and yet so similar at the same time. While Japanese embroidery is a different direction from reproduction samplers it does use many of the specialty stitches that are found in samplers as well as silks which is a very popular medium in the world of stitching. Carol-Anne’s stitching will surely amaze and, perhaps, entice you to give it a try!
Hi Carol-Anne! How old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?
*I often say that I must have been born with a needle in my hand because I don’t remember a time when I did not stitch. I clearly remember being taught to crochet by the Polish mother of a lady my mum cleaned for. She didn’t speak a word of English and I certainly did not understand Polish but I understood what her hands were telling me. But I don’t have any recollection of anyone teaching me to embroider. I taught myself from kits and projects in my mum’s weekly magazine. It was only after I joined the Oxford branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild that I attended my first workshop.
Caption - From the Land of the Rising Sun published in My Weekly. Begun nearly 40 year's ago. I don't think I will ever finish it now but I might redo it using Japanese Embroidery techniques.
Do you recall what your very first stitched piece was?
*I made a pot stand in school on a piece of lime green Aida, I think it must have been 8 Count. I remember it had a border of large pink cross stitches and a row of blue blanket stitches but I can’t recall the stitching in the centre. My mum kept it for many years until it eventually disintegrated.
How did you learn about Japanese embroidery?
*At the Oxford branch of EG we have a guest speaker most months. In September 1994 Margaret Lewis gave a talk on Japanese Embroidery and brought with her examples of her work. The designs were beautiful and stitching was exquisite. I thought to myself that I would love to be able to stitch to that standard. At the end of the talk I asked Margaret if she taught JE. She did, twice a year on a five day residential course in Bournemouth. I have been going to Margaret’s courses once a year ever since.
Caption - Hanayama, my first Japanese Embroidery. The flower mountains represent the five seasons, the four that we are familiar with; cherry and plum blossoms for spring, chrysanthemums for summer, maple leaves for autumn and pines for winter. Kikko (the hexagons) represents the fifth season, the cosmos, which is not a season as we understand them but the continuous flow of seasons year after year.
What is your favourite time of day to stitch? Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?
*Any time I am awake! I work full time so stitching has to fit around work and family life. I try to do some Japanese embroidery before I leave for work; I aim for an hour but rarely manage more than 30 minutes. I always another project on the go that I do in the evenings. Occasionally, but all too rarely, I get a Saturday or Sunday when I can just stitch all day, bliss!
Caption - Karahana, Japanese gold work. I prefer to do goldwork in daylight but out of direct sunlight. It can be difficult to see your stitching with a bright light shining directly on the work.
Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch? Do you prefer to stitch in hand, or with a hoop or frame?
* Japanese Embroidery is done on a Japanese embroidery frame. In principle it is similar to a slate frame but its design is slightly different. The frame rests flat on a frame stand. The tension of the fabric forces you to stick and stab. Also JE has many rules, one of which is that the left hand is always below the frame and the right hand above, even if you are left handed! I had never used a frame before I took up JE and it took me a while to get used to it. Now I use a hoop or frame for virtually everything.
Caption - Suehiro. The foundation stitches over which the patterns are created are essentially long satin stitches. The ground fabric needs to be stretched on a frame to prevent puckering of the fabric or the stitches moving before the pattern is completed.
Do you have a favourite linen or material that you use for your needlework?
*All Japanese Embroidery is done on silk but many different kinds of silk. At first I was terrified that I would ruin the silk but it is a surprisingly forgiving ground fabric. We don’t ever line the silk so the weight of the ground has to be suitable for the techniques and amount of embroidery that it has to support. The Japanese produce an astonishing array of silks and the ground for each project is carefully selected to enhance the design. A good example of this is the fabric that Loving Couple is stitched on. The surface of the fabric is textured to look like ripples and a silver thread is incorporated in the weave to sparkle like sunlight on the water.
Caption - Loving Couple, detail. It is difficult to capture the beauty of this fabric in a photograph!
Can you tell us about the threads you use for Japanese embroidery? Are they made of silk?
*All of the embroidery is done in silk or metallic thread. While the metallic thread comes in different weights, there is only one silk thread. All of the threads we use are made by ourselves from the same flat silk. Flat silk means that it has absolutely no twist in the thread. It can be stitched flat or it can be twisted in a variety of ways for different effects. Whether used flat or twisted, the basic strand can be split to make a finer thread or strands can be combined to make heavier threads.
Caption - The simple leaves on Camellias shows the beauty of stitching with flat silk while the top flower and the branch demonstrate the different textures that can be achieved with different twists.
Is there a specialty stitch or embroidery technique you enjoy most?
*I used to say that I am a Jack of All Trades, now I think of myself as a collector of techniques. If I see something I haven’t come across before I want to learn how to do it. You could say that my favourite technique is the one I am currently learning/using. The course I am following for Japanese Embroidery claims to teach 46 stitches or techniques. JE students say that there are actually 47 and whichever stitch you learn first, the second will always be the 47th technique, reverse stitch, otherwise known as unpicking!
Caption - Himotaba (cords) use some stitched techniques that I believe are unique to Japanese embroidery.
How do you display your stitched pieces? Do you frame them?
*Prior to Japanese Embroidery, everything I stitched was made as a gift for someone else so I no longer have those. I have had all of my JE pieces framed; it is, I think, the best way to display them. However, they did not go on the walls for several years; it was my husband who convinced me that they should be on display.
Do you have other types of hand work that you enjoy?
*As well as Japanese Embroidery silk embroidery, I do JE bead embroidery. I do love beads; they are so tactile and who doesn’t like a bit of bling! I very occasionally so a bit of crochet and I can knit but badly. Generally, I would say I like doing things by hand and will try anything!
Caption - Floral Melody, Japanese bead embroidery. This bag is very blingy; I am hoping for a special occasion so I can actually use it!
Are you currently working on a project that you can share with us?
*I have several projects on the go but most are hibernating. I want to complete some (all) of those, so my plan is to make one of those one of my active projects until they are finished. My current revived project is the Bird Thimble Holder from The Essamplaire. I made the body when I first purchased the kit; currently I am making the feathers. I can make two in an evening but there are so many of them!
My current JE project is a beautiful piece called Sake Boxes but I am having a serious mojo problem with this piece. Normally I like doing gold work but the flowers on this piece are very fiddly and I am struggling to find a rhythm with them.
I have a third project that I am currently working on, The Ring o’ Roses Purse by Jacqui Carey. This is a completely new technique to me so I could not wait to get started on it. I have not got very far with it yet.
Caption - Sake Boxes, a work in progress
If you can pick just one, which is your favourite needlework piece? And why?
*This is a tough one! Every piece is important to me in different ways. If I have to choose a favourite, I would say Venerable Friends. I think the design is beautiful and I really enjoyed stitching it but it is a favourite because it was the first piece of Japanese Embroidery (the third that I stitched) when I felt that I knew what I was doing. However, if the building was on fire I would probably grab Karahana. Again, I really like the piece and absolutely loved stitching it and I could not bear the thought of all of those hours of couching going up in smoke!
Caption - Venerable Friends. There are a lot of different techniques in this piece that I really enjoyed learning. I particularly like the basket weave effect on the dark blue scroll.
What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy?
*I recently joined a book club and that has rekindled my love of reading. I have just read books 1-5 of the Game of Thrones series back to back and now I am at sixes and sevens what to read next. I REALLY want to read book 6 but it hasn’t been written yet! Another hobby is supposed to be my husband’s but somehow I have got sucked in. Three years ago he bought a Harley Davidson motorbike. I thought he would go out for days on the bike and leave me to my stitching but, more and more, I am going with him. We have enjoyed some lovely days and weekends away but I find it very difficult to stitch on the back of a motorbike!
Thanks so very much, Carol-Anne, for sharing your extraordinary work in Japanese embroidery with us all. It is always fun to learn more about different techniques in the world of embroidery. It is truly amazing all that can be done with needle and thread. The colorful silk and sparkly metallics combined with technique create such dramatic effect. We can’t help but be inspired! To learn more about Carol-Anne and follow her embroidery journey please visit her blog here.