Saturday, August 20, 2016

Stitching Stories: An Interview with Carol-Anne!

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.   

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Stitching Stories: An Interview with Tinka Phillips-Markham of Victorian Rose Needlearts!

Today we have a meet and greet with Tinka of Victorian Rose Needlearts!  Tinka shares with us how her stitching journey began, along with some of her beautiful antique samplers and what inspires her when choosing new samplers to reproduce – for us all to love!   Pull up a seat with Tinka and me, and enjoy! 

Tinka, how old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch? 

*The first time that I picked up a needle wasn’t to do cross stitch, but to help my grandmother quilt.  I remember helping her hand piece quilts when I was in fourth grade.  She made beautiful quilts, many of which I still use today.  The first time that I did cross stitch was back in the 80’s.   I remember loving to see pieces come to life as I stitched them.  I loved the Lavender & Lace angels and Mirabilia. 

I was a self-taught stitcher, but have attended many classes since then.  I’ve attended Christmas in Williamsburg and Celebrations of Needlework for many years.

What was the very first sampler that you stitched?

*The first sampler that I stitched was Scarlet Letter’s Jenning Band sampler.  It is a remnant of a sampler dated circa 1690 and has many interesting stitches – Montenegrin, fishbone, Holbein, counted satin, and eyelet.  I loved every stitch that I put into the sampler! 

When did you start charting reproduction samplers / designing your own samplers?  How did Victorian Rose Needlearts start?

*I first started charting reproduction samplers about a year ago.  My first release was Leontine de Hert in August of last year.  It’s a Belgian schoolgirl sampler that I bought from Gigi and has such lovely elegant alphabets and motifs.  Victorian Rose Needlearts sprang out of my passion for preserving our heritage.  We live in such a disposable society focused on technological advancement that we often forget our past.  The young girls that stitched the samplers had such an amazing talent!  In our fast paced modern world we often don’t take the time to appreciate and preserve their work.  I started Victorian Rose Needlearts in an effort to honor and promote the love of our past.

What was the first sampler you charted?

*Maria Bowen was the first sampler that I charted, but Leontine de Hert was the first that I finished stitching and released.  Maria was such a joy to chart.  The colors really appealed to me, but the sampler was stitched down to backing board and threatened to disintegrate if I removed it.  I very carefully pried some of the stitches loose and lifted it to see the back so that I could get a view of what the true colors should be.  The front was so faded that it was hard to tell that the colors were so beautiful when first stitched.  I prefer antique needlework that isn’t mounted; it’s so much easier to work with than the ones that are in cumbersome frames.  The frames may be nice for display, but for reproductionists they are more of a nuisance than a necessity.

                                                               Maria Bowen

                                                             Leontine de Hert

Can you tell us about your creative process of reproducing samplers / designing samplers?   What inspires you?

*I select a sampler that I feel strongly about because I know if I don’t the chances of completion are not great.  Once I have a sampler that speaks to me, I just sit in a quiet place and start charting it.  I have to decide what linen is best for the piece and what fibers I’ll be using.  I let the piece itself dictate those requirements.  I constantly change colors as I stitch, which drives my husband crazy because of the amount that I rip out.  I just think of it as part of the process, but he looks at how much more I could accomplish if it wasn’t!  I’m just not able to let it go until I’m happy with it. 

What do you look for when choosing a sampler to chart for your collection? 

*I let the piece speak to me.  Some of them do and others just don’t.  Sometimes it’s the colors that the original stitcher used.  Sometimes it’s a dominant visual element.  Other times it’s the verse.  It’s not always the same thing that speaks to me about a piece.   I tend to stay away from samplers that have a lot of void area and like pieces that are symmetrical and well balanced.  Beyond that though, I look for a piece that the stitcher had a true connection with.  You can tell if a young girl loved the piece that she was working on or if it was just a classroom exercise. 
What is your favorite time of day to stitch?  Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?

*I grab time whenever I can to stitch, so there’s no set time of day.  I don’t really have a set place to stitch and usually am only doing cross stitch, so the only tool that I really need is a good pair of scissors.  I usually use Dovos or Ginghers, anything with a very fine point in case I need to cut stitches out (when the frog comes to pay a visit).  I have a few pair of handmade scissors, but honestly usually just use them for display. 

If I need a laying tool, such as when I’m doing satin stitch, I will put my scroll rods on a floor frame and use a tekobari.  A few strokes and the stitches just naturally behave themselves – almost like magic!

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?

*I usually stitch with a scroll rod or q-snap if the design can fit inside.  I don’t like crushing threads, so it’s important to me that nothing touch the actual stitching.  I find that using a scroll rod or q-snap helps block the stitched piece as I go and cuts down on fraying.  I use the stick and stab technique and would like to learn to stitch two handed.  I’ve given it a try a couple of times, but it’s not something that comes naturally yet.

Do you have a favorite linen?  Do you prefer to use silk threads?  

*I use a variety of linen and thread – I let the piece speak to me about what materials to use.  I mainly look at the colors that I need for the piece and choose accordingly. 

Is there a specialty stitch or embroidery technique you enjoy most?  

*My favorite specialty stitch would be the Queen stitch.  I just love the feel of executing it and the beauty of it once done.  I have a sampler that I want to reproduce that uses it profusely, but just the one so far.  The Queen stitch was first used on samplers in the 17th century and it is just a beautiful stitch.

What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?  

*My favorite period would be the Victorian period; mainly because of their inclusion of Scripture or religious verses.  The 18th century was focused on technique, but not until the latter part of that century do we see any type of verse.  Since I like to make a connection with the stitcher’s worldview, I am attracted to the verses that they choose as a way of gaining insight into their aesthetic and/or spirituality.

Which designs appeal to you the most?

*I have a particular fondness for designs that have a spiritual meaning.  I love samplers with scripture verses.  The faith of the young girls really speaks to me.  I also love designs with roses and animals.

Has working with reproduction samplers given you any new insight into the lives of the girls and women in the 17-18-19th centuries that you did not realize before?

*My biggest realization has been that they are just as human as we are.  Some loved the samplers that they were stitching, but others would really have rather been somewhere else, doing something else.  You can tell by the quirky mistakes that are made.  Sometimes they would run out of room for the motif they were working and would just keep going.  They would often cross 1, 2 or even 3 threads and weren’t confined by the rigidness of our system of stitching.  Whereas we want uniformity in our stitching, it wasn’t a big deal to them.  We also want our ends tucked neatly into place, again no big problem to them if they left the tail hanging.  We admire their work so much that sometimes we’re tempted to define them by their stitching, but these women were not unidimensional – this was only one sphere of their lives.  And they never conceived that someone would be coming behind them centuries later trying to reproduce their work.

How do you display your stitched samplers?  Do you frame them?  Hang them singularly or in groupings?  

*Most of my stitched samplers have been framed.  I’m very lucky to have a wonderful local framer who is very creative and does excellent work: Cindy Dunlow frames in Ocala.  Most of the samplers from my collection that I’ve stitched so far are on display at my local needlework shop, Brick City Cross Stitch in Ocala.  Brick City also displays the Glendon Place collection.  Cheryl also has her framing done at Cindy’s, whose shop is right next to the cross stitch shop. 

Do you collect antique samplers?  Or have any other collections special to you?

*Antique samplers are my love and passion.  I have a collection of over one hundred and growing all the time!  I am just fascinated by the talent of the young girls of the 18 and 19th centuries. Today’s world is so hurried that most people don’t take the time to perfect a craft such as stitching, but it really keeps us in touch with our heritage.

Do you have other types of hand work that you enjoy?

*Although I began my journey with needlework quilting with my grandmother, I didn’t keep up the hobby.  I’ve also tried lacis and beading, but my passion is for stitching samplers and that’s what consumes my time.

What has been your worst needlework disaster?

*I’m still waiting for something horrible to happen, but I find needlework very forgiving.  If you make a mistake, you just have to find it and rip out to that point.  I like that it’s not something set in stone, that it allows room for error.

Are you currently working on a project that you can share with us?

*Currently I’m working on two classes that I’ll be teaching for Spirit of Cross Stitch in Richmond, VA in October, Ann Topham and Hannah Atkinson. 

                                                                Ann Topham

Hannah Atkinson is a red house sampler.  Another favorite of mine are red house samplers  - there’s such a variety of them from simple folkart pieces to more elaborate pieces.  Hannah is more of a simple folkart red house sampler.

One that I’m looking forward to releasing as charts in the next couple of months is Margaret Iceton, a Solomon’s Temple sampler.  I love the pinks – the colors remained just amazing on this sampler.

                                                             Margaret Iceton

Here is a sneak peek of another one that I’m currently working on.  I love the sweet little doves in this piece.

 If you can pick just one, which is your favorite sampler that you stitched?  And why? 

*My favorite has been Maria Bowen.  It’s just such a classic sampler.  I love the deer, love the verse.  I had such fun doing the colors.  I wasn’t sure that I was at all on the right track with the colors until I unpicked some of the stitches to take a peek at the back.  I was very happy to see that they were actually the colors that she used for the original, although I began working with the colors intuitively instead of because I knew what she had used.  Sometimes the creative process is one of intuition.

What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy? 
*I love spending time with my family; whether it is traveling or a quiet evening at home.  I treasure the time that I get to spend with them.  My mom is going to be 91 next month and she is still quite lively and spry.  She loves spending time outside and still takes care of cattle, which amazes me.   I met my husband in 9th grade and he is still my soulmate.   He has been very encouraging in my endeavors with Victorian Rose Needlearts.                       

Thank you so much, Tinka!!  It is wonderful to hear how you got started in stitching and how it has taken you to the world of reproduction samplers.  Your samplers, both antique and reproduced, are a treat to see!!  I am sure we all wish we could attend your teaching classes at the Spirit of Cross Stitch Festival.  Thank you for keeping the spirit of needlework alive with teaching it to others and creating patterns for us all to enjoy!    

To keep up on the future endeavors of Tinka and Victorian Rose Needlearts please be sure to visit her website here and facebook page here!