Monday, December 31, 2018

Transferring a Design

I'm starting a new piece, this time a rendition of my wife's heraldry. Here is Cwen's registered device:
Per fess sable and argent, two decrescents and a bear stantant gaurdant within a bordure all counterchanged

I offered to make this in metal thread similar to the rendition I had recently done of my own device. Since her device is in sable and argent, I had the idea of doing "or nue" (shaded gold) using silver metallic thread rather than gold.

The first step, of course was to draw out the design. I'm never terribly happy with my drawing skills, but I eventually came up with the following. I was pretty happy with this design, and Cwen liked it as well. 

The bear sticking out its tongue was particularly amusing, a detail I copied from a number of heraldic devices I found online, such as this one from the city of Bern:
Image result for heraldic bear arms

I'm embroidering this badge on black linen. After stretching the linen in my slate frame, I got ready to transfer the design. The badge will eventually be appliqued onto another item, so I didn't need to be too careful about centering the badge in the frame. I roughly centered it, and pinned it into place.

One of my Xmas gifts this year was a pricking and pouncing set, used to transfer designs from paper to fabric. The pricker is basically a pin vise used to hold a small crewel needle. You use this to poke holes in the design through the paper. I poked holes every few millimeters. I had done this before with a plain needle, but found the vice made it much more comfortable to hold the needle while this task. Pricking holes in a large or complex design can be a bit tedious, so anything that makes it more comfortable is welcome!

Once all the lines had been pricked, I got out my new pouncer. This is basically a wooden knob with a bit of felt glued to one end. It would be really easy to make these! But, my set came with one pre-made. 

The set came with dark grey pounce, made from crushed charcoal and cuttlefish bone. This pounce is a pretty dark grey, so I didn't think it would be terribly visible against the black linen background. But, I read a great hint that you can use flour in a pinch as white pounce. I tapped the pouncer into a small amount of flour, and then rubbed the pouncer around the design, over all of the holes. 

Once I had gone over the entire design, I unpinned one end and peeled the paper up to confirm that the entire design had been transferred. The flour worked pretty well! I found I'd pricked a few too many holes in the face, so a bit too much flour came through and the design there was a bit less clear than I would have liked. But, it was good enough that I could make out the entire design. Good learning for next time!

Knowing that the fine powder wouldn't last long, I traced over the lines with a white chalk pencil, then did a quick backstitch over the lines with white thread to ensure the design would remain visible while I worked the embroidery.

Finally I stitched some guidelines across the piece to help me keep my silver work straight as I work the item, and it was ready to start the silverwork.

Next time: Argent nue?

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Time for Tassels

For a recent project, I decorated my new pouch with several tassels. I had not made tassels in quite some time, so I had to re-educate myself on how best to do them. After some experimentation, here's what I came up with.

The pouch I was making featured some Or nue embroidery that was in green and yellow, so I picked floss of the same two colors for the braided cord and tassels. I worked the tassels in DMC cotton floss because of time and cost - getting enough silk in the right colors would have taken a few weeks in the mail, and would have been relatively expensive. The tassels here were completed using two skeins of DMC (one of each color). 

The tassels were made by wrapping embroidery floss around a mandrel. I used a ruler as my mandrel, but any squarish object could be used as your mandrel. You're basically just using it to easily create a number of loops of floss of the same size. The ruler I had happened to be the right width for my project, and had a cork backing which created a couple channels where it was easy to pass a needle or use scissors to cut the loops.

The first step was to wrap my embroidery floss around the ruler. I wrapped green and yellow at the same time about 25 times to create the body of the tassel. Pick one end (we'll call this "down") and have the floss both start and end in that direction. In this picture, I'm calling the lower edge "down".

The next step was to cut a string about 14 inches long. I actually cut two strings, one gree and one yellow, and passed those threads through the body loops. I then tied it into a knot at the top to cinch the body loops together. Once knotted, you'll use these strings to tie your piece. Cutting the strings 14 inches long gives you lots of room to play with when it comes time to attach your tassel.

Now that all the loops were tied together, I cut the loops across the bottom of the ruler. This basically gives you 50 or so pieces of string knotted together at the top. To turn this into a recognizable tassel, I cut another piece of your floss about a foot long. I wrapped the string around the body, and knotted it off with a square knot to create the tassel's head. I trimmed off the extra length.

Finally, I trimmed the tassel so the strings are all roughly the same length, and as mentioned above, I used the strings at the head to connect the tassel to the body of my pouch. I chose to run the strings first through a silver bead before sewing them to the pouch fabric. Trim all the knots, and voila!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Or Nue Heraldic Bee, part V

In my previous post, I completed the gold and pearl work for my embroidered heraldry, and appliqued it to the fabric ground. Now it was time to fashion a pouch out of the fabric.

I patterned the pouch as an alms purse, or aumônière. These purses are commonly seen in 13th-14th century artwork, and there are quite a few extant pieces showing that they were often embroidered, decorated with beads and tassels. It is thought, based on the name, that they started out as a purse for the distribution of charitable alms to the poor, but that they eventually became a standard purse for carrying around everyday items. I liked the alms purse idea, however, as a way not only to display my work, but also to carry around artisan-related items, such as personal tokens to give out when I see others doing great A&S work, as well as cards with my contact info that I can give out when I meet new artisans and would like to connect. 

My aumônière is not based on any single piece, but was instead creatively inspired by a number of extant pieces. A great article can be found online here with a number of photographs and descriptions of period pieces. I also found quite a few on Tumblr using a simple web search, and put together an idea of what I wanted mine to look like.
Half-silk velvet purse with tassels at the Museum of LondonAnother purse in the Troyes Cathedral10th or 11thc Byzantine relic purseParisian purse from 1340, other side

The first step was to sew the pouch. The front and back pieces are made of a very pretty mulberry wool fabric. The liner is black linen. The inner and outer halves were sewn together, then assembled and blind stitched together across the top seam. I then buttonhole stitched four holes across the top of the front and back to hold the lace string that would tie the pouch closed. This was my first time sewing buttonholes like this, but I thought they came out pretty well. 

To create the laces and decorate the seams of the pouch, I used cotton embroidery floss (more durable and easier to weave than silk) to create a cord. The cord was whipcorded using the Viking whipcording method as described by Mistress Eithni on her website. First order of business was to create a simple distaff to hold my cording. I created this from a 3' long dowel and a popsicle stick, glued and tied together.

I then wound the thread (two skeins of each color) onto some wooden doll form bobbins I picked up at Michaels. Dangle these off the distaff, and you're ready to weave!

The weaving was pretty easy and goes very quickly. I was using a diagonal stripe pattern. The only difficulty I had was that when I would pause to wind up the braided cord or to let out more floss from the bobbin, I would sometimes lose my place and ended up cording, then having to undo and redo the cording when I realized the pattern had gotten messed up. But, in an hour or so, I had more than enough cord to complete the project. 

The resulting green and yellow striped cord looked perfect against the mulberry of the pouch, and was a very close match to the colors used in my goldwork. Here's a closeup of the resulting cord. I was concerned as I was whipcording that the resulting cord would be too thin, but when I got it off the distaff and compared it against the pouch, I found the size was just right. 

I blind-stitched the cord down covering the seams of the pouch. There was one smaller loop going around the pouch opening (where the inner and outer pieces were joined together), and a bigger one going around the outside seams. 

The outer loop started in the middle of the bottom of the pouch, and was extended at the top to create a "V" that can be used to hang the purse from my belt. A third loop was used as the drawstring. I used some silver beads I found to create a cinch on the purse string and to tip the laces, then created some tassels to finish off the laces.

A couple more tassels for good measure, and the purse was finally done! 

I'm very happy with the final result, and plan to present it at a panel for The Keepers of Athena's Thimble for competence in metal thread embroidery at Birka next month.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Or Nue Heraldic Bee, part IV

(See my previous posts on this project herehere, and here.)

In my last post, I appliqued the goldwork to my pouch material. Now it was ready for some final bling. The edge of the goldwork was a bit "pixelated" and rough, so I thought a great way to finish it up and round it out would be to edge it in pearl purl and freshwater pearls! If you're gonna bling it up in the SCA, might as well go all the way in.

For those who haven't heard of it before, "pearl purl" is a real metal thread used in goldwork embroidery. The name is a reference to its appearance. The word "purl" indicates that it is wire wound into a hollow tube, with no fabric core. It resembles a tiny spring. The "pearl" comes from the shape of the wire -- the wire is round in cross-section, giving the coil a bumpy appearance, akin to a row of golden pearls.
I purchase my pearl purl at Berlin Embroidery, a great online resource for goldworking supplies. The wire is a bit springy when it first arrives. The wire is typically stretched in length slightly to open up the coil for couching stitches. This also has the effect of making it a tad bit stiffer so that it doesn't "boing" about all over the place as you're couching it down. For this project, I'm using No. 3 gilt pearl purl. After stretching it slightly, I ran it around the outside of my piece, couching it down with the same green silk that I used in the Or nue. The darker silk helped to visually separate the individual coils with a bit of shading that helps the "pearls" of gold stand out.

Once I had one layer of pearl purl down, it was time to put on the real pearls. I found a strand of freshwater pearls in my stash that were perfect for this project, and laid down a row of them just outside the pearl purl. I had done pearl work on a few other projects, with varying success - I found them a bit wiggly or not really staying in line as well as I liked. This time around, I did some research online and found a suggestion that I ended up really liking. The pearls are each couched as follows:

  • First pearl: couch down once to the fabric
  • Second pearl: Bring up the thread before the first pearl, run it through the first and second pearls, and down into the fabric
  • Third pearl: Bring up the thread before the second pearl, run it through the second and third pearls, and down into the fabric,
  • etc.
  • Last pearl: Run the thread through the last pearl, and then again through the first pearl.
This ends up with every pearl having two couching stitches - one shared with the pearl before it, and one shared with the pearl after it. This creates a very stable couching, which also (because of the shared stitches) keeps the entire strand in line. I knotted off the strand every 1/8 of the way around the circle, so that if the couching stitches ever break, I'll only have to redo a small section of them.

Once the pearls were on, I ran a final row of pearl purl just outside them. This creates a "channel" for the pearls to sit in, as well as providing a nice outline.

Next time: finishing the pouch.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Or Nue Heraldic Bee, part III

As described in the last two installments on this project (see part I and part II), I had created an Or nue depiction of my arms, and decided to mount it to some very nice maroon wool I had to make a pouch. Now that the goldwork was done, it was time to affix it to the wool and complete the pearling and goldwork around the outside of the Or nue.

My first step was to mount one side of the wool outer pouch material to my slate frame. I read a few articles online with some suggestions on how to do this:
The last one in particular had a great suggestion about using pins along the hem of your fabric to help distribute/support the tension on the fabric across the width of the piece. I ended up using this idea. I first attached a linen strip to each of the two end pieces, and then affixed the embroidery fabric to the linen strips using a herringbone stitch. 

I then pinned the hem along the sides, and inserted the side slats. As I laced the sides to the slats, I used a backstitch just inside the pins. This really helped keep the sides straighter as I put tension on the width of the fabric.  Once the two sides were laced up, I pulled on one of the end slats to stretch out the length of the fabric as much as I could, and then inserted the cotter pins to maintain that tension. In the picture below, the longer laces at the top and bottom are the sides of the work (ie, the frame is rotated 90 degrees). The fabric has been hemmed over about a half inch along each of the sides, and the stitches were run through the hem.

Once the fabric was framed up, I measured out the center point, and used it to center the cut out goldwork on the wool, and pinned the work into place. 

I then used the same green silk to applique the goldwork onto the wool ground. The edge of the goldwork was a bit rough looking. I also noticed that in a few places, the white linen ground under the goldwork was peeking out from under the applique. To fix these problems, I  took a pass around the work in split stitch. Even though the edge will eventually be covered up by pearl purl, I liked how this really helped smooth out the work and made it look a bit more finished.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Or Nue Heraldic Bee, part II

I've been a bit busy and ill this month, which took some time away from my projects. I also had a delay while I waited for some more green silk to arrive, as I was out of the color I was using and had to order online. But, I finally was able to finish up the Or nue (shaded gold) embroidery of my device earlier this weekend. (See my previous post on this project here.) 

I'm pretty happy with how the Or nue turned out. I am also really happy with how my slate frame worked. Although I was still figuring out how to dress the frame properly, and basically just made it up as I went along, the tension turned out quite nicely. When I took the embroidery off the frame, as you can see, the tension remained quite smooth.

The next step was to figure out what to do with this goldwork, now that it's complete. I decided to make a pouch out of it, which I can use to hold tokens/favors that I can give out at events when I see artwork or A&S display entries that I particularly like. I found some maroon/purple wool in my stash that I particularly like and thought looked sumptuous and sturdy enough to support the goldwork. 

I also found some seed pearls in my stock and had ordered some gilt pearl purl, a kind of gold wire which has been wound into a springlike form. I'm planning to use these to outline the goldwork, and help smooth out the edges of the embroidery. At first I was thinking of using the seed pearls in the picture below, but then I found some that were a little smaller and were a better fit for the size of the goldwork. The teal is another wool that I had in our stash. I wasn't sure at first which color to use, but eventually decided on the maroon since the teal was a bit lighter in weight, and didn't contrast as much against the green in my embroidery.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Mid-Winter's Celebration

Although we live in the Canton of the Towers, which is part of the Barony of Carolingia (Boston area), we're on the far north-eastern edge of the canton. This means that events in Maine and New Hampshire are sometimes closer to us than our own Barony. Back in October we visited Malagentia in ME to attend Autumn's Inspirations, and had a great time and were warmly received. Yesterday, we attended an event in Stonemarche (New Hampshire), called A Mid-Winter Celebration. As it was our first time attending, we weren't sure what to expect, but it was only 40 minutes away from us, so we decided to attend and find out.

And, I'm glad we did! The event was attended by about 90 people, which was apparently larger than expected. The day was very sunny but very cold, but the main hall stayed comfortably warm. We were immediately greeted at gate and given a warm welcome. The event was of the "gather and visit for the day" type with a midday feast, a small area for heavy fighting, an Arts and Sciences display table, and a well-orchestrated series of activities for the kids attending. Feast was yummy, and at the short baronial court after feast, all of the children were given presents - from what I could see, a number received Nine-Man's Morris boards, and others received some fun stuffed dragon toys. The younger children who were sitting near us seemed perfectly delighted with their haul.

We were happy to be joined at our table by milady Kathryn and her husband Brian from Stonemarche. We met Kathryn last month on our scribal field trip to the libraries at Harvard to view some of the medieval manuscripts there. It was fun sitting with them and getting to know them better. Kathryn showed me some of embroidery in progress, which was quite lovely. She later entered it in the A&S display, where it seemed to be well received in the populace vote. Lady Rachel of Rochester and her family were seated next to us, and I had fun chatting with them as well.

While at the event, I was particularly pleased to meet Lady Astriðr Sægeirsdottir (the event steward) and Lady Amalie von Hohensee (running the A&S display), who are also both needleworkers. I hadn't really intended to enter anything into the A&S display at this event as I was still working on my goldwork and hadn't any formal documentation for it. But, Lady Astriðr positively squeed with pleasure at seeing that someone else was interested in Or nue, and eventually brow beat me into submitting my work. I had a nice discussion with the A&S judging panel about my work, and they gave me some positive feedback on it. I was also able to discuss it briefly with another artisan gentleman at the event who also does goldwork (his name, unfortunately, escapes me). He was busy working the feast so we didn't get to chat long, but I look forward to seeing him again. Definitely by far the best entry at the A&S display was a very extensive project someone (again, I wasn't able to determine who) was doing to illuminate, callig, and bind several books. He had his work on display, along with much of his supplies and equipment, so it was a great exhibit of the entire process. He seemed to be winning in the popular vote when we had to leave, and it was well deserved.

The event was a lot of fun, and we were very glad that we attended. We made a number of new friends, and it's good knowing they're just north of the border from us. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again at Birka next month!

I broke out my boyar coat and hat for the event, since it was so cold that day. The hat was popular and got petted. I had to stop quick at the grocery store on the way to the event, and the coat elicited a question from a confused local as to whether I was wearing my bathrobe. Sigh. The jacket turned out to be quite warm. I may need to make some gloves/mittens before Birka, however. It was really cold walking to/from the car that day.

Folks sitting around and visiting.

They eventually had to commandeer more tables to accommodate all the attendees for feast. The event was more popular than the event staff had expected. 

Our new feastgear, including the mug I won at Autumn's Inspirations.

A small area was set off for heavy combat.

Action shot!

The children were gathered in court and given presents. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Or Nue Heraldic Bee, part I

When I started playing in the SCA again recently, I decided to do a goldwork project, and picked my device as the theme. I figured I could present this at an Athena's Thimble panel as my first submission, it would let me practice Or Nue again, and I'd have a new item to display my heraldry.

Or Nue (French for "shaded gold") is a technique that was commonly used in period, in particular for ecclesiastical garments. There is a great article here by Jane Zimmerman which gives an introduction to the technique. The gold threads in Or Nue are typically thin strips of gold foil wrapped around a fiber core (what today is referred to as "Japan gold"). The foil is a bit "scaly" in texture, so it doesn't pass through fabric terribly well. Instead, it was worked by laying the gold across the surface of the fabric and couching it down with silk. For large fields, a brick or similar pattern could be used to give a shade of color, or the couching could be closer together for a more solid color. In the main design, the gold may be so close together that you just get solid blocks of silk color, with the gold just peeking through in spots. The gold is of course very sumptuous looking, and reflects light very well, especially in lower light settings like candle-light, giving the overall work a nice bit of flash.

Image result for or nue
An example of period Or Nue, detail of Mantle of the the Vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece
(Kaiserliche Schatzkammer, Vienna)

I have had a banner for many years which looks like this. I used this as a starting place, although I decided to change up the style of the flowers and bee, and to work it as a circular badge.
Vert, a bee proper winged between three octofoils Or
My new slate frame, and just getting started with the goldwork. I was able to work on this quite a bit at Autumn's Inspirations, and got a lot of positive feedback as I did so.

So, I started out the project by drawing out the cartoon for the project, then digitizing it so I could play with the size to something that felt right. I'm not the best at drawing, but I eventually came up with a design with which I was pretty happy. I transferred the design to some linen, and blocked it off on my cherry wood slate frame (brand new for this project!). I already had the colors of silk I needed in Au Ver a Soie's "Soie d'Alger" line (my preferred brand), and I got some amazing No. 9 British Glossy Japan thread from Berlin Embroidery.

I ended up basting a few vertical lines across the work to help with keeping the goldwork parallel throughout the course of the project. The gold was laid and couched down in paired rows. The green field was couched with a rough checkerboard pattern to give it a nice dark tint while also allowing a lot of the gold metal to shine through. As you can see, the first several passes were all fieldwork which went relatively quickly. Once I started hitting sections of the design, I would couch in the appropriate color. This made the stitching slower as I had to coordinate through various colors.
The same pass started both the first star, as well as the edge of the bee's wing, so I suddenly went from one color (green) to four (green, black, yellow, ecru).

While I was working with a particular color, I had my other silk color strands pinned off to one side to keep them out of the way. Eventually as the bee got thicker, I ended up actually having two green strands, one for the top of the piece, and one for below the bee, to avoid wasting a lot of silk going back and forth across the length of the bee behind the scenes.

About 1/3 done.

As I was working the piece, I realized that the linen and the design stretched a bit unevenly when I dressed the frame, so I ended up having to eyeball a few modifications to the design to keep it more or less even and circular. Lesson learned for next time - for stretchier fabrics, dress the frame first, then trace the design.

About halfway done. As you can see, the two sides of the bee are not quite mirror images, so I used the lines as suggestions and started eyeballing to "even up" the two sides.

I also found that the center of the piece, which was couched much more densely, had a tendency to "bulge" over as a result and the goldwork didn't lie completely parallel. The guidelines I basted in made it easy to notice this happening, and then I would work in extra passes above or below the bee to fill in the work and bring the background back to parallel. The effect isn't terribly noticeable. Jane Zimmerman's article above does mention the possibility of this happening, and suggests leaving very tiny gaps (1/16" or less) between the passes of gold to leave space for the couching and prevent this from happening. I read her suggestion about halfway through the project, and was happy with the result when I started putting it into practice. 

Extreme close up!!
And, here's where I currently stand with the project. Unfortunately I lost this game of "embroidery chicken" and ran out of silk before I could finish it, so I'm waiting for more to arrive. I was unable to find the shade I needed here in the Boston area, so I ordered some online from Needle in a Haystack.
Current state of progress. Some of the edge turns are a bit rough, but they'll be covered up later when I applique this onto a pouch.