Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Flower Circle – Mushiro-nui and Sugabiki

When I was planning to work the Flower Circle entirely in gold work, I thought that I would do the large circular centres in maze pattern couching. On my last day in Japan I visited an exhibition of work by the tutors and students of Kurenia-kia. I saw some techniques that I had not seen before and wanted to try to replicate some of these in my design. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted so I had to rely on my notes, my memory and a postcard of the exhibition. One of the techniques was a variation on mushiro-nui (woven effect). It is not terribly different from the version taught by the JEC but I thought it was very pretty.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

I don’t know why it did not immediately occur to me that I could have worked this version in more or less that same way that I have been taught. Instead, on my first attempt, I filled the entire circle with a flat silk foundation using two strands and then struggled to work the holding stitches.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

When I stitched the second flower centre I made two stitches, then left room for two stitches, stitched two more, etc. I then worked the holding stitches over these foundation stitches before filling in the gaps and working the holding stitches over those. It was much simpler that the first flower.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

I had planned from the outset to work the petals of these flowers in sugabiki (fuzzy effect). I had seen this done in metallic threads on Embroidery Sculpture and thought it very effective. Sugabiki is usually worked in every other weft valley but I stitched #1 gold into every valley so that the effect would be more gold than purple. It is normal to use a holding stitch on any stitch 1 cm or longer but I did not want to disturb the solid sheen so have omitted the holding stitches.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

Finally, I outlined each petal and the centre of each flower. On the gold flower I used JEC twisted gold. On the shell gold flower I wanted a matching outline so I twisted together two strands of shell gold.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Butcher, Baker, Needlework Collector

My day has been surreal. It has included an episode that could easily have featured on the Jeremy Kyle Show or Eastenders but that is not a subject for this blog and I am really trying to forget about it, difficult as that is.

OK onto the equally strange encounter that bears some relation to this blog, although it may not seems so at first. Oncev a year J hosts a wine evening and we (I) prepare a meal related to the evenings theme. We try to source the finest ingredients in our locale and for many of those The Covered Market, Oxford is the place to go. There is more than one excellent butcher in the Market and we have no preference of one over another. Today, for no particular reason we went into one I don't recall patronising before. Whilst waiting to be served I was idlely looking at some leaflets on the counter. One in particular caught my attention, while out of the corner of my eye something else was registering. The leaflet was advertising the Michael and Elizabeth Feller books. I thought that an unusual subect for a butcher to sponser but the thing in the corner of my eye that was trying to attract my attention was the name of the butcher "M Feller and Daughter". M FELLER and daughter!!

When it came to my turn to be served, instead of placing my order, I pointed to the flyer and said "are you related?". "Ah!", he said, pointing to someone behind me, "that's the man you need to speak to."

For the next 30 minutes my attention was devided between ordering the ingredients I needed the evening meal and discussing the Michael and Elizabeth Feller Collection, their forthcoming exhibition at the a Ashmolean Museum, the related class which is fully booked within 24 hours of opening, the Threads of Silk and Gold Exhibition, and other embroidery related stuff.

When we left I said to J "do you think that was Michael Feller?". J said that was the impression he had been given. This evening I can't decide whether the butcher M Feller and Michael Feller, Needlework Collector, are related or one in the same person. Or whether I dreamt the whole encounter as an antidote to the vile episode that occured an hour earlier.

Happy Stitching

Friday, 21 June 2013

Flower Circle – Hitta-gake

The first time I used hitta-gake (tie die effect) was on Suehiro. I used white silk to stitch the best foundation I had done so far and when I realised what I would do to that foundation I nearly cried. As it turned out, I enjoyed stitching hitta-gake and was reasonable pleased with my first attempt.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

I next used hitta-gake on the Shibori Samurai on Flutterbies. That time I was not so pleased with my foundation layer but I felt that the hitta-gake was executed better. On both of these designs the hitta-gake has a white foundation on a white ground fabric. I have always thought that it might be more effective on a dark background.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

Hitta-gake features a lot in Kusano-san’s designs. Sometimes she uses the stitched version and sometimes she appliqués kanoko shibori fabric onto her ground fabric. I decided to fill the two outline flowers with hitta-gake as homage to Flower Circle’s designer.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

I began with a flat white silk foundation using 2 strands to ensure good coverage of the ground fabric.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

For the hitta-gake I choose a silk that matched the ground fabric as closely as possible. I wanted the finished effect to give the impression that kanoko shibori had been died into the fabric.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

The JEC use two stitches in the centre of each lattice to represent the dot that is characteristic of kanoko. Kusano-san does this in a few different ways but she very often uses a sagara-nui (Japanese round knot) for the dot and I choose to do mine that way. I am still a bit hit and miss with sagara-nui but I think I am getting better and this gave me a fair amount of practice at them.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Flower Circle – Preparation

We are a little spoilt by the Japanese Embroidery Centre who transfer many of their designs onto the fabric for us but I have had to transfer one or two designs from other sources in the past. I prefer to use the stitch transfer method. First I trace the design onto a piece of tissue paper. After positioning the tracing on the fabric, I hold it in position with small magnets while I stitch over lines using white couching thread and Japanese running stitch. (I was later to regret my choice of thread and wish that I had used a fine YLI thread instead.) This method allows me to follow the design very accurately and to make adjustments to any tracing errors. The Flower Circle design is almost all curves so I have used a fairly short stitches to give smooth lines.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

Stitch transfer gives me time to familiarize myself with the design and think about how to I want to stitch each element. By the time I had finished the transfer I felt I understood the balance and flow of the design. I hope to maintain that balance as I embroidered it. The Flower Circle consists of nine cherry blossoms of three distinct designs but all with broadly the same outline. Two are a simple outline and three have a large circular centre surrounded by five separate petals. The remaining four have five overlapping petals with a small circular centre and long stamens.

Japanese running stitch is worked differently from any other stitch I know being a cross between running stitch and back stitch as evidenced on each side. On the front it looks like back stitch; on the back it looks like running stitch.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

I remove the tissue paper from each motif (and a small area around it) as I come to stitch it. I leave the remaining tissue paper in place to protect the fabric while I work.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching

Monday, 10 June 2013

Kusano San Design

Forgive me blogger, I have not posted very much this year. I have quite a lot to blog about but little time to sit down and actually write anything. I need a gadget that will transcribe my thoughts into posts. So what have I been up to? Well, I have had a fabulous holiday that I really want to write about while it is still fresh in my memory. I have taken advantage of the fine weather we have been enjoying in Oxford to get the garden tidied up. All of the hedges have been cut, the lawns mown (several times) and the flower beds weeded. J and I have finished building a patio and made a smaller patio to use as a bbq area. We are now preparing the site to start digging a pond. I have also been working with some neighbours to clear an overgrown stream that runs alongside our gardens. We’ve been pulling out nettles and cutting down brambles and ivy. Last weekend we planted some marginal plants along the cleared bank. It already looks much better and last week I spotted a grass snake sunbathing on the cleared bank - bonus! I have also been stitching but, as usual, not as much as I would like.

In May 2011, some Japanese embroidery friends and I travelled to Edinburgh for an exhibition of embroidery by Shizuka Kusano. We had all admired her work ever since we first pawed over her book "The Fine Art of Kimono Embroidery". The exhibition was the first time that Kusano-san’s work was shown outside of Japan so it was a very rare opportunity for us to see it and to meet its charming and gracious creator.


During the exhibition, one of Kusano-san’s students was demonstrating Japanese embroidery. One of our friends, Colleen, said how pretty the design was. To our amazement, Kusano-san presented us with a copy of the design and encouraged us each to stitch it in our own way. Another exciting development that came out of that visit is that Kusano-san is returning to the UK this June. An exhibition of her work is to be held on 26th to 29th June at The Bridge House Hotel, 2 Ringwood Road, Ferndown, Dorset, BH22 9AN. When we knew that Kusano-san would be making this visit we decided to stitch the design as a group project. As Kusano-san wished, we have each done our own interpretation of the design, pushing ourselves to do something new with it. For some this has meant working with colours they would normally avoid, for other it has been an opportunity to try out new techniques.


Our tutor, Margaret, provided a selection of obi fabric in a variety of colours. I choose a deep and very regal purple. My original idea was to do the design entirely in gold work and the gold looks stunning against the purple. However, after studying pictures of Kusano-san’s work and visiting an exhibition of work by the tutors and students of Kurenia-kia, I saw many interesting techniques that I wanted to incorporate in my design – more than I would be able to include.

© Shizuka Kusano/Carol-Anne Conway

Over the next few weeks I intend to blog about what I have done so far and about my race to finish in time for my piece to be displayed in celebration of Kusano-san’s visit alongside the beautiful designs already completed by some of my friends.

Happy Stitching