Tapestry Tangle

An idea for a Bargello project has been floating around in my head for a while, but to do it I’ll need lots of colours of tapestry thread. A while back I jumped onto eBay and bought two large batches of leftover thread. And when I say large, I’m not kidding. This is what the two looked like spread over my eight-seater dining table, after I’d untangled the bigger of the two batches.

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In fact, the largest batch arrived on a day when I hadn’t slept well, felt very crappy and sorting out the contents was just the sort of meditative task I needed. It was a huge tangled bag of mostly tapestry thread but also crewel yarn, perle cotton and stranded cotton. Some was precut into lengths, some precut and clearly from kits, some still in skeins with labels and some not, and lots of lengths from several meters to a cm long. There was even a few scraps of knitting yarn in there. It was like somebody had thrown someone’s entire collection of embroidery yarn into a bag, including the contents of a bin.

The stranded cottons were all precut lengths with no labels so I added them to my collection. The perle cotton and crewel thread was too, so I tied the cotton together and the thread was knotted onto a metal ring.

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Of the tapestry thread, there were several brands including some very old skeins, of which most had felted. I packed most of the tapestry thread into a basket with the ends showing so I can see all the colours.

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I left out the oldest stuff and a group of unlabelled yarn that appeared to be thinner than the rest. The old, felted yarns I started to weave on my Knitters Loom (more on that soon).

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The thinner I started nalbinding (another post will cover this).

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Tapestry Rescue

Last year Paul needed round frames for his Batchelor of Photography project. The only ones he could find were frames for clocks or old embroideries. I put the de-framed embroideries aside, thinking that I’d repurpose them.

Recently I took them out and considered what I could make out of them. We already have more than enough art, prints, clocks and whacky stuff on our walls. Pillows seemed the obvious answer for the four matching outback Australia scenes.

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If I simply added a back to them to make circular pillows, they’d be a bit small, so I decided to insert them into squares. Rather than try to sew a seam around the ‘hole’ they’d go into, I bought felt, which wouldn’t fray therefore wouldn’t need a seam.

That leaves me with one last round tapestry, this time with a more ‘English’ colour scheme. I’m thinking of trimming top and bottom and making a clutch.

What would you do with old circular tapestries?

Bigger Bargello

A friend gave me some canvas for stitching tapestry last year, and then a book on Bargello embroidery. (Thanks again, Elaine!) I bought some tapestry thread to try on it, in a gradient of greys and another of blues.

I had this beside my tv watching armchair for a month or so, and finished it a few weeks ago.

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The canvas and yarn work well for Bargello. The vertical lines on the canvas show through lighter colours, which isn’t a huge problem because now I know they do, I can paint over them before beginning.

The pattern was fun to stitch but the result is rather uninspiring. I have no idea why I decided to buy a gradient of grey. How boring! But it’s just a test piece. Next I want to buy a whole lot of different colours and do something much brighter. And curvier rather than zig-zag.

I have heaps of this canvas, and the finer stuff I used for my earlier samplers is very expensive, so I’m thinking I’ll stick to using it and start hunting through op shops and ebay for people’s leftover tapestry yarn. It’ll be cheaper and I like the idea of letting what colours I find influence the design.

Textile Bazaar 2016

I just realised I haven’t shown off my purchases from the Textile Bazaar a few weeks back. Well, here they are:

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Two temples, one handmade ($5) one manufactured ($25). Both are too big for the pinwheel tea towels, which I need one for, so I was going to cut the handmade one down to fit. But it turns out to be a good size for if I weave the full width of the floor loom, so I decided to keep it as it is and have ordered a smaller temple.

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I bought this book for $1. There was a bit of a crush by the book bins, so I didn’t take a close look until later. It is hilarious.

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All I can see is a Hypnofrog eye, or if I turn them 90 degrees, the Eye of Sauron.

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A friend who likes sharks was rather intrigued by this one.

The technical information is useful, however, and I do like the idea of breaking free of convention. But maybe more along the lines of less rigidly symmetrical stripes and zig-zags or kaleidoscope-like patterns.

I also bought some 8/2 cotton and a skein of thicker orange cotton, but they’ve already disappeared into the stash.

Traveller Pendant

This was the craft project I took along on our trip to Norway and Denmark. It’s a line from a poem by J. R. R. Tolkien. I finished it just before the last weekend.

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It’s a bit wonky, but I don’t mind too much. Stitching on trains and planes, with low lighting as well as constant rocking and shaking doesn’t make for neat stitches.

I’d also taken some small pieces of felt and a vague idea about stitching circles onto black cloth. But the tiny pair of scissors in my travel embroidery kit are really only good for snipping thread. Cutting neat circles was not going to happen. That was okay – by then I had nalbinding to do!

Black Rose Red Cardigan

You might remember this cardigan that I embellished a while back:

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Well, I had another. A red one. I wanted to embroider roses all over the front. I drew a design based on a single line quilting pattern but worked out pretty quickly that it was going to be hard on the hands and back and take forever. So I simplified the pattern a great deal, and came up with this:

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Which I’m pretty happy with. I also changed the buttons over to black ones.

Blackwork… Bookmark?

I like the look of blackwork, so I really, really wanted to like doing it. However, I only kinda sorta didn’t mind it when there was nothing else to do, so after I’d finished one row of the sampler, I decided that was it.

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The decision became easier because I’d really enjoyed the Bargello samplers. I have no idea why they were so much fun, but the blackwork didn’t thrill me. It’s not a matter of colour vs black, because I’ve embroidered black before and liked it. It’s not that the final result is something useful or not, because I figure the blackwork can become a bookmark whereas I have no idea what to do with the Bargello. Both are ‘counted’ work on a mesh. Both are graphic rather than representational. They take about the same time to do.

The only difference I can see is that I need a stretcher for the blackwork, and it was finer work. Maybe I’d like it better if I used aida cloth with bigger squares and ditched the stretcher?

Hmm. I think I’ll have to give that a try!

Bargello Nostalgia

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Back when I was a kid and I tried countless different crafts, I preferred the kind of embroidery that used a canvas or grid, like cross-stitch and tapestry. I’m not sure if I tried Bargello, or even if I liked the way it looks, but I was aware of it and remember vividly how it looks.

When I bought some wool embroidery yarn recently I thought I might try Bargello, but I couldn’t find the right kind of canvas. Then a friend generously gave me a roll (thanks Elaine!). It’s double thread canvas, not single as the few instructions I’ve dug up on Bargello say to use, but I figured it might do anyway. However, the spacing was too wide for the thread I had.

When I went in person to Morris & Sons to buy thicker thread I discovered they had single thread canvas, which doesn’t show up on their online store. (Annoying that, as it meant I didn’t know they sold it.) That canvas was much finer, but the retors a broder thread I’ve bought on eBay works like a charm.

So I’ve been Bargello-ing of an evening, in front of the tv, after using Google images to find patterns I like. A few days ago I finished:

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It’s funny, though. When I search on Google Images for Bargello or Florentine Work (which is the same, or similar) I get as many, if not more, pics of quilts as of embroidery. There’s plenty of Bargello-insired quilting out there, but not so much embroidery.

I like that it looks a bit like marbling, or woven undulating twill. And the illusion of three dimensions. And the potential to have fun with colour. I don’t know yet what I’ll make from the samples. Maybe little zipper pouches. I’m just enjoying the process.

Fast & Not So Fabulous

What was new and very fascinating to learn from the books and articles I read was this idea of ‘fast fashion’. It shocked me that I hadn’t noticed the huge shift in how garment retailers operate, though on reflection I had picked up on most of the signs. What I’d noticed was this:

Clothing is the same price, if not cheaper, than it was in the 80s.
Quality is more uneven and more often worse than better.
T-shirt material keeps getting thinner. Sometimes practically see-through.
Shops are having sales more often than not having sales.
Designs don’t stick around for a whole season, so if you go back for something chances are it isn’t available any more.
More clothing is made from polyester.

It turns out brands don’t release new clothes in seasons anymore. Instead they’ve shortened the time between new styles arriving in stores to weeks, even days. All three books pointed to Zara, a Spanish company, for introducing this system. They have basic full or partial garments made up in ‘greige’ somewhere like Bangladesh and air freighted closer to their distribution centre in Europe, so they can be dyed, finished and embellished according to phoned-in observations of on-the-ground trend reporters, and delivered in store in as short a time as possible.

Of course, that means that the foundation garments are essentially the same. What changes is the easy stuff like colour and embellishment. What doesn’t change that much is fabric and more dramatic cut and shape. Clothes are only in stores for a month or so before they’re removed, so it encourages shoppers to drop in regularly. And they do – two to three times more often.

Though it doesn’t seem like it would, this system reduces the amount of stock that doesn’t sell. For a fast rotation of styles to work means the clothes must be incredibly cheap. With or without it, clothing prices have been on a race to the bottom for a few decades now, and that means a generation has grown up thinking unsustainably low prices are normal, and the rest of us have assumed the old ‘high’ prices were due to brands taking a huge profit.

Interestingly, high-end fashion prices have been rising as dramatically as cheap ones have dropped. What has suffered is mid-priced, good quality fashion. Part of the reason for that is that garment manufacturers in developed countries survive by specialising in high-end product, while those in developing countries aren’t interested in the smaller order sizes that mid-priced brand require. This also means that new designers find it very hard to get a foothold in the industry.

And then there’s the fact that most shoppers can’t see the value in the more expensive garment and are confused by the fact that the same garment can cost more in a middle-sized chain simple because of the economies of scale – smaller garment manufacturing orders cost more per piece than big ones. Shoppers have lost the ability to identify quality, let alone value it. Even judging the quality of cloth by thickness is no guarantee, because additives can add a quarter of the thickness to it, only to be removed on the first wash. Most of all, having never made a garment or watched a parent or grandparent make one, young buyers don’t see the work that goes into making clothes or recognise the details that indicate good workmanship.

While fabric production and cutting can be done by machine, the making up of garments still relies on people. Large-scale production favours a system where each worker does one small task, so the training they get is only good for them getting the same king of job. Fancy design requires training or more skilled and expensive workers, so garments are designed with simple construction. This system has put countless skilled tailors out of work, in both the developed and developing world, and led to the dumbing down of fashion styling.

It raises the question: what price do you put on innovation and skill?

That’s the irony in the current way we buy clothes. It’s called ‘fast fashion’ to imply you are keeping up with on the minute trends, but it has made this era’s mainstream clothing more homogeneous and less adventurous.

Little wonder, then, that vintage and charity shopping has become so popular. Though that is facing it’s own problems… but I think that’ll have to be another post.