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.

Cheesecloth Top

This top began life like this:

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At the time I was hand sewing clothing, as I hadn’t got over the aversion to sewing I’d had since my mid 20s. I never wore the top. Earlier this year I made a few adjustments to make this:

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Better, but a little plain. I needed something simple to do while watching tv. Inspired by Rebecca Ringquist’s book and kantha embroidery, I stitched lines of running stitch, using up lots of leftover floss.

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Simple. Fun. Flattering. Only problem is, now I need another easy project to do while watching tv.

Yarn Dessert

Weaving yarn isn’t the only kind I’ve been stashing. I’ve also been buying embroidery yarns from eBay.

First up was a batch of wool.

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I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make out of it, but when it arrived I got a wave of nostalgia, remembering how I use to do bargello work when I was a teen. However, I don’t have any canvas, I’m not sure what size to get to go with the yarn, and embroidery shops don’t appear to stock it.

Then there was some retors a broder/coton a broder:

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I’d read about it on embroidery blogs, but never seen it. After finding a skein in an op shop I went hunting on eBay. There didn’t appear to be any available in Australia, but I recognised the labels on a batch listed as tapestry thread, and more research told me that Anchor ‘soft cotton’ was the same or very similar.

Again, I’m not 100% sure what I’ll make from it yet, but I’ve read that it was better than using the full six strands of stranded cotton, as you don’t get loose strands from them being snagged when pulled through the cloth. I can see that being helpful when doing tambour embroidery.

Stitchy Gift

While I was crafting around work in Ballarat last month I listened to a few podcasts. One was the Craft Sanity podcast, and I particularly enjoyed the interview with Rebecca Ringquist. So when I saw her book in a shop I suggested Paul get it for me for Christmas.

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I listened to the interview at a point where I was assessing my own interest in embroidery – and craft in general – and a quick look at the book in the shop told me it was something I needed to read, rather than simply for project inspiration and instruction.

You see, while I don’t necessarily want to produce the style of embroidery Rebecca makes in this book, it’s more a book about an approach to embroidery than making the example projects. It says it’s “a ‘bend-the-rules’ primer”, and that’s what I’m after.

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When I look at what I’ve enjoyed and succeeded in making with embroidery so far, a few common elements emerge. When the projects have been small, they’ve been detailed and precise. When they’ve been larger, they’ve been looser and more about texture and colour than representation.

I feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m not working on something useful. That is, either embellishing a garment or bag, or making jewellery. The few times I’ve made artwork, it’s either been intensely personal (the cats) or I’ve intended to make it into something eventually even if I don’t yet know what. While Rebecca suggests letting go of the notion of the piece having a purpose, I’ve recognised that for me that is a creativity-blocker. I’m the same with colouring books. Only when I turned the pages into greeting cards did I enjoy colouring them.

You see, we have so much artwork already that I freeze in horror at the thought of accumulating more.

Time seems to be an cause of me losing interest, as well. The books I write, the portraits I paint, and the sort of weaving I’m exploring now tend to take a long time, on a scale of months to years. I acknowledged years ago that I need some of the craft I do to provide quick satisfaction. Not necessarily instant, but a scale of days and weeks would be nice. And sometimes I have no energy for thought and planning, and it’s good to be able to pick up something and just stitch.

So I’m looking for embroidery projects that are reasonably fast, that can be done in front of the tv or fit in my handbag for waiting rooms and airport lounges, and that has a use at the end. And aren’t old fashioned or twee.

That pretty much eliminates most designs on the market.

I’m happy to design my own projects, but that does require some thought and planning. However, Rebecca’s approach also appeals because it has a freeform spirit to it. Just take a thing and embellish it. Doodle with stitches. Enjoy texture and colour and accident. I love how she says don’t bother fixing a mistake, just stitch over it. And I love her for saying it’s okay to use knots. Honestly, I’ve been hung up on the whole ‘to knot, or not to knot’ question for ages, because I don’t want to put a whole lot of work into embellishing a garment only to have the ends come loose in the wash. Rebecca even suggests putting the knots on the front of the work. I love that!

So I wrote in my visual diary a list of likes and dislikes:

Likes:
The textural look of kantha and boro
The enhancing of fabric in sashiko and kogin
The simplicity of stitch in tambour and blackwork
The modern look of ‘new’ crewel and the colour in ethnic embroidery
Unconventional materials and scale, as in stitching greeting cards or giant cross stitch.
And, conversely, finer and realistic work if it’s tiny, as in jewellery
Fast projects
Portable projects
Projects with no use
Using no hoop

Dislikes:
Fussy, precise work
Traditional and old fashioned (unless subverted)
Twee
Collage-like overly busy work
Slow projects
Cumbersome projects
Artwork
Worrying about knots

Since then I’ve looked in my wardrobe, gone through my old sketchbook, and peered at my to-do list, considering what I could stitch. I’m looking at long delayed sewing projects with fresh enthusiasm, if they provide opportunity for embellishment. And that’s led to some pattern purchasing, downloading, and printing – and planning a sewing day.

Crafty plans for 2016 are well underway.

Cardy Embellishment I

I finished this project the night before NYE.

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At the beginning of last year I bought two cashmere cardigans to wear while overseas – one purple, one red. I took the purple cardy overseas. It served it’s purpose as a layering garment. But while I love the colour of both cardys, they’re rather boring. I’ve always intended to embellish them.

For the purple one I wanted to do some embroidery, but every time I put needle and thread to it the result was disappointing, or the method was too slow or hard on my hands. Eventually I tried chain stitch with thin grey weaving yarn and liked it.

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For the red one I want to do black roses. I bought gauzy ribbon sewn into roses, black velvet ribbon and other trim, and pinned it to the cardy on the dress model, but didn’t find a design I liked. Now I know chain stitch works well, I think I’ll use it and black wool yarn instead.

The Third Ten

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For a few evenings I had fun choosing and stitching buttons onto cards. That evolved into using bright embroidery thread to sew them on, then to mixing embroidery and buttons, then to all embroidery, then to string art inspired designs.

This one took a while, but I had someone in mind for it.

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If you look closely, you can see he has a gold tooth.