Embroidery Feed

Stitching Stories

There is a wonderful post on friend Pam's blog about an exhibition she saw at the Adelaide Art Gallery in South Australia.  This exhibition is work of the Yarrenyty Arltere women. I was so taken by their work this sent me looking for their web and facebook pages so that I could learn more.

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source: facebook

These women come from Alice Springs so they are desert people.  There are lots of wonderful artists out there but this is the first time I have seen indigenous women stitching.  They not only stitch but they use old blankets that they dye with natural dyes first as their base cloth. 

Having lived in Arnhem Land I really appreciate the humour that is distinctly theirs and I can imagine those women stitching and laughing at their own work.  I love the thoughts of this artist who has given her pieces two heads because she has two thoughts in her head at the same time, should she stitch but she would like to go into town as well!  I felt exactly the same hanging out the washing and thinking I should be hosing the garden and was pulled between the two.

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The other thing that struck me was how much they like stitching for exactly the same reasons we like stitching but they are far more insightful about their experience.  Marlee Rubuntja says:

In 2009 I came to the art centre, I thought , I'll try this. And now I come everyday. Then I got strong for this art centre, I love this art. In 2009 I didn't see properly what was happening, how this art was getting me strong. In my head and heart I grew all these ideas and I started  feeling well again. Now I feel like a strong woman, I like talking for this place, this art because I want others to be encouraged to get strong also. When we first started sewing we were in kindergarten, then we started focusing properly and moving to primary school, then high school then university- and now I'm waiting to be a professor of sewing! Look out world, I might sew Parliament House!!

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source: http://www.yarrenytyarltereartists.com/artists#/marlene/

Thinking about the  week 1 TAST challenge this section of stitching using just running stitch an old dyed wool blanket and wool yarn, that looks like it comes from Lindcraft or Spotlight, is inspirational.

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This may not be wise?

I have decided to add a new piece of stitching to that great bundle that I already have in progress and I know this may not be a wise thing to do.  My reason for doing it is that I want something that I can just pick up and take with me to Guild stitching days.  One of the members, Katherine, has a piece of cross stitch that she just stitches on meeting days.  I thought I would take a leaf out of her book.  So I have decided to take part in the  Mystery SAL that is being run by Jacob through his blog at Modern Folk Embroidery. 

I have bought the first pattern, for the princely sum of .75p, "The four seasons - A Primitive Quaker year", and am now preparing the fabric and thread.

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Just to be a bit different, and because I have the fabric sitting in the draw, I have decided to use a dyed 32 count linen that I bought some time ago and I have also decided to use silk thread.  Another of those "it may not be wise" decisions.

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The thread is from Kaalund Yarns and comes in 12 strands.  I thought 2 strands might not give me the coverage I want but after stitching a few stitches with 3 strands then some with 2 strands, I think the 2 strands is the way to go. 

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 There is 10 metres on a skein of the silk.  The instructions say I need 180metres of stranded thread or 17.5 to 22.5 skeins of DMC stranded cotton.  I think I can get away with 3 skeins of the silk but had better buy 4 or 5 of the same dye lot.  Oh dear, the thread is going to be expensive!

This is going to be a big piece, 70cm X 50cm.  Now I just have to wait for the shops to re-open to buy the thread.

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Thoughts on stitching in 2018

I see that Sharron has put up a piece about TAST in 2018 and I think that I will join the "Beyond TAST Challenge."

I first started with TAST back in 2009 but didn't get very far.  It wasn't until 2011 that I became serious about exploring the stitches and made sure that I did a piece every week.  It was a great learning experience, not so much in learning new stitches but in exploring what I could do with those stitches.

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In the past I have used this exercise to build a folio of what I can do with certain stitches but this time I think I will used this activity to design embroidered boxes.  I have been looking at a number of French blogs that have featured embroidered boxes and I like the work of Lea Stansal and wonder if I couldn't take this in another direction.

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Or I could play it safe and work on a fabric book.  I think it will be boxes.  I will have to look at the challenge first me thinks!


When I was researching ideas for the next Children's Class at the Guild I had to make sure I didn't  come up with a design like someone else.  You would be surprised how many times this happens.  Maybe our brain stores things we have seen and we think they are our own ideas?  Anyway, I found lots of good ideas and people had printed their own fabric using pineapples as well.

I had to design some thing that young children could stitch, many of whom will never have stitched before, yet still have some challenge for my older students.

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I thought I would share some of those research ideas that got me to that point with you.  (These are all from Pinterest.)

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 You never knew there were so many variations on a pineapple ?   I am working on another one for my "Exploring More Stitches Class".





The joys of technology

I had to buy a new printer when I got home from overseas.  The other one just gave up and it was only about 18 months old.  This time I bought a Canon .  It isn't nearly as bulky and doesn't take up too much room on the desk but the inks cost a bomb.  I have just finished printing all the instructions for the next Children's Class and need to get more ink already.  First quotes cost more than the printer.

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My other problem is linking it to my old PC.  Why do I still have a PC you ask when I have the latest Apple desk top?  Well it runs my embroidery design program.  You can still buy the program but it works on an old operating system.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 6.57.56 am Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 6.57.01 amThe latest printers work on Windows 10 and everyone is supposed to be up to speed.  It took me half a day trying to get a connection before I worked this out.  My husband has an old printer down in his office so now I am running up and down 2 flights of stairs to get a print out.
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I am working on a new design for a Kogin class for 2018 and would really like it finished this week if possible.  I did have one win though.  I found that the new fabric box I made as a prototype holds my Kogin threads perfectly.




I have started to restitch the October Peace embroidery.  Hopefully the stitching will be straightforward with no problems.  This photo isn't the best I'm afraid.  I took it on my phone.  It is just too much trouble to get the big camera unpacked.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 8.54.05 pmI am stitching this in one strand of DMC stranded cotton.  I must say that I am really enjoying stitching it and am not sure why.  With this finished I still have another 2 to designs to stitch before the end of the year to reach my goal.  Hope I make it.

And if you don't subscribe to Jacob over at "Modern Folk Embroidery"  he is putting up some free cross stitch patterns and other tips to celebrate Xmas.

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Weaving and embroidery

My visit to Guatemala was a bit like stepping out of the Tardis into another time zone. 

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The skills of people there is  from a time long past in our Western Culture.   I wondered why it was the women who mainly carried on these skills and kept their traditions?   Our guide explained that the country had gone through a 36 year civil war, fueled by a number of different powers.  The CIA from the USA, Castro from Cuba and local people who saw it as an opportunity to increase their power.  The result of this was that a lot of the Mayan men were killed.  You could be killed for wearing Mayan native dress, so the men stopped wearing it.  That their culture has survived at all is remarkable considering the ethnic cleansing and killing that went on during that time.

But it does continue on and says a lot about the people, especially the women.  Some of the blouses, or hupils, they wear look embroidered but they are actually a hand woven brocade.  This piece that I purchased from a second hand market is an example of a brocade. The joins at the centre is embroidered, the rest of the design is woven.  And, they memorise these patterns.  The counting involved must drive them crazy.  This is how brocade was made before machines.  No wonder it was so expensive and prized and the weavers praised for their skills. 

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These skills were highly prized in Western Culture, starting about Byzantine times (it's use in Mayan culture predates this by thousands of years), and because the textiles were so expensive their distribution and access to the skill was controlled by those in power right up to the 1700,s.  In 1804 Joseph Jacquard invented a machine that could be attached to a power loom and since then hand woven brocade has virtually disappeared from our culture.  I saw one of these machines on display in Lyon, France years ago.

This hupil that I also purchased second hand, is embroidered.  That is, the fabric is woven and then the design added with needle and thread.


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It must have been stitched some time after 1950 because there is quite a bit of lurex thread being used.   Mayan women 'love' glitter.

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Outside one of the churches in Chichicastinango

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I found a woman drawing the designs, free hand, onto fabric for embroiderers to add their threads.

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 6.54.56 amI also found some pre-printed designs in a shop in the market.

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This video from You Tube details the making of a hupil over 90 days.  It has been filmed in the very places I  have just visited and shows in detail the whole process.  The shop where Manuela buys her threads is the same shop where I bought mine and the Textile Museum is the same one where I watched this young woman warp up her loom.

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If you want to see a more in-depth explanation of weaving and embroidery in Mayan culture there is an excellent documentary called "Century of Color: Maya Weaving & Textiles (English)"  It is nearly an hour in length and is very comprehensive in it's coverage of the topic.                                                                                                                                                                                                         Now it is time to step back into my imaginary time machine.  I need to return to today's world and pick up the threads of my life again.  I wonder if Dr Who and his time travellers felt like I do now?  A bit of regret at leaving, excitement at my return, nostalga about what was.  But now the future calls.




















Spinning and weaving

After viewing an exhibition in Canberra a couple of years ago I was alerted to the range of wonderful weaving from South America.  So, I embarked on this last trip a bit more prepared for what I would be looking at.  What I hadn't prepared for was how all pervasive it is in the lives of some women in the Mayan culture.

By the time a girl from a family who weaves is in her teens she is an accomplished spinner with the hand spindle.  This young girl uses a clay dish to spin the base of the spindle.   The thread she is spinning is fine and even and the process is automatic.  She has done it so often she isn't even thinking about it. 

Traditionally, a baby girl, at about 3 weeks of ago, is taken by the midwife to be bathed in a kind of sweat lodge.  The mother will give the midwife her baby daughter's weaving instruments, all minature in size.  This will include strands of thread,  a tiny loom, scissors, basket and needle.  The mid wife then performs a ceremony in which she opens the infants hands and passes each instrument over them.  She prays that the child will become a very good weaver and maintain the ancient weaving arts that have been passed down her maternal line for thousands of years.  But this work is difficult and time consuming.  It takes 3 months to weave a intricate blouse and many young people do not continue the tradition.  Cheap western clothing from Goodwill shops have flooded the markets and are readily available.

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Two kinds of cotton are grown.  I have never seen this brown variety before.

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However both varieties require a lot of preparation to get them ready for spinning.  All the seeds have to be manually picked out and there are a lot of seeds.  Then the fibre is teased out and spread on the small women mats.  The mats are a bit larger than an A4 piece of paper but not as big as an A 3.  Those mats are beautifully woven. Then the fibre is beaten for about 2 hours to remove any other foreign materials and soften it for spinning.  (I got lost about the removing the seeds stage.  It is so difficult!)

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The next stage is the dying of the yarn.  We spent some time with a women's co-operative and they explained how they dyed their yarn.  They only use natural dyes and the magic ingredient is the chopped up banana leaves which they add to the dye pot to set the dye.   First they boil the leaves for 2 - 3 hours then soak the thread in the liquid to prepare them for dyeing.  The dye doesn't run and even using indigo dyes there is no staining on the hands.  I have my eyes set on my friends banana trees after the next crop is harvested just to see what I can do.

Some of the dyes they obtain are:

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They also used crushed insects to get their purple colour.

Walking around the cop-op I found a whole collection of cushions that had been repurposed from discarded hupils, (blouses.)  Some lovely embroidery ideas here.

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They  call this "Rococco work".   Looks like lots of bullion knots to me!

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And it was every where and there was a hug spread of embroidery skills on display. Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 11.05.46 am
They work their embroidery on a frame.

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There were so many different embroideries and weaving designs that I could never post them all here but I hope to use them as inspiration for some other designs.








I got it bit carried away with the threads

I bought a lot of threads while I was away.  Starting in the USA where I was seduced by the Wonderfil stand at the Houston show.  I like this thread for use on the sewing machine.  My Bernina dealer has a limited range and I normally wait for the quilt shows in Brisbane to stock up.  This stall had the lot including some lovely colour in Perle 8.  After I bought it I realised that it is Sue Sprago's thread.  There is 5 grams on each ball and I don't see it on her web page so it must be new.  I also bought some of the Eleganza thread.

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Then I really got carried away in Guatemala.  Starting with the cotton threads.  It is the colours that did it.

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This thread is just a little thicker than 1 strand of stranded cotton and it has a slightly higher twist. (The white thread is the stranded cotton.)  I have no idea how it will work in an embroidery but if it doesn't suit I can make tons of tassels.

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Then there was the silk threads.  (I did test it to see if it was rayon but no, it was silk.)   Again, wonderful colours, but no twist to the thread.

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I'm not sure how I will use this.

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Then there were a couple of boxes of Perle 8, 5 grams in each spool at about $1 per spool..  And I love these colours.

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My Turkish thread has 8 grams on each spool ($3.50) and DMC  ($8.99) and Anchor ($10)  have 10gs on theirs so the Guatemalan thread was a lot cheaper.

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The other thread I bought is used for weaving Ikats.  It is dyed then ove-rdyed after the pattern is selected.  They place the thread on a frame and then tie one of the about 10 different squences that are used.

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When the ties are removed from the black the pink colour will show through in bands.

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The woven piece will look something like this,

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I have no idea what the result will be if I use it for embroidery.  Lots of adventures ahead here.







Jet lagged

Well I'm home again after my month on the road.  I'm tired and a bit jet-lagged and my mind is full of all the sights, sounds and experiences of the last 4 weeks.  I have to sort through all my notes, organise my photos and get all the information into some sort of order so that I can move on.

So what was the one most outstanding event of the trip?  Well there were so many that it is hard to pick but I personally liked meeting the Embroideress in the markets at Solola, Guatamala.  I saw lots of women who spun and wove but she was one of the few I found who stitched. I saw lots of embroidered garments and there were lots of women buying threads and patterns but she was the only one actually stitching.  Her long hair was wrapped with ribbons and lace and she was beautiful.

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There she was in the market and as an embroiderer I appreciated the skill with which she plied her needle.  All of the hand woven fabrics are produced from back-strap looms.  This means that there really isn't enough width to the fabric to construct a garment.  So traditionally this was overcome by embroidering lengths together.  (The same as you see with faggoting.)

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They use a frame which is about 1" in depth and the tension is balanced by a spring, rather than tightened with a screw in the European way.  The needle is huge by our standard but the fabric they embroiderer on is a lot thicker than what we are used to.  In the past the best garments were embroidered with silk but commercial rayon thread is used a lot today.

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The stitching that she was engaged in was for the traditional skirt.  I bought a second hand fabric length stitched in this same manner.

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Although this piece had been stitched with cotton thread.  The different patterns used today have become somewhat of a fashion statement with the women and all the different groups use different patterns.  When you see the finished pieces on display, like those in the image below, it is easy to forget that a woman, like my embroideress, actually sat and stitched them.

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I found that the quality of the embroidery was far better in the older pieces of work and I fear that as technology and the Western world influences the Mayan culture hand embroidery will be replaced by the machine and people like my embroideress will fade away and no longer be part of this rich culture.