Completed embroidery! Jacobean Crewelwork at the Royal School of Needlework

I finished module 1! It took a year, but that’s no bad thing seeing as I can’t afford to do this course any faster. At a grand per module I’d be crazy not to take my time.

I had to use up a little of my first class of the next module just to get the mounting done, but that doesn’t seem to matter. The mounting is meticulous, involving cutting board to size, covering it with calico (glued down on the reverse), pulling the work taut over the board and herringbone stitching it to the calico, then carefully slip stitching a piece of cotton sateen over the ugly bits.

General opinion on mounting seemed to be one of passionate hatred, but to be honest I really didn’t mind doing it at all! It does take a while, but then so does the stitching and at the end of the day I’m there for the express purpose of doing lengthy, hands-on tasks. (Apparently assessment is very strict on this element though, so I might be humming a different tune when I’ve been marked down for not smoothing my pin holes to complete invisibility, or some other trifle.)

mount board with glued calico and herringbone stitched exbroidery piece

slip stitching sateen to finish the mounting

In general I’m pleased with the finished product. No, the design isn’t what I’d have gone for given a totally free reign, but the brief was very tight and I do think I’ve managed to maintain at least a little of my own style.

Below are some closer detail photos with a brief description of the stitches shown…

jacobean crewelwork monkey

Padded satin monkey, with whipped backstitch feet, long and short face, bullion knot ears, turkey rug hair and a bunch of french knot grapes. Upper part of the trunk is in burden stitch, lower part is chain.

jacobean crewelwork monkey tail

Pearl stitch monkey tail, with chain stitch and burden trunk sections.

jacobean crewelwork berry

Long and short leaves at the top of the berry, laid work inside, outlined with couching.

jacobean crewelwork berry detail

Laidwork, long and short and couching.

IMG_jacobean crewelwork big grapes

Whipped and woven wheel grapes, stem stitch vine and french knot stump top.

jacobean crewelwork grapes

Chain stitch vines, french knot grapes, chain and burden stitch trunk sections.

jacobean crewelwork trunk

Lower left section of trunk is block shading, central section is heavy chain, regular chain on the right side. Raised stem band vine. Stem stitch and french knots in the trunk detail.

jacobean crewelwork leaf

jacobean crewelwork leaf detail

Outer leaf with stem stitch outline, running stitch and french knots at edge. Van Dyke, cretan and fishbone teardrops inside, filled with seed stitch. Inner area in trellis with contrasting pips.Buttonhole stitch at top.

All these new stitches have been really inspiring and I definitely want to make more interesting personal projects now. I’ve already made a tropically-themed felt brooch for the office summer party which made it clear how this course has given my stuff a real boost! I love seeing contemporary crafters, and artists for that matter, using embroidery to produce subversive and modern work, but nine times out of ten I’m disappointed by the naivety of the craftsmanship – just because something’s witty doesn’t mean it can’t be well founded. If there’s one thing I’ll be taking away from this it’s that the supposedly dying art of traditional embroidery can be enormously versatile and it’s a shame that so many young and enthused crafters are peaking at a cross-stitch with a bit a swearing in it. Push the envelope guys! Throw a bit of Van Dyke in there :)

embroidered felt brooch, Lilt coctail can

Summer’s coming, look dressy.

I literally can’t stop thinking about dresses – 50’s dresses; denim dresses; the sort of long, gathered, tiered dresses that one might wear to skip through a meadow of dappled sunlight – I want to make them all! And I will… Or maybe more accurately, I will start making them and then find that work gets busy again and they get abandoned, facing- and hem- less, to be left in the box until this annual feeling comes around again. Aspirational Summer Dress time.

rough sketch double wrapping dress

I have started off with this one. Let’s get one thing straight from the offset: no this dress is not based on the one from the Sewing Bee. Also, no I do not watch the Sewing Bee.

I’ve had a double wrapping dress for years which came from Hobbs and which I love, despite it looking pretty severely mummsy. And now I find myself in a summer-dressy mood! So I thought I’d make my own version. I drafted the pattern digitally at work for this one, rather than basing it off a commercial pattern. I temporarily borrowed our shift dress block, updated it for my body measurements and then used it as a starting point for my new design. For those of you that are interested, the image below shows this dress pattern as it appears on screen in the Lectra CAD software, which has all manner of scintillating functions so help make pattern cutting quicker, more accurate and (theoretically!) easier than doing it manually. Other CAD programmes are available.

Lectra screen grab double wrap dress pattern

At this point in time I have made a rough toile for fitting. I wasn’t long enough in the back bodice for me, and I had to tweak a few bit here and there, but by and large it was good!

Double wrap dress toile back double wrap dress toile front

I work predominantly with knitwear, which often doesn’t involve a pattern from me at all, let alone one with all the bells and whistles. So I love doing things like this for myself because it really helps to keep my head in the game professionally! Here I’ve made facing and lining pieces as well as the shell pattern. The lining is a bit of educated guesswork – last time I lined a garment it was a jacket which requires excess volume specifically placed to allow for movement, but a sleeveless dress is a different animal. I made a second toile of the top part just to check I remembered what a lining was and how it worked:

facing and lining front wrap dress toile

I have placed the darts differently in the lining than on the outer to reduce the bulk where all those layers would stack up, and I think it’s going to be fine. I’m actually going to take my time sewing this one but the pattern would be just as nice without lining or facing, as a quick-sew item with bright binding on the edges and length of bought ribbon for the tie. I might give that a go next time, especially if I can find something drapey and non-iron which would look great straight out of a backpack.

printed dress fabric

This fabric was from the January sale at John Lewis, Oxford Street. They had dozens and dozens of beautiful prints reduced this time. I didn’t stop at the one chunk, there are two more pieces waiting in the wings.

I fancy a really full skirt in this geometric / mandala print. I’ve started drafting a pattern which will be almost two circles, so it will wind up super swirly and voluminous. It does mean that the hem will be over 7m all around, I just hope it’s not insanely heavy and puts extreme tension on the tight circle at the waist edge.

two circle skirt geometric print dress fabric

If the double wrap dress comes out nicely I think I’ll do another in denim or chambray with a gathered skirt. And as my crewelwork module at the RSN will be over this month I’m thinking about putting my skills to use, embroidering some big, bright birds onto it. There’s something very 70’s about embroidery in wool on garments, especially around a neckline, and I like it! I’ve got a little swatch of nice chambray from the Cloth House to do a few practice stitches on, when I get a chance.

Oh, and also, I finished the baby socks my friend had ordered :) I’m really chuffed with the stamps! Will have three pairs to go on the Etsy shop soon…

baby socks

More crewelwork – class 6 of 8

I’m six days in to the eight day module. Still really enjoying myself :) and yeah, I have done so much sewing that my fingernails hurt, but as I wandered back towards the palace after getting my lunch, stuffing a brilliant mozzarella and chorizo panini in my face and revelling in the February sunshine, I thought ‘fucking hell, this is better than being at work’.

Today I have done three new stitches for three big sections, which is great because I really need to make strides here! I finished off the laid work section for the berry-thing on the right hand side, so I could move on to the long-and-short for the top sections (…sepals, possibly?! I did biology A-level, believe it or not! I’m sure I have more plant knowledge than I’m currently using). Long-and-short was really tough, by far the hardest bit so far, but I’m quite pleased with the results…

Split stitch outline on the external lines of the area: long and short embroidery split stitch

Long and short stitches in the darkest shade: long and short crewelwork embroidery

Additional rows in graduating lighter shades: crewelwork shading with wool

Moving on to the next section, working from background forward: petal shading embroidery wool

And it’s current state! After the centre section I’ll add the lightest pink shade to the top: long and short stitch embroidery

After that I covered the big trellis section on the left hand side, which is super satisfying in both speed and geometry. It’s a double grid with little circles to anchor it which I’m calling ‘pips’ although I’m not sure that’s the official term. Stages as follows… First lines, along the direction of the twill: trellis stitching first layer

Second lines, at right angles to the first, at a distance to make perfect squares: trellis stitching second layer

Third and fourth layers, in a darker shade, crossing every other row of diamonds already laid down: trellis stitching top layers

And finally the pips, little circles running under the first layers and over the top ones to pull the lighter shade to the front: trellis embroidery stitch with pips

And to finish the day I did the first of 9 wheels, which will form a bunch of grapes at the bottom left of the design. These will be shaded within each wheel, and also gradually get lighter towards the bottom of the bunch… woven wheel crewel embroidery

And so this is the current state! Lots more to get through but it’s coming on…

jacobean crewelwork royal school of needlework certificate day 6

Inescapable Christmas crafting

I’m fully in the swing of it now! It’s definitely Christmas time and I am off work for what will be my longest festive vacation in 6 years. So of course I mostly want to do crafts – while everyone else is still slogging their guts out in the office I want to be making chocolates and sticking wash tape to anything that stays still long enough.

We adopted a cat by accident the other night. He followed Lucy to our door when she came home but she sensibly encouraged him to stay outside and told him to trot off to his own home. When  I came home from my office party at 1am, not exactly stone-cold sober, he followed me too. And I was couldn’t resist ushering the fuzzy little guy in :) So we kept Fluffy Knickers for the night, like having a pretend cat family of our own, and it was great! But now the flat feels still and boring with just us and the hedgehog, who is a terrible, angry, smelly pet. I hope Fluffy has hung out with lots of our neighbours, just popping in for a cuddle and a bit of festive cheer.

But when I’ve not been stealing other people’s cats this weekend I have been busy in the kitchen, making gingerbread chocolate truffles. I’ve tried this recipe before and it is super lovely, with black treacle and crystallised ginger for that sweet, baked flavour in the filling. This time I tried the lego mould, which is more of two-bite chocolate but they looked super cute and only a couple of the little nodule bits didn’t make it. I don’t think my tempering went very well though, these don’t look as shiny as I’d like. I did have a thermometer this time, but it was nowhere near sensitive enough! It must be for making caramels and things because the temperatures are way too high. I will have more chocolate making days later in the week though, planning to try Tia Maria truffles for my nan (and myself) and chocolate covered peppermint creams. Also want to make some boozy jellies in the little robot moulds too.

lego shaped gingerbread truffleschocolate gift bags

I was in China the week before last, visiting factories for work and generally making nice with my colleagues in the Shanghai production office, and I’d chosen to use the long flight time home to make my secret santa present. The pattern cutting department decided that we would make our presents this year and I’d gone for a little pincushion pig. I’d seen some guys like this on instagram, but with no instructions of pattern so I kinda made that bit up myself. I’d pre-cut my pieces and put together a little kit for stitching on the plane, which I dutifully set to doing under the heavy scrutiny of the two elderly Chinese women next to me. They were literally craning over each other to see what I was doing, and then whispering to one-another (perhaps they were concerned I speak Chinese – I do not), it was just so awkward! And this continued for TWELVE HOURS. They literally watched me like hawks as I sewed this pig, then knitted some mitten, then sewed up the sleeves of Lucy’s jumper. And they nattered continuously. And the plane was plunged into darkness for 8 hours, despite it being daytime at both our departure and destination countries. But I persevered! I finished the little pig guy, and my secret santa recipient was delighted :) I’ve even cut out pieces for another one, if I get round to putting it together I can inflict it on someone else at Christmas.

IMG_5335Tweed pincushion pig pig pattern pieces

I got some more beeswax and finished off my candle, plus I poured these two for my friends’ housewarming gift. But to be honest I’m not too impressed with the stuff. It burns terribly badly, only creating a small pool of molten wax which doesn’t make it halfway down the jar before putting the wick out. I suspect this stuff is more for use in cosmetics and furniture polish and all the other stuff it listed, and I should probably just get paraffin wax in future! Or maybe I’ll give soy wax a go. But these were pretty at least, in the meantime.

recycled jar beeswax candles

I finished the advent calendar for my mum in plenty of time. Was not too fancy, just little sweet shop bags with various candies inside, pegged to a string. She seems to like it though.

advent calendar sweet shop bag advent calendar

And now we’ve decorated our own place for Christmas! No tree this year, can’t really afford to give up that much space in our shoe-box, but the garland is lovely and plenty festive for me. And most of my presents are wrapped, sticking to the pink/red/white ye olde sweet shoppe feeling that I’m obsessed with this year. So Christmas is properly on! And I’ve got all week to do my embroidery homework, make my sweeties and crack that Christmas jumper which I started for Lu in March and still isn’t finished…

christmas tree garland  christmas wash tape bunting tags christmas wash tape sweet shop house christmas present wrapping pink red whitepink christmas wrapping with wash tape

Tattooed unicorn and jacobean crewelwork day 3

Made some more progress in the third day of the certificate course at the RSN. Learnt two new stitches – heavy chain…

heavy chain embroidery stitch


(unfortunately hard to see in the dark colour!)

and raised stem band…

raised stem band embroidery stitch


raised stem band crewel embroidery

So currently the Tree of Life is up to this stage…

RSN jacobean crewelwork tree of life - day 3

Still a very long way to go! And a long list of homework to tackle before next month.


And in the mean time I have been practicing my embroidery skills on the unicorn I crocheted recently. I think he looks good for it! The back stitch I started out using turned out to be far too thin, I needed the stronger stem stitch to make a decent line. Would also like to make him a little shirt with rolled up sleeves.

If you’re interested in making your own, I used the Toft Alpaca pattern for the zebra, from Edwards Menagerie, and then added my own style of horn and mane. Their pattern base is great and very versatile – really easy to personalise into pretty much any creature you like.

embroidered tattoo unicorn - left embroidered tattooed unicorn - front embroidery tattooed unicorn - right

I feel like you don’t see enough masculine unicorns. Maybe that’s where they went wrong.

Jacobean Crewelwork – day 2

Progress from the second day of the certificate course at the Royal school of Needlework!

Today I have finished framing up, pounced and painted the design onto the fabric, had my stitch plan critiqued and improved, and started the actual stitching :) Almost three weeks until my next class in which I need to complete the chain and block shading stitches I’ve started, plus begin a heavy chain stitch area, and test out some trellis suggestions on some scrap fabric.

slate frame embroidery RSN certificate course


painting on jacobean embroidery design

crewel embroidery chain stitch

crewel embroidery block shading stitch

royal school of needlework certificate course jacobean crewelwork day 2






Beginning at the Royal School of Needlework

So I’m really properly on at the RSN now! Had my first day last week and loved it. Shame I look like a muppet in my 2year-long security pass, but never mind!

RSN pass

So here’s where I’m at so far –

The design is finalised, following a bit of sketchbook research and doodling:

sketchbook work, Liberty's    sketchbook work, Hatfield House

sketchbook progress at RSN

Jacobean Crewelwork design

The design has been copied to tracing paper and then all the lines have been perforated, this will form a template for painting the design to the fabric next time around:

pricked embroidery template

I’ve started to set up my frame, but can’t finish that until my next class, so in the mean time I’ve been experimenting with stitches, using the actual colours of wool which I’ve chosen:

colour palate, appletons crewel wools  french knots with shading, mustard to rose  woven wheel with shading, teal  chain sticth and stem stitch with shading, dark teals and roses


I’m really into it! It’s very traditional, and in a way that feels a little pointless to me, but the experience and the skills are fantastic. So glad I enrolled for it! One day down, four years to go…

Hampton Court Palace


Stuff to do and a desk to do it at.

My table is clear and usable for the first time in MONTHS! I am sitting at my computer like a civilised human, not scrunched over it on my lap like the last picture in a comedy ‘evolution of man’ illustration. Lucy moved in with me nearly a month ago :D and although the co-habiting is lovely, my tiny flat has had an onslaught of possessions that has been tricky to work through. But last night the in-laws came for a celebratory housewarming paella so we really had to get a grip and make the place nice. The evening was lovely and they brought us many delightful gifts (including a drill set which we are crazy excited about) but the best part for me is probably the re-discovery of my dining table and today’s prospect of a whole day to work at it! I am starting with a breakfast of some toast made from the roasted garlic loaf I made yesterday and writing this little update. breakfast I’m keen to get the sewing machine out and make more cushions. I have a heap of unloved knitwear brought home from work. I have sold some cushions from the Etsy shop! Admittedly, only to my adorable friend Pete, but a sale is a sale. Plus I’ve had some interest from my Lucy’s parents who would consider selling some in their fancy interiors store, so I should really up my game for them and make a few with proper labels and fastenings. I’m thinking it would be good to embroider labels with ‘Milkbottle’ and some fabric/care info, I just need to find the best way to do that quickly and simply. Embroidery-wise I’m pushing to get this guy finished: art macabre cross stitch The cross-stitch of Raven Rouge at the Art Macabre death drawing session from ages ago. The lovely lady who is the subject of this picture has shown an interest in having it when it’s done, so that’s giving me the incentive I needed to actually crack on! I’d also like to get the girls-in-knickers embroideries framed up today. I’ve acquired two vintage hoops (thanks to a recent bout of ebay addiction) which I think will be perfect. I’ll put these up for sale too, although I’ve no idea how much for yet. girls in knickers embroideries And I signed up for the certificate course at the Royal School of Needlework! I’m so excited. I’ll be starting Jacobean Crewelwork at the end of June. Going to have a nice day out to Hatfield House to get some Jacobean inspiration. The assessment criteria are pretty strict on this module, holding me very close to a traditional tree of life design. No room for naughtiness. Not that Jacobean is the most inspiring medium for subversive subject matter. It’s the silk shading module that is most tempting – I desperately want to stitch pubic hair while everyone else is doing kittens and pansies. Lucy’s Christmas jumper is coming on nicely: I’m up to the fair-isle section on the front now. Those two massive balls of yarn which I got at Ally Pally last year are stretching really far. Once I’ve finished both the body panels I’ll weigh the green again and split what’s left into two balls, and that will pretty much dictate the design of the sleeve. Lots of green will mean the possibility of more detailed fair isle and a shorter white section at the top, only a little will mean a short green cuff with a simple design to transfer to the white. It’s fun to make this up as I go along! Just need to make sure that the angle at the top of the sleeve runs smoothly into the shoulder and we’ll be golden :) fair isle knitted jumper And just for a little dose of cuteness I’ve been making these baby socks too: cable baby socks Sometime I feel super frustrated with myself for mot getting much done, but actually when I look at things laid out like this I am pretty happy with what I manage to do. If only I didn’t have to go to work!

Upcycled cushions

My Etsy shop is growing! Very slowly. It takes me hours to put items up there! Is that normal or am I fannying about? Dallying with photos and rephrasing tiny pieces of text probably.

But it is fun :) And I have sold a cushion! Plus two out of the three pairs of baby shoes have gone. I’m working on some more embroideries to sell, I’ve bought some more brass frames and some vintage hoops too. Hopefully I can push the more racy subject matter on the next ones! Is it wrong to sell baby gifts and mildly pornographic images in the same shop? I suppose it’s fine, it’s not like children will actually be shopping there, and I don’t really like easily offended grown-ups anyway.

These cushions are made from samples which I’ve salvaged from work. We have so many beautiful garments which have to be cut up, disected or damaged, as a necessary part of the product development process. So to save the best quality knits from the scraps bin I have been upcycling them into cushion covers and they are looking quite nice!

The cushion pads are all brand new, either feather from John Lewis or polyester from Ikea. Frankly these are a total bargain! Where else do you think you’ll get a cashmere cushion for nineteen quid?!