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The End of a TASTy Era

Embroidered sampler of a glass dome filled with flowers

Regular readers will know that in 2015, I joined in the “Take a Stitch Tuesday” challenge run by the lovely Sharon Boggon. 100+ stitches, and 2 years later, I had finished every stitch and then some. In 2018, I followed up by joining in the first “Beyond TAST”, and this sampler is the very last of that challenge.

In my last blog post about this sampler, I talked about the often wibbly wobbly way my design process can take. Well. it wibbled and wobbled a bit more after that!

The last challenge for Beyond TAST 2018, was to use three of the techniques we had investigated in a single project. I decided to use woven stitches, pattern darning and couched laidwork.

Firstly, my idea of “a” flower under a glass cloche morphed into a whole lot of flowers after I discovered Victorian shellwork floral arrangements

Then I drew a cloche pattern to trace around, drew it onto my fabric with a water erasable pen and immediately became stuck, which led to my learning some interesting ways to become unstuck when I can’t decide what to do next.

Sarah’s Guide to Unsticking Your Creative Brain (or my brain, anyway)

  • Put the thing away for a bit. Unless you have a deadline. In which case, don’t put it away, pin it up somewhere.
  • Have a good, long think about what your intentions for the piece are. For me, it was creating lots of little flowers that, with a bit of imagination, could conceivably have been made out of shells. Maybe.
  • Stitch a bit. It doesn’t matter if it sucks, you can rip it out.
  • What do you like/dislike about the bits you stitched? If you like them, leave them. If you hate them, don’t be afraid to rip them out and work it the way that you now know would look better.
  • Still stuck? (I was). Find a technique that fills in space quickly. Do that. I made flowers with buttons, some of which I removed later. 
  • At this point I became unstuck and decided to fill in the entire cloche with closely packed flowers.

Things I learnt working this piece (or already knew and employed)

  • Repeating things at least three times is a good way to achieve balance, if you want a balanced piece. You can see I only worked two large cream woven flowers, but I added a little star shaped button in the same colour to echo them as a tiny bud.
  • It’s fine to change your mind. I had intended to work the whole piece in very shell-like colours. I obviously didn’t 🙂
  • I’ll never be able to work couched laidwork perfectly, or even remotely, straight without ruling out every line. 
  • Couching thread over a mistake can save a lot of work, which is especially important when you’ve run out of the thread you used and really like the colours. 
  • I am capable of finishing a challenge that took over 4 years. Wow.

Now, I have a few more stitches I’d like to investigate while I sew them all into fabric books so stay tuned!




Saying Goodbye to TAST – the Design Stage

I’d like to show you the sketches for my very last Beyond TAST embroidery sampler. Just like any of my embroideries that I have designed myself, the design process goes through a few stages before I come up with the final concept because almost no-one comes up with a final design without a bit of thinking and sketching first.

The challenge outline was to create something using at least three of the techniques covered in previous Beyond TAST challenges. I decided to base my design on my investigations into filling stitches, pattern darning and line stitches.

Sketches of a rose and a bell jar terrarium

Step 1: I decided I’d like to base my design on a rose. But I didn’t like the shapes in sketch 1.

Step 2: I tried a more geometric approach but it looked too much like a stencil design. Stencils are cool, but not what I want for this.

Step 3: I used similar shapes to step 2 but joined them together to be less stencil like. Now I’m starting to get somewhere I like.

Step 4: I kept the petals round and made the pointy petals into leaves instead. Then I added a calyx and stem, which meant the leaves were now in the wrong place. Hmm.

Step 5: I put the leaves in the right place. Now I like it, but such a rare specimen would be kept safe under a bell jar, right? (or maybe I’ve been watching too many Victorian era episodes of Doctor Who. Naaaa, that’s not possible).

Step 6: Now it’s under a bell jar.

Step 7: I made a Pinterest board with pictures of bell jar terrariums/cloche terrariums. The board quickly became more about the bell jars than actual terrariums and morphed into a conglomeration of things wealthy Victorian era  people in England liked to stuff under jars.

Step 8: Stay tuned…


The Green Man Sampler for Beyond TAST

Green man embroidered sampler

(Click on the photo to see closer details). Grab a cuppa and settle into a comfy chair. This is going to be a long one. 🙂

From the whole TAST experience over the last three years, I think the Green Man is my favourite sampler out of all of them so far. Which makes sense because I’m now a much more skilled embroiderer than I was back then.

Season 7 for Beyond TAST was to experiment with filling stitches. I’d already experimented a lot with different filling stitches during TAST 2015-2017. For this sampler, I wanted to see how I could create visual depth using different threads and filling stitches.

I started with the Green Man design from Urban Threads, which I traced onto some unbleached calico using a Frixion pen. I had no idea what I wanted to do at first, so I stitched the tendrils with stem stitch and satin stitched the eyes while I had a good think. This turned out to be a good idea because I came up with a plan after all.

I decided to make the stitches that I wanted to recede darker, and in a finer thread since the further things are away from you, the less detail you can see. The further forward the leaves are, the brighter and more textural the stitches.

The green/brown leaves, which I consider to be the furthest away are chain stitch in two strands of embroidery floss. Coming forward we then have dark green stem stitch, also in two strands of floss. Then a few brighter dark green leaves in long and short stitch. I was then left with two distinct areas of leaves that lie on about the same plane. The hair and cheeks, then the eyebrows, moustache and beard.

I really wanted these two sets of leaves to be distinct. Since I really loved working my woven stitches sampler, I decided to fill in the cheeks and hair with surface darning (yep, I know what it’s called now!). To make sure it didn’t look really flat, I made the first set of stitches along the line of the veins on one side of the leaf. In a rectangle you might make the first set of stitches vertical and then weave from side to side. Mine are in more of an “X” shape. To finish off they were outlined with stem stitch in two strands of floss.

I couched the remainder of the leaves with knitting cotton for the background, and four strands of floss for the couching stitches, then outlined them with back stitch.

That just left the nose, lips and the areas around them to fill. I filled in the background areas using the techniques and colours from the two darkest sets of leaves, then shaded the nose with chain stitch.

Things I learnt from this sampler:

I really love unbleached calico. Everyone should have a stash of it. You can paint it when you need an emergency background of a colour you don’t have, use it to make dolls, test sewing patterns, dye it, use it as an interlining and then dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. Oh no, wait, that last one is about towels.

Shading isn’t scary. I originally intended to leave the nose and lips as just stem stitch outlines because I had no idea how to shade them. It looked rubbish. Really, really rubbish. In the end, I did a google image search of lips and noses and had a look where the highlights lie in different lighting situations.

Pictures, like this one from Pixabay, are a wealth of information when it comes to trying to work out how to shade parts of a face.

Then I took out my printed pattern, coloured the nose and lips in with a pencil and started erasing bits to see what looked good. Then I started stitching. And undid it because it sucked and did it again.

Using different shades of the same colour in different areas creates a more harmonious effect. If you look at the veins on the various leaves you’ll see either the same colour, or another shade of the same colour is used elsewhere. This is especially obvious on the couched leaves as they’re couched down with a thread that matches one of the colours in the lighter parts of the nose and lips.

Finally, I learnt that when I choose a design that makes me go, “Sarah, you’ve got to be kidding, how are you ever going to work that?”, then I know I’ve picked the right one. I have done this before and I really liked that sampler too.

But wait, there’s more!

Remember how, I said I’d already investigated a lot of stitches as filling stitches in the 100 stitch of TAST 2015-2017? Here are my favourites!

Click on the photos to embiggen them. (Yes, embiggen is a word now. Because I said so).

My favourite fills.

Running stitch. It can be used to fill areas with pattern in lots of different ways

Embroidered running stitch sampler on green fabric with white spots.

Running stitch embroidery worked in various patterns on even weave fabric

Embroidered peacock and flowers worked in running stitch and variations.

or fill areas with movement.

Embroidered running stitch sampler with swirls and circles.

Couching is just a plain heap of fun. It can be used as a filling that creates patterns like the checked and patterned borders, or to fill an area with texture and colour like the flower. See the chunky, puffy couched line under the flower? Imagine filling in a whole area like that.

Embroidered sampler with couched flowers, sun and bugs

Half chevron stitch was a total revelation! I had absolutely no idea what to do with it, so I decided to stack rows of it worked in scrap threads and see what happened. I really love the movement in the sky and the texture that the small areas of brown creates. Two very different looks but only one stitch.

Turkman stitch makes a cool striped filling down there at the bottom.

Embroidered sampler in Turkman stitch

Up and down buttonhole stitch can be used as a filling in oh so many ways. And they all take a bazillion years to work if you stitch them on teeny tiny even weave linen. A bazillion.

Embroidered sampler with up and down buttonhole stitch fillings.

If you combine blanket stitch with reading books such as “The Stitches of Creative Embroidery” by Jacqueline Enthoven, you end up with fillings like these. Imagine those on top of areas of appliquéd fabric. Fabulous.

A buttonhole/blanket stitch embroidery sampler inspired by Constance Howard's Book of Stitches.

Lots and lots of buttonhole wheels make a filling that’s quite mesmerizing. I could stitch these forever.

Embroidered sampler with many circles stitched with buttonhole or blanket stitch.

Algerian eye stitch on pin loom woven squares. Some were left closed and others pulled tight to open up the weave.

An embroidered garden worked in Algerian eye stitch on pin loom squares. Four 4 inch squares are crocheted together to form an 8 inch sampler.

Pekinese stitch was another revelation in terms of filling stitches. I had no idea it could be used as a filling stitch, even though that’s one of the traditional ways of using it (the things you find out when you read more than just stitch dictionaries!) I stitched these samples from “New Stitches for Needlecraft” by Edith John.

An embroidery sampler showing various ways to use Pekinese stitch.

Chicken scratch was never a TAST stitch but it sure is fun.

Chicken scratch embroidery on red gingham

Chicken scratch sampler on red gingham

Closed herringbone stitch is not only a great filling stitch in it’s own right, but you can also fill up a space with shapes filled with closed herringbone stitch. Technically you could do that with any filling stitch but this sampler just shows the idea really well.

Closed herringbone stitch sampler for the TAST embroidery challenge

Filling up the pattern on an area of printed fabric with stitches is another way to fill a space with many different stitches. This one is woven cross stitch.

Woven cross stitch sampler for the TAST embroidery challenge

Gujrati stitch can be used to fill quite large and ornate areas. Worked in a small area like these, it’s also known as Maltese cross stitch.

Shisha and gujrati stitch embroidery sampler on wool.

Chain stitch is a wonderful filling stitch. You can’t go wrong with the classics.

Flower and paisley embroidered with chain stitch filling.

Open chain stitch. I used single units of open chain stitch in one of my very early Beyond TAST samplers to create all of these fillings over felt squares.

Various ways of stitching an embroidered sampler using single units of open chain stitch

There is only one Beyond TAST challenge remaining! My idea for it is currently percolating. It will be fun to see what I end up with!


Beyond TAST – Threaded Stitches Sampler

After the crazy over the top colourful explosion of my woven stitch Beyond TAST sampler, I decided to go the complete opposite way for my “threaded and laced stitches” sampler and use just two threads and as few colours as possible overall.

Inspired by a line drawing I found online (which I unfortunately can’t find, sorry), I decided what I wanted to investigate how to use threaded and laced stitches to create different qualities of sketches lines.

First I stitched a vintage handkerchief that I had dyed navy blue onto a  piece of blue striped cotton. Whenever I use a dark cotton or linen background for a pre-drawn embroidery, I transfer the image using yellow or white dressmaker’s carbon paper. If the design isn’t super detailed, it will usually last long enough to get most of the details done as long as it’s not handled too much.

Next I took some of my dyed blanketing, cut out the flower and leaf shapes and stitched them down with silk thread. I like to use silk thread whenever I want the stitches to disappear into the ‘felt’ (as I tend to call the boiled wool blanket).

The thickest lines are pekinese stitch worked over a base of chain stitch instead of back stitch. I was surprised at how well it worked going around curves. I think this was my favourite discovery in this sampler. The line is nice and thick and bold, without being fussy to stitch.

The medium lines, such as the circle in the centre of the square mustard flower are whipped chain.

The finer lines, such as the round mustard flower are three strands of floss threaded through the stitches that form the circles. The checked square in the square red flower is worked with two strands of floss, and the second layer is woven through the first.

Finally, the stems are pekinese stitch.

I’m definitely going to work this way again, but I’ll try and add a bit more depth to the colours I’ve used in the background. I feel this is a little too dark overall. Perhaps next time I might try stitching just white on the navy blue and see how that turns out.


Beyond TAST – Woven Stitches Sampler

Embroidered woven stitch sampler for Beyond TAST

(Click the photo for a closer look)

After spending quite a while trying to work out what I wanted to embroider for the three Beyond TAST embroidery challenges that I was behind in, I attacked the stitching like a mad woman and am really happy with the results! I’ll show them in the order that I embroidered them rather than the challenge order.

First up is season 8, my woven stitches sampler. First I stitched a vintage handkerchief that I had dyed navy blue to a background piece of cotton with running stitch and caught down the lace with a French knot in each scallop. I then drew a picture of some houses and a tree inspired by vintage wooden building blocks. The sun is a woven wheel surrounded by open based needlewoven picots, with pekinese stitch surrounding the woven wheel.

The top arch in the house on the left is whipped wheel, again with a pekinese stitch border. On the very bottom arch I wove the spokes two at a time. The clouds are also whipped wheel with a pekinese stitch border around each “puff”.

The main parts of the sampler are all woven with stitches from “Needle Weaving Techniques for Hand Embroidery by Hazel Blomkamp. I worked the house on the left and the tree with perle cottons, while the smaller house is crewel wool.

Things I learnt from this sampler:

  1. I love woven stitches, especially over large spaces. They are fun to work, but I also love the way they look.
  2. I shouldn’t be lazy about going out to the studio to get different colours of thread. The large house was worked with thread I had right on hand and it’s a bit bright 😉
  3. Trust my intuition. On the sun, I almost did one layer of picots and no border around the centre. I trusted my intuition that it wasn’t finished, and was really happy that I added more. After all, it’s embroidery, and if I didn’t like the extra work I could always cut it out.
  4. Blocks of weaving and woven wheels look great with another stitch as a border around them, especially if you’re using them as a filling over a fairly large area.

Next up I’ll tell you about challenge 6, laced and threaded stitches. Because I just hate to do anything in the expected order, apparently.


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