Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Flowers and bluebird

I have finished one of my Uzbek embroideries. It has, as you can see, become a bit bubbly. In fact, when allowed full rein it is as domed as the crown of a hat, but I've been trying to tame it into a slightly flatter profile!

I think it is the result of the stitching round the flowers being too close together resulting in too much thread for the cloth to hold. I haven't blocked or pressed yet, but I don't think this is ever gong to lie flat. So, some thinking to be done about what use to make of it. Perhaps a cushion cover, or a box lid top with some extra padding to make a raised dome. That might at least look vaguely intentional! I am pleased with the colours though, and the stitching was fun. Chain stitch is such an easy one to do, but so effective depending on direction and the colours used. The dark leaves are Bokhara couching which, again, was an interesting one to work and merits future investigation.

Now on to the bluebird, which is on much thicker fabric so hopefully no distortion here. This is the design which was drawn freehand by the young man in my previous post.

I might have to spend a little while extracting my threads though!

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Uzbek embroidery

So what did I see of embroidery in Uzbekistan? A tremendous amount, far far more than one would ever see in the UK. We were treated to both historic embroideries and visited a number of places where embroidery is carried out as a part of the economy; textiles being created either for personal and domestic use, or to be sold to locals and tourists. On two occasions we were also given a piece of fabric to stitch and some teaching by the embroiderers there. The wealth of amazing embroidered items, from the older pieces in the museums to newly embroidered items for sale was breathtaking. 

The Applied Art Museum in Tashkent was our introduction to embroidery, along with many other beautiful arts and crafts. Here and in Samarkand we saw household textiles, bed and cradle covers, prayer mats, suzanis to hang on the walls, blouses, jackets, babies clothes. Many of these might be a part of a bride's dowry, or created to beautify the home, be that a static house or, in the past, a yurt belonging to nomadic folk, where textiles provided both decoration and warmth. Traditional motifs included flowers and birds, pomegranates, peppers, stars and rosettes. The stitches that we saw used were predominately chain stitch, including that done as tambour work, and Bokhara couching. It all sounds very simple, almost naïve, but the variety we saw, the colours, patterns and designs were absolutely stunning. The pictures below will give you some idea of our delight.

Bokhara couching - row upon row of thread laid and couched, sometimes outlined in chain stitch

detail of the image below, a suzani, Bokhara couching and chain stitch

Suzanis are a very traditional part of the brides dowry. They are often made in several pieces, the fabrics loosely tacked together to allow the design to be drawn. Then they are taken apart and individual family members stitch their piece before all the bits are reassembled. A lovely way for a family to stitch their love and hopes for the bride into a gift which will serve to remind her of their affection for years to come.

several suzanis on display with our lovely guide Mashkhura explaining their creation

a more modern embroidery, but still using traditional motifs

exquisite goldwork on velvet

detail of above - you can see some of the sequins sparkling in the light

Having feasted our eyes on this loveliness we later visited several embroidery workshops and a wonderful collection of embroidered items in a private house.

In Gijduvan we were shown how the threads were dyed with natural pigments

then we sat down in a leafy courtyard with bulbul birds calling in cages above us, while several lovely ladies and young girls showed us how the embroidery was done

we were each given a piece of fabric to stitch - some of us were too creaky to sit on the floor, so no sneak peek of me here, just some of my lovely companions. Even the youngest girls of the household looked incredibly professional as they sat and stitched

and these are just a couple of examples of their work

We also visited the Bokhara workshop of Rakhmon Toshev. This amazing space had an astounding selection of beautiful embroideries on the walls, and great piles on trestles around the room, from which a selection were displayed to us, with explanations about the designs, and the skill and time involved in their stitching. 

Some were embroidered on a plain background

while with others the entire ground was covered in chain stitch - in this case done with a tambour hook rather than needle. 

The daughter of the master embroiderer showing us one of many beautiful textiles. Later we were given some fabric and thread and shown by him how to stitch a design

The Summer Palace had yet more colourful embroideries on the walls. One could have spent hours there just making sketches and taking notes about techniques and colours.

You can see here how suzanis are joined back together once stitching is complete

Finally, Akbar House, home to a marvelous collection of historic embroidered garments and household items and a vast array of embroidered goods for sale.

above and below, some of the beautiful collection of historic textiles and our host telling us about them

a wealth of embroidery, layer upon layer, laid out before us

The workshops we were given were interesting for a variety of reason beyond the simple one of being shown what to do. I was very struck by the almost workaday attitude to the stitching. We are used in this country to going to workshops which emphasise the importance of technique, methods of transferring designs, how to mount our work in a hoop, Perhaps we are introduced to concepts like Slow Stitch or Mending, working with found objects or recycled fabric. We are encouraged to explore themes and concepts in depth. Here, we were "just" doing embroidery.

The designs were drawn freehand onto the fabric with a biro, in this case to order - I asked him for a bird

The stitching was done using much longer pieces of thread than we are used to - no "elbow's length" restrictions here, just however much thread comes out of the pile. And by pile I mean exactly that. The colourful tangle below was the one from which our master embroiderer pulled out whatever thread he considered appropriate for the design we had chosen. In the case of the good ladies in Gijduvan, if the thread was too long, or wouldn't come out clean from the tangle she simply snapped off enough for her purpose. 

So what did I bring back from these workshops? Two pieces of embroidery, one partly done, and one just started, and two plastic bags holding a tangle of threads, mostly silk, but some very badly behaved deep red rayon which I have had to wrestle into submission! I have been enjoying the simplicity of "just stitching", watching the patterns form in the couching, depending on where you lay the couching stitch down and how much slant you give it, and the flow of the chain stitch as it works its way around the design.

work in progress
the chain stitch draws the fabric in however careful you are but once all the fabric is covered this will even out. Below the Bokhara couching forms leaves at the edge and the yellow elements in the flowers. I have supplemented the threads given us with some stranded floss in toning colours just in case I run out!

it's a lovely red, but boy it was springy and twisty and unwilling to comply with my intentions

my bluebird of happiness with his tangle of thread, awaiting further stitches
So, a long post about embroidery, but with so much to see there was a lot to talk about. It is still a living craft there, something done for a practical as well as aesthetic purpose, and it was a huge pleasure to see so much of such variety. I hope you haven't been bored?

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Uzbek silk

Ikat fabrics in Tashkent Applied Art Museum

I have been pondering a great deal on how to give you a taste of my trip to Uzbekistan without overloading you with detail and having ridiculously long posts, I saw so much it was, at times, overwhelming and we were so well conducted round the country by our Stitchtopia tour leaders, Karin and Bean and our delightful local guide Mashkhura, that I managed to take over 2000 photos. I have whittled them down a bit now, but still, you could only manage a fraction of what is left before your eyes glazed over!

I think I will start with silk, since, along with cotton, this is one of the industries Uzbekistan is known for. It is such a labour intensive material to produce, and it was incredibly absorbing seeing that production from cocoon to finished product. In Margilan, which is in the Fergana Valley we went to the Yodgorlik Silk Factory and the Margilan Crafts Development Centre. First we saw the process of winding off the silk from the cocoons, which are steeped in very hot water to soften the sticky substance which binds them together and allow the threads to unspool. Ducking into a long dark steamy room we found this lady and her companion sitting by a deep cauldron. Swooshing the hot water round with a stick, she was stirring and lifting the cocoons and gently pulling them apart as she began the process of separating the individual threads

boiling the cocoons and separating the threads

what remains from the cocoons after winding

The incredibly fine threads were passed across to her companion where they were wound off using this large wheel to turn a much smaller spool. Though fine the thread almost felt like wire when touched with a finger as it spooled off.

winding groups of threads off for processing - they were such lovely smiley ladies

In another, much lighter room we were shown the marking and tying the bundles of warp thread to produce complex patterns. The mechanism for tying involved something which looked like a wood turning lathe and roll upon roll of sellotape. It was delightfully noisy and very efficient with the sellotape twisted half way through tying so that the sticky side is never in contact with the silk fibers.

marking up the bundles of warp thread with the pattern

Once marked and tied the bundles of warp thread are steeped in a great metal vat of dye. This process might be repeated more than once, depending on the complexity and number of colours in the pattern. If you look closely at the image below you can see the next set of marks, ready for a second tying process before the yellow is overdyed.

once the thread is dyed you can begin to see the pattern emerge

Then the silk is warped up - you can see that process in the video I link to further down. It is woven, either on hand looms like these below, with foot pedals to operate the heddles and a mechanism for throwing the shuttle back and forth; swish click, swish click, swish click, swish click, the warp threads weighted at the end with great metal weight to hold them taut.

Alternatively there are these wonderful looking mechanised looms. The sound as one entered this room was pretty overwhelming, and it made me wonder what the vast factories full of looms during the industrial revolution must have sounded like.

the noise in this room was simply astonishing

All of this weaving produces the Ikat, or Abr-Bandi (cloud tying) fabric that you can find being sold across the country in a veritable rainbow of colours. Admittedly many of them are more busy and colourful than we are used to in Europe, but I found them magical, and was unable to resist purchasing a couple of lengths which I am, at the moment, simply gazing at and stroking periodically!

Pile upon tempting pile of fabrics

The interior of the Bazaar at Urgut - it seemed to go on for miles!

There is a wonderful in depth video of this process here if you would like to know more. The silk winding ladies at the beginning are the ones in the pictures above. As with all of the folk we met there, they were delightfully friendly, eager to share their skill and incredibly (and justifiably) proud of what they were producing.

Of course is it not just fabric that is made with the silk. In Bukhara we also saw carpets being made on upright looms, by hand, with dazzling skill, speed and dexterity.

I was amused to note that several of the ladies were simultaneously listening to their phones - in fact one seemed to be keeping half an eye on a cookery programme!

The salesroom was awash with carpets of all sizes, colours and levels of refinement and we were shown examples of them all. There were relatively "rough" woolen carpets, then came cotton, with a finer knot count, silk knotted onto a cotton warp was next, but the finest carpets of all, silk knotted onto a silk warp were so fluid and delicate they could be folded up into a small bundle for sending out. 

a sea of exquisite carpets

As a grand finale we were shown the carpet below which was knotted by two ladies, one each side of the loom, so that, when cut off and finished, it became a double sided carpet, with different pattern and colour on either side

this silk one had a drape like fabric

and was revealed to be a magic double sided carpet

Such delicate and detailed designs

I would have loved to be able to afford one of these beautiful artworks, just a small one to set beside my bed to caress my feet first thing in the morning, but one thought about the cat chaps' propensity for scrabbling enthusiastically at any carpet in the house and I decided that it just wasn't worth the risk! They came first and would be so sad if they weren't allowed to spend their days asleep on their very own quilt in the middle of my bed!

I hope this gives you a small snapshot of the wonderful crafts created from those tiny little cocoons steeped in boiling water.

Monday, 4 April 2022

taking shape

Given my upcoming adventure there won't be any stitching done on this for a couple of weeks, but I think it is doing OK so far. It does require much use of the magnifying light or application of two pairs of glasses depending on time of day and levels of tiredness, but I have high hopes. The male chalk hill blue has varying amounts of "donkey brown" on its wings, which leaves me plenty of room for interpretation, but I am trying to ensure I balance both sides by stitching them in parallel.

But for now it must sit in my study and sun itself until I return from far flung excitements

Sunday, 27 March 2022

Butterfly and glue stitch

In my previous post I mentioned our newest project with Sussex Stitchers, a series of individual pieces which will be joined together to form our new banner. Having completed my Sovereign Lighthouse I have now moved on to a butterfly.

The eagle eyed amongst you will notice the imprint of an embroidery hoop around this design. It is intended to be a Chalk Hill Blue butterfly, found up on our lovely Downs, usually with the accompaniment of lark song trilling away high above in the blue blue sky. The frame imprint is evidence of Not Thinking Things Through and being in too much of a hurry. It is also evidence of unpicking (a pair of fine tweezers always helpful)! So what happened?

Well, we are also running a new series of our stitch support groups which we call Fly Stitchers. Steph and I gather with a small group of hopeful but not entirely confident stitchers over six sessions and, for a modest fee, encourage, teach, facilitate them in planning and working a small project from start to finish.  Our second session deals with preparing one's fabric, transferring the design and choosing stitches. As Steph, who has done a number of RSN courses, waxed lyrical at the other end of the table about the importance of mounting the fabric, especially if it is fine and you are going to use silk shading, I thought to myself, "hmmmm, you haven't done that have you?" I plan on working the wings in a sort of silk shading, though not with silk, but the fabric I am using is a very fine silk. After a brief inward wrestle with my lazy side, I was persuaded that the white wing edges I had already stitched must come out, and the fabric must be given support. I am using what Jude calls Glue Stitch for this. It is a way of mounting fabric on a backing almost invisibly, by taking a series of very tiny stitches on the surface in a thread which tones with your background, using longer stitches on the back. This brings the two pieces of fabric together as one, and can be left in place once the stitching is complete.

Above you can see the path of the stitching on the back of the fabric - a fine calico. Below you can see the front of the fabric and, if you look very closely, you will see below the bottom wings a series of tiny little stitches, which almost disappear. Go back to the top image and you will note that they really are pretty well invisible, they have been worked from top to bottom and only those on the very bottom show,  a tiny bit.

Thank you Jude for your stitching wisdom and inspiration. Now to reinstate those wing edges and the rest of the design can proceed .......

Thursday, 17 March 2022


We have a new Sussex Stitchers project which is very loosely based around Dijanne Cevaal's Travellers' Blankets, One of our members shared a post from Inspirations magazine about these back in September last year. It rang a chord with some of us so when we (i.e. The Committee) asked for ideas about a new project and were met with the usual doubtful silence, this was suggested as a starting point. Dijanne's works are about travelling and each scrap of cloth reflects whatever the theme is of that particular blanket. She is currently offering on an online class if you want to find out more - from the link above.

We are interpreting her idea in relation to living in Sussex and have had to adapt quite a bit to enable it to be worked as a joint project. Yours truly therefore volunteered to hand dye some calico a vibrant blue, to reflect the seaside that we live by. This was fun in itself, as I overdyed the fabric four times with differing combinations of blue (Royal, Turquoise and Indigo) to get an interesting lively background. Members are going to stitch an image, on a separate piece of fabric, that means something to them, drawn from the Sussex landscape, thus reflecting the travelling theme. They will have their own square of blue to applique their embroidered image to, and each image will be stitched round in the same manner as Dijanne's. All the squares will then be reassembled to make one banner at the top of which we will add a header proclaiming our group's name. This can be used to advertise our existence if we travel around exhibiting our work. It will also embody the togetherness and inspiration which comes from being part of a lively stitching group in Sussex.

So, having dyed the two meters of calico and cut them up (very scary) I have just completed my own little square of blue. The background to the embroidery comes from my very first course with Christine in Studio 11, the tie dye mini quilt, one of the moons and a little bit of clamped shibori. 

Silhouetted by a silvery moon, the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse shines her light out to warn passing ships about the dangerous sandbank below. 

My stitching around the image doesn't have the vibrant brightness of Dijanne's, but it does evoke that warning light and the deeps of the sea below. I chose the lighthouse for two reasons. Firstly, when darling daughter was a small person we lived in a flat on St Leonards seafront. Walks to and from Hastings were always full of interesting things to look at, but this landmark was the one I used to reassure myself that she hadn't inherited either my or her father's short sightedness. 

"Jen .... can you see that on the horizon?", "yes Mummy I can see it!". Sigh of relief from me. 

But now Royal Sovereign has served her purpose and is to be decommissioned, as she has reached the end of her usefulness. I like the idea that, even in a very small way, this Sussex landmark will live on once the actual lighthouse has disappeared from our horizon, a small memorial to her years of keeping ships and sailors safe from harm.

Friday, 4 February 2022

Bargello update

I finished my little bit of canvaswork in mid January. I am very happy with the way it has turned out, the grading of colour from centre to outside has given the right level of "glow" in the middle. The leaves in the centre are easy to distinguish while the darker edges bring out the bright flowers. We won't comment on the slight difference in my working of the bottom flower!

Christine asked me why I chose to use stranded cotton rather than the more traditional wool. In part it was because this was how Rachel was working her experimental fish. Her reason was to allow her to mix colours in the needle, to great effect I must say, but I hadn't really thought about that element until it came to the background. Here the six strands gave me the flexibility to work three shades in a graduated way which has created a smooth transition from one colour to the other. This is not quite the way Bargello is traditionally worked; colour transitions are more marked as with the flowers and leaves here, but that wouldn't have given the right effect in the background. The other effect of stranded cotton as opposed to wool is the lovely sheen that comes where the light, hitting the thread as it lies in differing directions, bounces back and brings changes in value to the colours. I'm really enjoying that.

Now, of course, that horrid question people tend to ask - "but what's it for?" Well it's only about 5 inches square, so something small, another box perhaps. But really, it has been for the pleasure of stitching and experimenting. And that is enough for me