Category Archives: Zen wallhanging

I got my wallhanging back…for a while!

In 2010, I wrote on this blog about a large wallhanging with a Zen Buddhist saying on it which I’d stitched for a Unitarian Chapel that I used to attend – the blog post is here . In that post, I explained in detail how it had taken almost a year to make.

The wallhanging measures about three feet by four, and is stitched on linen with Appleton's crewel wool for the floral areas, and Anchor stranded cotton for the lettering

The wallhanging measures about three feet by four, and is stitched on linen with Appleton’s crewel wool for the floral areas, and Anchor stranded cotton for the lettering

Even when I wrote the original blog post, I had already stopped being Unitarian, and my dilemma at that time was that the Chapel still had the wallhanging. Recently, though, I heard that the Chapel is probably due to close, as there is now no regular Minister and the congregation has dropped to just one person! And he’s 82 years old. So, I contacted ‘the congregation’ and asked him if it would be possible for me to have the wallhanging back. I really didn’t like the idea of the wallhanging languishing in a damp building for ages, not being seen at all. Surely, I’d be able to find somewhere better for it?

Each letter was outlined in back stitch, padded with stem stitch, then satin stitched across the stem stitch padding

Each letter was outlined in back stitch, padded with stem stitch, then satin stitched across the stem stitch padding

Hanging 2a

I got it back within days, fortunately. It did seem strange to have it back in my possession, when I’d never thought I would have it (or, possibly, not even see it again). So, then I had the issue of deciding what to do with it. I certainly didn’t want to just roll it up and store it in my loft, as that was as daft as leaving it in a building that no-one uses any more. I tried placing it against the wall of my living room, to see if it would work to hang it there, but it just looked completely out of place – it’s very big (about three feet by four), and was made for a public space – it just looked silly in a living room!

For the flowers, I used stitches such as French knots, coral stitch, buttonhole stitch, stem stitch, seeding, satin stitch and trellis couching

For the flowers, I used stitches such as French knots, coral stitch, buttonhole stitch, stem stitch, seeding, satin stitch and trellis couching

Then I remembered a couple of friends, who are Universal Sufi, the same as me and my husband. They have a large house in Germany, which they run as a khankah (a Sufi house where people come to study, and to dance). They have large ‘public rooms’ that I thought might be suitable. So, I emailed them and asked if they’d like it, but also made it clear that if they thought it wouldn’t be suitable, then I wouldn’t be offended – I didn’t want them to have to take it under sufferance! But they said,’Wow!’ when they saw the pictures I emailed them, and so, a few weeks ago, I delivered the wallhanging to them. It now has a new home in a place where it will be really appreciated, and the spiritual phrase on the wallhanging will hopefully inspire lots of people. It might even tempt someone to start embroidery – you never know!

Hanging - 5

Each letter took about an hour to stitch

Each letter took about an hour to stitch

Hanging - 7

Hanging - 8

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Book review: ‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’, by Susan O’Connor

‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’, by Susan O’Connor

This book is the epitome of stylish instruction in the art of embroidering monograms. It is sumptuous in all aspects – the gorgeous photos, the eight projects (from beginner to advanced), and the wealth of detail. I’ve seen many books on monograms for embroidery, but this one is the only one I’ve ever been tempted to buy, and I’m really glad I did! The book starts with a chapter on the history and traditional use of monograms, and then moves swiftly on to discussing how to use monograms in contemporary ways. Suitable fabrics, threads and needles are discussed (very important, as, if you use unsuitable threads, particularly, you can end up with a very inferior piece of embroidery, which is disheartening).

My favourite method for padding a shape, as shown in the book

I liked the chapter on the actual stitches and techniques the best. There are so many good ideas here, and each one is illustrated with photos showing every stage. The padding under the satin top-stitch is what makes or breaks a successful monogrammed embroidery, in my opinion, and all the secrets are explained here. I used information from this chapter when I was making a large banner for a Chapel I used to attend – it took me almost a year to embroider, so I needed to know that the technique I would be using would be successful, if I was to invest that amount of time in the project!

The banner I made, which measures about three feet by four, using lettering and crewel embroidery

Fortunately, the lettering came out really well. Each letter took about an hour to complete. I used the method explained on page 34 onwards – I outlined the shape of the letter first in split stitch, then used stem stitch padding to fill the shape within the split stitch outline (using all six strands of Anchor in the needle each time).  After that, I used the ‘perfect satin stitch’  section on page 48 to make…perfect satin stitch!

Perfect satin stitch, achieved with the help of this book!

I really enjoyed making the banner. I’d thought that maybe the crewel flowers would be interesting to stitch, but that the lettering would be the boring bit, but I actually enjoyed doing the lettering too, as it came out so successfully. ‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’ covers more than just letters, though. Eyelets, shadow work and applique are all covered by the book, as are various finishing techniques such as pin stitch hems, scalloped hems using blanket stitch, and so on. There’s so much in this book!

The lavender sachet project

Towards the end of the book are the projects, so that you can try out your new skills. From small items such as lavender sachets to a very fine Christening shawl, the projects are all clearly explained. The book is published by Country Bumpkin (the publishers of the beautiful Australian embroidery magazine ‘Inspirations’ that comes out bi-monthly) – and, as with the magazine, this book has several pull-out sheets with all the designs on, for you to trace off using your favourite method. Full alphabets are given in several styles, including a cross-stitch one for the lavender sachet design. All Country Bumpkin publications are wonderfully produced, with an attention to detail that is often missing from other publications. The style shots are enough to make this a lovely ‘coffee table’ book, even if you have no plans to ever make anything using monograms!

The delicate tones of one of the style shot photos

The step-by-step photos in ‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’ are mainly done on oatmeal fabric using white thread, so it is easy to see exactly what you need to do to replicate what is being shown. If I have any niggle at all about this book (and it’s only a tiny niggle!), then I’d say that with the style shots of the finished items, as they are mainly white embroidery on white fabric, the detail is sometimes indistinct. This is a shame, as the fineness of the embroidery is lost.  If you just flip through the book quickly, the pale colour of all the photos gives a kind of insipid feel to the book, which can have a negative effect on the reader, unfortunately. But try to get past that, and slow down to look at the information packed in these 134 pages. Susan O’Connor has written a wonderful book that should be available more widely. The book was only published in 2007, but I think it’s already out of print, so if you come across a copy second-hand, grab it while you can. This one is a treasure. Details: ‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’, by Susan O’Connor Published 2007 by Inspirations Books (Country Bumpkin Publications) ISBN 0 9775476 0 4

Finished embroidery: a Zen Buddhist wallhanging with a tale….

The wallhanging, worked in various crewel embroidery stitches, measures about three feet by four feet altogether

A few years ago, I used to attend a Unitarian Chapel near where I  live. For a couple of years, I got really ‘into’ the Chapel, and got involved in various groups, Committees, and so on. The Chapel was in a modern building, and looked quite bare inside – quite like a classroom, really – with chairs in rows rather than pews, and only a couple of framed prints on the walls.

So, I volunteered to make an embroidered wallhanging for the Chapel. I discussed what might be suitable with the Minister, then searched online for a suitable piece of text.

Unitarians are not just Christians who don’t believe in the Trinity, these days – Unitariansim has broadened out during the past fifty or so years to include people ‘of all faiths and none’, as the blurb on the leaflets goes, so I had a very wide range of texts to choose from for the wallhanging. I settled on part of a piece of poetry from a Buddhist monk and philosopher called Dogen Zenji, who lived from 1200 to 1251. It seemed to exemplify what Unitarians of all types believe:

Do not listen to the ideas of others, but learn to listen to the voice within yourself.

It seemed ideal.

So, I went shopping for some linen for the embroidery, and some apple green velvet for the backing fabric. I raided my (huge!!) stash of Appleton’s crewel wool and Anchor stranded cotton for the threads to stitch the wallhanging with, and then set to working out the design.

I wanted the piece to have a kind of Jacobean feel – like Tree of Life wallhangings from country houses, only more delicate. I wanted it to be interesting to stitch, as I knew it would take a  long time and I didn’t want to be bored to death stitching it, but it also needed to have impact from a distance, so the blocks of colour needed to be quite bold.

Padded satin stitch lettering

I worked the lettering first, as I wasn’t sure if the technique I had chosen would work, so if it was going to fail, I wanted to know that before spending weeks on doing all the rest of the embroidery! I used a padding technique described in Susan O’Connor’s wonderful book ‘Monograms – the Art of Embroidered Letters’ (which, annoyingly, was only in print for about 18 months, and is now hard to find, but if you get the chance, then buy it, as it’s great). The technique involved working a split stitch outline first around the letter, then working loose stem stitches in rows thickly all over the inner area, at right angles to the direction that the final close satin stitches would be placed. I used two strands of Anchor stranded cotton for the lettering, and each letter took about an hour.

Detail of the crewel embroidery

The floral swags above and below the lettering were great fun to do. I only vaguely planned the colour scheme before I started stitching, so I surrounded myself with embroidery stitch manuals as I worked, choosing different stitches all the time.

When the stitching was finished, I pressed it gently on the reverse side, over a thickly padded ironing board, then attached the embroidered piece to the green velvet. I made tabs to hang the wallhanging from, so that a wooden pole could be slotted through later.

The whole piece took about a year to do.

But here’s the problem: six months after I gave the piece to the Chapel, I stopped attending services there, as I felt that, spiritually, I had outgrown Unitarianism, and, due also to other issues around the Chapel, felt I needed to move on. But the wallhanging stayed there. Part of me wanted to take the wallhanging back (as my leaving wasn’t done under the most pleasant of circumstances), but I knew I’d given it willingly at the time, so it seemed unfair to demand it back. I just hope that the people who may see it, get something out of it. Recently, I’ve heard that the Chapel may close, as the congregation has dropped to less than ten, and the Minister has moved on with no permanent replacement in sight.

I’ve ‘lost’ embroideries of mine before, for various reasons, and each time it hurts! I think this may be a lesson in trying to not be attached to things, but it’s not easy!