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!

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Finished embroidery: look at this ‘Om’ cushion!!

I have recently returned from a Sufi Ruhaniat summer school in Germany, which was amazing – very uplifting.

As I had to travel from England, I was a bit limited in what I could take, so I had to leave my meditation stool behind. Fortunately, when I got there, there were a lot of meditation cushions of all shapes and styles available for the use of the students, and this one really caught my eye.

Om cushion with beautiful satin stitch embroidery

It’s worked almost completely in satin stitch of a really high quality, with a little back stitch. The colours are incredibly vibrant. The cushion is about 12 inches diameter, and about 8 inches deep.

Detail of the stitching

The motif in the centre is the ‘Om’ symbol. In Hinduism, it represents the unmanifest, the essence of the entire universe.

I’m very tempted to make one of my own, now 🙂

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Finished embroidery: a ‘knot garden’ pincushion

The pincushion is stitched in various embroidery stitches, and measures nearly five inches square

I made this pincushion recently, and it was one of the most enjoyable projects I have ever done. The design is by Robyn Rich of Victoria, Australia, and the design was featured in Issue 17 of the fantastic Australian embroidery magazine ‘Inspirations’. Issue 17 is from quite a way back, now – from 1998. The style of the magazine has changed a bit over the years, and this design is from their most ‘romantic’ period, which I really like. The website of the magazine’s publishers, Country Bumpkin, often has back issues still available, which are well worth buying. (When I first came across the magazine, I thought it was so wonderful that I paid over £40 in postage costs alone to have ALL of the available back issues posted to the UK from Australia – and it was worth every penny! I had a wonderful few weeks, reading through the magazines, and planning the projects that I’d like to make – enough for several lifetimes, probably 🙂  )

I didn’t adapt the design of the pincushion much, as it was so perfect as it was. I did use Anchor stranded cotton instead of DMC, as that is the brand of thread I use in the miniature needlepoint kits that I sell, so I always keep the whole Anchor range in stock, and it seemed daft to buy even more thread!

The fabric I used was a cream glazed cotton fabric, which I’d bought years ago in a  junk shop. It’s so closely woven, that when a needle is poked into the cushion, it always makes a satisfying ‘popping’ sound!

The instructions suggest first indicating the areas of dense stitching in the four corners by painting the fabric with green fabric paint, which I did. But this seemed to come out quite a harsh green, so I turned the fabric over and stitched on the other side, where the green paint showed much more faintly.

The pincushion seen from above

The text given in the magazine ‘suggested’ ideas for where each kind of stitch for each kind of plant could go, rather than giving precise placement instructions, so it was a very creative project to do – lots of choices to make. The stitches used gave a good impression of each type of plant. For instance, the delphiniums I stitched in columns of French knots, the central roses in close-lying bullion knot rounds, and the lavender bushes  in lazy daisy stitches, done in short rows.

The border was great fun to do. Just short lengths of French knots, in lots of colours, worked randomly. The ‘cushion’ part, when embroidered and made up, is stitched to the base at the very corners only – the base being a piece of thick mount board covered in fabric. Tiny flowers are stitched at the corners of the cushion to cover the joining stitches. The seam of the baseboard fabric is covered with two rows of open detached blanket stitch, in two colours. The way that the cushion and the base are joined means that there is a kind of  ‘slight gap’ in between the two, which the article suggested using to tuck packets of needles, etc., into, but I think I’d worry that they would get lost, so I don’t do that.

I keep meaning to use motifs from this pincushion to make matching scissor holder, needlebook and scissor keep, but then there’s this issue of time…..

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