Gathering Threads

Smocked Laces: The Sequel

Posted by on Jan 03 2014

I was able to squeeze in the third and fourth lessons for Nancy’s Smocked Laces course over the past couple of months.

Now that I’ve gotten it back, I thought I’d show you the new laces I worked and the two I designed.  If you missed my earlier overview, check out my post Smocked Laces for all the nitty gritty details about what/where/why.

Here’s the sampler in its entirety.  The wonky shape shows what happens when I don’t tie off using a pleating board and pins.  I just wung? (winged?) it.  Eh, it’s a sampler and Nancy was happier with my density this time, so it’s fine.

The top four designs are Nancy’s.  They’re lovely because they’re so narrow.  I can definitely see myself using them on say an infant gown or on a sleeve where you just want a touch of detail, not a billboard’s worth.

Here in the close-up, you can see the closed herringbone.  On the right side, I worked raised chain stitch on top of the herringbone, adding yet another layer of texture.  The lace below is much more fluid, and has a lot of movement, between the cretan stitch, the scalloped chain border and the detached chain flourishes.

Here are the close-ups of her third and fourth designs.  Amazing how something as simple as mirrored cable and a couple of strands of interwoven floss can look so much like lace.

And then we get to Nancy’s last last design.  A bit of featherstitch, some VanDyke waves and some loopy bits et voila.  But for some reason, I had trouble with this lace.   See those little loopy whatchamacallits all along the bottom?  I will not tell you how many times I ripped the  things out.  If I do, they’ll take my blog away.  Gross loop stitching incompetence.  Nancy was kind in her comments and simply suggested I make them looser next time but if this is a learning experience, then I’ve learned, I don’t like smocking loops.  At all. 🙂

For my own designs, I decided to try out a couple of ideas that I wanted to test for my final project.   The pattern I’m going to be using doesn’t have a lot of depth at the chest for a really deep full (or even partial) yoke and the princess lines of the pattern make a fairly narrow area, too.  So I wanted to try to come up with a design that was compact, with a good balance of density and impact.  I will be smocking with ecru floss on a fabric with a lot less contrast than the teal I’ve been using for the samplers, so the design needed enough ‘oomph’ to clearly read as lace without relying on a strongly coloured backdrop.   Here are the contenders, which I both really like.

For some reason, I neglected to take a close-up of the Van Dyke lace on the top all by itself but I’ll describe it and I think it’s clear enough in the picture above.  Any questions, just shout.  It’s simple as simple can be.  Three identical rows of Van Dyke wave bordered by three rows of cable stitch.  In between the outer two rows of cable, I worked straight feather with two strands. Classic and very understated.

It wasn’t the ultimate winner, though.  This lace design was.  It has a lot of elements – wheat stitch, alternating closed herringbone, cross stitch, and double flowerettes – but it has an overall unity, with the repetition of the dot motif and the contrast between smocked and open space that I really, really like and that I think will be beautiful on my final smocked lace project.

And because I’ve had a lot of interest in my smocked laces (I can’t believe how many times images from the earlier post have been repinned on Pinterest and the traffic it generated has been considerable), I’m also making this smocked lace design available here as a free smocking plate.

You can download the smocking plate by clicking here.  It prints to 3 8 1/2 x 11″ sheets and includes a close-up image, a graph and written directions.  As always, best behaviour in the sandbox.  You’re welcome to share the design with friends, but please credit my website as the source and don’t repost or resell the design.

Free Smocking Plate: Three Little Kittens

Posted by on Nov 29 2013

Now that the weather’s gotten cold and we’ve seen the first snow of the season, I thought I’d share a winter-ish plate with you all, since it’s been a while since I’ve posted a freebie.  I thought about doing a Christmas one but  since I seem to be on a nursery rhyme kick of late with my smocking, I went with the Three Little Kittens instead. (They’re in mittens – that counts as wintery, right ?!)

I’ve made two versions of this smocking plate.  The first is the advanced version – each mitten has a different Fair Isle like pattern –  you’ll need to be comfortable working complex horizontal and vertical colour changes in your picture smocking but I’m absolutely delighted with how the knitted patterns translate into smocking.

The second version has the same design but I’ve simplified the mittens, so that rather than having a pattern, they’re worked with only two colours of thread   Cuts down on the time and complexity but still gives a cute look.

As you’ll see when you download either chart, I’ve suggested colours from Caron Collections Impressions line.

Impressions is a 50% wool/50% silk thread that I discovered taking Darcy’s exotic smocking course and it’s fabulous.   I’m using it to smock Bo Peep’s sheep and I’m telling you, this stuff is da bomb for picture smocking.  Smooth, durable, a rich, soft ‘wooly’ feel that isn’t the least bit scratchy and two strands gives flawless coverage for picture smocking.  You owe it to yourself to try this stuff.  It’s definitely more expensive than DMC floss (5-6x, depending on where you source it) but why should needlepointers have all the fun threads?  You can check out the complete colour offering here, or get the printed list here.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

There are just a few embroidered elements I’ll touch on here, since the plates are self-explanatory in terms of the picture smocking.  The cuffs of the mittens are worked in two stages.  First, you  smock following the chart; then, using two strands of Impressions, work vertical rows of chain stitch on top of the picture smocked cuff. This will create a rib-like texture.  The laundry line is wrapped chain stitch.  The cats’ features are stem stitch for the noses and then 2-3 straight stitches for the pupils, with each stitch starting and ending in the same hole (like a granito, but narrower).

You can download the advanced Three Little Kittens plate here.  It prints to an 8 1/2 x 14 sheet.  The simplified version is here.  As always, the rules of the sandbox apply.  You are welcome to share the link to this plate with friends or pin in on Pinterest but please don’t resell the plates and always credit me with the design.  Happy smocking!

Book Review: Primarily Quilts by Di Ford

Posted by on Nov 16 2013

Since my sewing time’s been pretty much eliminated by school work, I thought I’d share my thoughts on a book I recently purchased.  Those who can’t, in other words, read about it instead 🙂

Primarily Quilts is by Di Ford, an Australian quilter who specializes in vintage and reproduction quilts.

Her work is exquisite.  Master level applique that simply boggles the mind and makes you wonder when she has time to sleep.  Click here to flip through a flash version of the book to see the many beautiful designs the book includes.

Published by a French company, Quiltmania, who also publish a quilting magazine by the same name, Primarily Quilts is published in multiple languages.  It’s only available through their company and through some quilting stores.  You can’t order it through Amazon, for instance.  The cost is 34 Euros plus shipping (that’s around $48CDN or $46USD plus shipping at current exchange rates)

Primarily Quilts is bilingual, with directions and text in both French and English.  The downside to this is that while it is a substantial book (almost 300 pages), the directions are sparing because the space allotted for text is shared by the two languages.

This is not a book about ‘how-to’ and I would rate its skill level as expert.  While the text opens with a half dozen pages of direction about fussy-cutting of hexagons, working broderie perse and creative fabric layouts for the applique figures, there are limited directions for fabric choices, how to prepare or stitch applique shapes or how to finish the quilts.  You get the patterns and templates and very minimal instructions on piecing and that’s it.   The directions are clear and logical, but they assume a great deal of pre-existing skill and access to additional resources for the mechanics of making a quilt like this.

The applique and patchwork templates (some of the smaller designs are printed in the book, the rest are on three oversized pullouts) are very clear, and Ford includes alternate  templates for those designs where she has used broderie perse, in case the quilter doesn’t want to use that technique.  That’s a nice touch.  I actually found it easier to visual the quilts’ elements from the black and white line drawings.  Ford’s use of colour is very Victorian (read *busy*) and sometimes, it can be difficult to pick out the individual motifs through the cacophony of fabrics and prints.

The book’s design is very eyecatching and the paper feels smooth and rich.   The photographs look rich and sumptuous and I’ve spent more than one evening when I should have been reading theory leafing through it, and I always see something new.  All of the quilts are displayed with a very European flair, there are lots and lots of close-ups peppered throughout the books as well as a photo of each of the quilts laid flat, so you can study the overall layout.

There are illustrations showing the steps of assembly (the majority of the quilts are done in the English frame style), and measurements are offered in both imperial and metric.  One surprising element is the scale of many of the quilts.  Some of the individual pieces are very small and require a great degree of precision in their piecing (anyone feel like cutting several hundred multi-coloured 13/16″ triangles?)

Ford doesn’t really do shortcuts (and that’s fair, since the audience for this book probably isn’t looking for Quick Quilts in a Weekend kind of thing).  Only two of the quilts offer any machine piecing shortcuts; the rest assume that the quilter will be tracing and cutting and assembling the pieces with handwork.  It’s a very labour intensive process and I for one found that a very intimidating aspect of this book.

I’ll be frank.  I don’t think I’ve got the skills or the patience to sew the quilts in this book.  The hundreds of hours of work and the large scale stash needed to recreate them make it unlikely.  That said, the book is still worthwhile in my view, even just as inspiration, especially since it shows historic quilts from periods other than just the American Civil war and from different nationalities, like Holland and England.  And even if I’m not planning on sewing a 5000 piece quilt, I can see myself using the individual templates on smaller projects, because Ford’s sense of design is top notch.

So I’ll give this book a buy.  Because just like fabric in your stash, you can never have too many books about fabric on your bookshelf, either!

A Peep at Bo Peep

Posted by on Nov 09 2013

I usually keep a bit of smocking in my car so that when I’m playing taxi, I’ve got something to work on while I’m sitting on the sidelines of whatever destination I’ve shuttled the boylets.

My latest project is a picture smocked design that I will be submitting in the new year as part of my Artisan program evaluation.

I’ve been working away at accruing the necessary points through workshops, articles for SAGA News and my correspondence courses.  If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be ready to submit in the New Year.  One of the challenges with the Artisan program (besides getting over the fear that they’re going to be judging you on *every* *single* *detail*) is making sure that you provide examples of all of the required elements between your two garments and your smocked sample.

It’s a bit like Tetris.  You’ve got a bunch of ‘gotta smocks’ that you need to include: Van Dyke, bullions, feather and chain stitch, bars, spools, honeycomb, herringbone etc. and figuring out where and when to use them is the puzzle.

Bo Peep is my smocked sample.  It won’t be shown to the evaluators as part of a finished garment.

The fabric is a very narrow blue and white printed stripe, which I hand pleated to avoid distortion.  I did 31 rows (29 + 2 holding) 3/8″ apart.  I had planned on using gingham but for the life of me I couldn’t find a 100% cotton 1/8″ check in the right shade of blue.  This works equally well and I like the sense of movement the alternating pleats of blue and white give.

I know Bo’s looking a bit bald.  She will have hair and a bonnet.  And a skirt.  And a second foot.  And lots of embroidered flowers and curlicues.  But I’ve only just started the picture smocking.  I’ve completed most of the backsmocking, using two strands of floss to work rows of mirrored cable across the insert.  It stabilizes the pleats and it’s very inconspicuous from the right side.

I’ve also started on the geometric stitches: Van Dyke and Surface Honeycomb for the band below her feet and then above her, a band of Closed Herringbone and five rows of Honeycomb.

Because of the depth of the insert, if I ever end up using this in a garment,  it will be in a full yoke style, rather than in a partial yoke dress.

Of course, what would Bo Peep be without some sheep?  She’s going to have two of them eventually, one on either side.  And what do you think of when you think of sheep?  Well, take a peep at this! (sorry, but I couldn’t not say it :P)  It’s a skein of Caron Collections Impressions in white.  Impressions is a 50% wool/50% silk thread and it’s lovely.  I worked with it taking my exotic smocking course and as soon as I conceived of the design for the sampler, I knew I would use it to make these sheep extra wooly.

So slowly, slowly Bo Peep and her sheep are taking shape.

Smocked Laces

Posted by on Oct 27 2013

I’ve taken several SAGA correspondence courses, including Advanced Stitches and Exotic Smocking.  Over the summer, I decided to enroll in another course with Nancy Malitz (who taught Advanced Stitches) called “Smocked Laces and Design”.

This is an interesting course because the design elements come not from a wide range of flosses or colours but from the combination and textural elements of a monochromatic scheme.  In laysmocker’s terms, all the floss is white, the fabric is a solid colour and the stitching looks like lace.  You vary the coverage using different numbers of strands of floss, from barely there with one strand to thick and rope like with three strands.

You can see what I mean in the laces below.  In the top design, feather stitch is worked on top of two undulating rows of open herringbone; in the lower row, open scallops of chain stitch are finished with french knots and straight feather, along with raised chain in the centre of the scallops.  Neat, eh?

Here’s my first sampler for lessons 1 and 2.

Nancy’s laces are the four above; my laces are the ones all squashed down at the bottom.

I’m definitely happy I finished Advanced Stitches first, as I’m much more comfortable working the rather unusual stitches (Van Dyke, raised chain, closed and open herringbone, feather stitch variations etc).  The stitching, although not particularly deep in terms of rows covered, does take longer than you might expect because you are working over the same pleats multiple times, crossing over and lacing to create a sense of depth.

I also added some cast on stitches as well – ever since Gail Doane’s course in April, I’ve loved adding them to anything I can get my hands on and I think they are very effective as a scallop.  I’m also thinking of playing with them in my next samples but using them as petals, not scallops.

Nancy’s comments were very instructive.  My pleating is on grain, but she did comment gently that I have a very tight smocking tension and should work on it. I know I do.  I just find it difficult to smock when pleats are loose and floppy and I hate the look of skimpy pleats – you know, where the fabric is blocked so thin you can almost read a newspaper through it?   It’s good to be kept humble 🙂 and I’ve already got ideas for my final project that I think will be really effective and totally over the top in terms of heirloom technique.  Hee hee.  *evil sewer’s laugh*

Now I’ve gotten started on my second sampler, working through lessons 3 and 4.  I don’t think I’ll be done any time soon, since most of my evenings involve reading or other forms of school work but I do like having something in my hands none the less.