Hestor rides…again.

I’m almost tempted to call my current piece ‘Son of Hestor’ or ‘The Return of the Son of Hestor II’ in bad movie title style, but the reality is more appealing.

Having had my firm suspicions about what cotton was doing to me with long term repetitive use, I switched to silk and have now executed about two thirds of the outlining on a duplicate Hestor design.  Luckily for me, I took the time to draw it out on paper despite the fact that I only intended to use it once, so I had it to use again. Hurrah!

There are some small differences in the design, as I used the opportunity to correct a couple of things, but naturally a few other things crept in…as they do.   My tower lines are distinctly wobbly, but as far as I can tell, this is partly due to the tension on the frame, as it seems to balance out better when the tension is removed.

I haven’t got to the really dense, intense stitching yet, but at this early stage it seems that switching to silk is solving my issues with hand and finger strain.  It’s going to quadruple the material cost of a piece though, so I may find that this makes it economically unviable.  Time will tell on that score.



I think it’s fairly safe to say that I’ve discovered the main reason why I shouldn’t be using cotton threads for opus anglicanum work: the thickness of the thread makes the repetitive action of stitching much more intensive a strain and the result…again…is tendinitis.

When I finished Herr Niune, I ended up unable to sew at all for two weeks due to this problem.  This time, I spotted the warning signs early enough to put Hestor aside before things got too bad, thinking that if I were to avoid sewing for a week that this would do the trick.  Unfortunately, once the tendon is inflamed and angry, even simple tasks like opening a door or unscrewing the lid from a jar can exacerbate the issue.  Thus I find that after a whole week of no sewing, I’m still where I was at the start.

It’s a bit sobering, not to mention annoying.  I really really want to progress with Hestor.  It’s like going on a diet when you know that the fridge is full of donuts: temptation is sadly very much within reach but the results of giving in to it would be fairly hefty.

So, after a brief discussion with my husband concerning our budget, I’ve ordered sufficient silk to complete a similar style picture in 100% silk thread.  It will be, as they say in the UK, ‘swings and roundabouts’ as to whether this helps me avoid repetitive strain injury, but it should help as I’ll not need to exert anything like the force I currently do while gripping the needle.  It will however then take me longer to stitch a piece (the coverage from the silk will be much less than that of the cotton I’ve been using) so there will be more repetitive movements over a longer period of time.

I’ll just have to get stuck in and see.  Not yet though.  Another week of rest ahead.  Ho hum!  I guess I should see if I can get any weaving done without my finger giving me the finger.  If not, well…I was just complaining that I never have enough time to make the knotwork appliqué cushion covers that I’ve intended to make for our ‘new’ house ever since we moved in last December, so maybe now is the time!

Baby’s First Ren Faire Tabard

Friends of mine are due to attend the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire next week with their 8 month old son (who is absolutely gorgeous).  Upon hearing that his grandmother was knitting him a chain mail coif and decorating his stroller as a horse, I volunteered to make a simple tabard appliquéd with a coat of arms that is associated with their family name.     This is the result!    Given that it was done at breakneck speed and will most likely be drenched in spit-up within five minutes, I didn’t give it the sort of neatness, detail and embroidered attention that I’d give to a similar piece for an adult, but I’m still fairly pleased with it.

I haven’t been to the Ren Faire myself, though with my own two year old going through a phase of almost fanatical interest in princesses, I can see that a trip will be in our future – perhaps next year when her crowd tolerance and attention span are a little better than at present.   I dread the possibility that I might personally find it all a bit too touristy and twee/kitsch as I usually find the American treatment of Tudor and Medieval times (they often seem to conflate the two) all just a bit much.  For myself, if going in costume, I would feel obliged to make it authentic (I don’t aim for this in art, but costume is an entirely different matter).  Sadly, from photographs it seems that the majority of costumed faire-goers opt for a pirate/swashbuckler bodice/floppy shirt look in impossible combinations of colours and fabrics.

I will go next year with my parent hat firmly in situ and thus reconnoiter from a minimum safe distance.   Having a happy, enthusiastic child to introduce to the world of pageantry and chivalry will probably make it all perfectly enjoyable.

Fleece tabard, felt appliqué of an eagle carrying a horseshoe.

Hestor’s journey continues (WIP)

Poor Hestor is still riding through water towards his castle: it has been ten days so far and I’m afraid that he won’t reach his destination for at least another two weeks, not least because I want to use the proper 18k gold thread I’ve now sourced from overseas.    There are quite large areas for underside couching, so this will prolong his ride while I wait for it to arrive in the mail!

I was musing about on the internet the other day, as you do when you’re procrastinating because your hands are tired and need a break from the repetitive motions of sewing, and I found a website that seemed quite thoroughly to berate embroiderers for daring to work with either stranded embroidery cotton or pearlised cotton, deeming these the stuff of children’s friendship bracelets and pasta picture ornamentation.   ‘Real’ or ‘serious’ embroiderers who aren’t still committing the heinous sins listed as embroidery ‘mistakes’ apparently don’t use these.

Obviously silk floss will have a more luxurious appearance, greater lustre and offer a wider range of hues from which to choose.   In some pieces this not only matters, but influences the outcome a very great deal.  I think, however, that to write off the full range of threads available is premature.   For example, I look at Hestor developing under my hands and I don’t dislike him for being made of ‘friendship bracelets’.   It’s a style choice.    I love working with real silk (and have a huge package in the mail currently, you’ll probably hear the whoop of joy when it arrives), but pearlised cotton imparts a texture which, when used with split stem stitch, just seems right for some projects.    It has a property that reminds me of the impressionist paintings of Van Gogh: each stitch is visible, like each brush stroke, while not detracting from the whole.

That’s my sentiment anyway.  I know there’ll be people who see my work and disagree, but that’s the thing about art.   It engenders feelings in those who behold it – at least, that’s the hope – but nothing says that those feelings have to be the same or that everyone will agree.

Meanwhile, I’ll just be happy if Hestor gets to his castle in one piece and that I manage to capture something of the spirit of the original Arthurian illumination in the process.

Hestor rides through woods and water to a castle