A Long Two Years

This blog has been silent for what feels like almost forever! After an injury to my right ankle in 2014 that at first nagged and refused to get better and then resulted in two lots of major orthopedic surgery, finally leaving me with chronic regional pain syndrome and permanent disability, I have largely been unable to work.

For the first 18 months after November 2014, which is when I had the first surgery, I spent the lions’ share of the time confined to bed, 24/7. The at that point undiagnosed CRPS kept setting my progress back every time I tried to rehabilitate with physical therapy, so I kept getting ordered back to bed by my physicians. A DVT in my recovering leg further complicated matters and left me unable to sit upright at all due to the level of pain unless my foot was above my heart.

I’ve tried to explain this to a few people, but embroidery and textile work isn’t something you can do when flat on your back, especially when you are trying to minimise repetitive stress to your elbows. It isn’t even particularly easy to do without strain if one is sitting with both feet up when one is sitting upright.

An epidural nerve block procedure and a second orthopedic surgery in Jan and Feb respectively of 2016 meant that I could recover sufficiently to be able to walk short distances in my house and once again sit long enough to be able to attempt some work.

I started to work again in August 2016 though still at somewhere between 30 and 50% of my usual capacity due to the need to take breaks and put my feet up at regular intervals. I am however finally able to work a little bit, which feels lovely after so long a desert of creativity.

I am due to have another spinal nerve block in February and hopefully will be slightly closer to normal after that!  The ultimate goal is for me to be able to attend craft shows and display/ vend my work in person, but I’m not quite there physically as of yet.   There will also be the matter of how and if I am able to drive or whether I’ll be dependent on my husband for all chauffering, moving and lifting.  It certainly seems that way at present as I’m still in need of a wheelchair for distances longer than about 40 feet or even less on a particularly bad day.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of work I’ve managed to complete since August – and yes, I am now flirting with wire weaving and jewelry making as well.  You can also find me and photos of work in progress on Facebook here: Liz Heffner Artisan on Facebook.

whitevine-saquariushunterian-piscessmoky-quartz-1lombardica2

Technology…

Having spent the last 7 days at Disney World with a very excited 4 year old Cinderella clone, I was keen to get back to work but, sadly, find myself foiled by the death of my desktop computer.

My husband has rebuilt the drives and re-installed Windows, but I’m still missing all of my design software, Office suite and really just about anything that I need to be productive short of actually stitching. I have all the disks but my dvd drive also needs to be replaced! It never rains but it pours, right? It’s at times like this that my dependence on technology is revealed as a weakness, though it certainly does save time and labour when it is all working.

As for actual stitching, I need to finish my first piece for the Embroiderer’s Guild course that I’m doing, the deadline for receipt of which is mid February. Hopefully both my strep throat and tennis elbow (thanks, Disney) will slacken off this week in sufficient time for me to complete that piece and get it into the mail!

Smaug has been stretched and we’ll collect him to take to the printer on Saturday with luck!

Smaug’s appearance

I’ve been dreadfully neglecting my blog, not because I don’t care about it but because there is apparently a limit to my ability to multi-task. I have been pouring out pictures and commentary on Facebook but of course I really should chat here too, not least because the mechanism here supports something a little lengthier on occasion than a Facebook ‘snapshot’!

So, in no particular order, here is the news since the last time I posted back in 2013:

My Gandalf piece went to Sevilla, Spain and was exhibited in the Infanta Eleña library during November 2013 as part of the Sociedad Tolkien Española’s Premios De Arte: Niggle competition for Tolkien related art. I was honoured to have made it even thus far, so was doubly delighted to find that I had been awarded the second prize in the competition!

My design for Smaug was intended to take about the same time to stitch as Gandalf, which was in the region of about 250 hours over five weeks. The dragon proved testy (and fiery) however and most definitely had a mind of his own. He refused to cooperate with some of the stitching techniques I had planned, leading me to abandon all inhibition and go for something that took much, much longer to execute. Finally, after 600 hours of work over the course of five months, he was completed at the beginning of 2014. He is now in the hands of my wonderful framers and will go on then for digital asset capture and print production. I hope to have prints available in the Spring.

In the meantime, here’s the picture that I took of him late at night in artificial lighting on the night that I finished the piece. It’s not the best photograph, but I intend to take a better one with an upgraded camera once it gets back from the framer. Since most of the beauty of the piece is in the fire-like glimmer of light movement over the variety of metals angled differently to one another, I will also take a video and post that at a later date.

smaug2

And here is a picture of me nearly at the end of the laborious task of stitching 200 Swarovski ‘pearls’ and more than 300 gilt spangles (I lost count).

Smaugcoapic1

I tend to call the piece ‘He’ rather than ‘it’ in a term of slight endearment and respect, as, having worked on him for 5 months, we got a little close! He’s constructed in pure silk (soie de Paris), Japanese gold, gilt and silver passing threads, metallic yarn, gilt spangles and Swarovski ‘pearls’ on a ground fabric of cotton broadcloth stabilised with canvas. I ‘auditioned’ some linen prior to starting and ultimately preferred the broadcloth for various reasons. The stitch techniques used are split stitch, couching, padding and bead appliqué.

Last, but by no means least, I was recently interviewed by the Middle Earth News and interested folks may see the article at Middle Earth News interview

Exciting Times

Three of my pieces: Gandalf, Grail Knight and The Two Trees will be exhibited for the first time this weekend in Giclee print form at Oxonmoot in England. Oxonmoot is the annual gathering of the Tolkien Society and an event that I intend to attend next year for the first time.

The prints were almost literally hot from the press (or the drum in the case of Giclee) and were the very first prints from the first edition run of these pieces. They were delivered _just_ in time for me to send them to England by UPS courier, where they arrived on Tuesday. There may have been some squeaking in my household due to relief at the fact that the timing worked out in the end! I owe serious thanks to some people, who will be rightly recognised on my official website.

We are awaiting some feedback on print size from the weekend before proceeding with the rest of the run; it seems likely that two of the pieces will be printed at slightly larger than actual size, especially since the extra cost of doing this is not prohibitive and adds only a minimal amount to the retail cost of each print. I otherwise thought that the first Giclee prints were incredible and so cannot wait to hear what people think!

Meanwhile, work continues apace on Smaug. I have a lot of stitching and goldwork still to do, but he is starting to come together very nicely. At the moment I am working intensively in a floral area of the border and am itching to begin the Or Nué of Smaug himself and the mountain beneath him, but order guidelines dictate that the goldwork is done last so I have to wait! Once I have completed a bit more of the border area, I will put up some more work-in-progress pictures. Smaug will eventually be offered in Giclee and digital offset print form.

In other news, I’ve just joined the Embroiderer’s Guild of America and The Embroidery Guild (UK), my official website goes live within the next few days and I’m planning a trip to Seville, Spain in order to see one of my pieces hanging in an exhibit there in November! Exciting times indeed!

Taking Smaug Seriously

I’ve finished the preparation for my Smaug project and it’s lying in wait for me like its namesake, framed up and stabilised on canvas backing fabric.

Meanwhile, I’ve had something of an emotional 48 hours, debating the subject of cost of materials with my husband. He, being the lovely man that he is, has now assisted me in drawing up a strategy that means we can afford to get better materials for my next three pieces. (Pause for much W00tage, as some of my friends would say…and another pause to marvel at the fact that the Word Press spellchecker doesn’t balk at that word at all!) I love the way Gandalf turned out, but my Smaug design is a different animal entirely and practically begs to be taken seriously – and with a different level of seriousness to boot. That means silk and it means 100% silk.

Things continue improving

It looks as if I am going to avoid needing surgery for carpal tunnel release in both hands.   I had nerve conduction studies done a few weeks ago and they found no residual level of damage or irritation to my median nerve, which is incredible.  The therapeutic stretching has been a godsend and I’m now about 30% through Hestor, even though I’m using some long winded methods in that picture by staying with split stem stitch instead of couching in the larger areas!

I hope to get a little more done before I post the next picture.  With luck that’ll be within the next week.

Carpal Tunnels and Christmas Gifting

Currently suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, the onset of which makes me suspect that it was Herr Niune that broke me!   Docs orders are to do no crafting of any kind, though I haven’t done any since October anyway apart from a brief pre-Christmas flurry of gift creating.    I’m due to get nerve conduction studies as soon as the referral goes through; once we find out how bad the situation is, I’ll know whether I can get away with steroid shots and rest or whether I’ll need surgery.   I’m hoping desperately against the latter, as it would pretty much put an end to my crafting even on a hobby basis.  Unfortunately the symptoms are pretty severe so surgery is looking likely at this point.

Anyway, I DID make some things for people at Christmas, most of which did not revolve around embroidery due to my disability at the time, but some of which did.    Here follow some photographs of the things that I managed to turn out.  Let’s all hope that they don’t turn out to be the last things I ever make!

This first piece was constructed for fellow Tolkien enthusiast friends and is finished as wall art with padding over prepared plywood board and sealed with upholstery staples, fabric glue and felt.  The text is the song to Elbereth, or at least the section of it that Frodo hears whilst at Rivendell.  I tried to keep the presentation fairly minimalistic, as I did not want the text to seem cluttered, but speak for itself.

Silver thread, white and grey embroidery cottons, split stem stitch, on midnight blue velour.   Song to Elbereth by JRR Tolkien.

Silver thread, white and grey embroidery cottons, split stem stitch, on midnight blue velour. Song to Elbereth by JRR Tolkien.

This cushion design came from a book (More Celtic Quilting, by Gail Lawther, 2004).  I don’t often stitch other people’s designs these days, but the carpal tunnel issue inclines me to be a little lazier than usual.  Also Gail’s designs are beautiful.  I finished this one at 8pm on Christmas Eve.   Phew!  Drinks followed.

Christmas gift, created Dec 2012

Purple/pink silk dupion, hand embroidered in running stitch using variable shaded purple embroidery cotton. Embellished with pink beads.

This next cushion cover was my first foray into patchwork in about 30 years, the first in fact since my enthusiastic but mediocre offerings in junior school.    My mother will disagree with this assessment because she still uses one of the pieces that I made, but she’s my mother and biased!

This piece also represents the very first time I’ve tried hand piecing.  Why I did this when I already had carpal tunnel symptoms…well, your guess is as good as mine.   Presumably for the same reason that I’d take on a project like this, based on techniques I’d never tried, only a bare few weeks before Christmas!  Apparently, the lure of the crafting did naughty things to my capacity for sensible judgement.  Anyway, here it is!

Cathedral Window/Secret Garden patchwork, cottons hand pieced, embellished with beading.

Cathedral Window/Secret Garden patchwork, cottons hand pieced, embellished with beading.

This next piece was finished as wall art with padding, board, upholstery staples and felting in what was fast becoming my signature method prior to the doc ordering me to down tools.   Actually I think this was the first one that I tried to do, so the corner angles are a little bit wonky as I was still fighting with the stapler (we are now the best of friends).   It is an exercise in deconstructed crazy patchwork, which means that none of the edges are finished and the slight degree of fraying from the pinked fabrics adds to the effect in the design.  Various types of hand embroidery, machine embroidery and beading feature.  The leaves declared on their packaging that they were for stamping art, but it wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve used something in a manner utterly unforeseen and unintended by the manufacturers!  I ended up stitching them on by hand.

Deconstructed crazy patchwork, embellished with hand and machine embroidery and beading.

Deconstructed crazy patchwork, embellished with hand and machine embroidery and beading.