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



Today I completed the illuminated A that I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks and which got delayed somewhat by tendinitis – now substantially better.

It’s a fairly simple execution rendered in laid and couched, surface couched and split stem stitches, with some French knots.  As always, there are things that I’d change if I could – I don’t think we can ever let go and think of something as perfect, because the never ending drive for self-improvement and increased skill leads us to be analytical about what we produce.  That’s my excuse at least for asking my husband for his opinion incessantly; I shall have to be careful or he’ll want to be credited as a design consultant!

As for the inspiration for this particular embroidered letter, well that is a little complicated.   In essence, it is loosely based on an illuminated capital letter which appears in the Estoire del Saint Graal , Amsterdam Bibliotheca Philosophica MS 1, volume i.   Readers familiar with the Arthurian legend may more easily recognise this as the Prose Lancelot or volume i of the Vulgate Cycle, an important precursor to the more famous and accessible works of Sir Thomas Malory.  I picked it initially (no pun intended for those of you groaning at this point) because I just liked the combination of colours.  I saw it and my mind went to work.   However, once I was actually stitching it, I realised that my selection of this letter could also be seen to be symbolic of several aspects of my personal history.

– The colours are red, white and blue.   These are the colours of the Union flag of the United Kingdom, which is of course my country of origin.   They are however also the colours of the United States of America, which is now my adopted country.   As an aside, I still haven’t got over the fact that I can call myself a ‘legal alien’, though my husband has several times told me that I have insufficient tentacles to meet the widely accepted standard for aliens.  Clearly, I have continued room for improvement!

– A of course could stand for America (see above) but also for Arthur (as in King), the chap responsible for at least some of the raison d’être for Ars Quondam, which also begins with A.

I shall just have to assume that my subconscious is a lot more clever than I give it credit for.

Loosely based on an illuminated A in Amsterdam, Bibliotheca Philosophica MS1, vol i.