The funeral boat of Scyld Scefing

Progress continues with my first Beowulf ‘vignette’ depicting the funeral boat of Scyld Scefing.   In the end I’ve stuck to a fairly robust medieval color palette to help create that manuscript look.  The work is stitched with laid and couched work, stem stitches, back stitches and gold work.    Accompanying text in Old English comes directly from the poem.

A knotty linguistic problem to do with additional runes not yet appearing has just been solved with the help of some extremely talented and learned acquaintances in a rune writing/reading group on Facebook.  Those runes will shortly be added, along with more ‘ice’ beading, ship rivet beading or stitching (not made up my mind yet) and a lot more gold.  The goldwork has barely commenced at the time of these photographs.

Hopefully I should be done in a week and moving on to Hrothgar in Heorot.


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!

Smaug, work in progress

I must be a glutton for punishment in deciding that I would fill in Smaug’s night sky background with, of all things, split stitch. It’s the fault of the Two Trees for this really: that was a picture on a much smaller scale than Smaug, but I liked the woven texture that the split stitch sky imparted in that piece. I could use Bayeux stitch (laid and couched work) and it would progress farther faster while using a lot less silk, but I just don’t feel right about the texture it would lend to the piece in that specific place. Bayeux stitch will work nicely for the mountain side, but that’s a way off in the future at this juncture.

In Smaug, the split stitch for sky is only a background layer, as I will be stitching details (e.g. clouds, expanded lunar corona, rising smoke, stars) on top of the black, but even so there is a lot of work involved. Cue my latest ‘work in progress’ picture, which also manages to showcase my use of vanishing pen in order to mess about with cartoon lines that I later decided I didn’t like. I’m deliberately aiming at giving a very slightly uneven texture to these ‘sky’ stitches, as I intend to whip around some of them with filament silk, which would be more difficult if every stitch were flat to the fabric.

Anyway, here he is so you can see how he’s coming along after a week:

Smaug, WIP

The Two Trees

While I was waiting for my materials to arrive so that I could start Smaug (who is now on my frame at last, hurrah!) I worked on a picture of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, from JRR Tolkien’s Silmarillion.

Here is the result. It is styled as a Medieval miniature and stitched in cotton and silk on broadcloth, with glass beads, gold and silver metallic threads, gilt and silver passing thread and Japanese gold. Techniques used are padded couching, couching and split stitch. I’m pretty pleased with how it came out, though I’ll be even happier when it comes back from framer and printer after a professional image has been captured.

Two Trees cr

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.


Gandalf, completed June 2013 after roughly 250 hours. Image and design © Liz Heffner.

The intent was to capture some of the style and essence of Medieval manuscript illustration, which hopefully has been successful.

Working with spangles was quite amusing as they wanted to act like tiddlywinks and spring off in all directions. I was certain that I would find some in my hair at the end of the day, but luckily this was not the case. This is also my first attempt at working with Japanese gold and I must say that while it is indeed time-consuming, especially when couched singly rather than double-stranded, I think it is safe to say that I have now been ‘bitten by the bug’.

For those who are not able to read the inscription, it reads:

By the light of the small hearth fire,
Gandalf took the ring from the tongs and was
not burned for it was quite cool.

This references the point in the Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien, where Gandalf tests the ring in Frodo’s hearth fire and discovers the final proof that it is indeed the One Ring. I note that fan conversations are multiple on the subject of whether or not Gandalf actually handled the ring in the book, because the movies of course took quite a different stance on the matter. To me it is clear and not at all ambiguous that Gandalf did indeed handle the ring and pass it to Frodo. He just never put it on his finger!

Gandalf, completed June 2013

Design measures 22cm x 42 cm

Stitch techniques: couched goldwork, laid and couched ground work, split stitch and French knots.

Materials: Japanese gold, gold and silver metallic threads, gilt and silver spangles, 100% silk and cotton perlé.

A few other close up ‘detail’ pictures are available on my Facebook page (Liz Heffner – Artisan).

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.