A mail art embroidery

I don’t know why, but I have really been drawn to bird-related imagery recently.  Just before moving house, I started working on this small embroidery, which I charted from an illustration by Jay van Everen (from the book ‘The Laughing Prince’ by Parker Fillmore, c. 1921):

I completed it after the move, and although I’m not entirely happy with the lower left quarter, I can’t imagine re-charting/re-stitching any time soon, so this will suffice, for now!  I thought the adaptation worked really well, overall. 🙂

(I will probably release the chart in zine form, at some as yet unspecified future point.)

Something different

It’s a long time since I’ve done any embroidery or design thereof, but recently, the urge has started twitching at me, again.  My charting program was a sacrifice I made for the greater good when I switched to my new laptop last year (because the new laptop does not have a disc drive, and my charting program was on disc) – but even so, in the last 2 weeks, I have managed to chart 3 different designs using a painstakingly longwinded method I devised using Open Office Draw.  It’s almost as painstaking as drawing it out by hand on graph paper, but slightly easier to amend errors & try out alternatives.  Anyway, I managed it!

This is the second design that I charted, but the first one that I stitched, as the first charted design is quite complex, and having not stitched anything for so long, I thought I would ease myself in gently!  This one is adapted from an illustration by Jay van Everen in a collection of Jugoslav fairy tales by Parker Fillmore (c. 1921).  The story is called ‘The Laughing Prince: the story of the boy who could talk nonsense’,  and the image is part of a larger illustration featuring different elements from the story (right).  I believe this section of the illustration relates to the this part of the story; “the dampness had made the millet grow so well that its tops now reached the sky” – but I may be wrong, so don’t quote me on that!  I just loved the weeping willow-esque shapes.  And the bird.  For some reason I seem to have been drawn to bird imagery more than usual, lately…

Anyway, definitely time to invest in a new charting program (downloadable, this time) and make life a bit easier for myself!  But I’ve surprised myself by enjoying the manual process, in the meantime.

Inspirational Blackwork

I don’t know if I’m legally allowed to post pics of somebody else’s work, but just in case, here are the links to the work of two different designers, both producing stunning charts and kits for graduated blackwork.  I haven’t stitched from somebody else’s kit for years, but I will be purchasing from both!



I have been inspired to go back to blackwork embroidery after a long absence.  I don’t think I can produce anything as impressive as these, but it’s going to be fun to experiment, too!

Blackwork Potential

Years ago, I found a blackwork kit at one of the big needlework shows in London.  It was by a company called Needle Needs, and the design was a cat’s face, called ‘Tabatha’.  It was beautiful, very detailed and delicately graduated to convey all the shading accurately.  I no longer own the stitched piece, and although I once had a photo on my PC, several house moves & a PC change later, I can  longer find that either.  The company does not seem to existny longer, and on this vast world wide web, I can’t find any other images of the design, either.  Oh, well.

It ruined me for blackwork.  It was one of the first blackwork projects I stitched, after a couple that were much smaller.  I loved the design too much to be daunted by its complexity.  After that, though, I could never find another blackwork piece approaching the same level of design quality and moved on to her stitch techniques.  The market has grown a little, since then – although graduate blackwork is still not exactly common – and there are some good designs about (Derwentwater to some interesting landscapes in blackwork using different colours; and Tanja Berlin has some stunning peacock & butterfly designs); but like I say – the stitching ship has sailed, for me.

What ‘Tabatha’ did do, was inspire me to experiment with graduated  blackwork myself.  I did a few small pattern studies, then leaped straight in to try charting my own cat, ‘Colin’.  I’ve lost the original photo I worked from, but I’ve added a pixelated cross stitch chart version below, as well as one of the variations of a blackwork version (I did a few, using different filling patterns, as the patterns make quite a difference to the overall effect).  I didn’t really pursue the idea any further.  ‘Colin’ was no competition for ‘Tabatha’, and my own stitching was leading in different directions, anyway.

Recently, though, the subject of cats (and blackwork) came up with a couple of my model stitchers, so I sent through a couple of my old charts of ‘Colin’ – completely without instructions; I had had no thoughts or intention of kitting them at all.  The charts were well-received by both stitchers – one of whom suggested an idea to me that had never crossed my mind, but actually, is very worthy of consideration.

She asked if I had thought about taking commissions and charting other people’s cats (/pets) for blackwork.  Well no, I hadn’t!  But actually, why not?  The principle is fairly straightforward – a photo is cut down into it’s varying shades of light and dark, and then insead of cross stitch, blackwork filling patterns of varying density are applied, instead.  I’m surprised that in these days where photo-charting computer programmes are commonplace, that no-one has invented a programme  that will do it automatically.  (But perhaps they have, and the news just hasn’t filtered through, yet…)

In the meantime, though, I’m going to give it a trial run, and see what happens.  I don’t know that commission  work is necessarily a direction I want to go in, but I’ll see if I can recreate the apparent success of ‘Colin’ before I need to think about making that decision.