Friday, 20 February 2015

Kung Hei Fat Choi - May Prosperity Be With You

Been so busy the last few days;  Valentine's Day last week and three family birthdays, Shrove Tuesday with delicious pancakes yesterday and Chinese New Year yesterday (19 February).  Have also finishing off an additional colour way for the Tudor design - although the backgrounds are skip stitches rather than solid basketweave they still seem to take for ever!

Saffie's 1st Birthday present stitched in Myanmar
Each Lunar New Year has a special animal with a 12 year cycle, Rat, Cow, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey Chicken Dog ad Pig.  The upcoming year is the year of the Goat and my Myanmar newspapers told me that red underwear (especialy bought for you as a gift) would be extremely lucky.  I shall have to visit Keturah Brown, the lovely lingerie shop in Primrose Hill where I know she has some particulary pretty red items!

As needlepoint designs some would work far better than others and I as a 'Rat' would definitely give mine a miss!  Other symbols dependant on the day of the week the child was born seem to have more possibilities.  The list - again by my guide in Myanmar - was

Monday       Tiger                                                is Fair of face
Tuesday       Lion                                                 is Full of Grace
Wednesday (day time) Elephant with tusks         is Full of Woe
                   (night time) Elephant
Thursday      Rat                                                 Has far to Go
Friday          Guinea Pig                                   is loving and giving
Saturday       Dragon                                       works hard for a living
Sunday    Legendary Bat     But the child that is born on the Sabbath
                                          Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay!

There is also an English rhyme foretelling the new born's fortune which I have also included

Again if contemplating a pair of cushions or samplers two compatible beings would be most satisfactory.  Fortunately Robert was born on a Monday and I on a Wednesday so a  pair of Tiger and Elephant would work well.

I have already done a pair of our Zodiac signs, Robert Cancer 22 June - 22 July and myself Sagittarius ( as seen here) 23 November - 21 December but I shall give a full list of those Signs on a future blog.

To return to the Chinese theme here is a small book front I worked some time ago along with two Willow Pattern plates.  Although these transfer printed china was produced in Britain between 1780 and 1880 many of the themes were Chinese with pagodas and bridges.  There is a charming legend of two young lovers who because of a different background, were not allowed to marry so they changed into birds (often shown in the design, and flew away to happiness. 

That aside many of designs have wonderful ideas for needlepoint.  Besides Chinoiserie there were rural scenes of the British Isles, London views,  Greek motifs all with interesting borders - a dream for a designer  as I hope you can see from this illustration

Finally a waste-paper basket continueing the Chinese theme. cautionary tale - always know of a professional who will make up an unusual item - the guy who did this for me has retired!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Recent Holiday in Burma

As I have always admitted, travelling to new places meeting new people, enjoying their way of life and, in particular seeing their crafts is one of my greatest joys.  Our trip to Myanmar, Burma that was until their independence in 1948, was no exception.
The people were so helpful to us and always had a smile;  the countryside that we visited was green and lush with many lakes, the great Ayeyarwady River which acted as the  main artery for transportation of goods and of course the magnificent temples all over the countryside but particularly in Bagan.

Myanmar has borders with Thailand, China and India so the food is a great mix of these cuisines, coupled with the extremely rich soil that produces the most wonderful selection of both fruit and vegetables.  I couldn’t resist a photo of a road side vegetable stall, a vibrant cacophony of colour, smell and variety in a village we passed through

However, as always I particularly love seeing the crafts that are enjoyed by the people.  Myanmar is rich in natural resources, oil, timbre, jade and rubies to name a few and a long established tradition in both embroidery and weaving.
Our first trip to see some of the exquisite work was to a village a short way outside Mandalay, Amarapura or the City of Immortality as it was once know.  Here we visited two wonderful workshops, the first with women working on applique panels.  The first photo shows the black ground fabric stretched on a frame and the second various pre-embroidered motifs being ‘plunged’ onto the velvet with a profusion of seed pearls, sequins and bugle beads (it could be said that they love a bit of bling!) 

Of course here in Britain we have the same idea of mounting fine needlepoint motifs onto a ground fabric – often for bed hangings.  Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick worked together (in the late 15 hundreds)  on bed hangings known as the Marian Hangings with birds, animals and ciphers some of which can still be seen at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London^.   A Google search will tell you more than I can here.

More recently Sulgrave Manor has created new bed hangings for an original Elizabethan bed – an 8 year project with individual pieces worked in both the UK and the USA before being mounted on a ground fabric.

*With on going conservation work it is wise to check with the destination before travel
Our second visit in the same area was to a weaving group; here we saw the wide looms that create the national dress, the longyi;   A flat panel 2m wide and 1 ½ m long that both men and women wear (they tie them slightly differently) Those we saw were silk and absolutely the top end of the market, items that would be worn for very special occasions.  This one, with two girls sitting side by side at the loom would take about a full month to complete.  Here too is a general view of the workshop and two photos of the silk store that I had to capture!

 Later on the trip we went to Inle Lake ringed by small fishing and craft villages with houses on stilts which offered us a scenic insight into rural life; an open air market with goods arriving by oxen carts, silversmiths, cheroot rolling, papermaking and joy of joys a visit to a lotus, silk and cotton. Weaving centre.   Interestingly mulberry trees grown in the area give the leaves for the silkworm and the soften bark for the papermaking.
Never before had I seen the fibres extracted from the stems of the lotus plant and then either woven alone, very very expensive or mixed with silk, still expensive but not quite so much!
The lotus fibres are always left a natural cream colour but the silks are dyed and I photographed the dye vats for you to see!

 Again the weaving atelier we visited, Ko Than Hlaing, has a charming and informative web site with good illustrations.

My meagre purchases were a vibrant pink hand-woven cotton for the back of my ‘S’ cushion I shared on my last blog ‘Tips for Travelling’  and a scarf that I shall both enjoy wearing and matching up with threads for a future needlepoint project.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Travel Tips

Travelling is one of my passions, I love to visit different countries, meet their people and often I am fortunate to get ideas for new needle point designs!  But on my trips I always take some stitching with me, in fact being seen to stitch often starts an interesting conversation with local people and fellow travellers

The following suggestions are for family holidays not for needlepoint retreats or specific courses when one can expect good light,, calm surroundings and uninterrupted stitching time, when of course one takes more demanding designs and one's full battery of equipment!

Over time I hope I have learnt some important does and don'ts especially having just returned from Myanmar where I was able to make these notes Do let me know of tips you might like to share!

Plan in good time!
Allow time for any standard kit to arrive, longer for one with special colours or threads requested.
If taking instructions only, allow time to get the right coloured canvas and threads together.

If planning to work an original it is wise to stitch an area to check colours and the best threads.
Suitable designs
Small items, not too complicated, spec cases, Kindle or iPad covers, gift gitems.  This last trip I worked on a small panel with a decorative S and colourful border for a great grand niece's first birthday.  It is worked in crewel wools and pearl cotton  Threads such as silks that need careful laying are not ideal travel pieces!

Size and mesh
A piece that will fit in your purse or carry on means you will never be bored at airports.  My piece this trip was 12 inches square and on 12 mesh.  Lighting may not be good in your room,so taking a design that is possibly less fine than your usual can be wise.

Airplanes forbid scissors (though FAR allow very small ones but even these have been confiscated from me in the past!). There are small gizmos to cut threads and my favourite is the 'Clover'.  Needles seem to be Ok but do take a spare pack just in cases.

One never knows how much stitching opportunity will present itself, however I suggest taking an additional piece just to be safe.  On this last trip I finished my one piece with still a 14 hour flight to get back home!


I simply don't enjoy stitching without a frame; the narrow and light artist stretcher bars are perfect and if going expressly to stitch (for example our annual trip to Italy) we all take our floor frames, the Lowery with the side clamp is our favourite.  Fortunately my daughter in France has one which I borrow when there, so if you have a holiday home it may well be worth getting a second floor frame especially if it enables you to avoid checking in a suitcase and paying for it!

A bonus that might present itself is to find a fabric to finish your piece,  In the inle Lake District of Myanmar, previously known as Burma we visited by boat, a
silk and cotton weaving village and I found the perfect fabric to back my 'S' design.  It will make the gift truly Myanmar!  On another occasion I was working on this 'envelope' design and needed a decorative clasp; a happy search in the souks of Morocco found this piece -again I remember that holiday every time I look at the finished
Extra details of this envelope design, I worked it on one of the Italian trips, as I consider metallics and laying threads need concentration to get good result which ones doesn't get on the move!  I also found the striped silk and matched both the colours and the width of the stitch columns to the width of the fabric stripes.

Another piece stitched again in Italy by Sarah illustrates coordinating a fabric successfully with your design.

Lastly take a camera or some method of recording possible ideas.  I also take pencil and paper as photography is not always allowed!

No possible designs present themselves?  How about the colour combinations, the yarns, the beads, take some home and enjoy using them!