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The Illuminated William Morris Part 4b - The Fox (Back)

(originally published 1st September 2014)

Greetings all, and welcome to the beginning of a new academic year! I've been 'heads down' over lesson plans, schemes of work (aka schedules) for the various courses I'm running this year, designing leaflets & flyers to put up in local venues (do let me know if you want any), and generally getting rather excited about the upcoming year. Although I always rather desperately need the 5-week break August gives me, after about 2 weeks I start to feel a bit antsy, missing the routine of getting up and heading out to the studio to teach every day, so the beginning of term has come just in time.

So here we are, beginning, at long last, some actual thread-painting (long-and-short stitching, silk shading, whatever) on Mr Fox!

The first stitches in a row should cover the

relevant directional lines

As an apprentice at the Royal School of Needlework, I was trained in this technique, first with a flower, and later, with an animal (actually, it was a hummingbird). The idea was that a flower (or fruit or veg) was easier to start with, as the stitches all flowed in the same direction, towards the growing point. Animals are harder, because fur and feathers have the tendency to go all over the place!

Additional colours are added with long and short

stitches between the initial stitches

Of all the techniques that I tackled during the 3 year apprenticeship, silk shading was the hardest for me to get my head around, and it took 3 different tutors on 3 different projects before I finally had my lightbulb moment, and everything clicked. Now it's one of my favourite techniques, especially when combined with gold (hence the annual Illuminated Letter Summer School).

Once the first row is finished, the second starts

with the directional stitches as before

As I said in my last blog, preparation for this technique is the key, and if you've drawn your directional lines carefully and accurately, then the first thing to do when you're tackling your first row of stitches, is to cover those lines with a suitable colour. The reason why I suggest this is because I personally am very good at ignoring my pencil lines! If I don't force myself to hit the angle perfectly (by whacking a stitch in right at the outset), then I often settle for 'near as dammit', and in the end, it never looks as good.

Shades are stitched evenly, without 'bunching' the

same colour unless required (e.g. for a stripe, spot

or other marking)

Something else that I recommend to my students is related to the colours you stitch with. I suggest that you avoid working more than 2-3 stitches side-by-side in the same colour, unless you're recreating a spot, strip or other marking. Even if you only change up or down a shade, it's important to keep the shading smooth overall, and 'blocks' of colour break up the look of the subject. You'd be surprised how many colours are in a project like Mr Fox - 14 in this one! It's not too difficult to break up the colours with various subtle shades; if you're using the fine number 12 embroidery needles, you're better off having 1 needle per colour, as they're rather fiddly to thread.

Lighter shades are worked in as the fur goes up the back;

darker shades will 'disappear' behind the leg

It's important to stand back and look at your work every now and again, because you WON'T be able to really see the shading effect at close range. Propping your frame up, and looking at your work from across the room (really, you want to be at least 5 feet away, 10 is better) will allow you to see the actual result of all those individual colours and stitches. Often up close the colours look rather odd, and yet they dissolved and merge into the right appearance from a distance. You can't actually mix thread colours like you can paint colours, but you get the same effect by fooling the eye at a distance.

Sometimes the oddest colour adds just the

right touch!

By occasionally standing back and reviewing the results of your stitching choices, you'll be able to see where you need to focus lighter stitches, and where to focus darker ones - think about the underlying structure (in this case, the bone and muscles of the fox) which affects how the light highlights or shadows the surface (in this case, fur).

Gosh, that was all a bit technical - there's always rather a lot of chat at the beginning of learning silk shading, I get bored with my own voice, but actually the best thing to do is just jump in and have a go - it's only thread remember, it won't bite! :)

See you next time for Mr Fox's head - can't wait to tackle those ears!

Love 'n Stitches,


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