I have started to restitch the October Peace embroidery.  Hopefully the stitching will be straightforward with no problems.  This photo isn't the best I'm afraid.  I took it on my phone.  It is just too much trouble to get the big camera unpacked.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 8.54.05 pmI am stitching this in one strand of DMC stranded cotton.  I must say that I am really enjoying stitching it and am not sure why.  With this finished I still have another 2 to designs to stitch before the end of the year to reach my goal.  Hope I make it.

And if you don't subscribe to Jacob over at "Modern Folk Embroidery"  he is putting up some free cross stitch patterns and other tips to celebrate Xmas.

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January 2018 Children's Embroidery Class

Well here it is. The first of the Queensland themed designs to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Embroiderers' Guild of Queensland Inc., "We have Pineapples".   The designs go from easy to difficult.  I started with the difficult for our more advanced stitcher's.  I have 3 designs that are interchangeable for either item.

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Putting the purses together is not difficult, but, it is fiderly.  I think this deserves a little tutorial of it's own in the future.  I have made a couple of changes to make it a bit easier.  Like changing the lining to just an iron on stiffener rather than a padded interfacing and stitching the frame in place with quilting thread rather than the clear nylon one recommended.   I think I will experiment with perle thread for this as well.  It might work and then again it might not.

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 The simpler design just has a zipper closing.  When I say simpler, it could be quite detailed if all those seams were finished with embroidery.  I have a feeling that this will be the one that the kids like the best, but we will see.   But the best news is that not only have I finished the samples I have also completed all the kits, bar 2.  I ran out of wadding.

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Count down to Xmas

Now that kind of crept up on me.  Xmas that is.  I have been putting bits and pieces away all year and now is the time to pull them out and see what else I need to buy.

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Plus I have a Xmas gift to finish sewing for Thursday based on this design.   

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I have the fabric, just need to put it together.  (Just!!!)

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After that is the Xmas cards.  On top of all this I have to have the next Children's Class finalised for tomorrow.  Talk about tight time lines.





Weaving and embroidery

My visit to Guatemala was a bit like stepping out of the Tardis into another time zone. 

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The skills of people there is  from a time long past in our Western Culture.   I wondered why it was the women who mainly carried on these skills and kept their traditions?   Our guide explained that the country had gone through a 36 year civil war, fueled by a number of different powers.  The CIA from the USA, Castro from Cuba and local people who saw it as an opportunity to increase their power.  The result of this was that a lot of the Mayan men were killed.  You could be killed for wearing Mayan native dress, so the men stopped wearing it.  That their culture has survived at all is remarkable considering the ethnic cleansing and killing that went on during that time.

But it does continue on and says a lot about the people, especially the women.  Some of the blouses, or hupils, they wear look embroidered but they are actually a hand woven brocade.  This piece that I purchased from a second hand market is an example of a brocade. The joins at the centre is embroidered, the rest of the design is woven.  And, they memorise these patterns.  The counting involved must drive them crazy.  This is how brocade was made before machines.  No wonder it was so expensive and prized and the weavers praised for their skills. 

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These skills were highly prized in Western Culture, starting about Byzantine times (it's use in Mayan culture predates this by thousands of years), and because the textiles were so expensive their distribution and access to the skill was controlled by those in power right up to the 1700,s.  In 1804 Joseph Jacquard invented a machine that could be attached to a power loom and since then hand woven brocade has virtually disappeared from our culture.  I saw one of these machines on display in Lyon, France years ago.

This hupil that I also purchased second hand, is embroidered.  That is, the fabric is woven and then the design added with needle and thread.


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It must have been stitched some time after 1950 because there is quite a bit of lurex thread being used.   Mayan women 'love' glitter.

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Outside one of the churches in Chichicastinango

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I found a woman drawing the designs, free hand, onto fabric for embroiderers to add their threads.

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 6.54.56 amI also found some pre-printed designs in a shop in the market.

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This video from You Tube details the making of a hupil over 90 days.  It has been filmed in the very places I  have just visited and shows in detail the whole process.  The shop where Manuela buys her threads is the same shop where I bought mine and the Textile Museum is the same one where I watched this young woman warp up her loom.

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If you want to see a more in-depth explanation of weaving and embroidery in Mayan culture there is an excellent documentary called "Century of Color: Maya Weaving & Textiles (English)"  It is nearly an hour in length and is very comprehensive in it's coverage of the topic.                                                                                                                                                                                                         Now it is time to step back into my imaginary time machine.  I need to return to today's world and pick up the threads of my life again.  I wonder if Dr Who and his time travellers felt like I do now?  A bit of regret at leaving, excitement at my return, nostalga about what was.  But now the future calls.




















Spinning and weaving

After viewing an exhibition in Canberra a couple of years ago I was alerted to the range of wonderful weaving from South America.  So, I embarked on this last trip a bit more prepared for what I would be looking at.  What I hadn't prepared for was how all pervasive it is in the lives of some women in the Mayan culture.

By the time a girl from a family who weaves is in her teens she is an accomplished spinner with the hand spindle.  This young girl uses a clay dish to spin the base of the spindle.   The thread she is spinning is fine and even and the process is automatic.  She has done it so often she isn't even thinking about it. 

Traditionally, a baby girl, at about 3 weeks of ago, is taken by the midwife to be bathed in a kind of sweat lodge.  The mother will give the midwife her baby daughter's weaving instruments, all minature in size.  This will include strands of thread,  a tiny loom, scissors, basket and needle.  The mid wife then performs a ceremony in which she opens the infants hands and passes each instrument over them.  She prays that the child will become a very good weaver and maintain the ancient weaving arts that have been passed down her maternal line for thousands of years.  But this work is difficult and time consuming.  It takes 3 months to weave a intricate blouse and many young people do not continue the tradition.  Cheap western clothing from Goodwill shops have flooded the markets and are readily available.

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Two kinds of cotton are grown.  I have never seen this brown variety before.

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However both varieties require a lot of preparation to get them ready for spinning.  All the seeds have to be manually picked out and there are a lot of seeds.  Then the fibre is teased out and spread on the small women mats.  The mats are a bit larger than an A4 piece of paper but not as big as an A 3.  Those mats are beautifully woven. Then the fibre is beaten for about 2 hours to remove any other foreign materials and soften it for spinning.  (I got lost about the removing the seeds stage.  It is so difficult!)

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The next stage is the dying of the yarn.  We spent some time with a women's co-operative and they explained how they dyed their yarn.  They only use natural dyes and the magic ingredient is the chopped up banana leaves which they add to the dye pot to set the dye.   First they boil the leaves for 2 - 3 hours then soak the thread in the liquid to prepare them for dyeing.  The dye doesn't run and even using indigo dyes there is no staining on the hands.  I have my eyes set on my friends banana trees after the next crop is harvested just to see what I can do.

Some of the dyes they obtain are:

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They also used crushed insects to get their purple colour.

Walking around the cop-op I found a whole collection of cushions that had been repurposed from discarded hupils, (blouses.)  Some lovely embroidery ideas here.

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They  call this "Rococco work".   Looks like lots of bullion knots to me!

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And it was every where and there was a hug spread of embroidery skills on display. Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 11.05.46 am
They work their embroidery on a frame.

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There were so many different embroideries and weaving designs that I could never post them all here but I hope to use them as inspiration for some other designs.










I'm still trying to get my feet back on planet earth.  The state my brain is in, still, is a disgrace.  But  that isn't entirely my fault.  Today I looked at the packet that my medication comes in.  Turns out I should have put it in the bin a couple of weeks ago because it is supposed to be kept under refrigeration.  There were no refrigerators where  I went so my medication hasn't been working.  No wonder I've been walking around like a zombie.  I've been taking those tablets for well over 30 years and missed that notice on the packet.

  Actually, I have quite a bit of work in progress.  Problem is, there hasn't been a lot of the 'progress' bit.  When I got on the barge this afternoon I see that the oyster catchers are back, in force.

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I have been thinking about doing a small series about sea birds that I see around the island.  I haven't finished this but it is a beginning.

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Problem is, it's been a work in progress since 2012!!!!

I  promise, I will finish it.




I got it bit carried away with the threads

I bought a lot of threads while I was away.  Starting in the USA where I was seduced by the Wonderfil stand at the Houston show.  I like this thread for use on the sewing machine.  My Bernina dealer has a limited range and I normally wait for the quilt shows in Brisbane to stock up.  This stall had the lot including some lovely colour in Perle 8.  After I bought it I realised that it is Sue Sprago's thread.  There is 5 grams on each ball and I don't see it on her web page so it must be new.  I also bought some of the Eleganza thread.

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Then I really got carried away in Guatemala.  Starting with the cotton threads.  It is the colours that did it.

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This thread is just a little thicker than 1 strand of stranded cotton and it has a slightly higher twist. (The white thread is the stranded cotton.)  I have no idea how it will work in an embroidery but if it doesn't suit I can make tons of tassels.

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Then there was the silk threads.  (I did test it to see if it was rayon but no, it was silk.)   Again, wonderful colours, but no twist to the thread.

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I'm not sure how I will use this.

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Then there were a couple of boxes of Perle 8, 5 grams in each spool at about $1 per spool..  And I love these colours.

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My Turkish thread has 8 grams on each spool ($3.50) and DMC  ($8.99) and Anchor ($10)  have 10gs on theirs so the Guatemalan thread was a lot cheaper.

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The other thread I bought is used for weaving Ikats.  It is dyed then ove-rdyed after the pattern is selected.  They place the thread on a frame and then tie one of the about 10 different squences that are used.

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When the ties are removed from the black the pink colour will show through in bands.

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The woven piece will look something like this,

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I have no idea what the result will be if I use it for embroidery.  Lots of adventures ahead here.







Sleeping, writting and getting my feet back on planet earth

I think I am back on planet earth again.  After arriving home the proverbial hit the fan and I was flat out just getting through each day.

The grandchildren were so eager to get their gifts, so they were first on the list.  Then I had to visit all the family and distribute their gifts.  Next came my quilting buddies and my daughter had to fly away to another job and I had to get the dog and fix the apartment for while she was away.  Then I had an assignment to write.  It was on a subject I know far too much about so I had to cut and cut my word count.  Then I just fell asleep and slept for 24 hours.  I hope the body clock is now back in sync.  OH. I forgot the washing.  I haven't got to the housework as yet.

For my quilting buddies I bought fabric in the USA that I was going to make into 'mug rugs' for them.  That was until I made one. 

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Then I decided they would 'much prefer' to make their own.  So I packed up some kits for them and 'showed' them the sample I had made. 


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I hope they have fun making these.  I have another lot of kits I have to put together for my friends up at Toowoomba but that is not for a week or so. 

I also got the painting I bought in Guatemala back on a wooden frame and up on the wall.  I carried this rolled in a piece of plumbing tubing all the way back home, cursing it all the way. but I am so pleased with it now.

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But first I have to organise my work room.  What a mess!  I have a list of projects that have to be finished before everything breaks up for Xmas.  OMG, Xmas.  I had forgotten about that.

Jet lagged

Well I'm home again after my month on the road.  I'm tired and a bit jet-lagged and my mind is full of all the sights, sounds and experiences of the last 4 weeks.  I have to sort through all my notes, organise my photos and get all the information into some sort of order so that I can move on.

So what was the one most outstanding event of the trip?  Well there were so many that it is hard to pick but I personally liked meeting the Embroideress in the markets at Solola, Guatamala.  I saw lots of women who spun and wove but she was one of the few I found who stitched. I saw lots of embroidered garments and there were lots of women buying threads and patterns but she was the only one actually stitching.  Her long hair was wrapped with ribbons and lace and she was beautiful.

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There she was in the market and as an embroiderer I appreciated the skill with which she plied her needle.  All of the hand woven fabrics are produced from back-strap looms.  This means that there really isn't enough width to the fabric to construct a garment.  So traditionally this was overcome by embroidering lengths together.  (The same as you see with faggoting.)

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They use a frame which is about 1" in depth and the tension is balanced by a spring, rather than tightened with a screw in the European way.  The needle is huge by our standard but the fabric they embroiderer on is a lot thicker than what we are used to.  In the past the best garments were embroidered with silk but commercial rayon thread is used a lot today.

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The stitching that she was engaged in was for the traditional skirt.  I bought a second hand fabric length stitched in this same manner.

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Although this piece had been stitched with cotton thread.  The different patterns used today have become somewhat of a fashion statement with the women and all the different groups use different patterns.  When you see the finished pieces on display, like those in the image below, it is easy to forget that a woman, like my embroideress, actually sat and stitched them.

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I found that the quality of the embroidery was far better in the older pieces of work and I fear that as technology and the Western world influences the Mayan culture hand embroidery will be replaced by the machine and people like my embroideress will fade away and no longer be part of this rich culture.


Moving on

This is my last night in Antigua.  Tomorrow I am moving inland to the lakes in the highlands.  It has been an interesting few days filled with new sights, sounds, tastes and emotions.


One old love I have revisited is horse riding.  And boy have I found lots of lost muscles.  The knees have had a work out as well.  We went up to visit a volcano and getting up the mountain involved either walking or riding a horse.  I took the horse.


The getting onto the horse was a bit of a challenge but once on I was able to get on and off without too much trouble.  I just made sure that I was near a rock or a wall.  The other challenge was the saddle, which was wooden.  Actually, the horses name was Carmello and he had a great temperament.  He knew the way and only tried to get away on the way up not the way down.  That was because he got fed at the top and was looking forward to that.  Coming down the mountain the track was narrow and very close to the edge of the precipice.  I just looked ahead and prayed.


The ash field around the volcano was just like the description of Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings.  The dust and smell of sulphur stung the throat but the views were fantastic.


I have not been neglecting my textile study either.  The following images are a selection of the embroidered hupils or blouses that I have been photographing.  They are all hand stitched and the amount of work that goes into each one is amazing.  Like most of South America Guatemala has a strong tradition of backstrap weaving and everywhere you go women are working at the loom.


The above image is really interesting because it depicts the same scenes that are seen in Mayan sculptures.

I think one of my favourite images is of the flower seller.  She has taken flowers from the jungle and is selling them on the streets.


I may not be able to post for a while as I don’t think there is much internet where I am heading but there will be lots of adventures.