"Browsing the internet I found a beetle picture and wow! The picture just jumped right out, a true turquoise jewel. The colour caught me first, turquoise being my favourite, and then I just knew I had to stitch it." UK Handmade Portfolio member, Margaret Dier, describes how Coleoptera was created.
I trained in hand embroidery at The Royal School of Needlework so I was surrounded by very classical imagery of embroidery. Many of my training pieces were traditionally based and floral in form. Not that this was a bad thing. Learning a technique such as long and short stitch was much easier on a flower. My first attempt was a classic English rose. Stitched over twenty years ago I can see many things in this piece that I would do differently now.
Long and short stitch has become my favourite embroidery technique, feared by many as being difficult to learn. It really does give a fantastic result, so is very much worth mastering. Needle painting is another term used and after looking at some pieces you can see why, they do not look like a needle and thread have been used. In fact a common question is “Has that been stitched by machine?”
Browsing the internet I found a beetle picture and wow! The picture just jumped right out, a true turquoise jewel. The colour caught me first, turquoise being my favourite, and then I just knew I had to stitch it. The challenge of using needle and thread by hand to create the shiny surface of the beetle body and to make it look three dimensional in form was just so exciting. To make the embroidery more challenging I decided to make it quite large – well, for a piece of hand embroidery. Why not stitch it the size of my hand? That would certainly make an interesting picture on the wall!
I started the project by sketching the beetle; legs, body and main markings. I didn’t need all the detail as I prefer to add that to my fabric with pencil as I am working.
Next, one of my favourite parts, choosing colours. I use stranded cotton threads for this technique. Silk can be used but the cost can be quite prohibitive and stranded cottons have a fantastic range of colours. I use Anchor and DMC brands. I find I can interchange both so that the colour range is the largest possible. I pull out ALL the colours that I think I will use. Then as I work I discard the colours that are too close or not needed. This pallet of threads I then place on various silk fabrics to help decide my backing colour. I decided on a textured white silk dupion for the beetle.
I transferred the design to the silk using an unwaxed transfer paper. It’s not traditional … but times move on! I added a few more lines to the silk with a hard pencil, stitch direction and some extra markings for guidance. Not too many as you can spend too much time looking at the lines instead of the embroidery progress and design source.
The technique of long and short stitch does have an order. You can’t just start anywhere, even though I was bursting to get to work on the main body with all the turquoise colours. You have to start with the elements of the design which are furthest away and then progress forward. That meant legs and feelers first, body last.
The stranded cottons come as a bundle of six strands which I then separate and use just one strand to stitch with. I use a very fine needle, a number twelve embroidery/crewel. The eye is almost as sharp as the point so a thimble is a must. Even though the stitch is called long and short that is something of a misnomer as once you have done your first row the length of the stitches are mostly the same. Then you just stitch away, making sure all the backing silk is covered and that you do not have any hard rows of stitches. They should all blend seamlessly.
I have to say once I got to the main body part of my beetle I loved it. I had ten to fifteen needles on the go at once so I could add a colour here and there. You do need to be careful you are not creating a maypole with your threads but adding just a touch of one colour next to another to make it stand out is a joy. It truly is painting with the needle.
I mounted the beetle over an artist’s canvas and decided to add just a little padding under the body to make it stand out. An aged tag with my name and the word beetle in Latin were the finishing touches.
I loved stitching this embroidery and, for once, it turned out better than expected with minimal unpicking. It’s now hanging on my wall. Or should I say, crawling up it!
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