Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Red-nosed Reindeer Christmas Cake

Jen has produced another masterpiece for our Christmas cake this year. It's another Karen Taylor design from her book - "Quick Cakes for Busy Mums". I think this cake must fit that description because Jen was much less stressed when she finished and it was even ready in time for Christmas!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Kirigami - a joint effort

A few months after I started learning Japanese Embroidery, my friend Steph brought over her JE bits and pieces from New Zealand when she visited the UK during the 2012 Olympics. This included a couple of frames with designs in progress. One of these was her phase 2 piece, Kirigami, started in June 1997 at a class in Wellington.  Steph had completed all the main motifs in the piece beautifully - the Chrysanthemum, Cherry Blossom, Plum Blossom and Pine. My favourite motif is the three-dimensional effect in the Plum blossom. It positively glows when the sun shines on it.

Her flax leaf effect in the Chrysanthemum is super-accurate. It's really easy to pick out the stars or cubes, depending on how you look at it.
All that was left to do was the single central braid for the cord and the staggered diagonal strings, so this was a great opportunity for me for me to learn those techniques. It was also an opportunity to try the finishing process on my own. It went OK but it was still pretty nerve-wracking.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Satin boxes

I attended my first Japanese Bead Embroidery class 5 years ago this month. At that time our teacher, Marion, was the only qualified Japanese Bead Embroidery teacher in the UK. Marion designed this satin box lid as a taster project and it uses many of the Phase 1 techniques. If I'm honest, I only tried the class because I wanted to learn the standard Japanese Embroidery and I saw this as an easier way in. Jean, a local  JE teacher, hosted the class. She had been learning Japanese Bead Embroidery herself and had already completed a large number of the JEC bead embroidery bag designs. It was when Jean brought her bags out to show us that I was sold. Bead embroidery comes alive when you shine a light on it and I was hooked by the bling. By the time I started my Phase 1 piece  a couple of months later, Jean had qualified as a bead embroidery teacher, so we then had 2 teachers. This meant we were never without a Japanese Bead Embroidery teacher in the UK, even when Marion moved to New Zealand a year or so later. I think Jean's current count of bead embroidery pieces is 17, so she's a very experienced teacher.
Earlier this year I finished Poppy Pouch, my Phase 3 piece. Before starting the Peacock Mat for Phase 4, I fancied doing a smaller project, so another satin box lid seemed like the ideal project. I had some Valori Wells patchwork fabric which I thought might be suitable as the base fabric. This would also give me a chance to take some baby steps into design. So here is my first attempt at designing bead embroidery.

Patchwork fabric isn't the best base for bead embroidery because it doesn't have a high enough thread count. The fabric needs to be stretched quite tightly on the frame, so it tends to get distorted, especially as the weft and warp stretch will be different. For this first piece I didn't use any stabiliser at all and as you can see in the picture below, the circular motif was anything but circular once it was on the frame. There was also a lot of give in the fabric when I was stitching. In the end I had to average out the design elements to make it look reasonably regular. It was fun to do and the colours made a welcome change from the black beads in Poppy Pouch.

Learning from this experience, for the next box lid, I backed the patchwork fabric with medium weight vilene. This time the fabric was much more stable to stitch but I can't honestly say there was any less distortion. In the photo below the motif is decidedly egg shaped. It didn't matter quite so much because the flower in this design could be more random. There was another disadvantage with the vilene. When you design something there's a lot more trial and error, so I did far more undoing an redoing on these pieces and over time the vilene started disintegrating. I think the best solution is woven interfacing but the result would probably be too heavy for this particular project.


When choosing the beads, I amplified the colours in the base fabric and this was the final result.

I was initially worried the background green was a step too far. However, when I took this photo at the weekend with a hint of the garden outside, I realised that however bright I thought the colours were, nature can always rack it up a notch!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Poppy Pouch

Here's my Phase III Japanese bead embroidery project. It's taken 18 months to complete because it has been very much a background project while I concentrated on Japanese embroidery. As is often the way, I have focused on getting it finished because I wanted the frame for another project.

The first side was mostly completed last year. I tried to follow the JEC photo as closely as possible with the use of clear beads for highlights.
When it came to the second side I decided to use all red beads for the flowers and use the clear beads to show the leaves disappearing behind the petals. I'm not sure it altogether works and I think the shades of red supplied with the kit  are a little too close to get a real degree of shading. The shading is really achieved with the padding which is the real star of the show for this piece.

Here's a couple of close-up shots which show the padding a little better.

I demonstrated at a couple of shows with this piece.  Quite a few people said "How can you see to sew black beads on black fabric" but the most memorable comment was "Oh that pink blob in the centre is beads!" It wasn't meant as an insult, just must have the first thing that popped into the lady's mind. She stayed for a longer chat afterwards and did say some nice things afterwards.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Beaded Owls

There was a bit of an owl theme this Christmas. I had seen a couple of examples of a cute owl design on some beading blogs. After some searching I found the instructions here. The instructions are in Italian, so the translate function in Word came in quite handy. For my first go at the design, I followed the instructions as written. The Swarovski components are an 18mm crystal moonlight rivoli, 8mm denim blue chatons and 4mm montana bicones. While shopping for supplies, I discovered an the online retailer Perles and Co, who have the most complete range of Swarovski elements I've come across so far. I think this may prove to be an expensive find.

 What I really wanted to do  was to make a brooch but I felt I needed to scale up the design. So this time I used a 27mm crystal Chilli pepper rivoli for the body, 10mm crystal red magma rivolis for the eyes and 4mm smoked topaz bicones for the wings. The most difficult part to scale up was the wings. If I had a bit more time I might have tried drop beads or magatamas. As it was I finished this brooch less than 24 hours before posting him off - amazing how a deadline can always get me focused on finishing :-)

Friday, 3 January 2014

Owl I want for Christmas

Our Christmas cake arrived a little late this year but it was worth the wait. For this year we did the "Owl I want for Christmas" design by Karen Taylor in the Winter 2013 issue of Cakes and Sugarcraft. Jen made the owls and I was responsible for the cake. Even Graeme got involved this time, "plastering" the butter icing - those DIY skills can come in handy in the kitchen too!

Rudolph's antlers proved to be a bit challenge. If you look carefully you can see he had a bit of an accident, so he had to be the first one for the chop! For the those of the non-squeamish disposition, here's what the owls look like inside.

The majority of the owls are Rice Krispies and marshmallow. There was enough of this mixture left to make 4 owls instead of the 3 in the magazine, so Jen improvised Mother Christmas herself - I love her mop cap.