Skipton Embroiderers Guild are doing Travelling Sketchbooks at the moment. We are just in groups of six and the books are exchanged each month at the meeting. We could choose the theme of the book and the book I have this month is on walls.
I knew immediately what I wanted to do, a dry stone wall with lots of flowers in front of it. A few years ago I walked the Dalesway (84 miles from Ilkley to Windermere) with a friend, we started the practise walks in February when all the snowdrops were out, walked through the daffodils in March, then blossom trees in April, May bluebells…by the time we did the actual walk in June the wild flowers were stunning, in the fields, the hedgerows and of course at the bases of the dry stone walls. I took a photographic record of all the flowers we saw, we really felt we were walking through the seasons.
Dry stone walls are a big part of our landscape here in Northern England, many were built centuries ago and the skill apparent when you watch someone building one is amazing, there’s no mortar to hold it together, just very careful selection and positioning of the stones. As there are so many cracks and crevices in a dry stone wall they are a haven for nature, they provide a shelter belt for plants and flowers, creatures such as field mice, stoats, toads, newts, insects live within the wall and lichens and mosses grow on the actual stones.
You’ve got to admire the skill and fortitude of men who built walls like this one, hundreds of years ago… and trust me, that is as steep as it looks, we walked, or should I say staggered, up it!!
My original plan was to paint a dry stone wall with my silk paints and then stitch flowers on it. When I went into my textiles box where I keep ‘stuff’ for embroidery I spotted a piece of wool I’d won in one of the monthly raffles. It seemed pretty perfect texture-wise for a dry stone wall and also seemed apt when sheep are also a big part of our landscape.
I sketched a basic outline of a drystone wall on paper first, to give myself an idea of scale. I then stitched it with back-stitch using a lovely variegated thread. I was pretty pleased with it at this stage. I thought of using organza along the base to add colour but it didn’t look right, I then had this idea to embroider each stone with a different stitch, running, fly, cross, feather, herringbone…I think the idea was OK, it just didn’t have quite the effect I wanted. It might have worked better if I had painted the stones first, as it was it just seemed to look to busy and the stones lost their definition. However I wasn’t going to start undoing it, this is a learning experience after all!
I stitched a bit of greenery on the wall first, french knots for moss, feather and chain stitch for climbers and several stems ready for the flowers.
I started with the foxgloves just using a variegated DMC thread for french knots. I started at the top with one twist, moved to two twists a bit further down, and the bigger flowers at the bottom have three twists.
In the end I used french knots for all the flowers, varying the size with the number of threads (1-3) and the number of twists, for the bigger flowers like the poppies I also allowed the knot to form more loosely. Just using the one stitch I’ve hopefully represented foxgloves, poppies, cornflowers, cranesbill, violas and of course a carpet of buttercups along the base.
I like it now, I really wasn’t sure half way through but I’m happy with it, happy to put my name to it in someone elses book! Doing these travelling sketchbooks is making me a bit more confident with my embroidery, to think up and stitch an embroidery on a given theme is well out of my comfort zone but I am getting a bit more comfortable with it. Next months book is on trees, so I’ve already got a few ideas for that one.