I started this embroidery project in 2016 or 2017 with the idea of doing something extra special with the materials and tools, which kind of accumulated over time. I’ve discovered that I work best this way, albeit extremely slowly. But what’s the rush? I name this project Patience only after considering calling it Meditation because that’s pretty much what I’m doing when I work on it: Patience reminds me to take my time and to do this the right way, the way I envisioned it, arbitrary rules and all.
I wanted to use some of my naturally dyed handspun yarn for something special, to honor it, in a way. In 2010 or 2011 I took a natural dye class with two friends (good times, Alana and Stephanie!) at the Art League of Alexandria. After the class, I started an indigo vat and ended up dying some unspun merino, which I later spun for Tour de Fleece in 2016.
The pink/purple yarn is my alpaca handspun dyed in that natural dye class with cochineal. I made a Sally Cardigan sweater with most of the handspun alpaca; I used the naturally dyed bits for a color yoke and band below the bust that you can’t really see in this terrible picture.
The navy blue wool I’m embroidering on came from a commercially knit sweater that accidentally took a trip through the washing machine. I really liked (and still like!) the idea of embroidering natural materials on natural materials, so wool on wool rather than wool on cotton seemed like an interesting idea to play with. I’m not sure if this would be considered crewelwork or not, but that was floating around in my head as well.
The beads I’m filling the center with aren’t natural and in fact make me wonder just what goes into making them. I wish there was an episode of How It’s Made detailing how they’re made; I would love to see some episodes devoted to art and craft supplies. Anyway, the shiny glass beads I got eons ago in a Philadephia bead store that has long-since closed, and the matte pink beads are from Japan via Amazon.
I also think of the environmental impact of the materials I’m using. I imagine these beads and the nylon thread I’m using to attach them are probably the most expensive in terms of environment impact. Also, they break the arbitrary rule I set out with to use only natural materials in this piece.
The embroidery hoop I’m using isn’t anything special; I got a multi-pack of them just before I started this project. The needle I’m using, on the other hand, is special to me. A good friend I met through roller derby (2011-2015) had given me a set of hand quilting needles (thanks, Debb!). Hand quilting needles are as big or bigger than darning needles but with sharp tips like their smaller hand sewing counterparts and without those, this project wouldn’t be possible.
I started by making a circle of French knots (point de nœud en français; I was wondering!) using handspun wool singles I dyed with indigo at home after the natural dye class ended. When I finished the circle of blue knots, I was at a loss of what to do next, so the project sat for a few months.
I decided to perfect my French knots and use the cochineal alpaca handspun to fill the center of the circle. I worked diligently on it until I got bored with it. I also think this was around the time that I started working again. Maybe. I’m hazy on when and why exactly I put the project down.
Fast forward to our move in early 2021 (yes, we moved in the middle of the pandemic to a bigger, more private house). As I was organizing The Yarn Office (my craft room-office space), I kept this piece out. I picked it up every now and then and remembered getting bored with it. There was also the problem that I had limited materials; I only had so much of the cochineal alpaca handspun left and I realized I wouldn’t be able to fill the entire circle with it.
I had an epiphany at the end of July that I’d fill the center with beads. The beads would need to match the yarn somehow. Looking through my bead stash I found the shiny glass beads but knew for sure there weren’t enough to fill the circle. I took a chance and ordered three different shades of pink matte beads, hoping they would work and surprised/pleased at how well they do work. The yarn still has more depth and variation than the beads; cochineal is magical.
Patience – my patience – is next. I have a plan and I’m executing it, but it’s a long process. I’m sewing these beads on individually. I know that it would probably go faster and be more uniform if I strung the beads and then set them in place with couching, but I’ll lose the random variations that I love so much in selecting and sewing each one.
And then there’s what to do with this thing once I finish the beading. Frame and hang it? Make it a panel in a bag or pillow or something larger? I’m sure an idea will come to me.
You can follow my progress on my Instagram account and on the Making app – I’m madgeface there. I’ll post again here when I finish though! Also, if you made it this far, thank you for reading. I needed to get this disjointed post out of my system, hopefully the next one will hang together and be a bit more interesting.