playing with orts

This week has been an unsettled one as far as needle and threads have been concerned. I needed to use a magnifying glass for my tulips embroidery but because the magnifyer and my d-i-y lighting system are hung round my neck and they got in the way of each other so I gave up on the tulips.  Several daytime sessions at thread painting were unsatisfactory too and most were binned, apart from this little bowl which used up some of my growing collection of orts.

Two layers of cotton fabric were topped with a circular layer of pelmet vilene marked into twelve segments. Orts were applied to each segment with a random free-motion zig zag under a layer of heavy-duty water soluble interfacing and then an automatic machine stitch was used to stitch a swirl from the centre outwards with satin stitching around the rim. Machine stitched bar-tacks and darts provide shaping to the bowl. The ort side has a fuzzy appearance but the surface is actually fairly compact and threads can’t easily be removed due to the free-motion stitching and the fact that the water-soluble interfacing was only partially washed out.  It’s not the prettiest bowl I’ve ever made but the method is one that could be developed so I’ll hang on to it.

orts dish

orts dish2

the redhead

I’ve been working on this little redhead for the past couple of days and I really like everything about her – even her outrageous nose!

redhead portrait

heads and more heads

I’ve begun more stumpwork heads since the completion of portrait no.3 but I’ve discarded all of them.  They all start off quite well but then I wonder what difference another type of padding would make or if more padding would make better cheeks, or if I should shape the padding first or choose different stitches for the facial features or, or, or. Really, I’m striving to find a method of constructing stumpwork heads that’s my own and that works for me first time, all the time. I don’t want the heads that I make to be identical to what I see in a book. They haven’t been so far of course, because I’ve used different stitches for the features and shaped them differently and the basic pattern is only the starting point. I’ll end up with portraits that are an amalgamation of methods derived from the stumpwork and doll books that I own, things I find online, my own imagination and skills, and in the end no-one will care how I got there, not even me. A bit like life itself really.


Here’s a little preview of the stumpwork that I’ve been working on this week. She’ll be full length if all goes according to plan. DSCF8065

portrait three

Yesterday I began a third stumpwork portrait, another man this time, wearing a striped blazer and carrying or wearing a straw boater. I tried the Jan Messent method for his hat-holding hand but I wasn’t happy with the result. To give the fingers form, the book says to use “cord or smooth string no thicker than 1mm (1/16in)” but I used a soft crochet cotton of a similar diameter which I only had in a green shade. It all went well until the final stitching around and between the fingers. I used fine 100% nylon lingerie and bobbin thread so that I could make really small stitches and the book doesn’t give any suggestion as to what to use. I’m not sure if the lingerie thread was the main fault or I just didn’t take enough care over it (I really shouldn’t watch television and stitch at the same time I know) but it’s not suitable for this portrait anyway. A hand in this position is more often seen resting on a lady’s lap and not for doffing a hat, which is my intention.


I promised photographs if I ever made a hand the Messent way so here’s three in one, showing the process. Top left: lay a piece of stiff vilene on a base fabric, draw a hand and fingers outline then lightly glue the cord fingers in place. Lower left: add a little light padding over the back of the hand when the glue is dry then cover with the actual hand fabric. Centre: stitch around and between the fingers using small back stitches. Cut out close to the outline stitching using fabric glue/fray stop on any raw threads.



On the other hand (ha ha), here’s the stumpwork hand which is much better for my purpose. Each finger wire was bound with two strands of embroidery thread then the tip was bent over and the whole finger bound with thread from the tip all the way down to the “wrist” before securing the thread end. All the fingers and thumb were then bound together. With this method it’s possible to shape the fingers with small pliers to make the hand more realistic. I’d never made one of these hands before and I didn’t pay too much attention when I was wrapping the hand itself (blame Foyle’s War for that) so it’s a bit rough and ready. Still, it was only a test and I like how they could be made larger or smaller depending on the gauge of wire used or how finely or thickly they were wrapped. I still think that there’s something about these hands that make them look a little creepy, but we can’t have everything, can we?