Wessex Stitchery and charcoal

Wessex stitch patternThis week’s Stitches with Stories workshop focused on another fascinating tale of a type of embroidery developed by a single person – Mrs M Foster of Bath. Not very much seems to be known about her but her wonderfully inventive use of simple stitch pattern has been of renewed interest this century, in no small part due to Gay Eaton’s book Wessex Stitchery.

Wessex stitch patternsThe liveliness of the original Wessex patterns is often due to her subtly, or not so subtly, changing colours as she worked. Today we have the luxury of variegated dyed threads which give us the same effect without the use of several needles and threads at once. Those at the workshop produced some striking patterns using these threads. Gay Eaton’s book has been out of print for some time  (second-hand copies are online) and there is a delightful exploration of Mrs Forster’s work in Gail Marsh’s Early 20th Century Embroidery Techniques.

In contrast to the delights of the delicacy and precision of counted patterns on linen I thoroughly enjoyed myself learning more about drawing with charcoal. A class with Bobby Britnell at Art Van Go saw me drawing large (A 2) and bold and messy! Bobby proved to be a wonderful teacher; challenging and supportive and Art Van Go’s studio was a pleasure to work in. An added bonus was the presence of some friends from my local Embroiderers’ branch – we had a great time together.

Drawing with charcoal

“Drawing trees with pencil and charcoal” – the title of a morning workshop near me. Sounds fun, I thought, and more importantly, not intimidating to someone who hasn’t been in an art class since school. Also, the local Guild’s challenge this year has trees as its theme. Perfect.

Starting a new piece for City and Guilds, well for anything really,  means a design process – having the source and drawing. I know that “drawing” can include collage, photocopies, tracing, Photoshop and all sorts of activities not involving pencil and paper. Sometimes, though, actually drawing helps me find out about a subject because I have to really look at it. I am certainly no artist. My pictures are definitely for my eyes only! So, in an effort to improve my drawing skills, I signed up.

charcoal drawing of twisted tree.I had a very good time. Michele Webber was an excellent tutor and though I struggled with the pencil interpretation (Michele assured me that a few more hours work would sort it out!) I became completely absorbed in the satisfyingly free and messy charcoal. Michelle demonstrated how to work from dark backgrounds to lights and to more detailed areas and once I’d  grasped this idea I had a go. Much charcoal dust, and blackened fingers, later I felt I was on the way. I want to do some more work on this, as you can see above it’s not finished yet but has captured a mood I think. I’ve since had another go at home looking at one of my favourite local trees. I can recommend both Michele and CO3 Studios where the class was held.