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My journey studying for the City & Guilds Level 3 Certificate in Embroidery


Playing with colours

The three main tasks in chapter 1 are doing my research, sketching and drawings based on my research and creating a colour circle using paints. I have done sketches and the colour circle but as I am re-visiting the sketches following initial feedback from our tutor Siân, here is the 3rd task, my colour circle.

My first hurdle was finding paints as I knew I had some “somewhere safe”. The first lot I found were some old craft paints that belonged to my late mother. Once I got the tops off the paint looked quite OK but a bit thick. The first trial proved that the paints were oil based, and didn’t thin with water. However a bit of mixing with medium thinned them out nicely.

Mixing colours with oil paints was very frustrating, given that I haven’t touched a paint brush for decades. I did get some nice shades on my test sheets, but seemed to get far more paint on my fingers, clothes, table …  So I cleaned up and put the craft paints away for some other day. Further rummaging unearthed some gouache, as specified in the instructions.

colour tests

chap1.3 test swatches for mixing colours

I love water-based paints, so easy to mix and play with. Here are my test sheets, the gouache sheet is on the right with handwritten notes about my recipes (ahem) to get the various hues, tints and shades. The pages are A4 sized.

The colour wheel had to be achieved by using just the primary colours with black and white.  The few shades I did manage to work out using the oil craft paint are on the left. Although the pigments were difficult to work with the resulting colours are much more intense and luminous than the gouache. Maybe one day I will attempt to use them again.

And finally, my colour wheel on it’s A4 sheet…

colour circle

chap1.4 Colour circle painted with gouache

I have had fun doing this exercise. Initially I was a little apprehensive, as I’m a “stitcher” not a “painter” and I was afraid of wobbly lines and splotches. The exercise has got me over my fear of a paint brush, I’ve re-discovered just how much fun splashing pigment on paper is and I’ve really come to appreciate the subtle differences in colours.

My only concern is that in real life there is a lot more difference between my red, red-orange and orange that what appears in the digital image.

Research about star images

Chapter 1 task 1 is to collect a wide variety of images of Stars or Crosses.

I have chosen stars, as being a “space junkie” and “nerd” from way back I have always loved stars and the concept of stars. Even when I doodle I tend to draw “star” shapes more than any other shape.  The astrophysicist Carl Sagan once said that “we are all made of star stuff”, which I think is a wonderful truth.  Stars have been a source of wonder since proto-humans first looked up out of the trees or savannah. To paraphrase Sir Terrence Pratchett, “Up there all was orderly and repetitious, down on earth there was chaos with random weather changes making us miserable and things with teeth jumping out of the dark trying to eat us. No wonder early humans believed that whomever existed up there must have been far better and far better-off than they were”. Over the millennia, all sorts of political, religious and magical meanings have been linked to stars or to the symbolic representations of stars.

The simplest forms of abstract representations of stars and crosses are made up of a series of intersecting lines. If we have two intersecting lines there are four terminating points and we have a “cross”. If we have more lines so there are five or more terminating points then we have a “star”. Those who are lucky enough to live well away from modern light pollution can see the real stars twinkling at night, and so it is easy to see why lines radiating out from a point came to be the accepted stylised representation of a star. Curiously, once we get beyond five points, most shapes made from radiating lines can be described as “star shaped”, the shapes do not need to be regular or symmetrical or of any fixed number of lines.

Ancient SEBA hieroglyphIf we start with a point and draw five equidistant spokes we have a “star”, we have also re-created the ancient Egyptian seba 5-pointed star hieroglyph! This shape has been in use for a long, long time. If we look for “star” images in modern life, the five-pointed star in many different forms is the one most often seen. My photos of printed gift wrap, fabric and logos are just some examples.Modern star images

stars made from usual shapes

stars made from usual shapes

Try googling for star shape images and 90% of the first 10 pages of images are five-pointed stars. However we see star shapes whenever several things of the same form radiate out from a central point, look at my images of the USB hub, the wall clocks, the compass rose, actual flowers, quilt blocks and the airport terminal. Statisticians have their “star charts” and telecommunications engineers their “star networks”. Indeed “star” shapes can be discerned from combinations of the some quite unlikely shapes.

The airport terminal is one of my favourites. The eight-pointed “ishtar” star was a symbol for ancient Babylon and legend has it that the eight points represented the eight gates of the city. Many ancient and modern mystical or religious groups have also used star shapes for symbols of the pathways or gates to their inner secrets or group knowledge. Even the mundane diagrams of “gateway” airports and the smaller airports they link to appear as clusters of stars.  I just find it amusing that a symbol used for gateways in ancient times has it’s parallel in the 21st century.

Ancient royalty used stars symbols. The eight-rayed rosette or star was a symbol of ancient Mesopotamian royal dignity and authority and the sixteen-rayed star was the symbol of Alexander the Great.

Of course the most common ancient use of star symbols was to represent the gods and deities. This heritage is reflected in our-modern use of “star” as an adjective for exceptional, talented, pre-eminent or champion people. We also use star-related words such as luminary, bright, brilliant or leading light for such folk as well as the phrases “star power”, “star studded”, “star quality” along with “shoot for the stars” to describe exceptional ambition or efforts. Stars are everywhere, not just in the sky and on our cinema screens!

We also still “wish upon a star”, “Thank ones lucky stars” or “have star in our eyes” along with envying those “born under a lucky star” and pity the poor “star crossed lovers”, to say nothing of “seeing stars” following a blow on the head.

Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, Sir Paul Harvey, OUP 1984
Classical Mythology, Mark Morford & Robert Lenardon, Longman 1977
A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 – 323 BC, Marc Van De Mieroop, Wiley-Blackwell, 2006
The Science of Discworld, Terry Pratchett & Ian Stewart, Ebury Press, 2002

Big breath – starting my course

When you make the finding yourself – even if you’re the last person on Earth to see the light – you’ll never forget it.
(Carl Sagan.

This blog is to record my progress through the Distant Stitch C&G Embroidery course, which I have been brave enough to enroll in. We start with module 1, which has the design theme of Shape and Colour, using a star or cross shape as the area of interest.

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