I don’t know about you but it seems to me that so many craft books are only part full of how-to’s and the rest are projects to try. What’s more, the projects are often very similar and rarely anything exciting or unusual; I mean how many drawstring bags, needle cases and pincushions do you need to make? I have never done any of the projects, always preferring to do my own thing, using the appliqué, patchwork or stitching techniques I have learned from the earlier part of the book. Maybe that’s because I’m a dreamer and not much interested in practical things. I can’t bear to spend time on a needle case when I could have a much less useful fabric house sitting on my book shelf.
However, recently, when I bought a book entitled ‘Stitch, Fabric and Thread’ by Elizabeth Healey, I discovered several interesting short projects were offered as ways of experimenting with a variety of stitches and textures. I had wanted to do some Kantha stitching for a while and thought I might give this project a try. Kantha is an Indian sewing technique which employs the humble running stitch in such creative ways to realise a huge variety of intricate decorative motifs and patterns. This project, called ‘Kantha Fishes’ required only the basic running stitch to create a small picture. I mean how hard could that be? To begin, I needed two pieces of linen measuring 13 1/2 x 10 (34 x 25 cm). As I don’t much like working with linen, I used two pieces of cotton, in two shades of neutral, with a linen texture to them and tacked them together around the edge.
Then I had to cut out some fish shapes from organza. I didn’t have any organza so I bought some small organza party bags in two different shades (gold and green) and cut them into different sized shapes. Although this was not in the instructions, I cut the the shapes out in card first, to see how they would look. The idea was to suggest a shoal of swimming fish.
To make them look more realistic and pleasing to the eye, I was told I should use an odd number of fish and that some should overlap others. Then I should sew around the edges of the each fish with a running stitch, using gold metallic thread (the metallic thread was almost impossible to thread through the needle, the fibres kept separating). After I had sewn the fishes onto the background fabric, I was unhappy with the shape of the whole piece. I wanted the background to be narrower to give the fish more sense of movement, so I folded the bottom section under to see if I like that better. I did.
The next step was to “sew around the outer edge of the shoal of fish with tiny running stitches” using a matt cotton Perle thread, which is much thicker than the metal thread around the fish. I chose gold and green but later unpicked the gold and stuck with the green. It was suggested that it was best to “avoid making increasingly longer stitches as you work outward to the edge of the frame. ”
That was it. No further instructions were given. And the only picture of the finished piece was a not very helpful close up of a single section:
I had seen running stitch used as echo stitching around a single image but that would only enclose each set of fish in a circular bubble. And if I was to use wavy lines, how could I “sew around the outer edge of the fishes” as instructed without stopping and starting or leaving uneven gaps which would not be characteristic of Kantha stitching?
I ended up with this (below) after some unpicking and restarting. The small blob of glue I used to hold the fishes down and stop them sliding around while I stitched them, showed through the organza in places. Not a good look. A red line appeared on the top of the green fish in the centre. I think I must have use the wrong pen when I drew around the shapes to remember where I wanted them placed. I didn’t want to pin them as instructed, in case the pins left holes in the thin organza. A spritz of water removed all the other lines (which were blue) but not that one. Also the puckering, which is one of the features of Kantha, is quite uneven. In some places it is too tight, in others it does not show at all. Yuk. Yuk. All in all, it was all a bit of a disaster.
I can’t help thinking I would have had more success finding my own way with some invented Kantha project of my own, than following instructions that took me in a prescribed direction. Or maybe that’s just an excuse to make me feel better.
This early part of the year has not gone well from a sewing point of view. I made two hanging fabric ‘Paper Dolls’ from fabric panels, which I sold for much less than they were worth, because I was disappointed in them, too, and they were so very fiddly to make.
All those curves and sharp corners and the backs that didn’t match up perfectly with the fronts.. I won’t be making any of those again.
That said, I have some brand new (Scottish) English Paper Piecing ideas that I am very excited about. Is that an oxymoron? I have bought the fabric to realise three of them, so with a bit of luck they will turn out well and I will be able to share them with you soon.
Till next time…