Asterix

A friend of mine is moving into his own house, for the first time.  It’s – y’know – one of those complicated situations.  It’s a lovely house, but he’s renting for a while and it won’t be his forever home. I don’t think.  Anyway.  I decided to make a housewarming gift.  Some time ago, my friend was helping his mother clear her attic, prior to selling her own house.  Amidst much excitement, he came across his childhood collection of Asterix books.

When I was in Brussels, fairly recently, I went to the Asterix museum.  I have to admit that, up to that point, I had rather forgotten that Asterix was even a thing.  He’s never been my particular hero of choice.  As a youngster, I was more a Tintin person.  These days, I’d take Lucas North over almost any other.  But when I was wondering what to make my friend, Asterix came to mind.

I had a number of bits of jumper left over from Josh’s quilt and I decided to use the same technique.  Only, I’m not an Asterix expert.  Did I mention?  So I wasn’t sure whether there was/is a definitive image of the snotty little upstart. gallic superstar.  I did what any sensible layabout would do.  I asked Twitter.  Well.  You know what they say about opinions, right?  They’re like ***holes – everyone has one.  I got lots of definitive pictures.  This is the one I went with (or my interpretation, anyway), found by Kitty (@TheCatsDaughter).

He’s quite big.  And none of the jumper pieces *were* all that big.  So I had to improvise. There was a grey cashmere sleeve left.   If I cut the seam out of it (carefully) and opened it out, there was just enough room to fit Asterix onto it.  Well, it was that or draw him again, but smaller.  And that wasn’t going to happen.  So careful snipping of sleeve seams it is.

Then I traced Asterix onto some Sulky Solvy, laid that on top of the Cashmere and pinned it carefully in place.  And then I stuck a couple of old nappy liners behind the cashmere, for proper stabilisation.

Some outlining, some infill.

And off we went.  I like this technique.  It’s reasonably technical, but provided you manage to remember to breathe (and that really is the key!) and keep your shoulders from tensing up, once you get into a rhythm it’s relatively straightforward.  You simply drop the feed dogs on your machine, take the presser foot off so you’re working with a bare needle (mind your fingers!); thread up the bobbin *and* spool with embroidery thread, and use the needle like a colouring pencil.  Two things: first, I use machine embroidery thread in the bobbin as well as the top thread – most books will tell you to use a plain thread or a clear monofil in the bobbin.  I don’t recommend either – plain (white) thread will show through unless you have your tension *precisely* right.  Once you’re free machining, it’s almost impossible to get your tension right, because you’re manually moving the fabric under the needle, and keeping an even pace and direction is not only very nearly impossible; but also rather not the point.  The beauty of the finished effect comes from the variation in texture brought about by changing speed and direction.  So inevitably, your bobbin thread will show through.  And if it’s plain white, that’s going to look pretty horrid.  Monofil isn’t a good substitute because it’s hideously stiff, and rather like sewing with barbed wire. Use embroidery thread. Ideally matching the top thread. The second thing is that you are manually moving the fabric under the needle. You are in total control.  You’re using the needle like a colouring pencil, but instead of moving the pencil, you’re moving the paper.  You need to remember to keep moving it, or nothing happens!   Seems obvious now, sitting here reading this, doesn’t it??  Go experiment: you’ll see exactly what I mean!

Density, texture and ‘subtle’ feathers

You’ll see from the picture above that I did some outlining before I began the infill.  This was a mistake, in retrospect.  It led to some pretty hideous bobbling of fabric in the cheek (and tip of nose in picture, right). Luckily, the embroidery was sufficiently stiff to cover this, but it would have been easier without the outlining.  If you don’t outline, work from the centre outwards, to prevent this kind of bobbling.

This is a cartoon, so it relied on block colour rather than subtlety of shading, but there was plenty of opportunity to vary density and texture – and the feathers of his helmet, in particular, gave me an interesting opportunity for subtlety (which I’m not entirely sure I achieved!)

Shading and the impression of movement of fabric across his body was just achieved by increasing the density and length of the stitch.  You can increase length by moving the fabric faster and/or decreasing acceleration on the presser foot.  Combinations of both allow you to achieve some shaping of – in this case – the belly area (left).

There was a *lot* of flesh in this piece, and I have to admit there were a couple of points when I was so bored I thought I might just leave the rest in outline only.  But I’m pleased I persevered.  It looks better for actually being finished, I think!

So, at the end, I tore off the exposed nappy liner and gave the finished piece a good soak to dissolve the Solvy.  And then I had a slightly misshapen sleeve to make my final cushion cover out of.  Did I mention this was going to be a cushion cover?   Then I needed to find something with which to make a back… fortunately there were two bits of another jumper which just about did the job.  So here’s the finished thing.

Of course, that’s not the size of any pre-made cushion pad known to humankind, so I’ve had to order a custom made pad to fill it.  Which I hope might even arrive, some day soon… but in the meantime, here’s a woolly Asterix cushion cover to feast your eyes on and keep a bachelor pad kind of homey.