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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Twelfth Night Cushion Saga

Apologies to everyone who`s already familiar with this story - and to the rest, here`s what`s been happening on the Olivia front.
It all started around April this year, not long after I first saw the 2012 Globe production of Shakespeare`s Twelfth Night on SkyArts (since then I`ve bought the DVD - naturally!). ;) Twelfth Night has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and I have seen many different versions of it on stage and film, but this Original Practices, i.e. all-male production was a real treat. I`m not much for categorical statements like `this must be how it was back then` - I`m more in favour of toying with the idea of the possibility that `this is how it could have been`, `this is how Shakespeare`s contemporary audience might have seen this play`. Not just because the groundlings are leaning on the Globe`s stage and male actors play female parts, but the attention to detail is legendary: the musicians play on replicas of contemporary instruments, and Stephen Fry marvelled at the fact that the brass buttons on his costume were made using molds that were authentic (cf. around 5 mins into this interview on YouTube).
And the sheer fact that Stephen Fry plays Malvolio! Johnny Flynn and Paul Chahidi were true revelations to me, and I`m especially glad that I have this record of the production with Roger Lloyd-Pack who, sadly, died last year. The image of him stuck in the box tree will stay with me as much as that of Trigger and his trusty brush. :)
So around April-May, I got the idea of doing something to celebrate this rare occasion when everything comes together to create a `perfect 10` of a play that was, in a huge part, thanks to the award-winning performance of Mark Rylance, often tagged as `the most talented Shakespeare actor of our time`. He played the countess Olivia in Twelfth Night, whose white-faced, high-collared image just begged to be translated into a cross stitch pattern - so after a little fiddling with my trusty Jane Greenoff design making program, I eagerly started stitching.

The original theatre poster and Phase 1: the face; 27 hours

43 hours

65 hours

78 hours

96 hours

103 hours

And finally, after 140 hours, the finished stitching, complete with crownlet:

From Day 1, I always imagined the finished product as a plump, natural coloured cushion. I discussed it at the time with the lovely Rebecca Reid, who was my magazine editor at the time (sadly, she has since left our mag but although I miss her a lot, I know that the stitchy world`s loss is the sewing world`s gain). She very kindly provided me with the fabric - and even made up the finished stitching into a cushion for me, what a star! :)

Rebecca chose gold-and-white fabric for the piping, to complement the ruff and the crown - beautiful!

So after half a year, Olivia was ready for her journey to London; I contacted Mark Rylance`s agent and posted the cushion to the address she provided - and I thought that would be the end of it... or maybe I half-expected an email from the agent, letting me know whether they (Mark Rylance and his wife, composer Claire van Kampen, who provided the music for Twelfth Night) liked it at all...? Hehe, I even bribed his agent with some gummy bears to say they did, even if they didn`t - because I`m well aware that cross stitch is not to everyone`s taste, and non-stitchers usually don`t know how much time and work is involved in one of these pieces, not to mention that I wasn`t even sure whether M. R. was in the UK or maybe shooting in Hollywood... So to find that he actually took the time to find my tiny address label on the parcel (I never put it on the card) and personally write a wee note to say thank you means a lot to me - actually, scratch `a lot`: I am over the moon right now! :D


  1. What a beautiful and happy conclusion of the Olivia project! And well deserved, too - your design skills - not just stitching skills - are noteworthy. Olivia (a.k.a. Mark Rylance) looks very much like her picture in stitched form. Congratulations!
    Did it take you a long time to "tweak" the pattern to look the way you wanted? I keep trying to play with my WinStitch, but always get frustrated.
    Once again, congratulations! You are a true master of stitching/designing/writing skills. Happy everything!

  2. Aw, thank you, Katya, that's one of the nicest things that someone, unrelated to me by blood, has said to me recently! :) As to the tweaking, I'm afraid I did hardly any: a professional designer would probably just shake their head but I basically just imported the image into the design program, printed out the pages, found the middle and started to stitch. I always start from the middle anyway, but this time it was especially important because I thought if the face will resemble the original, the rest should be OK too. However, what I didn't count on at first was that the program imported the original photo's white background too, and on a chart full of black and white symbols it wasn't always easy to get it right for the first time where these white squares were needed (cf. the bottom right corner between 78 and 96 hours - I had to unpick it wjen I saw it looked out of place). But all in all, I was lucky as it was an easy image to translate into cross stitch, with only 52 colours (lots of greys and browns), and the trickiest bit, the crown, where I needed fo concentrate the most to see where the gold ended and the white background started, was at the same time the smallest bit - and the most fun because I could feel how close I was to finishing it. So all in all, I only have pleasant memoriea about this project - and that includes my taking it with me on a wee summer holiday to Hungary, so now I know I can stitch in a heatwave (up to 42 degrees at least)! ☺