Whitework embroidered alphabet: letter X for X-ray fish


X for X-ray fish, a whitework alphabet (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

X is always a problem for alphabet illustrators , especially those aimed at children who can be the fiercest critics should you fall short in their expectations. I found this out to my cost when I appliquéd a patchwork alphabet hanging

Animal alphabet quilt in cotton, appliquéd in stranded embroidery cotto thread

and chickened out of X standing for anything, opting instead for X as in Fox. This was much derided by my family as a real cop out and I came in for much stick for this at meal times, not only from family but also from visiting children as for many years the patchwork hung on the wall looking out over the kitchen table. In recent years the quilt has migrated first to my grandson’s bedroom and then to his sister’s. So far, there have been no criticisms as to their grandmother’s inadequate vocabulary.

X for X-ray fish, a whitework alphabet (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

The X-ray fish (latin name Pristella maxillaris) is naturally at  home in the exotic waters of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers but, being a peace loving and tolerant species it is often to be found in domestic aquaria, where many of us have probably seen it without ever stopping to make an identification. The tiny body is fairly see through and the bones in particular are clearly visible. The skin’s translucence has a gentle golden sheen (the fish is also known as water goldfinch) which is especially successful in confusing predators where water lit by the sun shimmers and vegetation sways in river currents. As well as being well suited to its habitat, the fish benefits from particularly good hearing. A group of tiny bones known as the Weberian apparatus is good at transmitting sound waves and functions in a way similar to those 3 little bones in the human inner ear, the hammer, anvil and stirrup. The only real colour on these fish is found on the fins which have bands of black, white and yellow – and this you certainly wouldn’t know from a little piece of whitework embroidery.

Sketch for X for X-ray fish, a whitework alphabet (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

I am hooked on embroidering alphabets which, advancing by a letter a week, usually gives me the opportunity to get on with a bigger project as well. Should I do a blackwork alphabet next, or perhaps one devoted to insects which I could make up into a hanging for my grandson for Christmas? One minute I’m inclining to the blackwork, then I feel the pull of using bright colours for  insects!


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  1. Posted June 21, 2020 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Well, I would always go for the bright colours!

    • Portia
      Posted June 21, 2020 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Rachel!

      • Mary Addison
        Posted June 22, 2020 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        Good to know, Portia.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted June 22, 2020 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Rachel.

  2. Amara Bray
    Posted June 22, 2020 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I would love to see the insect one, but maybe that is only because I’m not very familiar with blackwork embroidery.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted June 22, 2020 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      Ah, the insect vote is pushing ahead (just as I was quite fancying doing blackwork)!

  3. ceci
    Posted June 22, 2020 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m hoping for insects too. But would study a black work alphabet carefully also.


    • Mary Addison
      Posted June 22, 2020 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Colourful insects 4; Blackwork 0 (not counting me). Well at least insects should mean I end up with one less Christmas present to rush through in December! Thank you, Ceci.

  4. Nella
    Posted June 23, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Such a pretty little fish Mary. Thanks for yet another reason to investigate something new! My husband was on the internet straightaway to find out more about the X-ray fish. I’d love to see some more coloured embroidery but I’m sure that I will love whatever you choose to do. I’ve been getting a bit panicked at the thought of this alphabet coming to an end and then having nothing lovely to look at each week

    • Mary Addison
      Posted June 23, 2020 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      Well, colour seems to be the main thing and perhaps it will be manuscript marginalia which can be very amusing and would be fun to do. I am thinking about the possibilities.
      Do like to hear I’m keeping your husband busy researching – it will be a challenge to keep him interested with the next set of letters.

  5. Posted June 27, 2020 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Now that baby Georgia is onto board books (Beowulf was fun but didn’t have enough pictures), I’m discovering that X is indeed a challenge for those who would write an abecedary.

    Our “Walk and See ABC” cheated, I think, with “X is in eXamine” (E is for eyeroll, I thought on first reading) but our “Atlantic Animal ABC” went entirely in the other direction with “X is for Xiaphias Gladius (swordfish).” The Latin name does stand out a *tiny* bit among the more prosaic neighbouring names (white-tailed deer and yellow-spotted salamander). Now I know: if I buy another ABC book, I’ll flip to the back to check the X page first!

    All this to say, if you ever publish an embroidered ABC, I’d love to add it to our library.

    (I vote for blackwork in the summer – it’s easier to see during long daylight hours – and colourful insects during the dark and dreary winter months.)

    • Mary Addison
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Glad to see baby Georgia is giving you a bit of time at weekend to read blogs, so you don’t have to wait till her sleep on a Monday morning to visit!
      Thanks for alphabetic sympathy, for helping me to decide on the next alphabet and also for the idea of an embroidered ABC!
      The letter Z also presents a bit of a problem, once you’ve done zebra, which is fun to embroider.
      Fish were candidates for both X & Z but I really couldn’t have 2 fish so close together so had to find something else. For Z though zebras are never very far away!

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