What are these flights of fancy that Mabel has? Well, they are short snippets about anything that I've been doing, stitching, designing, thinking about, experimenting with, and so on, which I think you may be interested in. They'll tell you about new designs, how I come up with names, changes I'm making in designs I'm working on and so on. I can't promise posts will be regular or terribly frequent, but I'll do my best not to neglect this page for long periods of time! By the way, some of the pictures are thumbnails, so you can click on them for a larger version; if you hover over one and a little magnifying glass with a + appears, it's clickable.

More miniature baubles and some free tickets

Having doodled some miniature baubles vaguely inspired by Round Eight of the SAL, I soon realised that the placement of the coloured bars would make stitching them rather awkward. Possible, but requiring travelling through previously woven bars and so on. There must be an easier way, surely. More scribbling and doodling led to several more variations, two of which I’ve actually stitched, and you can now get the charts (plus two extra variations) from our Freebie page!

First variation on the miniature bauble Second variation on the miniature bauble

And there are more freebies to get – Twisted Thread have very kindly issued all tutors with four complimentary tickets to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace next week, valid on Wednesday, Thursday evening, Friday or Sunday. To win a ticket, leave a comment here or on our Facebook page telling us why you would like a chance to visit the show. You can enter until midnight 30th September; four names will be drawn from the entries and the winners announced here and on FB on Saturday 1st October. Good luck!

Mabel's Fancies Competition

A birthday initial

Inspired by Mary Corbet’s blog about voided initials I decided that one of my oldest friends’ birthday coming up was a great occasion to try this for myself. I’d found a quirky little book that I thought she would like, but it needed something else, and a coaster with her initial would be just the thing. After some deliberation the colour scheme picked was blue, green and yellow – nice and cheerful and bright.

The first stage was outlining the initial in stem stitch, and I chose dark green and blue to do that, in a sort of shaded arrangement. You know how you can give a letter depth by doing one part in light and one in dark? Well, like that, only in two colours instead of two shades of the same colour. Then I filled in the area around it with seed stitches in yellow plus light and medium blue and green. Some stitching techniques almost automatically give you a neat back – Hardanger for example. Seed stitching does not. It does, however, make rather a nice modernist picture in its own right!

The M outlined in stem stitch in two colours The M surrounded by seed stitch The back of the M

The next step was ironing Vilene (iron-on interfacing) to the back; this stiffens it a bit, and also secures the edges when cutting the fabric. Cutting a fairly fray-prone fabric to the exact size it needs to be is quite scary! The thing is to get it into the coaster as quickly as possible once it’s been cut.

The M secured with Vilene The M cut to size The M in a coaster

Finally attach to a card and write the Dutch equivalent of Happy Birthday on it, and Instructions For Use. They translate as: 1) Remove coaster from card; 2) Place coaster on side table by favourite chair; 3) Place favourite drink on coaster; 4) Place self on favourite chair; 5) Enjoy drink and book.

The coaster card The coaster instructions

Seed stitch is relatively labour-intensive, especially in five colours (it takes a lot of organisation to make it look random…), but I think the effect is worth it.

A compact hobby

As I’ve probably mentioned before, once a month I go to a craft group at our local library. It’s enjoyable to meet up with others who appreciate making things with needle and thread or wool or bits of fabric, depending on whether they are stitchers, knitters/crocheters (how do you pronounce that?) or quilters, and there is always tea or coffee and cake as well. Usually my preparation for a meeting amounts to deciding what project to bring, but this time I was in charge of the eatables, as our usual baker was on holiday. A batch of cheese muffins and one of coconut bites later that part was taken care of. Now for the stitching project, which couldn’t be too big as most of the space in my bag would be taken up by the muffins/bites.

And this is the sort of situation where needlework turns out to be a most convenient hobby (unlike playing the double bass, or turning clay pots) – you need very little for it! One of the small Floral Gem projects seemed like a nice, compact idea, and although I could easily have taken one of my small project boxes, I rather liked the challenge of keeping everything to a minimum. So here it is, everything that is needed to complete the project, with all the threads, beads and embellishments fitting in a 1½” tin, and the whole lot fitting into a 5″ x 7½” seal bag.

All the materials for the project Everything needed in a compact bag

And did I complete the project? Well, no, not quite. Not in 90 minutes, and some of that time taken up with eating muffins and trying to keep the cream cheese off the fabric. smiley But I made a start, and now there’s only the outer wheatear stitch border to do.

A good start on the project

Variations on a bauble

Several Round In Circles participants remarked that Round Eight reminded them of a Christmas bauble – very pleasing to hear, as this particular design was the original bauble when I was still considering calling the SAL “The Twelve Months of Christmas” and making it a collection of twelve baubles. As it turned out this was too restrictive a design brief, so I kept the circular theme but let go of the idea that they should all look baubly, to coin a phrase.

Even so, within this one design a lot of variation is possible, as is so often the case in Hardanger (especially when combined with surface embroidery). You can use any combination of bars and filling stitches in the two cut areas, and there are plenty of line stitches around (many of them used in Round In Circles) to decorate the central horizontal band with. Some of those stitches are used on the diagonal in the SAL, but most of them could easily be worked horizontally as well.

I had a little play in my charting program, combining the Round Eight outline with line stitches and other motifs from the previous rounds – and I added a little “wire loop” at the top to make them look maure bauble-like. By the way, the later rounds offer very usable stitches as well, but of course I don’t want to give anything away about those! I hope you’re not too disappointed that I didn’t actually stitch them all smiley, but that may well happen in future if I am ever tempted again to stitch all my Christmas cards (although something smaller and quicker would probably be more sensible).

Bauble variations

One SAL participant suggested making the design smaller and having two or three of them together to emphasise their baubleness (baublicity?). That would definitely produce an interesting effect, although my worry was that there would of course be much less room for line stitch variations. Also, the smaller you make a Hardanger circle, the less circular it tends to look. Still, I had a go, and came up with the little bauble below. It doesn’t actually have any room for line stitches at all, so the horizontal band needs to be created by means of coloured bars and/or filling stitches. So not really like Round Eight at all, but quite usuable nonetheless, I think – and if this stitches up nicely you may well see it on Mabel’s Fancies or at least in a FoF some time in the future!

Miniature baubles

Surprising finds

Life is full of surprises, to make an unoriginal observation, and they come when you least expect them smiley. I had two this weekend, one at the Beaulieu Autojumble where Mr Figworthy and I have a stand and one when we returned home. Although both were stitching-related, they were surprising in different ways – both pleasant, fortunately!

While wandering around the Autojumble on the look-out for valve spring compressors, rubber bump stops and what not, we stopped at a stand that sold fuses, washers, and other small stuff. You could buy individual fuses, washers and other small stuff, or you could get selection boxes (which sound as though they ought to contain chocolates). Smallish boxes with compartments. Project-box-sized boxes with adjustable compartments, to be precise. And he sells the boxes separately as well (though not at the fair). And they are cheaper than your usual craft boxes. And they look as if they’re stackable. And he is based not too far from us. I can feel an order coming on some time in the future. If they look this good with fuses in them, just imagine how beautiful they will look filled with stash.

Boxes of colourful bits for cars

It was surprising to find anything that might be useful to a stitcher at an Autojumble; it generally isn’t surprising to find stitching things at the house of a stitcher. Even so some stash may be unexpected, not to say mysterious! When we arrived home I found a plastic folder full of stranded cottons and a chunky pair of scissors lying on the sofa, without a note or anything to identify the sender or the reason for sending. Oldest son had found it pushed through the letterbox and had put it in a conspicuous place for me to find, assuming (very probably correctly) that it was meant for me rather than for my husband. Colourful, isn’t it? Lots of useful threads for the charity workshops, which is what I will use them for unless I hear from the giver that they meant them for a different purpose.

A mysterious folder of threads, with scissors

I wonder what the next surprise will be?

Projects for stash

When I wrote about stash with no immediate purpose, did I by any chance mention the very colourful autumn maple leaves which nestled themselves among the floral gems in my shopping basket last month? No? Or the icy snowflakes that came with my order as a free sample? I can’t think how they slipped my mind…

Leaf and snowflake shaped embellishments

Anyway, I do now have a very specific purpose for the floral gems! Some time ago I bought aperture cards that were just the right size for the three freebie stars, in the hope that they would make quick Christmas cards. Which they will. Some day. But as I was thinking of cards to make for our church’s Craft Fair in November it struck me that they would also be just the right size for a small embroidery centred around some of those sparkly little flowers – and wouldn’t they make lovely cards for all sorts of occasions? (I did think of adding the little bunny face I stitch-doodled some time ago, but I’m not sure I can make him small enough, and I wouldn’t want a monster bunny in these tiny little embroideries!)

A little garden of gem flowers A floral celebration card

My first attempt was, as you can tell from the picture, a rather informal affair, and relatively naturalistic, but the flowers (and the butterfly) can also be used in a slightly more formal and abstract arrangement. The four curves are a bit wonky but actually I rather like the not-quite-symmetry.

A floral tile A more abstract floral celebration card

And then I found I had some cards with slightly larger, circular apertures which also work with these embellishments! (Must not get carried away, however – the whole idea is that they should be quick and not use too many resources; if you’re stitching for charity you want to keep your costs down. On the other hand, I think I have the makings of another workshop here!) Note to self: keep butterflies lightish in shade, they look better that way.

A circular floral design A third floral celebration card

An added bonus about these little projects is the fact that they can be worked completely freehand should I want to; as long as I have some hint of the visible area on my fabric (i.e. a lightly pencilled square just a little bigger than the aperture of the card) and make sure I stay well inside it, it’ll work. These might just become my go-to travel projects for the next few months!

Incidentally, several people have been giving me bags (small and large) of needlework materials over the past two months – some asking me to find a good home for the threads/canvases/books/frames, others offering them for use in the charity workshops or a similar purpose, and I have indeed used some of the threads already in these Floral Gem cards. In one of these bags there were three small boxes with six compartments each, used for some beads and odds and ends of threads. I found they make the perfect receptacle for the various beads, gems and sequins I’m hoping to use for these cards, as well as some of the threads. And the boxes look so inviting they can’t fail to inspire me to stitch a great many of them.

Materials for Floral Gem cards in three neat little boxes

A novel use for split washers?

As my husband (to whom I’ve been married 11 years today!) was packing up an order for a customer of the Figworthy household’s main business (spares for pre-war Austin Sevens, in case you’re wondering), he handed me a small part and said, “isn’t this rather like your spangles?” It was a split washer, and he was right in that it is gold-coloured, round, and has a hole and a split in it. “Could you use it?” he then asked. A challenge! Well, it definitely looks as though it might be part of a goldwork project, if not perhaps in a very traditional design.

A split washer

Now I must admit that I am not very good at gauging sizes (remember that 4mm ribbon which turned out to be 6mm?) and although it did seem to me that it was probably rather larger than the 3mm spangles in my goldwork stash box I hadn’t quite realised how much bigger…

A split washer and a 3mm spangle

Steampunk goldwork, anyone?

Historic needlework

Last week a kind friend took me and another friend to see the parsonage in Haworth where the Brontë sisters did their writing. A very interesting place, and rather sad – Patrick Brontë, father of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, outlived his wife and all six of his children. We were there on a sunny day with cloudless blue skies when neither the parsonage nor the surrounding Yorkshire countryside could by any stretch of the imagination be described as “bleak”, but it was easy to see that come the winter, with short days and lots of rain and wind, it would have no problems at all living up to its less than cheerful reputation.

My friend’s interest was due for a large part to the fact that she has just finished her PhD thesis on Mrs Gaskell, who besides many other things wrote a biography of Charlotte Brontë. Although I was a linguistics scholar rather than a literature one, the 19th century is by far my favourite period, so I was happy to accompany her. But as a stitcher I was also fascinated by Charlotte’s needlework, some of which could be seen at the parsonage. There was a red tea cosy embroidered in white chain stitch, and some examples of whitework which unfortunately I couldn’t get a close look at as they were part of a room display.

Some pieces of her work, however, were displayed in cases and could be studied in more detail. Flash photography wasn’t allowed, so my photographs are a bit blurred, but I thought you might like to see two of the projects she worked. The first is a sampler finished shortly before her 12th birthday, made up of Bible verses and borders in absolutely minuscule cross stitches. She had a love of all things miniature, and that love obviously started when she was young. Foolishly I forgot to measure the sampler, so I can’t give you an idea of the scale; all I can say is that in some parts it was difficult to distinguish the individual crosses.

Charlotte Brontë's sampler

Again rather blurred, so no chance at all of seeing the individual stitches, but isn’t this an absolutely lovely needle roll? Clearly marked “Darners”, it is divided into useful sections all likewise marked with the size of the needles. Some time ago I made a very rough and ready needle roll out of felt marked with needle sizes, but not nearly so decorative – it was only meant to be chucked into a travel project bag. But having seen this I’m beginning to wonder whether it wouldn’t be a nice idea to make a less utilitarian one to keep at home by my larger projects.

Charlotte Brontë's needle roll

And all this by candlelight!

A visit to the Viking Loom

You may remember that a while ago I bought some satin display boxes from the Viking Loom. Last Monday I quite unexpectedly had the opportunity to visit their new premises just outside York, and of course I jumped at the chance! I had been to their old shop in High Petergate, which was lovely, but I’d read on their website the new place was much bigger, including workshop space. My sister-in-law kindly lent me a bike (which took a bit of getting used to, as my trusted Dutch bike has back-pedal brakes and no gears) so off I went up Wigginton Road and past the chocolate factory, which was rather like being bathed in cocoa – very invigorating!

To say that the new place is more spacious is definitely a bit of an understatement. It’s not many craft shops that you approach by means of a tree-lined avenue, or where the car park is overlooked by horses and a a dovecote, and where you can park your bike next to a miniature orchard with geese in it.

The drive leading to the Viking Loom Horses and dovecote Geese roaming in the orchard

The house , too, is impressive, but unfortunately not part of the shop so an outside view only. A lovely yellow labrador of supreme laid-backness welcomes you (if that is not too active a word) to the Viking Loom itself, and the first room you get into is awash with colour, filled as it is with innumerable shades of Appleton’s crewel and tapestry wool.

The house Welcomed by the dog A colourful entrance

Then it’s upstairs, to a room devoted to all things quilting (which I didn’t photograph), followed by the embroidery room which had kits and books and threads and tools and a surprising number of goldwork bits and bobs. As I wandered into this room a lady asked if I was looking for anything in particular or if I would prefer to browse. When I said I’d browse a bit first, please, she offered me coffee or tea – I can tell you it’s a rather nervous affair, walking around with a hot drink while looking at all these gorgeous things! The tea (proper, strong Yorkshire tea, with lots of milk) was made in a little kitchen attached to the workshop space, where two ladies were having a lovely time sewing and “escaping the housework and the children”, as they informed me.

Threads and kits Kits and hoops The kitchen in the workshop room

Of course I couldn’t possibly leave without taking a little bit of stash with me. As luck would have it, I found two things which I had been reading about, and wanting to try out, but I didn’t like to order them online without having at least some idea what they were like. One of these was trigger cloth, a fairly closely woven fabric for freestyle embroidery; unfortunately they only had it in bright white, not the antique white I usually prefer, but it felt nice and sturdy with enough body not to need backing (unless you’re using very heavy embellishments or goldwork materials). And as I was looking at the fabrics, a piece of hand-painted (not dyed) silk jumped out and said “goldwork seahorse” to me, so that got added to the trigger cloth. The silk is actually painted on the premises by a lady who comes there every now and then to paint a batch.

Trigger cloth and hand-painted silk A close-up of the fabrics

The other thing I’d been reading about was heavy metal thread, as used by Hazel Everett in her goldwork book. Unfortunately she doesn’t mention a brand name, or where to buy it, and so some further research was called for. This lead me to Madeira’s #12 metallic thread, which is indeed known as Heavy Metal, a misnomer if ever there was one for this fine, 3-ply thread which can be used as it comes, or split into its three plies for detailed or miniature work. I could find it online, but not very easily, and the postage for these chunky reels made it rather too expensive to buy on the off-chance that it would be to my liking. But there it was, at the Viking Loom, ready to be inspected and touched, and available in four colours. I got them all.

Madeira heavy metal threads

Visiting family is fun anyway, but if they happen to live close to a place like the Viking Loom it’s even more fun!

Stash for projects, and vice versa

Sometimes (most often, perhaps) we stitchers buy stash with a particular project in mind. But sometimes you have to think up a project for some stash which inexplicably found its way into your shopping basket because it was too pretty to ignore/on special offer/added to make the most of the postage. The gorgeous green silk (Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk in the shade Princess pea) falls somewhere in between the two categories, as it was bought for a specific project, which however is as yet only a few sketches on two Church meeting agendas (at least I won’t have a problem dating that particular design). The shiny flowers come unashamedly in the second category – I was stocking up on sequins for the Shisha kits when I got lured by the “Clearance Sale” link, where I found some very good-value silver seed beads, and these irresistible little gems at a mere 50p a bag. So I bagged one. Just in case I would think of a design to use them in. Which I’m sure I will.

Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk and some floral embellishments

Simply Sequins always send a little complimentary bag of goodies with their orders, and this time it was mixed sequins and shapes. I picked out some particularly pretty ones with a broadly floral theme, together with a few beads and some things already in my stash, and a few of those lovely sparkly flower gems I’d ordered in the sale, and they are now all together in another bag, ready to be experimented with. Don’t they look inspiring?

A little bag of inspiration

I’m putting together a short course of embroidery tasters at the moment and was thinking of using ribbon embroidery for the fifth lesson, but I’m wondering now whether some extremely free freestyle embroidery with lots of sparkle might not make rather a pleasing contrast with the much more structured Hardanger project which is set to be the opening lesson. Hardanger embroidery – Shisha embroidery – Freestyle embroidery – Tactile embroidery – Go Mad with Bling embroidery. Does that sound nicely balanced?

PS. I admit it. I’m a pushover for sparkly pretties. I liked the floral gems so much I ordered another bag of them, in mixed colours. Just to use in the embroidery taster classes, of course! (And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything…)

More flowers