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.

A mysterious scribble

In a folder with some old sketches (the same one in which I found the Beginner’s Butterfly, in fact) I came across a quarter of an old letter, on the back of which was an intriguing doodle and the words “shuttle stitch?”. It was obviously an idea for a stitch, but I had absolutely no recollection of drawing it and couldn’t make head or tail of it. Was it meant to be a needle book? It vaguely looked like two square pages with the shuttle stitch (whatever that was) as the hinge/spine. Then I thought the rectangles surrounding each of the squares on three sides looked like they might be Kloster blocks – but they were marked “g” or possible “9”, not “K”.

A mysterious scribble What is shuttle stitch?

I still can’t remember when or why I drew it, but after some more observation and interpretation I think it represents two cut areas surrounded by Kloster blocks consisting of 9 stitches each, with a woven bar in the middle and a buttonhole arch on either side, with letters to indicate starting points and how to get from one bit of the stitch combination to the next. It is still a mystery to me why I would want to call it shuttle stitch. If anything it looks rather more like a belt buckle. Or is shuttle stitch an existing stitch and did I copy it from somewhere? If you recognise it from a book or a project, I’d be delighted to know!

Change in progress (III) – Twin butterflies

While I was on a roll with the tulip-and-some-other-flower designs last month I took the opportunity to tidy up a drawing I did some time ago; it’s not dated but from the surrounding scribbles it seems to have been intended as a freestyle project for beginners.

Sketch for a butterfly project for beginners

But not just for beginners – there are stitch suggestions for what might be called an intermediate version as well. So when I edited the sketch on the computer I created two versions, one with basic stitches as a project for people with little embroidery experience, and one with slightly more advanced stitches for those who are familiar with the basics and would like to branch out.

Two butterfly variations

Having tidied up the two butterflies I was looking forward to trying them both, especially the second version which promised to be quite interesting texturally. But I decided to take them in order and begin with the basic butterfly. I’d printed both butterflies at a little under 9cm high, transferred them to Rowandean’s embroidery cotton and picked some lovely Splendor silk threads (the same ones I used for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday present). True, if this ever makes it into a workshop I won’t of course be using silk threads, but why not give myself a treat while model stitching? Well, the threads were indeed a treat but as I was stitching I soon found that even a basic butterfly may need to go through quite a few changes during the design process!

The first thing to become obvious was that the butterfly’s size meant I’d have to work with four strands to make the stitches stand out and fill the space sufficiently. This worked all right in most cases but combined with the very soft nature of Splendor silks it didn’t look very good in the chain stitch part; the stitches just blended into each other, the loops didn’t show their open centres, and the whole thing lacked definition. So my next version will smaller, worked in standard cottons, and use a maximum of three strands.

Silk chain stitch lacking definition

The buttonhole wheel I had planned for its head turned out lumpy and awkward. That will have to be changed in the new model, probably to backstitch with straight stitch “spokes” for the Beginner version, and whipped backstitch for the Intermediate one.

A lumpy buttonhole wheel

For the wings I’d chosen whipped running stitch, and I will keep that, but I will definitely have to make the stitches smaller – my rather hasty ¼ version doesn’t make for a nice smooth outline…

Spiky whipped running stitch

And finally there was the butterfly’s body. It was charted in both versions as buttonhole stitch with a line of backstitch to close the teeth end, and each of the sections adorned with a French knot. But then I though it would be nicer to have two different types of body for the two different butterflies, and I also decided to leave French knots for the Intermediate version. So the Beginner body got changed to two opposing lines of buttonhole stitch, with the teeth interlocking. I like the effect of it and will keep that in the final design, but I must remember that for the teeth on the second line to be centred between the teeth of the first line, it is important not to bring the needle up centrally – because of the way buttonhole stitch works, this actually pushes the teeth off-centre.

Spiky whipped running stitch

It sounds like not a lot is left of the original idea, doesn’t it? But I do like this butterfly, and most of it will actually be as originally planned. When I’ve stitched the revised version you’ll see it hasn’t changed that much from the first try – well, except for the difference between soft shiny silks and thinner, sharper cotton threads, of course!

The first butterfly

And talking of threads, as the butterfly is meant to be usable for a beginners’ workshop I felt it might better not to use a stranded thread at all, but something indivisible. Perle #8 is one option, and I’ve got quite a collection of it, so I will probably try it on one of the smaller butterflies. It can be quite twisty. however, which might be a problem. The other I will work in coton à broder #16 – a little thinner, but easy to work with. Unfortunately I only had two of those in my stash, so I treated myself to a small collection of useful colours. Don’t they look inviting?

Coton a broder no. 16 Coton a broder wound on bobbins in a project box

Change in progress (II) – beads

In the first part of Change In Progress showed you some changes that had been made to the three wooden pendant designs as I was stitching them; added stitches, added shading, changes in colour. But sometimes changes in a design are more in the nature of an extra, alternative design. The Old & New pair was designed to be stitched in double cross stitch using Petite Treasure Braid, but having stitched both designs I thought it might be fun to try the smaller of the two in beads as well. This was partly because some years ago I saw 18th-century bead work in an exhibition and I was blown away by how vibrant it looked compared to silk embroideries of the same period, which had faded to the beigey shades we’ve become used to in old embroidery. Well, it definitely worked smiley – the colours absolutely popped!

Old & New 1 worked in beads

If the Christmassy one on black worked so well, would the one on opalescent fabric work equally well? I simply had to find out. However, whereas finding suitable red, gold and green beads had been quite easy, finding usable silver, blue and purple beads turned out to be much harder! For one things there don’t seem to be quite so many shades of purple Mill Hill beads; a fair few lilac ones, and several bluey-purples and reddish-purples but not many “pure” purples. Then I wanted the beads to be shiny, not matt; and of course the blue and purple (and the silver) needed to go together. And silver! Mill Hill’s silver beads, though shiny, are actually rather dark and grey.

Perhaps some sort of white was the answer? I picked a shiny blue and a shimmery lilac, both rather lighter than I had originally envisaged, and combined them with an opalescent white. They looked good together! But white isn’t silver, and I did want to try and stay as close to the original as I could. What silver beads did I have? Well, there was Mill Hill silver, which as I said before is more gun metal than precious metal; some very silvery beads which unfortunately are unbranded, and therefore not suitable for a published design which needs “repeatable” materials; and Mill Hill’s Frosted Ice, somewhere between white and silver, a little subdued in its lustre but a definite possibility.

Blue, lilac and shimmery white beads for Old & New 2 Various silver beads

To make the final decision I compared the opalescent white and the frosted silver on the sparkly fabric I would be using, and although both worked quite well, I decided to go for the latter to keep that touch of silver in the design.

Opalescent white versus frosted silver

And here it is! Now all I need to do is write up the chart pack, and Old & New should be available on the website soon.

Old & New 2 worked in beads

A revitalised bug and an impossible daffodil

Well, whether or not I finish the 90th birthday tulip in time, it has certainly re-ignited my stitching bug! I know, I know – mixed metaphor; only very nasty people ignite bugs smiley. But last night I definitely picked up my stitching with more enthusiasm than I have for some time.

The 90th birthday tulip in progress

I’m tackling this project in rather an ad hoc manner; mostly stem stitch, some straight stitch and seed stitch filling, probably something knotty for the mouth of the daffodil’s trumpet (is it called a trumpet in English or am I translating literally from Dutch?) – pretty much what feels right for whichever bit I’m doing at the time.

The “90” takes a bit more consideration, however. The numbers need to stand out, but I don’t want to fill them in completely (for example with satin stitch); that would be too solid. Stem stitch wouldn’t stand out enough what with all the other stem stitch used; even with twice the number of strands it would look too samey for my taste. I was tempted to use raised chain stitch, but that would work better for a number that consists of a single line. Simple chain stitch won’t make a solid enough line. Perhaps a chain stitch variation? So for now the choice is between heavy chain stitch (easy and solid but not very textural) or Hungarian braided chain stitch (lovely texture but more complicated to work, and slower – a definite drawback in this case!)

Incidentally, even as I was sketching the daffodil design I had a nagging feeling something wasn’t quite right about it, and as I tidied it up I realised what it was – the petal behind the stem is bisected in a way which makes it extremely fiddly to work in metal thread. The bit indicated by the pink arrow would have to be cut and couched separately; not absolutely impossible, but not something I would like to include in a design for other people to stitch. Fortunately it’s not a problem in the project I’m working on at the moment as it’s easy enough to do in stem stitch, but the goldwork version will need a little bit more work.

Fine in freestyle, but not in goldwork

Positive consequences of stomach flu

There aren’t many positive sides to gastric flu. For a moment it seemed to hold the promise of starting the Easter egg season with a few pounds to spare, but even that proved short-lived. However, it did mean that last weekend I had energy for very little more than sitting in the garden, reading a bit, absorbing the sunshine (and incidentally getting my calves sunburnt), observing the bumblebees and enjoying the colourful sight of the tulips and grape hyachinths and late daffodils, and I’m sure this was very good for my soul. It also gave me some ideas.

Having looked forward so much to my RSN day class I understandably had goldwork on my mind, and looking at the bold outlines and the variety of petal shapes of our red, yellow and pink tulips I was reminded of a vague intention some time ago to “do” something with tulips and goldwork. I exchanged my novel for a sketchbook and tried to capture the various tulip profiles, with some grape hyacinths thrown in for good measure.

Sketching the tulips More tulips!

After a few separate doodles I decided on a combination of a single tulip with a couple of grape hyacinths, and some random sprigs of flowering grass which no botanist could possibly put a name to. I also scribbled some notes as to possible threads and wires and techniques to be used; for the grape hyacinths I jotted down two options, one using purl chip work and one using spangles. I like both options so may try a separate grape hyacinth to see which looks best. As the design has two grape hyacinths I toyed for a moment with the idea of doing one in each style, but on second thoughts I discarded that idea – it would just look indecisive and confused. I do want spangles in there somewhere so I’ll probably use tiny ones for the flowering grass, and chips for the grape hyacinths.

Sketch for a goldwork design of tulip and grape hyacinths

The next day I tried incorporating some of my daffodil sketches into the mix, but I simply couldn’t get them all to work together; the result was a separate design of a single tulip and a single daffodil.

Sketch for a goldwork design of tulip and daffodil

Over the next week I tidied them up in my photo editing program, and in the process produced a second version of each design in which the tulip had been shortened a bit. For some reason I tend to create designs which are square or nearly square (or circular), and this one looked a bit elongated. I haven’t quite decided yet which I prefer.

Tidied-up sketches

As I was playing with the designs it occurred to me that they would also work quite well in coloured embroidery, whether using stem stitch throughout, or a variety of stitches (like short bullion knots for the grape hyacinths – nothing like setting yourself a bit of a challenge). In fact, I felt it would be just the thing for a little celebratory embroidery in honour of my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday if I added a “90” to it. So I did. Now I just need to stitch it. By Thursday evening at the very latest. So far, I’ve chosen the silks…

Tulip and daffodil for a 90th birthday

Half a day class

We had a lovely weekend planned, my husband and I. Separately, it is true; he was to go on a vintage car trial in Scotland with a friend, I was to attend my RSN goldwork day class, a belated birthday present to myself. It didn’t quite go to plan. Stomach flu intervened, and if you’ve ever had it you will know that it is not an intervention you can easily ignore. Scotland had to be given a miss altogether, and although I did go to the class I had to hoist the white flag after a couple of hours. Oh well, it can’t be helped; at least I got a little bit done, and had the kit to take away with me to finish at home.

Work done on the goldwork boot during the class

As this was another beginners’ class (like the watering can I did some years back) there weren’t any techniques in the design which I hadn’t come across before, so I’m reasonably confident I’ll be able to produce a creditable Victorian ankle boot! I may add a few extra flourishes just to use some of my goldwork stash though…

The tutor for this workshop was Angela Bishop, who funnily enough recognised me from the previous day class when she assisted Sarah Homfray. The kit was very nicely presented in a neat little box, which held general notes on goldwork, instructions for this design, and of course all the threads and wires and bits and bobs. (The cat was not part of the kit. She’s just being nosy.) The third picture shows you most of the materials in close up: a pretty little heart-shaped bit of beeswax, a sparkly snaky length of bright check purl (sometimes known simply as bright check) to be used for chipwork, wavy Rococco thread, a piece of stiff-but-pliant pearl purl (great name), and three spangles (which can be told from sequins by the little indentations, caused by being made from a flattened coil). I’d already used most of the Jap thread, so that’s not shown, and you can see the remnant of a piece of yellow felt (used to pad the toe of the boot) in the box.

The workshop kit came in a neat box The contents of the box, with cat Goldwork threads, wires and spangles

I still haven’t finished the Jacobean flower, but I may try to complete the boot first, just so it doesn’t get put away in a drawer and forgotten for several years (it’s not been unknown…). Updates to follow, hopefully soon!

Change in progress (I)

The design process: an idea – paper & pencil / charting program – a finished design. Right? Well, sometimes. There are times when an idea just flows from the head to the paper to the fabric, and it works. Ah, bliss smiley.

Often, however, a design changes between idea and chart, and again between chart and stitched model; the stitching is as much part of the design process as the charting. This goes for big complicated designs as well as for itty-bitty mini designs like the ones I did for the wooden pendants I picked up recently. The ginger cat acquired whiskers following the suggestion of a stitching friend, for example. When looking at the designs again in preparation for stitching the tulip on the second wooden pendant the leaves, in a single shade of green, looked rather flat, so I quickly pencilled in shaded areas of darker green. And the small lines on the petals of the small flowers were changed from a lighter shade of the flower to the yellow of the flower centre.

Three slightly changed designs for the wooden pendants

All three are now available as freebie charts, and if you would prefer to have a whiskerless cat, flat tulip leaves or less yellow flowers then feel free to stitch them exactly as you want them! here are my versions:

Cat cross-stitched on a wooden pendant Tulip cross-stitched on a wooden pendant Small flowers cross-stitched on Aida fabric

More suspense (well, suspension)

Some time ago I showed you a filling stitch which consisted of a sequin suspended in the centre of a cut area by means of a sort of spider’s web stitch without the woven spider’s web bit. When I showed it on the Cross Stitch Forum without adding a description of how I had done it, one lady commented that she liked the way it was suspended using a square filet. This was interesting, and it made me look at the suspended sequin again. Yes, it could probably be worked that way – and that would be rather nice because it would mean the pair of designs in Heart’s Treasure would both use a variation on the square filet (the other one being the two-coloured variety).

So I set to work trying out various ways of suspending a sequin by means of a square filet. As the original spider’s web method I used was rather fiddly, one of the square filet ones was a very straightforward method of every time coming up through the sequin in the cut area and going down into the fabric in a corner, but that produced rather spreading holding threads instead of the slightly cord-like look I was aiming for.

That method didn’t work because there was no twist to the stitch, none of the “catching the loop” that is so characteristic of the square filet. But for reasons I won’t go into here doing exactly what you would do in a standard square filet didn’t work either; it needed an extra twist.

First bring the needle up in one corner of the cut area and thread on a sequin (picture 1 below), then take the needle down into the fabric into the next corner (picture 2) – this, by the way, can be either clockwise or anti-clockwise; either is fine, as long as you consistently stick with your choice throughout the project. Bring the needle up in the cut area in the second corner and catch the loop (picture 3), then take the needle over the loop and down into the gap again (picture 4). Don’t pull the thread too tightly at this point, and you will have to stabilise the sequin with your non-stitching hand during the first part of the stitch.

Bring the needle up in the cut area and thread on a sequin Take the needle down into the fabric into the next corner Bring the needle up in the cut area in the second corner and catch the loop Take the needle over the loop and down into the gap again

Now bring the needle up again through the sequin (picture 1 below), then take the needle down into the fabric in the next corner (picture 2). Come up again in the gap in the same corner, catching the loop (picture 3), take the thread over the loop, go down again into the gap and come up through the sequin (picture 4).

Bring the needle up again through the sequin Take the needle down into the fabric in the next corner Come up again in the gap in the same corner, catching the loop Take the thread over the loop, go down again into the gap and come up through the sequin

Continue like this until you come up though the sequin from the fourth corner, then take the the needle underneath the very first part of the stitch before going down into the fabric in the corner where you started. Hey presto, a suspended sequin in a square filet! Incidentally, this example was worked using two strands of stranded cotton, but one strand works equally well – it just shows a bit more of the sequin. Floche or another thin indivisible thread like #12 perle is also suitable.

A suspended sequin in a square filet

Stitching on wood

Although thread on fabric is still the most usual combination for needlework, there is no reason to limit yourself to that – you can stitch on all sorts of things! Fortunately for those of us who find car doors, slices of bread or tennis rackets a bit too challenging, there are non-fabric ideas which are a little less daunting. Pre-drilled wooden pendants, for example. Some of them are so small that they will take only a few stitches, others have a bit more room to play with, although that may make them a little less wearable too. Even so, I went for the latter, mostly because even though I like small projects I wasn’t sure I’d be able to design anything memorable in 4 x 5 stitches.

Wooden pendant

I really liked the look of the pendant when it arrived, but then I noticed it was damaged – a small chip had come off one of the scallops. Fortunately Sew & So were very good about it, as usual; not only did I get a replacement but I was told to keep the other one! I’ve since coloured the chipped edge to blend in with the rest and so it will be fine for experimenting with.

Now, what to stitch on them? I had a vague idea that perhaps I could use the little peacock I designed some years back, but that turned out to be too big. So I drew six outlines in my charting program, to make sure I wouldn’t stray outside the stitchable area, and set to fitting something attractive into a smallish space, preferably an animal or something floral. I ended up with a ginger cat, two small flowers and a tulip.

Three designs for the wooden pendants

You will notice that there is a problem with the above designs: there are three of them, and only two pendants. That is why one of the stitched models will be done on fabric. But they will definitely all fit the pendant!

I decided to start with the ginger cat because I like pussycats smiley. The pendant is a little over 11ct so as I wanted good coverage four strands seemed called for, with the added advantage that I’d be able to use a loop start. The size 24 needle I would normally use on a low-count fabric with four strands turned out to be too thick – wood is much less flexible than fabric, in fact it’s got practically no flexibillity at all, and the needle got stuck trying to pass through holes with previous stitches. A size 26 worked better, although it was still a bit of a fiddle when doing the whiskers and coming up in holes where four stitches were crowded in already. Those whiskers, by the way, were a bit of an afterthought – you may have noticed they weren’t in the original design shown above. Then a lady at my embroidery group, on seeing my ginger Tom, said he was lovely but could really do with some whiskers. A moment’s consideration showed her to be absolutely right, so I added them there and then.

Cat cross-stitched on a wooden pendant

On the chart I’ve lowered the cat by one hole, as it seemed to be a bit too high up, but you could also use the space at the bottom to add some initials or a short name. If you’d like to stitch your own pendant using the ginger cat design, or if you’d like to use it for some other purpose, head to the Freebies page where you can download it; the other two will be added once I’ve stitched them.

Daylight table top lamp

Oh dear. It’s time to admit it: middle age is creeping up on me! I used to be able to work quite happily on 36ct without any special light or magnification, but I’m beginning to find anything over 28ct a struggle, unless I take off my glasses altogether and work in extreme close-up – which is fine for a few stitches but not for a whole evening, especially when I’m trying to follow NCIS at the same time. As I needed new glasses anyway, and the optician had said that reading glasses might be a good idea (even though I could read the finest print at the bottom of their reading chart without any problems), I looked into varifocals. After a lot of discussion with the very helpful gentleman at Vision Express (and some experimental stitching at their premises) we decided that was not the way forward. Plain glasses plus a pair of stitching glasses, a little stronger than the reading glasses the optician had recommended.

Getting used to my new glasses (or rather my new frame) has been a bit of a struggle, and is taking a lot longer than I had expected, so I’ve tried the stitching glasses only a few times, but they definitely help and I will probably use them when working on anything very fine or detailed like goldwork – projects that need concentration, and that I’ll be working on without any distractions. Not for my usual evening’s stitching, however, as I can’t see the telly very well with them, and I tend to combine the two (did I mention NCIS?)

Obviously an additional aid was needed, and after some research I settled on Daylight’s table-top lamp. It has quite a few accessories which I’m not using at the moment, and it would have been nice if the lamp were available at a discount without them, but it isn’t – I rang the company and asked. Fortunately I found the lamp on offer at Sew & So at a price well below any others I could find, so it doesn’t feel like I’m paying for something I won’t use, and anyway, I may well feel the need for a magnifier, a chart clamp and a storage tray some time in the future.

And does it make a difference? Yes it does – a lot! Not only does it help me see smaller stitches, but the colours are more true to life, meaning I can choose fabrics and threads and beads in the evening and actually find the next day that they still match smiley. It does also show up in rather ghastly detail that our chairs could do with re-upholstering, or at the very least a good wash…

Daylight's table top lamp, off Daylight's table top lamp, on

So all hunky-dory then? Well, no. As you can see the shade is a milky white, and when the lamp is on, even after we’d changed the 20W bulb for a 12W one, the whole shade becomes a big glowing blob of whiteness. It’s a bit distracting to me, using it (I would prefer all the light to be on my stitching, not radiating all around), but even more so to my husband, who sees it not only from the corner of his eye, but also reflected in the television screen. Did they do dark shades for them, he asked. Alas, no. Some lateral thinking was called for.

I temporarily draped some black Lugana around the shade, and this made a noticeable difference, but the light still shone quite fiercely through the holes. Right, a fabric without holes then. Felt! Fortunately the lamp doesn’t get very hot, so that shouldn’t be a problem. After playing about with some paper templates and full circles of felt (felt does not pleat very successfully…) I managed to cut out a shape that wrapped cosily around the shade without too much ruffling. Another one followed, as even the felt could not contain the lamp’s output with one layer. Because felt sticks to itself I now have a double-layered lamp jacket which is easily put on and removed. Marital harmony preserved by a piece of felt!

The lamp with its felt jacket, switched off The lamp with its felt jacket, switched on