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 crochet production line

Some more stitching deadlines have been met so there’s time for a bit of crochet again! I haven’t tried out the poppy yet in more appropriate colours although I do have them (Patons’s 4-ply in red & green & black, but also a lighter green & coral & dark brown for a more muted version) but those colours are also just right for some interesting Christmas wreath patterns I found online.

For some reason, hoever, I decided to first try out one of the patterns in peach and blue. I’m not absolutely sure why; it may have something to do with not wasting the “proper” colours on a trial piece. Whatever my reason, it gave me an idea of how the pattern worked, and also showed very clearly that peach and blue are not very good colours for a Christmas wreath.

Small crochet wreath in the wrong colours

Incidentally, there are also two other patterns which I would like to try but they require some plastic rings which I don’t have in my stash; they are now on their way here so you should see samples of those larger wreaths soon.

Back to the small wreath. The original pattern started the decorative running stitch from the front, then tied the ends in a bow. I tried this and it looked horrible, possibly because I was working with a double thread. I did find some patterns for small crocheted bows as well, but neither of them looked particularly good on the wreath, so I settled for plain running stitch and beads.

Small crochet wreath in the wrong colours with a horrible bow A small and a tiny crochet bow

Now every December our Embroidery Circle goes out for a Christmas lunch, and we usually exchange Christmas cards on that occasion. Wouldn’t it be nice for a change, I thought, to take a little ornament for everyone instead? And wouldn’t this little wreath be just the thing? After all, I’d only need eleven.

That was yesterday late afternoon. The Christmas lunch was today.

So last night after dinner (8pm) I set out to crochet eleven wreath bases, using the two greens I had recently obtained. Both colours looked good, and they actually stitched up (crocheted up?) very quickly – by 11pm they were all finished, in spite of some assistance from Lexi the Helpful Lap Cat.

The base wreaths in two shades of green

This morning I set out to decorate them. Because I’m not tying the running stitch into a bow, the ends need to be finished off in some other way; some instruction I’d seen with another pattern suggested knotting them together, then working them into the back of the crochet. This looked fine from the front, but left the back rather untidy, especially with the thread used for attaching the beads showing as well. So on the second wreath I didn’t knot but just worked the ends into the back, and also took the beading thread through the stitches when travelling from bead to bead, which led to a much more presentable backside – very important for an ornament!

A back that's not really showable A rather more acceptable back

I then had another go at the bow, and found that if I used a single thread and kept the loops relatively small, it did work *yay*. In fact, it worked with a double thread as well as long as I tied the bow using only one of them, and fed the ends of the other one to the back to be worked in. Not only that, but the bow ones turned out to have the tidiest backs of all. Progress indeed.

A bow that works A bow that works with running stitch in two colours The tidiest back of all

Trying to find ever better ways of finishing off, as well as the lunatic idea that it would be much nicer if they were all different, meant that this part of the process took rather longer than it need have if I’d picked one simple decoration and stuck with that for the entire batch. Even so, my production line was quite efficient on the whole (even though I did add two more types of beads after the picture below was taken).

A crochet production line

And so I did make the deadline, and had eleven different ornaments to take with me to the Christmas lunch.

11 different Christmas wreath ornaments

Which turned out to be one too few, as I’d forgotten to count a lady who no longer comes to our meetings but does still come to the Christmas lunch. Oops. But as a couple of members had had to cancel because of health issues, I could give her an ornament anyway, and now I just need to crochet an extra one to send to one of the absent members. Oh, and another one to give to a friend who is a keen needlewoman and whom we’re meeting for Christmas dinner tomorrow night. Then it’s back to a bit of embroidery, and if I survive two Christmas meals within 48 hours *groan* I hope to post a thread comparison report some time soon!

It’s a small world

It is! And to trot out another cliché, life is full of surprises, not to mention coincidences. Let me tell you the story.

Last week I received an email from a lady who wishes to start a cut flower business. Good luck to her, I say – being Dutch I thoroughly approve of anyone providing more flowers for the adornment of our homes – but you may wonder why she contacted me about this. Well, in her online search for images to use as a logo she came across an embroidery featuring a single flower and leaf (which would go well with the name she has chosen for her new business) in colours similar to the ones she was planning to use. It was this embroidery:

The SANQ goldwork design stitched using Pearsall's crewel wool

That’s right, it’s the little Jacobean goldwork design that I first used for two crewel wool experiments; this is the one using Pearsall’s wool. I was flattered, of course, and wrote to the lady saying so, but also noted that although the stitching and the interpretation were mine, the design was not; it doesn’t really look the way the designer originally intended, but even so I was of the opinion that the copyright of it probably still lay with him or her. Nevertheless, I promised I’d ask the opinion of the Cross Stitch Forum, whose members feel very strongly about copyright and some of whom have looked into the matter in some detail.

One person there sensibly suggested contacting the designer. An excellent suggestion, but I didn’t feel very hopeful about its success; I contacted the magazine last year when I was hoping to acquire this particular design (which I’d seen on a picture of the magazine’s cover on Mary Corbet’s blog), and apart from a fairly standard reply saying they’d forwarded my question to the editorial department (and pointing me to a book they had for sale on goldwork) I didn’t get any further replies, neither from their main email address nor the editorial department.

Samplers & Antique Needlework vol. 38

Then another member suggested looking at the original pattern to say if it said anything about “free use”. Now I hadn’t actually looked at either the pattern or the instructions since I printed off an enlarged version of it; I use that print to transfer the design whenever I want it, and I’m not actually following the instructions but going loosely (very loosely…) by the photograph of the finished pincushion. Moreover I only have the pages with this design on them, not the whole magazine, so any copyright rules covering the magazine generally would probably not be there anyway. Still, I unearthed the original pages and had a look. That’s when the coincidence/small world thing came in.

The designer turned out to be Barbara Jackson of Tristan Brooks Designs ; that sounded very familiar, but it took me a while to remember why. And then it came back to me – Barbara Jackson was the very helpful lady who sent me some twill samples all the way from America last year so I could try them before deciding which one to buy! We had quite an email conversation at the time and we spoke on the telephone as well. As the time difference meant that she was probably at work when I realised this, I rang and explained the situation to her.

It took her a while to remember the design, actually, and when she’d worked out which one it was and I told her my fairly convoluted reason for ringing her she said “I was afraid you were going to ask me for the instructions!” Anyway, she was perfectly happy for me to pass on her permission to use the design, or rather the picture of my rather different version of the design, and so I did. Don’t you just love happy endings smiley? If the flower lady does indeed decide to use the embroidered flower as her logo I’ll post a screen shot when the website goes live!

Slow progress is still progress

Remember the Craft Fair last Saturday? The organisers had asked people with stands if they could give demonstrations at various points throughout the day, and several did, among them a lady spinning wool, and a woodturner. I offered to demonstrate goldwork embroidery, which proved a good opportunity to finally get some work done on my SANQ/Jacobean flower project! I’d already been playing fast and loose with the design so I decided to leave the picture of the model, which is usually magneted to my frame, behind and just do whatever I liked. Ah, liberty! The two petals, originally intended to be done in paired gold Jap, I did in silver, and I intend to have some tiny silver spangles in there with the charted green silk. The cone, or whatever that other bit of the flower is called, was likewise charted in paired gold Jap with fairly chunky pearl purl on the outside; I swapped this for very fine pearl purl and some of the check thread I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show. I really like the effect of the wavy line bordering the delicate purl, and will definitely use it again.

To show the progress, here are some Before and After pics.

Gold and silk Silver and some wavy gold added

Some years ago I designed a series called Floral Lace; as my husband won’t let me forget, it started out as a small collection of three designs but kept growing until in the end there were 18. Some of these came out in late autumn and it gave me the idea of doing a Remembrance pair as well. I decided on Poppy and Rosemary, made some sketches none of which quite satisfied me, and so they disappeared into my When I Get Fresh Inspiration folder. Then one night last week I woke up with the design worked out in my head; the next morning I quickly got it charted up in my design program and so after well over two years “Floral Lace: Remembrance” is finally finished. I’ve even started stitching it, at my Embroidery Group yesterday afternoon with a bit more work done in the evening.

Floral Lace: Poppy - in progress

It seemed oddly appropriate to be stitching a remembrance-themed project at the group meeting yesterday, as we recently lost one of our long-standing members, and a number of us will be attending her funeral today. It’s a nice thought that this piece, as well as symbolising a more public remembrance, will also remind me of Jean.

Ready for the Fair

In a frantic last-minute rush of finishing yesterday afternoon (thank you boss for giving me time off smiley) I managed to transform 5 projects into displayable items (including a very old bit of goldwork started at the Knitting & Stitching Show years ago). I didn’t find a design that would fit one of the jewellery boxes, unfortunately, but then I did buy those for future goldwork projects. I’ll add separate pictures of the Mabel designs to the Gallery later.

Four satin boxes and a frame ready for display

Then in the evening it was time to set up my stand – a good thing we got the opportunity to do this in advance as my husband is marshalling at a vintage car trial today, and walking to church with the stack of boxes I’d piled up in the kitchen didn’t bear thinking about! He was also a great help setting up, putting tables out, pinning bags in place and so on; I’m very lucky smiley. I much prefer the look of a stand with lots of people browsing, of course, but here is a (badly lit) picture of the stand all pristine and awaiting visitors.

The stand ready for action

A flutter of butterflies, and a fluffy failure

I’ve definitely got butterflies on the brain at the moment! It started out with this one, based on a tutorial posted on Sarah Jayne’s Bella Coco blog – worked in tapestry wool because I had been given some and thought I’d try it out (it’s OK but not particularly easy to work with, and it feels a bit stiff and rough). The second picture shows the two layers of the butterfly; it’s basically an octagon that won’t lie flat because it’s got too many stitches in it, folded double. A safety pin wiggled through the back makes it into a very wearable brooch, although unlike Sarah Jayne I don’t sew the safety pin down – this way it can easily be “un-brooched” and used in a different way if the owner wishes to (sewn on to a hair band, for example).

A mini butterfly Seen from the side the two layers show well A safety pin turns the butterfly into a brooch The butterfly worn as a brooch

After one more butterfly in tapestry wool I settled on the odds and ends of 4-ply I had found in a bag at the bottom of my chest of Stitchy Things That Might Come In Useful One Day, and that worked very well with a 4mm hook. Incidentally, let me digress for a moment on the subject of 4-ply and other terms. Having learnt my crochet in the Netherlands I occasionally get hopelessly entangled not only in stitch names, which can mean two different things depending on whether the pattern uses US or UK terms, but also in yarns (sounds rather fun actually, getting entangled in yarn smiley), trying to work out whether UK double knitting is US worsted or light worsted, and how either of these match up to the Dutch yarns I have which are graded by metres per 100 grams!

Anyway, let us return to butterflies. Because I like small things I started wondering whether this pattern would work in crochet cotton as well. Well, it does. It comes out a lot smaller, very dainty and lacy, and has already been much admired at my stitching group. It is also a lot fiddlier than the yarn version! I may make a few for special people who would really like them, but for the Craft Fair I will stick with the original version – which may look pretty gigantic side by side with the tiddly version, but is only about 2″ across the wing tips.

Two sizes of butterfly

Encouraged by this successful experiment I decided to try another one; in my bag of left-over baby wool there was a ball of bright yellow fluffy yarn, which consists of lots of short “hairs” on a thinnish thread and which I thought might look quite interesting if used for the outer row of the butterfly. After a bit of a fight trying to work six double/treble crochets into one stitch while the individual stitches and the hook are somewhat obscured by the yellow fluff (making it very difficult to see whether you’ve done five or six stitches) it became woefully clear that “interesting” was the best that could be said about it. There will be no further fluffy butterflies (though it would probably make very effective caterpillars…)

A misconceived fluffy butterfly

So back to the 4-ply (and a bit of DK), and here is the flutter of butterflies ready for Saturday’s Craft Fair (one or two others may join them if I have time):

A dozen butterflies winging their way to the Craft Fair

Orpheus is finally boxed!

Less than a week to go until the Craft Fair and I haven’t really had a go at mounting anything much in any box whatsoever. True, I have crocheted about half a dozen little butterfly brooches, and jolly pretty they are too if I say so myself, but that doesn’t quite make up for the lack of display items.

Two little butterfly brooches

So yesterday I finally sat down with Orpheus and an as yet unadorned thread box. The reason I had been putting this off was that until I received the box I hadn’t realised that A) it had glass in the lid, and it was impossible to remove without damaging the box, and B) the construction of the box was such that I couldn’t lace or in any way stretch the embroidery around a board before inserting it. This meant that the fabric would have to be cut exactly to size – scary stuff!

Cutting the fabric very close - scary!

What you see above is the wooden backing covered in double-sided sticky plastic, then covered in dark brown felt leaving a sticky rim around the edge, covered with Orpheus, and Orpheus then cut as close to the sides of the panel as possible. This order of doing things at least kept the sticky stuff away from the embroidered part of the fabric! And although the sticky plastic was strong enough to mildly stretch the fabric, it did allow me to pull and reposition the edges just enough to get it all straight.

Orpheus safely mounted in its box

Now its outside was looking just fine, but no thread box is complete without threads. So here I present the Orpheus thread box complete Threadworx perles and silks; don’t you just love the colours?

And the box filled with pretty threads

Stumbling across a new old stitch

Do you know how sometimes things turn up in a book that weren’t there the last time you read it? (It works the other way round as well – things you are sure were there last time have suddenly disappeared.) Some time ago I was leafing through one of the embroidery books in my collection and came across Pueblo stitch, which I have no recollection of ever seeing there before. It’s also known as Pueblo backstitch, and gets its name because it is (was?) used by the Pueblo people. It looked interesting – it seemed to use two colours to create a twisted sort of look by bringing the needle up between the two working threads – so I got out the doodle cloth and two shades each of stranded cotton, floche and perle #8 and got to work. And I just couldn’t get it to look like the diagrams.

In fact, after a while I felt almost certain it would be impossible to make it look like the diagram because of where the threads were meant to go up and down into the fabric. Then I realised that I had completely misinterpreted the diagram and that the twisted look is actually achieved by, erm, twisting smiley. In between stitches, that is, not while making the stitch. So the two working threads are twisted at the front of the fabric and travel a long way, while at the back of the fabric there is very little thread indeed. This also explains why it was described as a good stitch to cover a lot of background quickly, which my first attempts would definitely not have done. I’m not very happy with the Pueblo stitch I eventually produced, but I daresay with more practice I’d get it to look more even.

The Pueblo stitch diagram My attempt at Pueblo stitch

Now as I was first trying this stitch in my misinterpreted way, I appear to have inadvertently discovered (or more probably rediscovered) a different stitch altogether (and what I should call it I do not know!) which is very decorative and capable of all sorts of variations. So what did I do differently from the proper Pueblo stitch? Well, I didn’t do the long twisted bit in between stitches. Here are the variations I came up with, on counted and non-counted fabric.

First I tried to recreate that twisted look by swapping over the two working threads every time I brought the needle up between them. That does result in an “alternating” line, but it looks rather bitty, the more so when using thinner threads.

Swapping over the working threads on counted fabric Swapping over the working threads on non-counted fabric

I then tried bringing the needle up between the two working threads as before, but without swapping them over; colour A was always above the needle, colour B always below. This works rather well in any thread (although again the thicker threads look better to my mind) and creates what looks almost like a line of chain stitch with the two halves of each link in different colours (unlike in chequered chain stitch, where the entire links alternate in colour).

Not swapping over the working threads on counted fabric Not swapping over the working threads on non-counted fabric

And finally I played with the stitch length at the back; in the original Pueblo stitch there is a lot at the front and very little at the back, and in first my two variations I likewise kept the thread at the back of the fabric to a minimum, even though my front stitches aren’t nearly so long as the original twisted ones. What would happen, I wondered, if I treated it a bit like stem stitch? Bring both threads up through the fabric, go down the desired stitch length further, then come up halfway along that first stitch, between the two threads. Again go down a stitch length further, half of which will cover half of the first stitch. Come up at the end of the first stitch (which should be halfway along the second stitch), and so on. In theory that should give a line of stem stitch and a line of outline stitch facing each other, in two different colours. To my delight it did just that in practice!

Pueblo stem stitch on counted fabric Pueblo stem stitch on non-counted fabric

You can even swap over the working threads in this stem stitch version for yet another effect.

Pueblo stem stitch swapping over the working threads

So now I’ve got three useful stitches in search of a name. Something with Pueblo in it to reflect their origin, I think, but then what? Well, the last one simply has to be called Pueblo stem stitch, and I think Pueblo split stitch would be quite good for the middle one (even though the thread isn’t really split, the effect is much the same); any suggestions for the first one will be gratefully received. But wasn’t it serendipitous, discovering a new stitch by misreading an old diagram?

An unexpected find, an enjoyable task and a sample of kindness

Surprises, as long as they are of the pleasant variety, are always welcome. Guess what I found as I was getting some things out of a bottom drawer in preparation for the Craft Fair. Coasters! Now I’ve been stitching away for the past month or so making coasters because they sold quite well last year and I ran out within an hour. So this year I wanted to make sure there would be a good stock of them:

The coaster sets made for the 2016 Craft Fair

But the more the merrier, and although the four I found were some experimental designs which I put into coasters and then forgot about, they are attractive enough to join the sale I think.

An unexpected extra set of coasters

Another thing I need for the Craft Fair is some new display items for the “For Show” part. You may remember that in anticipation and with a touching optimism I bought some lovely satin boxes from the Viking Loom some months ago.

Satin display and jewellery boxes from Viking Loom

As you probably expected, these are all still in their plastic wrapping, and no stitching has been anywhere near them. Time to change all that, and over the next two weeks, in between workshops, I’m hoping to mount some of my stack of finished project in at least some of the boxes. I’m aiming for three, although there are plenty of projects to cover all of them and have several left over!

Projects that might finish up on the boxes

Quite a few of those projects are too big for the satin boxes, but there is another box which has been waiting to be embellished for months now – a lovely wooden thread box which I’m hoping to fill with my collection of Threadworx perles and silks. Because of the shape of the box a rectangular design is called for, the options are a bit limited as most of my designs are square. Still, there are two which will fit very nicely; so now the only question is, Join the Band or Orpheus?

Orpheus or Join the Band for this box?

And finally another example of crafters being very kind people. I’ve been looking for a suitable fabric for some new kits, as the one I’m currently using for the stitches models is rather expensive. It’s a bit of a balancing act: I want my kits and workshop materials to be of good quality, but I also want to keep them affordable, and so sometimes I reluctantly decide that “good quality” does not necessarily have to mean “exceptional but expensive quality”. (For the same reason I occasionally use standard threads where a hand-dyed thread would be more attractive, but also much more costly.)

Well, I found a possible fabric online, but as you know it can be very difficult to get a good idea of fabrics (or threads for that matter) from a picture on a screen; the colour and texture looked right, but I couldn’t tell what sort of weight it was. However, there was a phone number so I rang it and spoke to a very nice lady called Val. We discussed what the fabric would be used for, and other fabrics that might be suitable, and in the end she said she’d send me a sample of the fabric so I could see whether it was right for my purpose – and she’d send it first class so I’d get it before the weekend! The envelope arrived this morning, and in it were three samples: the fabric I’d expressed an interest in and two others. (In the picture there’s only a strip of the off-white fabric as I’d already taken it away to transfer a design onto it.)

A semi-bleached calico and two cotton/linen mixes

When I’ve tried it I’ll let you know what I think!

New threads, vanishing threads and non-existent threads

Putting together a new workshop/kit often means looking into various materials, threads and other bits and bobs that would be suitable for it (I know, it’s a hard life smiley). In this case I was looking for a non-divisible variegated green thread a little thicker than a strand of stranded cotton. Three of the possibles I’m considering at the moment are (from left to right) Weeks Dye Works perle #12, Chameleon perle #16 and Sulky Blendables 12wt. I’ve never tried any of these before so I’m looking forward to stitching some samples with them.

Weeks Dye Works perle #12 Emerald Chameleon perle #16 Fennel Sulky Blendables 12wt Cactus

The WDW shade is called Emerald, and I’ve got one called Bayberry on back order from Sew & So – it looks lovely but I think it may be just a little too thick for what I want. The Chameleon one, a shade called Fennel, I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show; about the right thickness, but not many shades available unfortunately. You may notice that the Sulky image (of a shade called Cactus) is a stock one, as I ordered this from America and it hasn’t arrived yet. There is another possible green in the Blendables range but that looks rather dark online. I had hoped to find them at the K&S Show so I could see them in the flesh, but either they weren’t there or I missed them – easily done with so many stands there!

The vanishing thread is Tamar Embroideries’ mercerized cotton (which used to be called brodery cotton). It is being discontinued, not because it wasn’t popular, but because they can’t get the thread anymore for dyeing! So goodbye to this lovely variegated green thread that was perfect for little lazy daisy leaves. I hope they’ll find a good substitute soon.

Tamar Embroideries mercerized cotton shade 243

And the non-existent threads? I dreamed them. In one of those very realistic-seeming dreams a friend was explaining a printing machine to me, which turned into a weaving machine; beside it was a wooden rack with hanks of thread hanging from it, all labelled. I particularly noticed two of them, very attractive slightly fluffy threads not unlike chenille. The labels identified them as “fine priel” and “open priel”.

I woke up and the dream turned out to be as illogical in the cold light of day as dreams usually are, but I did remember the name of the thread! Alas, the only priels I managed to find were a mountain and a meandering stream; neither of them at all fluffy and both impossible to stitch with.

A spicy stitch, two ways

Some years ago I came across a stitch I really liked the look of on the Nordic Needle Save the Stitches website. For reasons I have yet to fathom they called it “nutmeg stitch”. It doesn’t look the least bit like a nutmeg, but the name rather appeals to me – I am Dutch, after all, and we like our spices. Although I called it a stitch, it is really the intertwining combination of two of the basic Hardanger filling stitches, dove’s eye and square filet, and interestingly the result doesn’t look like either of them.

nutmeg stitch

I’ve not seen the stitch anywhere else before or since, but I gather it was used in a booklet produced with competition-winning designs, so presumably one of those winners invented it and gave it its fragrant name. As I said, I liked it, but it did look like rather a lot of work; first do the dove’s eye, then the square filet, carefully weaving in and out of the dove’s eye – wouldn’t it be possible to get the same effect in a simpler way?

Out came the doodle cloth of the moment, and after a few tries I realised it wasn’t possible; not exactly the same effect. But starting in a corner and working alternate quarters of square filet and dove’s eye, I did get a similar effect. With its slightly looser look (the weaving isn’t as tight as in a nutmeg stitch) I felt that, though similar, it was different enough to deserve its own name, and in keeping with its shape I called it sunburst stitch. It quickly became one of my favourites.

sunburst stitch

Now these two stitches, nutmeg and sunburst, each have their own strong points and disadvantages. Sunburst is simpler and quicker, but I soon realised that nutmeg stitch, because it is worked in two passes, can be stitched in two colours. Nordic Needle’s Hardanger tends to be traditional in its colour schemes, so not surprisingly the pictures I’d found of the stitch were all white – to find out whether a two-tone nutmeg (the mind boggles) would work, I’d have to stitch it myself. Out came the doodle cloth again, and yes, it does work!

nutmeg stitch in two colours

As the doodle cloth was to hand anyway, I did some more experimenting. What if you started the weave by taking the square filet over  the first part of the dove’s eye instead of under ? The result turned out to be a slightly looser weave producing a different but equally pleasant colour pattern. Perhaps it doesn’t really warrant its own name, but I’ve given it one anyway; wishing to reflect both its kinship with the nutmeg stitch and the slight difference between the two, I here present the mace stitch!

mace stitch in two colours