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 envelope

Do you like getting unexpected letters and parcels? I do. Well, as long as they are surprising rather than suspicious, of course, but fortunately I’m not nearly important enough to get suspicious parcels. But today I did get something rather curious, not to say mysterious.

The envelope in itself wasn’t that strange, although I wasn’t expecting anything, at least not as Mabel. It felt a bit too heavy and stiff for a letter, but not quite big and solid enough for a book. An obvious thought would have been fabric, folded several times, but it will give you some indication of how long it has been since my latest stash splurge that this possibility never occured to me.

A mysterious envelope

“I wonder what it is”, I said to my husband. “Well, open it”, he quite sensibly suggested. So I did. And found this:

A price list for Austin Seven parts

Just in case you don’t immediately realise what “this” is, it’s a 1935 price list of spare parts for Austin Sevens. Now in itself this is not a strange thing to find in the Figworthy household, as Mr Mabel learnt to drive in an Austin Seven when he was about 16 and has owned one (bought in the 50s by his uncle) for decades, and the Figworthy day job is the supply of Austin Seven spare parts to other enthusiastic owners all around the world. Quite an appropriate thing to be pushed through our letterbox, therefore. But not addressed to Mabel’s Fancies.

And there the mystery remains. It was the only thing in the envelope, no note or card, and nothing scribbled on the booklet itself, so I have absolutely no idea who sent me this. It is true that I have mentioned Austin Sevens here on Flights occasionally, but even so it’s unlikely that a Flights reader just happened to have an Austin Seven brochure lying around for which she had no further use. If that is what happened, and the person who sent it to us reads this, then may I say your kind gesture is much appreciated, and I wish I knew who you were so I could say a proper thank you.

For now I leave you with a picture of our 1925 Austin Seven Chummy at a rally some years ago. Yes, that is me under the enormous white hat. It is the only way I could get something approaching needlework into this FoF, as I think it was crocheted or knitted or macraméd. Well, however it was done, I’m very grateful to the person who made it – it’s great for keeping your ears warm, especially with the hood down (the car’s not mine)!

Our 1925 Austin Seven Chummy

Mabel’s Fancies is (almost) five years old!

Some time ago I conceived a fairly vague plan to do “something special” on Easter Monday this year to mark the fact that Mabel’s Fancies first opened its virtual doors on Easter Monday 2011. Yes, that’s right, Mabel is celebrating what in her native land is called her first lustrum, a period of five years or a celebration held every five years.

But as most of you will know by now, there hasn’t been much posting – or stitching or designing – recently because of my mother’s illness, and my travelling to Holland a lot to be with her. She passed away just before the Easter weekend, and suddenly there were other things to arrange than lustrum celebrations.

Still, I didn’t want to let the occasion pass altogether without notice; not least because my mother was very proud of Mabel (she had the original Peacock Feathers hanging on her wall, and no visitor got away without having a good look at it – mothers, eh smiley?) The solution was to go by the date rather than the day: Easter Monday 2011 fell on 24th April, which means that Mabel’s first lustrum could be celebrated equally well on 24th April 2016.

So this Sunday I will raise a glass to Mabel Figworthy’s Fancies, and from Monday 25th to Saturday 30th April there will be a special 5th Birthday Offer on the website:

  • buy a pair of embroidery scissors and choose a chart pack up to £3.49
  • buy a pair of squissors and choose a chart pack up to £4.49
  • or buy a pair of each and choose a chart pack up to £5.49 plus one up to £3.49

Buy squissors or scissors and choose a free chart pack

Here’s to another 5 years of designs and kits – Hardanger, Shisha, freestyle, even goldwork perhaps? Who knows!

An unexpected use for the backs of embroideries

This morning, as I was getting ready for church, the phone rang. A friend with a request: she was to take the Young People’s Group (known at Dunchurch Baptist Church for some unfathomable reason as Grid) that morning and could I possibly bring some embroideries with messy backs for her to use as illustrations? The message being that at the moment we see what you might call the back of the work when we look at what God is doing in the world, but one day we will be shown the embroidery as it is meant to be seen, and we’ll see how all the different threads and colours work together to make a perfect whole. Think B.M. Franklin’s poem “The Weaver”.

I said I’d see what I could do and went upstairs to go through my finished-projects folders. Not Hardanger, because Hardanger looks after its own back so beautifully as you stitch that the front and the back aren’t really that different. Cross stitch, too, unless it is full of confetti stitching, tends not to be particularly messy. OK, something freestyle then. One problem turned out to be that quite a few of my freestyle pieces have been put into cards or laced over foam board or sewn on to felt or framed in a hoop with the excess fabric gathered up, and so the backs are not visible – which is of course exactly the intention, but not helpful in this particular case.

With the “unfinished” pieces I ran into another problem: my backs are actually quite neat. You can definitely tell the difference between the back and the front, but none of them would really qualify as messy. This was cheering to see, and made me feel rather pleased with my stitching, but it was no good whatsoever for the purpose of illustrating the Grid Bible study.

Bloomin' Marvellous 7 (back) Floral Cross (back) Strawberries (back)
Bloomin' Marvellous 7 (front) Floral Cross (front) Strawberries (front)

There was the Little Wildflower Garden, which does have some nice big knots and long trailing threads at the back, but there the front is quite, well, informal too, with long stitches and knots, so the difference isn’t as big as I’d like it to be.

Little Wildflower Garden (back) Little Wildflower Garden (front)

So I decided to concentrate instead on finding projects where the back looked quite different from the front for whatever reason, where you couldn’t really tell from the back what the front would look like. What would you expect from these two backs, for example, if they were your very first encounter with the projects? (No peeking ahead now!)

The back of something on counted fabric The back of something on non-counted fabric

They are, in fact, a Christmas Wreath and my first ever goldwork project, a dragonfly stitched at a Knitting & Stitching Show workshop some years ago. And I’m told they did the job. But perhaps, just in case they want to repeat this lesson some time in the future, I should produce a few really messy backs. Just to get the message across even more clearly. Ah, the self-sacrifice!

Christmas Wreath Goldwork dragonfly

Backgrounds, sizes, coasters and finishings

FoFs have been few and far between recently, mainly because of serious illness in the family, and for that same reason they will, for the time being, continue to happen very much as and when. On the positive side, one of those as and whens is now!

I’ve been doing some experimenting with the various kits and workshops I’m putting together, trying things out, making changes and generally getting them just the way I want them. And one of the things I’ve been looking at is finishing items.

I’ve finished the Christmas Wreath in two ways so far – as a card, and as a Christmas Tree ornament. The card is not a problem, I’ve done plenty of those, but the ornament posed a dilemma: laborious & proper, or quick & easy. The first involves working running stitch all around the excess fabric, stitching a little way away from the hoop, gathering the fabric by pulling the sewing thread tight and knotting it, and then attaching a piece of matching felt with tiny stitches using a curved needle. I did this a while ago to finish a piece of goldwork, and it does look very neat, while being quite sturdy and durable at the same time.

The goldwork bee framed in a flexi-hoop The felt-covered back of the framed bee

It is also a lot of work. Could this be simplified in any way? Yes, I found some pretty cardstock with a holly pattern, cut a circle out of that and glued it to the back of the hoop after gathering the fabric. It worked, although it took a little adjusting to make sure it wasn’t too bulky around the edges. Edges. Hmmm. Flexi-hoops hold fabric quite tightly. And the stitching won’t be taken out of the hoop once it’s an ornament. So why not cut the excess fabric right down to where it emerges from the hoop at the back until it’s level with the hoop, then seal the fabric edge with a line of glue and cover with the cardstock disc? This turned out to keep the fabric at the front perfectly taut while also presenting a neat enough posterior which will stand up to a certain amount of wear and tear (and let’s face it, a Christmas tree ornament is unlikely to get a lot of wear and tear, unless you have an exceedingly playful cat; if it’s the children you’re worried about, simply hang it where they can’t reach it). Definitely worth offering as an alternative!

Christmas tree ornament Backing the ornament with card

Another thing I’ve been looking at a bit more is the reduced coasters suitable for use in a workshop. I wanted to offer another border besides the alternating-V one (left-hand picture), so tried two further likely candidates in one coaster – two alternating lines of running stitch, and the block border (middle picture). The running stitch border didn’t appeal to me (though funnily enough it was my husband’s favourite) and I unpicked it, completing the border in block stitch (right-hand picture).

Workshop coaster with alternating-V border Two more borders to try Workshop coaster with block border

The final change in this, the really-absolutely-finally-final workshop coaster design, is the corner motif, which is now three separate little leaves instead of one 3/4 clover motif; it may not seem much of a change,but it saves 16 stitches in total!

The original corner motif The simpler corner motif

Next on the list was the Little Wildflower Garden, which I wanted to try in different sizes and on different backgrounds to see which would be best for the kit and workshop. The smaller the design is stitched, the denser it will look if the same number of strands are used in all versions (which is what I did). Personally I like small, and the first version I stitched and from which the design was subsequently drawn is the smallest one at 5cm wide. It was stitched on hand-dyed wool felt, and I love it dearly, but it’s not very suitable for a kit because the felt is to thick for a light box and won’t take a transfer pen. When I stitched the same size on a felt purse later on, I had to transfer the design to tissue paper and stitch through that. Also, because the stitching is very dense, many of the design lines get covered up while stitching, which could be confusing. So no felt, and not the smallest size. Pity.

Little Wildflower Garden, small size, on felt

I then tried a larger size (6.5cm wide) on Rowandean’s embroidery fabric; it’s white, looks as though it might be countable but isn’t, and is slightly fuzzy on one side as though lightly brushed. It’s a lovely fabric to work on and doesn’t need backing, which is a plus, but the daisies and especially the bee’s wings got rather lost on the white background.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on Rowandean cotton

The stitching on the large version, which I had also tried on blue quilting cotton earlier, looked quite open and airy – perhaps a bit too much so. I decided to try two more things: the large size on brushed blue cotton (as the slightly fluffy fabric might counteract the openness of the stitches) and a medium size (5.75cm wide) on blue quilting cotton. I worked and photographed them in the same hoop for ease of comparison, but I needn’t have bothered. It’s not that one looked immediately and unmistakenly better than the other, but that the brushed cotton suffered from the same problem as the felt: too thick for the lightbox to penetrate and project a clear traceable image, and too fluffy to hold the ink in thin, crisp lines. So although I do like the look of the brushed cotton (which I’d rather hoped would be a good compromise between ordinary cotton and my preferred but unusable felt) the kit will use the medium-sized design on quilting cotton.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on brushed cotton Little Wildflower Garden, medium size, on quilting cotton Little Wildflower Garden kit

Incidentally, I’ve discovered one reason why it’s called freestyle embroidery: because it never turns out the same twice. Here’s a collection of slim, chubby, long, short, narrow-striped, broad-striped bees to prove it smiley.

A variety of Wildflower Garden bees

Reducing coasters

Some years ago I found that if you’re a small-project girl like me, coasters are a really good way of displaying your work; they are useful, they keep the embroidery clean, and they make great gifts into the bargain. I found some made of good durable plastic with elegant rounded corners and a display area of about 8cm, and soon worked out that this made them just the right size for any of the Round Dozen designs worked on 25ct fabric.

Round the Year in coasters

Then I was asked to supply some stitched items to a sale in aid of Elijah Gambia, a charity set up by friends of ours, and coasters and bookmarks seemed the most saleable. Now I did have a simple and quick design for felt bookmarks, but not for coasters – and Round Dozen, however attractive, was a bit too labour-intensive for mass production. So I set about simplifying the Round Dozen idea, with a little less cutting and worked on 22ct Hardanger instead of 25ct Lugana, so that a smaller design would still fill the coasters satisfactorily. In the end I came up with 3 or 4 variations on a theme (if you do have to stitch something over and over again it’s as well to have some variation to keep it interesting), one of which made it into a kit.

Coasters with a simplified variation on the Round Dozen

As you may know I’ve been teaching workshops at the London Knitting & Stitching Show for several years now, and as I was stitching these coasters I wondered whether they would make a good workshop project. Well, what are the criteria for a good workshop project? It’s actually quite difficult to give an unequivocal answer to that, as they can vary from one tutor to the next, so the question is really “what are my criteria?”

Ideally I want my workshops to be accessible for beginners, without being boring for those with a little (or a lot) more experience, so the design has to be suitable for a group with mixed abilities. I’ve stitched these coasters with beginners and didn’t run into any problems, while the use of colour and the choice of filling stitch can add interest for the experienced stitcher. So far so good. Then I like the project to be made into something usable and/or displayable. A coaster ticks that box. And finally it’s a definite plus if the project can be finished, or almost finished, during the workshop. Ah.

By the time I’d stitched 50 or so of these coasters I was getting pretty quick at it, but even then each one took me more than two hours. Obviously some further reduction was needed to make them suitable for a 90-minute or even a 2-hour workshop. So I fired up my designing software and started playing around with the designs as used for the charity coasters. I wanted it to be suitable for 22ct Hardanger fabric; there are 18ct-fabrics which could be used, but that would need perle #3 for Kloster blocks and satin stitch. Not only did I want to keep the materials as standard as possible, I had my doubts whether a design worked in perle #3 would fit inside the coaster without being squashed out of shape, if it would fit at all.

On 22ct fabric I wouldn’t be able to reduce the overal size too much, or the design would look marooned in the middle of the coaster with a sea of empty fabric around it. I definitely wanted to keep the central Hardanger motif and the chain stitch diamond surrounding it, so what if I went for slightly smaller corner motifs and a border that sat level with the tips of the diamond instead of outside it? and if I made the border a sort of dotted line of cross stitches over one, that would be quite quick and easy.

That was as much as I could do on paper (or rather, on screen) – the time had come to try it out in fabric and thread. I took a print of my experimental design and material for two coasters with me to my stitching group and got stitching. As we meet for two hours, that would give me some idea of timing as well. Some idea, as there is also a certain amount of chatting going on, as well as looking at other people’s work and drinking tea and so it’s not 2 solid hours of stitching time. Also, as I was stitching the cross stitch border I found that I didn’t like the look of it, so I worked each corner in a different pattern, and then asked others what they thought of them. I ended up with 1) cross stitch over one thread, 2) alternating V shapes, 3) half cross stitch and 4) a smaller version of the satin stitch block border used in the original coasters.

Experimental coaster - cross stitch border Experimental coaster - alternating V border Experimental coaster - half cross stitch border Experimental coaster - block border

The cross stitch border looks a bit too solid and blocky to go well with the chain stitch diamond; the V border is very pretty but relatively labour-intensive, and would probably look better in a darker thread; the half cross stitches are too insubstantial; the block border has quite an interesting texture. It was between numbers 2 and 4, and in the end I plumped for the alternate V border because I liked the shape best, but I think I will chart the final workshop version with both borders so people can choose the one they prefer (I may even include a very simple running stitch border for those wanting to save even more time). Worked in a darker shade – this is Caron’s Tanzanite – the V border stands out well, and although there is more fabric around the design than in the earlier coasters, I do think it fills the coaster well enough.

Workshop coaster with V border

By the way, I always check coasters (the ones people use to mount their own projects) before sending them out to customers and remove any with blemishes. These can be used later for demonstration models. But this time there was one with a narrow black dappled sort of smudge which looked like paint but appeared to be inside the plastic. I didn’t think I’d be able to use that and was about to write it off as a loss when I realised the smudge was running roughly diagonally. I tried it with the experimental workshop coaster in dark blue and would you believe it, with a bit of manipulation the smudge was all but lost in the chain stitch line! (Could you spot it in the picture above?)

The blemish on the coaster is hardly visible

Variegated threads with a mind of their own

I like variegated threads, from the colourfast, mass-produced Anchor and DMC ones to the don’t-even-get-a-hint-of-dampness-anywhere-near-me ones hand-dyed by a lone enthusiast somewhere in the Welsh mountains or the Australian outback. They are such an easy way of adding a bit of extra interest to a project, and besides that, they’re just so pretty and colourful that I love looking at them (if in addition they are also beautifully soft and strokeable, like Gloriana silks or Caron Watercolours, they’re simply bliss to play with).

It won’t come as a surprise then that dotted around our house (awaiting the time when I have a craft room all to myself and all my pretties can live together in one easily accessible collection) are various boxes of them – Caron threads in my Dragonfly box, which lives on top of the stereo ever since Lexi decided it was a good place for a nap; ThreadworX perles and silks in a more sturdy, cat-proof box where the Dragonfly box used to be; House of Embroidery perles and Anchor & DMC variegated perles in two plastic storage boxes in a chest of drawers upstairs; Gloriana, Treenway, Thread Gatherer and other silks perles in a glass-fronted wall-mounted cupboard in the same room; Carrie’s Creation, Gumnut, Chameleon and various other silks in yet more plastic boxes in what is known as the Silver Cabinet (although it looks more like a specimen cupboard or something like that). I think that’s all of them. But I may find one or two surprises when I come to gather them all in for the move to the The Craft Room…

Caron threads Threadworx perles Upstairs storage Anchor and House of Embroidery perles the Silver Cabinet

Anyway, you get the idea, which is that I like variegated threads. That isn’t to say that I don’t see any drawbacks to them. For one thing, they can take over a design if you’re not careful, and you lose the picture or shape in a whirl of changing colours. Not so much a drawback as a slight inconvenience is the fact that sometimes it takes a bit of advance consideration to get certain colours where you want them, and that smooth transitions aren’t always guaranteed when changing threads or when stitching next to a previously worked area. There are ways, of course, such as cutting the new thread so that it starts with the colour that you will be stitching next to, bearing in mind the bit that will be used for fastening on – not insignificant in some fast-changing threads, where it could mean the difference between bright yellow and fuchsia pink if you’re not careful (I’m looking at you, ThreadworX Bradley Balloons!)

ThreadworX Bradley Balloons

But how about stitches that meet up again, like a closed chain stitch motif? How do you ensure that the end and the beginning match? Well, erm, you don’t. Luck of the draw. Great when it works out – I get all excited when I can see, half a dozen stitches before joining up, that this time the two ends will Match Up!

But do you know what is annoying? When magically, serendipitously, you’ve matched up the beginning and end so no-one can tell where the beginning/end is, but somewhere else in the motif there is a colour change in the thread so abrupt that it looks as though that’s where the join is. While I was in the Netherlands last week I was working on some coasters which have a chain stitch diamond surrounding the central Hardanger motif. In two out of the three cases I managed to make the join invisible, only for there to be a colour change right on one of the corners – mustard to orange in one case, yellow to mustard in the other.

An abrupt change from mustard to orange An abrupt change from yellow to mustard

I’m sure the people who ordered the coasters won’t mind in the slightest; in fact, not being stitchers themselves they may not even consciously notice. But I notice. And it annoys me.

Does this mean that I will now give my collection of variegated threads to a deserving charity and never ever consider using them again? Of course not; I still love the effect they have, the above “problem” (minor to the point of non-existence in the grand scheme of things) only occurs in a small proportion of projects, and anyway, it is a problem of pride as much as anything else – having managed (without any merit of my own) to disguise the join, it irks me that people might look at it and think that I did not manage. And in that light, perhaps these irritating colour changes are doing me a favour: they’re keeping me humble smiley.

When the stitching bug deserts you

As I mentioned earlier this month, my urge to stitch is not particularly high at the moment. I’m keeping up with a few necessary projects (like a set of coasters ordered in aid of the Church Building Fund, and second versions of the SAL designs so I can take pictures for the blog), and I do enjoy those, but there isn’t really any project that’s making me eager to kit up and get started. And that is quite unusual, especially as there are several designs in my yet-to-be-stitched folder that a few months ago I was itching to start, like a goldwork daisy-and-bee, an autumn leaf arrangement and the Tree of Life in two versions.

I have done something about the Tree of Life. As playing with stash (sorry, I mean of course “studying the supplies I have in stock in order to find the best ones for the project under consideration”) is a lovely relaxing thing to do I got out my collection of Pearsall’s Heathway Merino crewel wool to see whether any of the shades I’d picked for Tree of Life from their starter pack would be better replaced by some of the shades I had added to the hoard later. Here are the shades I’d originally considered:

Heathway wools for Tree of Life

Very pretty, if a little muted. But a different set of greens and browns lifts it, I think, and makes the palette look more lively.

different Heathway wools for Tree of Life

Add to that some pretty goldwork materials (pearl purl, smooth passing, metallic kid leather) and you know what, I think that itch is faintly considering coming back! While I was at it, I also picked out some shades for a more autumnal version; originally I’d envisaged that in coton à broder, but if I do decide to do it in wools, these beautiful warm shades I feel would work very well.

autumnal Heathway wools for Tree of Life

When stitching is temporarily just not the thing, there are other things you can do besides petting, organising, admiring, and re-arranging stash – one of them is putting things together for other people to stitch! In the coming months I hope to introduce a selection of kits: a second Shisha card, the Little Wildflower Garden (at the moment only available as a chart pack), and the Christmas Wreath both as a card and as an ornament. Just so you can start your Christmas stitching in good time smiley.

Getting supplies

No, I don’t mean in the sense of getting threads and fabric and beads for a project; that is generally a pleasant and stress-free experience (well, unless the fabric you want is sold out, or you can’t find beads that exactly match your perle cotton, or a look at your budget tells you that you can’t afford to stitch this special project completely in hand-dyed silks). But buying a large amount of squissors from a country far far away, after an occasionally frustrating two-month correspondence, and in the knowledge that last time they initially sent the wrong thing, is a different kettle of fish altogether. And so it was with some trepidation that I opened the bulky parcel this morning – what would I find?

Fortunately, I found some very good titanium-coated squissors smiley. One fewer than I had ordered, it is true, but at least they were exactly what I’d specified. Mabel’s Fancies is all right for squissors again for the foreseeable future!

A new supply of squissors

Hoop sizes, wreaths, and a lack of stitching

First of all a belated “Happy New Year” to you and yours! May it bring you all many good things, and may any challenges be pleasant ones.

Various family visits meant that we’ve been away from home more than we’ve been at home in 2016, but in the coming weeks I hope to make up for that with a prolonged period of domesticity – a period which will, with any luck, include rather more stitching than I’ve managed so far, which is two small Christmas wreaths. In fact, while several stitchers were sending in pictures of their completed January SAL projects (some as early as Friday 1st) I didn’t put in my first stitch of the new year until Saturday 9th.

For some reason I just couldn’t get myself to pick up any of my current projects. It doesn’t particularly worry me; most stitchers, I would guess, have periods in which stitching simply doesn’t happen. Perhaps life is particularly busy; perhaps the concentration needed for stitching is just not there because other matters clamour for attention. When the latter is the case I find that a few relaxing sessions organising threads and beads and ribbons (or “playing with stash”, as my husband calls it) work very therapeutically, as does a small, simple project that requires very little close attention.

Like the wreaths. Once you’ve got the foundation stitches in place, there’s no more counting; you start the raised chain stitch and keep going until you come to the beginning again; and all the beads are placed at random, in whichever way pleases the eye. Ideal.

I’ve already stitched this seasonal little design several times as it continues to develop. The original was in one shade of green, but you may have noticed that the one in my “Christmas card” was in two – light on the inside, darker on the outside. The greens I used were fairly bright, and the bow put together separately and sewn on.

Two-coloured wreath in bright greens

As I looked through my collection of aperture cards for one that would be a comfortable fit for a 4cm wreath, the idea struck me that it would make rather a nice Christmas tree ornament as well – it looked very jolly in its red flexi-hoop! the only problem was that the hoop, a 3″ one, was really a little too big. But I once got a smaller one in a job lot of hoops, which I assumed must be 2½”; it was light blue, so the effect would be rather different, but I decided to stitch another wreath in the smaller hoop to check it for size. Also a good opportunity to try out different greens, a pair of slightly more bluey, piney greens.

Two-coloured wreath in pine greens

The smaller hoop definitely looked better as a frame than the larger, so I started looking for places selling 2½” red flexi-hoops. There were fewer than I expected, but I found one and ordered a few to experiment with. Slightly to my surprise, they were more expensive than 3″ hoops, but still just about feasible for possible inclusion in kits.

The hoops arrived. I unpacked one. It was small. Very small. Smaller, surely, than my blue hoop. I measured it. 2½” exactly. What was the matter?

The matter was that assumption on my part. I had one 3″ hoop, and one hoop that was a bit smaller. Bear in mind that I didn’t grow up with inches, and that they still don’t come quite naturally to my mind. Centimetres I can visualise. Inches I have to think about carefully. I simply assumed that the size below 3″ would be 2½”.

A 3-inch hoop on the left, but what size is the other?

It wasn’t. It was 2¾.

3-inch, 2.75-inch and 2.5-inch hoop

So here I was, with five very small red hoops, and no idea whether you’d actually be able to wield a needle in something that size. Fortunately most of the stitching, apart from fastening off, is done at the front of the fabric, but the perle #3 used for the raised chain stitch needs a size 22 tapestry needle, which doesn’t come in the dainty category. There was only one thing for it – I’d have to stitch another wreath.

And it worked. A petite needle might be a tad more comfortable, but is not essential. I had used a scrap of left-over fabric that was just a little too small to finish off easily with the usual line of running stitch around the hoop to gather the fabric together at the back of the hoop, but for a kit I’d cut the fabric quite a bit larger anyway. In the end the wreath turned out to work in several different ways – in brighter or more muted green; with a tied bow or a pre-assembled one; in a card or as an ornament. Expect to see more of it!

Two wreaths mounted in aperture cards Two wreaths mounted in aperture cards

A last-minute rethink

Once upon a time there was a stitch. It looked lovely on paper. It had an attractive name. It got itself included in the Round in Circles SAL. It was stitched up in a model, and given a diagram and a description. So far so good.

But the more I looked at that stitched model, the less happy I was with it. Not with the design as a whole; that was fine. But with That Stitch. It looked fussy. And muddly. And not nearly as attractive as its paper counterpart. It had been stitched in two colours; I re-stitched it in one. It looked a little better, but not much. I re-charted it to be a little bigger, and had a go at various sizes and colour combinations on my doodle cloth. None of them did anything to brighten my day.

In the end I decided to go for a different stitch altogether. Unpick, re-chart, re-stitch, draw a new diagram and write new instruction – better that than putting out a design I’m not happy with!

And what was the offending stitch? A Maltese cross. I still like the name, and I still like the way it looks on paper. I even like some of its stitched versions. I did one myself four years ago, and it surprised me at the time by looking nothing like its charted version.

Maltese Cross

So what’s the trouble with it? I’m not absolutely sure. One problem may be that in the confines of a small design I chose to do a single “unit” of Maltese interlacing instead of this bigger version which consists of five looped sections (four for the arms of the cross, plus the central one). The larger version comes out as a highly textured cross, the single unit just looks rather blobby.

A single unit of Maltese interlacing

A few other ideas I picked up from images I found on the internet, and from doodle-cloth experiments based on them:

  • The stitch seems to work best (for me at least) in two highly contrasting colours, whereas the SAL will in most cases be either all-white, or two shades of the same colour.
  • The version I liked best uses the same weight of thread for the mesh and the weaving (which I didn’t in the SAL design), and quite a light weight for its size at that. I think my combination of a heavy weaving thread and a small size made it look too dense.

The Maltese cross below shows the high-contrast, lightweight look which I think works well, and which makes me think that even the small single-unit, low-contrast version in the SAL might have looked just about OK if it had been stitched in perle #12.

High-contrast, lightweight Maltese cross

However, I didn’t want to add yet another thread to the SAL, and by now I was getting thoroughly fed up with Maltese interlacing anyway smiley, so I will keep it stored away for future use in other projects, and use my alternative stitch for the SAL. And no, I’m not telling you yet what alternative stitch!