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 pre-sampler sampler

OK, I’m a wimp. My shisha piece is meant to be a proper sampler, which strictly speaking should include false starts and unsuccessful experiments. But I would also like it to look nice smiley. So out comes the shisha daisy, and because it is so densely stitched it will leave an awful lot of little holes in the fabric. Fine if I were certain which stitch I was going to use in its stead, but I’m not – I’m havering between re-doing the daisy version in perle #5, and using the Cretan version. Better try them both out first before putting whichever one I decide to go for on the sampler. And so was born the pre-sampler sampler! From the sewing basket I got some green fabric left over from a cushion project, and some non-descript cream fabric left over from who knows what, and mounted them in a hoop together. Add two shades of Anchor Multicolor perle #5 and two 24mm sequins (one silver, one blue) and you’ve got a mini project.

The pre-sampler set up

In her shisha instructions, Mary Corbet uses perle #5 both for the foundation and for the surface stitches, but I decided to use a matching perle #8. It would have made sense to try out both thicknesses for the foundation, seeing that I was about to try out two shisha variations, but I thought of that too late; I’ll probably try the #5 foundation on the proper sampler. So here are the two sequins secured with a perle #8 grid. You can make the grid more secure by weaving the threads over and under, or looping them round each other, but here I just worked them in straight stitches without any complications.

The sequins have been secured

By the way, my apologies for the atrocious colours in most of today’s photographs; I wanted to take progress pictures but was hampered by the fact that it was evening and the work is lit only by a standard lamp. This meant the camera insisted on flashing (as in the picture above) unless I specifically told it not to (as in the following pictures). Disabling the flash, however, not only made it necessary to keep the camera steady for a long time, the low light also seems to play havoc with colour accuracy. Even so, I hope the pictures will give you some idea of the how the stitches work.

For those of you who looked up the stitches that I’m trying out here on Mary Corbet’s blog, you will notice that I’m doing one or two things a little differently. (Isn’t it wonderful how needlework can be adapted to any stitcher’s requirements, skills and preferences?) Firstly, she uses ¾” card circles in her demonstrations, which equates to about 18mm, whereas my sequins are almost 1″ in diameter. This has an effect on the number of stitches worked around the sequins. Secondly, on the fly stitch variation (the one that looks like a daisy) she draws a full circle around the sequin for stitch placement; I’ve chosen to use dots, so that the line doesn’t show up among the petals, and also to help me place the stitches at regular intervals.

The dots were placed as regularly as I could make them by eye – that is to say, I didn’t get out the compasses and ruler, but used a sort of “points of the compass” division method: first mark dots to the North, East, South and West of the sequin, then equally divide the quarters and place dots NE, SE, SW and NW, then divide again and place dots NNE, ENE, ESE, SSE etc. For deciding how far from the sequin to place them I used a pinkie’s width to begin with, then judged it by eye (not completely accurately in some cases). This gave me 16 dots, which I thought might be enough for the Cretan version (which is very widely spaced and open in Mary Corbet’s version), while for the daisy I could use 16 more virtual dots by going between the marked ones. Both stitches start in the same way, by coming up on the outside of the sequin and looping the thread around the foundation stitches. Here is the start of the daisy/fly stitch version, with the petals anchored on and between the dots.

The start of the fly stitch shisha variation

The next picture shows where a new stitch starts, and also illustrates quite nicely how to start a new thread if you run out before you’ve completed the circle. When you come to the end of your thread, complete a petal by anchoring it. The needle is now at the back of the fabric with nothing to do but start a new stitch, so fasten off and start the new stitch with the new thread (where I’ve just brought the needle up in the picture).

Starting a new thread

Changing threads isn’t nearly so easy in the Cretan shisha variation, because there you keep having to catch the loop of the working thread, so when the needle is at the back of the work the stitch hasn’t actually been finished yet. More of that a bit later; first let me point out another difference with Mary Corbet’s version. When I first learnt shisha stitch, from a book of stitches, I learnt to work it clockwise. Both Mary Corbet and RSN tutor Sarah Homfray work theirs anti-clockwise. Both methods work just fine, they are simply mirror images of each other, but I thought I might as well go with them and go anti-clockwise, especially since the variations they show and/or teach go anti-clockwise too. Except, for reasons I can’t quite work out, for Mary’s Cretan variation, which goes clockwise. Being now firmly in anti-clockwise mode I decided to mirror it, which is what I’m doing here, and why it looks different from the tutorial on her blog.

Working the Cretan shisha variation

As you can see I use the virtual in-between dots for this variation as well; I really like the open look of Mary’s version but didn’t have the courage of my convictions – if I’m brave enough I’ll try the less dense way of stitching it on the real sampler. Even my denser version of the Cretan shisha stitch uses less thread than the fly-stitch variation, so the lighter version would probably only take one length of perle. Here, however, I did need to change threads, and because of the point made above this needed some preparatory thinking. In the end I decided it would have to be done in two stages. First, take the needle down and leave a loop at the front, as usual.

Leaving a loop before changing threads

Next, fasten on the new thread by means of a waste knot and a few tiny stitches near the sequin, then bring it up in the right place to catch the loop (making sure that you don’t get entangled with the end of the old thread at the back of the work). Pull through and work the next loop around the foundation threads. Before taking the needle down the next dot on your guide circle, fasten off the old thread, then continue to work with the new thread. Simples!

Catching the loop of the old thread with the new thread

So here are the two shisha variations side by side, both with 32 petals. I was surprised how easy both stitches were once I got into the rhythm of them, and both are very decorative, though I have a distinct preference for the Cretan one. That variation also uses less thread – a look at the back of the work explains why.

The two variations, finished A look at the back

And finally, two close-ups. These show quite clearly that the foundation threads are visible between the surface stitches in places, but I’m not too bothered about that, bearing in mind that the original Indian pieces Sarah showed us last week didn’t always have complete coverage either. All in all I’m pleased with my pre-sampler sampler – a successful experiment; and now it’s back to the real sampler to try the ligher version of the Cretan stitch.

Fly stitch shisha variation Cretan stitch shisha variation

Shisha day class (and a bit more goldwork)

Last Saturday was my second RSN day class – shisha this time, the Indian style of embroidery that incorporates little mirrors. The tutor was the same as for the goldwork day class, Sarah Homfray. Like last time, it was a lovely day; it’s very relaxing to spend time with other stitchers, improving existing skills and learning new ones. Also very interesting to see some of Sarah’s own work in this style, and some original Indian pieces. I was quite surprised to see that the coverage on these original embroideries wasn’t always as full as I had expected – perhaps I shouldn’t be too worried about the occasional gap!

The kit for the class contained silk fabric with cotton backing, a selection of stranded and perle cottons, five shisha mirrors (a circle, a small triangle, two squares and a heart) and an oval domed “jewel”. Sarah showed us two types of shisha stitch to attach the mirrors, the one that I used in the Shisha box top and another one which is simpler and quicker to work, and two very decorative surface stitches that were variations on feather stitch and fly stitch. There was no design as such, we just each worked on our own personal sampler – a sampler in the original sense of the word, in that it is a tangible reminder of stitches learnt which you can later use as an example. For this reason I worked some of the shisha stitches with foundation threads in a different colour from the surface thread, to make the structure of the stitch more visible; ordinarily you would use the same colour for both, so that any gaps in the surface stitches would be less visible. Below you can see what I managed to do during the class, plus the materials I haven’t used yet.

Shisha embroidery worked in class

I took the embroidery with me to my weekly stitching group to work on it some more; my general aim was to try and pull the various elements together into something looking more like an intentional whole and less like a random collection of stitches. I wanted to add some embellishments (both purchased at the class and from my own stash) and also try one of Mary Corbet’s shisha variations, though without the whipping. It looks very attractive, rather like a daisy. I used it to attach a flat round sequin, with some variegated blue and white stranded cotton from the class kit.

Did it all work as intended? Well, sort of. I remembered to unpick the last stitch of the (pale lilac) fly stitch flower head and re-do it so that it went underneath the first stitch. Not really necessary perhaps, but it offended against my sense of symmetry to have the last stitch go over the stitches on either side of it, rather than over one of them and underneath the other, like all the other stitches. The instructions for this stitch start with a half stitch and end with one as well, but I found that if I remember to tuck under on completing the circle, there is no need for the half stitches.

Shisha embroidery worked at my stitching group

I’m happy with the added sequins, beads, button and French knots, and I like the line of the dark green flower stem of feather stitch (called “little coat hangers” by Sarah’s assistant tutor). As for the shisha variation, I’m not satisfied with the way it looks. I don’t just mean that it is incredibly irregular – I decided to do very little measuring out on this sampler and just stitch free-hand – but the stranded cotton doesn’t cover the foundation threads at all well unless you pack the stitches in really closely (which makes it difficult to have nice defined petals), and the three strands look rather untidy. I was working from memory as I don’t have a tablet or anything like that, but when I looked up the instructions on the website later, I realised Mary Corbet used perle #5; this meant far fewer stitches were needed, and the lines looked much cleaner. And as I noticed there isn’t enough of the blue and white stranded cotton left to complete the stitch anyway, I will probably unpick the straggly daisy and restitch it in perle #5. Or I may try another variation altogether, one that she calls shisha with Cretan stitch (very closely related to feather stitch). It’s quite open compared to the other shisha stitches, but that gives it quite a nice lacy look.

Sarah very kindly brought some goldwork purchases as well; at the goldwork day class I didn’t want to impulse buy, so I researched what I wanted later, and asked Sarah if she could bring the things to this second workshop. For now they are mainly tools: a velvet board for cutting bits of purl on and keeping them in check (pun definitely intended smiley); a pair of serrated goldwork scissors to grip the purl while cutting; a pair of curved tweezers to pinch pearl purl and passing threads into nice sharp corners; a mellor to guide sewing threads over the thread or wire being couched, and to gently push couched threads into shape; and a curved needle for finishing off plunged threads.

Goldwork purchases - velvet board, scissors, tweezers, mellor and curved needle

I’m hoping to build up my goldwork thread and wire collection over time, but for now I just bought a mixed bag of chunky bright check purl (gold, silver and copper), and some finer silver bright check purl (more about that later). And from the many decorative bits and pieces Sarah brought to adorn shisha work with, I couldn’t resist some padded felt shapes and a bag of reddish gold sequins. I admit it, an impulse purchase; but as it was all of £1.25 I don’t feel too bad about it. I resisted some particularly splendid beetle wings as she hadn’t brought the pre-drilled ones, but I may very well get some in the future; Mary Corbet does spectacular things with them in both shisha and goldwork, and while I don’t aspire to the dizzy heights of her expertise and skill I think the wings would make a very attractive addition to less ambitious work too.

Other purchases - bright check purl, padded felt shapes and sequins

Hoping to ask Sarah for a little advice I had brought the goldwork bee. And straight away she corrected my assumption about its body. The reddish bright check purl is not copper, but gold tarnished from long term neglect *oops*. I said I’d thought of unpicking the body and she suggested salvaging the purl, if possible, and combining it with the silver bright check I bought to create stripes. So that’s my aim for when I next pick up this poor neglected insect.

Thinking of goldwork and shisha I was struck by the difference between the two classes. The shisha class was very free – no two projects created that day were the same, even though we were all learning the same stitches and using the same materials. This slightly uncharted and unplanned approach seems to go quite well with the folksy nature of the embroidery, and somewhat to my surprise (I am generally a counted embroidery girl, after all) I really enjoyed this aspect of it. The goldwork class was much more structured, and we all ended up with more or less the same result (apart from choosing different colours for the flowers, or putting some of the secondary swirls in a slightly different place) because we all started with a design drawn on our fabric, and were told which techniques to use where. Of course this is not an absolute difference; you can draw a formal design for shisha work, and many of the stitches will undoubtedly look better if you draw guidelines to keep them regular and tidy. And goldwork, even when starting from a particular design, allows for lots of variation. This was brought home to me when I had a closer look at my latest goldwork scribble, a toadstool with a caterpillar; I wrote down what I am likely to use in the way of materials and techniques, but it could be done in many different ways and would then look quite different.

An idea for a goldwork toadstool and caterpillar

Oh, in case you were wondering: copper pearl purl for the outline of the hood, spirals of couched silver passing (or Japanese thread) for the spots, padded kid for the “collar”, outlined in twist which will also outline the rest of the stem, chipwork under the collar to indicate shade, cutwork of rough purl (or a combination of two purls) for the underside of the hood, couched check thread for the grass with tiny spangles in gold and silver as flowers, and slightly larger spangles attached with stem stitch in gold and silver bright check purl for the catterpillar. With thin gold thread and petite beads for its feelers. Probably. But I may change my mind.

An end to buttonholing, and some ornament-making with a purpose

In October 2013 I started stitching what was to be a set of three designs. Three months later I completed the 18th design in the series. And now, a little over a year after putting the final stitch into “9b: Holly”, Floral Lace has finally been properly finished – backed with felt and with a buttonhole edge scalloped on the inside they are ready to be… well, what? Not coasters; the beads would make anything put on them wobble, and they won’t fit into my trusty acrylic coasters so the stitching is unprotected and I’d live in constant dread of getting coffee or tea on them. They’re not really big enough to be decorative mats. They could be stitched onto cushions or a quilt, but that seems rather a waste of the nicely finished back. If anyone has any workable suggestions, do let me know!

18 Floral Laces all buttonholed

Rather exciting – a needlework magazine has shown an interest in one of my designs, but they’ve asked for a bit of tweaking and for the finished projects to be made into ornaments, so that’s my next task. I’ll start stitching the tweaked design tonight, and with a bit of luck will be able to do the ornament-making over the weekend. That part of it may be a bit of a challenge…

A DIY needle minder and a jewelled cross

Last Saturday I put together an impromptu needle minder inspired by the pretty and varied collection produced by Cirrus Creations, who is a fellow member of the Cross Stitch Forum. I already had two (one for my needles and one for my stork scissors), but they hardly deserve the fancy name of needle minder, being simply two small disc magnets. Very useful, perfectly adequate, but not, let’s face it, terribly attractive. Moreover they are not like properly made needle minders as they have no second magnet to back them, so you can’t secure them to your fabric; mine are stuck to my Lowery stand, which is made of metal.

Then I remembered a pair of ceramic buttons I bought at the 2013 Knitting & Stitching Show. I must admit they were a bit of an impulse buy, as I had no particular purpose in mind for them. A rummage through my box of bits and they quickly emerged, one round, one square. My husband uses small, very strong self-adhesive magnets to put into drain plugs (apparently it collects any stray bits of metal floating around in the sump or the petrol tank or wherever the drain plug is) and was happy for me to pinch one, plus a non-magnetic guard. The magnet was soon attached, and I now have a proper needle minder which happens to go very well with the fabric for Orpheus II.

A ceramic button bought at the 2013 Knitting & Stitching Show A small self-adhesive magnet, and a metal guard The needle minder in action

Yesterday at our morning service we welcomed three people into church membership, and all three happened to be members of our bi-weekly Bible study group. This called for celebratory cards! And my husband very rightly suggested that hand-made ones would be appropriate. A little cross, probably; not the little Hardanger one, though; white with only a little metallic, it seems more suitable for baptisms and weddings or even sympathy cards. For this occasion I wanted something bright and festive. How about one completely stitched in Petite Treasure Braid? All my PTB threads are in the little default box by my stitching chair (you never know when you might suddenly want a bit of sparkle) and from it I picked out gold, red, blue, green and purple. In the end the purple didn’t get used, but it may well be if I stitch this again for another occasion.

Three Welcome-into-the-church cards A jewelled cross

Having stitched the three crosses pretty much by eye from a quick pencil sketch and the memory of the Hardanger cross, I decided to chart it for future use, and to put it on the website as a freebie. It’s funny – I’m so used to drawing Hardanger charts (where the lines are the fabric threads and the squares are the holes) that I unthinkingly drew this one in the same way, before realising that backstitch charts are usually like cross stitch ones (where the squares in the chart are the fabric thread intersections over which a cross stitch would be made, and the intersections of the lines on the chart are the holes in the fabric). In the end I drew both, so every stitcher can pick the one that suits her best. (From this FoF post, that is; to keep things simple only one chart, the cross stitch style one, is available on the Freebie page. That one also lists the PTB numbers I used.) Have fun experimenting with colours and threads – you could have a silver-and-amethyst cross, or a copper-and-emerald one, or anything you like!

Jewelled Cross chart, cross stitch style Jewelled Cross chart, Hardanger style

Shisha and goldwork (and more) ideas

I love our pretty little cat. I do. Honestly. She purrs. She sits on my lap. She is sweet. And then, one morning (this morning, in fact) I come back from visiting a friend to find a veritable cat’s cradle of light green perle #8 wound around the legs of the easy chair and the back of the chair at my desk, with enough knots in between to make any needleworker weep.

Not having a proper craft room, quite a few of my current bits and bobs live on the dining room table, and they are obviously an irresistible temptation to our playful feline. Oh well, I managed to untangle the thread, and although I will probably be picking cat hair off it for some time to come it looks quite usable; my husband suggested keeping any small, tempting items on the dining room table in a plastic takeway container so they are kept safe; and the purry furry one has redeemed herself by means of lovely cat cuddle. Until the next time…

On to what was actually meant to be the topic of this FoF: designing. Sometimes I set out to design something – for a particular occasion, or because I want to use particular materials for example. But quite often an idea just pops into my head and I take it from there. Having done the goldwork class last month and looking forward to the shisha class next week my brain has evidently decided that Hardanger can take a back seat for the moment, and I’ve been sketching shapes and scribbling down stitch and thread suggestions. Great fun, and some of them may even get stitched at some point! The shisha designs are mostly variations on the box top I did some time ago, some smaller, some bigger, and using different stitches. The small one I’m hoping to use for a workshop in aid of our church’s building fund later this year; I’ll post details nearer the time.

First sketches for a shisha design First sketches for a shisha design

By the time the new church building is actually a building, and not just plans on paper and the prospect of a lot of fundraising, I’m hoping to be proficient enough in goldwork to be able to work a small celebratory project; below are my first jottings for a little cross. The star shape was vaguely intended as a practice piece, with lots of different areas using different techniques, but then a week later I had some ideas for more pictorial projects – a daisy and a seahorse – which could serve the same purpose and perhaps be more fun to do. I’m thinking of a dark red background for the daisy, and I have some lovely blue-green dupion which I got with the cross in mind, but which might also work quite well as an underwater background for the seahorse.

First sketches for a goldwork cross First sketches for a goldwork design First sketches for a goldwork daisy and seahorse

The trouble with goldwork is that the materials are unfortunately rather costly, even if you do go for the budget options; and I will have to decide very carefully what I will actually use, and get only that. Of course I know that that motto should equally apply to all my other purchases, but the sheer opulence of these materials makes me go all cautious. My husband would probably say that is no bad thing smiley.

Other ideas have been floating around my mind; ideas for – dare I mention it? – the next SAL… it’s taken some time but I think the designs are beginning to gel!

A gold (or copper) snag, and another Orpheus

My bee has hit a snag. And I was getting on so well, too. Below left is the little goldwork bee as unearthed from my RSN workshop folder after nearly six years of neglect, below right what I’ve done to it so far: completed the edge of the leaf (couched double Japanese thread – and I need to neaten up the bit I had already done, as it wasn’t stitched quite correctly and is beginning to buckle) and its stem (couched pearl purl); started on the chipwork that will fill the leaf; and worked the bee’s wings (couched pearl purl again – the image on the kit showed them as two separate wings but I wanted to try a sharp corner so I stitched them as one; a pair of accurate tweezers might have helped there).

Where I had got to on the bee The goldwork bee has hit a snag

Actually I had meant to complete the bee’s body (cutwork of bright check purl in a rather pleasant copper shade) before working its wings, and I got as far as stretching (please don’t mention this to any true goldworker as it’s bound to get me excommunicated before I’ve even got properly started) the purl already there to make them cover the gaps down the sides caused by my inability to judge what length of purl was needed to fully cover the padded felt. Then, as I reached for the remaining bright check purl in the kit to cut it into hopefully better-fitting pieces, I found that there was none. I can only assume that when I picked up all the bits and pieces after the workshop, I must have missed the copper bright check. And none of the other odds and ends I have will match it – for one thing they are all either gold or coloured, not copper, and for another they aren’t the same size. One option is to unpick what is already there (on the grounds that it isn’t very good anyway) and re-do it in the threads I have; another is to get some more copper bright check, although I don’t know whether there could be a colour difference if you get it from a different source or manufacturer. At the moment I’m leaning towards getting some bright check in silver and gold, or some bright check and rough purl both in silver, and making a stripy bee. Watch this space!

I’m juggling several projects at the moment – not literally, you understand; that would require more skill than I possess – which makes for a very pleasing variety in my stitching hours. There is the goldwork watering can, although I may put that on hold for a little until I collect my lovely tools (and a few other bits & pieces…) from Sarah Homfray at the Shisha class; because of a family weekend away, for which I wanted some not-too-challenging stitching, I have picked up the buttonholing of Floral Lace again (11 and a quarter down, 6 and three quarters to go); and of course there is Orpheus. Orpheus I, Orange Orpheus, is finished *yay!* and fortunately after damping, ironing and some judicious pulling it is now almost perfectly square instead of noticeably rectangular. It will eventually get laced over brown felt.

Orpheus I

But I am not left completely Orpheus-less, as it is now the turn of rectangular Orpheus II. Literally the turn, as I will work it sideways on my larger frame. That way, the longer sides of the fabric are secured, and hopefully there will be enough tension to work the pulled stitches on the scroll frame (I am beginning to feel very tempted by the Millenium frame, especially after reading Mary Corbet’s review of it). Unlike in the first Orpheus some of the stitches will be worked in perle #12. This is not because I’ve only just thought of it, or because I think three weights of thread look better in green than in orange, but merely because the shade of orange used in Orpheus I is not produced in #12 by DMC. I’m sure they have a reason for this. If I like the effect of adding in the lighter-weight thread I’ll simply put a note in the chart pack to suggest that if #12 is available in the shade picked by the stitcher, it may be used to good effect for such and such a stitch.

Orpheus II on its frame

French knots and some wonky gold insects

The Small Sweet Heart is finished – but I did have some trouble with all those French knots. First I managed to fasten on in the wrong place. Unpick, re-fasten. Then after 5 knots realised I was using 2 strands instead of the 3 I had intended. Unpick 5 French knots, re-thread needle with 3 strands. Work 10 French knots, realise they are far too bulky and I can’t see what I’m doing because the knots cover the holes I need to use next. Unpick 10 French knots, re-thread needle with two strands. Off we go! From then on there weren’t too many problems, apart from some of the knots failing to sit where they should and having to be un-knotted, and the fact that because the threads of opalescent fabric include a metallic strand, the holes are much less defined and you find yourself splitting the fabric threads instead of going down the intended holes. In the end I worked the French knot sections with my glasses off – I am very near-sighted and working without my glasses I can get really close to the fabric so I can focus on the details. The downside to doing this is that you notice every irregularity which is very discouraging, but on the other hand looking at it from a normal viewing distance is suddenly a very pleasant surprise because it doesn’t look nearly so bad as you thought!

Olga Maxden's Small Sweet Heart finished

In order to keep up my goldwork, I am interspersing work on Orpheus with completing my little RSN bee from way back in 2009. I cast a critical eye over it, and the later dragonfly, and have come to two conclusions: A) that both leave a lot to be desired, and B) that goldwork can look remarkably pretty even when it does leave a lot to be desired smiley.

Here are a few close-ups to show what I mean. The first two are of the dragonfly (which I think I did in 2012), and quite apart from the fact that I haven’t covered all of the design lines, some of the cutwork is too long and buckles (arrow in the first picture), and some is too short and doesn’t quite cover the felt padding (arrow in the second picture). The next two are of the bee; nothing buckles, but several bits were cut too short (arrows in third and fourth pictures). The bits pointed out in the dragonfly, by the way, are smooth purl, the ones in the bee are bright check. There is some bright check in the dragonfly as well (a thicker size than in the bee) which miraculously appears to have been cut to the correct length throughout.

Cutwork on the RSN dragonfly Cutwork on the RSN dragonfly Cutwork on the RSN bee Cutwork on the RSN bee

The watering can project I started at the day class last month has some cutwork, but not over felt padding, so there wasn’t the need to cut it to exactly the right length. Much easier and less fraught, but the padded work does catch the light rather beautifully. So back to the bee, and I may well see if I’ve got enough bright check to start again. It may work if I use bright check from my stash for the chipwork that is to cover the leaf. Here is what it has looked like since the workshop in 2009; so now I need to finish couching a double Japanese gold thread around the leaf (blue arrow), complete (or completely re-do) the bright check cutwork on the bee’s body (red arrow), and finish couching the pearl purl stem (green arrow), then use the pearl purl for the bee’s wings, and bright check chips for the leaf. I’ll keep you updated!

Where I had got to on the bee

A parrot, an unintended project and a border

First things first: Happy New Year! May only good things come your way in 2015.

It’s not often that I stitch other people’s designs nowadays; it’s the downside of having so many of my own things to stitch. There is a Victoria Sampler kit languishing in a drawer that I still want to do one day, and definitely some more goldwork too, but generally I work on models of my own designs because if I don’t, I can’t put them up on the website for other people to stitch!

Occasionally there is a solid reason for picking an existing design rather than charting one myself. Recently my mother reminded me that I had promised to stitch a bookmark for my eldest aunt, and in my stash of cross stitch patterns collected from magazines over the years I found a colourful parrot that was just perfect for her, so I used that.

A parrot bookmark for my aunt

Sometimes there is no particular reason at all, except that a design really takes my fancy. This was the case with a pretty little heart which a lady on the Cross Stitch Forum stitched using a hand-dyed thread, and which had come out beautifully; it’s a freebie and you can find both a picture and the chart on Olga Maxden’s blog. What I like about it is that it uses a variety of stitches – lattice stitch, French knot, double cross stitch, different-shaped ray stitches and so on – and only two threads, one perle and one stranded. Using a solid perle and a variegated stranded thread produces a very attractive effect.

Remember the Gloriana silk I was given at the Knitting & Stitching show by the kind lady at the Calico Cat stand? As it turned out it wouldn’t really do as a substitute for the Dinky Dyes perle used in Sunken Treasures, but it is a lovely thread with its subtle variegation of green, smoky blue and lavender, and with a pale blue perle just the combination for this little heart. I’ve gone for a 28ct opalescent white Lugana with perle #12 and two strands of Gloriana silk (three for the French knots, needed to recreate the nice and plump look of the original). Here’s what I’ve done so far, just the French knots to go (“just” – ha!):

Small Sweet Heart complete apart from a gazillion French knots

In spite of sneaky little projects worming their way into my To Do pile I did manage some work on Orpheus, on the first of the three borders. The inner and outer borders are long-armed braid, and the central one is a double feather braid; I was hoping for a nice contrast between the two stitches, and I think it’s working rather well: the long-armed braid is quite solid and 3D, and should form a nice frame for the airier feather braid. Here is a close-up which shows a little of the texture and height of the stitch, though unfortunately it’s difficult to get the picture to look like it does in real life.

Long-armed braid

Christmas gifts and more Orpheus

Do you give and receive Christmas presents? When I grew up in the Netherlands, presents came courtesy of St Nicholas on the evening of 5th December, so Christmas was a gift-free zone. That changed, predictably, when I married into an English family! True, there has for some years now been a “non-present pact” with my husband’s siblings (apart from small gifts of fancy nibbles or special chocolates, or in my case this year, home-made coffee liqueur), but we do still exchange presents intergenerationally (which is a difficult way of saying “with parents and children”…). Inspired by only the slightest of hints, my two lovely stepsons gave me the RSN Goldwork book, so that I can refresh my memory about the techniques that were taught at the day class I did. They also intended to give me some Embroidery Den vouchers but as the card with the goldwork book explained, they hadn’t realised they were proper paper vouchers which had to come all the way from Australia smiley. So much the better – I’ll have another present to brighten some cold, grey January day!

RSN goldwork book design pages in the RSN goldwork book

In spite of Christmas and all that comes with it I managed to do some work on Orpheus, particularly the last of the pulled stitches. They wouldn’t fit into the hoop I used for the other eyelets, so I had to stitch them with the fabric on the roller frame. Not ideal because the tension isn’t as tight as I’d like it to be for pulled work. (Digression: I’ve heard very good things of the Needle Needs Millenium frame which apparently keeps the fabric taut as a drum throughout, but it is expensive, takes months to order, and really needs its own stand which adds to the cost. What I would really like is to be able to try one for a few days before deciding!) Well, they’re done now – four spot eyelets, and yes they did distort the fabric rather, but fortunately after wetting and ironing it looks a lot better. The one below, by the way, comes from the coloured version of Lviv; just imagine them in orange-on-Pumpkin-Patch-marbled-orange and you’ll know what they look like in Orpheus.

Spot eyelet from Lviv