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.

Any tool will do?

While at my mother-in-law’s last Sunday I was in need of A Thing That Makes Holes. As a travel project I’d brought some kit preparations instead of embroidery, and I was cutting threads for the tassels used in the Felt Bookmark kits (which, incidentally, will need re-thinking as the shop from which I get the felt shapes have annoyingly discontinued them. Grrr).

The felt bookmarks with their tassels

To attach the tassels I thread a bundle of white and variegated perle threads through the felt, then knot it. But even with a size 18 chenille needle this was proving very difficult, and the strong pull needed to get them through caused a rather unsightly kink in the threads. The obvious answer was to pre-pierce the felt with something rather thicker than the needle I was using. I couldn’t remember the word for the tool I wanted so asked my mother-in-law if she had an awl. She asked if I meant a stiletto. Of course that was exactly what I meant; she produced one, and I produced the necessary holes, and all was well.

Back at home I started thinking of getting my own Thing That Makes Holes; I’d heard that some people use the pointy end of their mellor (a curiously shaped object used in goldwork to push metal wires into shape) but I wasn’t at all sure whether the pointy end was really pointy enough for my purpose. It is apparently very good for gently pushing fabric threads apart rather than piercing and possibly damaging the threads, so the hole will close again, but on trying it out I found that pushing it through the fabric (especially a non-woven fabric such as felt) took a lot of force because the point is in fact relatively blunt.

A goldwork mellor

I then drooled for a while over a rosewood stiletto available from the London Embroidery School. It was beautiful, but unfortunately also rather expensive, especially with the postage, and quite apart from that I was a bit concerned about the sharpness and strength of the point. Although wooden stilettos have been used for yonks I felt a metal version would be more reliable.

A rosewood stiletto

eBay offered me a great variety of pointy hole-making things under various names, most of them impossibly cheap and coming from China or Hong Kong. Eliminating any items from outside the EU I found a UK-based basic awl. I seriously considered this one – cheap, nicely tapered and sharp but, well, not very inspiring.

A basic awl

A bit more searching and my workbox is now enhanced with this rather pretty compromise: an inexpensive antique stiletto (advertised as a bodkin) with a mother-of-pearl handle. Not as cheap as the basic awl, but a lot less than the rosewood stiletto. The metal is a little stained, but the tip is sharp and a little rubbing with nothing harsher than paper left it feeling nice and smooth.

An antique bodkin

And does it make proper holes? Yes it does, and you can control the size of the hole by how far you push the tool in. The four holes along the top of the fabric were all made with the stiletto, and range from sizeable to practically non-existent; the one on the right was made with the mellor, and I think all holes made with it would be about this size. The second picture shows that even when making the biggest hole the fabric isn’t damaged very much, and can be stroked or rubbed back into shape should that be necessary. The fabric around the mellor-made hole by contrast still looks rather dented. So hurray for my new tool!

Holes made with the stiletto The holes closed up after rubbing the fabric

On a different topic, I promised to let you know if Kelly Fletcher got back to me. She did, saying, “sorry to hear you had trouble with the threads. You assumed correctly that I have no control over the packaging of the kits. But I will pass on your experience and the links to your two posts to my publisher.” In fact she did more than that – she looked at the colour numbers I mentioned in FoF, and with her publisher worked out that the Amazon seller had sent me a replacement set of threads for a different kit, her Boho Chic one. The publisher offered to send me the proper threads, but considering the amount of thread I’ve got that seemed rather silly; I asked her, however, to pass on my thanks for their customer service as it would no doubt be greatly appreciated by any beginner who had the same thing happen.

Trying out a kit

After several evenings of putting kits together and tidying away new goldwork materials I finally got round to setting up some of the projects from Kelly Fletcher’s Classic Creations kit. Even when I don’t get any stitching done, I like setting up projects smiley; there is something very soothing about hooping up and looking at pretty colours.

This was made slightly less soothing by the fact that I was looking at fewer pretty colours than I should have done. As I went to pick the colours needed for my first project (that cheeky fox, of course!) I found that the yellow skein was missing. Had it been there when I opened the plastic envelope containing the threads, needles and fabric? Had it somehow got mislaid? Had the cat gone off with it? I haven’t been able to find it anywhere, and looking at a close-up of the picture I took of the kit with the materials still in their wrapping, I don’t think it was ever there.

Nine skeins instead of ten

For now I’ve grabbed a skein of yellow from my stash; it seems a little warmer than the yellow that was meant to be with the kit, but it’ll work just fine. Even so, although it’s not a problem for someone like me who’s got threads practically coming out of her ears, if you got this as a beginner’s project (which is what it is really aimed at) you’d have to go out and buy the skein. I’ve contacted the seller (not the one in the link above – I got mine off Amazon, which may prove a bad choice) to say that one skein is missing, and we’ll have to wait and see what they say.

Mind you, assuming that this was a one-off oversight and that all the other kits do come with their full complement of threads this is an impressive kit. One thing I really like is the size of the two pieces of fabric that are included: absolutely no problem fitting them in the provided hoop. They are very generously cut, with enough room for framing should you want to.

A good-sized piece of fabric

The pieces of fabric were quite creased from being folded up inside that plastic envelope, but fortunately some serious ironing got all but a ghost of a crease out.

Creased pieces of fabric The ghost of a crease

Then it was time to transfer my two chosen designs (the cheeky fox and a butterfly) to the fabric. As you can see I didn’t do too well ironing on the butterfly – it says not to make ironing movements but to press the iron down, carefully lift it off, then put it down on a different part of the design, until the whole thing is transferred; well, when I carefully lifted the iron the second time, the paper stuck to it and lifted off before I’d quite finished – and of course it is impossible to put it back in exactly the same spot, so I left it as it was. There should be enough to work from.

Transferred butterfly, a bit patchy

And here is the fox, with a little work done on him. As usual *sigh* I haven’t followed the instructions exactly; I should have done both sides of his body in a double line of stem stitch first, but I found I could minimise fastening off and on by going round the legs and part of the tail before doing the second line of stem stitch.

A start on the cheeky fox

So, first impressions. On the plus side, the designs are attractive and colourful, the instructions are generally very good (although with one or two of the stitches the instructions seem to assume some prior knowledge), and the iron-on transfers are clear when transferred correctly. The bamboo hoop works well, the fabrics are a generous size, and having a milliner’s needle included for the French knots is definitely a bonus. The threads have DMC labels on them (though they come with only one wrapper instead of two per skein) and I’m sure that’s what they are, but they feel softer than my standard skeins; whether this is because they’ve been rubbing together in the packaging, or whether DMC produce a separate stranded cotton for use in kits I don’t know, but whatever the reason I rather like it!

Are there any downsides? One or two, but in the grand scheme of things they amount to no more than niggles. Although the size of the fabric is generous, the size of some of the designs makes them only just small enough to fit inside the hoop (as you can see from the fox, which is not even the largest of the designs). The instructions say that you can move the hoop around, even on top of your stitching, and this may be a good lesson to learn (that stitching will stand up to quite a bit of squashing and handling), but I would have preferred them to be stitchable without moving the hoop. Actually you probably can just about do it without moving the hoop, but personally I’d have gone for slightly smaller designs.

The lines of the iron-on transfers are beautifully clear, but that does mean that you have to be reasonably accurate in your stitching to make sure that they are fully covered. The instructions are often for 3 or 4 strands, which helps especially in the stem stitch, but I definitely had to unpick and re-place a few of the backstitches in the legs. And although the booklet mentions that you might like to use a backing fabric, this is not included, so you can’t find out whether you would like using a backing fabric without buying some.

All in all, however, I’m really pleased with this kit and would definitely recommend it. With its bright, jolly designs it would make a great kit for teaching children to stitch (especially as it is so affordable), but it’s equally good for an experienced stitcher who wants some simple travel projects or something to stitch in between larger, more challenging designs.

PS As I was about to post this, a padded envelope came through the letterbox. It contained a packing slip from the Amazon Marketplace seller with “replacement skeins” scribbled on it, and a complete plastic-wrapped set of skeins like the one in the original box, including needles (but not fabric). I’d just suggested sending the yellow – not because I need it, but because other people might have the same problem and no stash to fall back on, and I thought it might concentrate the sellers’ minds.

A replacement set of skeins

Now the booklet mentions ten colours, not specifying the DMC numbers. They are: black, white, yellow, orange, salmon, light salmon, dark blue, light blue, dark green and light green. The original package had only nine skeins, and the colours were 310, B5200, [missing yellow – I supplied 743], 970, 350, 352, 517, 519, 704 and 905. The replacement set does have ten skeins, but there is NO BLACK. The colours are Blanc, 744, 741, [3777, 3831, 3833 – burgundy/pink rather than salmon], 825, 827, 704, 701.

The colours in the original box, plus the yellow I supplied myself The colours in the replacement package

Good try at customer service, but not very successful… I can understand not specifying DMC numbers in the booklet so that you can vary which dark and light green you send out, for example, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man to make sure that it includes one of every colour mentioned in the booklet, and none that aren’t. Kelly Fletcher isn’t well served by this as it’s her name on the box but she is, I assume, not responsible for these mix-ups. I’ll contact her and let you know what she says.

…and relax

What do you think of this cheeky chappie? He arrived at our house today, as an emergency stitching aid. Let me tell you why he is about to join my already impressive pile of WIPs.

A cheeky fox

Sometimes I simply don’t get round to stitching. At the moment I have about five different projects in various stages of completion (or rather incompletion), from just hooped up to fairly far advanced, and am I stitching? No I’m not. It’s not that I don’t like the projects I’ve got set up – my goldwork snowman especially is definitely calling to me – but somehow nothing’s happening. Looking at it objectively I can identify several reasons: the heat, family circumstances, workshop preparations. But even so, I want to stitch, yet I’m not stitching.

Perhaps it’s this: most of what I stitch will eventually become a chart pack, kit or workshop. And that means that I have to make notes, take pictures, consider the practicalities of using this stitch or that, wonder if it’s worth drawing a very complicated stitch diagram for a stitch I may never use in any other design, and so on and so forth. Usually this is a nice challenge, and an interesting addition to the stitching process. But at the moment I just want to do some mindless, uncomplicated stitching with absolutely no purpose other than to enjoy the act of embroidering.

For this sort of stitching I love using Kelly Fletcher’s designs. Now I realise that I may just have implied that Ms Fletcher’s designs are mindless, or appeal to the mindless, but I’m sure you will understand I mean no such thing. Her designs are clean-lined, modern, bright, and you can follow her instructions to the letter or play with them using pretty much any stitch you like. I have a folder full of them, and have used a fair few as travel projects.

But even that seemed like too much trouble at the moment. Having to pick fabric, and threads, and using the lightbox to transfer the outlines… And then I got her newsletter, and it mentioned a new kit that could be pre-ordered. It also mentioned previous, similar kits, all containing about a dozen designs, and one of them decorated with that Fox Full Of Character. I fell for his charms and bought the kit, and today it arrived!

Kelly Fletcher kit, outside

It’s a sturdy cardboard box shaped like a very fat book, with a lid that is held shut magnetically. When you open it there is a detachable booklet on one side, and all the materials in a secure compartment on the other side.

Kelly Fletcher kit, inside

The booklet contains coloured pictures of each of the twelve designs, instructions for stitching them, and photographs of all the stitches used. It also has information about the various materials, instructions on how to use the transfers, and a bit about Kelly Fletcher herself.

Design booklet

The compartment on the right contains two pieces of cotton fabric, twelve iron-on transfers (hurray! no lightbox! though having to use an iron in a heatwave may not be that much better…), ten full skeins of DMC stranded cotton, needles, and a 6″ hoop.

Hoop, threads, fabric and transfers

From the website that Kelly Fletcher links to in her newsletter you can get these kits for about £13, but shop around and you can find them for under a tenner. That’s twelve designs with instructions, ten skeins of floss, a hoop and two pieces of fabric – it really is excellent (not to say incomprehensible) value for money!

I’ll report back when I’ve done some stitching; at first glance I would say this is an excellent buy for anyone who wants a collection of attractive small projects with practically all the preparatory work done for you.

Modes of transport

Do you have the ideal stitching spot at home? Comfy chair, the right stand if needed, little table by the side to hold your beverage of choice, lots of natural light – the perfect spot for some relaxed and relaxing embroidery. If your house is anything like mine, the stitching spot in question could do with a little work to become ideal, and perhaps the ideal spot doesn’t actually exist. But whether yours is close to perfection or still has a long way to go, there are likely to be times when you do your stitching away from home.

On holiday, for example, or at your stitching group, if you are lucky enough to have one, or even in a waiting room or on the train. And one of the questions is always “how do I transport my project safely and conveniently?” (Other questions tend to be of the “is there any way of taking my Lowery floor stand” variety. The answer to most of those questions is “no”.)

It partly depends, of course, on the amount of room you’ve got. I have transported teeny-weeny projects in grip seal bags in my handbag (it helps that I use scissors with a protective cover smiley), and that worked just fine, as longs as I remembered to secure the needles as closely to the hoop as possible. But if you have a little more room to play with, it’s nice to go for something a bit sturdier.

Now I didn’t set out to do a comparison of project transport methods, but for various reasons I happen to have acquired over the past month or so three different storage/transport solutions (are all manner of products still called “solutions”? I don’t like the term, but it actually seemed to fit here), alike in some respects – all three are a similar size, roughly A4 – and unlike in others, e.g. what they are made of. A good opportunity see whether there is an overall winner or whether, as with the embroidery stands, each one does something else well.

So who are the candidates? There is the Clever Baggers’ cotton tablet case, Tiger’s flexible plastic Slim Box File and the Slim Tuff Box, also by Tiger.

Clever Baggers tablet case Tiger Slim Box File Tiger Tuff Box

The first one I got was the Clever Baggers’ tablet case, which from the start I’ve thought of as a “project pouch”. It has one very noticeable advantage over the other two: you can stitch on it! And although it isn’t as stiff as the two boxes, being made of fabric, it does have added protective padding inside which stiffens it – it was, after all, made to protect a tablet, so just fabric wouldn’t have worked. This padding is attached only at the zip end so that you can fold it back and get at the back of the fabric should you need to. Actually I’ve not found it necessary so far; stitching using a sewing motion and fastening on and off at the front of the fabric means everything can be done from the outside of the pouch.

Tablet case padding Inside of the tablet case

The outside measurements are slightly larger than A4, but because of the padding the largest hoop it will accommodate is 7″. Although it was clearly made to contain something flat, the fact that is is made of fabric means that you could put thicker items in it (like balls of perle cotton) and it will simply bulge around it. In spite of the padding you can fairly easily bend it double (paper charts may end up a bit crumpled if kept in there for a long time), and if you put something on top of it it will squash the contents, so it isn’t suitable for anything fragile (I don’t think I’d put any squashable goldwork materials in it, for example), but it’s fine for threads, hoop, scissors and so on. The friction with the fabric lining means things don’t slide about too much, which is a bonus.

The Slim Box is a box file made from thin, flexible plastic, and is 1cm deep. It’s made to take A4 paper, and will hold an 8″ hoop. If you put things in it that are thicker than 1cm the plastic is flexible enough to take it, although a ball of perle cotton would probably stop the flap from closing properly. It’s slightly stiffer than the tablet case, especially at the edges; in the middle of the case, however, the contents would still get squashed if you put anything heavy on it. It keeps any charts nice and flat, though. You can also store them upright, as you would books, which you can’t do with the tablet case (too floppy in spite of the padding).

Side view of the Slim Box File

And finally there is the Tuff Box. Don’t blame me for the spelling, please. This too was made to take A4 paper, and it will easily accommodate an 8″ hoop. It is unsquashable – no, that was not meant as a challenge; I meant in normal circumstances – so will keep more fragile materials safe from outside pressure. It is true that they may still get damaged by other objects in the case sliding about, but unless you keep heavy-duty fabric shears in there that seems a smaller risk than people accidentally putting something on top of your project storage. In spite of its toughness it’s light enough to carry around, and even better: you can stack them flat! If like me you often have several projects on the go, being able to store them in a pile without having to worry about the contents getting flattened is a great plus.

Tuff Box, opened

The Slim Tuff Box is 2cm deep; a bit more space than the other two in their normal state, although unlike them this one has no give whatsoever. That is its strength in that it protects your project better, but it also means that it simply will not close if you put anything too bulky in. It will not, for example, take my deep hoop. I have therefore ordered its sibling the Deep Tuff Box (4cm deep) as well, and will probably take that to the Medieval Embroidery workshop, for which I will use my 8″ deep hoop. Unfortunately even the Deep Tuff Box won’t take the Sonata seat stand – that will just have to travel separately!

Side view of the Tuff Box, with deep hoop

So there they are, three modes of transport for travel projects. I’ll very likely use each one of them at some time or another, but they definitely do each have their individual strengths. And none of them will take even the smallest of my usual thread boxes, so threads will either have to be put in loose, or in grip seal bags; or I’ll have to take the thread box in addition to the project pouch or box, but that seems to defeat the purpose rather. So sturdy threads like perles or stranded cottons I’ll very likely just chuck in loose, while silks and hand-dyeds will get bagged up before being put in.

Boxes holding the threads for various projects

Taking a stand

How many stands does a stitcher need? If we define need in the strictest sense, the answer is of course “none”. Unlikely as it may seem when browsing manufacturers’ websites, a rich and fulfilling life is possible without any embroidery stands at all. But if we take the term fairly loosely and rephrase the question as “how many stands could a stitcher use?” then the answer is probably more like my husband’s on the subject of pre-war Austin Seven cars: “one for every purpose”. In the case of the cars that means one for pottering around the lanes and going to the pub in, one for long-distance touring, one for competitions… In the case of embroidery stands it likewise depends on the use you intend to make of it.

Until last week, I owned two embroidery stands: a Lowery floor stand, and an Aristo lap stand. The Lowery is a dependable workhorse that will deal with any hoop or frame you care to throw at it (or rather, clamp in it); true, with the heavy-ish Millennium frame it needs a bit of Meccano support, but that is a minor quibble.

Lowery stand The Meccano prop in place

“So why”, I hear you say, “do you need any other stand? If this Lowery will do it all, what else do you need?” Well, the Lowery will hold anything, but it will do so in one spot. Not that it is nailed into place or set into a concrete base, but it isn’t exactly portable.

Now most of my travel projects are smallish ones in hoops that are easily held in the hand. But if I want to take a project mounted on the Millennium frame (or any other scroll frame, for that matter) to my weekly stitching group I’m stuck. Enter the Aristo lap stand, which is portable, comfortable, surprisingly stable for something that’s perched on your lap, and roomy enough to accommodate a cat.

The Aristo lap stand, with cat

Right, so I’ve got one stand that will hold anything, in its own semi-permanent place, and one stand that will travel. Unfortunately, although it’s perfect for scroll frames, the Aristo isn’t particularly easy to use with a hoop. True, you can just about perch a hoop on the arms if you put them quite wide apart, but the hoop is then so low and so close to the stitcher that you have to put the stand on a table to have the embroidery in a workable position.

And it so happens that I will be taking an 8″ hoop to the Medieval Embroidery retreat at Coombe Abbey later this summer, and simply holding it (a bit of a challenge anyway with hoops that size) is not really an option as there will be rather a lot of two-handed stitching. Taking the Lowery is not practical either. Cue the seat stand.

I’ve come across these at RSN workshops and day classes, where you can usually borrow one for the duration of the class. They have a wooden paddle that you sit on, and from it a post sticks up to which the hoop is attached. There is only one problem with them. In order for the hoop to tilt towards you, you have to sit astride the paddle. Inelegant and a bit undignified at the best of times, I feel, but completely out of the question when you tend to wear longish skirts. Theoretically it is possible to insert the paddle underneath both legs from the side (as demonstrated in this Sew & So video), but the trouble is that the hoop then tilts away to the right rather than towards you. The only other option is to have the hoop completely level with the floor, not tilting in any direction at all, but I find that an uncomfortable way of working.

Some time ago I did find the Stitchmaster Seatstand (demonstrated in the video as well and looking quite good there), which has arms like the Aristo on which to rest your work, and yes, it does tilt towards you. So far so good. But when I tried it out, I found it to be unusably flimsy for anything with a bit of weight to it, and with an unadjustable tilt that was far too steep. It definitely didn’t work for me; more research was needed.

Cue the Sonata Seat Stand, which I found on Barnyarns’ website, and which looked as though it might tilt the way I wanted. I rang their customer service department and spoke to a very helpful gentleman who got one out of its box and tried to visualise the various directions of tilt I was describing over the phone, to see if their seat stand would fit the bill. He came to the conclusion that it almost certainly would, but said I was very welcome to order one and try it out, and they would pay the return postage if it didn’t do what I’d described. Now that’s what I call customer service!

Well, here it is in what I’d describe as its Ikea stage (lots of separate bits, nuts, bolts and an Allen key); and even unassembled, the various pieces looked promising – there were definitely several tilting bits there!

The Sonata Seat Frame, unassembled

It took a bit of doing (and my husband to get the last bit of Allen key bolt into the base of the frame; I simply could not get it to budge any further) but I got it together, and although the bolts still needed knocking into the wood (which sounded rather brutal and possibly damaging but which my husband assured me is perfectly normal procedure) I managed to clamp a hoop in it to Test For Tilt. Success!

The Sonata Seat Frame; bolts still sticking out, but the tilt test is successful

And now it is fully assembled, heads of bolts flush with the wood to prevent joints from drooping when tightened, and ready for use with whatever type of skirt I care to wear smiley.

The Sonata Seat Frame, fully assembled The Sonata Seat Frame with hoop The Sonata Seat Frame in action The Sonata Seat Frame in action

Roll on the Medieval Embroidery retreat – I’m all set!

Vintage goldwork materials and a blingy sheep

An apology is due: I have been sadly remiss in providing FoFs recently. It’s not that there isn’t anything to write about (there are several half-written posts lurking on my computer), it’s getting round to editing pictures and putting together a coherent tale and so on – what with workshops and some health hiccups it’s been so much easier to just bung a few lines on Facebook (do have a look when you haven’t got any other pressing matters needing your attenttion). However, before we close for our family holiday, a FoF (or at least a mini FoF-let) there must be!

You may remember that a few months ago I was given a collection of vintage goldwork materials. They were lovely, and some, like the gold and silver kid, could be used as they were. Most of the threads and wires, however, were rather tarnished. Is there any way of getting the tarnish off goldwork materials? If they are already part of an embroidery the answer appears to be a resounding No. Tarnish is part of the nature of goldwork, and we might as well embrace it. But what about pre-embroidery? I couldn’t find any suggestions on the internet, either because I looked for the wrong thing or because there simply aren’t any, so I had to come up with something myself. My answer? Silver dip.

My husband swears by the stuff for any silver that needs cleaning, and it is very effective. It just smells awful. As my husband doesn’t mind the smell, he got the task of dipping the vintage wires (I didn’t think it would do the wrapped threads any good, because of their cotton or silk core).

Silver dipping vintage goldwork wires

They were rinsed, and as they lay drying they looked pretty spiffing!

The vintage wires after dipping

But after a short while, they seemed to re-tarnish, especially the silver pearl purl, which I’d been hoping to use for my goldwork snowman.

Pearl purl re-tarnished

Meanwhile, however, we’d picked up a metal plate which cleans silver (and other metals) electrolytically with the help of hot water and soda crystals. (No, I don’t understand how it works, but it does.) I decided to try it on the silver pearl purl.

And it did come out cleaner! This may not last either, but it is definitely less yellow. Unfortunately comparison with newly-purchased pearl purl shows that there is still a considerable colour difference. Nevertheless, its rather mellowed silver glow is very attractive in its own right. It won’t do for stitched models which need to be photographed for kits or chart packs, but I will keep it for “private” projects, in which it will look just fine.

A comparison between vintage and new pearl purl after cleaning

And changing the subject somewhat but sticking with goldwork, I’d like to show you the serendipitous frame I found for my little silverwork sheep! A friend sent me a parcel for my birthday which included a Pakistani bangle. It was far too large for me (someone has since told me that it is probably an ankle bracelet) and I couldn’t think what to do with it. Then I noticed there were rims on both sides of the inner surface and thought it might do as a frame for something small, possible Shisha work. And then I noticed the little sheep lying on my desk, waiting to be Finished Properly. There was a fair amount of sparkle and bling on the bracelet – would it be too much when combined with a sparkly sheep? I tried. It wasn’t. They suited each other perfectly!

Silverwork sheep mounted in a bracelet

A friend who saw the framed sheep suggested I find more bangles to use as frames, but I don’t think I will. This was a felicitous combination, but part of its charm to me is that I was able to use a friend’s gift in an unexpected way. The sheep bangle will be a one-off.

Making velvet boards

Remember this little chap? He’s the one I’d dearly like a dozen of for the goldwork embroidery workshops. However, as that is not a feasible option I set out to make something simple but usable myself.

A mini velvet board

It is perfectly possible to make a velvet board just like that one, but it is a lot of work, and they are quite chunky; if I’m going to carry twelve of them around I’d like them to be as light and compact as possible! And as long as the velvet holds the bits of cut gold wire, the board doesn’t need to be fancy. So here is my distinctly non-fancy approach to velvet board making.

On a piece of stiff cardboard (I used the back of an old writing pad) draw the rectangles you need. Mine eventually ended up 9cm x 5cm because I had some double-sided sticky sheets that were 9cm wide.

Mark out the boards on stiff cardboard

Cut the boards out. This would have been easier if I’d drawn them along the straight edges, but I didn’t find out about the width of the sticky tape until I’d already drawn them wider.

Cut the boards

Stick the double-sided sheets to the cardboard, trim, peel off the backing and place them sticky side down onto the back of the velvet.

Place the sticky boards on the back of the velvet

Roughly cut around the boards, then trim the velvet close to the cardboard.

Roughly cut around the boards

And there you have them, a pile of light-weight, compact little velvet boards!

A stack of mini velvet boards

The woes of a multiple starter

Originally I was going to call this post “The woes of a serial starter”, but then I realised that if only my starts were serial, there wouldn’t be a problem. It’s because they are concurrent that I get into trouble, and that trouble is summed up in the question “which one do I work on this evening?”

From fairly early on in my embroidery life I found that one project at a time didn’t do it for me. All right, I get bored easily. I am not the work-on-the-same-enormous-project-for-three-years-running type. Quite a steady and patient sort of person in everyday life, I somehow seem to crave variation and instant gratification in my needlework. Oh well, one has to get one’s excitement somewhere smiley.

And on the whole, it works just fine. If I have two or three things on the go, and they are not too similar, I can pick up whichever I feel like at any given moment. I may work on the same project for several days (even weeks) on end, or I may change from one stitching session to the next. But don’t you find sometimes that too much choice can be paralysing? As with flavours of ice cream (so much easier to decide when vanilla, chocolate or strawberry were the only options), so with too wide a selection of available embroidery projects – if there are so many things I could do, I sometimes end up doing none of them and watching Countryfile or a murder mystery instead!

At the moment I find myself with two projects actually being stitched (a Kelly Fletcher design re-imagined in silk and gold and a silk sunflower), two hooped up with the materials chosen (a goldwork workshop model and another sunflower), two transferred with the details still to be decided on (a tiny sheep to be done in silverwork and a project pouch – really a tablet pouch – to be worked in plain DMC), one charted but not yet transferred (a six-petalled flower to be done in silk and gold), and one tantalising me with its possibilities but with no definite stitching plan as yet (a really useful canvas moon bag).

A Kelly Fletcher flower re-imagined in silk and gold The start of a sunflower A goldwork workshop model Two sunflowers
A tiny sheep to be worked in silverwork A project pouch with Mabel on it A six-petalled flower to be stitched in silk and gold A moon bag waiting to be stitched

So will I get any stitching done tonight? As Tommy Cooper said, “I used to think I was indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.” Is there a Midsomer Murders on anywhere?

Trying prick and pounce

So far I’ve managed to transfer whatever I wanted to stitch without having to resort to the pounce powder in my goldwork materials box. I’ve got all the bits and bobs needed for prick & pounce; I’ve seen video tutorials and asked RSN tutors about it; but besides being quite a laborious process, it also scares me. What if I get it wrong and ruin the fabric?

But then I got the little doeskin samples, and there was no way I could get a design on there using the lightbox, and I didn’t want to risk spoiling the fabric by using an iron-on transfer pen, so out came the pricking pad, the pricking pen, the felt pad stuck on a wooden handle, the pounce powder, the gouache and the 5/0 paint brush. Oh, and a teeny-weeny paint dish I once got as part of a Chinese calligraphy set. (Did I mention it is a laborious process?)

First step: transfer the design to tracing paper and place it on a pricking mat. As Sarah Homfray points out, a rolled-up towel works as well, but I managed to find this mat-and-pricking-pen combination in a children’s book shop; they are nice and compact and I can keep them in the craft room ready to hand.

Transfer the design to tracing paper and put on a pricking mat

Prick along all the lines. This is where, in the days of my youth, you’d proceed to tear out the image along the perforated lines. I can’t quite remember what we did with the pricked-out images afterwards; I think we may have used them to make dioramas out of shoe boxes (although judging by what Google shows me when I do a search for that term, English dioramas are a bit different from the Dutch ones, which literally translated are known as “looking boxes” and are viewed through a hole cut in the front).

Pricking all round the design

But I digress – back to prick & pounce. Well, having done the pricking, we predictably come to the pouncing. And no, I don’t mean the sort of pouncing our cat does (occasionally on her own tail, if it twitches unconsciously). Pounce is a fine powder made from things like ground cuttlefish bone or chalk (white) and charcoal (black). To apply the pounce you can use a tightly rolled up piece of felt, or a piece of felt or other fabric tied around a wodge of cotton wool, or, as I am doing here, an adhesive felt pad for protecting floors from chair legs stuck to a wooden tool handle.

A felt pad on a wooden handle and some pounce powder

Carefully rub a little pounce (and I do mean a little – I used rather too much which just makes a mess) into the holes of the design, making sure the whole design is covered. This one was so small I didn’t bother pinning it, but for larger designs it’s a good idea to pin it in place so it doesn’t move while rubbing the pounce in. Here the holes are still easily visible; after the rubbing they are all filled with white powder.

Rubbing in the pounce powder

Lift the tracing paper and ta-da! You have a dotted outline on your fabric.

The pounce has rubbed through the holes onto the fabric

The next step is connecting the dots. Traditionally this is done with a very fine brush and some thinned paint, so that’s what I did. When I explained the process to my husband he suggested that instead of making things difficult for myself I could be untraditional and use a gel pen. And I may well try that some time, but I like to learn things the traditional way, even if I choose not to use that method later. Even so, doeskin was possibly not the best material to try this out for the first time… It’s a wool fabric with a slightly “felted” surface, and it wasn’t easy to get the paint on evenly; fortunately all the lines will be covered, so if they are a bit thicker it doesn’t really matter.

The dots have been connected with thinned gouache

Here is the little sheep, ready to be hooped up and covered in silver chips! I may turn him into a mascot when he is completed – after all, he helped me conquer my nervousness about prick & pounce smiley

ready to hoop up