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.

Forgetfulness, a simplification and a contrary printer

Fancies haven’t been flying much recently, I’m afraid; a combination of the day job, health problems in the family, and fortunately also some nice outings – including a rally in our little vintage car during which I first got to wear a lovely 1930s dress my husband had made for me as a birthday/anniversary present. I was lucky to find both the shoes and the bag secondhand, and all it needs now is some gloves (the lady who made the dress has offered me a pair on loan but I’d like my own) and a suitable hat. I’ve got a picture of exactly the hat I want, and am keeping a beady eye on charity shops!

1930s dress The sort of hat I'm looking for

There hasn’t been a lot of stitching recently, either; I fully intended to do some serious Floral Lace buttonholing while visiting my mother in the Netherlands, only to find when I got there that I had packed three Floral Laces, a hoop, my special pointy scissors, the right perle cotton and even a pair of stork scissors, but that I had omitted to pack the needles I use for this project. Oh well, it meant I could give my full attention to catching up and chatting, so perhaps it was a good thing after all.

While I was in the Netherlands we met up with some friends who run a charity in Gambia, and they are planning a fundraiser for next April. Could I possibly stitch a few things they could sell, asked my mother. A wonderful idea if it weren’t for two things: our church is raising funds for a new building at the moment so my fundraising efforts tend to concentrate on that, and the bookmarks which sold like hotcakes at our own Arts & Crafts Fair earlier this year are very time-consuming to make. On the other hand, it’s a great charity, and I could stitch two of everything, one for the church building fund and one for Gambia – but it would have to be something a little simpler than the Windows on the World designs I used before. What if I used the smaller of the two but with less cutwork? A bit of re-arranging and some added lettering and I came up with this:

Simplified bookmark

It’s still a lot of buttonholing but it should be noticeably quicker than the original, and I can vary the filling stitches and the colours to make them all different. The only thing is the hearts perhaps make it less suitable for men, and I remember several people buying the bookmarks saying they made a good “man present”, so I’ll have to chart another one with “O”s instead. I might also dust off my mix-and-match Round Dozen design, as the coasters were good sellers too, and they don’t take too long.

One of the things I want to add to the Windows on the World chart pack is a link to the FoF post about the felt-and-buttonholing finish I’m using for Floral Lace (probably with some additional notes). True, the design got its name because the bookmarks are unbacked and therefore the cutwork parts are like little windows, but for those who really do not like showing their backs, needlework-wise, it might be nice to have the option.

Some time ago a chat with Sparklies’ Kate led me to get the cover pictures for the Mini Kits printed as photos, rather than doing them myself on my inkjet printer. The rest of the chart pack, however, is still printed here at home, on demand. It was annoying, therefore, that my printer decided recently that it had a paper jam, even though nothing had jammed, and even after I had removed every sheet of paper from the in-tray and checked its innards meticulously. All the more annoying as I still have four extra large cartridges for it, and it became more than annoying when someone ordered a set of three Mini Kits. By a stroke of luck I had two packs already made up, and I managed to print the third by disconnecting everything, reconnecting everything, printing one page, and repeating the process until the pack was done. But there’s no help for it, I’ll need to buy a new printer. Does anyone know if there are any simple printers out there which are not too expensive to run?

A needlework bar crawl

Stitching the model for Extravorganza 2 I was trying to work out the best route for the woven bars; I was halfway through the first quarter when I realised I’d actually made it far more complicated than was necessary! So the route was changed and is now much easier to work, with lots of places where you can conveniently fasten on and off. This is why I stitch everything before putting it up on Mabel’s Fancies!

And this wasn’t the only change I made because of stitching the models. Originally all four Extravorganza designs had wrapped bars and spider’s webs. Then I stitched the two smaller ones and found that I had to take the needle through the wrapped bars for the necessary travel from one corner of a spider’s web to the other, not impossible but very fiddly and not something I would lightly impose on anyone but myself. OK, move the spider’s webs so we can make use of nearby Kloster blocks for any thread-travelling. Then realised I couldn’t – or at least didn’t want to – move the spider’s webs in the two larger ones as I liked the arrangement I had. So change to woven bars and square filets for those two. As it happens I could have used wrapped bars with square filets (as it is possible to work it so that there is no travelling through bars) or woven bars with spider’s webs (as you can travel fairly easily through the back of woven bars) but I’ve now completed Extravorganza 2 with the woven bar/square filet combo so that’s what it’s going to be smiley.

And here is a little preview of what that looks like; I’m away on a family visit until next week, but after that I hope to complete Extravorganza 1 fairly quickly and make the design available on the website.

Extravorganza 2

On a separate note, here I am with a perfectly good excuse for buying stash (see my previous post) and I still haven’t made use of it! There are several threads in my Sew & So basket but I haven’t hit Buy yet. Why not? I’m not absolutely sure; it may be the struggle between “I can’t possibly buy just two skeins, what a waste of postage” and “I don’t really need any threads or materials other than these”. With a bit of luck I’ll make up my mind before they discontinue Threadworx as well…

A perle problem

There are, of course, always problems about using hand-dyed perles. Problems inherent to the product, I mean. For one thing, dye lots can vary wildly so that a stitcher may find that her version of a particular design looks washed out compared to the stitched model, or on the contrary rather garishly bright, or much greener, or much less purple. There is the fact that they are often rather more expensive than standard perles, and (depending on the brand) not so widely available or easy to obtain. And then there is the risk of colours being discontinued.

Colours, or even whole collections. Earlier this year, Dinky Dyes was taken over by Kathy Filosi, and she decided to continue the trend towards concentrating on the silk threads at the expense of the cotton ones. This is not an insurmountable problem for the stranded cottons, as the DD stranded silks come in exactly the same shades, and those of my designs which use stranded DD (like Floral Tiles: Pansies and Patches) already specified silk rather than cotton – although it does mean that the less expensive alternative is no longer available.

The perles are a completely different story, however. Dinky Dyes do have a collection of silk perles, and very nice they are too, but the colours don’t match those of the now abandoned cotton perles. Again not too much of a problem for some designs – Round the World uses a shaded red, green, yellow and light blue which shouldn’t be too difficult to replace, perhaps with Weeks Dye Works; Citrus uses a yellow/orange/red which is not an unusual combination and might even have an Anchor or DMC near-equivalent. The difficult ones are going to be the colours used in Douglas & Heather, and especially in Sunken Treasures.

Why especially that last one? Because unlike in the other designs, where the Dinky Dyes perle is the only colour used, in Sunken Treasures it has to fit in with several shades of standard perle – blue, green and purple in dark and light. Oh well, time to trawl through my stash of hand-dyed threads to see what possible substitutes there are. For the first one, “Airlie” (the middle bobbin in the first picture), candidates are Caron’s shade Parfait (bobbin on the left; less yellow than Airlie, and cooler in shade), Threadworx’s Wildflowers (on the wooden ring; cooler in shade, and with turquoise instead of green) and Treenway’s Mandalay (bobbin on the right). The right-hand picture shows Mandalay used in another design; the colour is quite close to what I’m looking for, but it’s silk, so rather expensive, and not very easy to get. I may simply suggest all three in the chart pack and let the stitchers decide how much they are willing to spend and which colour they like best.

Alternatives for Airlie Treenway's Mandalay

Finding a suitable substitute for “Daydream” (the middle bobbin in the picture below) in my stash is proving more challenging. The two closest I could find aren’t really very close at all – Caron’s Eggplant (bobbin on the left) is far too muted, and doesn’t really have any blue in it. Caron’s Appalachia (bobbin on the right) is too bright and the proportion of green is too large. Let down by my stash I looked into all those lovely threads out there which I haven’t got yet and found that my last hope is probably Threadworx’ Mosaic, which looks as though it may be a bit too dark and bold, and with a different purple, but which at least has a more “watery” look than Appalachia.

Alternatives for Daydream

Next step? Stitch a motif from the designs using the various substitutes, and see which ones come out best (if I choose the motifs wisely they’ll do for cards or gift tags so the time, thread and effort won’t be wasted). But first it’s off to Sew & So to get Mosaic in perle #5 and #8. I wonder if there’s anything else I can order at the same time to make best use of the postage…

A surprising lack of poppies

Recently a lady wrote to ask me: “Have ever you done anything with poppies?” My first reaction was “Of course!” But when I actually went through my list of designs it turned into “Oh, er, no…”. The closest thing I could offer her was Blackthorn, which Louise H ingeniously stitched in poppy colours.

So how did this happen? How did I design (besides several other flower-themed charts) 18 Floral Laces without ever doing a poppy? And how am I going to remedy it? Because I must agree with the lady that a poppy design would be a great idea. Well, I suppose I could do a 19th Floral Lace (remember how it started out as a set of three…?). It could perhaps be done on its own (not as part of a pair) as a Remembrance Day special, with part of the profit going to the poppy appeal.

So now I am charting poppies. Whatever the design is going to be, it will definitely have red poppies! Those yellow and orange things may call themselves poppies but with apologies to them, for me a proper poppy is red. So far I’ve charted one larger and one smaller version, both a suitable size for the Floral Lace framework – but it’s difficult to get particularly the leaf to look right in the smaller one. I’ve looked at photographs, and red poppies in bloom in our own garden at the moment, and also the poppy lapel pins I bought for my husband and me last year.

Poppy lapel pin

Those pins were very useful as an aid to design because they are stylised; still, I think I’ll go for a four-petalled flower to make it look just a little more natural. And perhaps “Floral Lace: Poppies” will end up as a pair after all – don’t they say Rosemary is for Remembrance as well?

Workshops both ways

I’ve got workshops on the brain at the moment. For one thing, tickets for the Knitting & Stitching Show workshop at Alexandra Palace are now available, so if you’re coming to the show on Friday 10th October and you’d like to try your hand at Hardanger (or brush up your skills, or simply spend some time stitching with like-minded people) do join me there.

Then there were the two workshops at Dunchurch Baptist Church, held in aid of the building fund on the last Saturday in June and the first Saturday in July. They were great fun to do because none of the ladies there (no gentlemen, unfortunately – are they shy about their needle skills? Or were they all occupied in polishing their car or playing cricket?) had ever tried Hardanger before, and several hadn’t really done much needlework at all. Did that matter? No! In fact, as one lady said, “It’s remarkable! We didn’t know anything about it and now, only two hours later, we’ve made something really pretty.” There are few things more gratifying than to watch someone cut and remove the threads for the first time and then give a delighted gasp because there, as if by magic, is that airy pattern of five holes. They all did really well and I am proud to show some of their work here:

June workshop July workshop
Anna's needlebook Claire's needlebook Linda's needlebook

But it’s not just teaching – I’ve booked myself a workshop as well, or to be precise a Royal School of Needlework Day Class. They do some in Rugby now, which is too good an opportunity to miss! So I’ve signed up for goldwork, and the fact that it’s on 6th December, the day after St Nicholas Eve, makes a great excuse for a present to myself. No previous experience is required, so having done one of the RSN’s short workshops (the lovely dragonfly below) at the Knitting & Stitching Show two years ago is a bonus and should help me not make a complete fool of myself smiley.

A goldwork dragonfly done at the 2012 K&S

Inspiration from the British Isles

Some time ago I mentioned that I’d like to do a “Welsh” design to complement Tudor, Scotland the Brave and Luck of the Irish, and make a set called British Isles. As the three existing designs all have a floral theme I decided against dragons or leeks in favour of daffodils, the result to be called St David’s Day.

One of the stitches that immediately springs to mind (well, my mind anyway) when thinking of daffodils is the woven picot (used in an eight-petal arrangement in Frozen Flower). Two sets of three, in two shades of yellow, one set slightly overlapping the other. And for the trumpet something equally 3D in orange detached chain stitch; perhaps cup stitch, which I first tried (a little raggedly, see picture…) a couple of years ago.

Woven Picot Flower Cup Stitch

But the design that was vaguely beginning to take shape in my mind would have several daffodils, probably a central one surrounded by four smaller ones. What to do with them? More woven picot flowers? They are quite labour-intensive, and moreover, they stand out and clamour for attention – having five of them in a relatively small design might be a bit too much of a good thing!

Beads then? Stylised daffodils made out of bugle beads for the petals and an ordinary bead for the trumpet? Off to Sew & So to see what’s available only to find that there are no bugle beads in yellow and orange, at least not from Mill Hill. So much for that brainwave. And of course I couldn’t possibly recycle the cross stitch daffodils from Floral Lace; that would be cheating. And anyway, they wouldn’t fit smiley. For a moment I toyed with the idea of silk or organza ribbon, but it would be difficult to get the flowers small enough and again they might overwhelm a design this size.

When a design gets stuck I just leave it at the back of my mind to find its own way for a bit; something usually comes up. And so it did this time. Possibly triggered by the lazy daisy motifs in Extravorganza the idea suddenly presented itself with beautiful inevitability: six lazy daisies, three each in two shades of yellow, echoing the large central flower. And for the trumpet… well, there was a question. A chunky French knot in orange perle #5? But it’s a bit much to expect stitchers to buy a whole skein of orange perle #5 just for four French knots. A bead? Same objection, and I’d rather gone off the idea of beads as none of the other three designs use them. How about a cross between a French knot and a bullion knot to create a sort of thick loop? With a bit of luck it’ll stand proud of the fabric and so make a good stab at representing the centre of a daffodil; and it would use the same perle #8 as the central flower, so no need for yet another thread.

This needed a bit of experimenting, as I wasn’t sure whether to simply work it as a very long French knot – lots of wraps but go down the very next hole – or as a bullion knot with a very short coverage. A minute or so with some spare fabric and thread and it became clear that multi-wrapped French knots just turn into blobs, but that bullion knots worked over one diagonal form rather nice little hoops. Now all I need to do is finish charting and amend the instructions for bullion knots and Wales will be ready to take its place in the British Isles set!

A blobby French knot A hooped bullion knot

Introducing a new speciality thread – Lexi’s Fur

Have you ever seen that cross stitch design – Lizzie*Kate, I think – with a ginger cat’s head and the words, “Cat hair, just another speciality thread”? How true. The ginger hair of our much-missed Alfie definitely found its way into several of my designs, and now a new thread is about to be incorporated: the fur of Alfie’s successor Lexi.

Young enough to enjoy some boisterous play

We adopted Lexi through the local Cat’s Protection and picked her up last Tuesday. She’s already made herself right at home, and has a great time finding the best places from which to watch the birds in the garden (she’s not allowed out yet, of course). The large window is proving a bit confusing though, and just now there was the most alarming thud as she went for the pigeon on the bird bath.

Studying the local bird life

Two recent finishes were pre-Lexi and therefore guaranteed fur-free – two more Floral Laces. Five down, thirteen to go…

Floral Lace: Clematis Floral Lace: Forget-Me-Not

I have done more than just buttonhole, though: Extravorganza 3, the second smallest of the four variations (yes, I know I said there were five variations, and in fact I charted a sixth, but the three smallest ones turned out to be so very alike that I’m counting them as one variation). This one uses a rich blue (and probably some tabby), the next one will be green, and the other two most likely orange and purple, but don’t be surprised if I change my mind!

Extravorganza 3

A confusing start to a new project

One of my purchases at the Ally Pally Knitting & Stitching Show last year (and by the way, I’ll be teaching a workshop there again this year, on Friday 10th October) was a selection of hand-dyed silk organza squares.

21st Century Yarns silk organza

They inspired me to two designs, or rather two sets of designs: Veiled Delight, which will have no cutting but be stitched on a square of organza on top of 25ct Lugana, and Extravorganza, which contains five variations on a theme, in sizes ranging from 84w x 84h to 148w x 148h. The idea for this design is to have relatively large cut areas through which the organza shows, with the Hardanger itself in white-on-white and surface stitching in a shade of Caron Wildflowers to match the organza.

I had actually planned to start on one of the Orpheus designs – I’ve ironed the fabric (a lovely Sparklies hand-dyed), got out the roller frame, bought the threads, but somehow I don’t seem to get round to it. Perhaps because it’s one of my larger designs, and I am, as you know, a small-project girl at heart. Whatever the reason, when the time came for my weekly stitching group I kitted up Extravorganza, picking five organza squares and spending a very pleasant quarter of an hour choosing five Wildflowers to go with them. The three smaller variations, 84w x 84h and 92w x 92h, should all fit into a 6″ hoop, the first one easily, the other two with a bit less room. I decided to start with the smallest. As I got to the end of the Kloster blocks it became clear that with the coloured surface stitching surrounding the Kloster blocks it was going to be, not tight, but definitely not as roomy as I’d expected in a 6″ hoop. Could it be I’d miscalculated? Or had I picked up the wrong hoop?

The answer was much simpler. I was stitching the wrong design. Somehow I’d managed to turn over the chart and stitch the one on the back, which was the slightly larger size. Oh well, no harm done, they all need to be stitched anyway, but it did make me scratch my head a bit until I realised!

Coral Cross correction

Oops.

Yesterday, as I was stitching the white-and-silver version of Coral Cross I suddenly noticed that the backstitch motifs weren’t quite symmetrical. “How odd,” I thought, “I wonder why I did that”. A good look at the chart explained it – Coral Cross is probably the only one of my designs which I stitched first and charted later, and some rogue backstitches had somehow found their way into it when I transcribed the design from the stitched model.

Here are the two models together – as you can see the difference isn’t very noticeable but even so I’ve now corrected the chart pack, so if you bought Coral Cross do contact us and we’ll send you the corrected version (with a picture of the white-and-silver model added as well)!

Coral Cross in the original colourway Coral Cross in white and silver

Felt for finishing and an unexpected use for metallic kid

I’m beginning to get quite a collection of finished Floral Laces – some with quite startling combinations of felt and stitching (wait till you see Fuchsia …) – here are two I finished while we were on holiday in the Outer Hebrides. One of the things I’m considering doing with them when I’ve got them all done is getting a square framed cork board, possibly paint it black, and then display them by rotation. Yes, felt is wonderful stuff, and not just for finishing Floral Lace – remember these hand-dyed felts I got at the Knitting & Stitching Show last year? I haven’t actually decided what to use them for yet, but they’re lovely even just to look at, and I think they’ll make a beautiful backing for something or other.

Floral Lace: Rose Floral Lace: Sunflower 21st Century Yarns felt

And backing is not the only thing you can do with felt, of course. Here is my recent purchase from Blooming Felt: gift tags and a purse. I’m not sure yet what designs to use them for; obviously they need to be quite small. Perhaps a shortened version of the smaller Window on the World for the purse? And I may have to design something new for the tags, although there are only so many things you can do in such a small space; or the little cross I’ve used for baptism bookmarks might make quite a pretty gift tag for a christening gift!

Gift tags and a purse from Blooming Felt

Remember the metallic kid I used for Treasure Trove? It came in very useful yesterday, though not for any needlework. One of my belts works really well with 2 or 3 of my dresses, but the snag is that the loose end won’t stay put. When I put the belt on first thing in the morning the end bit curls snugly enough around my waist, but as soon as I move, it does too. I tried sticking it to the belt with blutack, but that started affecting the surface of the belt. It obviously needed a loop of sorts to hold it in place, but what could I use that wouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb? And then it struck me – the belt is made of metallic leather, in warm shades of copper and gold. So I dug out the left-over gold kid and it turned out to go with the belt perfectly. I was about to sew the leather together when my husband suggested contact adhesive; it proved to be a fortuitous suggestion, as I made the loop a little too wide the first time, and this way I could gently unpeel rather than laboriously unpick. So now I have a lovely fitting belt; I knew having lots of stash was practical!

Gold kid used as a belt loop