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 different use

Remember those twelve or so projects I had in various stages of WIPness? Well, several have been finished – the Wedding Umbrellas, the little flower and the Sarah Homfray crewel bird. So there are fewer in the pile now? Well, no. A doodle cloth has been added for Soli Deo Gloria (I have worked out what I want to do with the flower centre; now to try different approaches for the petals), as well as a crewel project made up of bits of designs from two books, and a wool version of Hengest (using some of the Milano Heathway wools that arrived today). But at least I am finishing things as well as starting them!

Milano Heathway crewel wools - some of them for Hengest

One small project, however, was in danger of turning from a WIP (Work In Progress) into a UFO (UnFinished Object). It was a small pansy which I found on an embroidery website somewhere and which I thought would be handy to try out my Madeira Lana threads. And so it was; I got some useful long & short stitch in on one of the petals, then rather lost interest, at least partly because by then I’d used the Lana for one of my Quatrefoils as well, so the pansy’s original use had been rather overtaken by events.

Long and short stitch in Lana on a pansy petal

And I realised I didn’t really like the way the leaves were designed, divided into two halves, light and dark green. Of course I could change that to be long & short stitch as well, but by then I’d already done half a leaf in dark green split stitch. And then it dawned on me: I could use this pansy to Try Out Something Else!

The Tree of Life I’ve been designing for the past three years or so has one of those willowy trunks that you see a lot in Jacobean crewel work as well; mine is meant to be worked in stem stitch lines, and probably not solidly filled. But that, and a daffodil I did some time ago, made me wonder about using stem stitch and split stitch as a solid filling when you don’t go round and round but work in lines. If you work the two outlines and then work your way in from both sides to the middle (which is what I would instinctively do) then unless the shape is uniformly wide along its entire length you will get a sort of vein in the middle where the lines coming from left and right meet. How could you avoid that effect? Well, one way might be to work middle-to-sides instead of sides-to-middle – then the lines would get shorter on the outside of the shape. Start at the bottom in the middle to do a full-length line right to the top, then add lines on the left and right of the middle which are each a little shorter than the previous one, simply stopping when they reach the outline.

My theory, when thinking it over, was that the former method (sides-to-middle) would cause a ridge or vein in the middle but also have smoother sides, while the latter (middle-to-sides) would be smooth in the centre but perhaps a little stepped on the sides. Well, why not try this out on the four leaves of the pansy! So I set out to work the dark green halves of the leaves, side-to-middle on the left-hand leaves and middle-to-side on the right-hand ones. As you can see the bottom leaf on the left particularly shows the slightly stepped line down the centre, where the light green other half will meet it.

Split stitch leaves, side-to-middle, first half Split stitch leaves, middle-to-side, first half

The photographs below were taken before I managed to completely finish the final leaf, but I think the difference is clear enough to see, and a very useful record to keep in my doodle folder. I managed to keep the sides of the middle-to-sides leaves rather smoother than I had feared/expected, which was a pleasant surprise!

Split stitch leaves, side-to-middle, second half Split stitch leaves, middle-to-side, second half

So now I know: if I want a vein down the middle, for example because I am stitching a leaf, I’ll use sides-to-middle – and if I don’t, for example on petals or trunks, I’ll use middle-to-sides! As for the rest of the pansy, it may get finished. Or not. It depends on how loudly the wool unicorn calls…

In defence of multiple projects

Wherever stitchers meet, sooner or later the discussion comes up – one project or many? And I’d be perfectly happy to let everyone enter that discussion for themselves, if it weren’t for something I’ve noticed: that it often starts with a remark like “I really shouldn’t start another project, I’ve got two on the go already” or “Do you think it’s all right to start a new project when I haven’t finished the one I’m working on?” or something equally apologetic.

Now if you happen to be the sort of person who likes finishing one thing before starting another, even if that one thing takes three years, then that’s all well and good. But if you’d like to work on more than one project at a time, why on earth shouldn’t you?

About a week ago, that discussion came up in one of the embroidery groups I’m a member of. At that time (the situation is slightly different now) I had three works actually in progress (the Wedding Umbrellas, a small pansy, and Sarah Homfray’s crewel bird), four more hooped up and ready to go (a Quatrefoil in Madeira Lana, a willow tree based on a Dutch pop-up restaurant’s logo [don’t worry, I asked their permission smiley], a Hardanger design on hand-dyed fabric, and a silk & gold flower called Soli Deo Gloria), three in the design stage (Tree of Life, Mechthild the Medieval Queen and Hengest the Medieval Unicorn), and two kits (Helen Stevens goldwork and Sarah Homfray stumpwork butterfly).

Projects in progress Projects hooped up Projects in the design stage Kits

I will admit that a dozen projects is probably as much as I would like to have in one or other stage of progress at any given time; even I don’t usually have that many. But my point is that there is no need to apologise for this, or to feel guilty about it. Unless the multitude of projects stops you from finishing any of them, this variety can actually work quite beneficially! For example, yesterday I’d reached a part of the crewel bird which I didn’t want to do until I’d watched Sarah Homfray’s video about it, as mentioned in the kit instructions. Unfortunately, the video is not actually on her site; so I’ve emailed her, and in the meantime worked on the pansy.

Another instance: having finished the wedding project, my next big piece (not size-wise – I don’t really do big – but in complexity and time to complete) will be Soli Deo Gloria. But the bit it starts with (the French knots filling the centre) has thrown up the first dilemma of this design. This silk and gold flower is based on one I did some time ago, where I took a Kelly Fletcher freebie and worked it in completely different colours, stitches and threads (more about that in a later FoF). For that one, I used slightly variegated Gloriana silks; for this present one I’m using solid-coloured Soie d’Alger. The centre will be worked in two shades of golden yellow, but how? Blended, to reproduce to some extent the original variegation? In two distinct regions, with the darker of the two providing shading? Randomly dotted throughout the circle (as suggested in my coloured-in outline)? If I had just that one project on the go, I’d be stuck for something to stitch until this matter has been solved to my satisfaction. But as it is, I can ponder this question at leisure while doing some Hardanger, or crewel work, or freestyle embroidery. What’s not to like?

The variegated centre of the Kelly Fletcher flower in silk and gold The centre of the new flower - blended, shaded or dotted?

Having several (though not necessarily a dozen) projects ready to go gives me a sense of freedom; I can pick up whichever I feel like stitching – colourful or muted, big or small, counted or freestyle, simple or complex. If occasionally the range of choices on offer makes me indecisive, leading to an evening of no stitching at all, on the whole I think for me the benefits outweigh any disadvantages. After all, on evenings when I simply can’t decide what to stitch, I can always rearrange my fabrics or stroke my silks, or even write a FoF smiley.

An interruption

I have an aunt whom I love very much. She lived with my mother and me for two years from the time I was three (which must have been quite crowded, two grown-up sisters and a child in a two-bedroom flat – but you don’t think of that when you’re little), and after that had a flat three floors up in the same tower block. When she lived with us she made up a series of bed-time stories featuring my favourite stuffed toy Haasje (Little Hare), detailing his adventures in Australia where he travelled around in the pouch of a friendly kangaroo. She took me on my first trip to London when I was thirteen. I ring her or she rings me about once a week, when we talk for 40 minutes or so to catch up on things. Did I mention I love her very much?

And then, today, she called me just as I was trying to make the most of what miserable light we get at this time of year, for the delicate operation of unpicking and restitching two letters in my big Wedding Project. Well!

You will be relieved to hear that my better self won, I was a Good Niece and we had a nice 50-minute chat smiley. But it did make me wonder whether we stitchers are perhaps not as mild and friendly as people might expect us to be… (Mind you, they may not be deceived anyway; a friend recently posted a cross stitch on my FB timeline that read “This is proof that I have the patience to stab something 1000 times”.)

It also reminded me of something I said yesterday to Gary Parr of Fiber Talk as he interviewed me for a podcast (to be published Sunday after next, by the way); that I enjoyed going to stitching classes and retreats so much at least partly because they offer an opportunity to stitch without any interruptions whatsoever. Ah, bliss!

But in everyday life we have to deal with interruptions, and I am pleased to say that the Wedding Project (also known as the Wedding Umbrellas, even though one of them is a parasol) got finished nonetheless – yay! It just needs to be laced, which I hope to do tomorrow.

And what was all the unpicking about? Well, the names of the groom (our eldest) and his bride are on the umbrella and parasol, and I was unhappy with the last two letters of Andreea’s name; they were a bit too small, and too low. I’d been hemming and hawing about whether to unpick or not, and had been putting off the decision by doing everything else on the project first, but today I finally bit the bullet and unpicked.

As it happens I couldn’t change the letters very much or they would no longer have fitted in with the other letters (and I was definitely not going to unpick the entire name), but I hope the small change has made enough of a difference in the overall look. There are still some things I’d probably do differently if I did this again, but as I won’t be doing it again I won’t worry about those!

The Wedding Project, finished

PS Should this project remind you of Come Rain and Come Shine in the Planned section of the website, you are absolutely right – it was shamelessly copied from those two designs, conceived as full-blown goldwork and silverwork projects but as yet unstitched. After all, if you can’t plagiarise your own work, whose work can you plagiarise!

A newly furnished stitching spot and unrelated ponderings

It’s possible to stitch practically anywhere. I have stitched on trains, in a field, and various waiting rooms, for example. But it’s really nice to have a comfy permanent stitching spot, one where it is not just possible, but a great pleasure to stitch. At home, I have two such spots, and one of them has just had a make-over.

That’s the armchair in our sitting room (the other spot is at the dining table by the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the garden). My Lowery embroidery stand and Serious Reader light stood with one of our pair of big blue wing armchairs which had a small side table and a standard lamp between them, and which were in dire need of being both re-upholstered and resprung. Now we’ve been clearing out my mother-in-law’s bungalow as she has moved into sheltered accommodation, and my husband and his sisters have been choosing bits and pieces from the house, paintings, family papers, mementoes, and also bits of furniture. Last Tuesday my eldest sister-in-law and her husband dropped off, among other things, two pretty armchairs and a side table with shelf and drawer.

The chairs have relatively recently been overhauled, and they are of a rather more moderate size than our two blue giants (they also fit much better into the overall colour scheme of our sitting room). And because they are narrower than the old chairs and a bit lower

  1. I can have the really useful wider side table with drawer and shelf to put all my stitching on and in;
  2. my Lowery stand actually reaches the middle of the chair so it’s much more comfortable to stitch; and
  3. there is more room for a cat underneath the stitching smiley
The new set-up of chairs and wider table The new set-up in action, with cat

I have to admit that since that picture was taken I have adjusted the Lowery a bit, as with me sitting lower the stitching was rather too close to my eyes – a little less space for Lexi, but still considerably more than in the original set-up, so we’re both happy.

The project I’ve been working on in my new stitching chair is Sarah Homfray’s crewel bird Turaco, and I’m really enjoying it. But it did bring home to me how often we stitchers judge our work from the wrong distance, and in doing so are far more harsh on ourselves than we need be. We tend to look at our work from, well, a working distance, and sometimes forget that we are very probably the only people ever to look at it like that. Literally standing back from our work can be very beneficial; while working on it the stitching looks uneven, lumpy, not neat – but take a step back and hey presto, it suddenly looks much better! In my case it was the bird’s tail feathers. I just could not get them to look even and tidy, and after a while I decided to give it a rest and see if I could do better in daylight. I swung the Lowery stand away from me, got up to stretch my legs, caught sight of the embroidery while standing a little way away, and realised that they don’t look so bad after all!

The tail feathers on Sarah Homfray's crewel bird

Do you change things when you stitch other people’s designs? I often do. Not, I hasten to assure you, from an arrogant conviction that I know better than the designer, but just because we all have different tastes, and even when I like an overall design I might tweak a bit here or change a colour there to make it just the way I like it. For example, in the Turaco kit the branch on which the bird sits has “empty lines” among the stem stitch; but I happen to love the look of closely fitting stem stitch, so my branch is fully stitched. I also adjusted the printed line of the bird’s head (but as in this case it was to make it more like Sarah’s own stitched model that doesn’t really count).

You may remember I also played about a lot with several of Kelly Fletcher’s designs. I hope she and Sarah don’t mind (and as Kelly Fletcher posted some of my pics on her FB page I assume she at least doesn’t!) – I certainly don’t, and actually find it rather satisfying when people take a design of mine and make it their own. Your stitching project is yours, to stitch as you want it to be. If you stitch a Mabel design but want to do it in pink instead of blue, or use different threads, or stitch only part of it, or stitch it lots of times to make a big project, then go ahead – and please send me a picture of it for the Stitchers’ Gallery where it can join such personalised projects as a BonBon in purple instead of pink, Blackthorn worked in poppy colours, and an extended Flodgarry.

purple BonBon poppy-coloured Blackthorn enlarged Flodgarry

Mechthild’s bosom

Occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night with A Thought. If I really wake up (rather than just being a little less asleep) I tend to scribble a note to self so that in the morning I don’t have that annoying feeling of a brilliant idea lost forever. Admittedly quite a few of the scribbles turn out to be less than brilliant in the cold light of morning, and some are frankly incomprehensible, but on average it’s beneficial enough for me to continue the practice.

Yesterday’s note read: “Mechthild’s bosom”.

And yes, that was actually a usable note smiley.

Earlier this week, still flu-ridden and looking for some soothing, simple stitch-related activity that didn’t actually involve sitting up and holding a needle, I worked on the stitch direction for Hengest and Mechthild, my two Opus Anglicanum-inspired projects. Because they will be worked mostly in split stitch, the direction of the stitching is very important as it provides a large part of the shading, especially in Mechthild’s face. And so it is helpful to have a little diagram handy to refer to while stitching – it prevents one from trying to work out the direction on the fly and making a pig’s ear of it instead of a Queen’s face.

I started with Hengest the Medieval Unicorn on the grounds that he doesn’t have much of a face, or at least not as much as Mechthild, and that I was already quite sure about the majority of the stitching in his case – the most important bit being the fact that his body background will be stitched in long vertical lines following the outlines, with his spots worked in spirals to set them off.

Stitch direction for Hengest

Then on to Mechthild. Her face is going to be done in much the same way as King Ethelnute’s, and her neck in curved verticals like his. Her hair is almost self-directing because of the curly texture (a bit like Hengest’s mane). The challenge with her is her clothing – she has much more of it than Ethelnute, who ended with his collar! The cloak (of which more later) is relatively straightforward, just flowing lines along the outlines. Because there is so much more textile here than on Ethelnute, I will use shading-by-colour as well as shading-by-stitch-direction, with two shades each for the outside of the cloak and the visible bit of lining. But what about her bodice?

Two shades there as well, but I definitely want to use directional shading too. And the obvious use is in her, uhm, curves. I tried some possible outlines and came up with this:

Stitch direction for Mechthild, first try

It was the following night that my note was scribbled. Somehow my unconscious mind was convinced that Mechthild needed a bit of help in the bosom department. This could all go horribly wrong, but fortunately in pencil (or digitally drawn lines) only, so worth a try. My second version, although undoubtedly highlighting the lady’s assets, does make her look a little as if she is wearing one of those 1950s pointy bras; the effect wouldn’t be quite so strong in stitches, but even so I fear it might give the impression that her bosom is somehow a separate entity. In fact it would look rather like Hengest’s spots!

Stitch direction for Mechthild, second try

Back to the drawing board, and for now I have decided on a compromise between versions one and two – more emphasis on the curves, but without the spiral effect. There may still be a lot of unpicking and restitching on the horizon, but at least I’ve got a plan to work from.

Stitch direction for Mechthild, third try

Incidentally, while working on her stitch direction I also tweaked her cloak a bit. The medieval manuscript on which the cloak is mostly based shows it as quite a stripy affair in about four colours. I almost immediately changed that to two colours, hoping the colour closest to the bodice would look like the lining of the cloak, as though the edges were turned back. The only problem was that it didn’t. I changed a few lines and I think I’m closer to the effect I wanted now; but until it’s stitched, it’s open to improvements!

Mechthild with her new cloak

Playing with other people’s designs

Designing your own projects is very satisfying of course, but it can be quite relaxing to work on someone else’s – especially as there are so many embroiderers out there with great ideas! Recently I’ve been finding a proper treasure trove of designs on the Needle ‘n Thread Community FB group, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with them.

First there was the video containing a little four-petalled flowers to which I added leaves and some gold. I called it the Quatrefoil and it is now on the Freebie page with some notes on stitches and number of strands used and so on. It’s a lovely little design to use up odds and ends of threads, or to try out new ones; so far I’ve stitched three in silks (Rainbow Gallery Splendor, Madeira and Chameleon Shades of Africa) and one in wool (Heathway Milano crewel wool), using Jap, passing and twist for the gold couching. As I was stitching all these different versions I realised that I had originally drawn the inner circle too big – in the third picture you can see the gaps around the French knots – so the final drawing has had that amended.

The first Quatrefoil; Rainbow Gallery Splendor and Jap The first Quatrefoil; Madeira stranded silk and Jap The first Quatrefoil; Chameleon Shades of Africa and double passing The first Quatrefoil; Heathway Milano crewel wool and gold twist

I want to try out several more, one using silks in slightly different colours on a new fabric I got recently, a Higgs & Higgs linen-look cotton (recommended by a Cross Stitch Forum friend), and one using Madeira Lana (a thin wool/acrylic thread).

Then there was a woven picot poinsettia originally conceived by Sarah Fragale Roberts in tapestry wool. Not having any tapestry wool, I used some yarn I bought to use for crochet. Finishing it as a brooch was a bit fraught – I didn’t think it through in advance!

A picot poinsettia Making a brooch - buttonhole stitch Finishing a brooch - cutting around the flower Finishing a brooch - where to put the pin

What I should have done, and will do next time if there is a next time, is what I’ve tried to capture in this diagram:

Finishing the poinsettia brooch, ideally

Catherine Kinsey showed her brown felt Christmas bunny ornament, and I knew it was exactly the right thing to make for my daughter-in-law who had just had to say goodbye to her pet rabbit, Harry. Only Harry was grey, so grey felt it was. From the pictures I couldn’t quite tell whether it was meant to be double-sided, but as it was to be an ornament I thought I’d better make it look good on both sides! I’m not really used to this sort of embroidery so some of it was a bit challenging (not to mention fiddly!) but the end result was definitely appreciated – sigh of relief.

The Christmas bunny, front The Christmas bunny, back

And finally there was a Christmas tree embroidered freehand on paper by Sandy McGrath. It looked simple, and elegant, and quick, and just the no-deadline-no-stress sort of project I could really do with. I’d forgotten to ask Sandy the size of hers, but judging by the size of the beads in her picture and assuming they were seed beads, I went for 10cm high (hers, it turns out, was 9cm). I used red beads instead of her rose gold ones. And rather more of them. Otherwise it was identical smiley. Then my husband suggested candles instead of baubles. I played around with some bugle beads to put on a second tree, and then decided that you could actually have baubles and candles on one tree! So there it is, a baubly candly tree that you can stitch in an evening. The only change I’ll make to future trees (something which both Sandy herself and my husband mentioned) is to lengthen the trunk a bit at the bottom.

Quick Christmas tree - guidelines Quick Christmas tree, stitched but bare Quick Christmas tree with baubles Quick Christmas tree with baubles and candles

Besides giving me lots of enjoyable stitching projects, this has also reminded me once again what a generous lot stitchers are: when asked, all these people were perfectly happy for me to take their original ideas and play around with them, and the Christmas tree will even become one of my Church Building Fund workshops (if everything goes to plan) – watch out for it on the Workshop page towards the end of 2019!

“It is not good that the man should be alone”

Remember Ethelnute on his box?

Ethelnute mounted on his satin box

Well, look what I found in my drawer of boxes smiley:

A companion box to Ethelnute's

A second box, the same size but emerald green – Ethelnute obviously needs a wife! But what is she to be called? Æthelflæd? Gunhild? Alfgifu? Hadewich?

We have a little 1930s car called Hilda (which is a good medieval name) so my husband suggested combining it with Mabel (also medieval, although it tended to be spelled Amabel) and making Mabelhild. Nope. I know Ethelnute’s name was a bit of a hybrid as well, but this just sounds silly. But it did remind me of the name Mechthild (the Germanic version of Mathilda), which retains the M and the Hild(a) and is a proper medieval name, so that’s who she’ll be!

Having decided on the important matter of her name, she needed to be designed. I collected various images of ladies and queens from medieval manuscripts and embroideries (which, being many centuries old, have long since entered the public domain) and combined several of them into a sort of amalgam queen – although I hope Mechthild shows plenty of individuality in spite of that! The colours in the image below are by no means definitive (I’ll decide on that when I start putting the materials together) and it doesn’t show which bits will be gold or gems or beads rather than embroidery, but it should give you an impression of what she’ll look like.

Queen Mechthild

She will be stitched using pretty much the same materials as Ethelnute (Silk Mill silks, pearls, beads, gold twist) but there is one element in the King that won’t be used in the Queen, and that’s the glass gems; I haven’t been able to find any in the right size, colour and type. However, I did find some glass beads in interesting shapes which I think may work: Miyuki drop beads (like seed beads only drop shaped) and Czech pip beads (which look squashed, as though someone has sat on them, and are rather larger). I got some in a selection of suitably “medieval” shades and look forward to using them.

Queen Mechthild with beads

And then there was that medieval unicorn I wanted to design, based on the quirky horse on the Steeple Aston cope. The main changes were easy enough – he needed a horn and a goatee beard. I also enlarged his spots to show off the “coloured whites” I’m hoping to use for them. And as with the medieval queen, I found him a name: meet Hengest (Old English for horse).

Hengest the Medieval Unicorn

I was slightly worried about the horse’s bridle and various leather bits, because I rather wanted to keep them (they offer a great opportunity for the use of bling, whether gold or beads or any other type) but they didn’t strike me as proper unicorn accessories. However, a bit of quick online research showed that fortunately there are medieval tapestries showing unicorns with chest bands. My bling was saved! I repositioned and redrew the original chest band to make room for dangly pip beads, and moved his eyes so there was room for bling on the bridle as well. Hengest is ready to roll! Er, gallop.

Hengest with experimental beads

P.S. An important thing about using images in the public domain: even when the original image/embroidery/manuscript is in the public domain, photographs of it are not (or not necessarily). So although you can use the original (in my case medieval) image to base your artwork on, you are not allowed to reproduce modern photographs of it without permission of the copyright holder (which is why I removed the image from my Silk Mill Sale post and gave a link to the V&A’s image of the Steeple Aston cope instead).

The Holly and the Napkin

Late last month I wrote about a napkin I was embroidering with a rather wonky Kelly Fletcher monogram. Well, it got finished, wonkiness and all, and in time will no doubt be used and get stained with tomato soup or something; some people say that’s a shame, and it’s far too nice to be used (like the tea towel I embroidered recently), but the alternative is to put them in a drawer and forget about them, so I’m in the “use it” camp.

A Kelly Fletcher monogram on a Clever Baggers napkin

That, however, was not what I meant to write about today. The fact is that I enjoyed stitching that napkin, and it gave me an idea for a small Christmas present for a friendly couple. The wife is a fellow stitcher (she also quilts) and often presents us with a stitched present at our annual pre-Christmas dinner, and in return so far I’ve been rather unimaginatively sticking with cards. Well, what about Christmas napkins? I drew a simple holly wreath and the plan is to stitch a napkin each, with their initial in the holly wreath.

For this I needed two things: more napkins, and a plan on how to stitch the holly leaves. The napkin I had in my stash was one made of a cotton/linen mix, and was bought from The Clever Baggers. Unfortunately their postage is rather high for small orders (the original napkin had hitched along with a larger order of cotton bags), so I looked elsewhere. I found a modestly-priced pack of eight napkins, slightly smaller than the CB one and 100% cotton.

A quick comparison with my first napkin showed that they are quite different: the cotton/linen napkin is softer and has a more open weave, while the cotton napkins are much more densely woven. The latter is perhaps not a bad thing for surface embroidery where you can’t use a backing fabric, as it makes it less likely that any threads carried at the back will show at the front.

A corner of the Clever Baggers napkin A corner of the eBay napkin

One thing to bear in mind when buying napkins (or any fabric really), especially when they arrive folded up in a pack like these ones did, is that they may well need ironing before you can use them. These had obviously been in their pack for quite some time; they were so creased that I decided to wash them first, and iron them while still damp. While ironing the first one I had to iron some parts of it so much that I managed to scorch it slightly (just about visible in the picture), and even then the creases were still very much in evidence. The only thing to do was to find the smoothest corners on the two least creased ones and use those. Oh, and by the way, how did a cat hair make its way onto the new napkins already!?!?

A creased and scorched cotton napkin ...with a cat hair

On to the holly. I wanted to keep the wreath quite plain, although I did draw a slightly denser one with a double ring of holly leaves as well, but that won’t get used this time.

Plain holly wreath Denser holly wreath

But with either design, the important decision is how to stitch the holly leaves. Solidly filled? Outlined? If the former, satin stitch, long & short, fly, fishbone? If the latter, backstitch (whipped or plain), split stitch, running stitch? Or even fly stitch as well? Having used fishbone stitch on the leaves in the Kelly Fletcher napkin, I rather liked that idea, but I had to see whether I could make it work for the spiky holly shape. Roll on a doodle cloth, on which I stitched two fishbone holly leaves (the second a bit less successfully spiky than the first), one using fly stitch as a filling and one-and-a-half using fly stitch as an outline, with the holding stitches forming the spikes.

Trying out holly leaves The back of the stitched holly leaves

All in all I like the fishbone look best, and the back is quite neat too. The fly stitch outline I’ll keep in mind for the denser holly wreath, where it could be used alternatingly with fishbone stitch so that it wouldn’t get too dense. Now to decide how to stitch the initials – it shouldn’t be too solid (or it would overpower the wreath), but not too wispy either (or it would get overwhelmed itself). An outline in whipped chain stitch seemed to fit the bill best; a red initial for her and a green one for him, both whipped in golden yellow. Unfortunately the coton à broder #16 I wanted to use comes in a fairly limited range, and nothing from DMC’s golden yellow range is available in that thickness, so I resorted to the thinner #25 for the whipping. It works quite well!

A start on the wreath The wreath with berries A chain stitch initial The initial whipped

Should you like to try these holly wreaths for yourself, you can now find them on the Freebies page; the PDF contains notes about stitches and threads, and both wreath in two sizes. Enjoy smiley!

A Sale dilemma

When a shop has a really good sale on and you were going to place an order with them anyway, what do you do? Buy what you were going to buy and spend less, or spend what you were going to spend and buy more?

This is not an idle question. Today and tomorrow The Silk Mill offers 25% off everything. I’d decided last week that I would treat myself to 50 of their silks, and fortunately *phew* didn’t actually place the order because I ran out of time. As they have 700 shades to choose from, it’s been taking me some time to put together a sensible selection of useful colours in four or five shades each. And then there was “Whiter Shade of Pale”.

“Whiter Shade of Pale” is one of their themed sets and consists of 14 shades of not-quite-white – the very palest shades of pink, grey, green, flesh, so pale that they are, you might say, coloured whites. It’s a beautiful set, I’ve fallen in love with it, and I don’t need it.

Silk Mill's Whiter Shade of Pale set

Or do I?

Ethelnute has left me with a taste for Opus Anglicanum, and I’ve been looking for another project. At the Coombe Abbey retreat Angela Bishop had with her a small split stitch embroidery of a horse based on a medieval cope. It was a horse that made you giggle. It had character. I looked up the Steeple Aston cope online and found it had a companion horse, equally eccentric. I drew outlines of both, put in some colour suggestions, altered the reins and bridles and tucked them away in a folder somewhere.

Then I saw the not-quite-whites and thought Unicorn. Not sure why, but I did. And I wondered whether one of the horses, probably the one Angela used as well, could become a medieval unicorn (which means that besides a horn he’d also have a goatee; or should that be a unicornee?). For now, he is just an ordinary polka-dotted horse with mad eyes – but he could be transformed!

Drawing of the Steeple Aston horse

He’ll probably have to lose his bridle and jewels (unless I make him a tamed unicorn), and of course a horn will be added (not too long; I want to keep the design squarish) as well as the chin hair – but I can just see him split stitched in grey with all his polka dots worked in some of those lovely coloured whites.

So will I buy the set? I’ll let you know…