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.

Quirks of photography and remedial wing work

Although stumpwork has never really appealed to me – I admire what other people do with it, but on the whole don’t feel a great inclination to have a go myself – somehow I managed to end up with a stumpwork kit: Sarah Homfray’s holly blue butterfly. I bought it because it was a beautiful butterfly, and because it was small enough not to seem too much of a challenge. Also, there were no big wooden beads. Don’t ask me why, but any stumpwork design with big wooden beads in it (to represent hips and haws and berries, generally) puts me off immediately. This one had some florist’s wire, but otherwise it was mostly standard embroidery with standard stranded cottons, the only difference with a needle painting kit being the fact that the butterfly would be cut out; well, I’ve cut around a buttonhole edge before, albeit on counted fabric and not quite so fine, but it’s the same sort of thing. The shading on the wings was likely to be more of a problem!

Sarah Homfray stumpwork butterfly kit

And so it turned out to be. When I’d completed the bottom wings I couldn’t help but notice that my butterfly had very distinct banding, which the picture in the kit did not have. As usual I had taken some photographs of my progress, and it was then that I discovered an odd quirk of photography. No, I don’t mean the fact that close-up photographs will show up irregularities in your stitching that you never noticed even when working on it with strong magnifying glasses (all stitchers have to learn not to judge their own work on the basis of close-up photos). Let me show you.

Have a look at the two pictures below. They were taken about 10 seconds apart. Neither of them has been edited or Photoshopped in any way – the only difference is that the first one was taken with the butterfly’s head pointing towards the window, and the second with its bottom towards the window. And yet the second one looks much more blended than the first. I suppose it must have something to do with the direction of the stitches and the way they catch the light, but it’s odd that the effect is not nearly so noticeable with the naked eye. What makes it show up so much more in photographs?

The butterfly photographed with the top towards the window The butterfly photographed with the bottom towards the window

Whatever the reason, the second photograph looked decidedly better than the first, and so that was the one I posted on the Cross Stitch Forum and the Mary Corbet Facebook group; like most people I prefer to show my stitching in the most flattering light. But even though I could photograph it to look not too bad, whenever I looked at it directly I saw the banding, even more so after I’d done the top wings (and was rather pleased with them!) Now I was definitely not going to unpick the entire lower wings (I’m not that much of a pefectionist) so it was time for a little cosmetic work.

The banding on the bottom wings stands out against the blended top wings

It turns out (as various tutors have told me – and they must know smiley) that long and short stitch, or silk shading, is quite a forgiving technique; especially so when done in crewel wool, but even in stranded cotton it is possible to sneak in some extra stitches to create a more blended look. After a few minutes with three needles threaded with three different colours, the bottom wings were much more in tune with the top wings. Even when the butterfly was photographed with its head towards the window.

The bottom wings with their additional blending

Do you recognise this? The happier you are with the way a project is progressing, the more you want to finish it. (Although not feeling up to more challenging and demanding projects may have had something to do with it as well…) The moment the two baptism bookmarks were completed, I got back to the butterfly. My first ever attempt at turkey rug stitch produced a nice fluffy body – not quite so evenly trimmed as I might have liked perhaps, but perfectly serviceable; then it was just a matter of cutting around the buttonhole edge and shaping and attaching the antennae, and here I present what is likely to be my one and only stumpwork finish, on a plain background and in more natural surroundings.

The finished butterfly The butterfly in more natural surroundings

I’d rather hoped one of the many butterflies currently treating our garden as their home would sit down beside him, but alas, they wouldn’t oblige. Perhaps just as well, as God’s handiwork is much more exquisite than mine could ever be smiley.

Another way of finishing a bookmark

Many years ago, when Flights of Fancy was in its Flights of InFancy, I wrote a post about different ways of finishing bookmarks. As none of these ways was quite what I wanted for the baptismal bookmarks I was stitching for two church friends, I devised another one. And as you can never have too many ways of finishing your stitching, here is a short illustrated demonstration of how it works.

The first thing, of course, is to complete the stitching. How you do this can sometimes be determined, at least in part, by how you intend to finish it – framing, for example (not that you’re likely to frame a bookmark) requires a lot more spare fabric around the design than mounting in a card. Here I was going for a combination of felt backing and fraying of the main fabric, which needs relatively little space around the design, and as I was planning two bookmarks and I don’t like wasting fabric, I decided to stitch them fairly close together on one piece of fabric. A running stitch outline defined the size of the bookmarks and helped with placing the various elements.

The stitching is finished; now for the finishing

Next: two pieces of felt, cut to the dimensions of the outline.

Felt backing cut to size

The felt backings were initially held in place with pins. As it was not easy to see whether the felt was staying put while I was buttonholing (or rather, blanket stitching) around the outline, I adjusted the arms on my lap stand so that the frame was nearly vertical, and sat facing the window so that the light was behind my work. In this way, I could keep an eye on the position of the felt while stitching.

The light behind the works shows the position of the felt

Incidentally, to fasten on I knotted my thread (a single strand of DMC cotton) and with the needle parallel to the felt I took the thread a little way through the felt – not from the back to the front, but travelling “inside” the felt for a few centimetres. The knot was on the side of the felt that sat against the back of the stitched fabric, and the needle emerged on the edge of the felt. I could then take it up through the Hardanger fabric right on the outline to start the blanket stitch.

And here they are with the blanket stitch outlines complete, seen from the front and the back.

Blanket stitch all around the bookmarks The bookmarks seen from the back

Finally I cut around the outline, leaving three fabric threads all around (or strictly speaking fabric pairs, as this is Hardanger fabric), and then frayed the fabric up to the buttonhole line. In the picture below the blue bookmark has been cut but not yet frayed, while the pink one is completely finished.

The excess fabric has been cut away, and the fraying is in progress

Cut and frayed, this is what they eventually look like front and back.

The finished bookmarks, front and back

And there you have it, one more way of finishing your stitching as a bookmark!

How to pack a mug

Thank you to the many people who gave me feedback on the matter of packing my Mug That Cheers kit. On the whole, opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of a single, slightly larger bag. The main argument was that it was more convenient to have everything together, especially if the kit was to be kept for a while before stitching it, or if it was bought as a present. Several people indicated a concern that the envelope, if supplied separately, might get lost.

The contents of the kit, minus envelope

Very valid concerns, and ones I had considered myself. So surely the solution is simple: just get the next size grip seal bag and get on with it. There was just one slight problem with that solution. I didn’t like it.

In a way that shouldn’t really matter; after all, I’m not the one buying the kit! But I simply couldn’t reconcile myself to the idea of a baggy kit, with the instructions and everything else just rattling around in it like a child in a hand-me-down from a cousin two sizes larger.

And then there was another issue. A couple of people remarked that they would much prefer no plastic at all. Again, a very valid concern. The suggestion of making cotton bags for the kits was simply not feasible – too labour-intensive or, if bought in, too expensive for my scale of operations (especially if I wanted to make sure they were ethically made without sweatshop labour) – and paper envelopes or bags unfortunately have neither the strength nor the flexibility of the plastic grip seal bags.

But there was another option, and one which I already had in the house: the cardboard boxes I use for the goldwork kits. Because of the fragility of some of the goldwork materials, a squishy plastic bag is simply not a practical way of packing those kits. But they are not just sturdier than the plastic bags, they are also ever so slightly wider. Would they be wide enough to hold the awkward envelope?

Front of the boxed mug kit What's in the boxed mug kit Boxed mug kit, open

Yes they were smiley.

There are a few small points still to work out; for example, how to attach the kit picture to the front without ripples, whether to add tissue paper inside, and how to wrap the box so that it doesn’t exceed the Large Letter postal rate dimensions. And then there is the cost – the boxes are about ten times the price of the grip seal bags, and as they are heavier, postage will increase as well. Still, as people are becoming more and more environmentally conscious, selling the kits in a recyclable and reusable container may well be something that customers are willing to pay a little more for.

Who knows, in the near future all Mabel’s kits may come in those nifty little boxes!

Mugs half full and awkward envelopes

Is there a word that means “doing something that needs doing, but not urgently, so that you have an excuse not to do something that is much more urgent”? I’m sure we’ve all done it in one way or another (I wonder how many houses/sheds/garages get a thorough clean when the income tax returns are due) and “procrastination” doesn’t quite fit the bill because you are in fact doing something useful.

Why this little linguistic aside? Because hurray! I’ve got all my kits ready for the Knitting & Stitching Show, but, well, they aren’t needed until the second week of October and I should really have been working on either the SAL or the RSN Certificate, and preferable both.

Kits for the K&S workshops in October

Still, they’re done and safely stored away, and there was actually a good reason for not leaving them to the last moment (or so I tell myself): two of the designs, No Place Like Home and The Mug That Cheers, have never been kitted up before, so there are generally little bumps in the process that need sorting out. Additionally, when kits are being made up for a workshop rather than for a straightforward sale, there are extra things to be done. If the design is a non-counted one, as these are, it needs to be transferred onto the fabric beforehand; K&S workshops are usually 90 minutes long, and you want the students to get stitching straight away – quite apart from the logistics problem of providing twelve light boxes for tracing!

The little house was by far the easier of the two to kit up; for one thing, it uses only one type of thread (Madeira Lana) and one needle, and transferring the design was the only extra thing that needed doing for the workshop version. The mug was quite another matter. At one point the entire dining table was covered in the various bits and pieces needed for it: organza ribbon, metallic ribbon, floral gems, sequins, beads, quilting cotton, Bondaweb, plain and variegated perles and plain and variegated stranded cottons were sitting in small and large piles, waiting to be put together.

And then there was another thing. The top and bottom of the mug are worked in appliqué; to do that, you first trace the parts onto Bondaweb, iron that onto the bits of coloured fabric, cut out the parts, remove the paper backing and sew the parts onto the ground fabric. This is fine if a) you have half a day or so and b) you have an iron. The latter could probably be arranged, but the process would eat heavily into the hour and a half we have available. The only workable solution was to iron and cut both the mug parts myself and pre-attach one of them. And because there were twelve kits to prepare, and because Bondaweb is double-sided, I decided to iron rather than sew on the bottom parts. And here they are (well, one of each colour):

Pre-attaching part of the mug

Afterwards I thought that actually this could be turned into a teaching moment – for although some people may enjoy the process of sewing on the appliqué parts with small invisible stitches, others may just want to get on with the decorative embroidery and the embellishments. This shows the students both options when doing this sort of stitching: hand-sew the entire thing, or iron on the coloured fabric for a quicker finish.

So far so good. The ground fabric for the workshop kits had to be cut rather larger than I would normally have done because the K&S people will provide 4″ hoops or 8″ hoops but not 6″ hoops, so I decided to transport the twelve fabric squares with their attached half mugs separately rather than having to do a lot of folding to fit them into the kit bags, but otherwise I could start putting everything together. Almost.

Here is one of the Mug kits. Like all my kits, except for the goldwork one (which comes in a sturdy cardboard box), it comes in a roughly A5-sized grip seal bag. This works because the chart packs are printed on A4 paper which, folded double, is A5. Folded instrcutions, fabric, threads, any other bits and bobs, needles, finishing materials – it all fits beautifully in my standard bags.

The appliqué Mug kit

Except for the envelope that goes with the card that is used to finish the appliqué mug. The card itself will fit, just. But the envelope won’t.

The contents of the kit, minus envelope

For the workshop that’s not a problem; I’ll just keep both the ground fabric and the envelopes separate from the kits, and hand them out at the start of the class. But what if I want to put the Mug kit on general sale? For that it’s over to you!

When buying a kit like this, would you prefer it to come in a slightly larger grip seal bag which would be a little, erm, baggy, but which would have all the parts of the kit in it? Or would you prefer a snug bag with the envelope sent separately (not separately as in two separate parcels, obviously, but outside the kit bag)? Your feedback, either in the comments or by email, would be really helpful to decide on the best way forward with the Mug.

A needle mystery

If you follow my Facebook page, you may have read that I had some trouble ordering needles for kits. The John James website would not recognise my password, would not let me reset it because my username didn’t exist, and would not let me re-register because my username did already exist. In the end I rang them and a kind lady took my order over the phone. Sorted!

JJ sell their needles in various quantities – the usual blister packs you find in the shops, envelopes of 25 (more economical) and bulk buys of 1000 (more economical still, but for now definitely overkill for my scale of kit production). I tend to go for the envelopes. My immediate reason for ordering was the fact that right in the middle of putting kits together I’d run out of the one size needed for pretty much every non-Hardanger kit I produce (#7), so I ordered plenty of those, plus a few envelopes of other sizes (#3 and #10) to make the most of the postage.

Today they arrived. General rejoicing! And then I noticed that one of the envelopes said “002”.

An order of needles

Fortunately the #3 needles had very much been a “padding” order; I would definitely be using them, but I didn’t need them for the present run of kits. Even so, I thought I’d better ring JJ about it. The phone was answered by the same lady who had taken my order. I said the needles had arrived, and thanked her for sending them out so promptly, and then mentioned that one of the packets was the wrong size. “The number 2s?” she asked. It turns out the writing on the order had got smudged before she could put it together, and she couldn’t read the last size. She couldn’t get me on the phone and as I’d said the order was urgent she’d decided to send it out with her closest guess, which unfortunately turned out to be the wrong one. She promised she’d send out a packet of 3s to replace them, and told me not to worry about sending the 2s back, but just to pass them on to someone else if I couldn’t use them.

Very good service, you’ll agree. But then I thought I might as well check how different size #2 was from #3; after all, if they were’t too much bigger they would probably work. I took out a needle and held it next to one of my #3. It looked exactly the same. I remembered there was a size guide on the JJ website, and that some sizes of needles were actually identical – perhaps this was the case for #2 and #3? But no, it wasn’t; #2 should be the same as #1, distinctly larger than #3 and #4.

Needle sizes

And yet they looked the same. Unless I borrowed my husband’s micrometer I couldn’t be sure of the needles’ diameters, but I could easily measure their lengths. They were both 45mm long. Somehow the packet of size #2 I was sent by mistake for a size #3, actually contained size #3 needles. Perhaps sometimes two wrongs do make a right! I rang JJ to tell them not to send me the replacement packet, turned the 2 into a 3 on the envelope and tucked it into my needle box with the other size #3 packets. I love a happy ending smiley.

Needlepoint coasters

When Mabel’s Fancies first branched out into selling what you might call physical items, I decided that I would only offer things which I enjoyed using myself. No wonder then that first on the list were my trusty titanium squissors, but they were soon followed by the acrylic coasters which I must by now have used to mount several hundred pieces of Hardanger and cross stitch (most of them for charity or as gifts, I hasten to add, just in case you are now picturing my house groaning under a load of embroidered coasters).

Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design Cross stitch kitten coasters Cross stitch initial coasters Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design

Last week I was contacted by a lady who wanted to know whether they were suitable for needlepoint. Now Hardanger is relatively chunky, and although the coasters aren’t deep enough for anything with beads I have successfully mounted designs that use sequins – but I had to admit that I’d never actually tried them with needlepoint. However, you may remember that some time ago I stitched some small needlepoint experiments, so I promised her I’d try them out and let her know.

I unearthed the needlepoint pieces, and found a coaster which I’d set aside because it had a slight blemish so I couldn’t sell it. I was ready to go!

Two pieces of needlepoint and a coaster

I started with what was likely to be the less challenging one to fit into the coaster, stranded silk on Congress cloth. Because of the stiffness and openness of the canvas, I could trim it simply by cutting along the edges of the coaster’s backing plate.

Trimming the canvas to size

Having pulled the canvas a bit to get it properly square, I popped it into the coaster and snapped the backing in place without a problem. One down, one to go.

The finished coaster

The second piece was worked in crewel wool on 18 mesh canvas, and is much chunkier than the black version. In particular the Rhodes stitch in the centre looked like it might cause trouble, especially because it is almost as high on the back of the canvas as it is on the front. Double trouble! I wasn’t very hopeful, but I cut it to size and fitted it into the coaster recess.

A chunky Rhodes stitch may cause problems Rhodes stitches are chunky both sides

Now for the backing. I pushed in one end. I pushed in the other. The first end popped out again. I applied pressure to the whole back at the same time, spreading fingers to push in all four edges simultaneously. It stayed put. Hurray! Not a complete success, as the Rhodes stitch looks decidedly flattened (and that’s without any added backing fabric or Vilene), but it does fit.

A slightly squashed coaster

Much will depend on the type of needlepoint this lady does, so I sent her photographs of the two finished coasters plus information about the materials used in the stitching, to help her decide whether the coasters might work for her. But whether or not they will, it was an interesting exercise – and as I can’t sell the coaster or use it for kits anyway, I put the black canvas needlepoint back in so that I’ve got another decorative coaster to use.

Thoroughbred goldwork

Months before I decided to do the RSN Certificate, my husband gave me an early birthday present in the form of a three-day goldwork class at Hampton Court Palace. As you may know, I take my Certificate classes at the Rugby branch, which is decidedly less glamorous. On the whole I don’t mind, as it’s a lot easier to get to from where we live, and most of the time you’re looking at your embroidery, not the view. Even so, there is something a bit special about doing your needlework in such grand surroundings. Just to give you an idea, here is the view from one of the classroom windows, and a view from the Palace Gardens up to our classroom. Impressive, huh smiley?

View from one of the windows Our classroom seen from the Palace Gardens

Strictly speaking the class wasn’t goldwork but metal thread embroidery, as the design includes silver, copper and several coloured metallics. The kit was presented in this rather stylish purple bag, and there were seat frames to use for the duration of the course. Unfortunately, this was the week of the heatwave, so we were all very grateful that several fans were also provided!

The course kit

The seat frame proved a bit of a problem; as I have mentioned before, the tilt on the RSN seat frames does not really suit me when wearing a skirt or dress – and on this occasion I was not only wearing a dress, but a calf-length one at that. Fortunately we were all girls together, so I hitched up my skirts as much as was necessary and managed to use the frame fairly successfully.

The title of the class was “Queen’s Silks”, and the subject a stylised racehorse with its jockey wearing the Queen’s colours. I had worked out from the picture on the RSN website that I was familiar with most of the techniques used, so I would mainly use the class for improving in those, but there was one which I had not used before and had been wanting to try: S-ing. That wouldn’t be tackled until day three, however. Day one started with soft string padding. First we waxed an enormous length of yellow soft cotton, then cut enough lengths to fill the shape that would be worked in raised cutwork (part of the tail). In order to get the shape, you start couching down in the middle and work towards the end, cutting threads as you go (always from the bottom of the bundle) and keeping the cut tapered by pointing the scissors towards the tip of the shape.

Soft string padding Bending back the threads you want to keep The underlying threads are cut to a taper

You might think that, having completed the padding, we would now cover it, but no – that too would have to wait until day three. First we moved on to couched Jap. Normally you would couch this in a thread as close to the colour of the metal as possible, to keep it almost invisible, but in this design we used coloured couching threads to add shading. I think Helen McCook, the tutor (who actually wrote the RSN goldwork book!) called this Italian shading, but I’m not absolutely sure. It is slightly different from or nué in that the couching stitches are placed in a regular bricking pattern, and the shading is done with the colours only, not with the density or openness of the couching. We used three shades of brown (the first two aren’t easy to distinguish in the pictures) and a golden yellow may be added when I complete the shape.

Couched Jap - the first couching colour Couched Jap - the second couching colour is added Couched Jap - working with the third couching colour

I am always fascinated by the back of goldwork projects. Normally I don’t look at back of my own or anyone else’s work; I’m happy if the front looks respectable, and the back is just neat enough not to impinge on the front (by means of bulky knots or travelling threads visibly shining through). But goldwork is, I think, unique (except perhaps for stumpwork) in that the back gives very little indication of what the front looks like – a fact which once made a friend use one of my embroideries as a Sunday school illustration smiley.

The back of the work

The next few steps were small and relatively quick: bits of metallic kid leather (the picture shows one of the four hooves and in later pictures you’ll notice the jockey’s cap has been worked in kid as well), two spangles to indicate the pivoting points of the legs (not quite the right word, but I’m sure you know what I mean), and a diamanté gem to give the horse a slightly scary eye. Spangles can be attached in several ways, some more elaborate than others, but here we went for two simple straight stitches. The gem was in a metal claw setting with holes, so it could be attached much like a button.

A kid hoof is added Some spangles, a gem and rococo

In the second picture above you’ll have noticed some wavy copper threads in one of the tail sections, couched but not yet plunged. This is rococo, and depending on which supplier’s website you visit or what goldwork book you read is can be spelled with what looks like a random number of “c”s, randomly distributed (roccoco, rococco, roccocco). I’ve decided to go with rococo on the grounds that it saves key presses, looks less complicated, and is the recognised spelling for the period after which it is presumably named.

As day two was drawing to a close, Helen asked us to make sure we had completed the gold pearl purl outline of one of the tail sections, so that the next morning we could start on the chipping straight away. I was finishing plunging my copper rococo, but decided that as couching pearl purl is one of the quicker goldwork techniques (although “quick” will always be a relative term in goldwork) I could probably squeeze in the outline before we had to pack up for the day. Bad move. It was nearly four o’clock, we’d been going since 10am, and it was about 33 degrees in the shade. About three-quarters into the outline, I pulled the couching thread with too little control and kinked the metal.

Pearl purl with a kink

It was just a little kink. A tiny kink even. Could I just leave it? Helen had a look and advised me to leave it until I’d completed the chipwork (filling the shape with small bits of hollow metal attached like beads) to see whether that would draw the eye away from it. The next morning I came in fairly early, looked at the pearl purl and realised it would forever nag me if I left it, no matter what the effect of the chipping was going to be. I took out the outline and redid it, and felt much happier. On to the chips!

The pearl purl outline redone Chipwork

After the chipping it was time to start on the cutwork. This was going to cover the soft string padding in the tail. It’s a tricky technique because the purl (in this case a smooth purl, which is round and shiny; it also comes in rough, which is round and matt – bright check, which is angular and shiny – and wire check, which is angular and matt) has to be cut into pieces (or chips) of exactly the right length to cover the padding, and as the padded shape is not the same size throughout, the chips have to vary in length as well. If the chips are not the right length, you will either have padding showing at the edges (if they are too short), or the metal will buckle and distort (if they are too long). It requires tongue-sticking-out-of-the-corner-of-your-mouth concentration, the patience of Job, and the willingness to cut three or four lengths to get it just right (until such time as you develop an eye for it and get them right first time).

Starting the cutwork

Helen said I’d managed a nice crisp edge and good coverage, which was a more positive assessment than I’d feared – towards the tip I noticed a few slight gaps where I’d gradually changed the angle of the chips as instructed, but I was encouraged when I looked at the RSN Goldwork Guide later and saw similar minute gaps in one of the stitched models pictured there. And thinking about it I can see that unless all the chips are parallel, you’re bound to get a little room between them at one end. Even so, I’ll see if I can keep them just a little closer when working along the other half of the padded bit of tail.

Half a tail covered

The last technique we were shown was the one I’d never tried before, called S-ing (pronounced “essing”). It looks like stem stitch in metal purls, but because you can’t take the purls through the fabric you can’t work it as you would stem stitch. Instead, you cut lots of identical chips of purl (and I can tell you that cutting identical lengths is not that much easier than cutting graded lengths; fortunately “almost identical” seems to work reasonably well) and work each little curved bit separately.

The chips should be a little longer than your stitch length, to give them room to accomodate the chips on either side. Having attached the first one, you come up about half a stitch length ahead of the previous stitch, thread on a chip, and angle the needle half-way underneath the previous chip so you go down into the fabric where the last-but-one chip ends (this is what creates the impression of a continuous metal stem stitch). Pull the working thread through very carefully until the chip gently snuggles underneath the previous chip. Half chips at the beginning and end make the line look even. I really like the look of this stitch and will definitely use it again!

S-ing; lots of identical cut lengths Taking the needle down underneath the previous piece of purl The new piece of purl lies flat Pull, and the new piece of purl curls under the previous piece

And that was as far as we got. When I showed it to my sister-in-law, with whom I was staying, she was a little surprised and asked “that’s three days’ work?” – but when I explained some of the techniques and what was involved in getting them just right I think she was probably surprised that I’d got as much as this done smiley. When I got home I re-hooped the work – in class we were working in a 10″ hoop, but I found that I could just fit the fabric into a 12″ one, which gives a little bit more wiggle room at the edges. I have no idea when I’ll manage to finish it, what with the Certificate and getting the SAL ready, but it’ll be a very enjoyable project to do bits of work on in between all the other things.

The state of things at the end of the three days

Covering a book

One of the topics mentioned in my email correspondence with the Lady in America (see last week’s FoF) was Lviv, and particularly the way it was turned into a Bible cover. Composing a reply to her I was about to include a link to the FoF post about how the Bible cover (usable for other books as well, of course) was put together, when I found that I never wrote one! This was a bit puzzling, as I remembered the post as distinctly as the one about turning Douglas into a pen holder.

Lviv Bible cover, front Lviv Bible cover, back

Still, no amount of searching for terms like “cover” “Lviv” or “Bible” brought up a post about this particular finishing process, so in the end I was forced to acknowledge that my distinctly-remembered FoF was probably non-existent. Time to remedy that!

For some reason I seem to have saved some of the pictures I took of this finishing method at a much lower resolution than the others, which is why the first four are smaller. Nor do I seem to have photographed the very first stages. It’s rather too late to remedy either of these things, but I hope that even so you will find the sequence of images clear enough to show what I did.

First I measured the book I wanted to cover and drew a diagram with the sizes. I added one centimetre to the height of the cover, but used the exact width (front cover + spine + back cover). Then I decided on the width of the flaps (I went for 5cm, but for smaller or larger books you may want to adapt that) and added that to the overall size. To give a general example, if the book is 20cm x 12.5cm and the spine is 5cm wide, the “book-rectangle” would be 20cm x 30cm; add 5cm either side for the flap, and your final rectangle comes to 20cm x 40cm.

Now I had to work out where on the cover I wanted the stitching to end up, and then backstitch a rectangle of the size I had calculated around my stitching. Because I used two pieces of stitching I had to do two “half” rectangles and whipstitch the two together so they made one big rectangle; that’s what you see in the picture.

Backstitch around the stitching according to the measurements you calculated

The next step is to trim the fabric to about 1.5cm from the backstitch.

Trim the fabric around the backstitching

Here’s the back, to show you how the two bits of fabric were connected using whipstitch – If I did this again I would work out the positions beforehand and stitch front and back on one piece of fabric.

The two parts whipstitched together

I folded over all the edges and pressed them with an iron. The top and bottom folds were stuck down with double-sided hem interfacing; the spine and the flaps were reinforced with regular iron-on interfacing.

Fold the hems and reinforce spine and flaps

For the flaps I used trusty old whipstitch again (shown close up in the first picture; for that project, a bookmark, I worked the stitch in two colours). Fold over the front flap and whipstitch first the top and then the bottom: using the same sort of thread you used for the backstitch, bring the needle up between the two backstitches on either side of the fold, then take your needle underneath the first stitch on the “flap side” and the first stitch on the “book side”. You only go underneath the stitches, you don’t take the needle through the fabric. Go on taking your needle underneath the next backstitch on the flap side and its opposite number on the book side until the flap is fully connected. Do the back flap in the same way.

Whipstitching, close-up Whipstitch the flaps in place The finished cover

And that’s it smiley. All that is left to insert the book!

Changing suppliers

I don’t like change. This may sound odd coming from someone who changed country, job and marital status in one fell swoop some 14 years ago, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Even the knowledge that quite a lot of change in my life has been for the better, and that I am fully enjoying the new (but by now familiar) situation, does not make me embrace change as it happens. And recently I’ve been faced with three disconcerting changes in suppliers. But is there a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel(s)?

Well, let’s start with the first tunnel: Sew & So. Anyone in this country (and many abroad) who does needlework will at least have heard of Sew & So, even if they’ve never bought anything from them. They are the go-to place for all basic supplies and quite a few not-so-basic ones; just to illustrate this, they stock both a wide range of standard Zweigart fabrics and a good selection of hand-dyed and silk threads. So to see the following notice after I’d just put some things in my shopping basket the day before (you can still see them there, but I can’t access them any more) came as rather a shock:

Sew and So has closed

In a way it was a shock-in-stages – last year they completely changed their website, making it much less user-friendly, and although there were plenty of comments and suggestions from customers on their Facebook page none of these seemed to be taken any notice of. Last month they suddenly closed temporarily for a “change of ownership”, opening again a few days later, so all seemed well. Then, looking for the RSN’s online courses (which they offer in partnership with Sew & So) after a conversation with a lady in America, I found they were no longer listed. I should perhaps have twigged it might be something to do with the Sew & So side of things, but I didn’t. Not until that notice! On their website and Facebook page they say that they are “securing a new home for you”, but no-one seems sure what that means. Tunnel #1 is very dark indeed.

Now for the second tunnel. In quite a few of the kits I offer, the projects are finished by mounting them in aperture cards. The freestyle Wildflower Garden, the two Shisha designs, the raised Christmas Wreath, the embellished Butterfly Wreath, the goldwork Flowers & Bee, plus a couple of workshop projects that aren’t for sale on the website yet – all made into cards. I like that way of finishing because it is relatively quick and you end up with something you can use.

As I have neither a suitable die-cutter nor the time or inclination to produce the cards myself, I buy them in. And for the past few years I’ve been getting all my cards from Craft Creations, who had an enormous range as well as the option to buy as few or as many as you needed of any size, cut and colour. Ideal.

Aperture cards from Craft Creations Craft Creations' value range

And then I got an email announcing that Craft Creations had been taken over by a new owner. With slight trepidation I checked the website. There was hardly anything there.

At this point I rushed into the craft room to check my stock of aperture cards, and found to my relief that there was a fairly good selection in my stash to tide me over, if the tiding-over period wasn’t going to be too long. I contacted the company and a kind lady told me that she was fairly sure all the card types I was looking for would be back in stock in time, as they would be adding more and more of the previous range to the website again, but that it might take time because they were trying to source materials themselves. Fair enough, I would exercise patience and have another look in a few months’ time. I did. Most of the cards I needed are still not there; the one cut and size that is there, is available in limited colours; and only in packs of twelve. Clearly it was time for another email.

This time I was told that they were still sourcing materials, but that in any case they would no longer be selling individual cards. That in itself need not be an insurmountable problem; it merely means that I will have to limit the number of colours I use for the various kits. Some come in a limited range already – the Wildflower Garden in red, blue and cream, the Christmas Wreath in red and green, the No Place Like Home workshop in red, green and blue. I’ll have to have a good look at the thread colours I use in the other kits and pick the two or three card colours that will work with most thread combinations.

Another possibility is to source the cards elsewhere, but unfortunately I have not found any other company with the range that Craft Creations used to do. There is a company who cut cards to order; they don’t offer all the exact sizes and colours I’m using now, they are more expensive, and they too require a minimum order, in their case at least nine of every different size/cut/colour combination. Still, they may be a useful option to fall back on if Craft Creations doesn’t come up with the goods.

So yes, there is a little light at the end of Tunnel #2, but I hope it grows brighter quickly as I’m beginning to run out of some of the cards!

As for the third tunnel, you may remember the picture below – Pearsall’s crewel wool starter pack. I found out about their lovely Heathway Milano crewel wool while trying to find the silks I used to buy from them, only to be told that they no longer did them (see what I mean? change everywhere! even though in this case it had a positive spin). Carol was absolutely lovely and looked through several available starter packs for me to see which would best suit my requirements, and I have bought a fair few skeins of wool from her since.

Wool from Pearsall's starter pack

Unfortunately my crewel Rabbit & Carnations piece showed that there were lamentable gaps in my collection of Heathway Milano crewel wool, so when a bit of website maintenance (I’m nothing if not versatile) brought in a little extra cash, I was off to the Pearsall’s website with whoops of delight before you could say HTML. Mabel may be pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to stash, but if any of my non-needlework activities can lend a helping hand, I’m all for it!

Once on the website I was so engrossed in the delightful problem of deciding which colours to pick as definites and which as possibles that I initially missed a narrow red banner at the top; it bore the ominous message “Pearsalls Embroidery is closing down. Purchase of goods is disabled. Click here for more information.” Clicking as instructed brought up a message to the effect that the business was being taken over by Catkin Crown Textile Studio, with an email address.

Now I knew that Carol was thinking of selling the business, but I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. And I was worried whether Catkin Crown would carry on with the lovely wools. Time for yet another email.

And hurray, light! Steve & Hazel, who are Catkin Crown, turned out to be extremely helpful people. They assured me that although they will be adding all sorts of exciting products to the shop’s range of supplies, they are very keen on keeping the Heathway line going, and in fact it (and twill fabric) will be their core product range to begin with. They also said that although the new website was taking a bit longer than expected, if I could send them a list of the colours I wanted they’d see which ones they had in stock, and they’d be happy to do a special order for me.

So I did, and they did, and look:

A parcel from Catkin Crown Twill and Heathway Milano wool The new wools sorted by colour

Tunnel #3 is going to be just fine smiley.

What does it all mean?

What do embroidery designs mean? Well, sometimes I don’t think they mean anything much – we stitch a daisy, a mountain lake, a cat, the Girl with the Pearl Earring, the Tardis, because we like the picture. Sometimes there is a bit more to it; the Tardis might be more than just something from the tv series you enjoyed, it may remind you of watching that series with a loved one who is no longer with you; the daisy may have trumped the rose and the violet because your name happens to be Daisy; the cat may be the spitting (or hissing) image of your own pet.

You might think there isn’t much room for that sort of thing in the design I did for my RSN Certificate course, because the subject is decided for you; everyone who does the crewel module stitches a Tree of Life. But that leaves plenty of room for personal input! So what are the reasons and stories behind the elements in my version of the Jacobean tree?

First there’s the tree itself. As some of you will know, I’ve been working on a Tree of Life design on and off for the past few years, and it has now turned itself into a SAL. That tree is not Jacobean, but it does share the stylised nature of the RSN design, albeit in a much simpler form. I love the idea of the Tree of Life, which for me is firmly rooted in the word picture painted of the New Jerusalem in the Bible, and so the opportunity of doing a second Tree was always going to be an attractive one.

The complete design, transferred and with some stitching done

Staying with the flora of the design for the moment, the most noticeable thing is probably the enormous flower at the top. I love the complete lack of proportions in Jacobean designs, they lead to some hilarious pictures – not just the historical squirrels-half-the-size-of-lions, but my poor Rabbit threatened by an enormous Carnation. Because I am Dutch, I thought a tulip would be a good flower to incorporate into my Certificate piece, and I found a particularly beautiful example in a design by Shelagh Amor in the A-Z of Crewel Embroidery. Because of copyright I was going to change it fairly radically, but Angela assured me that as the Certificate piece is a) for my own use only and b) for educational purposes, I could actually use parts of existing designs. Even so, I changed the fillings and also added a frill as I wanted an area that would work for buttonhole stitch with a detached buttonhole edge. In the original tulip there is a lot of orange in the filling stitches; that didn’t quite work within my colour scheme, but the outlines and the fringe will be worked in the two shades of coral in my palette, which should be orange enough to emphasise the Dutch connection.

Carnation frightening a rabbit Shelagh Amor's tulip design The tulip in my RSN Certificate design

Originally I meant to base my large flower on the rather ancient carpet that adorns the children’s corner in the Coffee Shop room at our local Methodist Church, whose chapel we (the local Baptists) are sharing while we are rebuilding our own church. As part of the chapel into which we have been welcomed so warmly, to me it represents the unity of all Christians (I admit that is rather a lot to make an old carpet mean, but it does to me). But then the large tulip rather took over. Even so, I still wanted to use that carpet, and in the end I used the part indicated by the orange arrow as the inspiration for the small “flower” (for want of a better word) on the left of the design.

The carpet on which the small flower is based The small flower as it appears in the Certificate design

Many RSN Certificate Jacobean pieces (Google the phrase, you’ll find lots of pictures!) have some sort of hillock or hillocks at the bottom, and that’s where the design ends. Mine could easily have ended there too. But I wanted a river. Or some sort of water at least. I’ve written about the significance rivers have for me in a previous FoF, but the short version is that they remind me of my mother, who at the end of her life was greatly comforted by the image of the River of Life. According to that description of the New Jerusalem I mentioned earlier, it is where the Tree of Life grows. How could I not have a river?

The river

As an added bonus it gives me the opportunity to use a stitch I first saw in an embroidery by my mother-in-law, fly stitch couching.

Fly stitch couching

Let’s move from flora and inanimate nature to fauna. The brief for the Certificate design says that it must contain at least one animal. Well, that was never going to be enough – I love adding animals to things. It’s only because I thought of it too late that there isn’t a web with a spider in it attached to the tree somewhere!

The first animal is based on a poem by A. A. Milne. It’s called “The Four Friends” and it’s in either When We Were Very Young or Now We Are Six. It contains my favourite line ever from children’s poetry: “James gave the huffle of a snail in danger, and nobody heard him at all”. Over the years, many leisurely moments have been pleasurably spent trying to imagine the sound of that huffle. James was going to be included. He needed a bit of tweaking, though. According to the poem he is “a very small snail”, something that doesn’t work very well in Jacobean embroidery. So James was bulked up a bit. He is also meant to be sitting on a brick, but any brick I tried to design was far too angular to fit in with the rest of the design. In the end I drew something that looked more like a stone, but it will be stitched in the orange shades to make it look a bit more brick-like.

The Four Friends, by Milne The snail

And finally there is the cat. Of course there is a cat. A cat inspired by Lexi, our Bengal/tabby cross, in one of her less ladylike poses – you know the one, front legs stretched full-length, backside in the air and tail curled over her back. I saw her do it in the garden while doodling initial ideas for the Certificate design and I knew I simply had to have her in there, in that pose. I sketched a quick outline, which was just as well as despite numerous attempts to sneak up on her with a camera when she was doing her stretchy pose, I was never quick enough to catch her. Then came the question of colour. In my first colour scheme, I soon realised that the cat would have to be a ginger. Not in itself a problem (Lexi disagreed on this point), as our previous cat, the lovely Alfie, was a ginger, and in fact it would be rather nice to have them both in there, the pose of one with the colour of the other. But later colour schemes actually made it more suitable for the cat to be done in browns – they aren’t quite her colours, but I hope they are close enough to pacify her a bit.

Alfie Lexi The ginger cat The tabby cat

So there you have it, a bit of background to the design I’ll be working on for the next seven or eight months. I hope I still like the various parts of it as much by the time I finish…