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.

Finally getting started on the goldwork balloon

It’s a good thing the kind gentleman at Benton & Johnson didn’t give me a deadline to work to – in fact, I may come to regret my tongue-in-cheek remark, when he said there wasn’t a deadline because this design had been on the backburner for two years, that at least I’d make sure it wouldn’t take another two years. At the rate I’m going, two years is beginning to look distinctly optimistic. I was sent the kit at the end of March, and nearly two months later where are we? Well, the silk fabric is on the Millennium frame…

In my defence, getting it mounted was a bit of a saga on account of the calico backing which turned out to be anything but rectangular. But with the help of the Millennium frame and a spray bottle of water, I got that sorted out and last time you saw the project it looked like this:

The silk pinned onto the now much straighter calico

I hadn’t quite decided yet whether to attach only the top and bottom of the silk, or all four sides, but I thought I’d start with the top and bottom and then see how well that worked. It worked quite well, but not perfectly – the silk obviously needed a little sideward pull. I had worked the top and bottom herringbone with the fabric on a slightly slack tension, but for the sides I stretched it a bit more; not quite taut as a drum with the Millennium frame stretched to its maximum reach, but definitely tight. The result: a perfectly flat piece of silk to work on.

Attaching the silk to the calico with herringbone stitch One beautifully taut piece of silk

To attach the silk I had to use the frame’s side bars at their maximum extension, but for the actual goldwork embroidery I could do with a smaller area; and I much prefer that if it’s possible because I don’t like using the frame at its full 10 inches, for fear of overstretching and damaging the mechanism. So I repositioned the calico on the rollers, cut off the excess fabric, put on the roller guards and my needle minder, and collected my faithful helper. I was ready to roll.

The fabric rearranged on the rollers, and my helper in place

So have I done any stitching at all? Well, no. But I’ve done some more preparatory work! There are a number of felt shapes to be cut out for padding. As I find it very difficult to draw on felt, I decided to make use of some thin Vilene. I traced the outlines of the felt shapes on to the glue side of the Vilene, so that when it was ironed on to the felt they would be back-to-front. This meant that the cut-out shapes, non-Vilene side up, would be the right way round. The design is not quite symmetrical, so this is important.

Tracing the felt outlines onto the back of the Vilene, right way round The Vilene ironed on to the felt, back to front The felt shapes cut out, right way round

There is some leather to cut as well, but I will leave that until it’s needed. First I’d like to get some proper stitching done on this balloon, even if it is only attaching the padding.

Finally, a few remarks on the kit so far.

  • The crease in the silk that worried me, and which I couldn’t get out completely with ironing, is a lot less noticeable when the fabric is stretched, so it should be all right.
  • The silk is generously cut, with a 2½” margin all around the design.
  • The felt, too, has plenty of room for all the parts.
  • The felt outlines are numbered, and the instructions very clearly explain in which order they need to be attached. They explicitly point out that it is unusual for the small shape to be sewn on top of the larger one, so that stitchers who have done some padding before won’t get confused by this.
  • According to the instructions, the two “half-balloon” shapes go underneath the full balloon shape. Although this is the usual order (smaller underneath larger) in this case I didn’t expect it, as the gap between the two half shapes is there to accommodate a line of pearl purl, and I’m not sure how this will work with the full balloon shape on top. It’ll be interesting to see it develop.

Now stretch up that frame, it’s time to start stitching!

Further twill (and twilling) adventures

It’s been very interesting working on the two twill samples which Barbara at Tristan Brooks sent me last month. The final verdict? I like them both! But that’s not particularly helpful, is it?

So let’s look at them in a bit more detail. I described in an earlier post how the different twills took micron pen transfers differently; now to find out whether they take stitching in crewel wool differently too. First up was the Scottish oatmeal twill. It’s quite a heavy fabric compared to anything I’ve ever stitched on – Lizzie at Laurelin Embroidery described it to me as “a heavy cloth suitable for soft furnishings” and it definitely feels stiffer and a bit coarser than evenweave or plainweave linen. In order to minimize wear on the crewel wool (Appleton’s, which happened to be the only type in my stash) I used a size 22 chenille needle, which feels quite big but works well. The fabric has a nice close weave, closer than the Normandie, and it was easy to pierce it exactly where I wanted to, which makes for accurate stitching (well, as accurate as the stitcher…). I’m not sure I’d use this with silks or goldwork, but I do like it with wool; even using wool that I don’t particularly like!

You may ask why I’m stitching with wools I don’t much like. Good question. It’s because when I wanted to buy some crewel wools to experiment with, several years ago, Appleton’s was all I could find. It also comes in lots of colours, which is convenient, and it isn’t too expensive. But it suffers from varying thickness, getting quite worryingly thin sometimes, and it pills, bunching up when you come to the end of a thread. I have good hopes that the Pearsall’s wool I treated myself to the other day will be nicer to work with.

Back to the project for a moment, and to the non-fabric elements. The design is Kelly Fletcher’s Bloomin’ Marvellous 11, and I used stem stitch (the stem), padded satin stitch (the green bit under the flower), buttonhole stitch (light yellow), chain stitch (the petals), and finally, because the petals looked a bit empty, I added dark yellow lines of Palestrina stitch. I varied the distance between the knots to see which I liked best, but I think they’d all work depending on the effect you want.

Bloomin' Marvellous 11 on Scottish twill - does it need anything more? Bloomin' Marvellous with a few more lines added

The next project was Bloomin’ Marvellous 4. I’ll get the stitches out of the way first: stem stitch (the stem and the outline of the leaf), loop stitch (inside of the leaf), two shades of buttonhole stitch “slotted” into each other (green ring), French knots (yellow centre), chain stitch and lattice work. The chain stitch and the buttonhole stitch, by the way, show how varying in thickness the wool is.

As for the fabric, it’s Legacy Linen twill as used and recommended by Mary Corbet. It’s a much lighter fabric than the Scottish twill, both in weight and in colour. It also feels smoother and more pliable. But like the Scottish twill it is a close weave which makes it easy to place stitches exactly where they should go, and in spite of being lighter it has enough body to take the stitching well without distorting or puckering. (Both fabrics take unpicking well, too.) Because of its smoother, lighter look I can see myself using this with other threads besides wool, making it a bit more versatile than the Scottish twill. But as I said at the beginning, I like them both and will hopefully use them both again.

Bloomin' Marvellous 4 on Legacy Linen Twill, half done Bloomin' Marvellous 4 completed

Incidentally, have you heard of “twilling”? Nothing to do with twill, which is what I first thought, but a type of stitching used mainly by quilters, apparently. It consists of outlines stitched in Palestrina stitch, originally white on white or at least tone on tone (much like Hardanger), but now also worked in colour. As the outline stitch used is knotted I’m not sure it would work for very detailed pictorial designs, but perhaps a Celtic knot pattern or something similarly abstract? Mary Corbet does beautiful things with it on an ecclesiastical linen pouch, outlining a cross. Definitely a stitch to play with!

An elephant unravels – almost

Well, the wedding was festive, the bride lovely, the bridegroom handsome, the weather wet but nobody let that get them down, and the Wedding Elephant was finished in time – though not quite as originally intended.

All went well initially. The elephant itself, including the wording, the date and the decorative lattice, was finished on Tuesday, and apart from the placement of one of the flowers I was quite happy with the result.

The Wedding Elephant finished

On Wednesday evening I wouldn’t have any time to stitch, so I had to snatch some time during the day to do the finishing. A line of pale yellow stem stitch as a border, then cut 3-4mm around that and unravel to make a fringe, then sew onto a card using four wooden floral buttons. That way, no glue or other adhesive would be needed, which might be better if the happy couple decided to keep the card for any length of time. I know that stem stitch (or back stitch, which is what it looks like on the back) isn’t the most obvious stitch to keep fabric from fraying, but as it wouldn’t be handled much I figured it would be secure enough. That was the plan.

A stem stitch border Cutting around the border

And then it all went horribly wrong…

Unravelling stitches

There was no way of saving the stem stitch border, so it had to come out, in the process unravelling the fabric a bit more. A new border was out of the question – not only was there no time, but the fabric was not stable enough to stand stitching so close to the edge. It would have to be double-sided sticky tape after all. This was duly applied to the fabric, right against the fringe, but as so often happens when one thing goes wrong, it now seemed impossible to get anything right. The sticky tape stuck to bits of the card that it shouldn’t stick to, and unpeeling the fabric, however carefully done, only served to curl up the fringed edges and destabilise it even further, until I was a tearful soggy mess trying to think of a place to buy a last-minute wedding card.

Did I tell you that my husband is an engineer and likes solving problems? (He is also very good at comforting hugs and cups of tea.) He suggested Vilene, or iron-on interfacing. So I carefully ironed the elephant flat (sounds like quite an undertaking, doesn’t it?) and applied the Vilene to the back. The rectangle of fabric was by now not at all rectangular anymore, and no amount of ironing could restore its 90 degree angles, so the fringe got snipped off and the fabric trimmed without taking too much notice of the grain. I sewed on the buttons (niece’s stuffed elephant business is called Nelly Buttons, so I felt buttons were practically obligatory) with one of the greens used in the embroidery, then stuck the whole thing to the front of a bright yellow card using double-sided tape, and here it is:

The finished wedding card

If you didn’t know what it was originally meant to look like, you probably wouldn’t notice that this was a last-minute panic alternative finish smiley. And now I’m working on a second, initial-less elephant for my own archives; I was going to do this one outline-first, but in the end decided to do it lattice-first after all, as it does seem to work better in spite of the away-knot spaghetti. The elephant turns out to be quite a relaxing project when there isn’t a wedding looming!

How to unwonk calico and tackle an elephant

Last weekend, apart from setting up the Wedding Elephant, I also tried out my idea for straightening out the wonky calico backing for the Benton & Johnson goldwork balloon. First I sprayed the fabric with water from the dehumidifier (which I understand is like distilled water), then I drew two pencil lines along the grain a little way in from the short sides, and used these as guide lines to attach it to the rollers of the Millennium frame. As I started tightening the frame, you could clearly see how warped the fabric was. I tightened it as much as I could, and left it to dry overnight with the tension on. The next day I loosened the tension abit, and I was very pleased to see how much it had straightened out! When fully stretched the sides of the calico go a bit concave, but a little in from the sides it is really quite straight; I pinned the silk to the not-quite-taut calico with short pins put in perpendicularly so as not to distort the fabric, and will sew it on next weekend. I haven’t quite decided yet whether to attach only the top and bottom, or all four sides; will have a think about that.

The calico has been mounted, and is clearly warped Straightened out The silk pinned onto the now much straighter calico

My other project for the weekend was the Wedding Elephant. In fact I set up two elephants – one with and one without initials. I’m thinking of offering the elephant as a chart pack some time, and it would of course be easier to have it without initials so anyone could use it; I might offer the option of having one or two initials designed especially. Do you think stitchers would appreciate the option, or would they rather do their own thing with the initials?

The non-initial elephant will have my own wedding date on it, and be worked in apple green, yellow and a corally pink, all from Chameleon’s Shades of Africa range (rather appropriate for an elephant, come to think of it smiley). But priority must of course go to Susie & James’ wedding elephant, to be finished by Thursday (and no opportunity to stitch tomorrow evening as it is our Small Group meeting). This one is done in Rainbow Gallery Splendor silks, and I must say they are lovely to work with on this sort of embroidery! By the way, the card and the wooden flower buttons are my finishing idea; I wanted something that would look decorative should they wish to frame and display it, without presenting them with a framed fait accompli.

The Wedding Elephant set up, with Splendor silks An alternative elephant, with Chameleon silks

It’s a bit scary to try things out for the first time on a wedding project – in this case having lattice work surrounded by stem stitch outlines. I decided to do the lattice first, and with hindsight this was not good idea; with no other stitching in place there was nowhere to fasten on and off, so I had to use away knots, which produced quite a spaghetti of unsecured threads at the back, waiting for some stem stitch to be woven into. On the other hand, having done the lattice first it is easier to go over bits of it where they cross the curly bits of the letters or the outline of the ear; it would be a pain to have to stop and start a laid thread for such a tiny break. Perhaps I could take the laid thread underneath the stem-stitched outline when it crosses a single line rather than a voided shape. The second elephant hasn’t got initials but I could try it where the lattice crosses the ear.

The lattice has been laid ...but not yet secured!

On the whole I’m happy with how it’s shaping up. The purple outline is a bit dark, but at least it stands out well. My only niggle so far is that somehow the lettering has turned out a bit more uneven in stitch than it was in pencil…

Getting on with the outlines and the lettering

Pearsall’s, and disappearing silks

Some years ago I picked up a small collection of vintage silks made by Pearsall’s Embroidery, called Filofloss. They were stranded, flattish silks with a lovely sheen, made during the 1920s and 30s as far as I can remember. Lovely, and unfortunately discontinued. But Pearsall’s continued with a different stranded silk, Filoselle, which I used for the stems and the blue flower in Mary Corbett’s small cross design. It has more twist than Filofloss, and is a little more springy, but it has the same lovely sheen. Unfortunately, despite the label shown on Pearsall’s home page, Filoselle is no more. When I spoke to Carol at Pearsall’s to ask whether they would be at the Knitting & Stitching Show she explained that the silks had been very much the domain of her business partner John, who sadly died in 2012. Since then, all their silks apart from surgical silks have been phased out.

What they do still do is crewel wool. After my recent re-acquaintance with Appleton’s (about which more when I post about my twill experiments) I felt I would really like to try a crewel wool that doesn’t have thin bits which make one’s stitching look more irregular than it needs to, that doesn’t pill, or fluff, or untwist. Serinde over at the Cross Stitch Forum suggested either Renaissance Dyeing or Pearsall’s Heathway Milano crewel wool.

There is a lot to be said for Renaissance Dyeing’s wool. For one thing, it’s a lot cheaper than Pearsall’s. But Pearsall’s has a wider range of colours, and these are much more conveniently laid out on their website. I’m finding it almost impossible to work out from RD’s page of wools how to put together a set of three or four matching shades of any one colour. For example, presumably Light Orange #0302 goes with Pale Orange #0301, but they are several rows apart, their pictures separated by seven completely unrelated colours; in some cases shades that are probably related are so far apart that you need to scroll from one to the other so you can’t see them together. Another thing, do you go by name or by proximity of number? Does Dark Apricot #1205 go with Light Peach #1203? I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and this confuses me. I will try and work it out because anything Serinde recommends is likely to be lovely to work with, but for now I decided to concentrate on Pearsall’s.

Because Pearsall’s have a Crewel Starter Pack – 30 skeins of wool plus two good-sized pieces of twill at a considerable discount to what it would cost to buy all the bits separately. True, you don’t get to choose the colours, but the picture seemed to indicate that there would be four shades of seven different colour families, plus black and white, which is a useful start to a collection but also varied enough to be useful without having to add to it. I decided to ring them and spoke to Carol, who was incredibly helpful. She actually went through several of the packs she had in stock to tell me what combinations they contained! Determined not to impulse-buy I said I’d go away and think about it. I did. For at least 10 minutes. Then I called back and ordered one of the starter packs. This was about three o’ clock on Friday afternoon; on Saturday the postwoman delivered this:

Wool from Pearsall's starter pack

Aren’t they gorgeous? And the picture can’t tell you how beautifully soft they are – I was fondling them for at least five minutes before putting them away for the moment. When the Wedding Elephant is done, I’ll do a Kelly Fletcher flower with some of them to see how they are to work with.

Talking of KF, I finished Bloomin’ Marvellous 7 (yes, it was on hold; but for various reasons I didn’t get round to setting up the Elephant on Saturday, so I finished this while watching the VE Day concert). Besides some Chameleon Shades of Africa silks (the two yellows) it uses some of Vikki Clayton’s Hand-Dyed Fibers premium stranded silk. A little chunkier than standard strands, and lovely to work with, but it seems Hand-Dyed Fibers is yet another brand that has ceased to exist – the website is down and although I can find references to Vikki Clayton online, I can’t find anything to indicate that she is still producing these silks. I hope not too many silks go the same route or we won’t have anything to stitch with but DMC and Anchor! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen beautiful projects created with stranded cotton, but there is just something about working with silks that is a little bit special, not to mention their place in the long history of embroidery – it would be a shame if they all went.

Bloomin' Marvellous 7 finished

Threads, satin stitch and a Wedding Elephant

The other night I had some stitching time in the evening. But *gasp* I did not stitch. Or not all the time, anyway. Instead I indulged in one of my other favourite needlework pastimes: playing with stash! Well, not playing really – re-arranging so that they are logically distributed among the various storage boxes. Useful, and very enjoyable at the same time. Not only that, but handling the threads and looking at them is a great way of getting ideas for their use.

A lot of threads and a lot of boxes

I did get some stitching done, starting on another Kelly Fletcher flower. Bloomin’ Marvellous #7 this time. For the centre I wanted padded satin stitch, but with something else added. Having considered a few options I decided not to do a split stitch outline first, but work the satin stitch by eye, staying inside the pencil line of the central circle, and then outline it afterwards in stem stitch in a lighter colour using four strands. On the whole, I’m pleased with the effect, although I think I’ll have to fit in a retrospective satin stitch where the orange arrow is in the second picture.

Kelly Fletcher's BM7, a start Satin and stem stitch flower centre

But for now, this project is on hold. It seems a bit silly to put something this small on hold – after all, how long can it take to finish? But something else came up: a wedding! Next Thursday! Well, yes, I’ll admit I knew about it a while ago, but I hadn’t really thought of anything to stitch. Until last night. The bride is my husband’s niece, and she is a wiz with fabrics and interior decorating and all that. She also makes adorable cuddly elephants, all sewn by hand and each one unique. Elephants. Now, there is something about elephants not forgetting, or in other words, remembering… Some furious scribbling later I had a small elephant with initials, a date, a motto or saying, colour suggestions (purple, green and yellow) and ideas for a filling pattern (lattice work with lazy daisy flowers). I like my Wedding Elephant!

First sketch for a Wedding Elephant The Wedding Elephant with the appropriate date and initials The Wedding Elephant, ready for any occasion

Now all I need to do is stitch it smiley.

Thoughts on wonky calico

What to do if your calico backing fabric is wonky? I mean, really wonky?

Some very wonky calico

That was one of the problems I faced as I was trying to frame up the Benton & Johnson balloon last weekend. I had carefully neatened the edges so they were all cut on the thread, and the fabric was still distinctly non-rectangular. I couldn’t see an easy solution to it, or any solution at all really, except to use it in its present off-kilter state and make the best of it, which isn’t much of a solution. But then, in the middle of the night, an idea occurred to me.

Ideas that occur to me in the middle of the night range from the usable to the frankly bizarre (the difference usually only emerging in the clear light of morning), but this one seems to me one of the better ones even now that I’m awake. What if, I wondered, I set up the calico on the Millennium frame, making sure that the horizontal grain is straight on the rollers, then sprayed it lightly and stretched it as tight as possible, leaving it to dry stretched? I’d say that any calico not straightened after that sort of treatment is beyond rescue and may have to be used up as doodle fabric.

I will try it out this weekend and report back!

Hurrah! Oh dear…

Sounds of rejoicing throughout the Figworthy home: I’ve finished Orpheus II! It is essentially a re-arranged and elongated Orpheus I, which is why I’m treating them as two variations of one design. Doesn’t the choice of colour make a difference though! And I love the subtle variegations in the Sparklies fabrics – they bring out the best in the standard DMC perles. Orpheus will go on sale tomorrow, both on its own and as part of the Ukrainian Collection together with Odessa and Lviv.

Orpheus I finished Orpheus II finished

Finishing Orpheus meant that I was now allowed to start a new project. Or perhaps even projectS – one on the Millennium frame and a few tiddly ones in hoops. The choice of project for the Millennium frame was easy: the Benton & Johnson goldwork balloon. My first step there was to attach the blue silk to a calico backing, and this proved to be more challenging than expected.

I’d done my research, studying both in books and online how various experienced stitchers attached smaller pieces of fabric to larger pieces of backing before mounting the sandwich on a frame. There were some individual variations, but on the whole it seemed to amount to this: Pin fabric to calico. Sew fabric to calico using either herringbone stitch or long and short stitches, starting from the centre of each side. Mount calico on frame. Start stitching.

Having remembered just in time first to transfer the design on to the silk, I began with step one (I’m a traditionalist at heart) and pinned the silk to the calico, making sure that the grain of both fabrics lined up. Not easy as the calico appeared to be a little crooked, and the silk hadn’t been cut straight on all sides, but I did the best I could manage. That was my first mistake – I should have straightened up the fabric before starting.

The pins make the fabrics look very bumpy

It looked terribly bumpy even before I got all the pins in, so I removed quite a few of them and made do with about four a side, equally spaced. That was very likely my second mistake. (Can you see a pattern emerging here?) Third mistake: I made my herringbones far too large, especially when I changed from the stabbing method to the sewing method halfway through.

Herringbones that are far too large

Perhaps if I just put it on the Millennium frame and tighten it up, it’ll miraculously go flat and taut? Alas, no.

Even the Millennium frame can't put the tension right on that

At that point I decided to give up and unpick the whole thing. My husband reminded me that there were daffodils to be dead-headed in the front garden, and that I had declared an intention to attack the virulent ground elder that threatens to smother everything else in the back garden, so I went out into the sunshine and got myself some virtuously aching muscles. Then I came back in and did what I should have done in the first place, tidied up the edges of my fabrics. You do this by pulling out threads until you’ve got a straight edge, then trimming the superfluous fringe. And boy, was there a lot of superfluous fringe!

Some very wonky fabric

So now that I’ve got two straightened pieces of fabric my troubles are over, right? Well, not quite – the calico really is rather crooked; I mean that the warp and weft threads are not at right angles to each other, so even with neatened edges it is not a true rectangle. And the silk, though by no means as wonky as the calico, is half a centimetre longer on one vertical side than on the other, even though all four sides have been straightened. So I’m taking a while to think this through. I can get the vertical grain of the two fabrics to line up quite well. Perhaps if I attach the silk along the top and bottom only, it’ll work better. I might try this out with a spare piece of satin dupion first.

For now I’ll relax with some of the Kelly Fletcher flowers, trying out my two twills and some other fabric and thread combinations. But I’ll get back to that balloon in time – promise!

A framed bee and a useful gadget

It’s great when you find that you’ve got exactly the right frame for a finished project already in your stash, something which happened to me some time ago with the goldwork watering can; years ago I picked up a frame which I thought would suit a piece of calligraphy I was planning. It didn’t. And then, after years in my chest of bits and bobs, it turned out to be Just Right for that piece of goldwork. It would be nice to be able to say that the same thing happened with my little goldwork bee, but alas, I had to go out and buy something for that. I didn’t want anything too fancy as it is quite a simple piece, and so I decided on an oval flexi-hoop in woodgrain finish. I use flexi-hoops a lot, but really only as hoops; they are, however, actually meant to be dual purpose, in that you can use them to frame what you stitched in them.

The 4 x 5½ hoop turned out to be just the right size (I have a white one in my stash which I used to check whether it would work) so I ordered a woodgrain one from Sew & So. Framing in a flexi-hoop is quite simple, although the amount of time you spend on it depends rather on how nice you want the back to look. First, mount the work in the hoop, and fiddle about with it if necessary until you’re happy with how it looks. Then trim the fabric to within about 3cm of the hoop. Using strong thread, work running stitch all around the fabric, about 2cm from the hoop. Pull the two ends of the thread to gather the fabric, making sure it’s evenly distributed, then knot the ends together to make sure the gathers stay put. You could stop there. Or, if you’re a glutton for punishment, you could cut a piece of felt to the size of the inner hoop, and sew it to the fabric using a curved needle (indispensible, I found – it was fiddly enough even so). And voilà, one framed bee!

The goldwork bee framed in a flexi-hoop The felt-covered back of the framed bee

One thing I’ve discovered doing goldwork and surface embroidery is that my eyes aren’t as good as they were – middle age must be creeping up on me. Actually, my eyes have been really bad from the time I was a child; I am very near-sighted, which can in fact be an asset when doing detailed work, as I can focus on my stitching close-up if I take my glasses off. However, I don’t want to spend a whole evening’s stitching with my glasses off and my nose practically touching the fabric, so I invested in a little gadget: the rather splendidly named Mighty Bright Vusion LED Craft Light & Magnifier. It’s rather a miniature package compared to some of the proper daylight lamps, but then it was a lot more affordable, too! The magnifier comes in handy when trying to unpick things, or gauging where exactly to place a stitch in a complicated part of the design, but the true hero is the LED light. It makes all the difference not having to strain to see, and the colours look better too smiley.

The Mighty Bright Vusion light and magnifier

Normandie and a tale of two twills

Do you like trying out new materials? I do! Threads, needles, scissors, frames, embellishments, goldwork stuff, and of course fabrics. Sometimes when trying out a “new” fabric it’s actually a familiar one but from a new hand-dyer who may have quite a different colour palette from the ones you already knew; fabrics like that, in novel shades and interesting colour combinations, can be a great source of inspiration. Or it could be a familiar fabric but in a different count, like the 55ct Kingston linen I used recently for the floral cross. But at the moment I’m also trying out fabrics that are really new to me: twill and Normandie.

Normandie is a Zweigart cotton/linen blend for freestyle embroidery, and there seems to be a rather freestyle approach to its spelling among sellers; Willow Fabrics, for example, spells it both Normandie and Normandy on the same page. I’ll follow Zweigart’s own -ie spelling. Anyway, for the needleworker spelling is neither here nor there (unless you’re stitching a motto or a name, of course). The other two fabrics are twill samples which Barbara at Tristan Brooks very kindly sent me; one is Legacy Linen twill in a warm white colour, the other is a much thicker and stiffer Scottish twill in (appropriately) an oatmeal colour. I think it is pure linen as well. What I’m hoping to look at in these trial projects is how the fabrics handle, how they take a transfer, how easy they are to stitch on, and probably (though I hope not) how they behave when – oh dear – there is unpicking to be done.

The Normandie I used for my stem stitch Grace Christie strawberries, but for the twill I needed something smaller, and also something slightly quicker to stitch. I fitted both samples in as large a hoop as possible, which was a 4″ one for the Legacy twill and a 3″ one for the Scottish twill, and decided on two Kelly Fletcher flowers reduced in size. To compare it with the Normandie I really should use the same sort of silks, but twill is so strongly associated with crewel work in wool that I dug out some of my Appleton crewel wools; I may not use all colours in both projects, we’ll see how they develop. As for the stitches, I’ve scribbled down a few ideas for the Legacy twill project to begin with. The Scottish twill one will likely just be stem stitch or chain stitch with perhaps satin stitch for the green bit underneath the flower.

Appleton crewel wools for the two Kelly Fletcher flowers on twill Stitch ideas for the Legacy twill project

Only one part of stitching a project has been done on all three fabrics so far: transferring the design. In all cases I did this by placing the fabric over the design against a sunny window, and tracing it using a brown Sakura Micron 01 pen, which has a 0.25mm tip. As you can see the fabrics take it rather differently! On the Normandie, I got a very fine line – visible but easy to cover. It didn’t go so well on the Legacy twill; the line is too thick and bleedy and rather hazy looking; in fact it makes my eyes go funny to look at it (I keep wanting to blink), which may turn out to be awkward when it comes to stitching the design! A thin pencil may be a better choice here. The Scottish twill was a bit more difficult, as it’s darker and thicker than the other two fabrics, and the sun had gone in. Fortunately the flower shape is simple, and for this trial piece it didn’t matter too much if the petals turned out slightly differently from the original design. The line is fine and visible enough, but I did find that the pen occasionally got “distracted” by the twill ridges, which might be a problem when transferring finely detailed designs.

brown Sakura Micron pen on Normandie brown Sakura Micron pen on Legacy Linen twill brown Sakura Micron pen on Scottish twill

The only one that has been stitched on so far is the Normandie (I’m determined to finish Orpheus before picking up anything else, and I’m getting on well). The Grace Christie strawberries were worked in a variety of silks in stem stitch. The heaviest thread I used was the Gumnut silk/wool (which they call Poppies); it’s a little fuzzy and about the thickness of three strands of cotton. It’s easy to work with, but it did leave some fuzzy residue when I had to unpick it. The fabric stood up well to this unpicking, fortunately, and I don’t think you can tell where I had to unpick stitches. This is at least partly because most of the unpicked areas were stitched over again, but the fabric didn’t feel pulled out of shape or slack after unpicking. In order to follow the curving lines accurately I sometimes had to split the fabric threads, and in most cases that was easy to do – any problems there were caused by my eyes, not the fabric.

The strawberries finished The strawberries finished (direct sunlight)

It’s not really fair to give a verdict when I’ve only used one of the three fabrics, but I do like this Normandie. It’s light and it’s easy to trace on, but it’s got enough body and the weave is close enough to be able to place stitches quite accurately. The fabric has a slight slub and some unevenness (due no doubt to its 45% linen content) which I think gives some character to the fabric, and although it is noticeable it doesn’t get in the way of the stitches. I’ll definitely be using Normandie again.

Close-up of stitching on Normandie fabric Close-up of stitching on Normandie fabric Close-up of stitching on Normandie fabric