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.

New threads, vanishing threads and non-existent threads

Putting together a new workshop/kit often means looking into various materials, threads and other bits and bobs that would be suitable for it (I know, it’s a hard life smiley). In this case I was looking for a non-divisible variegated green thread a little thicker than a strand of stranded cotton. Three of the possibles I’m considering at the moment are (from left to right) Weeks Dye Works perle #12, Chameleon perle #16 and Sulky Blendables 12wt. I’ve never tried any of these before so I’m looking forward to stitching some samples with them.

Weeks Dye Works perle #12 Emerald Chameleon perle #16 Fennel Sulky Blendables 12wt Cactus

The WDW shade is called Emerald, and I’ve got one called Bayberry on back order from Sew & So – it looks lovely but I think it may be just a little too thick for what I want. The Chameleon one, a shade called Fennel, I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show; about the right thickness, but not many shades available unfortunately. You may notice that the Sulky image (of a shade called Cactus) is a stock one, as I ordered this from America and it hasn’t arrived yet. There is another possible green in the Blendables range but that looks rather dark online. I had hoped to find them at the K&S Show so I could see them in the flesh, but either they weren’t there or I missed them – easily done with so many stands there!

The vanishing thread is Tamar Embroideries’ mercerized cotton (which used to be called brodery cotton). It is being discontinued, not because it wasn’t popular, but because they can’t get the thread anymore for dyeing! So goodbye to this lovely variegated green thread that was perfect for little lazy daisy leaves. I hope they’ll find a good substitute soon.

Tamar Embroideries mercerized cotton shade 243

And the non-existent threads? I dreamed them. In one of those very realistic-seeming dreams a friend was explaining a printing machine to me, which turned into a weaving machine; beside it was a wooden rack with hanks of thread hanging from it, all labelled. I particularly noticed two of them, very attractive slightly fluffy threads not unlike chenille. The labels identified them as “fine priel” and “open priel”.

I woke up and the dream turned out to be as illogical in the cold light of day as dreams usually are, but I did remember the name of the thread! Alas, the only priels I managed to find were a mountain and a meandering stream; neither of them at all fluffy and both impossible to stitch with.

A spicy stitch, two ways

Some years ago I came across a stitch I really liked the look of on the Nordic Needle Save the Stitches website. For reasons I have yet to fathom they called it “nutmeg stitch”. It doesn’t look the least bit like a nutmeg, but the name rather appeals to me – I am Dutch, after all, and we like our spices. Although I called it a stitch, it is really the intertwining combination of two of the basic Hardanger filling stitches, dove’s eye and square filet, and interestingly the result doesn’t look like either of them.

nutmeg stitch

I’ve not seen the stitch anywhere else before or since, but I gather it was used in a booklet produced with competition-winning designs, so presumably one of those winners invented it and gave it its fragrant name. As I said, I liked it, but it did look like rather a lot of work; first do the dove’s eye, then the square filet, carefully weaving in and out of the dove’s eye – wouldn’t it be possible to get the same effect in a simpler way?

Out came the doodle cloth of the moment, and after a few tries I realised it wasn’t possible; not exactly the same effect. But starting in a corner and working alternate quarters of square filet and dove’s eye, I did get a similar effect. With its slightly looser look (the weaving isn’t as tight as in a nutmeg stitch) I felt that, though similar, it was different enough to deserve its own name, and in keeping with its shape I called it sunburst stitch. It quickly became one of my favourites.

sunburst stitch

Now these two stitches, nutmeg and sunburst, each have their own strong points and disadvantages. Sunburst is simpler and quicker, but I soon realised that nutmeg stitch, because it is worked in two passes, can be stitched in two colours. Nordic Needle’s Hardanger tends to be traditional in its colour schemes, so not surprisingly the pictures I’d found of the stitch were all white – to find out whether a two-tone nutmeg (the mind boggles) would work, I’d have to stitch it myself. Out came the doodle cloth again, and yes, it does work!

nutmeg stitch in two colours

As the doodle cloth was to hand anyway, I did some more experimenting. What if you started the weave by taking the square filet over  the first part of the dove’s eye instead of under ? The result turned out to be a slightly looser weave producing a different but equally pleasant colour pattern. Perhaps it doesn’t really warrant its own name, but I’ve given it one anyway; wishing to reflect both its kinship with the nutmeg stitch and the slight difference between the two, I here present the mace stitch!

mace stitch in two colours

2016 Knitting and Stitching Show

My annual Knitting & Stitching outing was once again very enjoyable. I always combine it with some serious walking around London, taking in a good number of parks (and the odd cemetery) on the way, and this year there were the added pleasures of the Opus Anglicanum exhibition at the V&A, and meeting up for lunch with an old friend, the Salvation Army Major who married my husband and me 11 years ago.

If you have the opportunity, do go and see the exhibition; it runs until 5th February 2017 and shows an incredible collection of medieval English embroideries – mostly ecclesiastical, but some secular as well. And although many of the exhibits are showing their age, being rather faded and moth-eaten, quite a few are remarkably colourful and sparkly still, and the ones you can get really close to give you an opportunity to see in detail what stunning work the embroiderers produced (and with what minuscule stitches). After so many centuries, some of the symbolism is lost on us, and I was particularly grateful for the explanatory notice beside a depiction of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, which said, “The striped leggings of Christ’s attackers were a marker of their sinful pride and bad character.” I had some stripy tights years ago, and never knew they revealed my bad character!

At the Knitting & Stitching Show itself I really enjoyed the many exhibitions, both great and small, of various forms of needlework; I also took the opportunity of adding my bit, or my bunny, to the Embroiderers’ Guild’s World’s Longest Embroidery which is in the Guinness Book of Records. It is officially finished but wherever it is displayed they encourage people to put in a small bit of embroidery where they can find a space, whether a small motif or just a sample of stitches.

Mabel's contribution to the World's Longest Embroidery

Of course I bought one or two things as well… although a large part of the stash I brought home was actually stuff I had ordered a month earlier from the Golden Hinde and was picking up at the Show to save on postage, so there may be some justification in not counting it as a Show purchase. On the other hand, why would that make a difference smiley? It is new stash, and I’m going to enjoy it! Some of this is for my Jacobean goldwork – I found I didn’t have a lot of pearl purl #2 left after using it for the stem, and I also wanted to try some of the wavy check thread as a substitute for the prescribed thread on the flower. The two coloured purls are an impulse buy; I thought they would make rather nice forget-me-not flowers with a gold bead in the centre.

Purchases from the Golden Hinde

At another stand I was chuffed to find Sadi threads, used in Indian embroidery. As they are rather less expensive than goldwork threads they are great for practice pieces or beginners’ workshops. They don’t come in quite so many sizes and types, but are very useful nonetheless (you can read more about them on Mary Corbet’s blog). I got Sadi fine smooth purls in silver and pale gold. My final stash purchase was a skein of Chameleon hand-dyed #16 perle; I love the Chameleon overdyed silks and have been wanting to try out their perles, and a #16 is new to me so will make an interesting experiment, probably as part of a Floral Gem project. Oh, I also managed to get good quality petite tapestry needles (for the Floral Gem and Christmas Wreath kits) at 2/3 the usual price but had already put them away when I took the photograph and anyway they really aren’t that exciting to look at smiley.

Other show purchases

It was nice not to have to worry too much about the expense of these pretties as the two workshops I taught easily covered them and my travelling costs. But quite apart from that benefit, I just enjoy teaching workshops! This year it was the freestyle Wildflower Garden and the Shisha tile, and I got some lovely feedback from the participants which was very encouraging. Below is a collage of some of their work.

Some of the Freestyle participants' work Some of the Shisha participants' work

At the Royal School of Needlework’s stand I picked up a leaflet with a special Show offer of 10% off their day classes – and there is a goldwork class in Rugby next year… To make use of it I will have to decide by 31st October; I’ll let you know!

Symmetry and balance

I like symmetry. That is probably one of the things which attracted me to Hardanger embroidery – although you can of course design asymmetric Hardanger, it tends to be nicely mirrored along at least one axis and often two. In other techniques as well, symmetry appeals to me, which explains the Shisha Tile (though not the Shisha Flower). Sometimes it is only an almost-symmetry, as in the Shisha Clover, and occasionally I go mad and throw all symmetry out of the window and design something like the Little Wildflower Garden. But on the whole, symmetry it is for me.

And then I decided to use Mountmellick stitch in a Hardanger design.

Many embroidery stitches are symmetrical in themselves, or can easily be arranged so. Mountmellick stitch, with its saw-tooth appearance, doesn’t lend itself to that quite so easily. Still, by using it in four straight lines radiating from the centre I thought it would probably work. As I charted it for Round Nine of the SAL the stitch was the same width as a Kloster block, and so it was easy to place it perfectly centred between the various cut areas, which I tend to separate by a multiple of Kloster block widths.

Mountmellick stitched placed centrally

Perfectly centred … and it just didn’t look right. Because of its shape, Mountmellick stitch has more “weight” on one side than on the other, and the saw-tooth tips just didn’t have enough solidity to balance the straight edge on the other side. This is when I realised that I don’t just like symmetry – there needs to be balance as well, and as I was finding out sometimes balance can only be had by sacrificing perfect symmetry. I shifted the line of Mountmellick stitch one thread towards the tips, and that looked much better.

Mountmellick stitched placed off-centre

If I had ever been a printer I might have realised this before, as I believe some letters have to be given more or less space than others on account of their shape, and sometimes two letters placed at the same distance as two other letters may look much closer because of how their shapes interact. It’s interesting to find that this goes for embroidery stitches as well!

A belated start

Having made an enthusiastic start on getting my little goldwork project up and running, it all rather ground to a halt after the initial transferring. There were several reasons for this; for one thing I got terribly distracted by those pretty floral gems, and they in turn reminded me that I needed a good stock of cards and coasters to sell at the church Christmas Fair, and so far I didn’t have that many. There were also some occasions that warranted hand-stitched cards, and they naturally had priority.

And then there were a few things connected with the goldwork project itself. You may remember that the transferring process didn’t go altogether smoothly, and both the drawing pen transfer and the pencil one ended up with rather thicker lines than I’d aimed for. The pencil one being marginally the finer of the two I picked that one, but it wasn’t ideal. Next came the framing up. The piece of dupion isn’t large enough to be stretched on the Millennium frame and even if it were, it would still need a backing material. The usual procedure is to attach the dupion fabric to a larger piece of calico by means of herringbone stitch all around, and then to stretch the calico; the dupion will then automatically stretch with it.

In theory.

I’ve done it before, and it has worked just fine. But this time I just couldn’t get the top fabric smooth. However I attached it (and I tried at least three ways) the moment I got the calico taut the dupion started wrinkling. In the end I attached it top and bottom only, got it as smooth as I could, and decided to just ignore the slight wrinkles that were left and hope I’d be able to get rid of them after I’d completed the project.

Goldwork project finally set up

So I finally got to stitch *yay*! As this is meant to be a relaxing project where I can just go where the fancy leads me I’m completely ignoring the instructions – I’ve attached the colour picture from the original magazine article to my frame and will go roughly by that, but if I think a different thread or way of doing things will suit me better, that’s what I’ll do. And as I’d chosen to make it rather bigger than the original minuscule pincushion I’ll need different thicknesses of thread and wire anyway.

Working from the colour photograph

The first thing I did differently was the way of starting the Japanese threads for couching the leaf. I had cast a glance at the instructions before deciding not to use them, and it said to cut two 9″ lengths of Jap thread, couch them leaving an inch at the start, and then to plunge the two ends at the start and the two ends at the finish. Plunging means to take the ends to the back of the fabric and attach them there as a way of fastening off. The method employed in the magazine would mean four ends to plunge, and I dislike plunging – it’s necessary but cumbersome and involves fiddly stitching with a curved needle, and the more I can avoid it the better I like it. Why not cut a double-length piece of Jap and fold it in half, with as sharp a fold as possible, and attach the fold with a single stitch before couching the two halves together? To my delight this worked just fine, although I did have an uncomfortable moment when I realised that the 9″ length was calculated for the original pincushion size, not my double-sized version. Fortunately the magazine writer chose to err on the side of caution, and I found that my doubled-up 18″ piece was ample to do the entire leaf with.

Starting with a fold

The second bit I did differently was unintentional. I’d forgotten to transfer some of the little green leaves-inside-the-leaf, and the ones I did transfer had come out a bit on the small side. I’m really pleased with the way the Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk stitched up in the satin stitch leaves, but there is too much empty space within the left side of the leaf, so I will probably add a few spangles there. And finally I chose to use two different sizes of pearl purl for the main stem and the leaf stem; partly because I haven’t got that much of the #2 (the thicker of the two) but plenty of the Super (the finer one). Unfortunately the Super is too thin to use throughout, so I may have to get some more #2 at the K&S Show…

gold and silk

Having got this far I find that the wrinkles do annoy me too much to ignore, so I’m going to try and stretch the dupion sideways and get it smoothed out just a bit more. And then it’s on with the flower!

More miniature baubles and some free tickets

Having doodled some miniature baubles vaguely inspired by Round Eight of the SAL, I soon realised that the placement of the coloured bars would make stitching them rather awkward. Possible, but requiring travelling through previously woven bars and so on. There must be an easier way, surely. More scribbling and doodling led to several more variations, two of which I’ve actually stitched, and you can now get the charts (plus two extra variations) from our Freebie page!

First variation on the miniature bauble Second variation on the miniature bauble

And there are more freebies to get – Twisted Thread have very kindly issued all tutors with four complimentary tickets to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace next week, valid on Wednesday, Thursday evening, Friday or Sunday. To win a ticket, leave a comment here or on our Facebook page telling us why you would like a chance to visit the show. You can enter until midnight 30th September; four names will be drawn from the entries and the winners announced here and on FB on Saturday 1st October. Good luck!

Mabel's Fancies Competition

A birthday initial

Inspired by Mary Corbet’s blog about voided initials I decided that one of my oldest friends’ birthday coming up was a great occasion to try this for myself. I’d found a quirky little book that I thought she would like, but it needed something else, and a coaster with her initial would be just the thing. After some deliberation the colour scheme picked was blue, green and yellow – nice and cheerful and bright.

The first stage was outlining the initial in stem stitch, and I chose dark green and blue to do that, in a sort of shaded arrangement. You know how you can give a letter depth by doing one part in light and one in dark? Well, like that, only in two colours instead of two shades of the same colour. Then I filled in the area around it with seed stitches in yellow plus light and medium blue and green. Some stitching techniques almost automatically give you a neat back – Hardanger for example. Seed stitching does not. It does, however, make rather a nice modernist picture in its own right!

The M outlined in stem stitch in two colours The M surrounded by seed stitch The back of the M

The next step was ironing Vilene (iron-on interfacing) to the back; this stiffens it a bit, and also secures the edges when cutting the fabric. Cutting a fairly fray-prone fabric to the exact size it needs to be is quite scary! The thing is to get it into the coaster as quickly as possible once it’s been cut.

The M secured with Vilene The M cut to size The M in a coaster

Finally attach to a card and write the Dutch equivalent of Happy Birthday on it, and Instructions For Use. They translate as: 1) Remove coaster from card; 2) Place coaster on side table by favourite chair; 3) Place favourite drink on coaster; 4) Place self on favourite chair; 5) Enjoy drink and book.

The coaster card The coaster instructions

Seed stitch is relatively labour-intensive, especially in five colours (it takes a lot of organisation to make it look random…), but I think the effect is worth it.

A compact hobby

As I’ve probably mentioned before, once a month I go to a craft group at our local library. It’s enjoyable to meet up with others who appreciate making things with needle and thread or wool or bits of fabric, depending on whether they are stitchers, knitters/crocheters (how do you pronounce that?) or quilters, and there is always tea or coffee and cake as well. Usually my preparation for a meeting amounts to deciding what project to bring, but this time I was in charge of the eatables, as our usual baker was on holiday. A batch of cheese muffins and one of coconut bites later that part was taken care of. Now for the stitching project, which couldn’t be too big as most of the space in my bag would be taken up by the muffins/bites.

And this is the sort of situation where needlework turns out to be a most convenient hobby (unlike playing the double bass, or turning clay pots) – you need very little for it! One of the small Floral Gem projects seemed like a nice, compact idea, and although I could easily have taken one of my small project boxes, I rather liked the challenge of keeping everything to a minimum. So here it is, everything that is needed to complete the project, with all the threads, beads and embellishments fitting in a 1½” tin, and the whole lot fitting into a 5″ x 7½” seal bag.

All the materials for the project Everything needed in a compact bag

And did I complete the project? Well, no, not quite. Not in 90 minutes, and some of that time taken up with eating muffins and trying to keep the cream cheese off the fabric. smiley But I made a start, and now there’s only the outer wheatear stitch border to do.

A good start on the project

Variations on a bauble

Several Round In Circles participants remarked that Round Eight reminded them of a Christmas bauble – very pleasing to hear, as this particular design was the original bauble when I was still considering calling the SAL “The Twelve Months of Christmas” and making it a collection of twelve baubles. As it turned out this was too restrictive a design brief, so I kept the circular theme but let go of the idea that they should all look baubly, to coin a phrase.

Even so, within this one design a lot of variation is possible, as is so often the case in Hardanger (especially when combined with surface embroidery). You can use any combination of bars and filling stitches in the two cut areas, and there are plenty of line stitches around (many of them used in Round In Circles) to decorate the central horizontal band with. Some of those stitches are used on the diagonal in the SAL, but most of them could easily be worked horizontally as well.

I had a little play in my charting program, combining the Round Eight outline with line stitches and other motifs from the previous rounds – and I added a little “wire loop” at the top to make them look maure bauble-like. By the way, the later rounds offer very usable stitches as well, but of course I don’t want to give anything away about those! I hope you’re not too disappointed that I didn’t actually stitch them all smiley, but that may well happen in future if I am ever tempted again to stitch all my Christmas cards (although something smaller and quicker would probably be more sensible).

Bauble variations

One SAL participant suggested making the design smaller and having two or three of them together to emphasise their baubleness (baublicity?). That would definitely produce an interesting effect, although my worry was that there would of course be much less room for line stitch variations. Also, the smaller you make a Hardanger circle, the less circular it tends to look. Still, I had a go, and came up with the little bauble below. It doesn’t actually have any room for line stitches at all, so the horizontal band needs to be created by means of coloured bars and/or filling stitches. So not really like Round Eight at all, but quite usuable nonetheless, I think – and if this stitches up nicely you may well see it on Mabel’s Fancies or at least in a FoF some time in the future!

Miniature baubles

Surprising finds

Life is full of surprises, to make an unoriginal observation, and they come when you least expect them smiley. I had two this weekend, one at the Beaulieu Autojumble where Mr Figworthy and I have a stand and one when we returned home. Although both were stitching-related, they were surprising in different ways – both pleasant, fortunately!

While wandering around the Autojumble on the look-out for valve spring compressors, rubber bump stops and what not, we stopped at a stand that sold fuses, washers, and other small stuff. You could buy individual fuses, washers and other small stuff, or you could get selection boxes (which sound as though they ought to contain chocolates). Smallish boxes with compartments. Project-box-sized boxes with adjustable compartments, to be precise. And he sells the boxes separately as well (though not at the fair). And they are cheaper than your usual craft boxes. And they look as if they’re stackable. And he is based not too far from us. I can feel an order coming on some time in the future. If they look this good with fuses in them, just imagine how beautiful they will look filled with stash.

Boxes of colourful bits for cars

It was surprising to find anything that might be useful to a stitcher at an Autojumble; it generally isn’t surprising to find stitching things at the house of a stitcher. Even so some stash may be unexpected, not to say mysterious! When we arrived home I found a plastic folder full of stranded cottons and a chunky pair of scissors lying on the sofa, without a note or anything to identify the sender or the reason for sending. Oldest son had found it pushed through the letterbox and had put it in a conspicuous place for me to find, assuming (very probably correctly) that it was meant for me rather than for my husband. Colourful, isn’t it? Lots of useful threads for the charity workshops, which is what I will use them for unless I hear from the giver that they meant them for a different purpose.

A mysterious folder of threads, with scissors

I wonder what the next surprise will be?