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.

Tidying up stitch diagrams

Although I use a computer program to create the charts I use in my chart packs, and quite a few of the stitch diagrams too, there are some stitches – most notably many of the looped and knotted ones – which I can’t adequately represent in a program originally meant for making your own cross stitch charts. So I draw them by hand in pencil, go over them in pen, erase the pencil lines, photograph or scan them, and turn them into an image which can be included in the chart packs.

So far so good. They work. They look a bit rustic, but they work.

But then one day, after I had imported one of these stitch diagrams into my photo editing program and had cropped it and fiddled with contrast and brightness and generally turned it into a usable image, I decided to see if I could tidy it up a bit. And I could. It was labour-intensive, and fiddly, and occasionally the experience ranged from frustrating to infuriating, but after the process it did look a lot better. Almost professional smiley!

One of the old diagrams for bead edging The tidied-up version

There was only one drawback: now that the new diagrams were looking so much neater, the old ones looked rather untidy by comparison. Still perfectly usable, but decidedly scruffy. I’ve tried to ignore it for a bit, but there’s no help for it – they will all have to be tidied up. And so, one or two at a time, I’m tidying. It’ll take a while, and then I’ll have to replace them in all the chart packs that contain any of the early hand-drawn diagrams, but eventually I hope to have a collection of chart packs looking a bit more sophisticated than they do now.

If you bought one or more of the chart packs containing these diagrams, do let me know if you’d like the new version when I get it done, and I’ll be happy to email it to you. On the other hand, if you feel the old drawings were more personal, authentic, artisan, in short, nicer, then do please cherish the copy you have – whichever look you prefer, both show equally well how the stitch is worked!

An impromptu bunny rabbit

One of the ladies who came to the first Wildflower Garden workshop earlier this month is also a member of the stitching group I go to every Monday afternoon during term time. On one of those Monday afternoons she told me she’d finished the Wildflower Garden and had added some other flowers, but that she would have liked to have added a hare. Idly I remarked that you could probably put together a decent enough hare peeping out of the grass using only the stitches used in the rest of the design, and went on with my stitching.

But her words had obviously set something in motion in the back of my brain, because a few minutes later I could see quite clearly two ears made from lazy daisies and a little face made from a fly stitch. I had a pencil handy because I was working out the best route for some wrapped bars in one of the SAL designs so I quickly got it down on paper before it disappeared.

Bunny rabbit doodle on a bit of SAL

And that’s where it would probably have ended if I hadn’t come across the paper last Saturday, when I was at home with a doodle cloth handy – a doodle cloth with stuck into a corner a needle ready-threaded with brown perle #5! It was a Lugana cloth rather than the uncounted fabric I had in mind when scribbling down the sketchy leporid, but I felt that for a quick let’s-see-how-it-works-out that would be fine. And here he is, possibly more rabbit than hare, but I like him, and he does use only Wildflower Garden stitches: lazy daisy, fly stitch, French knot and straight stitch. If at any time you have need of a quick and not too detailed bunny face, feel free to use him.

The bunny rabbit on one of my doodle cloths

My husband suggested that I might like to add a stitch to indicate the top of his head, and of course that would be quite easy to do. I may try it and see if I think it looks better, but here I was trying to stick as closely as possible to the original doodle; also, I rather like his sketchy outline – somehow it seems to go quite well with the informality of the Wildflower Garden that inspired him!

Helpful equipment

One of the things I’ve always liked about embroidery as a hobby is that you need very little “stuff” to enjoy it. Fabric, threads, needle, scissors – that’s about it for the essentials, and if your teeth are good and you’re not doing Hardanger you could probably dispense with the scissors (no, I wasn’t serious there). You can go mad and spend a fortune on hand-dyed fabrics, speciality threads, heritage-quality frames and stands, daylight lamps, silks, goldwork materials and what not, but you don’t have to. Nor is it the case that you can only do simple things or beginner’s projects if you stick to the basic equipment. A talented needleworker can produce works of art using standard cotton threads and plain fabric. It’s a great hobby!

That isn’t to say, of course, that I reject all equipment that isn’t strictly necessary. I could learn to stitch in hand, but I prefer using flexi-hoops – to me they make my stitching easier and more comfortable. More extravagantly, I love my Millennium frame and Aristo stand for larger projects; again, they make stitching more comfortable, and on top of that they are beautifully made and very strokeable smiley.

Another piece of equipment I am very pleased to have found is my Vario Light Pad. I’ve got the A4 version, which is plenty big enough for any designs I’m likely to want to transfer. Yes, I could use a well-lit window and tape the design to it and place the fabric over it and try to draw on a vertical surface. Or I could use the prick-and-pounce method of transferring, about the only one that will work on practically any fabric, but that is more complicated and anyway requires its own equipment. But for transferring lots of small designs onto relatively thin fabric the light pad is unbeatable, especially in combination with very thin Pigma Micron drawing pens.

The Vario Light Pad Sakura Pigma Micron pens

And so a couple of nights ago, while we watched the Queen’s 90th birthday party (recorded from ITV so we could whizz through the adverts and some of the more annoying presenters) I set about tracing another 26 Little Wildflower Gardens onto light blue cotton, stopping occasionally to give my full attention to the riding skills of the Azerbaijani horsemen (and women) or the percussion antics of the Swiss Top Secret Drum Corps (where do they practice drumming if they want to stay top secret?). A very pleasant combination of activities, and I’ve now got enough designs transferred for the next two workshops plus a few extra!

The fabric for the Wildflower Garden workshops with transfers

A successful workshop and a swarm of bees

Last Saturday was the first of the three Freestyle Embroidery workshops in aid of the Dunchurch Baptist Church building fund; I found myself doing some last-minute preparations around lunchtime (transferring the design to twelve pieces of blue cotton and putting them in hoops with some backing fabric) but fortunately got everything done in time *phew*.

When we got to the church, 45 minutes before the workshop was about to start, two ladies were already waiting – they were from relatively far away and hadn’t been sure how long the journey would take, although I hope their early arrival was at least partly due to enthusiasm and eagerness as well!

The twelve participants came from a wide range of ages, from 14 to 90, which was lovely; but they were all women. Not that I mind women, you understand – I am one myself, after all – but I know for a fact that there are some very talented male stitchers out there. What keeps them from attending these stitching workshops? Is it seen as unmanly? Are they afraid people might spot them as they stealthily creep out of the church, clutching a piece of stitching? I hereby call on all men, stitchers or not, to come and have a try; it’s not difficult, or scary, or dangerous, and if you can wield a precision screwdriver a needle and thread should hold no terrors for you.

By the way, do you remember Katie my helpful guinea pig, who tried out workshop kits for me to see if they were suitable for young stitchers? She was there, and was by far the fastest stitcher. That’s what dedicated concentration does for you smiley.

Everyone enjoyed the afternoon, and in spite of a good amount of chatting, and some time spent on tea or coffee with biscuits and buttered scones (the latter kindly donated by one of the participants), by the end of the afternoon twelve wildflower gardens were flourishing in various degrees of completeness.

Fierce concentration A relaxing cup of tea Good progress

I have been told of at least three that have been finished since then – and indeed more than finished. Jenny was not satisfied with her first bee, and so with laudable determination she kept on trying until she was. If any of the flowers in her garden fail to get pollinated, it won’t be for lack of effort on her part!

A swarm of bees

One workshop down, two more to go, and in an attempt to be more organised I am getting the kits ready now. Ironing the fabric, cutting it to size and transferring the design to it; printing the instructions and attaching the cover photographs to them; sticking 2 needles per kit into a bit of felt; folding the cards, inserting them into their envelopes and adding a piece of wadding each; and my favourite bit, getting the threads together. Don’t you just love playing with colourful stranded cottons?

The Wildflower Garden kits, without threads Threads for the Wildflower Garden kits

A mysterious envelope

Do you like getting unexpected letters and parcels? I do. Well, as long as they are surprising rather than suspicious, of course, but fortunately I’m not nearly important enough to get suspicious parcels. But today I did get something rather curious, not to say mysterious.

The envelope in itself wasn’t that strange, although I wasn’t expecting anything, at least not as Mabel. It felt a bit too heavy and stiff for a letter, but not quite big and solid enough for a book. An obvious thought would have been fabric, folded several times, but it will give you some indication of how long it has been since my latest stash splurge that this possibility never occured to me.

A mysterious envelope

“I wonder what it is”, I said to my husband. “Well, open it”, he quite sensibly suggested. So I did. And found this:

A price list for Austin Seven parts

Just in case you don’t immediately realise what “this” is, it’s a 1935 price list of spare parts for Austin Sevens. Now in itself this is not a strange thing to find in the Figworthy household, as Mr Mabel learnt to drive in an Austin Seven when he was about 16 and has owned one (bought in the 50s by his uncle) for decades, and the Figworthy day job is the supply of Austin Seven spare parts to other enthusiastic owners all around the world. Quite an appropriate thing to be pushed through our letterbox, therefore. But not addressed to Mabel’s Fancies.

And there the mystery remains. It was the only thing in the envelope, no note or card, and nothing scribbled on the booklet itself, so I have absolutely no idea who sent me this. It is true that I have mentioned Austin Sevens here on Flights occasionally, but even so it’s unlikely that a Flights reader just happened to have an Austin Seven brochure lying around for which she had no further use. If that is what happened, and the person who sent it to us reads this, then may I say your kind gesture is much appreciated, and I wish I knew who you were so I could say a proper thank you.

For now I leave you with a picture of our 1925 Austin Seven Chummy at a rally some years ago. Yes, that is me under the enormous white hat. It is the only way I could get something approaching needlework into this FoF, as I think it was crocheted or knitted or macraméd. Well, however it was done, I’m very grateful to the person who made it – it’s great for keeping your ears warm, especially with the hood down (the car’s not mine)!

Our 1925 Austin Seven Chummy

Mabel’s Fancies is (almost) five years old!

Some time ago I conceived a fairly vague plan to do “something special” on Easter Monday this year to mark the fact that Mabel’s Fancies first opened its virtual doors on Easter Monday 2011. Yes, that’s right, Mabel is celebrating what in her native land is called her first lustrum, a period of five years or a celebration held every five years.

But as most of you will know by now, there hasn’t been much posting – or stitching or designing – recently because of my mother’s illness, and my travelling to Holland a lot to be with her. She passed away just before the Easter weekend, and suddenly there were other things to arrange than lustrum celebrations.

Still, I didn’t want to let the occasion pass altogether without notice; not least because my mother was very proud of Mabel (she had the original Peacock Feathers hanging on her wall, and no visitor got away without having a good look at it – mothers, eh smiley?) The solution was to go by the date rather than the day: Easter Monday 2011 fell on 24th April, which means that Mabel’s first lustrum could be celebrated equally well on 24th April 2016.

So this Sunday I will raise a glass to Mabel Figworthy’s Fancies, and from Monday 25th to Saturday 30th April there will be a special 5th Birthday Offer on the website:

  • buy a pair of embroidery scissors and choose a chart pack up to £3.49
  • buy a pair of squissors and choose a chart pack up to £4.49
  • or buy a pair of each and choose a chart pack up to £5.49 plus one up to £3.49

Buy squissors or scissors and choose a free chart pack

Here’s to another 5 years of designs and kits – Hardanger, Shisha, freestyle, even goldwork perhaps? Who knows!

An unexpected use for the backs of embroideries

This morning, as I was getting ready for church, the phone rang. A friend with a request: she was to take the Young People’s Group (known at Dunchurch Baptist Church for some unfathomable reason as Grid) that morning and could I possibly bring some embroideries with messy backs for her to use as illustrations? The message being that at the moment we see what you might call the back of the work when we look at what God is doing in the world, but one day we will be shown the embroidery as it is meant to be seen, and we’ll see how all the different threads and colours work together to make a perfect whole. Think B.M. Franklin’s poem “The Weaver”.

I said I’d see what I could do and went upstairs to go through my finished-projects folders. Not Hardanger, because Hardanger looks after its own back so beautifully as you stitch that the front and the back aren’t really that different. Cross stitch, too, unless it is full of confetti stitching, tends not to be particularly messy. OK, something freestyle then. One problem turned out to be that quite a few of my freestyle pieces have been put into cards or laced over foam board or sewn on to felt or framed in a hoop with the excess fabric gathered up, and so the backs are not visible – which is of course exactly the intention, but not helpful in this particular case.

With the “unfinished” pieces I ran into another problem: my backs are actually quite neat. You can definitely tell the difference between the back and the front, but none of them would really qualify as messy. This was cheering to see, and made me feel rather pleased with my stitching, but it was no good whatsoever for the purpose of illustrating the Grid Bible study.

Bloomin' Marvellous 7 (back) Floral Cross (back) Strawberries (back)
Bloomin' Marvellous 7 (front) Floral Cross (front) Strawberries (front)

There was the Little Wildflower Garden, which does have some nice big knots and long trailing threads at the back, but there the front is quite, well, informal too, with long stitches and knots, so the difference isn’t as big as I’d like it to be.

Little Wildflower Garden (back) Little Wildflower Garden (front)

So I decided to concentrate instead on finding projects where the back looked quite different from the front for whatever reason, where you couldn’t really tell from the back what the front would look like. What would you expect from these two backs, for example, if they were your very first encounter with the projects? (No peeking ahead now!)

The back of something on counted fabric The back of something on non-counted fabric

They are, in fact, a Christmas Wreath and my first ever goldwork project, a dragonfly stitched at a Knitting & Stitching Show workshop some years ago. And I’m told they did the job. But perhaps, just in case they want to repeat this lesson some time in the future, I should produce a few really messy backs. Just to get the message across even more clearly. Ah, the self-sacrifice!

Christmas Wreath Goldwork dragonfly

Backgrounds, sizes, coasters and finishings

FoFs have been few and far between recently, mainly because of serious illness in the family, and for that same reason they will, for the time being, continue to happen very much as and when. On the positive side, one of those as and whens is now!

I’ve been doing some experimenting with the various kits and workshops I’m putting together, trying things out, making changes and generally getting them just the way I want them. And one of the things I’ve been looking at is finishing items.

I’ve finished the Christmas Wreath in two ways so far – as a card, and as a Christmas Tree ornament. The card is not a problem, I’ve done plenty of those, but the ornament posed a dilemma: laborious & proper, or quick & easy. The first involves working running stitch all around the excess fabric, stitching a little way away from the hoop, gathering the fabric by pulling the sewing thread tight and knotting it, and then attaching a piece of matching felt with tiny stitches using a curved needle. I did this a while ago to finish a piece of goldwork, and it does look very neat, while being quite sturdy and durable at the same time.

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

It is also a lot of work. Could this be simplified in any way? Yes, I found some pretty cardstock with a holly pattern, cut a circle out of that and glued it to the back of the hoop after gathering the fabric. It worked, although it took a little adjusting to make sure it wasn’t too bulky around the edges. Edges. Hmmm. Flexi-hoops hold fabric quite tightly. And the stitching won’t be taken out of the hoop once it’s an ornament. So why not cut the excess fabric right down to where it emerges from the hoop at the back until it’s level with the hoop, then seal the fabric edge with a line of glue and cover with the cardstock disc? This turned out to keep the fabric at the front perfectly taut while also presenting a neat enough posterior which will stand up to a certain amount of wear and tear (and let’s face it, a Christmas tree ornament is unlikely to get a lot of wear and tear, unless you have an exceedingly playful cat; if it’s the children you’re worried about, simply hang it where they can’t reach it). Definitely worth offering as an alternative!

Christmas tree ornament Backing the ornament with card

Another thing I’ve been looking at a bit more is the reduced coasters suitable for use in a workshop. I wanted to offer another border besides the alternating-V one (left-hand picture), so tried two further likely candidates in one coaster – two alternating lines of running stitch, and the block border (middle picture). The running stitch border didn’t appeal to me (though funnily enough it was my husband’s favourite) and I unpicked it, completing the border in block stitch (right-hand picture).

Workshop coaster with alternating-V border Two more borders to try Workshop coaster with block border

The final change in this, the really-absolutely-finally-final workshop coaster design, is the corner motif, which is now three separate little leaves instead of one 3/4 clover motif; it may not seem much of a change,but it saves 16 stitches in total!

The original corner motif The simpler corner motif

Next on the list was the Little Wildflower Garden, which I wanted to try in different sizes and on different backgrounds to see which would be best for the kit and workshop. The smaller the design is stitched, the denser it will look if the same number of strands are used in all versions (which is what I did). Personally I like small, and the first version I stitched and from which the design was subsequently drawn is the smallest one at 5cm wide. It was stitched on hand-dyed wool felt, and I love it dearly, but it’s not very suitable for a kit because the felt is to thick for a light box and won’t take a transfer pen. When I stitched the same size on a felt purse later on, I had to transfer the design to tissue paper and stitch through that. Also, because the stitching is very dense, many of the design lines get covered up while stitching, which could be confusing. So no felt, and not the smallest size. Pity.

Little Wildflower Garden, small size, on felt

I then tried a larger size (6.5cm wide) on Rowandean’s embroidery fabric; it’s white, looks as though it might be countable but isn’t, and is slightly fuzzy on one side as though lightly brushed. It’s a lovely fabric to work on and doesn’t need backing, which is a plus, but the daisies and especially the bee’s wings got rather lost on the white background.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on Rowandean cotton

The stitching on the large version, which I had also tried on blue quilting cotton earlier, looked quite open and airy – perhaps a bit too much so. I decided to try two more things: the large size on brushed blue cotton (as the slightly fluffy fabric might counteract the openness of the stitches) and a medium size (5.75cm wide) on blue quilting cotton. I worked and photographed them in the same hoop for ease of comparison, but I needn’t have bothered. It’s not that one looked immediately and unmistakenly better than the other, but that the brushed cotton suffered from the same problem as the felt: too thick for the lightbox to penetrate and project a clear traceable image, and too fluffy to hold the ink in thin, crisp lines. So although I do like the look of the brushed cotton (which I’d rather hoped would be a good compromise between ordinary cotton and my preferred but unusable felt) the kit will use the medium-sized design on quilting cotton.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on brushed cotton Little Wildflower Garden, medium size, on quilting cotton Little Wildflower Garden kit

Incidentally, I’ve discovered one reason why it’s called freestyle embroidery: because it never turns out the same twice. Here’s a collection of slim, chubby, long, short, narrow-striped, broad-striped bees to prove it smiley.

A variety of Wildflower Garden bees

Reducing coasters

Some years ago I found that if you’re a small-project girl like me, coasters are a really good way of displaying your work; they are useful, they keep the embroidery clean, and they make great gifts into the bargain. I found some made of good durable plastic with elegant rounded corners and a display area of about 8cm, and soon worked out that this made them just the right size for any of the Round Dozen designs worked on 25ct fabric.

Round the Year in coasters

Then I was asked to supply some stitched items to a sale in aid of Elijah Gambia, a charity set up by friends of ours, and coasters and bookmarks seemed the most saleable. Now I did have a simple and quick design for felt bookmarks, but not for coasters – and Round Dozen, however attractive, was a bit too labour-intensive for mass production. So I set about simplifying the Round Dozen idea, with a little less cutting and worked on 22ct Hardanger instead of 25ct Lugana, so that a smaller design would still fill the coasters satisfactorily. In the end I came up with 3 or 4 variations on a theme (if you do have to stitch something over and over again it’s as well to have some variation to keep it interesting), one of which made it into a kit.

Coasters with a simplified variation on the Round Dozen

As you may know I’ve been teaching workshops at the London Knitting & Stitching Show for several years now, and as I was stitching these coasters I wondered whether they would make a good workshop project. Well, what are the criteria for a good workshop project? It’s actually quite difficult to give an unequivocal answer to that, as they can vary from one tutor to the next, so the question is really “what are my criteria?”

Ideally I want my workshops to be accessible for beginners, without being boring for those with a little (or a lot) more experience, so the design has to be suitable for a group with mixed abilities. I’ve stitched these coasters with beginners and didn’t run into any problems, while the use of colour and the choice of filling stitch can add interest for the experienced stitcher. So far so good. Then I like the project to be made into something usable and/or displayable. A coaster ticks that box. And finally it’s a definite plus if the project can be finished, or almost finished, during the workshop. Ah.

By the time I’d stitched 50 or so of these coasters I was getting pretty quick at it, but even then each one took me more than two hours. Obviously some further reduction was needed to make them suitable for a 90-minute or even a 2-hour workshop. So I fired up my designing software and started playing around with the designs as used for the charity coasters. I wanted it to be suitable for 22ct Hardanger fabric; there are 18ct-fabrics which could be used, but that would need perle #3 for Kloster blocks and satin stitch. Not only did I want to keep the materials as standard as possible, I had my doubts whether a design worked in perle #3 would fit inside the coaster without being squashed out of shape, if it would fit at all.

On 22ct fabric I wouldn’t be able to reduce the overal size too much, or the design would look marooned in the middle of the coaster with a sea of empty fabric around it. I definitely wanted to keep the central Hardanger motif and the chain stitch diamond surrounding it, so what if I went for slightly smaller corner motifs and a border that sat level with the tips of the diamond instead of outside it? and if I made the border a sort of dotted line of cross stitches over one, that would be quite quick and easy.

That was as much as I could do on paper (or rather, on screen) – the time had come to try it out in fabric and thread. I took a print of my experimental design and material for two coasters with me to my stitching group and got stitching. As we meet for two hours, that would give me some idea of timing as well. Some idea, as there is also a certain amount of chatting going on, as well as looking at other people’s work and drinking tea and so it’s not 2 solid hours of stitching time. Also, as I was stitching the cross stitch border I found that I didn’t like the look of it, so I worked each corner in a different pattern, and then asked others what they thought of them. I ended up with 1) cross stitch over one thread, 2) alternating V shapes, 3) half cross stitch and 4) a smaller version of the satin stitch block border used in the original coasters.

Experimental coaster - cross stitch border Experimental coaster - alternating V border Experimental coaster - half cross stitch border Experimental coaster - block border

The cross stitch border looks a bit too solid and blocky to go well with the chain stitch diamond; the V border is very pretty but relatively labour-intensive, and would probably look better in a darker thread; the half cross stitches are too insubstantial; the block border has quite an interesting texture. It was between numbers 2 and 4, and in the end I plumped for the alternate V border because I liked the shape best, but I think I will chart the final workshop version with both borders so people can choose the one they prefer (I may even include a very simple running stitch border for those wanting to save even more time). Worked in a darker shade – this is Caron’s Tanzanite – the V border stands out well, and although there is more fabric around the design than in the earlier coasters, I do think it fills the coaster well enough.

Workshop coaster with V border

By the way, I always check coasters (the ones people use to mount their own projects) before sending them out to customers and remove any with blemishes. These can be used later for demonstration models. But this time there was one with a narrow black dappled sort of smudge which looked like paint but appeared to be inside the plastic. I didn’t think I’d be able to use that and was about to write it off as a loss when I realised the smudge was running roughly diagonally. I tried it with the experimental workshop coaster in dark blue and would you believe it, with a bit of manipulation the smudge was all but lost in the chain stitch line! (Could you spot it in the picture above?)

The blemish on the coaster is hardly visible

Variegated threads with a mind of their own

I like variegated threads, from the colourfast, mass-produced Anchor and DMC ones to the don’t-even-get-a-hint-of-dampness-anywhere-near-me ones hand-dyed by a lone enthusiast somewhere in the Welsh mountains or the Australian outback. They are such an easy way of adding a bit of extra interest to a project, and besides that, they’re just so pretty and colourful that I love looking at them (if in addition they are also beautifully soft and strokeable, like Gloriana silks or Caron Watercolours, they’re simply bliss to play with).

It won’t come as a surprise then that dotted around our house (awaiting the time when I have a craft room all to myself and all my pretties can live together in one easily accessible collection) are various boxes of them – Caron threads in my Dragonfly box, which lives on top of the stereo ever since Lexi decided it was a good place for a nap; ThreadworX perles and silks in a more sturdy, cat-proof box where the Dragonfly box used to be; House of Embroidery perles and Anchor & DMC variegated perles in two plastic storage boxes in a chest of drawers upstairs; Gloriana, Treenway, Thread Gatherer and other silks perles in a glass-fronted wall-mounted cupboard in the same room; Carrie’s Creation, Gumnut, Chameleon and various other silks in yet more plastic boxes in what is known as the Silver Cabinet (although it looks more like a specimen cupboard or something like that). I think that’s all of them. But I may find one or two surprises when I come to gather them all in for the move to the The Craft Room…

Caron threads Threadworx perles Upstairs storage Anchor and House of Embroidery perles the Silver Cabinet

Anyway, you get the idea, which is that I like variegated threads. That isn’t to say that I don’t see any drawbacks to them. For one thing, they can take over a design if you’re not careful, and you lose the picture or shape in a whirl of changing colours. Not so much a drawback as a slight inconvenience is the fact that sometimes it takes a bit of advance consideration to get certain colours where you want them, and that smooth transitions aren’t always guaranteed when changing threads or when stitching next to a previously worked area. There are ways, of course, such as cutting the new thread so that it starts with the colour that you will be stitching next to, bearing in mind the bit that will be used for fastening on – not insignificant in some fast-changing threads, where it could mean the difference between bright yellow and fuchsia pink if you’re not careful (I’m looking at you, ThreadworX Bradley Balloons!)

ThreadworX Bradley Balloons

But how about stitches that meet up again, like a closed chain stitch motif? How do you ensure that the end and the beginning match? Well, erm, you don’t. Luck of the draw. Great when it works out – I get all excited when I can see, half a dozen stitches before joining up, that this time the two ends will Match Up!

But do you know what is annoying? When magically, serendipitously, you’ve matched up the beginning and end so no-one can tell where the beginning/end is, but somewhere else in the motif there is a colour change in the thread so abrupt that it looks as though that’s where the join is. While I was in the Netherlands last week I was working on some coasters which have a chain stitch diamond surrounding the central Hardanger motif. In two out of the three cases I managed to make the join invisible, only for there to be a colour change right on one of the corners – mustard to orange in one case, yellow to mustard in the other.

An abrupt change from mustard to orange An abrupt change from yellow to mustard

I’m sure the people who ordered the coasters won’t mind in the slightest; in fact, not being stitchers themselves they may not even consciously notice. But I notice. And it annoys me.

Does this mean that I will now give my collection of variegated threads to a deserving charity and never ever consider using them again? Of course not; I still love the effect they have, the above “problem” (minor to the point of non-existence in the grand scheme of things) only occurs in a small proportion of projects, and anyway, it is a problem of pride as much as anything else – having managed (without any merit of my own) to disguise the join, it irks me that people might look at it and think that I did not manage. And in that light, perhaps these irritating colour changes are doing me a favour: they’re keeping me humble smiley.