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.


Do you like Lolcats? Some of them can be rather silly, but many put a smile on my face (which is why I have a folder full of them on my computer which are shown on my desktop in random order). None of them are generally even remotely relevant to my stitching, but today I felt rather like this:

Box with boxes

And why? Because the lovely people at the Viking Loom sent me this:

A box full of boxes from Viking Loom

Looks tempting enough even when it’s all wrapped up, doesn’t it smiley? But then I got to take them all out of their plastic coats and see them in their full glory.

Satin display and jewellery boxes from Viking Loom

The theory is that this will help me clear out some of my stack of Ghost Projects by turning them into Useful Boxes To Put Things In. In practice, some of them are just crying out for those small goldwork designs I’ve been doodling and scribbling over the past few months…

Star bright

Having completed the Kelly Fletcher Christmas tree freebie and not yet having enough time to make a solid start on the Jacobean goldwork flower I decided to have a go at one of the star designs I had transferred onto two shades of Normandie fabric. For no particular reason I picked the ivory one, and as there probably wouldn’t be time to do both (I’m proofreading a friend’s thesis at the moment, not to mention being up to my ears in bits of kits) the threads simply had to be the Threadworx Vineyard silks. They are gorgeous! Not only are the colours full and deep and rich, even in the pastel shades, but they are some of the most strokeable threads I have ever come across, soft and luxurious with a lovely bounce. Do you know that feeling when you walk barefoot on thick springy moss? You get the same spring when you gently squeeze a bobbin of Vineyard silk.

Yes, all right, I admit it – I’m the sort of stitcher who squeezes bobbins of silk. It’s soothing. It’s good for my blood pressure. Anyway, moving swiftly on, let’s discuss stitches!

I wanted to try a variety of stitches on the various concentric stars, in a sort of rainbow of colour, starting with a small yellow star in the middle. This started out as a French knot surrounded by stem stitch, but that looked a bit empty so I added the various straight stitches later. One of the stitches I particularly wanted to include was raised chain stitch, which is worked over a straight stitch foundation stitched between two lines; that meant I was one line short for the number of colours I wanted to use, so I inserted an uncharted dotted line of more French knots, in green this time. Blue for the raised chain, with a foundation of Caron Wildflowers. Raised chain stitch is not ideal for very sharp points, but it looks OK and the texture works beautifully in the Vineyard silk. Then a line of pinky-red Portuguese knotted stem stitch and finally the outer line in purple Mountmellick stitch. Again not an ideal stitch for sharp points and corners, but I actually rather like the look of the “teeth” in the peaks and troughs. I did briefly consider working 10 separate lines of Mountmellick from the tops to the troughs, but decided it would involve far too much fastening on and off – this was meant to be a relaxing stitch, after all!

And here is what it looks like, once photographed in bright sunshine – brilliant to show the colours, but lots of sharp shadows as well – and once in the shade, which is probably better to show the stitches.

The finished star photographed in full sunlight The finished star photographed in shade

Incidentally, it was quite interesting to have a look at the back and see how different the stitches look there; Mountmellick looks like a very elongated rake head, and stem stitch becomes back stitch!

The back of the MC star

And finally a close-up of the stitches, to show off the lovely sheen and texture of the threads.

Close-up of the stitches used in the MC star

Last of the three freestyle workshops for the Church’s building fund tomorrow; a full house with some children and young people as well! Not all of them will be stitching, but just in case they change their minds I’ve made sure I’ve got enough kits with me for everyone.

Two wandering stars

As I was getting together the charts and materials for my little goldwork project and the impromptu Christmas tree, I came across some charts for ornaments by Mary Corbet. They consisted of a circle, a heart and a star, each with ever smaller concentric circles/hearts/stars inside them. I hadn’t saved any picture of what MC had done with these, but they looked just right for some unplanned, do-whatever-feels-right sort of stitching – exactly the sort of relaxing project, in fact, to take to my monthly craft group meeting at the library, so I transferred the star design onto two pieces of Normandie fabric (white and cream), hooped them up and put them with the Christmas tree. And as I couldn’t possibly stitch the stars using only the green, reds, yellow and brown I’d picked for the tree, a selection of other threads was added to the communal project box. I ‘m particularly looking forward to working with those jewel-like threads in the top left compartment, overdyed Vineyard silks by Threadworx.

Materials for some do-as-you-please stitching

As it happens I only got some work done on the Christmas tree, and not an awful lot at that. Well, it isn’t a very long meeting and there is also a certain amount of chatting going on, not to mention cake eating… So here is what the Christmas tree looked like at the end of the craft session, with a slightly wonky basket and various not-quite-round baubles. I originally started with the green stem stitch but then thought it might be a bit of a squash to get the baubles in afterwards so decided to finish the green last.

First session with the Christmas tree

Incidentally, I now know that stitching on the non-fuzzy side of the Rowandean fabric first time round was definitely a sound decision. The fuzzy side looks nice, rather soft and, well, fuzzy, but it is a magnet for any bit of thread fluff (not to mention cat hair) that comes within half a mile of it. Working on it with a very dark and rather soft thread (Caron Watercolours “Sable”) I found after a while that there was a film of dark thread shreds clinging to the bottom of my work, which, for lack of sticky tape, had to be laboriously removed with a wet finger.

There are still little fuzzy remnants clinging to the fabric, but they will just have to remain there I’m afraid; this was only ever a small amusing project for my own enjoyment, and it’s unlikely to be made into anything – it’s too big for a card, and I dislike sewing ornaments so I only do it if there really is no other option. For now it will live in my “designs by other people” folder, where it will spend its time discussing with the other pieces why most of them have at least one wonkily-stitched bit.

I enjoyed stitching this design, and making up the baubles as I went along; some of them are buttonhole, some chain stitch, some French knots, there are a few in satin and Rhodes stitch, and I’m sure I’ve missed at least one there – ah yes, fly stitch. The fishbone stitch star is embarrassingly uneven, and my only excuse is that it was stitched late at night because I wanted to have it finished before going to bed. If I were to do the basket again I’d choose one of the three stitches and do all three lines in the same stitch; the raised chain stitch would make quite a convincing basket, I think, as would the fly stitch if worked a bit more regularly. It might be fun to work a very small version in single strands of silk, or a very chunky one in #3 perle – perhaps as a seasonal cushion? But for now the stars are calling me, not to mention my little Jacobean goldwork project!

The finished Christmas tree

A goldwork indulgence and a cheeky Christmas tree

Right. The most urgent deadline stuff is out of the way, with the next one not due until October (except for getting all the workshop kits ready, but I’m going to devote a large part of the coming weekend to that), and there is nothing that I absolutely Have To Stitch Now. This means that for my next project I can choose whatever I jolly well like – luxury!

At this point, my mind went blank and I had no idea whatsoever as to what I wanted to stitch. The only thing I did know was that I didn’t want to do anything that would need photographing or monitoring or tweaking or serious thinking. This ruled out any of my own designs. Well, I have quite a few designs by other people tucked away in my One Day folders, so I had a good rummage through those and found just the right thing. You may remember that earlier this year I saw a little goldwork pincushion on a magazine cover shown in Mary Corbet’s blog and fell completely and unreasoningly in love with it. I eventually managed to get the chart, but then used it not for goldwork, but for two crewel wool experiments: one with Renaissance Dyeing crewel wool and one with Pearsall’s Heathway merino wool.

The SANQ goldwork design stitched using Renaissance Dyeing crewel wool The SANQ goldwork design stitched using Pearsall's crewel wool

So now is the time to actually get it done in goldwork. One of my favourite stages in any project is getting the materials together – I love playing with stash and have been known to put project boxes together for projects that subsequently didn’t get stitched. No problem, everything just gets put back into the storage boxes and I have the pleasure of doing another project box when I do get round to that design!

My usual project boxes, the ones with little compartments, don’t really work for goldwork; for one thing, the acid-free glassine envelopes that the various precious metals are kept in won’t fit unless I fold them over, and some of the reels of thread will only fit at an angle, taking up a compartment each. I resorted, therefore, to borrowing a small lunch box from one of the kitchen cupboards. Here it is with the tools and metals and threads – doesn’t it look inviting? And this picture was taken in a shady spot; the one I took in direct sunlight had so much sparkle and shine on it that it was unusable smiley.

Project box for the SANQ goldwork

Of course it takes more than the threads and metals; we need fabric too. I decided on some cream satin dupion, stitching on the shiny side. I transferred the design with one of my fine drawing pens, but unexpectedly the line bled rather severely, leaving a much thicker line than I wanted although it may still work. To see if a different method would work better I did another transfer using an ordinary pencil, and this came out better. It did take a lot of going over the lines to make them visible enough, though, and the tip of the lead occasionally got caught in the fabric. I’ll have to see if there is a more effective method for dupion, and I also want to try transferring to the less shiny side, to see if that makes a difference. Another thing I would like to experiment with is to draw the design on the calico backing in black, to see if it will show through the dupion sufficiently to work from. In that case, if a transfer goes wrong, I’ve only wasted a bit of calico, not my pretty fabric.

So here is the whole caboodle, everything that is needed for the project, including both transfers. I’ll need to decide which one to use, then iron the calico and attach the dupion to it with herringbone stitch, and mount it on my Millennium frame. By the way, you may have noticed that there are two green threads, and that not all the goldwork materials are gold. The original design used a variegated silk by Pearsall’s which unfortunately has been discontinued – in fact, all their embroidery silks have been discontinued *sniffle*. There are two candidates to replace it: a Vineyard Silk Shimmer in a light greyish green with sparkle (which, incidentally, seems to have been discontinued as well) and a Treenway 8/2 reeled silk. I may use both as they are equally lovely.

All the materials for the SANQ goldwork

The reason for the silver and copper purl getting in on the act is because I’d like to try some shading in the chipping used on the flower head. Yes, once again I just can’t seem to work the design as originally intended. Oh well. I’m also seriously considering using overstretched purl with a silk core for the stem, and I’ll probably attach the spangles using tiny petite beads instead of chunky purl chips. I’m sure it’ll still be recognisable. More or less.

One disadvantage of the goldwork project is that it isn’t exactly portable, even using the lap stand, so it’s not really suitable to take to the monthly craft group meeting at the local library tomorrow. Another project was obviously called for, and as I was going through my One Day folders this Christmas tree freebie by Kelly Fletcher cheekily suggested that it was Just The Ticket and that it was about time it got stitched. I’ll do this on Rowandean’s cotton fabric, which I got at last year’s Knitting & Stitching show. Interestingly, it has a plain side and a slightly fuzzy side; last time I used the plain side, so I’ve decided to go fuzzy this time. The threads are Caron Watercolours and Wildflowers. I may use different stitches for the baubles from the ones Kelly Fletcher suggests, and definitely will do on the bucket/basket in which the tree sits. Let imagination roam free!

Materials for Kelly Fletcher's Christmas tree

The Ghost of Projects Past

In a room upstairs where few dare to enter (because it is the storage room and there is a real danger of being knocked out by boxes of Jiffy bags or spring shackles tumbling down from their precariously balanced stacks) there is a chest of drawers. Like all chests of drawers, it has a bottom drawer. Unlike most chests of drawers, its bottom drawer is haunted. It houses the Ghosts of Projects Past.

I love designing, but not everything I design gets stitched. Well, not immediately. There are designs which have been waiting for years to be tried out in fabric and thread. There is only so much stitching time, after all. They do get some attention, though, as they tend to get tweaked every now and again while waiting to be stitched.

I love stitching, but not everything I stitch gets finished. I don’t mean I stop before the last stitch (although that happens too, occasionally), I mean it doesn’t get Finished. Those of you who have followed FoF for a while will know that I am not one of nature’s Finishers. When the last stitch is in, the project gets photographed for my records and then stored. In, you’ve got it, the Haunted Bottom Drawer. A few of them get framed, a few get made into ornaments, one or two are mounted on boxes, but most of them languish forgotten, poor ghosts wailing accusingly at me whenever I open the drawer to put in a new companion.

So it is with awe and admiration that I open my monthly email from Sheryl, one of the stitchers participating in the Round In Circles SAL. Not only does she stitch the monthly design, but she immediately makes it into something beautiful and useful. So far there have been two ornaments, a tape measure cover, a purse, a needlebook and a rosary bag. Others have sent in Finishes, and very pretty they are too, but none so consistently as Sheryl, whom I hereby crown Queen of SAL Finishers!

Sheryl's finishes of the Round In Circles SAL, January to June

Now perhaps I should get one or two of those ghosts out…

Same stitch, different looks

You can create variety within a design by using different stitches, but sometimes a different effect can be created simply by using a different weight of thread, or by changing the size of the stitch.

Take the French knot, for example. This can be a tiny little fly-speck, or a chunky sphere the size of a hailstone (not a very big hailstone, perhaps, but still). The difference in size and look can be achieved by several different means, such as the thickness of the thread, the type of thread, and the number of wraps. The thinner the thread, the smaller the knot. The smoother the thread, the smoother the knot. And the more wraps, the bigger the knot. In theory, there are no limits to the degree of variation in any of these, and you could, I suppose, work a French knot using a telegraph pole for a needle and heavy-duty steel cable for thread. It’s not something I’d like to try, but you could. There is, however, a limit to the number of wraps – too many and you end up with something more like a bullion knot than a French knot. Personally I find that three wraps is as much as a French knot will comfortably take, although I have known stitchers who could create beautiful four-wrap knots. Still, you get the idea: unlike chocolate, when it comes to wraps on a French knot there is such a thing as too much.

In the Little Wildflower Garden you can see the French knot thing in action, from tiny ones made with two wraps in one strand of cotton in the centre of the poppy, to big burly knots made with three wraps in three strands for the yellow daisy centres and some of the lavender. But what if you use a different thread altogether, like perle cotton? I grabbed a doodle cloth and some perles and here are the resulting six knots: one, two and three wraps in #8 and #5. Not my tidiest knots, I’m afraid, but they’ll give you an idea of the difference a wrap can make!

Six French knot variations

When I was designing the Round In Circles SAL, one of the things that I had to decide on was how big to make stitches. Much depends on the effect you’re after. Take the lazy daisy, for example: if you make it very long – that is to say, your anchoring stitch is a long way away from the hole where you take the needle up and down to form the loop – it will also be thin. It is almost impossible to make a long, plump lazy daisy. But keep them short and they will almost automatically form into nice wide petals, as here in Gingham Gems.

Plump lazy daisies

One of the stitches it took me quite some time to decide about was the Portuguese knotted stem stitch (yes, another spoiler alert – this is one of the stitches still to come smiley). Like normal stem stitch you can vary the length of the individual stitches making up the line; the shorter the individual stitches, the chubbier the line. This particular variation on stem stitch wraps around the stitches as they are made, giving extra texture, but the same principle applies: short constituent stitches, chunky line. And of course the thicker the thread, the thicker the line.

I didn’t really have a particular effect in mind when I started the design, so I tried four different stitch lengths in perle #5 and perle #8 simply to see which one I liked best, and also to see whether any of them were more awkward to work than others. As you can see here there is not quite such a spectacular difference in look, but enough to be worth considering what thread and stitch size give you the effect you want, especially when you look at the shortest and longest stitch sizes together.

Eight Portuguese stem stitch variations Portuguese stem stitch variations, shortest and longest

It’s a useful thing to remember that changing the look of a stitch sometimes takes no more than a change of thread, or of stitch length – so if in a particular design you’re not altogether pleased with the look of a stitch, why not do a bit of experimenting? That’s one of the wonderful things about embroidery: you can do whatever you like with your projects!

Naming a stitch

How do people name a stitch? Historically, stitches and techniques were sometimes named after the area in which they originated (or were thought to have originated), like Hardanger embroidery and Basque knot. Some were named because they resembled something, like chain stitch. I suspect that among early communities of women (it presumably would have been mostly women) who embroidered, new stitches would at first be known as “that lovely looped stitch Dorcas does” or “Martha’s variation on cross stitch” or something like that, before being given more mysterious names like oyster stitch or rice stitch. These names may not always be very descriptive or helpful in determining what sort of stitch it is or what it is likely to look like, but I suppose it sounds more attractive to say “dove’s eye” rather than “stitch that is looped around each of the four bars surrounding it”; it’s a lot quicker, too.

Although the temptation to go for fancy names can be strong, sometimes the name of a new stitch is obvious the moment you see it. What could I call this but “Y-bar”? (Well, all right, I suppose “catapult bar” would have worked too.)


Then one day I was experimenting on one of my doodle cloths and found myself with a new filling stitch. (Well, I’m fairly sure it’s new as I haven’t seen it anywhere else before or since, but do let me know if you have – even better if you can tell me the name as well.)

A new stitch

The stitch looked rather like exaggerated eyelashes, but I felt that “eyelash stitch” would be rather a silly name. What else did it remind me of? It could be one quarter of a sun, but I’d already used sunburst. Sunrise then? A bit too similar. On second thoughts, what’s wrong with eyelash stitch? It’s descriptive and memorable. So eyelash stitch it is – although in a set of four it does look rather more like a sun…

Eyelash stitch

Sometimes the question is, have I just created a new stitch, or is it no more than a combination or variation of existing ones? Can I justify giving it its own name at all? It can be quite difficult to find out whether a stitch has been done before, and if so what it is called, and if it is called the same thing by everyone. After all, what I know as “split twist” is known to others as “branch filling”, and “twisted bar” appears to refer to both a Hardanger filling stitch and something fancy done to an openwork hem, depending on which book or website you look at.

I came up against this question with what I gave the temporary name “looped V”. I’d seen similar stitches in pictures on the internet, but none of them quite like my version, so I decided I’d better give it a proper name. It has two loops and ends in a point, hence my original “looped V”, but that didn’t strike me as a good permanent name. Looped arrow? Looped point? At that stage, the diagram for it looked rather like a stylised mouse’s head with the loops and the two beads I’d added, so I briefly toyed with “mouse stitch”, but in the end I decided one bead was enough, and I didn’t think a one-eyed mouse would work smiley. For now the stitch will be known as looped arrow, unless and until I learn that it already exists and has a name. And what does it look like? You’ll have to wait for Round Nine in the Round In Circles SAL to find out!

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