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.

More shisha flowers, a doodle and a frame

All right, all right, so I’m getting a bit carried away. But they are quick, they are easy, they are pretty – I love my little shisha flowers! However, all this experimenting has made me re-think my decisions about the workshop kit. The Cretan stitch version is nice, but it’s less floral-looking than the fly stitch version. Can we do something about that? How about changing the shape of the ‘petals’ by changing the place where you bring up the needle to catch the loop of the thread? When I first tried this stitch, I took the needle down on one of the dots, left a loop, then brought the needle up half-way between the dot and the mirror – you can see this in the first picture. I then tried varying this, bringing the needle up nearer the dot, or nearer the mirror, to see if this would produce a more natural, floral look (second picture; the back is shown in the third picture). The effect I was aiming for was sort of chrysanthemummy; I don’t think I got it. Still, it looks interesting. Finally I came up as near as I could to the dot every time, making the petals a bit wider (fourth picture). That’s the version I like best. But it’s still not as floral as the fly stitch version.

Standard Cretan shisha Cretan shisha with varied petal tip length Cretan shisha with varied petal tip length, back Cretan shisha with short petal tips

Unfortunately the fly stitch version, which does produce nice daisy-like flowers, takes rather longer to do. It is also quite dense when using the smaller version of the design. The first picture shows a 24-petal fly stitch shisha using perle #5. The second uses perle #8 and look less dense, but of course takes just as long to stitch as the first version, as they are identical apart from the thread. Both of these were stitched using my 12-dot design, with petals stitched on and between the dots. So what if I used the 16-dot version, and stitched only on the dots? I tried this with my re-drawn design, and liked the shape it produced, although the petals were a bit short and stumpy. Back to the drawing board, and push the dots outward a bit. I stitched it and yes, that’s my flower!

Fly stitch shisha with 24 petals, using perle #5 Fly stitch shisha with 24 petals, using perle #8 Fly stitch shisha with 16 short petals, using perle #5 Fly stitch shisha with 16 long petals, using perle #5

So now, finally final – I’ve redone the design again to incorporate an 18mm mirror/sequin/whatever, 16 longer petals, the slightly larger leaf and the overall size to fit in the small card. It’s been stitched and photographed, the kit fronts have been printed, and I can start putting together the leaflets and the kits (once I’ve written and drawn the instructions). Progress!

The final Shisha flower

I have been doing other things as well – my goldwork watering can is nearly finished, and I did some doodling in floche on felt. Floche isn’t very easy to get hold of, and I can’t think where I got mine from, but it’s a soft, indivisible thread which is quite nice to use. I wanted to stitch something simple on felt, found that the felt I had was so fuzzy that it wouldn’t take a mark from any pen, pencil or felt-tip I could find, so in the end I just started somewhere and went with the flow. Very relaxing. It may eventually become a bookmark, or it may just stay a doodle.

Doodling with floche on felt

And finally, the Millennium frame. We picked it up from Needle Needs on our way to my in-laws last Thursday and it’s beautiful – the wood is so smooth and it all looks wonderfully solid and dependable. But here’s the shocking thing: I haven’t had a play with it yet! Somehow all sorts of other things got in the way, but I’m hoping to have a try tonight, and will of course let you know how it went.

The bits that will make up my Millennium frame

Workshop kits

Our dining room table is strewn with flowers. Shisha flowers, that is, as I’ve been experimenting with fabrics, threads, and stitches, not to mention mirrors, sequins, shells and silver card. Yes, I am trying to decide what to put in the workshop kit, and what exactly to stitch with those materials.

The threads are a fairly easy decision – I’ve been stitching most of my models in Anchor Multicolor perle #5, but for the kits I’ll probably use some skeins of DMC Variations that I’ve got in my stash and don’t use very often because there is no matching #8. The fabric is the next thing; blue cotton, lime green linen/cotton blend, or off-white silk dupion? Having just almost ruined a flower on dupion by ironing it too hot I am inclined to play it safe and go with one of the coloured fabrics; they are also less expensive (not unimportant when putting together kits for a charity workshop).

And which flower? The Cretan version uses less thread, looks nice and is quick to do, but the fly stitch version looks more floral. However, it might take too much time, especially as I will be using this design for a 90-minute workshop later this year, and I do think it’s important that the project can be finished or at least nearly finished within the time of the workshop – so much more encouraging than taking home something that’s barely been started. The yellow shell discs I got some weeks ago look nice, but some people might feel they are not really doing shisha embroidery unless it’s got a mirror. I could bring both and offer the option; the shell discs are a little bigger than the mirrors, but both just about work with the same size transfer.

Small shisha flower using Cretan stitch, on green fabric Small shisha flower using fly stitch, on blue fabric

Which brings me to size. And budget. I printed my little flower design in three sizes, to go with a 15mm, 18mm or 20mm mirror/sequin/shell. The smallest of the three fits snugly into Craft Creation’s small square aperture cards. The medium one, which I would need to use with the mirrors I’ve got, requires the card one size up. Which, unfortunately, is 50% more expensive. So ideally the design would use an 18mm mirror but be no bigger overall than the 15mm one. Using my photo editing program and the scanned design I enlarged and shrunk various bits and I think I’ve got a version that will work, although it may look too cramped with the shell discs. Watch this space!

Now, sequins – yes, I will definitely include the sequins. Options here are to attach them with holding stitches using stranded cotton, securing them with metallic petite beads, French knots, or standard seed beads in a contrasting colour. One thing to bear in mind is that my size 9 needle would only pass through about one in every three petite beads, so the size 7s definitely won’t stand a chance with them (I decided on 7s for the workshop as being a little less challenging to thread). I do like the look of those tiny beads, though, so perhaps I’ll just bring a few size 10s or beading needles to pass round the class (must remember needle threaders too).

Sequins attached with stranded cotton Sequins attached with metallic petite beads Sequins attached with French knots Sequins attached with contrasting beads

So far I’ve tried three different stitches for the scrolled stem: stem stitch, chain stitch (apologies for the example below, it’s not the most even chain stitch I’ve ever produced) and heavy chain stitch. I really like the look of the last one, but it’s probably a little too complicated for a two-hour workshop. Stem stitch may make an appearance in the leaf, so I think plain chain stitch will be the best choice.

The scrolled stem worked in stem stitch The scrolled stem worked in chain stitch The scrolled stem worked in heavy chain stitch

The leaf has been a great place to experiment, and I tried five different styles before finding the look I was after. Four of them I outlined, mostly in stem stitch, but one in backstitch. The necessity for this no doubt arose at least in part because my stitching wasn’t neat enough to produce tidy looking edges, so the outline made up for that. The first I tried was fishbone stitch, and I do like the look of it, but it does require more precise stitch placement than some of the others and takes a bit of time. Next I tried feather stitch, but that just looked rather haphazard. Fly stitch looked better, and I liked the line that formed down the centre of the leaf. Satin stitch can look great, but it needs to be done very accurately to get it to look its best, and I didn’t really take enough time over it. Finally I returned to fly stitch, but I worked it less densely, which had the advantage of being less time-consuming as well as producing a nice light look. It was also the only one that could stand on its own without outlining, even when worked rather quickly.

The leaf worked in fishbone stitch and stem stitch The leaf worked in feather stitch and backstitch The leaf worked in fly stitch and stem stitch The leaf worked in satin stitch and stem stitch The leaf worked in open fly stitch

So what’s it going to be? Blue cotton fabric (although I may use up the bit of lime green I’ve got left as well), Cretan stitch for the flower, chain stitch for the stem, open fly stitch for the leaf, and metallic petite beads to secure the sequins. And if I can get all these things to work with an 18mm mirror and the smallest design size, I’ll be well pleased!

About finishing and “finishing”

The English language is generally rich and varied, but every now and then it is disappointingly lacking: there is a distinction in life which can’t be expressed succinctly in language because one word is used for both phenomena. As you may guess I have a specific case in mind.

I am, on the whole, quite good at finishing what I start (in needlework at least). I like finishing projects, that sense of completion and the anticipation of starting something new. All right, it took me six years to finish a tiny goldwork bee, and I will admit to a small number of UFOs (UnFinished Objects) lurking in a drawer, but generally I do see a project through to the last stitch. Finished!

Except of course in one sense it isn’t. Because it is only when a project has been finished (meaning #1) that you can finish (meaning #2) it. Turn it into a cushion; frame it; mount it in a box lid; make it into a duvet cover, a table runner, a set of napkins. Finish it.

Finishing isn’t my forte. Except cards. Lots of my projects get made into cards. But that’s not much good for anything over 3½” or so, or for anything you want to keep yourself.

Then an occasion arose (I will tell you more about it some other time) for which I simply had to finish three small projects as ornaments. They came out quite well; not brilliant, as with some of those wonderful and versatile finishers of whom I stand in awe, but definitely usable, and spurred on by this success I finished Frosty Pine in the same way.

Frosty Pine finished as an ornament

A brief aside here about Hardanger ornaments – you can’t just do the normal ornament thing of sewing together the stitching and the backing right sides in and then turning it inside out and stuffing it, because the stuffing will come out through the cut parts. (Depending on the design this may actually be quite effective; a fluffy Hardanger lamb or bunny?) But if you try to sew the Hardanger, lining and backing together in one go, you can’t see where to stitch as the project will be sandwiched between the other two layers of fabric. So I first attached the silver lamé lining to the Hardanger with running stitch, then used the running stitch as a guide for sewing it to the backing (making sure to insert a ribbon in the appropriate place, the loop pointing inwards; there’s a lot to remember for an inexperienced ornament maker…). For one of the ornaments I sewed wadding to it at the same time – here is the resulting sandwich.

All the layers of the ornament stitched together

Oh, and remember to leave a big enough gap for turning the ornament inside out. You really do not want to see your precious Hardanger like this:

Turning the ornament inside out through a small opening

Anyway, encouraged by having produced a quartet of perfectly respectable ornaments, I moved on to frames. My husband and I were in Coventry last Saturday for a recording of Songs of Praise (I’m in the second row among the tenors, wearing a green jumper) and as we got there early we went into town for a bit, where in one of the charity shops I found two square frames in a pleasant distressed blue shade for a pound each. These were added to my stock of second-hand and bargain frames, to be used at some future date. Yesterday I decided the future date had arrived, and framed one of the Gingham Gems, the smaller Frozen Flower, and the smaller Flodgarry.

One of the Gingham Gems (I) framed The smaller Frozen Flower framed The smaller Flodgarry framed

Feeling terribly virtuous, I can now go back again to turning things into unadventurous-but-useful cards and coasters for a while smiley

Storage, stash and a watering can

My storage box has arrived! And so of course it needed to be filled. It now holds the three reels of sewing thread (I keep a small amount of each on a bobbin in the little project box), a spare piece of beeswax, any gold threads that I’m not using for the watering can, small acid-free envelopes for future stash plus a fine marker to write on it, a white chalk pencil with extra leads (well, chalks) and petite seed beads in gold, silver, copper and light gold.

The deep storage box, open The deep storage box, closed

The chalk pencil is a new bit of kit – I’m hoping to use it for drawing designs on darker fabrics. Being a mechanical pencil it’ll stay nice and sharp without maintenance, so it should be able to draw quite accurate lines (depending on my steadiness of hand), but I’ll have to give it a few tries to see how well the chalk will remain visible – it might need touching up after a while. The petite beads are part existing stash, part new acquisition: I already had a shade called Ice which will go well with silver spangles, and a shade called Champagne which isn’t quite gold (it has a slight pinky tinge), but works well if you want a little subtle sparkle. To these I added Victorian Gold, for a more straightforward gold shade, and Autumn Flame, which I hope will work well with copper threads (unfortunately I have not been able to find copper spangles anywhere, but the beads will still look good on their own in a project with copper materials).

Bohin mechanical chalk pencil Petite seed beads in gold and copper

Having had a most pleasant and enjoyable play with my new box and goldwork materials, I finally got round to a bit of actual goldwork embroidery: I’ve added four scrolls to my watering can. Going down from the top one they are Twist, Rococco, Twist again (stop singing there!) and a single line of #8 Japanese gold, all couched. I varied the couching on the two twists, using the usual perpendicular stitches on the shorter one, and slanted stitches on the longer one, following the twist of the thread as much as possible. I think the latter looks better when it is done well, but it’s terribly difficult to get the angle right!

Some scrolls have been added to the goldwork watering can Close-up of the four scrolls

At one point these four scrolls were accompanied by a small extra scroll done in petite beads, but I took them out as they didn’t look right. Next step will be to decide where to put the little extras such as spangles, smooth purl flowers like the blue one that’s already there, and so on. I’m looking forward to that!


I have a storage problem. No, actually, I have two storage problems. Two specific ones, I mean, quite apart from the usual general “my stitching stuff is distributed all around the house” problem. And they are the result of Branching Out and Trying New Things. Because if you Try New Things you almost invariably find that you Need New Stash. For example, although you can certainly use cross stitch and Hardanger threads for shisha embroidery, it also needs various blingy bits like mirrors and sequins (some of which arrived in the post yesterday – including some unexpected purple hearts which turned out to be a February Special Offer), not to mention a different sort of fabric to work on. And as for goldwork, well…

New sequins - including unexpected purple hearts!

So far I’ve been trying to make do with bobbin boxes of various sizes, which are great for threads on bobbins but not always ideal for other types of threads, embellishments etc. Here are two of the smaller ones, which I tended to use as project boxes, to hold the threads for whatever project I happened to be working on. Since moving from cross stitch to Hardanger these get used rather less because they aren’t particularly suitable for perles, which I keep on rings (#5) or in balls (#8 and #12). So I promoted one of them to goldwork project box, and the other to shisha/surface embroidery project box.

Two small storage boxes, for goldwork and shisha

Immediately you will notice a couple of problems. The shisha box is full to bursting point already, and that’s without most of the new arrivals and some existing stash that would fall into this category. The goldwork box has enough space, but the little acid-free envelopes that hold the metals are too tall for the box – I have to fold them over, but they spring back so I have to close the lid on them very quickly; or I’d have to crease them but I don’t really want to because I like the metals to have a bit of room and not be coiled up too tightly. The same problem applies to the larger box that I picked to store any goldwork materials not part of the present project: plenty of room (for now…) but not enough height.

A larger storage box - big enough, but not high enough

A re-think was needed. There isn’t a lot I can do about the small project box; I just haven’t got anything higher. But then threads will live in it for a relatively short period of time, and probably not too many of them at once, so if I put them in at a sort of sloping angle they should be all right for the duration of a project. The larger compartment holds the mellor comfortably, the tweezers just about, and the scissors propped up; and I can fit all three sewing threads (for gold, silver and copper) into one of the smaller compartments. Then one for beeswax and one for needles (but they can share a room in an emergency), and that leaves three for the threads. Don’t mention bulky padding felt and metallic kid. Just don’t.

The rearranged goldwork project box

As for the larger box, I decided that it simply wouldn’t do for the long term. So out came all the little glassine envelopes, to be temporarily stored on top of the chest of drawers in the storage room (not, unfortunately, a room exclusively for craft storage; in fact, most of the space is taken up by bits of pre-war automobile), and in went all the sequins, mirrors and embellishments, which now have a bit more breathing space and even a little room to expand.

The shisha materials find a new home

Now storage comes in many shapes and sizes, and one of the shapes it comes in is that of a small index card box, several of which had been sitting unused in a drawer in the office since we bought one big box that could hold all our index cards. They weren’t made for needlework supplies, but they are high enough, and will hold two rows of envelopes side by side. Not much scope for organising things, and the envelopes slide about a bit and fall over when there are only a few in a box, but at least the threads would be stored unfolded and shielded from dust.

goldwork threads stored in index card boxes

And that’s where things stood until I visited Sew & So’s website for some petite beads and perles earlier today. Until I saw this: the Deep Utility Box. It is deep. It is organisable. It is Just What I Was Looking For. I ordered it. Watch this space for pictures of it, filled with (well, part-filled with) my goldwork supplies!

A frame, a bee, and another flower

Yes, I have finally taken the plunge – I have ordered a Millennium frame from Needle Needs. Have you heard of these frames? They are beautiful, hand-crafted examples of the tool maker’s art. But more importantly, they are said to keep the fabric taut from side to side, unlike any other scroll frame I know of. Now it’s easy to be cynical about claims made for any product, especially if they are made by the manufacturers, but several people have very convincingly reviewed these frames (most notably Mary Corbett and Nicola Parkman), and so I am convinced. Especially now that I want to get into a goldwork a bit (or perhaps a lot…) more, a frame that keeps the fabric good an tight will be a real treat!

Because they are hand-made to order the frames can take a while to arrive (several months, in some cases), but when I phoned to ask whether it would be possible for us to pick mine up as we would be practically passing their workshop on our way to the in-laws at the end of February, the kind and helpful gentleman told me it was almost certain to be ready then, and yes, as long as we reminded them by phone the day before, it would be fine to come and pick it up. Hurrah! If it all works out as planned, that means I save the postage and I get to show the frame to my mother-in-law, who has been a keen needlewoman all her life.

Knowing that I will be the proud owner of this beautiful frame within a relatively short time, I have put Orpheus II on hold for the moment; it will be my inaugural project.

Which means that my stitching time for this month (which is fairly busy, so there won’t be that much of it anyway) will probably be taken up with finishing goldwork projects, experimenting with shisha flowers, and some more charity stitching. And the first in line was, of course, The Bee. I managed to do a fair bit of chipwork at my weekly stitching group last Monday, and encouraged by this I finished it on Tuesday. Then it was time for some experimenting, as well as some very fiddly unpicking – the tarnished gold on the bee’s body was carefully removed and put to one side on my velvet board, then I started cutting the silver bright check purl I got particularly for this purpose. Fortunately the gold that was already there turned out to be the same thickness – a sigh of relief there.

There wasn’t enough of the gold to do the whole bee in alternate stripes, so I decided to give him a silver head and backside. I cut one bit of silver too long and the two tiny bits I cut off to make it fit struck me as being just the right size to go on the end of his antennae. He doesn’t have any in the original design, but that’s neither here nor there. He does now. I found some very thin gold-and-red thread I had left over from a Japanese embroidery workshop which I used for the antennae themselves. And here he is!

The 2009 RSN workshop bee, finished at last

It turned out to be very difficult to get an accurate picture – the fabric shows up in the various photographs as tinged with red, yellow and green, but it is just an ordinary natural-coloured fabric, sort of off-white/creamy. Another thing that was difficult to capture was the shine of the gold threads and wires. In the end I held the un-hooped fabric in direct sunlight and, with the camera pointed at it, moved it about until both leaf and bee sparkled. So here is an attempt at showing him in his full sparkly glory.

Showing the sparkle

With the bee finished more or less to my satisfaction I found myself with some stitching time left before going to bed, so I had a go at another shisha flower card. As I’ve decided to use the small flower motif for a workshop my plan is to stitch it in several versions to see which one will work best, producing a number of useful cards in the process. This one uses the fly stitch variation which looks rather like a daisy; I used my 12-dot pattern in order to end up with 24 petals, as my shisha mirror stand-in (a disc of shell dyed a cheerful yellow) was smaller than the one in my experimental daisy, which could easily accommodate 32 petals. The scrolled stem is worked in chain stitch using DMC floche, the leaf is done in fly stitch using two strands of Carrie’s Creations stranded silk, and outlined in stem stitch using one strand. I like the effect of the fly stitch leaf, and together with chain stitch it will offer the learners some nice traditional stitches for this type of work.

A small shisha flower using fly stitch

Now it’s a pretty motif all on its own, but you can never have too much bling in a shisha piece and I felt perhaps there wasn’t quite enough of it here, especially as I won’t be using blending filament in the workshop. Perhaps some sequins? I didn’t have any metallic sequins to hand (though I have ordered some in gold, silver and copper) so I dotted around some gilt spangles. I started out with them in little triangular groups of three but ended up with a sort of “halo” around the flower, which seems to work quite well. The spangles are not actually attached, just put on the fabric for the photograph, as they are proper gilt ones which came with the goldwork watering can kit and I am not sewing nearly a pound’s worth of spangles to a small card! When the sequins arrive, I’ll sew some of those on, either gold only or perhaps (as there are nine of them) three of each colour. We’ll see!

Adding spangles to a shisha flower

Note to self: must remember to add the sequin dots to the shisha flower patterns.

Shisha sampler finished!

After the two experiments on my pre-sampler sampler I decided that the condemned blue & white daisy would be replaced by the more open version of the Cretan shisha variation. A closer look at the sampler confirmed something I had vaguely suspected before, namely that the 24mm sequin was too big for where it was. A rummage through my modest stash of shisha materials produced a bag of 18mm mirrors, which I bought for a class I taught some time ago. Just the size Mary Corbet was working with in her instruction pictures, so that would work very well – I could now be fairly sure that the 16-dots-only version of the Cretan stitch would come out all right. I picked a rather chipped mirror as I wouldn’t be able to use that in a class and it would do perfectly well for a sampler. (Do you find yourself doing that, when teaching someone to stitch, or passing on some threads or materials? Saying “well, it would be all right for me but I couldn’t possible give it to someone else”?)

The daisy has been unpicked, and a new mirror chosen

As I had feared, the holes from unpicking the daisy were quite visible, and using a smaller mirror meant I wouldn’t be covering them with the shisha, so I mulled over various options in the back of my mind while working the Cretan stitch; I could go over the holes in French knots, or beads, or small sequins, or perhaps chain stitch. Oh well, let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

16 dots have been drawn, and the foundation stitches laid

In the end, I decided not to do any of these things. I did add sequins and beads, but only to balance the overall look of the sampler, giving it a vaguely circular outline and filling in a few obvious gaps. The unpicking holes will be part of the sampler, a reminder that you don’t always get things right first time round. As for the Cretan stitch, I definitely like the way it turned out and will be using it again; probably only with the smaller mirrors, though, which I think look a bit daintier than the big sequins (unless you’re doing a really chunky piece that will be seen from some distance away, like a wall hanging).

The finished shisha sampler The finished shisha sampler

In fact, as I was considering using this stitch again, I thought it would make rather a pretty floral design with some stems and leaves added. So back into the hoop went my shisha experiment, and out came some DMC floche, variegated stranded cotton and blending filament. Some stem stitch and fishbone stitch later the two shishas had become part of a flowery whole.

Stems and leaves added to the Shisha experiment Fishbone stitch leaf in stranded cotton and blending filament

After that, it was a small step to cards. Using the less dense Cretan variation with a smaller sequin or mirror, with a scroll and a leaf to complete it, makes a quick and very attractive card for birthdays or other celebrations – and of course the colour of the flower can be adapted to the receiver’s preference. Tucked away in a drawer somewhere were some pretty aperture cards that were just the right size for this project, and, well, I’ll be making a few more of these in the near future! Not only that, but the design struck me as just the right project for the 2-hour workshop I’m planning in aid of our church’s building fund. Slightly different stitches, probably, like chain stitch and fly stitch; a blue background; cheerful yellow shell discs instead of sequins; some spangles…

Small shisha card

But first it’s back to the golden bee and watering can, and, at some point, Orpheus!

A pre-sampler sampler

OK, I’m a wimp. My shisha piece is meant to be a proper sampler, which strictly speaking should include false starts and unsuccessful experiments. But I would also like it to look nice smiley. So out comes the shisha daisy, and because it is so densely stitched it will leave an awful lot of little holes in the fabric. Fine if I were certain which stitch I was going to use in its stead, but I’m not – I’m havering between re-doing the daisy version in perle #5, and using the Cretan version. Better try them both out first before putting whichever one I decide to go for on the sampler. And so was born the pre-sampler sampler! From the sewing basket I got some green fabric left over from a cushion project, and some non-descript cream fabric left over from who knows what, and mounted them in a hoop together. Add two shades of Anchor Multicolor perle #5 and two 24mm sequins (one silver, one blue) and you’ve got a mini project.

The pre-sampler set up

In her shisha instructions, Mary Corbet uses perle #5 both for the foundation and for the surface stitches, but I decided to use a matching perle #8. It would have made sense to try out both thicknesses for the foundation, seeing that I was about to try out two shisha variations, but I thought of that too late; I’ll probably try the #5 foundation on the proper sampler. So here are the two sequins secured with a perle #8 grid. You can make the grid more secure by weaving the threads over and under, or looping them round each other, but here I just worked them in straight stitches without any complications.

The sequins have been secured

By the way, my apologies for the atrocious colours in most of today’s photographs; I wanted to take progress pictures but was hampered by the fact that it was evening and the work is lit only by a standard lamp. This meant the camera insisted on flashing (as in the picture above) unless I specifically told it not to (as in the following pictures). Disabling the flash, however, not only made it necessary to keep the camera steady for a long time, the low light also seems to play havoc with colour accuracy. Even so, I hope the pictures will give you some idea of the how the stitches work.

For those of you who looked up the stitches that I’m trying out here on Mary Corbet’s blog, you will notice that I’m doing one or two things a little differently. (Isn’t it wonderful how needlework can be adapted to any stitcher’s requirements, skills and preferences?) Firstly, she uses ¾” card circles in her demonstrations, which equates to about 18mm, whereas my sequins are almost 1″ in diameter. This has an effect on the number of stitches worked around the sequins. Secondly, on the fly stitch variation (the one that looks like a daisy) she draws a full circle around the sequin for stitch placement; I’ve chosen to use dots, so that the line doesn’t show up among the petals, and also to help me place the stitches at regular intervals.

The dots were placed as regularly as I could make them by eye – that is to say, I didn’t get out the compasses and ruler, but used a sort of “points of the compass” division method: first mark dots to the North, East, South and West of the sequin, then equally divide the quarters and place dots NE, SE, SW and NW, then divide again and place dots NNE, ENE, ESE, SSE etc. For deciding how far from the sequin to place them I used a pinkie’s width to begin with, then judged it by eye (not completely accurately in some cases). This gave me 16 dots, which I thought might be enough for the Cretan version (which is very widely spaced and open in Mary Corbet’s version), while for the daisy I could use 16 more virtual dots by going between the marked ones. Both stitches start in the same way, by coming up on the outside of the sequin and looping the thread around the foundation stitches. Here is the start of the daisy/fly stitch version, with the petals anchored on and between the dots.

The start of the fly stitch shisha variation

The next picture shows where a new stitch starts, and also illustrates quite nicely how to start a new thread if you run out before you’ve completed the circle. When you come to the end of your thread, complete a petal by anchoring it. The needle is now at the back of the fabric with nothing to do but start a new stitch, so fasten off and start the new stitch with the new thread (where I’ve just brought the needle up in the picture).

Starting a new thread

Changing threads isn’t nearly so easy in the Cretan shisha variation, because there you keep having to catch the loop of the working thread, so when the needle is at the back of the work the stitch hasn’t actually been finished yet. More of that a bit later; first let me point out another difference with Mary Corbet’s version. When I first learnt shisha stitch, from a book of stitches, I learnt to work it clockwise. Both Mary Corbet and RSN tutor Sarah Homfray work theirs anti-clockwise. Both methods work just fine, they are simply mirror images of each other, but I thought I might as well go with them and go anti-clockwise, especially since the variations they show and/or teach go anti-clockwise too. Except, for reasons I can’t quite work out, for Mary’s Cretan variation, which goes clockwise. Being now firmly in anti-clockwise mode I decided to mirror it, which is what I’m doing here, and why it looks different from the tutorial on her blog.

Working the Cretan shisha variation

As you can see I use the virtual in-between dots for this variation as well; I really like the open look of Mary’s version but didn’t have the courage of my convictions – if I’m brave enough I’ll try the less dense way of stitching it on the real sampler. Even my denser version of the Cretan shisha stitch uses less thread than the fly-stitch variation, so the lighter version would probably only take one length of perle. Here, however, I did need to change threads, and because of the point made above this needed some preparatory thinking. In the end I decided it would have to be done in two stages. First, take the needle down and leave a loop at the front, as usual.

Leaving a loop before changing threads

Next, fasten on the new thread by means of a waste knot and a few tiny stitches near the sequin, then bring it up in the right place to catch the loop (making sure that you don’t get entangled with the end of the old thread at the back of the work). Pull through and work the next loop around the foundation threads. Before taking the needle down the next dot on your guide circle, fasten off the old thread, then continue to work with the new thread. Simples!

Catching the loop of the old thread with the new thread

So here are the two shisha variations side by side, both with 32 petals. I was surprised how easy both stitches were once I got into the rhythm of them, and both are very decorative, though I have a distinct preference for the Cretan one. That variation also uses less thread – a look at the back of the work explains why.

The two variations, finished A look at the back

And finally, two close-ups. These show quite clearly that the foundation threads are visible between the surface stitches in places, but I’m not too bothered about that, bearing in mind that the original Indian pieces Sarah showed us last week didn’t always have complete coverage either. All in all I’m pleased with my pre-sampler sampler – a successful experiment; and now it’s back to the real sampler to try the ligher version of the Cretan stitch.

Fly stitch shisha variation Cretan stitch shisha variation

Shisha day class (and a bit more goldwork)

Last Saturday was my second RSN day class – shisha this time, the Indian style of embroidery that incorporates little mirrors. The tutor was the same as for the goldwork day class, Sarah Homfray. Like last time, it was a lovely day; it’s very relaxing to spend time with other stitchers, improving existing skills and learning new ones. Also very interesting to see some of Sarah’s own work in this style, and some original Indian pieces. I was quite surprised to see that the coverage on these original embroideries wasn’t always as full as I had expected – perhaps I shouldn’t be too worried about the occasional gap!

The kit for the class contained silk fabric with cotton backing, a selection of stranded and perle cottons, five shisha mirrors (a circle, a small triangle, two squares and a heart) and an oval domed “jewel”. Sarah showed us two types of shisha stitch to attach the mirrors, the one that I used in the Shisha box top and another one which is simpler and quicker to work, and two very decorative surface stitches that were variations on feather stitch and fly stitch. There was no design as such, we just each worked on our own personal sampler – a sampler in the original sense of the word, in that it is a tangible reminder of stitches learnt which you can later use as an example. For this reason I worked some of the shisha stitches with foundation threads in a different colour from the surface thread, to make the structure of the stitch more visible; ordinarily you would use the same colour for both, so that any gaps in the surface stitches would be less visible. Below you can see what I managed to do during the class, plus the materials I haven’t used yet.

Shisha embroidery worked in class

I took the embroidery with me to my weekly stitching group to work on it some more; my general aim was to try and pull the various elements together into something looking more like an intentional whole and less like a random collection of stitches. I wanted to add some embellishments (both purchased at the class and from my own stash) and also try one of Mary Corbet’s shisha variations, though without the whipping. It looks very attractive, rather like a daisy. I used it to attach a flat round sequin, with some variegated blue and white stranded cotton from the class kit.

Did it all work as intended? Well, sort of. I remembered to unpick the last stitch of the (pale lilac) fly stitch flower head and re-do it so that it went underneath the first stitch. Not really necessary perhaps, but it offended against my sense of symmetry to have the last stitch go over the stitches on either side of it, rather than over one of them and underneath the other, like all the other stitches. The instructions for this stitch start with a half stitch and end with one as well, but I found that if I remember to tuck under on completing the circle, there is no need for the half stitches.

Shisha embroidery worked at my stitching group

I’m happy with the added sequins, beads, button and French knots, and I like the line of the dark green flower stem of feather stitch (called “little coat hangers” by Sarah’s assistant tutor). As for the shisha variation, I’m not satisfied with the way it looks. I don’t just mean that it is incredibly irregular – I decided to do very little measuring out on this sampler and just stitch free-hand – but the stranded cotton doesn’t cover the foundation threads at all well unless you pack the stitches in really closely (which makes it difficult to have nice defined petals), and the three strands look rather untidy. I was working from memory as I don’t have a tablet or anything like that, but when I looked up the instructions on the website later, I realised Mary Corbet used perle #5; this meant far fewer stitches were needed, and the lines looked much cleaner. And as I noticed there isn’t enough of the blue and white stranded cotton left to complete the stitch anyway, I will probably unpick the straggly daisy and restitch it in perle #5. Or I may try another variation altogether, one that she calls shisha with Cretan stitch (very closely related to feather stitch). It’s quite open compared to the other shisha stitches, but that gives it quite a nice lacy look.

Sarah very kindly brought some goldwork purchases as well; at the goldwork day class I didn’t want to impulse buy, so I researched what I wanted later, and asked Sarah if she could bring the things to this second workshop. For now they are mainly tools: a velvet board for cutting bits of purl on and keeping them in check (pun definitely intended smiley); a pair of serrated goldwork scissors to grip the purl while cutting; a pair of curved tweezers to pinch pearl purl and passing threads into nice sharp corners; a mellor to guide sewing threads over the thread or wire being couched, and to gently push couched threads into shape; and a curved needle for finishing off plunged threads.

Goldwork purchases - velvet board, scissors, tweezers, mellor and curved needle

I’m hoping to build up my goldwork thread and wire collection over time, but for now I just bought a mixed bag of chunky bright check purl (gold, silver and copper), and some finer silver bright check purl (more about that later). And from the many decorative bits and pieces Sarah brought to adorn shisha work with, I couldn’t resist some padded felt shapes and a bag of reddish gold sequins. I admit it, an impulse purchase; but as it was all of £1.25 I don’t feel too bad about it. I resisted some particularly splendid beetle wings as she hadn’t brought the pre-drilled ones, but I may very well get some in the future; Mary Corbet does spectacular things with them in both shisha and goldwork, and while I don’t aspire to the dizzy heights of her expertise and skill I think the wings would make a very attractive addition to less ambitious work too.

Other purchases - bright check purl, padded felt shapes and sequins

Hoping to ask Sarah for a little advice I had brought the goldwork bee. And straight away she corrected my assumption about its body. The reddish bright check purl is not copper, but gold tarnished from long term neglect *oops*. I said I’d thought of unpicking the body and she suggested salvaging the purl, if possible, and combining it with the silver bright check I bought to create stripes. So that’s my aim for when I next pick up this poor neglected insect.

Thinking of goldwork and shisha I was struck by the difference between the two classes. The shisha class was very free – no two projects created that day were the same, even though we were all learning the same stitches and using the same materials. This slightly uncharted and unplanned approach seems to go quite well with the folksy nature of the embroidery, and somewhat to my surprise (I am generally a counted embroidery girl, after all) I really enjoyed this aspect of it. The goldwork class was much more structured, and we all ended up with more or less the same result (apart from choosing different colours for the flowers, or putting some of the secondary swirls in a slightly different place) because we all started with a design drawn on our fabric, and were told which techniques to use where. Of course this is not an absolute difference; you can draw a formal design for shisha work, and many of the stitches will undoubtedly look better if you draw guidelines to keep them regular and tidy. And goldwork, even when starting from a particular design, allows for lots of variation. This was brought home to me when I had a closer look at my latest goldwork scribble, a toadstool with a caterpillar; I wrote down what I am likely to use in the way of materials and techniques, but it could be done in many different ways and would then look quite different.

An idea for a goldwork toadstool and caterpillar

Oh, in case you were wondering: copper pearl purl for the outline of the hood, spirals of couched silver passing (or Japanese thread) for the spots, padded kid for the “collar”, outlined in twist which will also outline the rest of the stem, chipwork under the collar to indicate shade, cutwork of rough purl (or a combination of two purls) for the underside of the hood, couched check thread for the grass with tiny spangles in gold and silver as flowers, and slightly larger spangles attached with stem stitch in gold and silver bright check purl for the catterpillar. With thin gold thread and petite beads for its feelers. Probably. But I may change my mind.

An end to buttonholing, and some ornament-making with a purpose

In October 2013 I started stitching what was to be a set of three designs. Three months later I completed the 18th design in the series. And now, a little over a year after putting the final stitch into “9b: Holly”, Floral Lace has finally been properly finished – backed with felt and with a buttonhole edge scalloped on the inside they are ready to be… well, what? Not coasters; the beads would make anything put on them wobble, and they won’t fit into my trusty acrylic coasters so the stitching is unprotected and I’d live in constant dread of getting coffee or tea on them. They’re not really big enough to be decorative mats. They could be stitched onto cushions or a quilt, but that seems rather a waste of the nicely finished back. If anyone has any workable suggestions, do let me know!

18 Floral Laces all buttonholed

Rather exciting – a needlework magazine has shown an interest in one of my designs, but they’ve asked for a bit of tweaking and for the finished projects to be made into ornaments, so that’s my next task. I’ll start stitching the tweaked design tonight, and with a bit of luck will be able to do the ornament-making over the weekend. That part of it may be a bit of a challenge…