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.

Kits. Lots of kits.

When I started Mabel’s Fancies, it was because I found that other people liked the things I’d been designing for my own use, and as I had some experience in writing websites it seemed a good idea to set one up for myself and offer the designs for sale, thus to at least partly finance my hobby. My husband, ever ambitious, has long urged me to expand and go for world domination, but I’m perfectly happy for it to stay small-scale and bring in some stash money so I don’t have to worry about buying goldwork threads or hand-dyed fabrics.

To this end, I decided that digital chart packs were the way to go. There was a bit of a scare a while back when it looked like I would have to charge VAT for every digital sale abroad and make sure that it was the correct VAT for whatever country the buyer was from, which would have put a complete stop to that side of Mabel’s Fancies, but fortunately the law turned out not to apply to things sent out by email. Phew.

Quite early on in Mabel’s existence I did add one kit (or rather a set of three kits) to the range: the Mini Needlebook kits for people who wanted to try out Hardanger. Between them they cover the three most common bars and filling stitches, and you end up with one or more usable needlebooks. And that was it. A few tools were added, like squissors, but on the whole most of Mabel’s fancies were digital ones.

Set of Hardanger needle matchbooks

Then I started teaching classes and workshops. And for those classes and workshops I needed to provide material packs. And as I was putting those together I thought I might as well put together a few more and bung them on the website, and so the needlebook kits were joined by bookmarks and notebooks and coasters (all in Hardanger), as well as a number of cards in Shisha, freestyle, tactile and embellished embroidery. It was definitely expansion, though fortunately still a long way away from the world domination advocated by my husband.

On the whole, I can get away with making up a few kits at a time, or even just making them up as and when they are needed. I’ve got two boxes with kit materials, some of them pre-cut, and so putting a single kit together when it’s ordered is fairly quick, and it means I’m not taking up storage space which is rather at a premium in our house. Even when it’s a single workshop, which is usually for a maximum of twelve people, it’s all quite manageable. It’s when there are three or (as now) four workshops looming that the production line begins to get a bit overwhelming.

And so this is what our house has been looking like for the past week or so:

Preparing Shisha kits And more Shisha kits Preparing Wildflower kits Preparing Butterfly Wreath kits
And more butterfly kits Cutting the fabric Ironing the fabric Transferring the patterns

You may have noticed, by the way, the complete and slightly surprising absence of Cat in these pictures. Lexi took pity on me and decided not to spread her fur onto the fabric, tangle the threads in a play-fight or photobomb the FoF pics. She confined herself to attacking and killing a few off-cuts – I am much obliged to her.

An elephantine fillip

As all stitchers know – as anybody with a hobby or favourite pastime knows – life can get rather in the way sometimes. Not necessarily in very dramatic or tragic ways (although that, too, happens) but just by the demands of work, other obligations, and the odd spell of under-the-weather-ness. It is this that explains why throughout September no Fancies took Flight and it is also the reason why very little stitching got done in the Figworthy household during that time; I simply did not have the inclination, apart from some experimental leaves for the Tree of Life (more about which hopefully later this month).

Sometimes the projects that we have lined up simply fail to inspire, however enthusiastic we may have been about them at the outset. Although I enjoy stitching the various leaves once I get into them, often I simply don’t feel like picking them up and getting started on them; and even when I do I can get stuck half-way through – quite an achievement when the whole project is one small leaf! Fortunately I had other things to occupy me, such as putting together 48 workshop kits (more about that later as well…), but it feels odd not to have something stitchy on the go that I want to get on with.

And then, as I was thinking about an email I need to write concerning some designs, I was reminded of this elephant:

A Wedding Elephant

Some time ago, well over a year in fact, I was asked whether I would consider doing a smaller version of the elephant (known as The Wedding Elephant as well as by its official title “Remember the Day”) which would work on favour cards or place cards. At the time I just stored that idea away in the back of my mind, as it would require a fair bit of fiddling with the design – how small does an elephant need to get if it is to fit onto a favour card? Surely too small to accommodate both the lattice work and the flowers? And an empty elephant would look a bit minimalist, besides not tying in with the original elephant (whether the person who asked me was thinking of the original elephant as a wedding invitation I don’t know, but she definitely meant the small one to complement the full-sized one).

But as the elephant was brought to my mind again by that email (which, incidentally, is still unwritten…), I could suddenly envisage what the mini elephant might look like. Could there be a pair of elephants, facing each other, one with the lattice and one with the flowers? Or if you couldn’t fit two of them on one favour card, perhaps half the cards could have the lattice one facing one way, and the other half the floral one facing the other way. Diversity in symmetry, or something like that.

So I got to work drawing and redrawing and mirroring and resizing, and getting my boxes of hand-dyed stranded cottons and silks out, and now I can’t wait for my stitching time after dinner to get to work on a baby elephant or two. Hurray for a stimulating pachyderm!

Mini variations on an elephant

Playing with material combinations

In my previous post I mentioned that somehow some particularly nice fabrics seem to have found their way into my stash, fabrics just right for appliqué projects. Sound recognisable? I blame the internet myself, but then as that also indirectly found me a particularly nice husband I’m not likely to complain too vociferously smiley.

The fabrics in question are five shades of Makower Spraytime, and they were a bit of a gamble. They would have to work with the various Anchor Multicolor perles I already have, and it is notoriously difficult to judge colours on a computer screen. But I found a shop that offered them at a good price with very reasonable postage, decided that even if they weren’t quite the right shade to use with the Multicolors there was bound to be some other perle in my stash that would match them, and before I knew it Pink P42, Apple Green G46, Orange N56, Mid Blue B15 and Mauve L45 were on their way to me. And hip hip hurray, they do work with the Anchor threads!

Appliqué fabrics and possible Anchor threads

But the threads are just the first colour-coordinated hurdle. When the appliqué embroidery has been completed, it is to be finished as a card. Do the cards I generally use come in colours that will suit the fabrics (and the threads, not to mention the gems)? I decided to concentrate on the fabric as providing the biggest area of colour, and got aperture cards in several likely shades from my stash. These were not necessarily the right cards aperture-wise, but they would do to see which card colours would go with which fabric. As it turned out there were suitable colours for most of them in my collection, the only slightly awkward one being the orange fabric. Brown and yellow cards will work, and possibly (when embroidered with the green/yellow/orange Anchor perle) dark green, though none are ideal; unfortunately I don’t think Craft Creations (my go to place for aperture cards) have anything more suitable available – they did a nice rich orangey yellow years ago but for some reason that got dropped from their range. Oh well, one or more of the others will have to do.

Appliqué fabrics and possible card colours

So now that I’ve got the various colour combinations worked out, all that remains to be done is to stitch several of them to iron out the inevitable hiccups (mixed metaphor, I know), photograph everything, write the instructions and turn them into a kit, and that’s another workshop sorted!

More workshops

When I had put together the two Church Building Fund workshops for last May and June, stitching the Floral Gems wreath, I decided that this was going to be the last for a while. Over the past three years I’ve taught five sets of workshops covering Hardanger, shisha, freestyle, tactile (the raised wreath) and embellished embroidery, and I felt I was running out of techniques. There is goldwork, of course, which would no doubt be very popular, but the cost of the materials makes it unsuitable for a charity workshop. So I mentioned this to the ladies attending, and was met with a wave of disappointment. And when I showed the appliqué Bauble to the participants at the second workshop as a possible project for some unspecified time in the future, they all agreed that a pre-Christmas workshop was called for. This year.

The appliqué bauble in a card

Incidentally, this is not the card I would choose for the workshop – it’s all a bit too circular – but it’s what I happened to have in my card stash. If the workshop does materialise (and it seems likely that it will, as somehow I seem to have mysteriously acquired some new fabrics that are just right for this project) I’ll probably go for a card with a square aperture of the same width. This would also accommodate… but wait, I am getting ahead of myself!

Considering this new workshop, I naturally thought of ways in which to use it again after the initial Building Fund run, and the obvious candidate for that is the Knitting & Stitching Show. Although four workshops is as much as I want to teach at any one show, I like to offer the organisers as wide a range as possible from which to pick what they feel will best fit into their programme. Unfortunately, as I found when I offered the chunky Christmas Wreath, the workshop organiser is not fond of Christmas projects in October. Personally I think October is just about the right time to start stitching for Christmas, but heigh-ho, if that’s the situation then offering another Christmas project is not going to be enthusiastically welcomed.

But I still thought the technique would make a great K&S workshop, and I particularly liked the band of gems and sequins edged with couched metallic ribbon. Could I incorporate this into a non-festive-seasonal design? Something that would appeal to a mostly British audience? Of course – a mug of tea!

Sketch for an appliqué mug

The steam rising from the mug (which could also contain coffee, of course, or hot chocolate – the beverage isn’t visible so whatever appeals to the stitcher!) could be worked in twisted couched organza ribbon extending beyond the aperture, or for a simpler project simply be left out. There was just one slight drawback. The mug as I drew it to incorporate a central band the same size as the bauble came out rather big; it would need a larger card with a special envelope which would make the kits more expensive. It’s easy enough to make the design smaller, but would it still be able to accommodate the gem/sequin band?

Two sizes of mug with gems

Well, it looks just about OK on paper. I will just have to try them both out on fabric to see whether it works in practice. And talking of fabric… (watch this space).

Applying appliqué lessons

You may remember that my first appliqué bauble suffered from a few flaws, most notably visible attaching stitches. A second bauble was called for, with two changes: the thread used to attach the patterned fabric would match that fabric, not the calico it was being attached to; and the embroidery stitch covering the edges (in this case heavy chain stitch) would be worked in perle #5, not perle #8. Together these measures should make the stitches pretty much invisible. So I set to work.

The patterned fabric attached with coordinating thread

So far so good; the thread I’m using is variegated so it doesn’t match the fabric everywhere, but as the fabric is patterned it doesn’t matter too much. Yes, definitely pleased with that.

The next bit is unchanged from the first bauble, because I quite liked it as it was – two lines of Kreinik 1/8″ silver ribbon couched with the same variegated stranded cotton I used to attach the coloured fabric.

The central band is bordered by silver ribbon

Now for the second change, working the border stitch in perle #5. Well, the stitched circle itself looked fine (it is my firm belief that very few things stitched in Anchor’s Blue Hawaii shade could ever look bad) but I noticed something that had occurred in the previous bauble as well: the appliquéd fabric seemed to pucker as I covered the edges.

I held it up to the light at different angles; I pulled the calico tighter in the hoop; I squinted at it. None of it was any good. There was no doubt about it, it puckered.

The fabric puckers after working the heavy chain stitch

So there we are. Using a matching thread to attach the coloured fabric and a thicker perle for the border did solve the problem I’d set out to solve, but the problem I hadn’t really thought much about was, if anything, worse. When I noticed it in the first bauble I rather thought it was just one of those inexplicable things that sometimes happen in embroidery and it would be fine in subsequent projects – after all, there had been no puckering in the appliqué Christmas tree. It now seems that it may be a direct consequence of the border stitch I chose. The Christmas tree was worked in raised chain stitch, most of which is on the surface; only the foundation stitches go through the fabrics, and there isn’t much strain on them, whereas the heavy chain stitch pulls quite strongly at the fabric.

The finished tree, embellished

So it seems there will have to be a third bauble, bordered in perle #5 raised chain stitch! One advantage of that stitch is that it takes corners better than heavy chain stitch; not crucial in the bauble design, which is perfectly circular (or as perfectly circular as I can make it), but I have other ideas…

Twin butterflies (continued)

A few months ago I wrote about a butterfly sketch which I intended to turn into two versions, Beginner and Intermediate, possibly to be used in workshops. My first stitched version showed up a few things that needed attention, and so I decided to stitch two models of each of the versions – one each at the original size I printed it at, using special threads (respectively silks and variegated perles), and one each at a slightly smaller size, using coton à broder #16 (slightly thicker than the more usual #25).

And here they are! The Beginner butterfly had its body stitch changed from the initial sketch, but as that was done before I stitched the first model they both use the interlocking buttonhole/blanket stitch. The stitch for the head was changed between models; the buttonhole stitches in the first model simply wouldn’t behave and make a nice, neat oval. I changed it to a “spoked” arrangement consisting of straight stitches only. The wings are whipped running stitch in both models, but in the second model the running stitches are shorter and closer together, to give a smoother line. I could have used whipped backstitch for an even smoother effect, but decided to keep that for the Intermediate butterfly.

The first version of the beginner's butterfly The second version of the beginner's butterfly

I really like the look of the interlocking buttonhole stitch, but I resisted the temptation to re-use it in the Intermediate butterfly and instead used what I had envisaged in my original sketch, buttonhole stitch closed into segments by straight stitches, each segment decorated with a French knot (there were one or two segments that had come out too small to accommodate a knot, so they were left empty; as they were fairly symmetrically spaced – at the ends of both models and in the middle of the second – it doesn’t look too odd). Incidentally, I did wonder whether to call it buttonhole stitch or blanket stitch as many books and other sources seem to use the terms interchangeably. My personal understanding is that it’s buttonhole stitch when it is very densely worked (as you would around a buttonhole), and blanket stitch when the teeth are more widely spaced as they are in these butterflies. But I must admit to being a bit slap-dash in deciding what I call it in any given design.

The two lines of Mountmellick stitch in the top wing were meant to have their pointy bits together at the body end, but in the first model I started from the wrong side. It looks fine that way too, it’s just not the effect I had in mind smiley. The second model shows the stitches worked the way I intended them to be. I like the look of the communal starting point, and am using something similar (but with the two lines back to back along their entire length) in some of the experimental leaves for the Tree of Life.

Finally a note about the antennae. They are couched pistil stitches, and I added the couching as an afterthought because I wanted a nice elegant curve to the antennae, and pistil stitches don’t curve. But I’m not sure I like the look of the couching. No, that’s not true. I’m sure I don’t like the look of the couching, it just looks clumsy. So the final version of the Intermediate butterfly will have straight antennae, unless I (or any of you) can think of a different way of introducing the desired elegant curve.

The first version of the intermediate butterfly The second version of the intermediate butterfly

And that’s it as far as the butterflies are concerned for the time being. I haven’t got any firm plans for Butterfly workshops at the moment, as there are four K&S ones plus probably some more Church Building Fund ones to prepare for first. The Beginner and Intermediate butterflies will hibernate in my project folder until the time is ripe for them to stretch their wings and become a stitch sampler for some Beginning and Intermediate stitchers!

A kind and generous artist

A few weeks ago Sew & So posted a new kit on their Facebook page – a rectangle completely filled with stylised cats and one dog, called The Imposter. It was quirky. It was fun. I liked the colours. The only problem is that I very rarely stitch other people’s designs now, having quite enough of my own to fill all my stitching time and then some. But I really, really liked this picture, so I messaged Sew & So to ask them if they knew whether the design was available as a print.

The Imposter cross stitch kit

They replied that they didn’t know, but suggested that I ask the artist, Pete Underhill. I found his FB page and sent off a message to explain where I’d seen The Interloper (yes, I know – I managed to get the name wrong…), and to ask about prints. I soon got a reply saying that he had no plans for prints of this particular design but that he’d be happy to send me a copy. And today it arrived, signed, and with a note apologising for the quality of the paper smiley. It is now waiting to be framed and will in time grace one of the walls of my new craft room.

The Imposter print

By the way, when I apologised for getting the design’s name wrong, Mr Underhill replied that he had originally given it that very title – how’s that for a coincidence?

Win a ticket to the London Knitting & Stitching Show or get a discount

A special offer for all who love needlework (and who will be reasonably near London in October): we have three complimentary tickets to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace to give away!

Each ticket admits one adult on one day, and they are valid on Wednesday 11th, Friday 13th or Sunday 15th October all day, or Thursday 12th October evening only.

To be in with a chance of winning one, please comment to say what you think you would enjoy most at the Knitting & Stitching Show. The competition closes at midnight on Wednesday 12th July, and I will announce the winners on Thursday.

And if you’re not one of the lucky winners? Well, this year the K&S organisers have kindly given the tutors a discount code to share with their customers. Instead of paying £14.50 for an advance adult ticket, you pay just £12.00 (excluding any booking fees).

So if you have ever, since the start of Mabel’s Fancies on Easter Monday 2011, been a customer (or would like to become one smiley) drop me an email and I will send you the discount code!

Special offers for the Knitting & Stitching Show

Alternative use for a sandwich box

Some time ago I bought some large storage boxes with clip fastenings; they are square and flattish and hold the finished projects that I haven’t quite got round to “finishing” – you know, as cushions or bags or box lids or framed pictures or baby blankets or whatever. I also got a rectangular box with compartments, rather deeper than my usual boxes, for my goldwork materials. That too has a clip fastening. They’re nice and secure, which is not so important in the case of the finished pieces of stitching, but essential when they are filled with beads or spangles or bits of gold wire. One drawback is that they are not the cheapest storage options around.

So when I needed a small project box for my Jacobean goldwork flower, and I found that my usual project boxes wouldn’t do because the compartments were too shallow for the envelopes holding the gold threads and wires, I was delighted to find that the smallest of a set of three clip boxes we’d bought for sandwiches and the like was actually just the right size for a smallish goldwork project!

But what about my Tree of Life? It will use some goldwork materials and, in one version, crewel wool. Which is not wound on bobbins and like the goldwork bits and bobs won’t fit into a standard project box. Could I perhaps find a slightly larger sandwich box? I could and I did, and it was even more useful than I had imagined because some genius had decided to fit it with two small compartments along one side, presumably for some cherry tomatoes or a small tub of salad dressing.

A supermarket sandwich box

I wonder if the designer ever envisaged his lunch box looking like this?

A sandwich box with crewel wools and gold

Goldwork hide-and-seek and picking threads

I keep most of my goldwork materials in small glassine envelopes – little greaseproof paper bags which are translucent so you get an inkling of what’s inside (and how pretty it looks). The envelopes are in turn kept in a storage box, where they are stacked in shallow rows: a stack of different pearl purls, a stack of spangles, a stack of milliary wires and so on.

Goldwork threads in their glassine envelopes

It works very well, and I can lay my hands on whatever I want with ease. Generally. Recently, however, I could not find an envelope of gold Elizabethan twist, and one of silver smooth passing. I knew I had them (I keep a record of all my stash), I could visualise them, but although I went through every compartment of the storage box half a dozen times, they would not turn up.

This puzzled me especially because I remembered quite clearly that the Elizabethan twist was a relatively large roll of metallic thread which had only just fitted inside the envelope. Surely that couldn’t hide anywhere so successfully? The solution to the mystery turned out to be twofold: a) bad memory – my stock of Elizabethan twist wasn’t nearly as big as I though, it was the gold smooth passing (which was not missing) that rather stretched its envelope, and b) an annoying tendency for glassine envelopes to form close bonds with each other, especially when not very full. The gold twist and the silver passing were both where they were meant to be, just hiding inside the flaps of their neighbours…

How glassine envelopes hide

So now that I had all threads and wires present and correct I could finally do what I had actually got the storage box out for: choosing the golds for the silk version of the Tree of Life. These will be used for the bird sitting on one of the leaves, for a small detail in the top leaf, and for or nué (a type of couching) on the final leaf. After some consideration I’ve chosen smooth passing, pearl purl and wire check, as well as some gold kid which isn’t shown here. I’m looking forward to showing you my golden bird and leaves!

Gold threads for the Tree of Life