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.

An in-between flower, green cats and great customer service

I shouldn’t have. But I did. We were going to go away for a few days and as I usually take a small stitching project on such occasions I decided I might as well, why not, take one of Kelly Fletcher’s freebies. I know it wasn’t strictly speaking on my To Do list, but after all Time Away is meant to be different from Time At Home, isn’t it? As it happens we had to come home early, so I either had to abandon the project for the time being or redesignate our unexpected Time At Home as Time Away Within The Meaning Of The Act. Guess which…

When considering materials for the KF designs I wasn’t sure I actually had a suitable fabric, as I haven’t done that much surface embroidery up to now (by the way, can someone explain to me why it is called surface embroidery? Surely most embroidery is done on a surface?), and what I have done has been on dupion silk or coloured cotton. For this I wanted a very fine linen. Now you may remember I did order some recently, but as it was from a Dutch shop the fabric was sent to my mother, where we will pick it up on our holiday next month. I do have a nice piece of 36ct Zweigart Edinburgh linen, however, which judging by Mary Corbet’s blog and other sources might work. Off I went to my linen bag (that’s a bag of linen fabrics, not a bag made from linen) and found to my pleasant surprise (and slight embarrassment in having forgotten all about them) a piece of 40ct Zweigart Newcastle linen in a stony colour, a piece of cream 48ct Gander linen, and a piece of antique white 55ct Zweigart Kingston linen. I bought them some time back for stitching miniatures on, but then found that silk gauze was easier to work on. Never mind, they will now Come In Handy!

Feeling very virtuous in having found the right fabric (or several right fabrics) in my stash, I added to this by deciding to use some of my collection of silks instead of the prescribed DMC cottons. Do you know how you sometimes keep certain special threads, fabrics, embellishments for a special occasion, and somehow there is hardly ever an occasion sufficiently special? Of course sticking to that principle rigidly enough will only lead to leaving behind an impressive collection of untouched silk threads in the hope that one of your nearest and dearest will want to use them. Now I’m not quite that bad – I have used several of my silks, but I’ve decided to use them more, and these two projects seemed the perfect start to my resolution.

So here is the set-up for Bloomin’ Marvellous 2: The Gander linen with four shades of Chameleon Shades of Africa silk, which is overdyed Soie d’Alger. I plan to use the recommended number of strands, but as I shrunk the design a bit that may come out too chunky, so I may change it for some or all of the petals.

Ready to go with Bloomin' Marvellous 2

And here is the set-up for Cats on a Wall; well, the materials – I haven’t transferred the design yet (like the flower it’ll be smaller than intended by KF). The fabric is the Newcastle linen (the shade is called Flax), and the threads are Rainbow Gallery Splendor stranded silk. The design uses four shades of green but I had only three in this series, so I’ll use the lightest one for two cats. Incidentally, I wound these threads several years ago but never noticed until now that I put the initials wrong on two of the bobbins. “RSG”. Tut.

The materials for the cats, for when I have time...

Talking of using up “special stash”, I’ve been doing just that in putting together the shisha kits: the variegated green stranded thread used for the leaf comes from my collection of Carrie’s Creations stranded cotton and silk. However, they are not easy to come by here in the UK, so it would be a good idea to have an indigenous thread standing by for when I run out. Like Tamar Embroideries’ Fine 5-Stranded Cotton, shade 243. It looked just the thing on their website, but would it go with the DMC coton a broder I am using for the stem? I contacted them to ask, and instead of having a look themselves and replying Yes or No (or, as some companies might have done, simply ignored it) they sent me a generous sample so I could try it out for myself!

A sample of Fine Stranded thread by Tamar Embroideries

And I think it’s a pretty good match, wouldn’t you say?

A good match

I haven’t stitched with it yet, but from the look of it the strands seem to be about the same thickness as DMC stranded cotton; the whole thread looks more tightly twisted so the strands have a more wiggly look than DMC. The only other difference I can see is that it is 5- instead of 6-stranded. There’s another shisha variation I want to try so I’ll use the Tamar thread for the leaf and I’ll let you know how I got on with it, and how it looks with the coton a broder stem.

Tamar's Fine Stranded and DMC stranded

Unexpected goldwork

Remember I said there was another project for which I wanted to use the Millennium frame? It’s an unexpected piece of goldwork. No, not the little Jacobean design I mentioned last time – I’ve written to the magazine again with my husband’s clever proposal but haven’t heard from them yet – this one came to me more or less by accident! A few weeks ago Mary Corbett wrote about Benton & Johnson goldwork kits, and in the comments someone mentioned the intriguingly named “Air Balloon Goldwork Kit” which unfortunately doesn’t have a picture with it. I’d visited B & J’s website before in my search for goldwork materials, but they sell in rather large quantities more suited to resellers or teachers making up kits. However, on revisiting the site I saw they had moved to a new address in London, very close to one of my regular walking routes when I am in town for the Knitting & Stitching Show; but it wasn’t very clear whether the address was actually a shop which you could visit. So I rang them to find out.

Neil Halford at Benton & Johnson’s very kindly explained to me that it was really only a showroom for their ceremonial work, and that any purchases had to be made via the website or over the phone. I took the opportunity of asking him about the balloon kit. “Ah”, he said. “We haven’t actually had that stitched yet.” And before I knew it he asked me whether I would like to stitch it for them. Very tempting, but I felt I ought to tell him that I am a bit of a beginner when it comes to goldwork. Which reminds me, I don’t think I ever showed you the finished RSN day class project – very remiss of me, so here it is, on its own and framed in a happened-to-have-this-and-it’s-just-right frame.

The goldwork watering can finished The goldwork watering can framed

Anyway, we talked some more and he said how difficult it was to find model stitchers, so I took a deep breath and said that if he was willing to take the risk, I’d be more than happy to have a go and take pictures and write comments etc. A week later, the postwoman brought a goldwork air balloon. Well, a potential goldwork air balloon. It uses padded kid, lots of couching, some chipwork, and as far as I can see no techniques that I’ve never done before, which is a reassuring thought.

When I opened the envelope and took out the kit, one thing immediately struck me. Can you guess what it was?

The Hot Air Balloon Goldwork Kit

That’s right: it’s already got a picture of the stitched design. I rang Neil and he said it was a very bad photo, they couldn’t use it to fit in with the format of the other kits, and they didn’t really have any information as to how good the instructions were so they needed a stitcher to tell them. Well, I’m happy to oblige smiley. I also asked whether it would be all right for me to blog about the project and how I got on with it, and he said that was fine, so expect various updates over the next few months. Rather wonderfully, there is no deadline, so no pressure – just enjoyment.

It’s always very enjoyable to dive right in and take all the bits and bobs out of the kit and see what’s there, but I noticed there was a content list on the back so I read that first. It definitely looked promising! The materials were all snugly enclosed in the instruction booklet which looks quite comprehensive, with colour photographs to illustrate the various steps.

What's in the kit Instructions with colour photographs

It really makes me want to promote this to Current Project, but unfortunately I can’t quite start on this yet, as there are several other things that have priority (see last Wednesday’s post). When I do, however, the first thing will be to mount it on the Millennium frame. This means finding my own backing fabric, as B & J’s very understandably don’t provide a piece large enough for the purpose; the included backing fabric is actually larger than stated in the content list and is easily big enough to mount the whole thing in a hoop, so no criticism there (it does annoy me so when the fabric supplied with a kit is only about half an inch bigger than the stitched project – you can’t work like that). The blue silk fabric is also of a good size, but with rather a strong crease in it; I’ll have to see how that irons out. Then there are two squares of dark gold felt and some extremely shiny gold kid leather which will definitely attract the eye in the finished piece. The last thing in the kit is a bulky acid-free envelope – another thing to unwrap, it’s almost as good as a birthday! Inside are beeswax, beads, coloured metallic threads and various gold threads and purls. Now of course I don’t know yet how much thread this balloon will take, but at first sight there seems to be an extremely generous amount of everything, and it all looks beautiful and shiny and very tempting. Let’s see how long I manage to resist…

Fabric, kid, felt, and a glassine envelope Lots of metal threads

The Millennium frame and a DIY lightbox

There hasn’t been a lot of stitching going on in the Figworthy household recently – instead, I’ve been drawing diagrams and writing instructions for some designs that will appear in Stitch magazine, as well as putting together what feels like innumerable shisha flower kits for the upcoming workshops, and trying to improve the design and choose the materials for the shisha day class. And all the while I am itching to try out some new stitches and start on Kelly Fletcher’s Cats on a Wall. Alas, not until I’ve sent instructions, diagrams and stitched models off to Stitch, which has to be done by Good Friday.

I did manage to frame up the fabric for Orpheus, and even do some stitching on it. I really like the set-up I’ve got with the bar covers I made some time ago for a clip-on scroll frame (they turned out to be just the right size for the Millennium frame) and my DIY needle minder stuck to the cover rather than to my stitching fabric. Usually when I am using a larger hoop or frame I clamp it to the Lowery stand and leave it there, but although the Millennium’s chunky stretcher fits quite snugly into the clamp, I get the impression that the weight of the frame puts a little more pressure on the clamping point than with other frames – which is odd because working with it the frame doesn’t feel particularly heavy. Even so, I will put it in the clamp only when I am actually going to work on it, and take it out when I’m done for the day (or week. or month.)

Orpheus mounted on the Millennium frame

It’s not had a lot of use yet, but it has had a significant use: the pulled eyelets. Would that lovely fabric tension stand up to being pulled about quite severely? Yes, it did. The fabric was taut when I started, and it was taut when I finished. I love my Millennium frame! What a shame it’s rather too expensive to have a spare… because you see, there is another project that I would very much like to work on it. Oh well, I’ll just have to swap projects – after all, one of the nice things about this frame is how quick it is to mount the fabric!

A week or so back I was in The Netherlands, and in a shop selling art materials I asked whether they had any small lightboxes. (Rather embarrassingly, I couldn’t remember the Dutch word for lightbox. *sigh* That’s what comes from having been an ex-pat for nearly 10 years now.) The very helpful girl I spoke to said they didn’t have any, but why didn’t I just make one with a box, a light and a transparent top? Brilliant. I am already using several bits of glass from photo frames to trace the designs for the shisha kits, but so far I’m holding them up to a light source which means I have to do my tracing vertically – not ideal. Once back home I quickly found a Chinese takeaway container, my husband supplied me with a nifty LED torch which shines from its side as well as its front, and with my bits of glass I had all the elements for a DIY lightbox.

The ingredients for a DIY lightbox

Unfortunately it didn’t work. The light was too bright and the individual LEDs were visible, even with a tissue on the top as a diffuser. But as I was experimenting with the various bits I realised that putting the torch in my lap, shining up and with a tissue over it, and then holding the glass with the design and fabric a little way away from it, does work! So that’s what I will be doing.

Freebies, cats and awkward goldwork

Earlier this week, as I was continuing my chronological journey through Mary Corbet’s blog, I stumbled across some lovely freebies – always something that brightens up the day (even if it doesn’t particularly need brightening). Writing about some of her favourite websites, she mentioned a designer who was doing a series of Jacobean leaves. Now I’ve only got to 2009 on Mary’s blog, so it does happen that interesting-looking links turn out to be no more, but fortunately Kelly Fletcher’s site is still very much alive. I really like the clean look of her designs, lots of deceptively simple outlines filled with a variety of stitches; her cut fruits are great fun, and I have fallen in love with the four cats on a wall. The peachy corally flower is a close second. And then there is a very pretty set of 12 floral designs plus a Christmas tree which she offers as free downloads on her Craftsy page – numbers 2, 4, 7 and 11 are now officially on my To Do list! (What a happy coincidence that, taking advantage of the weak Euro, I have just ordered some very nice surface embroidery fabric from my favourite Dutch needlework shop…)

Cat design by Kelly Fletcher Flower design by Kelly Fletcher

These were not the only inspiring designs I found on Needle n’ Thread; some posts earlier Mary had discussed a needlework magazine called Samplers & Antique Needlework, and she included pictures of some back issues she had managed to get. The one that immediately drew my attention was the Spring 2005 issue, with a lovely little goldwork project on the cover.

Samplers & Antique Needlework vol. 38

Isn’t it dainty? I like the traditional motif, straight from Jacobean crewel work, the fact that it uses fairly basic goldwork techniques (nothing I haven’t come across yet, anyway, so it can’t be too advanced smiley, its modest size – but these are all rationalisations after the fact; the simple truth is that it immediately appealed to me, and I wanted to stitch it. To do this, I will of course need the magazine. And that turned out not to be quite as straightforward as you might think. There are second-hand copies about on eBay, but they are all in America, and postage alone is over $16; even if I got it at the lowest price offered it would come to nearly £13, a bit steep when all you want from the magazine is one small design.

But wait a minute, Mary mentioned back issues. Off I went to see if the magazine had a website. The good news is that it does. The even better news is that they do back issues, and they do them as downloads, so no postage. Yay! Then I looked a bit more closely and realised they only went back a few years. It was possible that they had back issues that were not on the website, so I contacted them to ask. The lady who replied said that no, they didn’t have digital back issues that far back, but they did sell a very good goldwork book, and she’d forwarded my email to the editorial department. The goldwork book was one I already have, and more to the point it doesn’t have the design I was asking about, but perhaps the editorial staff will be able to help.

If not, I will try my husband’s idea. I showed him a fairly large picture of the design that I had found on the internet and pointed out what techniques were used. I sighed that I could easily stitch it from the photograph if it weren’t for the fact that I am a serious respecter of copyright. He then suggested that I write to the publishers, and offer to pay them the cover price of the magazine, in return for which they allow me to stitch the design. They get the same money as if I had actually bought the magazine, but they don’t have to send me anything (although if they did want to email me a list of the materials used so that I don’t have to make an educated guess, I wouldn’t complain) and I save the postage. Are there any drawbacks at all to this brilliant plan?

Thoughts on kits

When I started Mabel’s Fancies the plan was to sell only digital chart packs. No postage to calculate, nothing to pack up, no stock to store, people could print them out as often as they needed, and they were able to use whatever materials they liked. Then I found that my favourite titanium-coated squissors were getting unobtainable, so I set about obtaining them and they became part of Mabel’s range. Then, because of some classes and workshops I’d been teaching, an idea started to emerge about the need for small, inexpensive kits for beginners and people wanting to try out Hardanger to see if they liked it. And so the Needle book kits were added. Before I knew it some rather fun foam-covered notebooks and a trial order of colourful hand-made wool felt gift tags had led to two more kits, the Felt bookmark kit for beginners and the Notebook kit for slightly more advanced stitchers (whom we wouldn’t like to feel left out).

Kits, then, are obviously addictive, or I wouldn’t be considering adding yet another two to the range using the simplified coaster designs I’ve been playing around with (the picture below shows what they will probably look like), as well as the Shisha flower card I’ve been experimenting with for workshops. And as I was putting together a list of things that would have to be included I pondered what you might call the Generosity Principle of Kits. Grand name, I know – positively philosophical. But what I mean is that people who sell kits, however much they love stitchers and want to provide them with a wonderful experience, in the end have to make a profit. It’s not quite so pressing for people like me for whom it is not our main business, but even there the general idea is to cover costs and have a bit left over for our trouble. That margin basically depends on two things: the cost of putting the kit together, and the price that is charged for it. And that’s where the juggling starts.

Models for the new coaster kit

If the price is too high, no-one will buy the kits. If it’s too low, it’ll barely cover the costs unless… unless you start cutting into the materials. Not literally, of course. That would just be silly. But when you are an experienced stitcher (and I assume that most people who put kits together are experienced stitchers themselves) it can be tempting to stitch a model and see how little you can get away with. I can stitch the little bookmark motif on a 4″ square bit of fabric held in a 3″ hoop. It’s a bit cramped, and I may have to stitch “in the well” (holding the hoop back to front, see below), but I can do it. Likewise, I can stitch the Kloster blocks and satin stitch in the coaster design using two lengths of perle #5. Just. If I stitch as economically as possible and use the bit left over from the central motif to help out with the last corner motif. So when putting the kits together it could be argued that a 4″ square of fabric is all that is needed for the bookmark kit, and that 2 lengths of perle #5 will do just fine for the coaster kit. And it would be wrong.

Working in the well - front of the work at the back of the hoop Working in the well - more room to finish off

Few things are more frustrating than opening a kit and finding that the fabric is barely big enough for the design, let alone for putting it into a hoop comfortably; or reaching for another thread as your project is nearing completion only to find that there isn’t any thread left in the kit. I know many kit manufacturers will send you extra thread if you run out, but the point is that you shouldn’t have to go through the hassle of contacting them and waiting for the extra thread just because you don’t stitch quite so thriftily as their model stitchers (if you ran out because the dog ate half a skein that’s another matter, of course).

So as I make up the list of kit ingredients I try to determine what would be a comfortable size of fabric rather than an adequate one, and what amount of thread would leave room for differences in individual stitching styles, in the hope that the people who use the kits will find them pleasant and enjoyable rather than annoying and infuriating.

But I’m sure there are more issues than just fabric size and thread allowance. What do you find particularly irritating in kits? No photograph? Creased fabric? Confusing charts? I’d really like to hear from you so I will know what to avoid when putting kits together!

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!