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.

A novel use for split washers?

As my husband (to whom I’ve been married 11 years today!) was packing up an order for a customer of the Figworthy household’s main business (spares for pre-war Austin Sevens, in case you’re wondering), he handed me a small part and said, “isn’t this rather like your spangles?” It was a split washer, and he was right in that it is gold-coloured, round, and has a hole and a split in it. “Could you use it?” he then asked. A challenge! Well, it definitely looks as though it might be part of a goldwork project, if not perhaps in a very traditional design.

A split washer

Now I must admit that I am not very good at gauging sizes (remember that 4mm ribbon which turned out to be 6mm?) and although it did seem to me that it was probably rather larger than the 3mm spangles in my goldwork stash box I hadn’t quite realised how much bigger…

A split washer and a 3mm spangle

Steampunk goldwork, anyone?

Historic needlework

Last week a kind friend took me and another friend to see the parsonage in Haworth where the Brontë sisters did their writing. A very interesting place, and rather sad – Patrick Brontë, father of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, outlived his wife and all six of his children. We were there on a sunny day with cloudless blue skies when neither the parsonage nor the surrounding Yorkshire countryside could by any stretch of the imagination be described as “bleak”, but it was easy to see that come the winter, with short days and lots of rain and wind, it would have no problems at all living up to its less than cheerful reputation.

My friend’s interest was due for a large part to the fact that she has just finished her PhD thesis on Mrs Gaskell, who besides many other things wrote a biography of Charlotte Brontë. Although I was a linguistics scholar rather than a literature one, the 19th century is by far my favourite period, so I was happy to accompany her. But as a stitcher I was also fascinated by Charlotte’s needlework, some of which could be seen at the parsonage. There was a red tea cosy embroidered in white chain stitch, and some examples of whitework which unfortunately I couldn’t get a close look at as they were part of a room display.

Some pieces of her work, however, were displayed in cases and could be studied in more detail. Flash photography wasn’t allowed, so my photographs are a bit blurred, but I thought you might like to see two of the projects she worked. The first is a sampler finished shortly before her 12th birthday, made up of Bible verses and borders in absolutely minuscule cross stitches. She had a love of all things miniature, and that love obviously started when she was young. Foolishly I forgot to measure the sampler, so I can’t give you an idea of the scale; all I can say is that in some parts it was difficult to distinguish the individual crosses.

Charlotte Brontë's sampler

Again rather blurred, so no chance at all of seeing the individual stitches, but isn’t this an absolutely lovely needle roll? Clearly marked “Darners”, it is divided into useful sections all likewise marked with the size of the needles. Some time ago I made a very rough and ready needle roll out of felt marked with needle sizes, but not nearly so decorative – it was only meant to be chucked into a travel project bag. But having seen this I’m beginning to wonder whether it wouldn’t be a nice idea to make a less utilitarian one to keep at home by my larger projects.

Charlotte Brontë's needle roll

And all this by candlelight!

A visit to the Viking Loom

You may remember that a while ago I bought some satin display boxes from the Viking Loom. Last Monday I quite unexpectedly had the opportunity to visit their new premises just outside York, and of course I jumped at the chance! I had been to their old shop in High Petergate, which was lovely, but I’d read on their website the new place was much bigger, including workshop space. My sister-in-law kindly lent me a bike (which took a bit of getting used to, as my trusted Dutch bike has back-pedal brakes and no gears) so off I went up Wigginton Road and past the chocolate factory, which was rather like being bathed in cocoa – very invigorating!

To say that the new place is more spacious is definitely a bit of an understatement. It’s not many craft shops that you approach by means of a tree-lined avenue, or where the car park is overlooked by horses and a a dovecote, and where you can park your bike next to a miniature orchard with geese in it.

The drive leading to the Viking Loom Horses and dovecote Geese roaming in the orchard

The house , too, is impressive, but unfortunately not part of the shop so an outside view only. A lovely yellow labrador of supreme laid-backness welcomes you (if that is not too active a word) to the Viking Loom itself, and the first room you get into is awash with colour, filled as it is with innumerable shades of Appleton’s crewel and tapestry wool.

The house Welcomed by the dog A colourful entrance

Then it’s upstairs, to a room devoted to all things quilting (which I didn’t photograph), followed by the embroidery room which had kits and books and threads and tools and a surprising number of goldwork bits and bobs. As I wandered into this room a lady asked if I was looking for anything in particular or if I would prefer to browse. When I said I’d browse a bit first, please, she offered me coffee or tea – I can tell you it’s a rather nervous affair, walking around with a hot drink while looking at all these gorgeous things! The tea (proper, strong Yorkshire tea, with lots of milk) was made in a little kitchen attached to the workshop space, where two ladies were having a lovely time sewing and “escaping the housework and the children”, as they informed me.

Threads and kits Kits and hoops The kitchen in the workshop room

Of course I couldn’t possibly leave without taking a little bit of stash with me. As luck would have it, I found two things which I had been reading about, and wanting to try out, but I didn’t like to order them online without having at least some idea what they were like. One of these was trigger cloth, a fairly closely woven fabric for freestyle embroidery; unfortunately they only had it in bright white, not the antique white I usually prefer, but it felt nice and sturdy with enough body not to need backing (unless you’re using very heavy embellishments or goldwork materials). And as I was looking at the fabrics, a piece of hand-painted (not dyed) silk jumped out and said “goldwork seahorse” to me, so that got added to the trigger cloth. The silk is actually painted on the premises by a lady who comes there every now and then to paint a batch.

Trigger cloth and hand-painted silk A close-up of the fabrics

The other thing I’d been reading about was heavy metal thread, as used by Hazel Everett in her goldwork book. Unfortunately she doesn’t mention a brand name, or where to buy it, and so some further research was called for. This lead me to Madeira’s #12 metallic thread, which is indeed known as Heavy Metal, a misnomer if ever there was one for this fine, 3-ply thread which can be used as it comes, or split into its three plies for detailed or miniature work. I could find it online, but not very easily, and the postage for these chunky reels made it rather too expensive to buy on the off-chance that it would be to my liking. But there it was, at the Viking Loom, ready to be inspected and touched, and available in four colours. I got them all.

Madeira heavy metal threads

Visiting family is fun anyway, but if they happen to live close to a place like the Viking Loom it’s even more fun!

Stash for projects, and vice versa

Sometimes (most often, perhaps) we stitchers buy stash with a particular project in mind. But sometimes you have to think up a project for some stash which inexplicably found its way into your shopping basket because it was too pretty to ignore/on special offer/added to make the most of the postage. The gorgeous green silk (Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk in the shade Princess pea) falls somewhere in between the two categories, as it was bought for a specific project, which however is as yet only a few sketches on two Church meeting agendas (at least I won’t have a problem dating that particular design). The shiny flowers come unashamedly in the second category – I was stocking up on sequins for the Shisha kits when I got lured by the “Clearance Sale” link, where I found some very good-value silver seed beads, and these irresistible little gems at a mere 50p a bag. So I bagged one. Just in case I would think of a design to use them in. Which I’m sure I will.

Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk and some floral embellishments

Simply Sequins always send a little complimentary bag of goodies with their orders, and this time it was mixed sequins and shapes. I picked out some particularly pretty ones with a broadly floral theme, together with a few beads and some things already in my stash, and a few of those lovely sparkly flower gems I’d ordered in the sale, and they are now all together in another bag, ready to be experimented with. Don’t they look inspiring?

A little bag of inspiration

I’m putting together a short course of embroidery tasters at the moment and was thinking of using ribbon embroidery for the fifth lesson, but I’m wondering now whether some extremely free freestyle embroidery with lots of sparkle might not make rather a pleasing contrast with the much more structured Hardanger project which is set to be the opening lesson. Hardanger embroidery – Shisha embroidery – Freestyle embroidery – Tactile embroidery – Go Mad with Bling embroidery. Does that sound nicely balanced?

PS. I admit it. I’m a pushover for sparkly pretties. I liked the floral gems so much I ordered another bag of them, in mixed colours. Just to use in the embroidery taster classes, of course! (And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything…)

More flowers

Unruly ribbons

While we were away in The Netherlands I worked on a few small projects which had been languishing, half-finished, on a pile surrounded by More Urgent Things. They were two Shisha Tiles and a Christmas Wreath. Getting kits ready for the workshops in October and November I’ve been stitching a fair few of the latter, and I like them better every time. But the ribbon can be a bit of a challenge.

Once the wreath is completed and the bow attached, I arrange the ribbons nicely by curving them slightly (as in all the best Christmas illustrations) and pushing them against the wreath stitches to keep them in place. This usually works, but the problem is that it isn’t a very permanent way of arranging them. Make the wreath into a card or try and push the card into an envelope and suddenly the ends of the ribbon stick out very straight instead of in nice decorative curves. Sometimes this happens without even touching the embroidery, with the ribbon straightening itself out by a sheer effort of will the moment your back is turned.

Curved ribbon ends on the Christmas Wreath Straight ribbon ends on the Christmas Wreath

Incidentally, the second photograph above also shows a different distribution of beads. When teaching non-counted embroidery I’ve found that the “free” in freestyle makes some people nervous. They’d much prefer to have dots showing exactly where the French knots are to go rather than be told to “work some random French knots inside the circle”. So it occurred to me that placing the beads on the Christmas wreath, for which there is no chart or guide, might put some people off. Could a simple circle of alternating red and gold beads down the centre of the wreath be a usable alternative? I think it could; personally I prefer the random distribution, but this looks quite effective as well and will definitely be offered as an option for those stitchers who don’t enjoy randomness.

Anyway, back to ribbons. Would it be possible to secure the ends of the ribbons where I wanted them without it looking as though they were secured? Well, I will let you be the judge – do you think the ribbons in this wreath look as though they are flowing naturally?

Curved ribbon ends, secured

In a completely different project, I was doing some ribbon embroidery. I tried and tried to get a gathered ribbon right – but it just wouldn’t work. It kept coming out far bigger than I had expected and planned. I had originally charted it for either 3mm or 4mm ribbon, so I knew that the 4mm ribbon I was using would come out a little bigger than a 3mm ribbon, but even so it looked ridiculously big. Then it finally dawned on me that the ribbon I was using was actually 6mm instead of 4mm…

Transferring again

Before our little family holiday to The Netherlands my evenings (and any other time off-duty) seemed to consist mostly of kits! Workshop kits, kits to be sold through the website or at fairs, the kitchen table was full of bits of kits. By the time we drove off to catch the ferry at Harwich the dining table was piled with 53 complete kits, 12 just waiting for my LNS to get some 2oz wadding in, and 30 ready to be assembled from my collection of parts.

Some of the kits being assembled

One of the things that needed doing for some of the kits – the Wildflower Garden and the two Shisha ones – was transferring designs onto the pieces of light blue or pale yellow cotton, so my trusty lightbox was taken out of the padded envelope in which it resides most of the time.

Getting ready to transfer All done!

As I was transferring the kit designs, I thought I’d try the lightbox on a piece of wine-red dupion fabric bought some time ago for a goldwork design I had in mind. Dark fabrics aren’t ideal for use with a lightbox – much better to use the prick & pounce method, but I’m still feeling a little apprehensive about that. So why not give the lightbox a go, with a white gel pen? I grabbed the Jacobean goldwork design from the pile of projects-in-some-sort-of-progress and set the lightbox to full strength.

Well, it worked. I wouldn’t want to use it for a very detailed design, but for this fairly simple flower, where it didn’t matter too much if a stem or leaf was copied slightly off the original lines it just was fine, and the white showed up better than I had expected, without any bleeding! (The lines don’t show up very well on the thumbnail, but they do on the full-sixed photograph; even then, unfortunately, the picture doesn’t really capture the lovely dark red colour.)

The Jacobean goldwork design in white pen on dark red dupion

But now I’m facing a dilemma: on which fabric am I going to do the Jacobean goldwork flower, my original cream dupion, or this lovely rich burgundy? Red is not such a good background when you’re including copper, and I have rather set my heart on doing the gold/silver/copper shading, so I think I’ll stick with the cream. Anyway, I promised to do a goldwork demonstration at the next Church Craft Fair in November, so perhaps the red dupion will be useful for that. It certainly looks rich and splendid enough to distract people’s attention from any mistakes I may be making in the goldwork smiley.


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

Box with boxes

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

A box full of boxes from Viking Loom

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

Satin display and jewellery boxes from Viking Loom

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

Star bright

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

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

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

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

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

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

The back of the MC star

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

Close-up of the stitches used in the MC star

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

Two wandering stars

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

Materials for some do-as-you-please stitching

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

First session with the Christmas tree

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

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

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

The finished Christmas tree

A goldwork indulgence and a cheeky Christmas tree

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

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

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

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

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

Project box for the SANQ goldwork

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

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

All the materials for the SANQ goldwork

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

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

Materials for Kelly Fletcher's Christmas tree