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.

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

Doodles and the start of a leaf project

In trying to decide which stitches I want to use for the Tree of Life my doodle cloths are invaluable. Not only are doodles great for showing the texture of stitches in a way diagrams never can, they also give me an idea of how easy or difficult it will be to adapt a stitch to the leaf shape. Accordingly I worked some doodles for Ceylon stitch, and to be complete I did some detached buttonhole stitch filling as well, even though I had pretty much dismissed that one from the possibles list already. And then it turned out that actually I liked the latter better after all! Ceylon stitch has quite an attractive knitted look, but unless I choose to stitch it quite densely it may be difficult to get it to look even. The buttonhole filling looks nice even when worked (as it is here) with quite an open texture.

Ceylon doodle detached buttonhole filling doodle The two doodles compared

While checking my stitch book for another stitch, I came across Vandyke stitch. I thought it might work as an edging stitch for one of my appliqué projects, but as I tried it on my doodle cloth it struck me that, if stitched a bit more neatly than I had here, it looked quite leaf-like! The loops form a nice central vein, and if the arms are angled they will work as the minor veins. In order to make neatness easier while experimenting with this stitch, I tried it on my counted doodle cloth as well, in both perle #8 and perle #5; with the latter I tried to get the arms to slant more, but it’s not easy – the stitch seems to have a tendency to straighten itself out. Still, there is a bit of a slant there.

Vandyke doodle Vandyke doodle on counted fabric Vandyke doodle with slanted arms

As I was on a roll with all these doodles, I thought I’d give loop stitch another go, if not for the Tree then it might do for one of the appliqué baubles. But I couldn’t quite remember how it went, and in fact on the internet you can find at least two different descriptions of this stitch – one where the working thread is simply hooked around the previous stitch, and one where it it looped around.

The needle hooks around the first stitch The stitch continues The completed line of simple loop stitches
The needle loops around the first stitch The stitch continues The completed line of loop stitches

What I eventually ended up with appears to be a cross between coral stitch and loop stitch which, for want of a better term, I’ll call knotted loop stitch. It looks quite effective and with shorter arms would make a good border stitch, while with longer arms it would fill a leaf and create a vein. Because of the way it is worked, however, it’s not possible to slant the arms. Be that as it may, it’s another possible filling to consider. I may have to work a veritable forest of leaves before I actually start on the tree proper!

The needle knots around the first stitch The stitch continues The completed line of knotted loop stitches in perle #5

And here is the first leaf project ready to go – the outline has been traced together with a very faint inner line (to indicate the length of the up-and-down buttonhole stitch), and the crewel wools have been chosen. Originally the leaves of the autumnal tree were designed to be yellow, orange and green, but as I’ll be using some yellow to stand in for gold on the green leaves, and I won’t be stitching the trunk and stems, I decided to use the warm browns originally intended for the trunk to work what would have been the two yellow leaves. After all, as long as it shows the effect and texture of the stitches, it doesn’t really matter what colour I use, and the browns are rather attractive.

A leaf project ready to go

Baubling with ideas

Experimenting is great – if a project is an experiment, it means that it doesn’t matter if anything goes wrong smiley. My second embroidered appliqué piece, a turquoise bauble, uses rather more stitches and materials than the original, unadorned tree, and so there was much more to go wrong: couching some silver ribbon, for example, or the placement of the floral gems and sequins in the unappliquéd central band. In the end what went wrong was much more basic – the attaching stitches. If you look closely, you can see them peeping from under the covering heavy chain stitch.

Appliqué bauble Up close the attaching stitches are visible

There are two ways of solving that problem, or perhaps even three. The easiest is to work the attaching stitches in the colour of the patterned fabric, so that even if they protrude they won’t be so noticeable. Another option is to make the attaching stitches smaller; that would probably be more difficult, as they’d have to be placed very carefully to attach the fabric without fraying the edge – in the worst case you end up with small stitches on the ground fabric, and the patterned fabric fraying itself loose. One of the things I like about these projects is that they are relatively informal, and not needing too much concentration. I want to be able to attach the top fabric without having to think about every stitch. The final option is to make the covering embroidery stitch wider. On the tree I used chunky raised chain, here I used slightly less chunky heavy chain, and I worked it in perle #8 rather than #5. Fortunately Anchor’s lovely variegated perles come in both weights, so all I have to do is stitch another bauble using perle #5!

I do like the effect of the band embellished with gems & sequins and bordered by couched metallic ribbon, so I will keep that in the design. Some of the ladies at my stitching group suggested this technique would make an excellent Christmas workshop, and although I wasn’t actually planning any, I can see their point. It would definitely be the bauble – the corners on the tree are a bit tricky, and there is more scope for embellishment on the bauble because of the empty band. It also uses an extra technique, couching. And I happen to have lots of floral gems in lots of pretty colours!

In fact, this was the perfect excuse to play with stash and look at the various colour combinations I could use for the baubles. With apologies for the sometimes inaccurate colours (shiny bits are apparently difficult for a camera to get right) here is my collection of Anchor Multicolor perle #5 with the eight different floral gem colours I’ve got (not including the clear one).

Anchor Multicolor perles with floral gems

Not all of the perle shades are usable with the gems, but even so they yield a pretty good range of combinations – ten to be precise, including the perle I used for the bauble (although I paired it with the light blue gems only, not the yellow).

perle and gem combinations

Now all I need is nine more matching fabrics…

Leafy experiments

No, not “Leaves”, which is still in my designs-in-progress folder, but the Tree of Life. I haven’t quite decided yet on the stitches to use for two of the leaves, as I can’t really visualise the ones I’ve picked as possibles. Added to that, I’d like to stitch the tree in both wool and silk, but I’m not sure I want to do the whole trunk twice as well (that’s the labour-intensive part). So I’ll work all the leaves separately as mini projects in their own right, in wool, working some of them in two different stitches to compare the effect in real life. Then when I’ve made a final decision on the stitches to use I’ll work the whole tree in silk.

Leaves Tree of Life

I’ve been doing a bit of stitch doodling in preparation. The two leaves which are still undecided are down provisionally as closed fly stitch and laid lattice work. I think the laid lattice will work quite well, so there’s not really a pressing need for an alternative there, except that I’ve been wanting to try detached buttonhole as a filling for some time. Some investigation was called for. After carefully studying several stitch books and watching a number of videos showing the stitch in action, I don’t think it’s the right one, but in one of the books I came across a related stitch called Ceylon stitch which looks promising! That’ll be my next doodle.

The fly stitch leaf is the one I’m really not sure about. Although it should do a good job representing the leaf veins, and it’s nice and easy to work it in graded colours, I’m afraid it might be a bit dull. Almost from the start Cretan stitch has been down on my list as an alternative, so here it is on my doodle cloth. It looks rather like fishbones! But then fishbones and leaf veins do look quite similar (if you half close your eyes and squint a bit). A later addition to the alternative list was burden stitch. I doodled this both straight (which would fill the leaf from top to bottom without trying to imitate the vein pattern) and angled. I like the stitch, but I don’t think I’ll use it for this particular project. It’s been filed away for future reference, with a mental note to self that in order to look good, it has to be stitched rather more neatly than my doodles smiley.

Cretan stitch Burden stitch

I’ve picked two sets of Pearsall’s Heathway Merino crewel wool for the tree, one for each of the colourways I had in mind, but as I will definitely do the silk version in blue/green/purple I’ll probably stick with the autumnal palette for the wool experiments.

Blue/green/purple Heathway wools for the Tree of Life Autumnal Heathway wools for the Tree of Life

Tree of knowledge

Well, it’s more a tree of learning, really, but that didn’t make such a good title smiley. Having decided to try a bit of Christmas-themed embroidered appliqué I couldn’t, of course, just kit up one project. Before I knew it there was enough material cut and thread chosen for four embroideries. Oh well, you can never have too many Christmas cards…

Appliqué embroidery projects The first two projects hooped up

First up was the Christmas tree. Step one is to attach the patterned fabric to the ground fabric with small stitches; I used a single strand of off-white for that, coming up in the ground fabric and going down into the patterned fabric. For the raised chain stitch edge I picked golden yellow perle #12 (for the foundation ladder stitches) and bright red perle #8 (for the chain stitches). As I worked the ladder stitches I realised that I was in effect doubling up stitches, with some of the ladder stitches actually covering the attaching stitches. So with an edging stitch like this, it may be possible to cut out the first step and use the ladder foundation to attach the fabric.

Attaching the fabric with stab stitches The perle threads for the embroidered edge Perle #12 for the raised chain stitch foundation

I started the raised chain using perle #8 as planned, but found it looked a little thin – I’d been looking for a denser coverage. Fortunately perle #5 was an easy solution to that problem!

Raised chain stitch in perle #8 Raised chain stitch in perle #5 Perle #8 and perle #5 compared

Raised chain takes corners remarkably well for such a chunky stitch; for the sharpest corners I made sure there were three stitches meeting at the point (forming a small fan, or bird’s foot) so the chain stitches were worked more closely together there. It’s a bit fiddly, but worth the effort. There are quicker stitches that would work (I’ll be trying some of them in future projects) but using a very textural stitch like raised chain does give a nice 3D effect when seen at an angle.

The finished tree The stitched edge seen at an angle

I was quite happy with my little holly-patterned tree, but then my husband remarked, “it hasn’t got any baubles or tinsel!” I explained that it didn’t need them, being made from patterned fabric and having a decorative edge, but then I thought I might as well see what the effect of embellishments would be – the whole thing is an experiment, after all. And I do like the way the sequins and beads add a bit of bling and extra colour, although I still feel it doesn’t absolutely need them.

The finished tree, embellished

Next step: a bauble. Here’s the fabric set-up with various blingy bits to decorate; because of that inviting open band in the middle, this one was actually planned with bling from the start. The other hoop shows two Christmassy squares overlapping. They’re too big for this ground fabric & hoop combination, so I’ll use this with a single square and set up a larger hoop and fabric for the overlapping version.

Bauble with bling Overlapping patchwork squares

Because they’re small and don’t need a chart or any counting, these make nice little quick-stitch projects; with a bit of luck I might manage a fair stack of Christmas cards in between larger embroideries!

A sudden urge

Talk of Christmas stitching on the Cross Stitch Forum; Kelly Fletcher’s newsletter with one of her embroidered appliqué designs; the lovely holly fabric I have in my stash, which I’ve been keeping for the Suffolk Puff tree but surely I could pinch a little bit to experiment with; lots of lovely line stitches I’ve been looking at lately; horrible rainy weather – never mind the spring flowers I’m stitching, it’s clearly time for an in-between Christmassy project!

A thread about when to start stitching for Christmas, combined with the rather un-June-like weather we’re having, had already put me in a Decemberish mood, and as I was reading about embroidered appliqué it struck me that stylised Christmas trees and baubles would be ideal shapes for that sort of thing. I scribbled some notes to self: a short description of the process (place patterned fabric shape on ground fabric; attach with small stitches; cover edges with decorative embroidery stitches) and some suitable line stitches.

Some quick notes about appliqué embroidery

The next day I typed these up, adding a few more stitch ideas as well as possible threads. In a burst of enthusiasm I even added a really luxury, sparkly version where the edges would be covered by couched goldwork threads (not feasible when doing several dozen Christmas cards, but lovely to try!) I also drew a simple Christmas tree and a bauble-in-three-parts. Then I went through my bag of patterned fabrics. Unlike my extensive stash of embroidery fabrics, this is not a very large collection; they are mainly smallish pieces of fabric I’ve bought over the years for finishing ornaments. But among them was the holly fabric that had fired my imagination, as well as a pretty variegated blue fabric.

Possible fabrics for appliqué embroidery

The blue fabric would work well for the bauble, I felt, especially if combined with some pretty silver threads. The holly would make a lovely Christmas tree, except… would it stand out enough against a neutral background? For the ground fabric I’d been thinking of heavy calico or possible a plain cotton, but apart from the pale blue I use for the shisha and Wildflower Garden kits they are all white or off-white or cream or beige. Not much contrast with the pale background of the holly leaves. Perhaps with a strong green perle cotton border? Or I could try and find a darker Christmassy fabric – like the cotton I got for the Suffolk Puff tree to complement the holly fabric. The squares are rather large, and I don’t know whether they will show up well when cut into a smallish shape, but they might just work as individual squares.

One more possible fabric

Anyway, plenty of ideas and possibilities – time to stop writing and start stitching!

Goldwork progress – eventually

Have you ever heard of the hopping procession of Echternach? Although throughout its history it has been danced in various forms, the one that has always stuck in my mind is the three-steps-forwards-two-steps-backwards version. It strikes me as being a very accurate description of many of life’s projects, including embroidery ones.

You may remember a small goldwork project I started last year, based on a design in Sampler and Antique Needlework. It’s a Jacobean-style flower and leaf, and I first used it as a sampler for trying out crewel wools from Renaissance Dyeing and Pearsall’s. But it was always intended to be a goldwork piece, and I thought it would make a nice project to get a bit of practice in with the various techniques. Although I roughly stuck to the design, from the start it was my intention to change whatever I felt like changing, and possibly to add a few things here and there. Some of the changes were planned, some weren’t.

This is where I’d got to last November. It shows both types of changes: the use of silver, two sizes of pearl purl, and check thread were definitely planned. The small beads inside the big leaf weren’t – they were a consequence of the small green silk leaves coming out too small and not filling the leaf outline satisfactorily.

Jacobean Flower in progress

6 months later I felt it was high time that this project got finished. There’s the RSN goldwork boot to complete as well (my stitching friend who came to the workshop too has already finished hers!) but as this one was all framed up, and pretty close to completion (much closer than the boot with all its plunging still to do…) it got priority.

The main part of the remaining work was the chip work that was to part-fill the flower cone. In the original design, this is done in gold chips of bright check. My plan was to stick with the bright check, but to shade it from copper through gold to silver. I couldn’t use the thread size guide of the original as I’d chosen to enlarge the design a bit, so I’d have to work out what looked best. As it’s still a fairly small project (a little over 3½” wide) a not-too-chunky #6 seemed the best choice.

I rummaged in my project box. Copper in the bigger #4. No gold or silver. Very odd. Have a look in my big goldwork box. Gold and silver in both #4 and #6, but no #6 copper. Bother. I could have sworn I had both thicknesses in all three metals. Obviously not. And as I definitely wanted to use copper, I started the chip work in #4 bright check. I did all the copper I wanted, and started filling in the gold. And I really, really disliked how it looked.

Cutwork with bright check #4

There was no help for it, it just had to come out. I’d have to do something in gold and silver only, or choose some other wire. Another rummage through my project box for inspiration… what was that bag of copper #6 doing there? Ah. At one point I had considered doing the chip work in coarse and fine copper, and so I’d put both thicknesses (but no gold or silver) in my project box, and somehow the #6 had hidden itself right at the bottom.

So I could do the chip work as planned – yay! And it did look so much more like I’d envisaged it.

Cutwork with bright check #6

Finish the gold chips, scatter some silver chips around, and then there were just a few more spangles to add for my Jacobean goldwork flower to be done.

Jacobean Flower finished

The last stage, the finishing finishing, will be to lace it very tightly as the fabric wrinkles rather when taken off the frame, and then possibly frame it; unless I can lace it around the insert of one of my satin boxes. I’ll keep you posted!

A mysterious scribble

In a folder with some old sketches (the same one in which I found the Beginner’s Butterfly, in fact) I came across a quarter of an old letter, on the back of which was an intriguing doodle and the words “shuttle stitch?”. It was obviously an idea for a stitch, but I had absolutely no recollection of drawing it and couldn’t make head or tail of it. Was it meant to be a needle book? It vaguely looked like two square pages with the shuttle stitch (whatever that was) as the hinge/spine. Then I thought the rectangles surrounding each of the squares on three sides looked like they might be Kloster blocks – but they were marked “g” or possible “9”, not “K”.

A mysterious scribble What is shuttle stitch?

I still can’t remember when or why I drew it, but after some more observation and interpretation I think it represents two cut areas surrounded by Kloster blocks consisting of 9 stitches each, with a woven bar in the middle and a buttonhole arch on either side, with letters to indicate starting points and how to get from one bit of the stitch combination to the next. It is still a mystery to me why I would want to call it shuttle stitch. If anything it looks rather more like a belt buckle. Or is shuttle stitch an existing stitch and did I copy it from somewhere? If you recognise it from a book or a project, I’d be delighted to know!