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.

Alternative uses for flannel?

Some time ago I bought a piece of light blue flannel (well, what I grew up knowing as “flanel” – only one “n” in Dutch – here in the UK it sometimes seems to be referred to as brushed cotton), thinking its slightly fluffy texture might make a nice background for the Little Wildflower Garden. But transferring designs on to it turned out to be a pain, and so the stack of flannel squares was put aside in a drawer somewhere.

Blue flannel or brushed cotton

There they cluttered the place up until I decided that I wasn’t ever going to use them for anything, and threw them away. My husband was about to go out to work on a car at a friend’s garage and asked if he could use them for oily rags, mopping up spills and wiping bits of car. Sure, I said. Have fun!

That afternoon I was doing some work on the goldwork embroidery workshop, and contemplating a mini velvet board that is part of my larger velvet board. Its size, about 10cm x 5cm, would be ideal for the workshops. There were two problems: they aren’t available separately, only as part of the larger boards; and even if they were, they’d be far too expensive to buy 12 of just for the workshops. Could I make them myself, just simple ones of cardboard with some slightly fluffy fabric on it…?

A mini velvet board

The blue flannel!

On my husband’s return he assured me that only a few of the squares had been turned into oily rags as yet, and he’d bring some back for me next time he went down there. And he did. Only by that time I’d found a large remnant of luxurious dark green velvet for a couple of pounds at our local fabric shop, which is obviously a more suitable fabric for making velvet boards than flannel. The blue squares have since made their third journey, to join the other oily rags.

A remnant of green velvet

While doing some research into fabrics that might work for making goldwork boards I had a look at Ultrasuede (not convinced it would work, and I couldn’t get small quantities) and – following the Stitch in Time programme – doeskin. Hainsworth very kindly sent me some small samples in a variety of colours. It is beautiful! Could it perhaps be used as a background for goldwork? Then the lady I’d spoken to on the phone sent me their catalogue-with-prices. Oof. That would have to be for very, very special projects only! But first I’ll do some experimenting with the samples.

Doeskin samples

Practicalities in designing

I am not always as organised as I would like to be. For example, it’s my favourite aunt’s birthday next Wednesday, but until yesterday I hadn’t really put any thought into her birthday card; and bearing in mind that she lives abroad, this made for a certain urgency in the matter. I definitely wanted to send her a stitched card, but it would have to be relatively simple. Not too simple, though – it must be festive! Because her birthday is on 21st March she used to be known as the Spring Baby or the Spring Child at home, so I decided on a daffodil, to be worked in silks and with some gold outlining.

There was a practical reason for this as well as the fact that it seemed very appropriate: I could nick it from the Spring Flowers design I did for my mother-in-law last year! I cropped the daffodil to an approximate square, printed it to the right size for one of my small aperture cards, transferred the design, got the silks and the right thickness of gold together, and I was set to go.

A birthday daffodil

And then I noticed the stem. In the original, the placement of the stem in front of one of the rear petals means the stitching is a bit fiddly, but that’s all. Here, however, I meant to outline the petals in smooth passing, and having to interrupt the outline for the stem would mean a lot of extra plunging and a lot of ends to secure at the back of the work. A slight adjustment was called for.

Two designs with different stems

There was now just one challenge left (well, besides the challenge of actually stitching the whole thing in time for her birthday) – re-drawing the outline on the fabric. It’s not a particularly expensive or special fabric, but even so I don’t like wasting it. Fortunately one of those plastic erasers turned out to do the trick, so all that remains is a very slight roughness where the original stem was; and I probably only notice that because I know it’s there. So on to the stitching!

The redrawn transfer

A glowing surprise

Yesterday the friend who helps out in our main business one day a week arrived with a bag from his wife Gill, who is a fellow stitcher. “For you,” he announced, and went on to explain that a lady who had helped embroider their church’s altar cloth “three vicars ago” now couldn’t embroider anymore because of illness, and had asked Gill to find a good home for some of her stitching materials. “It all looks like scraps to me,” he said, “but Gill said you’d like it.” I cast a curious glance into the bag’s interior.

“Scraps” indeed!

Off two cardboard rolls came two good-sized pieces of kid, one a sturdy silver, the other a beautifully soft textured gold.

Gold and silver kid leather

A variety of plastic and paper bags yielded two sizes of silver pearl purl and one of gold; silver bright check; silver smooth purl; gold smooth passing, quite fine; and a chunky gold rococco.

Gold and silver threads and wires

Over the years (I presume these threads date back to the altar cloth three vicars ago) some of the silver has become a little dull, and the gold has tarnished into a warm coppery colour – but they are still perfectly usable, and how lovely to work with metals and threads that have such a history!

Incidentally my husband, who is an engineer and therefore approaches all problems from the “how can I fix it” angle, suggested trying silver dip. Just on a little bit at first, he hastened to reassure me (I think I looked rather aghast at the thought). Well, I suppose we could sacrifice a chip or two to see if it works – after all, if it does it would be marvellous to use them in their original splendour, and if it doesn’t there’s plenty left. Watch this space!

Materials for a goldwork workshop (I)

When a new workshop or kit is developed, there inevitably comes a time when I need to buy any materials I haven’t yet got in my stash. Oh the hardship! Especially when it’s for goldwork…

Now you’ll be expecting pictures of lots of blingy threads, but actually there’s more to it than that, and it was the other supplies that I happened to buy first. Like needles, lots of needles, both for sewing and for plunging, and Gütermann sewing thread in golden yellow and light grey. I didn’t photograph those as they are fairly generic, but here is something generic that I did take pictures of – not so much for the item itself as for the very decorative box it came in. Rather a suprise to find useful but rather dull acid-free glassine envelopes (for putting the various goldwork threads in) inside what looks like a portable stamp collection!

A decorative box Glassine envelopes

And then there were cards. When I spoke to Craft Creations’ customer service about an order I’d just placed, the lady alerted me to their Value Range. I’d never seen it! It doesn’t come in such a wide range of colours as their more expensive range, but they are perfectly usable. And they give me a way of keeping the goldwork kit costs reasonable without having to compromise too much on the threads.

Craft Creations' value range

Oh all right, a bit of bling then smiley. These came from Sew & So rather than a specialised goldwork supplier: pearl sadi (the Indian embroidery alternative to pearl purl), and Jap (also known as Japan or Japanese thread).

Pearl sadi and Jap

And finally another non-thread necessity for goldwork: beeswax. Sarah Homfray very kindly agreed to sell me 50 of the little hearts she uses in her own workshops – much more affordable than the larger pieces which are generally available. When they arrived the first thing that struck me was that they looked remarkably like vanilla fudge! I resisted the temptation to try one, but I think I’d better not put out that little pot of goodies when there are guests around or something unfortunate might happen.

Beeswax hearts Beeswax hearts in a little pot

Playing with alternatives: bees

Last year, after my annual embroidery workshops for the church building fund, I idly remarked that I was beginning to run out of techniques to teach, and I’d have to resort to goldwork. It’s dangerous to make remarks like that, even idly. Less than one year on and I’m getting the materials together for a goldwork workshop!

More about getting the materials later – the first priority is to get the design right. One of the things I wasn’t quite sure about in my initial version was the bee and so I decided to work three bees close together on the same piece of fabric so that it would be easy to compare the effect of the various metals. Another thing I wanted to work out was whether it would be better to stitch the wings before the body, or the other way around.

Well, the latter was the easiest question to answer – definitely wings first! Having sorted that out, it was on to the bodies themselves. My original idea was to use no.4 bright check, which is quite chunky, but as it is also quite expensive I used a sadi thread on my first model. Sadi threads (or wires, rather) are used in Indian embroidery and are similar to goldwork threads but as far as I know they have no precious metal content, and they come in only two sizes for each type. The fine check sadi (which is quite as chunky as the bright check no.4 – I wouldn’t like to work with the broad check!) is a lot more open in texture than the “proper” goldwork threads, and very shiny. As it doesn’t come in copper (or at least I haven’t been able to find it in copper) my first bee had to be gold and silver.

In this bee experiment the sadi version is on the bottom left – you can see how sparkly it is. The top bee is worked in bright check no.4. I really like the effect of the gold/copper combination, but the chunkiness of the thread made for a very fat bee! It was also quite difficult to get the wires to curve nicely over the felt on such a small area. The third version, which is definitely my preferred one, is worked in wire check no.6 – the higher the number on these, the thinner the thread, so this is narrower than the bright check. It is also less sparkly: wire check is the matt version of bright check. But the texture is interesting and almost fuzzy, and once I get some copper wire check, the stripes will be better defined.

Three goldwork bees in a hoop

Some of the ladies in my stitching group, whose opinions I asked, actually preferred the sadi version as it was the shiniest, so I may offer that as an alternative; but as it is billed as a goldwork class, I would like to use traditional goldwork materials as much as possible. The only sadi wire I will use is the pearl one, which is really very similar to the traditional pearl purl.

One slightly odd thing I noticed in the wire check is that the gold is an S-twist and the silver is a Z-twist (and not as closely twisted). Trying to remember where I got them from I think that the silver may have been in the kit of a day class I attended, whereas I bought the gold separately later. You’d expect them to be quite uniform, wouldn’t you? It’ll be interesting to see what the ones I’ve got on order are like, and whether there is a difference between the gold, silver and copper.

Opposite twists in wire check

And finally something that has absolutely nothing to do with goldwork. Last week we were at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen to see an exhibition with my in-laws, and in the gallery shop had these lovely wooden door wedges, very smooth and a joy to handle (not that you handle door wedges a lot, but you know how tactile and strokeable wood can be). Until now the door of my craft room has been wedged open (when it is safe to do so, i.e. our inquisitive pussycat is outdoors) with a bright green frog wedge that used to be in one of the children’s bedrooms – it works, yes, but this one was something altogether different. As I was debating with myself whether I could really justify another extravagance, my mother-in-law took it out of my hands and gave it to me as a present! It now sits looking beautiful in the craft room. Trouble is, it rather shows up the scruffy door…

A lovely wooden door wedge

Life’s too short to work a moss stitch – or is it?

The craft room was never meant to be a room to spend a lot of time in, despite the desk – when putting it together I thought of it more as a handy way of storing all my stitching stuff in one place. But a few days ago I went in there and sat at the desk, with a lovely view of the snowdrops in the garden, bird song coming in through the open window and the early morning light streaming in, and as I set about putting a kit together and mounting a small goldwork project in a card I realised that everything I needed for these two tasks was in the same room as I, mostly within reach from where I was sitting. Bliss!

So I may be spending more time there than I thought, and one of the things to do there is try out stitches on my doodle cloths. When I went to my stitching group last Monday, we were told a lady had donated two boxes of stitching supplies to the Guildhouse (the local adult education centre where we meet), and would our group like to have a rummage; anything we didn’t want would then be offered to the beading class. Well! Who would say no to the chance of rummaging through two boxes of stitching books, fabrics, ribbons, beads, scissors and other bits and bobs? This is what I eventually went home with: beads, two pendants for mounting embroidery in, and The New Anchor Book of Crewel Stitches and Patterns.

My share of the Guildhouse booty

One of the stitches mentioned in the book is moss stitch, and from its diagram it looks very attractive, and very symmetrical. I should have been warned by the fact that the ones in the accompanying photograph of an actual embroidery were rather less clearly defined…

The diagram for moss stitch

After having produced a number of less than uniform moss stitches I tried to work out what the problem was. Well, one of them was the fact that as I pulled the working thread through on the last step, it invariably got itself knotted, and so it wouldn’t pull snugly around the base cross. Looking at the diagram again, I realised I was following it almost exactly, but not quite: I didn’t anchor the thread loop with my finger! Perhaps that was where I went wrong. Tried it again, with the loop duly anchored while pulling through. A bit better, but still nothing like as tidy as the diagram. Eventually I found that tightening the working thread around the needle while it was still inserted under the cross, and only then pulling the needle through, produced a reasonably neat result.

A row of uneven moss stitches Pulling the working thread tight against the needle A completed moss stitch

So is moss stitch like a stuffed mushroom – something that life is too short for? It rather depends on how attractive you think the stitch is, and how much effort you are willing to put into what will mostly be used as a scatter stitch. Once you get into a routine it should speed up the process, and having the hoop on a stand so that you can use both hands (which I didn’t) would certainly help. But whether I use it a lot or very rarely, it’s a new addition to my repertoire, which is always welcome.

The completion of a craft room, part 3

At the end of the last FoF we left the new craft room filled with all its components parts – desk, bookcases, storage towers, boxes, fabrics, threads, tools – and, frankly, in a mess. Time to get organised! One thing that got added which wasn’t absolutely necessary was a new lampshade; the old one didn’t fit the light fitting very well and wobbled precariously, but I suppose strictly speaking it was still serviceable. Nevertheless, a shiny new craft room deserves a bright new lampshade (with a daylight bulb), and I couldn’t resist this cheerful red one with poppies on the inside which shine through to the outside when the light is on – magic! The desk has a craft light, my lightbox, felt boards and other odds and ends; the album was a Christmas gift which I was about to fill with some small projects that had so far been languishing in a box. The cat was allowed in one last time to see what all the fuss was about, before being banished forever.

A bright new lampshade The poppy lamp illuminates the newly organised room, with desk and cat

Behind the desk and chair are the two rainbow storage towers, holding most of my fabrics, some finishing materials, and my stock of scissors, squissors and coasters. The coffee table has the Millennium frame and lapstand plus my doodle cloths and anything in the process of being kitted up, as well as a useful lap tray. Underneath are more storage boxes (large pieces of fabric plus wadding), and next to it a CD tower holding my audiobooks. Not really craft-related, but they used to live underneath that coffee table and I needed the space there, and the CD tower tucks in nicely behind the door when it opens. The bookcases hold all my thread boxes, embroidery books, and kits, and on top sit various decorative thread boxes, one with a tapestry cover, the others with some of my embroidery.

Storage towers, coffee table with boxes underneath, and CD tower Filled bookcases with decorative storage boxes on top

The left-hand bookcase holds threads which ideally should be shielded from the light, as the boxes in which they are stored are transparent or at least translucent. The few boxes in the right-hand bookcase hold mostly beads, gems and shisha materials which are not light-sensitive, so a solution was needed for the one bookcase only. “Needed” might be putting it rather strongly – when I’m not in there the curtains are kept closed, and the bookcases are on a north-facing wall, so the amount of light getting to the boxes is probably negligible; still, I knew I’d feel more at ease with some sort of curtain or cloth in place. Now I can’t really work a sewing machine, so a ready-hemmed piece of material would be ideal. Did we perhaps have some old curtains somewhere in the attic? Well, yes, but they were rather heavy and unlikely to be the right size. Then I remembered a couple of sarongs I had been given a few years back by a friend from Kenya. Could one of those… yes it could. A bit of engineering wizardry by Mr Mabel and my threads were protected!

The sarong in place The thread boxes accessible but protected

And so here, finally, is the craft room – complete, organised, and in use.

The craft room in action

Now all it needs is a small conservatory smiley.

The completion of a craft room, part 2

As I was cleaning the old bookcase ready to be propped up against the other wall and filled according to my “shelf document” my husband, who had kindly offered to repair various bits that had fallen off or got damaged, remarked that even with quite a lot of work it wasn’t going to be a very satisfactory bookcase. For one this, lacking a back it wasn’t particularly stable. “Why don’t we do this properly and look for a suitable bookcase at Ikea or something?” he said. So we did.

The old bookcase ready for some surgery Calculations

Now some time before I had drawn a floor plan for the craft room, and on it, as some of you may remember, there was a small Ikea filing cabinet. Desk height, six drawers, and just the thing for large bits of fabric or anything fairly bulky. Available, unfortunately, in black, white and bright green only. As we got ready to pick up the bookcases (two together would provide about the same amount of storage space as the old double one) I had another good look at the filing cabinet online and decided that really I didn’t need it. With the slightly larger bookcases, the three under-the-bed-boxes and the rainbow storage tower I had oodles of room already. So Helmer stayed at Ikea, and two Billies came home.

The Craft Room floor plan A possible filing cabinet

A scrub and a hoover (or rather a Henry) to clean the room while it was as empty as it was going to be, and then the next step was to build the bookcases. Not a problem, I’ve assembled flat packs in the past and none of them has collapsed yet, so armed with two screwdrivers, a hammer, a mug of tea and a speculaas sandwich (made with two slices of bread and some Dutch biscuits – and let no-one who comes from the nation that invented the chip butty cast any aspersions!) I set to. Oh, there was a helpful feline assistant as well.

Cleaning the room Assembling Billy the Bookcase A little help from Lexi


The two finished bookcases

Time to get the desk in (originally kept in the storage room, where it just got cluttered), put some pictures on the wall, place the rainbow tower in its permanent position and fill the bookcases.

A desk to work at The bookcases are filled

This was beginning to look very promising! Until the dining table was cleared…

The dining table is visible and usable again But the craft room floor isn't...

Back to square one? No, not quite. But there was clearly a lot more to do, and one important step was to realise that there was no way I was going to get all that into the available storage. Not even the originally-planned filing cabinet would do. A second rainbow storage tower was needed! And a sarong. Of course.

A second rainbow storage tower A sarong for the craft room

The completion of a craft room, part 1

Some time in February last year I FoFfed about the Craft Room To Be. Just to remind you, this is what it looked like shortly before that post – and that was after getting rid of the giant CRT telly!

The telly room, window side The telly room, door side

That post closed with the line “If everything goes to plan, I should have a fully furnished craft room some time this year!”

Ha. ha. ha.

Some progress had been made by the time I wrote that, in the sense that I had gained a rainbow storage tower and three storage boxes, but with The Den still filled almost to capacity it was all I could do to squeeze them in, inaccessible except by some serious mountaineering. After our trade fair in September at least the trays of Austin Seven spare parts went one by one, so I could see some floor space, but there still wasn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre. As Christmas came ever nearer, I decided Something Must Be Done. Stuff scattered along the window sill and other surfaces – much of it made or collected or won by the boys in days long gone – was boxed up ready to be handed over to the proud owners to display in their own homes (or not, as the case might be). I went through the boxes of documents and photos and keepsakes from Mum’s house, and (with my husband, as it was a combined collection) through the stacks of videos, CDs and DVDs in and on top of the bookcase. What we wanted to keep went in boxes to the storage room for the time being. There was a distinct sense of not-quite-so-cluttered-ness about the ex-telly room!

No more trays or videos

Except, of course, for that sofa bed. The biggest obstacle (in every sense) in the Craft Room project, it was inherited decades ago from my husband’s grandmother. No-one in the family wanted it, no-one else was willing to come and take it away for free (not even after we discovered that it was a Vono sofa and could be described as vintage/retro), and the charity shops wouldn’t touch it because it didn’t have the required fire safety labels. I suspect people weren’t that fussed about furniture fire safety when this was made. Finally, in desperation I asked Eldest and fiancée whether they really wouldn’t like a sofa bed for their spare bedroom. They came over to have a look at it, and decided that yes, they would like it after all. Victory! “When can you come and pick it up?” Not until 2018, as it happened, but on the first Saturday of the new year this was the state of play:

No more sofa bed

All it needed was some cleaning and a bit of work on the bookcase, which was already in the room when we bought the house nearly twelve years ago, and which was definitely showing signs of age. Don’t we all. A bit of TLC and I’d be able to start populating the shelves!

The old bookcase ready for some surgery

Or perhaps not…

Goldwork for all weathers

When I completed the RSN goldwork boot some time ago, and posted pictures of it on the Cross Stitch Forum (yes, I know, it isn’t cross stitch – but they humour me and allow me to stay a member even though I do mostly other needlework now smiley), one lady remarked that it would be fun to stitch the whole outfit to go with the boot in goldwork: gloves, hat, corset, dress… I agreed it would make a lovely series, but that it was very unlikely to happen, especially to scale! But suddenly a picture of a parasol entered my mind, and refused to budge.

When that happens, resistance is futile – and so I started looking for basic umbrella/parasol shapes. Although the original idea had been for a parasol as an accessory to the never-to-be-stitched Edwardian costume, at this point I wasn’t sure whether it might not become an umbrella, and anyway they are pretty much the same shape, aren’t they? A parasol just being a lighter, more elegant version of an umbrella. But I knew quite certainly the sort of outline I wanted: what you might call a child’s version of an umbrella, with four or five panels, and tilted about 45 degrees. After a few sketches I did a first line drawing on the computer.

The first line drawing

This captured the essence of umbrella-ness I was looking for, and I did some work on the fillings and materials, but something bothered me. When I had a closer look, I realised what it was – the drawing was wonky. The left-hand panels were longer than the ones on the right-hand side, making it impossible to place any decorative motifs satisfactorily, and the angle of the shaft was slightly off. Back to the drawing board.

Changes to the line drawing The new line drawing

Once the outline had been tweaked to my satisfaction, I could work on the decoration of the panels. After a while I found myself with two versions which I liked equally. OK, so why not have two projects, a parasol and an umbrella? And to make them look more balanced when stitched as a pair, I reversed one of them.

An umbrella and a parasol Mirror images

While all this was being done on the computer, I was also still scribbling notes on the first printout, jotting down ideas for materials and stitches.

Notes about stitches and threads

Deciding which of the various ideas to use is never easy, because inevitably some have to be discarded (unless you want to end up with a whole herd of umbrellas – and how many goldwork umbrellas am I likely to want to stitch?!?) Eventually I managed to work out which ones I liked best, and in which combinations, and I could add some indication of stitches to the bare transfer drawings.

Working charts incorporating ideas for stitches and threads

The fabrics for both projects had already practically picked themselves – two of the shades of Essex linen I bought last month, Teal for the umbrella (in silver), and Orange for the parasol (in gold). Both behaved beautifully on the lightbox, and I’ve got a beautiful deep 10" hoop that’s just the right size, large enough to give the design breathing space and small enough to be manageable. And here they are (only in unstitched outline as yet): Come Rain, Come Shine.

Come Rain on teal Essex linen Come Shine on orange Essex linen

Now for the fun part of picking the threads, wires, spangles and whatnots!