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, most 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.

How a kangaroo ousted a seahorse…

…and was in turn endangered by a miniature gecko. The story of how a goldwork design can be influenced by fabric, bedtime stories, and a Baptist minister.

Once upon a time, in 2015 to be exact, I sketched a whole series of ideas for goldwork designs, among them a toadstool, a sort-of-daisy and a seahorse. Forward a year, and on a visit to the Viking Loom I bought some scrumptious hand-painted silk dupion in turquoise, blue and purple shades. Forward another four years, and I’m starting the goldwork module for my RSN Certificate. For which I need to stitch my goldwork design on silk dupion. Well!

Sketch for a goldwork toadstool Sketches for a goldwork daisy and seahorse Hand-painted silk dupion

No-brainer, right? Sea-coloured dupion, seahorse – done! Hmm, not quite. All these sketches were for designs without any rules other than what I liked. But the goldwork module comes with a brief; there are only certain materials you are allowed to use (no kid leather, no smooth passing, no rough purl or wire check, no silver or copper let alone any other colours) and there are certain techniques you have to use (bricked Jap, mixed couching, cutwork over soft string padding), sometimes with a specified minimum area. The seahorse couldn’t quite fit all that in, and I’d have to get rid of some of the materials I’d originally included. No worries (keep that expression in mind…), we can add to it. How about a treasure chest? I worked out that that could be made to include several of the required techniques, so I did some sketching to work out the proportions and positions of seahorse and chest to make them into a coherent design.

Adding a treasure chest to the seahorse

And then, in my pile of sketches, I came across an undated, very basic sketch of a sitting kangaroo with the scribbled note “find good pose. check eye shape” and an indication of padded cutwork along the tail, and some chipping on the haunch/hip joint. (It also had a small sketch of a hot air balloon, but I ignored that.) A kangaroo… well, it would be unusual; I’d found plenty of sea creatures when looking at previous Certificate goldwork pieces, but no kangaroo (although there was a koala). It wouldn’t work with the hand-painted silk dupion, of course – I’d need to buy some more shades to have a good range of options (oh the hardship). As I talked to Hilary at the Silk Route about this I mentioned that it was now between a seahorse and a kangaroo and she immediately plumped for the kangaroo, simply because it was so unusual; and Angela, my tutor, had also greeted my simple sketch with some enthusiasm, not surprising perhaps as she is Australian smiley.

A basic kangaroo

Anyway, I figured there was no harm in finding some more kangaroo pics and deciding on a suitable position, and what about a pouch and possibly a Joey? And then it hit me. Haasje!

Haasje (“little hare” in Dutch) is the cuddly toy my grandmother bought for me before I was born. For various reasons it was a very special welcome into the world, and Haasje became my constant companion. He was also my champion: when an older cousin told me that “earworms” (Dutch for earwigs) would creep into your ears at night and nibble your brains (I had no older brothers, but my cousins obviously did a great job as substitutes), I looked for a solution to keep me safe. One ear was protected by the pillow, but what about the other? Haasje, of course! For several years I slept with him snugly held against my ear; my mother didn’t find out why until I was a grown-up.

Haasje, my constant companion

Now when my favourite aunt lived with us for two years and told me bedtime stories every night, she chose Haasje as the protagonist, and in one particularly memorable series of tales he travelled all the way to Australia, where a passing kangaroo gave him a lift in her pouch. He wasn’t used to hopping that fast and high, so he clung on for dear life while nervously looking down at the ground. That was it. The seahorse was forgotten. I had a design!

Haasje in the kangaroo's pouch

As is always the case the design went through several changes before it was finalised – it gained some grass, and a cloud with the sun behind it – but the basis for me was a panicky Haasje travelling by kangaroo (I hope to convey his wide-eyed look of fear by means of a big round spangle). In class I did some more work on what materials to put where, where to have padding, and which bits to leave open to contrast with the solid gold parts; the cutwork for the tail remained, as did the chipwork haunch, and other techniques and materials were added in, making sure all the requirements of the brief were covered. When I got home I did a mock-up (not easy for goldwork) to give myself a better idea of the balance between open and solid, and I think I’ve got it about right. I also printed the cleaned-up design on tracing paper to make the pricking needed for the prick & pounce transfer process.

The colour mock-up The tracing for prick and pounce

Then in the middle of this whole process, after Haasje had been added but before my class, our minister shared a holiday snap during the Sunday service’s all-age talk of this teeny-weeny little chap (that giant white thing is a teaspoon), almost changing my mind a second time, but although I did find some lovely pictures of miniature geckos in beautifully sinuous positions perfect for goldwork, I decided to stick with Bruce (as I have called the kangaroo) and Haasje.

The miniature gecko shared by our minister

Remember I mentioned getting some more colours of silk dupion? Here is the selection I got, with the two at the top bought specifically for Bruce. The olive shade was not at all what I was looking for, so that became my doodle cloth, but I absolutely loved the shade called Ether. It was a bit of a surprise as the picture on the Silk Route website was rather brighter, but actually this less saturated look was just what I wanted.

A collection of dupion shades

Unfortunately, although the 28cm x 33cm cut was fine as regards size, it had the grain running the wrong way. Well, “wrong” for this particular design. In order to accommodate the design I’d have to use the fabric in portrait orientation, but in that case the grain (which is very visible in silk dupion) runs vertically, and Angela and I both agreed that that would look all wrong. So this piece of fabric will become a second doodle cloth, and I’ve bought a fat quarter of the Ether dupion which is easily big enough to cut a piece of the right size with the grain running horizontally.

This does mean I won’t be able to fully frame up until my next class, as I would much prefer to attach the silk to the calico with a tutor to hand. On the few occasions I’ve attached a piece of silk to backing fabric I’ve ended up with puckers in the silk at the end of the project, so I want to get this absolutely right. Apparently the secret is to baste the two layers together on the design lines when the whole sandwich is under tension.

However, we could get the calico framed up. Angela had never worked with a slate frame this small so it was a new experience for her as well! But apart from everything being rather smaller, the rest of the process is pretty much the same: sew the top and bottom of the fabric to the webbing, sew herringbone tape to the sides, and lace up using the lethal bracing needle (I won’t show you the wounds…)

Sewing the calico to the webbing Lacing the side tapes to the bars

By the way, do you remember the four protective flaps I made for the big slate frame? True, they overlapped quite a bit, but it will give you some idea of the size difference when you see the effect of a single flap attached to the new frame.

Four flaps covering the large slate frame One protective flap is enough

And that’s it so far! I’ve got my homework – getting the silk ironed, sampling some couching and s-ing, creating a tonal plan, pricking the transfer, cutting the layers of felt padding; Angela is definitely keeping me busy smiley. After the next class I hope I’ll be able to show you the silk all framed up and with the design painted on, and who knows even a bit of gold (although all the padding needs to go on first, so it may be a while before I get to play with the bling bits – but there’s always the doodle cloth).

Ready for my homework!

And now we wait…

Those of you who follow Mabel’s Facebook page will know that last week I finished mounting my Jacobean Certificate piece and handed it in for assessment. Definitely a Proud Picture moment, and Angela kindly obliged. Yay me! And now we wait for the assessment to come back, probably some time in January. Patience is a virtue, they say, and I will be getting a lot of practice…

Posing with the now fully finished Jacobean piece

But how did we get to that point? You may remember that at the start of my last Jacobean class I had the twill all herringbone-stitched to the calico, and the sateen cut to size and ironed. As it happens I’d misunderstood Angela and cut a 10cm excess all around, instead of 10cm in total (5cm all around) so some cropping was needed, but then the sateen could be folded to the right size and pinned to the twill in the four corners.

The sateen backing pinned at the corners

Then it was a matter of slip stitching the twill and sateen together. It’s a bit like a ladder stitch really, except with ladder stitch you have two folds that need sewing together and you scoop a bit of both folds alternately. Here the sateen got scooped in the fold, but the twill just got picked up as close to the sateen as possible. Boy do you need a curved needle for this! I hate them with a vengeance because they have a will of their own and are a pain to work with, but I will admit that this sewing would be well-nigh impossible without one.

A slip stitch in the twill A slip stitch in the sateen

You work several slip stitches before firmly pulling the thread (a sturdy buttonhole) to make the stitches disappear into the fabric. In the picture I’m getting near to a corner and am about to pull, so the stitches further away are already neatly tightened away but the ones near the corner are still visible. Which brings me to the invisible even stitches mentioned in the brief – I asked Angela and she explained that although if properly done the actual stitches are invisible, the tension on the fabric shows where they are so you can see whether they are evenly done even if you can’t see the stitches themselves! What do you think, in the second picture – are they even?

Getting to a corner The sateen all attached, pins still to be removed

The final step was to take out all the pins, and then get rid of 140 or so pin holes. Quite a satisfying task, it was rather fun to see them disappear when gently rubbing the edge of the fabric.

getting rid of pin holes

And here it is, fully mounted, front and back view.

The mounted piece, front The mounted piece, back

Irrelevant picture: while pinning I found these two entangled pins in the box. I thought they looked rather sweet smiley.

Entangled pins

Tomorrow will be my first proper class for the Goldwork module, and I’m hoping to frame up the new, small slate frame and finalise the design. Yes, I have a design – not either of the ones I started out with as ideas, but that’s what happens. It’ll change a bit more over the next few weeks I don’t wonder, but I’ve got the general idea plus a personal twist, which I think is very important to have in a project you’ll be working on for many months. I’ve also got my doodle cloth hooped up: one of the silk dupions I got from the Silk Route turned out to be an olive green I am unlikely ever to use for a proper project, so it may as well be put to work in this way.

Sample cloth for goldwork

Incidentally, I finally unlaced the SAL Tree on my Millennium frame – quite a difference in tension, isn’t it! Perhaps slate frames do have the right idea after all smiley.

The Millennium frame all laced up for the SAL Unlacing the Millennium frame at completion of the SAL

An unexpected twist

Last week I bought two sets of Sulky 12wt cotton to try, having heard a lot of praise for them, and having enjoyed using one of their 12wt “Blendables” (variegated colours) in the Butterfly Wreath. Some of them (with a few others acquired since) were bought with a third version of the Hope rainbow in mind; the set of muted pinks and greens has no immediate purpose, but I just found the colour combination irresistible!

Two sets of Sulky 12wt cotton

“12wt”, or “12 weight”, by the way, refers to the thickness of the thread, or more accurately to its length: it is defined as the number of kilometres of thread in a kilo. So 12 kilometres of 12wt thread and 40 kilometres of a 40wt thread both weigh 1 kilo. This means that the higher the number, the thinner the thread; 12wt is roughly equal to two strands of standed cotton.

Before the Sulky threads arrived I took the opportunity to compare the thickness of my Blendables 12wt with a Weeks Dye Works perle #12 (they happen to be stored together as I got them both – plus a few others – when looking for just the right variegated green), mostly to compare thicknesses as you would expect the 12 in perle #12 to stand for its weight as well.

Weeks Dye Works perle and Sulky cotton

But as I put them down on white paper together I noticed something unexpected: Sulky blendables is a Z-twist! I’d never noticed this before because the Butterfly Wreath doesn’t use it for a stitch that shows up the difference clearly, like stem stitch.

I remembered that some years ago I purchased a few spools of another brand of 12wt cotton at the Knitting & Stitching Show. I dug out a spool of Wonderfil and yes, that’s a Z-twist too. But the WDW overdyed perle is, predictably enough, an S-twist like most other hand embroidery threads.

Three twelve-weight threads An S-twist and two Z-twists

And that last bit (“hand embroidery threads”) turns out to be the pertinent fact in this twisty surprise. Some research online brought up an interesting page on the website of thread manufacturer Yli, which says that “A thread with a Z-twist, or left twist, is engineered specifically for the sewing machine. The action of the sewing process tends to increase the twist of a Z-twisted thread, but can actually untwist a thread with S-twist, or right twist.” We live and learn! The threads are still perfectly usable for hand embroidery – I’ll just have to remember to work my stem stitch as outline stitch. Fortunately I don’t think many of the other stitches in the Hope design are affected; other than stem stitch just the whipping, probably. I wrote about the effect of the whipping direction in an earlier FoF, finding that I liked a Z-direction whip with an S-twist thread (that is to say the whipping and the thread twist go in opposite directions), so here I’ll have to do the whipping in the S-direction. Oh well, think of it as brain training.

Incidentally, coming back to the relative thickness of all these threads labelled as a size 12 – the Sulky thread is clearly thinner than the other two. Could it be because of a difference in twist? Sulky’s appears to be longer/less tight than either the WDW perle or the Wonderfil cotton. Must do a bit more research!

The home stretch

Early last February, Wednesday 5th to be precise, I attended my 6th class for the Jacobean module of the RSN Certificate. My next class was originally going to be 14th March, but for reasons I can’t quite remember now I changed that to Wednesday 22nd April, with the 8th and final class on 25th April. Both those classes were going to be mostly dedicated to getting my completed project mounted, always assuming that it was completed by 22nd April.

Well, you saw what was coming the moment I mentioned April, didn’t you? Yes, if I hadn’t changed dates I might just have snuck that 7th class in, but it was not to be. At that point no-one had any idea how long this was going to go on for, but even so I decided to try and finish the stitching by the date the class would have been. And I did. The mounting, which I was not going to attempt by means of a Zoom tutorial, would have to wait.

The finished tree

It had to wait until late last month, when the Rugby satellite location opened its doors once again to the Certificate & Diploma students. I was lucky enough to have Angela as a tutor again, both for this class and for the next one I booked at the same time for 7th October. There were four students in total, and everything had been so well arranged that it felt completely safe, while at the same time being very familiar in that we all had a good chat, and even managed to see each other’s work by being careful to switch places with plenty of distance between us.

Angela had asked me to bring my threads in case of any tweaking necessary, so before I could get on with the mounting process she scrutinised my poor tree from all sides (including the back) before handing it back to me saying that was fine, no need for tweaks. I was very pleased about that – I hadn’t touched the embroidery since I finished the stitching last April, and I hadn’t relished the thought of having to get back into it.

Now I could really get started. To begin with I had to decide what size the mounted work was going to be. I was handed two right-angled “half mats” to play with, and after a bit of indecision I worked out what I thought looked best.

Working out the size for mounting

Next was cutting two pieces of mount board to size (measuring them very carefully first, at least twice). These were then glued together and left under a pile of books to set.

Cutting the mount board

While waiting for the glue to set, it was time to take the embroidery off the slate frame. Before cutting the mount board, while the work was still under tension, I had put tacking stitches in the fabric exactly where the centres of the four sides were going to be. Now I took out the lacing threads which provide the horizontal tension and the split pins which provide the vertical tension, and cut the fabric off the bars.

Tacking stitches in, lacing threads out Split pins removed The embroidery is set free

The two glued pieces of mount board were then covered with calico by glueing round the edge of the back board and pulling the calico tight before sticking the edges down; the glue was not quite on the edge because a “channel” of unglued calico is needed for the twill to be attached. Here is the covered board and the upside down embroidery (giving you a rare look at the back of the work) ready to be folded around it.

Ready to start pinning (and a glimpse of the back)

Next, pins. Lots of pins. Far more pins than I’d expected. At a guess, approximately 140 of them by the time I’d pinned as far towards the corners as I could get. The tricky bit was making sure I pinned exactly on the grain; this was definitely a glasses-off close-up job.

The first few pins More pins

I’d been quite prepared to do a second round, as I’d been told at the beginning of the course that it was rarely tight enough after the first pinning, and generally needed another round of pull-and-pin to get it properly stretched, but Angela had a good look at the result of round one, and said I could go straight on to sewing the twill to the calico and mitring the corners. With hindsight, I think I would have preferred a second round after all, but not enough to undo all the sewing I’ve done since!

Angela checks my pinning

The twill is attached to the calico using herringbone stitch, pulling the fabric taut while stitching. What with pushing in 140 or so pins, stretching the fabric and pulling the buttonhole sewing thread tightly at every stitch, after a while my fingers were becoming quite sore (I’d been warned about this). By the end of the class, this is how far I’d got, with Angela having demonstrated how to ladder stitch the corner when moving from one side to the next. Homework: finish the herringbone stitching and the mitred corners, and cut and iron the cotton sateen which will be the final backing.

The state of things at the end of my class

I definitely improved with practice: my first ladder stitch was not quite parallel (although fortunately the corner came out quite nicely even so), but the second definitely looked more even.

Ladder stitch in a mitred corner The corner pulled close More parallel ladder stitch

And here it is, ready for my 8th Jacobean class this coming Wednesday, when I hope to finish the process by attaching the cotton sateen with, as the brief phrases it, “even slip stitches” which are “not visible”. How they assess whether my slip stitches are even or uneven if they’re not visible I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps you get marked down less if your slip stitches are visible but even smiley?

The herringbone and mitring finished The front, still with pins

Shortly after this class I booked another for 14th October (also with Angela), on the grounds that it would keep the momentum going and get me started on that goldwork project – I figured that as long as I could get framed up and with a bit of luck even get the design transferred (this is a teeny weeny bit ambitious as I have yet to decide what exactly the design is going to be…) I would be willing to try some online classes for this particular module. But since then they’ve opened up the November and December classes for booking, and I’ve added two November face-to-face dates – fingers crossed they’ll actually happen!

A snowman goes public, and a silk gets overlooked

The latest issue of Stitch, the Embroiderers’ Guild’s magazine, hit the shops last weekend, and you may recognise a certain snowman in one of the small cover pictures – yes, Forever Frosty has made his first public appearance! It’s always great fun seeing your own project in print, and this time they gave me a full double spread especially for the goldwork diagrams as well as the main article with the usual photographs and instructions. I’m really pleased with it, but I can’t help wondering why colours never seem to come out quite right in photographs, even professional ones; the fabric is definitely blue-er in real life.

Stitch magazine, issue 127 Forever Frosty

Sending the stitched models to the magazine for photographing is always a bit fraught – the Stitch people are really careful with them, that’s not the problem, but their postal journey there and back is a time of nervous anticipation: will they make it, or will they become a Lost Item? So it was with a sigh of relief that I welcomed Frosty and the little willow that made it into issue 125 safely back home last week, in time for us to take them on our visit to my mother-in-law, who is a keen needlewoman and who I knew would like to see them.

So now I can concentrate on other things. The RSN Certificate, for one thing – but more about that in a later FoF. The other thing is Hope, my new rainbow design, which I’m currently working on in two different versions. I’m planning a third before putting the chart pack together, by which time the design should offer any stitcher a variation that suits her.

Remember the blues I was having a bit of a ponder about? Well, based on various digital shade cards I decided that Splendor 966 was probably the blue I really wanted: a little darker than the Splendor blue I already had, with the added bonus of being the same brand as all the other silks in that particular version of the rainbow.

Splendor 966, a slightly darker blue

I’ve been meaning to expand my collection of Splendor silks but unfortunately no shop in the UK has the entire range, and so for some shades I will have to resort to US sellers (I prefer Stitching Bits & Bobs who have been very helpful in the past) and just take the import duties and postage on the chin. But West End Embroidery, who are equally helpful and in the UK, have a fair few shades so I decided to start there – get as many of the shades on my list as they have from them, then go to SB&B for the others. Fortunately, Splendor 966 was one of the shades in their collection.

I went through my list, and their catalogue, and may have added a shade or two that wasn’t on my list, and finally hit the Check Out button to place the order. The order confirmation email duly arrived, and as I glanced through it I realised one shade was missing. Yes, I’d forgotten to order 966…

A quick phone call to Yvonne remedied that, so that when the order arrived, the blue which was the initial reason for the order was there among all the pretty colours which were not strictly necessary. It would have been terribly embarrassing having to place a second order for one single colour – I might have had to add a few extras smiley !

The whole Splendor order

Rainbow choices and a mystery

My rainbow is growing apace! Apart from a couple of evenings this week when we have other things on, I’ve been stitching a band a night, and I like how it’s developing. There have been a few decisions to take along the way, though – not quite the relaxed just-get-on-and-stitch project I first had in mind – but that is part of any project that will eventually become a chart pack or kit. And in a way it makes me concentrate more on the design and how I want it to look.

I wrote earlier about backstitch versus cable stitch in the red band; and for the orange band I had to choose between plain and reverse chain stitch (I went for the latter – easier to start a new thread mid-line). The yellow band threw up another decision; in my provisional notes I’d put it down as diagonal satin stitch, which would mean gradually changing the stitch direction to compensate for the curve. Not impossible of course, but not very relaxed either, and I did want to try and keep it relatively simple. Straight satin stitch then? You’d still need to adjust the stitch direction, but it’s definitely easier than in the diagonal version. Unfortunately that wasn’t the effect I wanted, and anyway I suspected that both diagonal and straight satin stitch throughout would look too solid, with too little texture. In the end I went for blocks of diagonal satin stitch alternating in direction. But would it need a split stitch outline? I started one just in case.

A provisional split stitch edge

The split stitch looked rather messy – I don’t really like doing split stitch in more than a single strand – so I started from the other end of the band without split stitch, tucking the ends under the previous band on one side, and knowing they’d be covered on the other side by the next band. And it looked just fine. Good, I’m all for simplifying things! The incipient line of split stitch was unpicked and the whole band worked without it; split stitch may make an appearance as a proper filling stitch in the smaller version worked in an indivisible thread, but here it isn’t needed.

Alternating satin stitch without a split stitch edge The yellow band finished

The green band, in stem stitch, posed no problem. The blue band, to compensate for this, threw up two.

First dilemma: fly stitch or Cretan? To begin with I was almost certain I’d go for fly stitch, then I doodled both and suddenly I wasn’t so sure. They both looked rather fun!

Fly stitch versus Cretan stitch

After discussing both options with my husband I decided to stick with fly stitch after all; much though I like Cretan stitch, I felt that (in contrast to the original satin stitch band idea) it has too much texture – a bit too fussy for this project. OK, fly stitch. But…

… in which blue? From a practical point of view it makes sense to stick with one brand of silk throughout, but the Splendor blue was a bit lighter than I’d like and the only darker blue of the right sort came from my collection of Caron Soie Cristale.

Which blue to choose

Rainbow Gallery’s Splendor silk is a 12-stranded silk in a slightly unusual distribution: it consists of three “bundles” of four strands. There are other silks on the market which use the same distribution (Crescent Colours Belle Soie, Gloriana Silk Floss and Thread Gatherer Silk ‘n Colors) and their weight too is pretty much identical, so I’ve long suspected they are really exactly the same silk marketed by four different companies. Ideally, then, I’d find a darker blue in my stash of these brands, but I have a fairly limited selection and moreover they are all overdyed or variegated threads rather than the solid blue I was looking for.

Caron Soie Cristale seemed a good alternative as it is also a 12-stranded thread, although not of the 3×4 type, and the individual strands are of a similar weight to Splendor and its doppelgangers. I cut a length of the darker blue, stripped four strands from it, got ready to thread them, and realised that the four strands together were noticeably thinner then the four strands of Splendor I’d been using. On closer inspection, the thread turned out to consist of 16 thinner strands. Had I misremembered the strand count and weight of Soie Cristale? I checked four or five other bobbins and this is the only Soie Cristale I have which has 16 thinner strands. I am puzzled.

The rogue thread, standard Soie Cristale and Splendor

Oh well, we work with what we have. Six strands of this rogue blue looked to have about the same bulk as four strands of the Splendor, so I got to work with that. Having struggled with six rather wayward strands for several hours I am happy with the look of the stitch, but the colour seems rather dark. Perhaps with hindsight my original Splendor blue would have been better. Unpick it all? That’s a bit drastic. I’ll see if it’s grown on me by the time my next stitching session comes around…

The blue band finished

By the way, exciting news – I’ve got a Certificate class booked at Rugby! Next Wednesday I hope to make a start on mounting the Jacobean tree, and going over my paperwork with Angela.

InspiRussian

Some weeks ago on the Antiques Roadshow someone brought in a Russian tea set and a rather exquisite enamel napkin ring which the expert pointed out was not actually part of it. It was Russian, though, and in fact turned out to be by Fabergé. I really liked the floral pattern on the napkin ring so I paused the programme, took a picture, and used it to make some sketches later. It just cried out to be stitched; silks would be ideal to show the sheen of the enamel but for some reason I saw it in my mind in crewel wools, and as the napkin ring was done in cloisonné enamel the main colour blocks of the embroidery would have to be outlined in some form of metal thread (copper or muted gold) to mimic the fine metal strips in the original.

As I scribbled down all these observations plus some colour ideas I was a little worried about copyright, but after some thought came to the conclusion that anything that age is unlikely to be covered anymore. If anyone knows differently, do please let me know before I start stitching! I’ve already got the design transferred to my favourite linen…

The Russian design transferred to a piece of linen

Having produced my first coloured version of the design, I set about choosing wools. I love choosing threads from my collection of Heathway Milano crewel wool; quite apart from the joy of opening drawer after drawer of glorious colour, they are a delight to handle, beautifully soft and fondleable (yes, that is now a word). I picked five colour families, Old Gold, Madder Pink, Lagoon, Goblin Green and Cornflower Blue. For now I wasn’t too concerned with how light or dark the design was going to be, just with getting the right shades.

First attempts at picking colours

And I wasn’t. Getting the right shades, I mean. The combination of blues and greens I’d gone for in my digital version was always going to be tricky to replicate, and it might have been easier to go with something closer to the original napkin ring, but I’d grown rather fond of my version by now so I was jolly well going to see it through! The problem was the blue – it needed to be just a tiny bit closer to the green end of blue without merging into the turquoise shade. It was obviously time to hit the shops, or rather one shop in particular: Catkin Crown Textile Studio.

Steve and Hazel not only stock the entire range of Heathway Milano crewel wool at a very reasonable price, they are also invariably helpful – I can thoroughly recommend them. This time what I needed from their store of goodies was the Bluebell colour family which is just that bit less pure blue than the Cornflower family. And as I was getting those I might as well get the missing shades in the Madder Pink family, so that I had a wider range to choose from for the flowers. And as I was getting those I was only a few skeins off qualifying for free postage. And so, uhm, well…

The shades I needed The shades I added

Moving on, it was time to compare the Bluebell and the Cornflower combinations to see which one was going to make the final cut. Colour preferences are very personal, but for me the Bluebell version immediately appealed in a way that the Cornflower one hadn’t. Bluebell it is!

The Cornflower combination The Bluebell combination

Since then I have made a few changes to the colours, but only in the way they are distributed, particularly in the flowers, so no need for another purchase smiley. I also turned the black design lines golden yellow to better show the effect of the cloisonné outlining. And that’s as far as I go for the time being – first I have a rainbow to finish (among one or two other things…). But it’s nice to know I won’t run out of things to stitch any time soon.

The revised colour version, dark The revised colour version, light

Incidentally, I’ve been thinking what to call this design. At the moment I’m considering either Exquisite Enamel or Fabergé Floral; but perhaps I should just stick with the title of this post!

Light and hope

I may have mentioned once or twice that I have more than enough projects to keep me going for a long, long time. Works actually in progress (like Llandrindod and Hengest), works ready to go with the design transferred and the materials chosen (like Soli Deo Gloria and Come Rain), and several still in the exciting design stage (like Mechthild, Pickled Garden and the nameless Russian piece). And that’s without the kits and designs by other people that I have on the go or on my shelves!

But sometimes something needs to be stitched.

I’ve been having trouble with my eyes for some time now. Partly the usual thing of getting older and needing longer arms to read things, partly the fact that because of lockdown I haven’t seen an optician for some time and probably need new glasses, and partly because of a progressive condition which causes cloudiness in my left eye. For now that last part is an annoyance rather than seriously getting in the way – it’s a bit like having smudged glasses all the time (and in fact I do keep trying to polish them when I’m not thinking about it). But I have no idea how bad it will get, or how quickly. And that worries me. But (as our minister reminded us in last Sunday’s sermon) worrying is a very ineffective thing to do. And a couple of weeks ago, as I was worrying about the light going out of my eyes I suddenly thought of the Light of the World. And it comforted me. So I grabbed a bit of fabric and a 3-inch hoop and stitched the words in a style which is not really usual for me at all, with gel pen additions. If it speaks to you, feel free to copy it (I’ll keep the pop-up picture a bit larger than usual).

Light of the World

The other design that has elbowed its way to the front of the queue I’ve called Hope. In the 1980s, when I was a teenager, a Dutch organisation called Agapè ran a campaign to encourage people to think and talk about faith. Its logo was a rainbow (and I’ve only just now realised it has a reddish purple on the outside instead of pure red) with the words “er is hoop” (“there is hope”).

The 'Er is hoop' logo

I’ve always loved rainbows and they’ve been rather prominent lately; even so, until a week or so ago I hadn’t felt any urge to stitch one. But when I did, and after a few sketches that weren’t what I wanted, I decided that I wanted the rainbow to be based on a circle. Some years ago, when flying to the Netherlands, I saw the shadow of the aeroplane inside what looked like a completely circular rainbow. It is apparently known as a “glory”; to me it looked like a sign of protection and security, and it always stayed with me. The photograph I took isn’t particularly clear but I hope it gives you an idea. With that starting point I sketched what became pretty much the final version of the design, a circular rainbow partly covered by a cloud containing the words “there is Hope”.

Glory around the shadow of a plane The design sketch for Hope Hope transferred onto blue cotton

Now I had to decide on stitches and colours. I wanted each of the colours to be in a different stitch, some line stitches following the arc of the rainbow, some with a different stitch direction or texture. And for the threads, silk. Chunky silk, in bold colours. I went for Rainbow Gallery Splendor, which is 12-stranded arranged in 3 clusters of 4 strands; each cluster should provide good coverage in a design that I chose to stitch a little larger than I would normally go for. Most of the colours were easy to pick, but I had a bit of a dilemma over the green. The one that seemed to fit in best was a very vibrant green, rather brighter than I ideally wanted (I’m not quite sure why I bought that shade in the first place!) But the only other green that would fit was on the dull side. After some comparisons I decided to go with the bright option – hope, after all, is a bright thing!

Splendor silk colours for the rainbow, with two greens

As I was about to start stitching the order of the various stitches from red to purple needed a bit of work, but eventually I was reasonably sure that I’d got them arranged the way I wanted them and it was safe to put the first stitch in.

The stitch plan for Hope

Now this project struck me as something nice and relaxing to do – pretty colourful bands that just need filling in, a whole band in stitch A, then a whole band in stitch B, hardly needs any thought at all. Hmm. This is what I got done the first evening:

First stitches

There were several reasons for my lack of productivity. The red band was planned in backstitch as a bricked filling, so with the backstitch in one line offset compared to the next line, like a brick wall. I started a line of backstitch, with stitches that were far too small. I’m simply not used to producing stitches this large and chunky! So that line was unpicked, and I started again, trying to remember to make the stitches larger while keeping them even.

But then there was the fact that backstitch is quite a wasteful stitch, producing a slightly messy stem stitch on the back of the fabric (blue arrow). How about using cable stitch? This produces the same effect but with less thread waste on the back of the fabric (orange arrow).

Backstitch and cable stitch seen from the back

I unpicked my backstitch and started again in cable stitch. Bad move, as I found it impossible to produce an even arch this way. Unpick again, work the very first line in backstitch (that’s where I got to on that first evening), then cable stitch from there on with the backstitch line as a guide. This worked much better.

First line of backstitch Starting a double line of cable stitch Cable stitch continued

Another option I considered (and tried out on a doodle cloth) was cable stem stitch (yellow arrow), which is quicker to work than cable stitch because you don’t have to gauge the width of your thread every time you place a stitch – like ordinary stem stitch, cable stem stitch is worked along a single line. But the effect lacks the straight lines I wanted in this first band, so I stuck with the combination of backstitch and cable stitch.

Doodling for Hope

And this is where I’ve got to so far. I like the texture of this band, and I look forward to seeing the contrast with the next bands, both in texture and colour.

Hope so far

Later this month we are hoping to visit my mother-in-law and I need a travel project; she is a very talented embroiderer and we like to stitch together, but as we also chat while doing this I need something straightforward. I could, of course, take the Ottoman Tulip, but I think I’ll set up a smaller version of this design, to be worked in only a few different stitches, none of which need a lot of attention (perhaps alternating bands of stem and chain stitch), and using an indivisible thread – either coton à broder (right) or perhaps floche (left), which comes in fewer colours but is lovely to work with. I’ll keep you posted!

Coton à broder and floche

Holiday finds and shades of black

Last week we had the opportunity to stay at the seaside flat of friends of ours in Norfolk and despite some changeable weather – including the tail end of storm Francis – we had a very relaxing and enjoyable time. Flat countryside, windmills and the North Sea, what more could a Dutch girl wish for smiley.

I even managed to pick up a few stitch-related goodies! The local charity shop provided me with a book about blackwork for a mere 50p, and at a nearby art & craft centre I found a very pretty ceramic magnet and a little jewellery dish made by Wilton Road Ceramics. Sue, the lady who is Wilton Road Ceramics, was working on some story stones while we were there, which was interesting to watch. The magnet is now serving as a needle minder on my Lowery stand; the little tray could be used for odds and ends while stitching, I suppose, but has instead been designated my tea bag dish – an almost equally important task.

A blackwork book for 50p A needle minder and a tea bag dish

While on holiday I did some work on the Ottoman Tulip. I had hoped to bring a different travel project, one which I’d done some sketches for, but unfortunately I ran out of time to finish drawing the design properly, let alone choose the threads, iron the fabric, transfer the design and hoop up. The Ottoman Tulip sits undisturbed in one of my document boxes most of the time, but there is no denying it comes into its own when the need for a travel project arises: it’s small, uses only a few colours, and is made up of areas to be filled in using mainly split stitch and stem stitch, so I hardly need to look at my notes.

In the course of stitching this design (which I started in October last year) there have been a few dilemmas about colour. I’m using Carrie’s Creation overdyed stranded cotton, which with hindsight was not ideal as I’ve since found out they have been discontinued. Still, the slight variegation in them does work very well in capturing the not-quite-solid shades of the original medieval tile, and unless I decide to turn this design into a chart pack it doesn’t matter that my stitched model can’t be replicated exactly.

The tulip design based on a medieval ceramic tile

The original tile uses only two blues, but I realised a bit too late that the darker of my blues was going to make the whole piece look very dark indeed if I used it for the two outer areas as well as for the main tulip. I decided to bring in a third blue, which does not go with the other two quite as well as I’d hoped, but at least will contrast better with the surrounding black lines. Which brings me to the other change.

For the black lines I’d picked Raven, which lives up to its name being a very deep black. But the black in the original tile is not actually a pure black – it is slightly washed out. I looked through my box of Carrie’s Creation to see if there was anything else that might work. There were two: Double Shot and Soot. Double Shot, as the name suggests, is a very very dark coffee colour; practically black, but a warm black. Soot is a purer grey but looking at it on the bobbin I felt it might be too light.

Raven and Double Shot Raven and Soot

In the end I decided I’d try them both, working each of the two thin black leaves on either side of the flower in a different shade. For some reason I’d brought only Double Shot with me to Norfolk, so I started with that. And I liked it so much that I won’t bother with Soot! (It’s difficult to get it to show up in the photograph, but it is a rich, dark colour that is not quite black.)

And that’s where I leave the Ottoman Tulip until I next need a travel project – which under the current circumstances may well be a while… Meanwhile I have plenty of other projects to occupy myself with; not just the existing bunch (which is quite large enough) but a few new ones as well. Watch out for Hope, and a Russian inspired design which has yet to find a name.

Horsey decisions

One of the exciting things about an embroidery project is the choices you have to make. One of the scary things about an embroidery project is the choices you have to make. Both statements can be equally true, but they tend to apply to either your own design or at least a chart rather than a kit. When purchasing a kit (or attending a workshop, which tends to come with a kit) most of the choices are made for you: what to stitch, which stitch to use, and what materials in which colours – it’s all been mapped out in advance.

Even the order in which you work the elements is only free to some extent; very often it is determined by either the order of teaching, the design, or what is considered the usual progression of techniques and materials. Left to my own devices with the metalwork racehorse I started at the RSN 3-day class last summer, for example, I would probably have left the padded cutwork in the tail till last, purely because it minimises the risk of damage to that very prominent domed golden curve while working on the rest of the design; but it was taught on the second day of the class and so at least half a padded gold tail has been courting danger for the past year.

Pretty much the only decision I expected to be fully my own in this particular project was whether to plunge as I go or leave it all until the end. (Plunge as I go, definitely. I dislike plunging and there is a lot of it in this design which I don’t want to be left with when all the stitching at the front of the work is done and I should be celebrating.) And that is not a decision which affects the way the finished piece looks.

The jockey's jacket with ends waiting to be plunged

Even so, the end result will never be quite like the model, for a variety of reasons. Here is Helen McCook’s original stitched model, of which we were given an enlarged photograph for reference. You will notice that the background colour is different from mine – when she first started teaching this class she offered both the olive green of the model and the darker green I’m working on, but when absolutely no-one chose the olive green she abandoned that colour. Other tutor-made changes are the change from purple to blue for the body of the jockey’s jacket, and a different metal thread used for the red sleeve. Originally this was intended to be worked in a red version of the blue of the jacket and the black of the boot, a couching thread known as 371 thread (no, I have no idea why) which is similar to a smooth passing thread but coloured and without any precious metal content. I can’t quite remember why the change was made to a six-stranded metallic thread but I’m sure there was a good reason for it.

Helen McCook's stitched model The jockey's arm in red 6-stranded metallic thread

Sometimes differences are unintentional – the one shown below occurred because, on a roll couching silver pearl purl, I failed to pay attention to the stitched model and couched the jockey’s hand with the same sort of angle as his face. That line abutting the sleeve should not have been there. I am definitely not unpicking it, though! Unless I show people the picture of the stitched model side by side with my version, no-one will know. (Yes, I realise that you know now, but I’m sure you won’t tell.)

A different hand

Other differences are, in a sense, originated by the tutor but the stitcher has some choice in interpreting them. In the instances shown below, I couldn’t work the line as shown in the stitched model because the design lines pre-drawn on the kit fabric would have been visible if I had. The horse’s jaw is a single curve in the model, followed by a gap and then the curve of the muzzle. The design line showed a shorter jaw curve, a gap closer to the front of the muzzle, and a line between them. I chose to couch that element separately in pearl purl. The jockey’s elbow is quite rounded in the stitched model (which would be a lot easier to stitch) but the design lines give him a very pointy elbow. I have tried to adjust the couching to these pointy lines, but you may just be able to see that a little of them is still visible; I had to decide whether it was worth the effort unpicking the whole sleeve and working it afresh starting from the pointy elbow (with no guarantee that it would look any neater). I decided it wasn’t – I know the lines are there, but they are fairly faint and won’t be very noticeable when viewing the finished piece from a normal distance.

A different jaw A different elbow

And finally even with a workshop kit there are some things the stitcher can decide all by herself – especially if she happens to have a reasonably abundant stash of goldwork materials… Some of these you know about already, like the horse’s eye (originally a gem in a squarish mount, now a silver cup sequin with a black bead) and some of the gold pearl purl in his head and neck. You may remember I didn’t like the bright yellow gold of the pearl purl that came with the kit and used a slightly finer one from my stash which was a rather mellower colour. This brought with it another dilemma, however. There is quite a bit of gold pearl purl in the design; did I really want to use up my nice, fine, mellow pearl purl and be left with a goodly amount of bright yellow pearl purl that I would be unlikely to want to use in future projects? No. So I used up the remains of the length I’d snipped off my stash purl in the jaw and in a small V-shape inside the rear leg, and I’ll use the kit purl for the other lines. In fact I rather like the effect of the two colours and thicknesses combined in the leg – an unintended bonus smiley.

A mixture of gold pearl purls

And that’s where the racehorse is now. There are several projects clamouring for attention at the moment but I may just get him finished first; I’ve just received an email to say RSN classes in Rugby will be starting again in the not too distant future, and after mounting my Jacobean piece the next module will be goldwork, so any practice I can get in before then is a good thing!

The racehorse at the moment