What are these flights of fancy that Mabel has? Well, they are short snippets about anything that I've been doing, stitching, designing, thinking about, experimenting with, and so on, which I think you may be interested in. They'll tell you about new designs, how I come up with names, changes I'm making in designs I'm working on and so on. I can't promise posts will be regular or terribly frequent, but I'll do my best not to neglect this page for long periods of time! By the way, some of the pictures are thumbnails, so you can click on them for a larger version; if you hover over one and a little magnifying glass with a + appears, it's clickable.

A SAL materials Christmas tree

Time for the next step in the 2016 Round In Circles Stitch-Along: you can now sign up! Another month until you can get your needles and threads out, but until then here is a bit more about the designs we’ll be stitching – something about the cost of doing the SAL, some ideas for stitchers who would like to vary their fabrics but not by colour, and a bit more information for those of you who have decided to do the White version (whether on coloured or white fabric).

Will the SAL eat heavily into your stash budget? It could, very easily, if you decided for example to stitch it using hand-dyed silk perles and silk ribbon and stranded silks on fine linen, and to use pure gold spangles instead of sequins. But it doesn’t have to. Assuming you buy your threads, beads, metallic braid and fabric from Sew & So in one purchase; sequins, sheer ribbon and a piece of felt from a local haberdashery shop; and metallic kid leather from Golden Hinde, then a white-on-white version on Hardanger fabric can be done for well under £35 (including postage and signing up for the SAL) or less than £3 per month. That is if there are absolutely no suitable threads, beads or scraps of felt in your stash and you have to buy everything from scratch, but you may well be able to use bits and pieces you already have. And of course there’s always Christmas/birthday/anniversary presents smiley.

What if you would like to experiment a bit with your fabrics, but you’d rather not use colour? Well, one option is to vary the count and raw material – that is to say, you could do some months on cotton, some on linen, some on mixed fabrics; and the counts could be anything from 18ct Davosa and 22ct Hardanger (cotton) to 22ct Fine Ariosa and 20ct, 25ct, 28ct and 32ct Lugana (cotton mix), from 18ct, 25ct and 32ct Floba (linen mix) to the Zweigart pure linens which range from 20ct to 55ct (that last one not recommended unless you’ve got extremely good eyesight…). Some of them even come with a little sparkle!

And finally a bit about stitching the SAL in white only. I have a confession to make. It’s not strictly speaking possible. The SAL includes a few stitches which only work in two colours, and one stitch which looks better in two colours than in one. This is why the materials list for the White version includes gold or silver braid. However, you could opt for a sparkly white braid (like Kreinik #4 5760 Marshmallow) – this would give enough contrast to make the aforementioned stitches work, while keeping the overal look white. If you’re happy to add a touch of gold or silver, you might want to add it to all twelve months, not just the ones where it is specified; so in those months where sparkle isn’t necessary I will suggest which stitches you could do in metallic braid anyway (if I forget, remind me).

For the stitched models I used the Colour version, but throughout 2016 I’ll be stitching the White version on those lovely hand-dyed fabrics I showed you a while ago. And this is what I’ll be stitching with, all neatly arranged into a seasonal tree shape as promised in the post title smiley. I’m looking forward to using them!

Materials for the White version of the SAL

A flower garden grows and toadstools get freckles

The Little Wildflower Garden was originally designed to be stitched on a small square of hand-dyed felt that I happened to have in my stash. The felt just fitted a 3″ hoop, so I scaled the design to fit comfortably within a 3″ circle. But the nice thing about freestyle embroidery is that you can easily make a design larger or smaller if you want. Yes, I know you can do so with counted embroidery as well, but there it depends on the count of the fabric; as freestyle embroidery doesn’t depend on holes in the fabric, it can be any size you like (within reason, of course). And so the chart pack shows two sizes of garden – one where I printed the design to be 5cm wide, and one where the width is 6.5cm.

When you enlarge a design there is a decision to make about the threads – do you use the same as for the smaller version, or do you scale the thread thickness up as well? When doing Hardanger, I’d definitely change the threads to suit the size, as you wouldn’t get the right coverage otherwise; although even there some stitchers might prefer using perle #5 and #8 on 28 count, giving a plump, well-covered look, while others choose perle #8 and #12 for a lighter feel. Here I decided to use the same number of strands for the larger transfer as for the smaller one, and see what the effect is. It turns out to be the same sort of effect as the Hardanger one I mentioned just now – the larger garden is lighter and airier, the flowers and the grass less dense. Is that a good thing? It largely depends on your tastes and preferences. Personally I like the well-filled effect of the smaller one where everything blends into a densely stitched patch, but some friends said they’d prefer the larger one where the various parts have a bit more breathing space and room to themselves. What do you think?

A little wildflower garden in two sizes

Another design that saw some changes is the Toadstools. As you know I found the outline-only version a bit flat, so I got to work with seed stitches to create a bit of shading. In hindsight, it might have been helpful to have done some pencil shading on my paper design first to decide where to put the seed stitches, but the “let’s get stitching and see what we end up with” approach seems to have worked all right – I’m happy with my freckled toadstools!

Toadstools in outline only Toadstools with seed stitch shading

The SAL approaches!

It is nearly the end of November and so in anticipation of the “Join the SAL” button appearing on 1st December I am ready and poised, with the whole SAL – all 12 chart packs with their charts, diagrams and instructions and all 24 blog posts with their explanatory close-up photographs – stored on my computer in glorious completeness, and a pile of 24 finished projects (12 on white fabric, 12 on coloured) mounted in cards and neatly tidied away in my project drawer.

If only. Or possibly even “yeah right”.

Don’t worry, we’re still on schedule here, I’m just not as far ahead of schedule as I would like to be. In some ways it would be reassuring to have the whole SAL ready for distribution throughout the coming year, but actually it’s much more fun to stitch the second set of 12 along with (or only a little bit ahead of) everyone else, and write the blog posts in real time – it also means I can react to feedback and rewrite descriptions or include extra photographs if that seems helpful.

And so I am gathering together lots of beautifully coloured Hardanger fabrics to use throughout 2016, and my doodle cloth is still at the ready to try things out and make last-minute changes if necessary. By the way, one necessary change has been to the SAL Materials List where some fairly vital words had got left out, and there was an “or” that should have been an “and”. So if you downloaded the list the moment I put it up, do please get the latest version.

And just to give you some ideas, here are the fabrics I’ve chosen for the White On Colour version: Sparklies’ hand-dyed Hardanger fabric in Cancer, Leo, Etain, Thalia and Ocean Depths, a solid coloured Hardanger (07 Dusty Green) from Spinning Jenny, and Chromatic Alchemy’s hand-dyed shade Dune.

Coloured fabrics for the SAL

As for the doodle cloth, does that provide a sneak peek at what will be in the SAL? Well, some of it does… and some of it doesn’t. You’ll have to wait and see which is which smiley.

Colours, beads and bead pots

Sometimes colours work just fine when you look at them on the skein or ball, but when they’re actually on the fabric, in stitches, they’re just not quite right. This happened on Join The Band as I was working the perle #8 stitches in the uncut purple Kloster block bands. Far too little contrast between light and dark – the dark will have to be a LOT darker! For this band, in fact, I’ll go for DMC 550, a lovely rich purple; the blue and green bands will likewise get more of a contrast.

Too little contrast between the shades

Incidentally, I’ve been having some ideas about the blue and green bands. The idea was that the purple bands would be uncut, with some surface stitching as a filling, while the blue and green bands would be cut and filled in the usual Hardanger manner (except that the cut squares are not separated by worked bars but by double-sided Kloster blocks). But while picking the new, darker filling colours I thought it would be interesting to have three different approaches: the purple ones uncut with surface decorative stitching, the green one uncut with a Hardanger filling, and the blue ones cut with a Hardanger filling. Some traditional filling stitches can be worked equally well on uncut fabric as in a cut area, as long as the square it is filling is surrounded by four Kloster blocks (I used this in the four Kaleidoscope designs, which can be worked cut or uncut according to the stitcher’s preference).

But first things first – as I was working the surface stitching in dark purple I suddenly realised that what I had taken to be French knots were actually beads. Well, I did design this a long time ago, and I’d forgotten… So off to my bead tins to find some purple beads. Ah. There weren’t any, or at least none that were dark enough to go with DMC 550. Off, then, to Sew & So, my first port of call for most supplies. As it is difficult to know what a colour really looks like from just seeing it on screen, I got two shades, one a standard-sized seed bead and one a petite. The petite bead won the colour competition hands down, and turned out to fit the design rather better size-wise as well!

Choosing beads to go with the dark purple in Join The Band

However, these new beads created a new problem: I need more bead tins! Unfortuately I can’t get those useful watchmaker’s tins any more; there is a company in America that sells them with slightly larger pots, but I prefer the smaller ones, and anyway it comes out far too expensive with postage and import duty. eBay has lots of gem pots and what have you on offer, but the containers for the pots are generally too large. Then I found 60 pots in two reasonable-sized containers at Stitch Craft Create (well, those three words anyway, although they may be in a different order). The pots are 25mm like my old ones, only a little taller; the two containers are a little bigger than my watchmaker’s tins but not too bad. And having transferred my beads to the pots and seeing the colourful picture they make, I’m happy with my new storage!

My new bead pots The bead pots, filled

Stitching while…

Do you “stitch while”? Stitch while waiting at the airport or the dentist, stitch while on holiday, stitch while manning a stand or shop when there aren’t that many customers – it’s remarkable how much stitching you can get done while doing other, relatively inactive things. Last week there was a Craft Fair at our church in aid of the building fund, and one of the stands there was mine. One half of the stand was covered in completed projects to demonstrate what you can do with needlework (Bible cover, lap tray, box tops, framed, ornament, cushion, etc.) while at the same time showing some of the designs available from the website, and the other half had items for sale, such as chart packs, kits, cards, bookmarks, coasters and shopping bags.

Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Sale part Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Show part

The Fair attracted a good number of visitors, but around lunch time the attractions of home-made soups, artisan bread and home-made cakes served in the rear hall proved to be a greater lure than the range of unique Christmas presents available in the front hall, and so there was time to do some stitching. In fact I’d been stitching off and on the whole morning, as it makes a nice talking point and offers an opportunity to demonstrate squissors or show a design in action.

Now some time ago I bought some felt “luggage labels” to make into bookmarks, and I got a little felt purse at the same time to experiment with, but I never could decide what to do with it. I’d been thinking of using tissue paper to stitch on felt, and the purse being black I thought it would look rather good with the Little Wildflower Garden on it. It was also a small enough project to do while keeping an eye of the stand – perfect! What I hadn’t considered was that it wasn’t just small, it was also very fiddly; stitching through tissue paper, and trying to manoeuvre needle and fingers inside the purse. Even with the shortest needle I could find fastening off was quite a challenge! But it worked, and here it is:

Little Wildflower Garden stitched on a black felt purse

A couple of days after the Fair I travelled to Holland to visit my mother for a few days, and as she sleeps a good deal because of her illness I knew I’d have a fair amount of time on my hands. Some of that would be taken up with doing the shopping and the washing up and so on, but there would be plenty of time left, and I’d been thinking of a suitable project to take with me, bearing in mind that I travel with hand luggage only so that the Millennium frame plus lap stand were out of the question. It needed to be something small and portable. At the Fair I’d quickly sold out of coasters, and two people had asked whether I could make some more to order in time for Christmas – just the thing to work on both at my mother’s and at the airport! The only problem was that although I bought some embroidery scissors last time I was in Holland, I didn’t have any squissors there, and I didn’t want to risk trying to take a pair through airport security. But then I remembered a fairly plain pair that I was sent as a sample some years ago; its action isn’t as smooth as the titanium-coated ones, but it is serviceable, and more importantly if it were confiscated at the airport I wouldn’t mind very much. Well, it wasn’t, so it now stays at my mother’s for future use, and I was able stitch (and more importantly, cut) my Hardanger projects. I returned last Thursday night with six of them complete and ready to be made into coasters, in time to deliver them at church tomorrow. Another brick for the new building smiley.

Six small Hardanger projects ready to be turned into coasters Six coasters ready to become Christmas presents

I’ve got a lap cat!

One of the most important criteria for any needlework stand is, of course, whether it will accommodate a cat. I didn’t have our resident feline with me when trying out the Aristo, but fortunately it turns out that it is exactly the right height for Lexi to drape herself across the bottom part while leaving room for my hands to manoeuvre underneath my stitching. Just. Well, that’s a relief – I might have had to send it back!

The Aristo lap stand, with cat

I’ve got a lap stand!

Some weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to try out the Aristo lap stand at Needle Needs’ workshop. I liked the idea of the lap stand, but was worried about the wobble that was noticeable in the video demonstrating it. It’s quite an understandable wobble – a lap, after all, is not a flat and solid surface. But would it drive me up the wall when working with it, or would I hardly feel it was there after a while? Quite an important question when you’re considering a piece of equipment that isn’t exactly cheap. Don’t get me wrong, Needle Needs’ workmanship is worth every penny, but not if this extremely well-made stand would end up just, well, standing, somewhere in a dusty corner. (Yes, there are dusty corners in our house. Sorry. Housework just isn’t one of my hobbies.)

As we would be in the vicinity while travelling from an auction to my parents-in-law, I’d therefore arranged to drop in at the workshop and have a try. They promised they’d have one there for me, not to take away, unfortunately, as they were all spoken for, but I was welcome to have a careful go at using it with my own Millennium frame. So far, so good. Except for one slight snag – I have a sawdust allergy. A workshop full of wood-turning and wood-sanding and other woodworking activities is not the ideal place for me. Mr John Crane (I think it was he) very kindly brought the lap stand out to where I was, and having admired the beautiful smooth wood and lovely lines we looked about for a place to sit. There wasn’t one. So in the end I tried out the Aristo sitting sideways in our car, which actually worked out quite well – after all, if I could work with it comfortably in that position, my usual easy stitching chair should pose no problems whatsoever!

Trying out the Aristo lap stand

Well, what can I say? It worked. It worked very well. So I asked whether, if I ordered one now, I could come and pick it up early next year when we had another auction-plus-parent-visit. Of course, he said. Or you could have this one.

I think I may have looked practically half-witted as I stared at him in amazement. I’d been told very specifically that I would not be able to take one home. But he explained that they had discovered a knot in the wood of this one, and so they weren’t going to send it out. The knot, let me explain, is a purely cosmetic flaw, if you can even call it that. It has absolutely no effect whatsoever on how well the stand works, and personally I think it gives the whole thing a bit of extra character. So when he said I could take it with me, at a bit of a discount, what did I do?

Actually, I still hemmed and hawed a bit. Incredible, isn’t it? Then my husband decided to step in and buy the thing for me as a Christmas/birthday/anniversary present. And so five minutes later we drove off with an Aristo lap stand on the back seat, and a ridiculous grin on my face. And I used the stand while at my in-laws’, and I’ve used it at home, and it’s lovely, and I am terribly pleased with it.

But as I was using it the other day, I had a thought. The lap stand needs to be as level as possible, so that it doesn’t work very well when you’re sitting in very low or very high chairs. This obviously limits its use a little – what if your favourite chair happens to put your lap at an angle? Well, what about having a little bean bag attached to the bottom? You know the sort I mean, they come attached to lap trays so that your soup doesn’t slosh about when you’re having dinner in front of the telly. If the Aristo came with one of those, ideally as a detachable accessory, wouldn’t that just make it perfect? perhaps I should suggest it to Needle Needs…

P.S. While we were at the workshop, I was also given an opportunity to see the prototype of the redesigned Necessaire floor stand. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, and he asked me not to mention particulars as it is not on their own website yet, but he showed us various improvements and further plans and all I could think was, “Great, now I’ll need to get one of those as well!” smiley. No, not really, as I have my Lowery and I Do Not Need two floor stands. If I keep telling myself that often enough, eventually I’ll believe it. Perhaps.

Bits and pieces (II)

Once a month there is a craft group at our village library; everyone brings whatever they are working on and we have tea or coffee and cake and a chat. This time I decided to bring the Toadstools. In a sense they are finished – all the outlines have been worked in different “thicknesses” of stem stitch, and although I want to make a few changes to some of the colours, otherwise I could just leave it as it is. But it looks a bit flat, and I decided it could do with a little shading in the form of seed stitch. Having decided this, I then proceeded to ignore the project entirely for several months. But I needed something smallish to take to the library, and Toadstools fitted the bill. In the end (and I will explain why a bit later) only a little bit of seed stitching got done, but I am rather pleased with its effect and will definitely do some more of it; with no chart to follow and only some standard DMC stranded cottons needed this may be just the right project to take when we visit my husband’s parents later this month.

Some shading is added to a toadstool Seed stitch shading

So why did I get so little seed stitching done? Because at the very last minute before leaving the house I popped a piece of hand-dyed felt in a 3″ hoop – just to see if it would fit, you understand – and when it did I thought I might as well take it and do some flower embroidery on it using the colours in my Toadstool project box. And that’s what I did; with a little sketch I’d scribbled on a bedside notepad the night before as a rough guide, but otherwise just seeing where it would go. Unfortunately the Toadstool box is not very well-stocked with blues and purples which meant I couldn’t work a planned cornflower and sprig of lavender, so I then did some seed stitching, taking the flowered felt home in its incomplete grass, daisies and one poppy stage.

Freestyle flowers on felt - the beginning

In the evening I got out my thread boxes and chose two blues for the cornflower, but for the sprig of lavender I decided to blend 2 strands of lilac with one strand of light green, and I’m rather pleased with the look of the resulting French knots.

blended threads used for the lavender

Finally, having stitched everything that was in my sketch, I added an ear of wheat. I felt the design could do with something yellowy, and something tall. I had to cheat a bit by taking the stem behind stitches I’d done before; when I stitch this design again I’ll start with the wheat. Writing a list of colours and stitches used (as much as an aide-memoire for myself as for possible future use in a chart pack) another thing I changed is the way the cornflower is worked. Here it is a small circle of dark blue fly stitch, with a large circle of medium blue fly stitch on top. The effect of the fly stitches on top is fine, but underneath simple straight stitches radiating from the centre will do just as well and be less bulky. And finally the middle daisy – that needed to come down a bit. So based on the finished stitching I cleaned up the drawing and made it into a proper line transfer, with all the parts in the right place and order.

The finished flowers

And then I added a bee.

The finished flowers, with bee

Well, what can I say – I like little creatures in my embroideries. (Stitched ones, that is; let no real-life moth dare come near them!) And I’ve been wanting to try out a bi-coloured bullion knot for ages. Anyway, I’m happy with how this came out, and in its cleaned-up form (with or without the rather challenging bee) it might work rather well as a beginners’ workshop; perhaps another one for the Church Building Fund? All I need now is a good method for transferring a design on to felt…

Bits and pieces (I)

Stitching-wise, it’s been a bitty week – and none of it what I should have been stitching! Still, I’ve made progress on Join The Band, got some useful finishing done, and I’ve been trying out a couple of ideas which I’m sure will be useful as well some day.

The finishing involved all those little shisha tiles I stitched to find the version that I want to use for a second shisha kit. There they were, in a pile on the dining room table (which doubles as my place-to-put-projects-in-progress – as well as folders full of sketches, boxes of threads, a magnifier light, transfer pens, and my recently acquired lightbox), waiting for me to decide what to do with them. I could just have kept them as a record of all the variations, but I have photographs of them all and it seemed a bit of a waste, so an evening of production line cutting, padding and sticking turned them into 10 cards.

10 Shisha Tile cards 10 Shisha Tile cards

With Join The Band I’m finishing all the guilloche bands before getting to the cutting. At first I intended to complete each band before moving on to the next, but then – as with the cards – I got a bit of a production line going, finishing all the stem stitch first (done), then adding the satin stich (two more left to do), and finally the lacing and French knots (only the middle one completed as yet). I decided to take a picture for my records because at the moment the project shows all these stages in progress.

Building up a guilloche stitch

And the ideas I’ve been trying out? More about those next time!

Buying and trying at the K&S Show

Well, I’m back from the Knitting & Stitching Show (have been for some days now, in fact) and I had a lovely time. Quite a bit of my London visit was actually spent outside Ally Pally, walking in all sorts of places both familiar and new; on Friday I decided to get off the train at Hampstead Heath and walk from there to the Show, which turned out to be a wonderful walk showing me lots of bits of London I hadn’t seen before, as well as giving me rather sore feet by the time I arrived at Alexandra Palace two and a half hours later. And then I was on those feet for another 90 minutes teaching the Shisha workshop. Possibly not the best way of organising the day…

Besides teaching I did get to do some shopping as well (now there’s a surprise) – some pearl purl #2 in gold, silver and copper, and a lovely wire check in silver, as well as some very striking copper kid leather from Golden Hinde, where I also had a look at some materials that so far I had only seen online. A very useful exercise as it showed me that one thread I was considering was far too thin, and a certain braid was much too heavy, so I could cross them off my wish list. At Calico Cat I got a skein of golden yellow Gloriana Lorikeet wool which I intend to use for couching, to contrast with a couched gold thread (whether real metal or just a metallic-looking one). And finally I got some closely-woven cotton fabric for freestyle embroidery.

Purchases at the Knitting & Stitching Show

That I got at Rowandean‘s stand, where I had a much-needed and very relaxing sit-down, and made grateful use of the opportunity to do some impromptu stitching. Unfortunately I didn’t write down the name of the kind lady who hosted it and who does all Rowandean’s designs as I thought I would remember, which predictably I didn’t. Something like Katrina or Kristina and a last name beginning with Wi, I think. On one side of their stand there was a table covered in thread, pins and bits of organza, and surrounded by very comfortable and happy looking stitchers. I joined the throng, was handed a needle and a hoop with fabric that had some lines and dots on it, told how to create a floral picture by pinning bits of organza to the ground fabric and then stitching over them, and then just got on with it, putting a purple French knot here and a bright red lazy daisy there, until I felt it was done. The idea was to use only basic stitches like the ones I mentioned just now plus some long straight stitches, but I will admit to adding some fly stitches secured with French knots – I wanted to depict the sort of lavender that has flowers with bits sticking out, or possibly something like a wild orchid.

A bit of organza embroidery at Rowandean

I liked the ground fabric so much I bought a fat quarter of it, and I remembered the hand-dyed organza I bought some years ago and some of which I’ve used for Extravorganza; there is still a fair amount left in various colours, so I will have a go at some more of this style of embroidery – it’s very relaxing to do and the finished projects will make great cards. While I was unearthing the organza I also came across some hand-dyed felt I’d bought at the same time, and that might work as well as the basis for simple floral designs like these. I can feel some experimenting coming on!

21st Century Yarns silk organza 21st Century Yarns felt