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 birthday and a new kit

It’s Mabel’s Fancies’ birthday! Hard to believe I first opened the website on Easter Monday 2011 (and by the way, I hope you all had a lovely Easter). Even harder to believe that it was less than 18 months after I’d first tried my hand at Hardanger. But here we are, and a birthday calls for a celebration, so this week we have a special Three for Two offer: order any two charts from one section (except Sets & Series) and choose a third one for free.

Here is a colourful recent acquisition of mine: 30 foam notebooks. You may recognise them from the Gallery, where there are two embellished with designs from Snippets and Three of Diamonds. But what do you do with thirty of them? Why, make them into kits!

30 notebooks to be made into kits

I try not to stock too many “physical” items; so far I’ve limited myself to squissors, mini matchbook kits for beginners and acrylic coasters to display finished projects. But as a small-project stitcher myself I felt that there might be a demand for more small Hardanger kits, this time for people who are not quite beginners. As I had embellished one of my own notebooks with a Snippet design, it seemed a natural decision to use that for the kit as well. A possible reason not to was the fact that Snippets have an unusual and slightly more difficult cutting pattern; should I re-chart it to be a bit more standard? In the end I decided to stick with the original design, but to provide much more detailed instructions than in the Snippets chart pack, so that the kit offers a manageable challenge.

One of the challenges in the design is to get from one stitch to another without trailing the thread behind parts that will be cut. But, I wondered, would it be possible to trail the thread behind parts that would be wrapped? So I tried. And it is. The thread does not interfere with the cutting, and afterwards gets incorporated into the wrapped bars. It’s really rather neat and I’m quite proud of the idea smiley!

Notebook Snippet in progress, front Notebook Snippet in progress, back Notebook Snippet cut, front Notebook Snippet cut, back

And just for a bit more cheerful colour, here are the threads I’ve chosen to go with the six notebook shades:

Threads to go with the notebooks

Back to basics, and back to tradition

Could you do without stitching? I would definitely feel a little deprived not to have my lovely, colourful, relaxing hobby, and fortunately it is not a question I really need to ask myself. It is one of the many things in my life that seem either an essential part of me, or too obvious to need any thought. Of course there is always a bit of needlework ready for me to pick up when I feel like it. And of course there is always a cup of tea to sip (often with a little something to nibble, too) whenever I want it. But last weekend I learnt that it is possible to do without an awful lot of things which once seemed essential or obvious, when I joined eight teenagers and four adults in our church’s Slum Survivor challenge. It’s remarkable, but you don’t really miss your stitching when most of your time is taken up by building a slum dwelling to live in, doing jobs to earn money, getting water, keeping warm, and trying to make something palatable for your family out of rice and lentils when all you have to add to it is a little garlic powder (no salt!)

We were lucky. After two nights we could go home, have a hot shower and any food and drink we liked, and look forward to a nice, warm, comfortable bed. Many millions can’t. The experience helped us all to look a bit more closely at what is essential to us and what we could do without in order to help others, and to appreciate all the more those wonderful non-essentials that make life so pleasant.

As for going back to tradition, this is about a design I finished some time ago. You could say that Wedgwood goes back to two different traditions. Its use of only one thread colour harks back to Hardanger’s origins when the Norwegian women of the region used only the white or cream threads they spun themselves, while the coloured fabrics echo the English pottery that the designs were named after. But what I especially like is the use of three thicknesses of one colour in these designs – the different ways in which they catch the light when you look at them at an angle is evidence that you do not need lots of colours to provide variation.

Wedgwood 1 Wedgwood 2

Does this mean that from now on I will forswear my lovely hand-dyed and other coloured threads, or beads, or other colourful additions? Uhm, no, as this sneak preview of Treasure Trove (finished! finally finally finished!) clearly shows smiley.

Treasure Trove finally completed

Finishing florals, part 3; and postage

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I’m not sure Lewis Carroll ever knew the delight of finally finishing a piece of needlework that you’ve been working on for yonks, but I’m sure that subliminally that’s what he was referring to in Jabberwocky. The Floral Lace Variation Felted Buttonhole Edge is finished, and I like the way it looks. One down, eighteen to go smiley. And just to satisfy your curiosity as to how it eventually came out, here are the front, the back (a little less regular than I’d hoped, but it’ll have to do), and a close-up of those awkward wisps of burgundy felt that are peeping through the buttonhole stitches – though from a distance fortunately not too noticeably.

The finished article The felted back A bit of felt fluff

You may wonder how “postage” made it into this post’s title. Not because it has anything whatsoever to do with buttonholing, but because I’m getting rather fed up with constant increases in postage, especially when sending stuff abroad. My apologies especially to those of you living in Australia, as Royal Mail have made you more expensive to send to than anyone else, and so I’ve had to create a special postage category for you on the Squissors, Kits & more page.

On a more positive note: if all goes well a new addition will soon be coming to that page, as I’m putting the finishing touches to a new set of kits. Watch this space!

Finishing florals, part 2

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that surely by now I must have buttonholed the whole Floral Lace series, but alas, I have not been nearly as productive as I would have liked. I’m still working on the Floral Lace variation which was my experimental finishing piece. I am making progress on that, though! The felt has been attached, it’s a bit lop-sided so I will definitely use a bigger square next time and then cut round it. As for the buttonholing: a sharp needle is needed! Trying to push a relatively large tapestry needle through felt is a frustrating process, and very hard on the fingers. But once switch to a crewel needle and it’s a doddle. One side effect I hadn’t foreseen is that the felt pulls through to the front a bit, so there are stray burgundy wisps mixed up in my pristine white buttonhole stitches. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Felt attached - now for the buttonhole Start of the buttonhole edge

Another things is that the buttonhole edge as I’m stitching it here is rather close to the design, especially as I want to use variable length buttonhole stitch (see the left-hand chart). I know the border won’t be quite so noticeable in white as it is in the charted grey, but perhaps it would look better further away, as in the right-hand chart? I will try the latter out on one of the “real” Floral Laces and report back.

Floral Lace buttonhole border 1 Floral Lace buttonhole border 2

By the way, the pearl purl idea for Treasure Trove is not going to happen; first of all I’m not at all sure where I could put it (and in what shape or outline) so that it doesn’t clutter up the design, and secondly my gold pearl purl is the wrong colour – it is far yellower than the kid and beads I’ve been using. Never mind, I’ll keep it for a future design.

Chocolate, a dress, and a golden idea

Oh dear – a Knitting & Stitching Show, some worrying family news and a severe cold and before you know it there hasn’t been a FoF for two weeks. Time for a few musings, however brief!

Let’s start with the Spring K&S Show, which like the autumn one at Alexandra Palace makes a great excuse for a few days in London, catching up with my sister-in-law, the odd friend, and London’s parks. You people who live in London, do you appreciate those parks enough? They are wonderful! Well, as my visit coincided with some gorgeous spring weather, there were plenty of people out there appreciating and enjoying them, especially in St James’ Park, which to my delighted surprise had some pelicans again, as well as swathes of colourful flower beds. Is it any wonder that embroiderers throughout history have tried to capture flowers in all their cheerful gorgeousness using threads, ribbons, yarns and what not?

The Show didn’t have that many needlework threads, unfortunately – the emphasis was definitely on dressmaking, quilting/patchwork and knitting/crochet, and home furnishing. But I did catch up with Mr X Stitch who had a wonderful display there, much of it created by young stitchers; and there were … chocolates! A bit dangerous, you would have thought. The last thing stitchers want anywhere near their projects is chocolate. On the other hand, after the umpteenth unpick, or a particularly tense bit of cutting, suddenly chocolate is beginning to look like an essential stitching accessory! And the truffle selection also made a very useful thank-you to my sister-in-law for having me to stay.

Did I mention there were a lot of dressmaking stalls? Well, some of them specialised in vintage dresses. And as it happens, my husband’s birthday present to me this year is a 1930s dress to go with our little vintage car. Strictly speaking it should be a 1920s dress, but I’m afraid I am simply not a 1920s shape (was anyone ever? I mean, naturally, without the aid of corsets?). And after all, who’s to say that a lady might not have bought a new dress when the car was seven years old? I got some really nice ideas from the vintage patterns that were for sale and the lovely fabrics available, so this summer when we have a week of vintage car activities I hope to be able to dress the part; all I need to do now is work out what sort of hat they’d have worn in 1932 or thereabouts.

Another thing I need to work out is whether to add more gold to Treasure Trove. Apart from the last bit of border all the surface work is now done, so just the cutting and then the bars and beaded filling stitches and it’ll be done according to the chart. But I’m thinking it may need a bit more goldwork. At the moment it’s got the four padded gold kid medallions, and some gold-coloured beads and perhaps that’s enough. But in my stash I have some lovely gold and silver wire with what I think is the best name for a needlework material – pearl purl. You couldn’t make it up smiley.

I first got to use it at a RSN goldwork workshop that I attended at the 2012 Ally Pally show, where we worked a lovely 3D dragonfly. Pearl purl is the stuff used for the top wings, and its tail (or body). It’s a very tightly coiled wire which you pull ever so slightly and then couch down (only partially in the case of the body). I liked it so much I bought some at one of the goldwork stalls, but I’ve not had a good excuse to use it since. Those slightly empty-looking bits of Treasure Trove might be just the excuse I was looking for!

A goldwork dragonfly done at the 2012 K&S

Sore fingers, two Jessicas and a new gadget

More – slow – progress on Treasure Trove (I work on it mostly at my Monday afternoon stitching group) and I have learnt something new: leather is tough! Even lovely soft pliable kid. And as I have never been able to work with a thimble, my fingers got pretty sore; at one point I almost succeeded in giving myself a finger piercing. Perhaps I should have put a little silver stud in it and started a trend…

Anyway, I have now attached all the gold kid, and it looks very pretty and shiny and padded. Next step: embellish the gold roundels with a border of Jessica stitch. Now many instructions for this stitch (for example in Papillon’s Around the World SAL) end with the final stitches lying on top of the first stitches, but that grates with my symmetry obsession. To look the same all the way round, the last stitches need to be taken underneath the first ones! Having settled that, I worked the first of the Jessica borders, in perle #8. It looked rather chunky. I liked it, but I did wonder whether perle #12 would look better. I decided to do the next one in #12, and then unpick the one I liked least. Unfortunately perle #12 doesn’t come in nearly so many colours as perle #8, so I had to use a darker shade, but at least I could find one that would fit in. And here they are, #8 on the left, #12 on the right:

Jessics stitch worked in perle #8 Jessics stitch worked in perle #12

I like the lacier look of the #12, but it turned out to look too dark after all, and I didn’t like the gold showing through quite so clearly. I will use perle #12 Jessicas in future designs, I’m sure, but here I’m going with the original #8. (One lady at the stitching group suggested doing two in #8, and two in #12, placed diagonally; it would still have symmetry but would use both styles. Clever, but I went with the safer option of having them all the same.)

On a completely different subject, my husband gets these tool catalogues which he peruses with the same enthusiasm which I would accord a hand-dyed thread catalogue with coloured pictures, and occasionally he finds something weird and wonderful for 35p which he simply can’t resist. Sometimes he shares these treasured finds with me, so I am now the proud owner of a pair of magnifying tweezers. I haven’t used them yet, but they do actually look as though they could come in quite handy in Hardanger!

Magnifying tweezers Magnifying tweezers

Finishing florals, part 1

Remember the buttonhole-and-felt finish I was planning for Floral Lace? Well, I have finally started on them. Sort of. I decided that, as I had no idea whether it was going to work, perhaps I’d better try it out first on the Floral Lace eyelet varation I stitched on Hardanger fabric. For one thing, if it did turn out to be a disaster I wouldn’t have ruined one of the 18 “proper” models, and for another, I’d get to experiment on the slightly stiffer fabric first, which should be a bit easier than the more loosely-woven Lugana. It soon became very clear that this was A Good Idea.

The process I had in mind started with measuring how big the felt needed to be, and then measuring and cutting the felt to size. There will be 5 fabric threads between the cross stitch border and the inner edge of the buttonholing; the buttonhole stitches will be worked, as usual, over 4 threads. The felt needs to end up somewhere between those two lines. I decided on 7 fabric threads out from the cross stitch border, which on Hardanger fabric stretched in a hoop was 11cm. First lesson learned: it is extremely difficult to cut a true square from a larger piece of felt. Second lesson: when you’ve got something approximating a square of the required size, it is extremely difficult to position it accurately on the back of the stitching and keep it there while you get ready to attach it with running stitch. It’s possible, but surely there must be an easier way which needs less turning the work over and tugging on the felt to reposition it every other stitch.

The start of a finish

So in response to those first two lessons learnt I have decided that when I get on to the real thing I will cut a very rough square of felt rather bigger than needed, attach it with running stitch at 6 fabric threads from the cross stitch border, then cut the felt closely around the running stitch square. There will be a bit of felt waste, which is unfortunate, but probably worth it for not having to continually check the position of the felt and spending a lot of time getting the felt absolutely square; it’s hard enough to make sure the felt is kept flat and doesn’t pucker while I’m attaching it. For this test piece I am stuck with the cut-to-size felt, however, so I’ll try to get that out of the way as quickly as possible, and then it’s on to the buttonholing! Because the felt doesn’t quite stretch to the outer edge of the buttonhole stitch there won’t be a problem with having to bring the needle up through the felt, so I should be able to keep the edge nice and straight, and therefore easy to cut. Well, that’s the theory…

Putting things together and building things up

Not too much stitching this week, but a lot of preparation – I’ve been putting the kits together for the Knitting & Stitching Show workshop next month (there are still some tickets available), and getting some more card and felt for the Dunchurch workshop in June. For the pink floral card I can’t quite decide whether it looks better with the baby pink or the bright fuchsia felt! By the way, did you notice the small coloured rings that hold the threads for the K&S kits? They were an unsuccessful attempt at finding a replacement for my light wooden storage rings; unfortunately they were far too small to store full skeins of perle on, but they turned out to be just the right size to hold the threads for one Hardanger patch – and they look bright and cheerful into the bargain.

Putting together the workshop kits Card and felt for the Dunchurch workshop kits

Another thing that needed some preparation and putting together was Treasure Trove. I’ve done a fair bit of the surface stitching (just half the border to go) so it was time to start on the goldwork. For this I needed 4 tiny yellow felt circles, 4 slightly larger yellow felt circles, and four gold kid octagons. After some deliberation I decided on 8mm and 14mm for the felt circles; the gold octagons would be cut from 2cm squares. I measured everything carefully, cut it all, and then panicked – surely these minute bits of felt and kid couldn’t possibly be the right size? But fitting them to the running stitch outlines I had previously worked as a guide, they were just right. I could see I was in for some very fiddly stitching, securing first the smallest circle, and then the larger one covering it, both accurately centred inside the running stitch outline.

Gold kid and felt cut to size for Treasure Trove

As it looked like the sort of stitching that would need fierce concentration, I decided to do it at my very chatty and distracting stitching group. Apart from one knot-and-loop at the back of my work which I noticed too late (and subsequently secured behind previous stitching rather than unpick the whole thing) it all went remarkably smoothly, and I ended the session with what one of my fellow stitchers called “four felt blobs”. She obviously wasn’t altogether sure whether anything else was going to happen to them, but I reassured her that the rather garish yellow blobs would in fact be covered in tasteful antique gold. I would have started on it there if it hadn’t been for the fact that I forgot to bring a sharp needle, and my size 28 tapestry needle simply refused to go through the kid!

Two layers of felt built up, waiting for the gold

So just a little bit more to do on Treasure Trove – and then I need to stitch the blue-and-silver version…

A workshop finish and a floral calendar

Some time ago I showed you the model for the Spring Knitting & Stitching Show workshop – duly stitched, and finished as a patch on a gift bag, using white cross stitch to attach the stitched piece to the cotton bag. It was photographed and the photograph turned into a kit cover and that, I thought, was that. It wasn’t. I’d scribbled some rough notes on the chart to remind me how mucht hread would be needed for each kit, but they weren’t very clear, and when I came back to them I wasn’t at all convinced that I’d got it right. Fortunately I was looking for a quick project to take to my in-laws last weekend, as Treasure Trove is rather too big and complicated, and so I decided to stitch another model, this time using Anchor Multicolor perle #8 instead of a solid colour – variegated threads give such a nice effect for no extra effort and I thought it would encourage the workshop participants.

Part of our visit would be spent marshalling (i.e. helping out) at a vintage car trial, but as it happened I had quite a bit of stitching time on the Friday, and finished all the surface stitching, leaving only a small amount of cutting and filling – easily finished on Saturday, with time to spare. As I would like to take this model to show at the workshop, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to finish it in a different way from the first one. How about giving it a buttonhole edge and then cutting it from the fabric? Still a patch, and attachable to bags, cushions and what not, but showing a different technique. And I had plenty of white perle #5 with me. I didn’t quite manage to finish it, but there’s not much left to do.

Buttonhole finish to a workshop model

That gave me another idea. I’ve been thinking about what to do with the 18 Floral Lace models. Because of their size, cards spring to mind, but this suggestion was met with indignation by both my mother-in-law and the ladies at my stitching group. They felt the designs deserved a more permanent fate. But what? I’m no good at patchwork so the idea of a quilt didn’t appeal to me. I can’t easily make them into coasters bcause of the beads, and anyway the house is rather well-stocked with stitched coasters already. Then I remembered that one of the ladies who joined the Song of the Weather SAL was planning to use the 12 designs as a calendar, finishing them all separately and then changing them over every month. She had used a backing fabric and finished them a bit like ornaments, but buttonhole edging was surely an option too!

There was a possible problem, however. The workshop model is stitched on Hardanger fabric, which is relatively stiff; Floral Lace is worked on evenweave. A line of buttonhole stitch on evenweave can pull away entirely. One option is to vary the length of the stitches, which can look quite attractive as well as making the edging more secure. Another might be to make use of the fact that the projects will need a backing of some sort. I came up with the following: find a colour of felt that will complement the design (I may end up using black for all of them, or I may vary the colours – I haven’t decided yet). Cut the felt slightly smaller than the finished patch will be and attach it to the back with running stitch, then work buttonhole stitch over the top. This should strengthen the edging and stop it from pulling away simply because the stitches bite into the felt (which doesn’t fray) as well as the evenweave. I might still use variable length stitches because I think it will look nice, and it will add even more strength.

So there we are – over the next months I will be buttonholing Floral Lace in between other projects, then choose a frame or possibly a canvas or even a cork board to which I can attach a different one every month. I may or may not add a calendar underneath; perhaps I’ll just keep it as an interchangeable display. Whatever it turns out to be in the end, I’ll post pistures here of the process!

Chart packs on CD and an end to neglect

To begin with the latter, I have finally started Treasure Trove – yay! I’ve done the central part (apart from the cutting) and all the beading, which looks quite different but fortunately actually better than I had envisaged it. In the design there are bead motifs which have come out much denser-looking that I thought (it’s difficult to keep remembering that charted beads on paper are smaller than actual beads on fabric), and clusters of four beads which, as I was stitching them, I feared would be too bulky for where they were in the design. But the motifs actually look rather attractive with the dense coverage, and the clusters form a pleasing X shape which I hadn’t foreseen. It’s very satisfying when a design does that smiley. Next step is to decide exactly what size to cut the metallic kid and the felt used for padding it.

Beading detail of Treasure Trove

So what about those CD chart packs? As Mabel’s Fancies doesn’t offer printed chart packs (not as a standard option anyway) wouldn’t it be much easier just to send the PDF chart packs by email as we do now? Why add the complication of a physical CD? Good point, and in fact the CDs are not intended to be sent out by post; the idea is that when I teach workshops or do exhibitions or things like that, I can put out a selection of these chart-packs-on-CD for people who would like to try a design at home.

So far so good. But how to put them together? I had some plastic sleeves which I thought would work, with an insert like the photographs I stick on the front of the Mini Kits, only square. One problem with that soon became apparent – the inserts need to be a little over 12cm square, so you’d have to go for 5″x7″ photographs and cut them to size; but that gets quite expensive. So how about 4″x6″ photographs cut square and then stuck onto some coloured paper, like these origami squares? Unfortunately 11.7cm would still leave quite a gap, and the next size up is too big. Time for Plan C. Why not use those paper CD sleeves with a circular window in them? A 4″x6″ photograph, cut down to a little under 5″ high and inserted in front of the CD, would fill the entire aperture. One snag. As you can see below, the window doesn’t show the whole cover picture. This looks a bit sloppy.

Materials for the CD chart packs as originally intended The new paper sleeves

The long-term solution is rejigging the cover pictures so that they fit a 10cm round aperture; so I had a play with the template and managed to squeeze everything into a circle. That doesn’t solve the short-term problem of the 25 covers I had printed already, but having tried a few approaches the best one is probably to stick the trimmed pictures to the sleeves so they cover the window. Not the most elegant solution, but better looking than the partly-obscured square-picture-behind-circular-aperture option. And for any future CD chart packs, I’ll use the new circular cover pictures!

The rejigged cover Perhaps sticking them to the front is better?