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.

Workshops, a squirrel, a medieval tulip and some kits

Well, the Knitting & Stitching Show is over for another year, and I am back home (in spite of rail upheaval at Euston Station on Saturday), nursing slightly sore feet from all the walking I did outside Show hours (London is full of interesting green spaces!) and being on my feet throughout the four workshops. They all went well, with lots of positive feedback which is always tremendously encouraging. I usually try and take pictures of some of the students’ work, but I’m afraid I forgot most of the time; here are a few pictures just to give you an impression, including the rather colourful demonstration cloth I ended up with.

Appliqué Mug workshop Wildflower Garden workshop Wildflower Garden workshop No Place Like Home workshop
No Place Like Home workshop A participant's project A participant's project A colourful doodle cloth

One thing I will mention to the organisers in my own feedback is the lighting; you would have thought that at something called the Knitting & Stitching Show the setter-uppers (or at least the people deciding on the set-up) would realise the importance of good, bright and even lighting. Instead there were usually two extremely bright lights shining down from the middle of the left and right sides of the workshop booth, which meant that about four seats had splendid light but the further you got from those the dimmer it got. Dim, I mean, by stitching standards. Still, we managed, and most of the students got a fair way with their projects (the pictures above were taken some time before the end of the class).

Of course I had a good look around the show as well, and I saw some lovely kits, silk threads and goldwork stuff but restrained myself from adding either to my already tottering pile of WIPs or to my bulging thread containers. I contented myself with a spool of Madeira Lana in a variegated light green and a bobbin of Golden Hinde’s translucent couching thread in a muted gold (shown in the picture beneath two shades I already had), and felt very virtuous.

2019 Knitting & Stitching Show purchases

As I said I did a lot of walking when I wasn’t at the show, and besides coming across a man walking backwards in Highgate Wood (no, I didn’t ask him why) there was the excitement of being mugged by a squirrel in Holland Park. I’m not sure whether it could smell that I had chocolates in my bag, but it was definitely intending to have a look!

Mugged by a squirrel Bag check

On that same day I also visited Leighton House, where I unexpectedly learnt a bit more about my travel project.

Some time ago I came across a medieval Islamic tile in a museum. It was a bit of a chance find, because it was in one of the drawers underneath the display cases and I only opened a few of those. It was blue and white and it had a tulip on it – irresistible, even though it wasn’t from Delft smiley! As a friend later reminded me, tulips hadn’t made it to Western Europe at that time, but they were known in Persia and neighbouring areas. Well, wherever it was from, it was a very decorative design that just cried out to be stitched. The blobs and dots surrounding the circle in which the tulip sat were a bit irregular, so I evened them out, and also changed the white circles within the blue areas a bit. And because it’s small and only takes three colours, I thought it would make an ideal travel project to take with me to London. I even managed to do some work on it!

The tulip design based on a medieval ceramic tile Progress on the Ottoman Tulip

But what, you may be wondering, does this have to do with Leighton House? Well, in its collection there are quite a few tiles and plates and dishes that were described as Ottoman ceramics, or more particularly as Iznik pottery. And on many of them there were tulips remarkably similar to the one on “my” tile – that same rather elongated, narrow shape and the same sort of overlapping in the petals. I was intrigued, but unfortunately the museum does not allow photography, so I had to memorise them as best I could and make do with what images they have on their website to refresh my memory. With hindsight I should have asked them if I could trace one or two, or even just sketch them (because they may well not want visitors to handle the plates), but I didn’t think of that. Anyway, design-wise I’m happy with the one I’ve got – but following my visit to Leighton House I’ve renamed it from not-very-exciting Medieval Tulip to the more exotic-sounding Ottoman Tulip (Iznik Tulip would have sounded even more exotic, but is probably a bit too obscure).

And finally, a Special Offer smiley. After teaching workshops I usually have a few kits left, but because of their purpose they are a little different from the ones sold on my website. This year, in fact, I have some left that are not on the website at all (or at least not yet).

They are:

  • 1 Wildflower Garden freestyle card kit with the design transferred onto the fabric
  • 1 No Place Like Home (Little House) freestyle card kit with the design transferred onto the fabric
  • 3 Mug That Cheers appliqué embroidery card kits with the design transferred, the appliqué elements backed with Bondaweb and cut out, and one of the elements attached to the ground fabric (see picture below)

The Mug That Cheers appliqué embroidery kit

The appliqué kit will eventually be on the website for £10 including UK postage, but because of the above, and because the envelopes for the cards are missing, they will go for the same price as the other two, £7.50 including UK postage (postage to other destinations on request). If you would like one or more of these kits, email me at

A Jacobean vine – adding some colour

Even with the extra stitching time scheduled in before my September Certificate class, it was quite clear I wasn’t going to get all the homework done that Helen Cook had suggested at the end of the previous class. But I was determined to get the vine finished – if only because it meant stitching something that wasn’t brown!

But a little preparation was needed before actually getting some orange and turquoise stitches in; careful though I had been, the voids in the trunk didn’t quite follow the curve I had intended for the vine, so I drew some extra guidelines to make sure the voids were all completely filled while keeping the lines suitably sinuous.

The voids for the vine across the trunk Extra lines to guide the vine stitching

And so on to some colour – the central line of orange to begin with, as I wanted to make sure that it was central, something which would be more difficult to achieve if I started with one of the turquoise shades on the outside of the vine. Using the extra step I’d been taught to use doing chain stitch for these lines of stem stitch as well (that is to say, using my hand at the back of the work to pull the loop left at the front through to the back before pulling the thread completely through to the front) proved helpful in creating nice even stitches with, I hoped, less wear than when using the usual pull-through-in-one-go method.

The first bit of non-brown

Unfortunately not even this extra step could counteract the fluffiness and unevenness of some of the threads. In fact, the thread was not only fluffy and uneven, it had some stiff, lighter fibres in it as well. All this meant that I had to unpick part of the vine because the fluffiness made the stem stitches stick together, losing the definition of the stitch, and the stiff alien fibres stood out both by their colour and their texture. And finding a nicely even length of Appleton’s wasn’t easy – looking at the sample below is it any wonder that very few lengths are used in their entirety?

Fuzzy thread with bits A very uneven thread

Still, eventually the orange centre got done, and I was very pleased with the curvaceousness of it. Now for some turquoise! And then I felt a tangle of thread at the back of the work… Now I can’t quite work out why I didn’t notice this tangle while it was happening. It is true that I start and finish from the front because the slate frame isn’t easy to flip, but for one thing I would have expected to notice that suddenly the thread I pulled through was a lot shorter than it should be (this is how I usually realise that all is not well at the back of the work). True, that doesn’t always register (it obviously didn’t this time), but then normally I don’t work two-handed – whereas on this project my right hand is permanently at the back of the work, pulling the needle through to the back and feeding it back to the front. How did I miss that tangle when my hand must have brushed against it several times??? Fortunately I managed to cut the tangle and weave in the ends without the need for any more unpicking, so not too much of a setback.

The orange part of the vine completed An annoying knot at the back The knot seen to

So finally I did get around to the turquoise surrounding the orange. And then I ran into the opposite problem – the thread I was using was relatively thin, and the stem stitch didn’t fully fill the void. Unpick, find a thicker thread (both the original and the replacement can be seen in the first picture below) and restitch, and it looks much better. One shade down, one to go.

Adding turquoise, which looks a bit thin The turquoise restitched with a thicker thread

Now in the original design, the last bit of the vine had only the darker shade of turquoise, on one side of the orange. If I ever do this design again (not going to happen!) I’d probably use the lighter shade instead, but I’m not seriously unhappy with the darker shade there. What I was unhappy with, was the fact that the change from three colours to two colours seemed a bit stark, happening as it did when the vine was hidden behind the trunk. I decided to add just a little of the lighter shade at the beginning of the top part of the vine, to make the transition a bit gentler.

A second turquoise added An extra bit of medium turquoise

And there you have it: the Tree of Life as it was before my September class. Had it grown much by the end of the class? Wait and see smiley.

The Tree of Life before the September class

Shading a wave

Remember my weak moment, in which I bought Oh Sew Bootiful’s wave design? I’d initially ordered the fabric pattern pack (instructions plus printed fabric) but then found out via the Mary Corbet Facebook group that they do PDF-only versions as well – I hadn’t spotted those because I ordered through their website and the PDFs are only available in their Etsy shop. I emailed them and they very kindly cancelled my order for the fabric pack so that I could buy the PDF instead (and of course there is absolutely no truth to the rumour that two other designs ended up in my shopping basket at the same time…)

I like design-only options; my craft room is stuffed to the gills with fabrics and threads, and I’m happy to do a bit of transferring myself. As it happens, I wanted the design a little smaller than the original so that it would fit a satin box I’ve got; extracting the design from the PDF and printing it a little smaller took care of that. Next, threads. According to the instructions the design is worked in stranded cotton but (probably just because I could) I picked the appropriate shades from my collection of coton à broder.

So far so good; but when I looked at them I realised that although the original green fish work well enough, what I really wanted was bright orange goldfish, like the ones that inexplicably mingle with the minnows in a pond in a small wood near us. And another thought came to me: this is just the sort of design that works well with mildly variegated hand-dyed threads. So I rummaged through my box of Carrie’s Creations stranded cotton and found a deep teal, a lighter one, and a satisyingly goldfishy orange. The next things was the foamy tips of the waves. In the original, they are the same light blue as the running stitch lines inside the waves. But foam is white, right? They aren’t called “white horses” for nothing! So a slightly off-white white was added (well, the foam is rarely truly white after all). I was ready to go!

Colour schemes

But of course I couldn’t possibly leave it at that. The dark parts of the waves are meant to be worked in backstitch, but I’m not overly fond of backstitch. Stem stitch, on the other hand, I find really relaxing! So stem stitch it was going to be. And it didn’t have to wait until my trip to London either – a weekend at my mother-in-law’s was the perfect occasion.

Changing stitches

This was also where I found out that I shouldn’t have transferred the running stitch lines as dashes; it’s very difficult to draw those perfectly regularly, and so my running stitches had to be a bit uneven to cover the transfer lines. Next time I will just put in dots.

When it was time to start on the French knot wave tips, I was beginning to feel a bit hesitant about my plan to stitch them completely in white. Would they stand out enough? I decided to work them in four stages from water to tip: three strands of light teal, two of light teal with one of white, one of light teal with two of white, and three of white. (I also changed the French knots to colonial knots, for no particular reason).

Shading a wave

And I like the effect! It did surprise me a little how alike the two “mixed” sections look; it’s hard to tell where the two-teal-one-white changes to one-teal-two-white, whereas the other changes (from solid teal to mixed and from mixed to solid white) are much clearer. If anyone can think of an explanation, I’d be very interested.

One more wave tip to go (those knots are hard on the fingers so it’s rather slow going) and then I get my reward: the goldfish. I’ve really enjoyed the whole project, but they are going to be the (very orange) icing on the cake!

PS A thought about the shading that came to me after I’d posted this – when you’re working a stitch with a twist (such as any type of knot) not every strand is going to be equally visible in the finished stitch. When all strands are the same colour this doesn’t, of course, make any difference to the look of the thing. But it’s a different story with blended threads: a knot made with AAB may show hardly any B at all, or have B very prominent on top of the two As. The blended knots are part AAB and part ABB, but AAB-with-prominent-B may well look almost identical to ABB-with-prominent-A. My guess is that that is why the middle part of the foam is less banded than I’d expected.

A Jacobean trunk – lots of brown

You may remember that I wasn’t at all sure whether I ought to go to my September Certificate class, as I had been able to do very little work on the project over the summer. If you cancel within a week of the date, you don’t get a refund, so I had to decide by Friday 13th at the latest. This is when my husband, who still has delusions of Mabel achieving world domination in embroidery, stepped in and made me schedule an hour and a half off work to stitch on as many days as we could manage leading up to the class.

We run our business from home and my desk is actually in the same room as my slate frame set-up, so logistically there wasn’t a problem. And I agreed that I would have to do some serious stitching if the class was to be more than just an expensive way of buying stitching time. Well, with four 90-minute sessions (with restful cat in the background), a fair bit of stitching over the weekend, and sampling in the evenings I did manage to get enough done to make the class worth while. In fact it was a very fruitful day – but more of that in a later FoF.

Stitching session with cat

Today I’d like to talk about the trunk, and what I’ve learnt from stitching lots and lots of brown chain stitch smiley.

The first thing I learnt (during my previous class) was to work the stitch slightly differently from how I would normally do it. Picture the usual process: bring the needle up, go down in the same hole, leave a loop at the front, come up one stitch length away, catch the loop, pull through. Yes?

No.

Apparently this puts too much strain on the thread. I can’t say I’ve noticed it in other projects, but wool is notoriously shreddy (especially Appleton’s) so the less unnecessary friction the better. And I will admit the noise that the twill and wool produce when doing chain stitch the usual way did make me feel the tutors had a point! The solution is to add a step to the process: after “catching the loop” you don’t just pull through from to the top by pulling the needle, you pull the loop through from the back with your fingers (bit of fumbling until you get into the rhythm) so that the chain stitch looks like a finished chain stitch, then pull the thread through to the front by pulling the needle. In this way, the thread is only ever pulled straight through the fabric (i.e. not at an angle), minimising the amount of friction. It worked so well that I inserted the same extra step when it came to stitching the stem stitch vine.

Because the extra step makes every stitch take just that little bit longer, and because the tree trunk contains a lot of chain stitches, and because I’m trying to keep my stitches as evenly-sized as possible, and because I am not a natural at the slate frame (more about that in a later post too), progress was not particularly quick, and at the end of the third class this was where I’d got to:

After the third class

So far so good, now just keep stitching chain stitches in five shades of brown and Bob’s your uncle. Except there was another lesson to be learnt – the fact that sometimes you can’t tell whether something looks right until you’ve done it. I’d finished the second shade of brown and started the third, when I realised there was too much of shade two in the top part of the trunk. If I left it in, the other three shades would be crowded. I decided to unpick. At the same time I noticed that I could have done with a little more of the first shade where the top half of the trunk meets the side branch. Unfortunately that would mean having to unpick the whole second shade in that top section, and I’m not that dedicated to achieving a perfect result! Technically, the stitching there was fine – my only niggle was that colour-wise it would have looked better with just a bit more of the darkest brown. I will note this in my log, and explain why I didn’t change it.

A bit too much of shade two Unpicked, ready for re-stitching with shade three

The log is an intriguing thing; it can be used to explain all sorts of things you have or haven’t done, especially in conjunction with the samplings. I like my log!

I also learnt… well, no, I had it confirmed (and believe me, this will be a recurring theme) that Appleton’s wool is, shall we say, less than consistent in its quality. In fact, one of the threads I fastened on against my better judgment looked so fluffed up and puffy after only one stitch that I promptly took it out again and discarded it. Because I don’t like throwing thread away I use some of these discards for my samplings, but it’s not ideal – after all, the samplings are meant to give an idea of how a stitch will look in the actual design!

A fluffy puffy thread

One of the things I get a little paranoid about (besides worrying whether my chain stitches are all approximately the same length, and whether my voiding is precise enough) is design lines. The brief specifies that none of the painted design lines must be visible in the finished piece. But with something like chain stitch, which is relatively wide, it often leads to a difficult decision. In the picture below, a bit of design line is definitely still visible (orange arrow). But an extra line of chain stitch will take the stitched area well across the design line, making the branch thicker than it was originally intended to be. Of course, when I say “well across” I need to remind myself that we’re talking millimetres here. So possibly I’m just being a bit too pernickety. Anyway, I added the extra line.

The blue arrow in the second picture above shows yet another learning process. In order to blend in lines that aren’t full-length, a little creativity is needed now and then. Here I am starting the line that will go up the trunk from inside a stitch on the line that curves into the side branch; that way, there will be no very obvious starting point in the middle of the bark.

That isn’t always possible, but however you work it, lines that don’t go all the way must not noticeably end. The easiest way of decreasing the width of a shape like this trunk is to make each line as long as it can be, stopping each one when you hit the design line. If you do it that way, the longest lines will be in the centre of the trunk, and the closer towards the design line you get, the shorter the lines become. The disadvantage of doing it this way is that the outline can look a bit stepped. For this reason I decided to “hide” some of my shorter lines on the inside of the trunk (green arrows) rather than having them on the outside. I try to end each shortened line by tucking it under the previous line or at least having the little holding stitch as close to the previous line as possible. Because chain stitch tends to spread a bit, especially when done in wool, this effectively hides most of the endings.

Can I just get back to Appleton’s for a moment? Most of their colour families come in anything from five to nine shades; the higher the number of a shade, the darker it is, so in a series of nine xx1 will be very very light, xx5 somewhere in the middle, and xx9 very very dark. Now I would expect the difference between each pair of shades to be more or less the same, so that 4 is as much different from 3 as 3 is from 2. But it isn’t. My five shades of brown are 182, 183, 184, 185 and 187 – one number missing between my darkest and my next darkest shade, so you expect a bit of a gap there, and so there is. But whereas you can see a fairly clear difference between the middle three shades, unless you look very carefully the very lightest one is almost indistinguishable from the next one up, making the right-hand side of the tree a rather uniform beige. A bit late now to swap 182 for 181, and anyway the tutors advised me against choosing that shade early on in the course because they said it would be too close to the colour of the fabric. So it’ll have to be what it is now.

The five shades of brown in the trunk

I may be a bit unfair to Appleton’s here; even with my very favourite crewel wool, Heathway’s Milano, the nine gradations within a colour family aren’t always evenly spaced. But even the tutors remarked on the fact that Appleton’s 4, 5 and 6 shades are often so close that they advise students to use no more than two out of the three. Perhaps if Heathway expand their colour range, they might be able to convince the RSN to change over…

But that’s well into the future, if it ever happens, and my Jacobean Certificate piece is now. And Appleton’s or not, I’m quite pleased with how that trunk has turned out!

The finished trunk

Preparatory doodles

When you do the RSN Certificate (and presumably the Diploma is no different) you have to be prepared for a lot of stitching. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end of the module, I hadn’t stitched most of the design at least three times over. That’s because pretty much everything has to be tried out first, before committing it to the official fabric. This is done either in the margin of the proper embroidery (if you use a larger slate frame than I do), or on separate bits of fabric. And they all become part of the assessment process, which is a bit scary.

I call them doodle cloths, but the official RSN term appears to be “sampling”. And they have a point. Doodles are spur of the moment things you want to try out, stitches you’re not quite sure of and so on. My Certificate doodles are more planned, less spontaneous – I am trying out options that I’m seriously considering, not just playing and seeing what happens.

So here’s a bit of an overview of what I’ve been doodling – I mean sampling. First of all some fillings: battlement couching, trellis filling and Bayeux stitch (a type of laid work). You will notice that the leaf/petal/vaguely vegetation-like shape with Bayeux stitch started out as something different at the top; some time ago I saw a picture of a satin stitch or fishbone leaf couched down with wheatear stitch, and it looked really effective. However, the original used a thin metallic thread, which meant the wheatear stitch kept its definition. Wool, however, spreads (and don’t get me started on Appleton’s in particular – we’ll get back to that), so the stitch just looks rather blobby and messy. The Bayeux stitch looks much neater.

Battlement couching Trellis filling Bayeux stitch

The little square with rounded corners at the bottom of the left-hand flower thingy was going to be dark orange, with possibly some pattern in light orange on top. But as I was looking at a goldwork piece which had a square filled with diagonal cutwork in two types of purl, I thought, “I bet you can do that with bullion knots!” Well, you can smiley. And this sampling will be invaluable to the finished article because it has clearly shown me that it is all too easy to let your bullion knots spread. Must make sure to keep it square! I like the effect though, so I’m almost certain this will make the final design. Unless I come up with something better…

A bullion knot square

This hill was meant to look different, but then that’s what sampling does – as you see an element grow, you decide to change things, use different colours, bigger or smaller stitches, all because you can now see what it actually looks like in thread on fabric. Something may look great on paper or in your head, and simply not work when stitched. Here I decided to intersperse the Pekinese stitch with lines of plain backstitch, because the effect of unrelieved Pekinese stitch was going to be very solid. The lines of backstitch make it just that bit lighter and airier.

A hill in Pekinese stitch

The cat I can see is going to cause problems (don’t they always?) I initially intended to do the far legs in dark satin stitch, and I’m happy enough with the colour choice but the satin stitch just didn’t look right. I rushed the last bit of the leg because by then I knew I wouldn’t use satin stitch, but even the bit I took care over isn’t to my liking. At first I was going to unpick it, but on second thoughts I decided to leave it in, because discarded ideas are part of the process, too.

A satin stitch leg - to be dismissed

The long & short stitch on the head I do like. As it happens, I had Lexi on my lap while I was doing that bit, so I could study the direction of her fur – very helpful! I was thinking of doing her stripes in brick stitch, but that didn’t work at all; it’s now a sort of hotchpotch of brick and long & short. This is one bit that needs some sorting out still.

Cat's head and first stripe

I liked the idea of brick stitch, even if it didn’t work on the cat, and so I started looking at the few bits that haven’t had a definite stitch assigned to them yet. One of these was the outline of the right-hand leaf. Strictly speaking what I am sampling here is backstitch worked in a brick pattern – I think brick stitch is worked in staggered rows rather than long lines as I’m doing here. The effect should be pretty much the same, but I’ll bounce this off Angela on Saturday; I’m not even sure either is an eligible stitch to begin with. If it is, and I do include it, the problem is going to be keeping the stitch length consistent. The advantage is that it takes those really pointy changes of direction very well, and not many stitches do.

Brick stitch border on the right-hand leaf

And finally (for this FoF, but by no means for my Certificate sampling) the snail on the brick. This is a part of the design where I have actually tried two different stitches for each element: the snail’s shell is worked in padded buttonhole stitch and in raised backstitch, and the brick in burden stitch and satin stitch. Because I need to include satin stitch somewhere, the brick is most likely going to be done in that; although it will look different from the sample, as Helen Jones reminded me last time that satin stitch must be worked at a 45-degree angle. I do like the look of the burden stitch, and I’m still trying to incorporate it somewhere – perhaps in the cat? For the snail’s shell I’d pretty much decided to go with the padded buttonhole stitch, as I didn’t like the gappiness of the raised backstitch. But then a friend saw the doodle cloths and was so delighted with that version of the shell that I’m having a rethink! Making the foundation stitches on the outer spiral stick out more (i.e. go outside the design line) should allow me to cover more of the shell; I’m still working on how to close the gaps within the spiral. I’ll let you know when (if …) inspiration strikes.

Burden stitch brick and padded buttonhole snail Satin stitch brick and raised backstitch snail

And so I’m off to my next class on Saturday; yes, I decided not to cancel it, partly because it’s Angela’s last teaching session at Rugby for a while and partly because my very supportive husband made me schedule time off work to stitch on several days this week, so that I am not quite so horribly behind as I was. Even so, I think trying to do one class a month is probably a bit too ambitious, so the next one after that will be November. That should give me, well, perhaps not quite plenty of time, but enough not to panic.

Autojumble stitching, and I’m still weak

You know what usually happens to my travel projects – they get packed, stay in the suitcase/overnight bag/handbag, and come back home again in the same state as they left. And there really was no reason to think it would be any different this time. After all, the Beaulieu International Autojumble is not the first place you think of when considering ideal stitching locations. On the other hand, when the stand has been set up, the tea made, and there is temporarily no scrum of customers waiting to be served, you might as well do a bit of embroidery!

Stitching at the Beaulieu autojumble

Remember I said this project would have to be do-able with my ordinary glasses? Well, it was – just. It did slow me down rather, and occasionally I had to take off my glasses to place a stitch more accurately (after unpicking the inaccurate one…) but when we got home I’d managed almost all of the green stems and leaves:

The stitching I got done at the Autojumble

The day after we came back my stitching group met again for the first time after the summer break, and I decided to take the strawberries to finish. Which I did, with about 2 minutes to spare. Incidentally, although I knew my stitching glasses make a difference to the degree of comfort and ease of stitching, I found it quite astonishing just how much easier it was! Working on the same project with both pairs of glasses within a short time made the difference crystal clear. Even so, some of the stem stitch in the flower petals could have been a little smaller and more delicate; I was obviously rushing a bit towards the end.

The finished strawberries...

Still, it’s quite an attractive little project, and back home I mounted the finished work in an aperture card, ready to be sent to a dear elderly friend in The Netherlands who does not do email or computers, with some printed pictures of our new grandson.

...mounted in a card

As for my continued weakness, a fellow member of the Mary Corbet Facebook group showed some of the kits she had done recently. They looked like they would make rather relaxing and attractive travel projects (although possibly slightly on the large side), so I foolishly asked where she’d got them from. The answer was Oh Sew Bootiful, and as I browsed the site I found this satisfyingly curvaceous wave design. Most of her designs come not only as full hoop art kits (including the hoop as well as the threads etc.) but also as “fabric pattern packs”, which have the printed fabric and the instructions only, obviously a good option for those of us who are well-endowed with stash already. I liked the shape. I liked the fish. I liked the foamy French-knotted wave tops. I gave in. Perhaps it can be my travel project for London when I go to the Knitting & Stitching Show in October.

The foamy wave pattern pack from Oh Sew Bootiful

OK, I’m weak

Well, yes, of course I am still determined to focus on the SAL and the Certificate project, definitely, no other WIPs for me for the time being, but, uhm…

…we’re off to a trade fair soon (vintage cars, not embroidery, in case you’re wondering) and neither project is really suitable to take with me when travelling; not even the accompanying doodle cloths. Both projects need notes taking while I’m stitching and working things out, and they need a lot of concentration. And the slate frame is hardly the most portable of options anyway. And I need a card for a dear friend and none of the pre-made ones I’ve got in stock is really suitable. And, and, well, I’m just weak, that’s all.

And so I started looking for a suitable project. It needs to be easily transportable in my handbag; it should be simple to do, preferably just stem stitch outlines with the odd French knot or seed stitch; it must make a pretty card; and it shouldn’t be too fine or detailed because ideally I would like to be able to stitch it wearing my everyday glasses (grabbing five minutes of stitching time when there is a temporary lull in the number of customers is so much easier when you don’t have to get your special glasses out of their case and swap them with your normal ones).

A design that I stitched four years ago sprang to mind: this lovely strawberry motif from an out-of-copyright book which Mary Corbet wrote about.

Strawberries in Gumnuts, Gloriana and Dinky Dyes silks

Back then I used various stranded silks – Gumnut, Gloriana and Dinky Dyes. But to keep things simple I thought I’d better use an indivisible thread for this travel version, and I decided to go with DMC coton à broder #16; it’s a bit chunkier than the more common #25, and although it doesn’t come in as many colours there’s just about enough choice for this design (I would have liked a slightly darker green than that very light one, but it will do just fine).

Strawberries as a travel project using coton à broder

Chances are, of course, that I won’t get a stitch done (as usual), in which case I may just have to sneak it into the stitching rota when we’re back home; but it’s such a quick little project that it won’t distract me from the main ones for too long. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

PS A change from the original set-up: I’ve put the project in a smaller hoop. It may be a little bit awkward fastening off near the edges (although as I use quilting/between needles that is less of a problem than it would be with regular needles) but it does make it more portable. And mindful of the excellent piece of advice Gary Parr has often passed on in his Fiber Talk podcast, I’ve threaded up with the first colour and worked a few stitches, so that when I get a minute or so to stitch, I can just pick it up and go. Thanks Gary smiley.

Strawberries in a smaller hoop, and wih a few stitches done

Focus, woman!

You may have noticed, in the course of eight years (eight years?!? How did that happen?) of Flights of Fancy that I have a tendency to spread myself. Having just one project on the go is just not something that seems to happen to me. But with both my next Certificate class (21st September) and the first significant SAL date (posting the materials list on 1st November) sneaking up on me at a rather alarming speed, it was time to grab myself by the metaphorical lapels and give myself a good talking-to. Focus. Time to put away all projects except the SAL, the Certificate, and any relevant doodle cloths (the stitches on which may or may not end up being used – no guarantees smiley).

Far too little stitching A doodle cloth Experimenting on a cat Trying out stitches which may (or may not) be used in the SAL Trying out threads and other materials

So it’s goodbye to WIPs Queen’s Silks, Llandrindod and wool Hengest…

The RSN metalwork course project Llandrindod Hengest with his mane as yet undone

…and to not-even-started-but-waiting-in-the-wings projects Soli Deo Gloria, Helen Stevens’ 30s Revisited kit, and silverwork Come Rain (and its goldwork counterpart Come Shine).

Soli Deo Gloria Helen Stevens 30s Revisited kit Come Rain

And that’s without including silk Hengest and Mechthild the Medieval Queen which are in the design stage!

Even so I have almost decided, in consultation with Angela, to cancel my next Certificate class and give myself a bit more breathing space, picking it up again at the next date I’ve got booked at the end of October. I want to do the Certificate, but I don’t want it to become a chore or a burden.

More haste, less speed; and distracting vestments

We’re back from our holiday in Kent, where we had a lovely time and I did no stitching at all on one of the projects I’d brought, and only a little stitching on the other. (Yes, I took two projects with me. Just in case, you know, that I’d do so much stitching that one project wasn’t enough. Ha.) I did see some lovely stitching, though – none at Chatham Dockyard, not surprisingly, but Ightham Mote, Hever Castle and Penshurst Place all had their fair share of tapestries, garments, fire screens, stumpwork caskets and mirror frames and so on.

Some of it I could get close enough to to be able to look at it without my glasses (as I’m very short-sighted that’s the best way for me to see small details), but most items were frustratingly just too far behind the glass to allow a naked-eye, close-up look. I did ask at one place whether they ever allowed people to study the pieces up close, and they did, but it was obvious from the way she phrased it that this was for serious academic researchers only, not for just anyone who happened to be interested in embroidery. Oh well.

Gold and silk embroidery at Hever Castle Various embroideries at Hever Castle

The last full day of our holiday was Sunday, so we started with early morning Communion at the local church – of which more later – then visited a nearby wildlife reserve which used to be gravel pits, had a picnic in a field, and returned for a quiet afternoon and evening before the journey home on Monday. Just the opportunity to get out my stitching! Well, after I finished the detective novel I had with me… By the time I’d finished that it was not quite so hot outside, so I put a chair out on the lawn, gathered my project and threads and scissors and glasses, sat down, and found the inquisitive wet nose of the resident Alaskan Malamute alarmingly close to my fabric. Fortunately Blade, though enormous and very solid, was extremely friendly; and anyway, he soon decided that my embroidery was not edible and that I wasn’t about to scritch him behind the ears, so he ambled off to find a shady spot.

This left me to do some work on Llandrindod: I was about to put in the surrounding facets on the first jewel. This is done in split stitch, wih all sections worked in a clockwise direction, three of them in the medium shade and three in the light shade (the large centre facets were worked in the dark shade). Unfortunately the medium red doesn’t show up quite as different from the dark red as I’d expected, but I hope that with the light shade and the accents in pearlescent thread which I will add later the overall effect will still be that of a jewel with light playing on it.

Split stitch is slow work, so by the time I’d finished the three medium facets it was nearly time to start cooking dinner (i.e. put the pies we bought at the local deli in the oven). But I really wanted to see what the effect of adding the third shade would be. Now there is a tiny facet right at the bottom of each gemstone which is worked in the light shade, and surely that wouldn’t take long. I’d just quickly put that in and then pack everything away. I did. I looked at the effect of the third shade. And then I realised I’d stitched it in the wrong direction – anticlockwise instead of clockwise.

Facets added to the ruby in Llandrindod

I could have left it, I suppose. It’s a very, very small section indeed. Would anyone notice in the grand scheme of things? Possibly not. But I would. And it would annoy me. So out it came. As you may remember from Hengest, unless it’s confined to the last one or two stitches it’s practically impossible to unpick split stitch; you have to cut the stitches and pick out all the little bits of fluffed-up thread. Fortunately the linen I’m using stands up well to this sort of abuse, so there’ll be no problem when I get round to doing the section again, clockwise this time!

Unpicking, or rather, uncutting A fresh start

I mentioned that we visited the local church on Sunday morning – an 11th-century building rejoicing in the name of St Edmund King and Martyr, a mere three minutes’ walk from us. It turned out to be fairly high church, and the priest’s vestments had a rather interesting design in gold on them. It intrigued me, because I couldn’t see how it was done. For the first part of the service my brain was chewing over this conundrum in the background until I realised that this was not the right preparation for Communion, and cast the matter aside for the moment. Oddly enough, it was while receiving Communion that I found the answer to the problem.

So what was the problem? Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me so I couldn’t ask the priest afterwards if I could take a picture of the vestments, but when we got back to our AirBnB I quickly did a sketch from memory. It looked somewhat like this:

Sketch based on the West Kingsdown vestment

The parts that particularly caught my eye were the thin concentric circles within the wide circle, and the way in which the sides of the outer circle were part of the vertical borders. I was trying to interpret the design in couched pairs of Jap or possibly twist, and the circles looked like a fairly solid outer circle of several pairs of Jap, with a gap the width of one pair followed by a thin circle consisting of one pair, and this gap-and-circle then repeated. In other words, the gaps and the thin circles were the same width. This same effect was also used in the top and bottom parts of the design (the parts with straight sides, concave outer edge and convex inner edge). There was also an interesting weave effect in those top and bottom parts, consisting of short lengths of gold-gap-gold.

There were several things which I couldn’t work out by looking at it from a distance. For one thing, I couldn’t tell where the thin circles were plunged. They seemed perfectly continuous, with no break anywhere in their sheen and sparkle. And talking of plunging, all those short length making up the weave would have to be plunged individually – that’s a lot of plunging and a lot of bulky gold to get rid of at the back of the work! And then there were the parts where the wide circle intersected wit the vertical borders; there should be a change of reflection there, as the curved lines of Jap met the straight vertical ones, but there wasn’t. There should also be a noticeable break, unless the embroiderer working on this garment had attained such a degree of perfection in her plunging that you literally couldn’t see the joins.

A problem if you couch the design

It was as I received Communion and looked up at the priest and saw the vestment close-up that I realised my problem was caused by an incorrect assumption. I had assumed that the design was made up of lines of couched gold thread, but it wasn’t – it was cut from solid gold fabric and presumably appliquéd on. Cutting and applying the thin circles and other thin lines must have been quite a fiddly job, but not nearly so fiddly as trying to do it this neatly in couched Jap. (Incidentally, I didn’t work all this out while taking the bread and wine – I just stored the information away for later contemplation. Important as embroidery is, one has to get one’s priorities right!)

So there it is, a lovely design but probably not really suitable for working in couched threads, which is the way I would want to do it. I will probably try the wide-circle-with-voids-and-thin-circles motif some day, just to see if it is possible to make the plunging practically invisible. Perhaps as part of the RSN goldwork module…?

Quirks of photography and remedial wing work

Although stumpwork has never really appealed to me – I admire what other people do with it, but on the whole don’t feel a great inclination to have a go myself – somehow I managed to end up with a stumpwork kit: Sarah Homfray’s holly blue butterfly. I bought it because it was a beautiful butterfly, and because it was small enough not to seem too much of a challenge. Also, there were no big wooden beads. Don’t ask me why, but any stumpwork design with big wooden beads in it (to represent hips and haws and berries, generally) puts me off immediately. This one had some florist’s wire, but otherwise it was mostly standard embroidery with standard stranded cottons, the only difference with a needle painting kit being the fact that the butterfly would be cut out; well, I’ve cut around a buttonhole edge before, albeit on counted fabric and not quite so fine, but it’s the same sort of thing. The shading on the wings was likely to be more of a problem!

Sarah Homfray stumpwork butterfly kit

And so it turned out to be. When I’d completed the bottom wings I couldn’t help but notice that my butterfly had very distinct banding, which the picture in the kit did not have. As usual I had taken some photographs of my progress, and it was then that I discovered an odd quirk of photography. No, I don’t mean the fact that close-up photographs will show up irregularities in your stitching that you never noticed even when working on it with strong magnifying glasses (all stitchers have to learn not to judge their own work on the basis of close-up photos). Let me show you.

Have a look at the two pictures below. They were taken about 10 seconds apart. Neither of them has been edited or Photoshopped in any way – the only difference is that the first one was taken with the butterfly’s head pointing towards the window, and the second with its bottom towards the window. And yet the second one looks much more blended than the first. I suppose it must have something to do with the direction of the stitches and the way they catch the light, but it’s odd that the effect is not nearly so noticeable with the naked eye. What makes it show up so much more in photographs?

The butterfly photographed with the top towards the window The butterfly photographed with the bottom towards the window

Whatever the reason, the second photograph looked decidedly better than the first, and so that was the one I posted on the Cross Stitch Forum and the Mary Corbet Facebook group; like most people I prefer to show my stitching in the most flattering light. But even though I could photograph it to look not too bad, whenever I looked at it directly I saw the banding, even more so after I’d done the top wings (and was rather pleased with them!) Now I was definitely not going to unpick the entire lower wings (I’m not that much of a pefectionist) so it was time for a little cosmetic work.

The banding on the bottom wings stands out against the blended top wings

It turns out (as various tutors have told me – and they must know smiley) that long and short stitch, or silk shading, is quite a forgiving technique; especially so when done in crewel wool, but even in stranded cotton it is possible to sneak in some extra stitches to create a more blended look. After a few minutes with three needles threaded with three different colours, the bottom wings were much more in tune with the top wings. Even when the butterfly was photographed with its head towards the window.

The bottom wings with their additional blending

Do you recognise this? The happier you are with the way a project is progressing, the more you want to finish it. (Although not feeling up to more challenging and demanding projects may have had something to do with it as well…) The moment the two baptism bookmarks were completed, I got back to the butterfly. My first ever attempt at turkey rug stitch produced a nice fluffy body – not quite so evenly trimmed as I might have liked perhaps, but perfectly serviceable; then it was just a matter of cutting around the buttonhole edge and shaping and attaching the antennae, and here I present what is likely to be my one and only stumpwork finish, on a plain background and in more natural surroundings.

The finished butterfly The butterfly in more natural surroundings

I’d rather hoped one of the many butterflies currently treating our garden as their home would sit down beside him, but alas, they wouldn’t oblige. Perhaps just as well, as God’s handiwork is much more exquisite than mine could ever be smiley.