Too many stitches!

When asked what he thought of Mozart’s latest opera, Le Nozze di Figaro, Emperor Joseph II famously said that it had "too many notes". I am tempted to echo him (albeit inaccurately) as I’m trying to finalise the designs for the Song of the Weather SAL, and sigh exasperatedly: "too many stitches!"

I’m trying to include all the usual stitches (dove’s eye, square filet, woven bar) because it is meant in part for people who want to get into Hardanger. But from the start it has also been my intention to have plenty of other stitches for those who have done quite a bit of stitching and would like to learn something new. And so I’ve been going over my stitch repertoire, and tried combining stitches to see if that produced anything usable, and looked through lots of embroidery books hunting out stitches I hadn’t tried before – and it is incredible how many stitches there are out there! How do you choose?

It doesn’t help that many stitches go by different names in different parts of the world or at different times or even in the same part of the world at the same time; Queen’s stitch and Rococo stitch are one and the same thing, and so are lazy daisy and detached chain stitch. Holbein stitch is an alternative name for double running stitch. Bargello and Florentine work are pretty much the same thing (apologies if I have overlooked a subtle difference). Occasionally there are names that cover more than one stitch; one of my books called something Rhodes stitch which isn’t anything like the Rhodes stitch I know, and Smyrna stitch can be either a double cross stitch, or a type of knotted stitch.

And then there are the stitches which are treated as separate types, when they are really very much alike. A clear example is blanket stitch and buttonhole stitch – exactly the same technique, but one is stitched closer together than the other. Feather stitch and Cretan stitch can be described in the same way ("bring the needle up at A, go down at B a little way away from A leaving a loop; come up again at C somewhere between the two, catching the loop"); the main difference is really whether C is only a little lower than A and B, or very noticeably lower. Fly stitch is pretty much a single feather stitch. And angled blanket stitch is feather stitch going in one direction instead of zigzagging.

But even when you discard all the stitches which are identical except for the name, and weed out the stitches that are very similar indeed, there is still an overwhelming variety available. And I’ve only got 12 relatively small projects to put them all in! My desk is covered in stitch diagrams and lists of stitches, some of them resolutely crossed out, others scribbled in as a late addition. In an effort to seem organised I’ve divided them into five groups: filling stitches, bar stitches, filling stitches which include bars, surface stitches, and border stitches. Now all I need to do is whittle the 60 or so stitches down to a manageable number. It’s time to get tough!

P.S. A useful resource for information about a large number of stitches is the Arts & Design glossary. For stitch instruction videos you can’t beat Mary Corbet’s blog; and check out her Stitch Play section for some great ideas.

Oops…

Have you ever finished a piece of stitching, ironed it, photographed it, stored it (or framed it, or made it into a cushion), and then realised that you had in fact missed out several stitches? Or even forgotten a part of the design altogether?

Very annoying when that happens. A little embarrassing, too. But it could be worse. Have you ever finished a piece of stitching, ironed it, photographed it, stored it, all without realising that you had forgotten a part of the design altogether?

Even more annoying. And even more embarrassing. But it could be worse. You could turn it into a chart pack, with a photograph on the front, and put it up for sale. Which is what I did.

The design in question is Vienna, and below are details from the chart and the stitched model. Can you spot the difference?

Detail of Vienna chart Detail of Vienna

So my most heart-felt thanks to the eagle-eyed customer who was kind enough to point the mistake out to me – I have retrieved the stitched model from my portfolio and will be cutting the missing holes this weekend!

An exercise in patience

Did I say last time that I enjoyed designing? I must have been out of my tiny little mind!

No, it’s not that bad really – but sometimes it can be quite frustrating. I’ve just finished Gingham Gems (I), and am now stitching (no surprises there) the two designs of Gingham Gems (II). Kloster blocks in two shades of beige, fine, some surface stitches inside the Kloster block pattern, fine, fan stitches in the four corners, not fine.

I’d charted these corner fans as partial ribbed spiderwebs. The complete version has a number of spokes (usually, though not always, eight), and the thread is taken round the circle, encircling the spokes as you weave so that you end up with very pronounced "ribs". Surely, if you do a quarter of a circle, you end up with a ribbed fan? It turned out not to be quite so simple.

For one thing, the two spokes at the outside of the fan can’t be ribbed. It’s simply not possible, unless you take the thread down the fabric every time you get to the outside spokes, which I didn’t want to do. It also turned out to be extremely difficult to make the ribs nice and even. I finished one fan, decided I didn’t like the look of it at all, and unpicked it. I then tried weaving the fan, simply going over and under the spokes. This looked a lot neater, but also very very solid, and far too heavy for the rest of the design. Hoping to save something from the wreckage, and bouncing several ideas off my ever helpful husband, I tried partially filling the fan, then filling it in a staggered pattern, but neither looked at all attractive. I unpicked the whole thing, and also the spokes in the other three corners.

Now what? I was still rather keen on the fan shape, because it fits the corners so nicely. What about herringbone ladder stitch? That has rather a nice braided appearance, and although it is usually stitched straight between two parallel lines there is no reason why you shouldn’t have the stitches squashed together at one end and fanned out at the other. I tried one corner.

Herringbone ladder fan

Oh well. Better than the solid woven fan and the irregular ribbed fan, but not quite what I had in mind. I think the bottom end needs to be narrower. So the next attempt will have a single backstitch for the bottom (instead of three arranged in a curve, as here), and all the herringbone stitches will cluster together in it. I’ll let you know if that’s any better – but don’t be surprised if Gingham Gems (II) eventually goes live with a completely different corner stitch!

Life, preparations, designing

What do those three things have in common? Simple – they are all reasons why both new chart packs and new blog posts are rather thin on the ground at the moment. I have no particular schedule for blog posts, they just appear when I have something to say, but initially I did set out to add two new chart packs every month. Surely it should be possible to stitch one small or medium design and one large design a month? And how much time can writing a chart pack take?

The answer to the latter question is "more than you think". It’s true that I now have stitch diagrams for most stitches on file, but I do still add new stitches for which diagrams need to be drawn, either on paper or on the computer, and then an intelligible description needs to be written as well. And of course every design needs its own set of specific instructions. As for the stitching, sometimes that, too, takes a bit longer than expected; for example when I decide half way through that a different filling stitch would be better, or when I realise that things which take a few minutes to chart can take several hours with needle and thread!

Preparations take another chunk of what could be stitching time. Getting materials together for the upcoming Guildhouse course, for example, and deciding on the projects: is this the right level of difficulty? Would it be possible to include optional parts for those who like a challenge? How do I include silk gauze and shisha glass without making the materials pack too expensive?

And then there is designing, especially when the completed designs can’t be shown yet, like the SAL or the Counted Wishes special. While I’m working on those, I obviously can’t work on putting new chart packs on the site or write new Flights of Fancy. On the other hand, I enjoy designing at least as much as stitching – and of course if I don’t design, soon there won’t be anything to make chart packs of, so giving up designing is obviously not an option.

And anyway, by far the biggest distraction is Life, as all stitchers will know. A visit to the family back in the Old Country, a sister-in-law getting married (lovely wedding, beautiful dress – her grandmother’s), vintage car events which we attend both for fun and as a business, Church activities, preparing for the annual Holiday Club … and before you know it July is gone and August is going!

But in the background, and between activities, I am getting things stitched and written up, and a few designs should be going up soon in the Cards & Coasters section. And in September you can see me at the Counted Wishes Festival (virtually), at the Percival Guildhouse (in the flesh), and in the next edition of Stitch Magazine (printed).

Another two silks – Vineyard and Dinky Dyes

Sometimes you come across threads that are irresistible, even though you’re not absolutely sure what you’ll do with them. Some Vineyard Silks I bought a number of years ago are a case in point. They were gorgeous, with a beautiful, slightly fuzzy lustre which reminded me of the silks you see on very old embroideries, or on those very ornate 18th century waistcoats and dresses. They were also far too thick for anything I was doing at that time, which was mainly cross stitch.

And yet I got several of their standard silks (in four shades of lavendery blue) and one of their Shimmer silks, which have a metallic thread running through them. I might not use them in stitching, but I could look at them and (yes, I’ll admit it) occasionally stroke them. Petting silk threads is a singularly satisfying thing to do, and very therapeutic; try it if you don’t believe me!

But let’s get back to stitching. I realised that it was possible to separate the 3 plies that make up the thread, and that separately they worked rather well as a thickish flat silk. Petit point on 18ct gave lovely coverage and a beautiful sheen. Unfortunately, I do very little petit point on 18ct.

But then I started doing Hardanger. Hardanger uses far thicker threads than cross stitch. Could I perhaps use the Vineyard silks instead of #5 perle? Some sources suggested it was more like a #3, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway. What to combine them with, though? I happened to have three silk perles by Dinky Dyes as well, a #5, #8 and #12, in three different shades of blue. Why not kill two birds with one stone and try out the Vineyard and Dinky Dyes together?

I began with unsplit Vineyard Classic combined with DD silk perle #8. Coverage in the Kloster blocks is good, and the silk perle has a lovely strong and textured sheen, but it is perhaps a little bulky in the backstitch.

Vineyard and Dinky Dyes perle #8

The next combination was another of the Vineyard Classic shades with DD silk perle #12. I like that much better than the #8 – it has the same strong sheen but it shows more detail in the backstitch, and also in the square filet; it would be even more noticeable, I think, if I’d used a dove’s eye.

Vineyard and Dinky Dyes perle #12

Then there was the Vineyard Shimmer. This was a golden shade and I had no DD perles that would go with it. But I did have some Kanagawa 1000. This is a 1000 denier silk cord which is used by Gloriana as the base for their Princess Perle Petite, which I love.

Vineyard and Kanagawa

I was not disappointed. The Vineyard Shimmer with its single metallic thread among the silk has a subtle sparkle, and the Kanagawa makes for crisp backstitch and a well-defined square filet. The only drawback is that Vineyard Shimmer can sometimes be a little awkward to work with, and the metallic strand occasionally bunches up, but most of the time it’s well-behaved, and the effect is definitely worth it.

Stash: the stitcher’s hermit crab

Hermit crabs have no shell of their own, and so they use empty, left-over shells to protect themselves. The trouble with using someone else’s shell, however, is that when you grow, it doesn’t grow with you. And so every now and again the hermit crab will find that it is getting rather cramped in its present abode, and that it needs to look for a new, larger shell.

Isn’t it remarkable just how reminiscent this is of stash?

You start stitching. It doesn’t take much – a piece of fabric, a needle, scissors and some thread. At first, it all fits into a small plastic bag, with room to spare. Then you get some more fabric; different counts, perhaps, and in several colours. Possibly you even venture into pretty hand-dyeds and opalescents. And of course for every new project colours are needed that you haven’t got yet. They get added, as well as speciality threads, metallics, perle cottons, silks, for that special touch. Talking of special touches, how about beads? And charms? The original plastic bag is now only just big enough for the fabrics, and all the threads and beads and other thingummybobs need their own boxes.

So you’ve got everything in neat boxes and bags, either sorted by number or colour, and doesn’t it all look wonderful! Then you buy one more colour – will it squeeze into the box? Just! But the next colour doesn’t have a hope …

That’s what happened with my perle cottons. They were housed in two boxes: the #12 perles in the drawer of my Dragonfly box, which also holds my Caron threads and silk perles, and the #8 and #5 perles in a wooden box I was given by a kind friend. The #5 perles live on hinged metal rings, and were draped on top of the balls of #8. But what with Rainbow Wings and the SAL and Gingham Gems my collection was rapidly outgrowing its comfortable "shell"! So I started looking for shallow boxes to hold the #8. I found some in laminated cardboard, which looked quite useful but came to about £15 each which seemed a bit much for cardboard; I looked into wooden boxes with drawers but they were either not the right size, or beautiful antiques several hundred pounds beyond my budget.

Then we went to Holland on our holiday and in one of those useful shops which sell anything from underwear to baking trays to camping gas I found these, at €1.99 each:

Three useful boxes

Not particularly attractive, but the right size, stackable, and cheap. And once I’d put my threads in, they suddenly looked quite pretty!

All my perle #8 neatly stored

And just to demonstrate the way in which stash simply keeps growing – while in Holland I bought a few more things; some useful, some just very pretty and very moreish. A metre each of White and Antique White 25ct Lugana falls into the first category. These lovely Au Ver à Soie silk ribbons definitely come in the second. One of them will be used in the speciality thread version of the Song of the Weather SAL; I haven’t decided yet which one, but I can’t wait to stitch something with the coffee/chocolate ribbon!

Au Ver A Soie silk ribbons

Designing in secret – SAL & Rainbow Wings

Hello again! A vintage car event at which we had a trade stand, plus a week’s holiday in my native Holland, not to mention the resulting backlog, have kept me from doing anything much in the stitching line for some time; not much stitching, not much FoFfing, and not much designing. But I hope to have some more time in the coming weeks/months (barring the weekend my sister-in-law gets married, and the big annual vintage car trade fair in September). I’d better, because there are two design projects with a deadline!

I’m not really used to designing with a deadline; generally designs happen when they happen, and some months I have 3 or 4 ideas, and some months I have none. Not a problem. But now there is the Song of the Weather SAL, for which I promised I’d have the materials list by the beginning of November (which means charting and stitching 12 designs by the end of October), and the Counted Wishes Festival, for which all exhibitors are advised to have at least one completely new design. This needs to be stitched, photographed, and made into a chart pack by the beginning of September. And I am without one of my design aids.

When I’m designing I occasionally find it helpful to bounce ideas off other people. My fellow members at the Cross Stitch Forum are usually my first port of call, the weekly stitching group I go to is another, and my husband is invaluable to get the non-stitcher’s point of view. But for two projects which I am designing at the moment, the first two providers of feedback are denied me. The SAL is a Mystery SAL, and so it would rather defeat the purpose to discuss it with stitchers who may wish to join in when it goes live. And the design for the Counted Wishes Festival is meant to be revealed only when the Festival opens. So I’m on my own here – but I thought I could at least show you the colours for Rainbow Wings! (Well, the colours minus one, which happened not to be in my stash *gasp*. Oh dear, I will have to go shopping at Sew & So …)

The colours for Rainbow Wings

An alternative way of cutting

While I was working on Odessa I came across an interesting tip in Stitch magazine. It suggested that if the threads you needed to cut were fairly long (stretching over several Kloster blocks), then you first cut them in the centre between their two edging blocks, rather than cutting very closely along the blocks in the usual way. You can then pull the cut threads back and cut them a second time, this time very close to the Kloster block. The cut ends will spring back and be so short that they will disappear between the satin stitches. Well, that’s the theory anyway.

It looked like a useful technique to know – for one thing, it would mean not having to poke in all those pesky cut ends. And Odessa, with its longish stretches of open hem, was the perfect project to try it out on.

In these hems, 6 threads are cut rather than the 4 threads per Kloster block in Hardanger, but the principle is the same. Cut the threads at the centre, and with your needle tease the two halves out, unravelling them up to the satin stitch border. Half of the threads will end up at the top of the work, and half at the back. At this stage, it looks a right mess!

The first stage - front The first stage - back

Now pull the cut threads back, one by one, until they seem to come out of the top of the Kloster block (or the bottom, if you’re working at the back of your stitching). Pull the thread quite taut, then cut as close to the satin stitch as you dare. The short cut end will spring back and hide itself between the satin stitches; if it doesn’t, encourage it to lie down with your needle.

Pulling back the cut threads Cutting very close

According to Stitch magazine, if any cut ends are still visible you didn’t pull the thread taut enough. In which case I must bravely put up my hand and say "I can’t do it". I pulled the thread as taut as I could, and cut as closely as I dared, but unfortunately the cut ends are still visible. Very short, and almost hidden, but still visible.

After cutting

Even so, it is an interesting way of doing it, the cut ends are definitely shorter than in the traditional way of cutting, and it’s always good to have another method up your sleeve. And perhaps with some more practice I’ll manage to get rid of those cut ends entirely!

The sad demise of titanium squissors

Jubilant note: Since writing this post I found a supplier so titanium-coated squissors are now once again available!

Some time ago I wrote about a workman’s (or needlewoman’s) tools, and in particular about my new toy, the Lowery stand. Today I’d like to tell you about another piece of equipment I use for pretty much all my projects: squissors.

Squissors

As you can see, squissors are a cross between scissors and tweezers. Unlike scissors, they are open by default – this means they can be a bit difficult to store. I keep two of mine in the packaging they came in, which has a card back that slides in and out of the plastic front; the third one came with a handy little flexible plastic widget that fits over the tips, keeping them safely together. Squissors come with straight or curved blades; I use the straight-bladed ones, having once tried curved blade scissors with a singular lack of success.

The squissors shown above are the ones you’re most likely to find in shops or online. They are my third pair, and I keep them for back-up. They are fine to work with, and I’d be perfectly happy with them if it wasn’t for the fact that my first pair of squissors are even better. I didn’t know they were anything special when I bought them; in fact, I wasn’t sure squissors were really going to be my thing. But the shop that I was buying some supplies from at the time happened to sell this particular brand: Dobra Craft titanium squissors.

Titanium squissors

They are gorgeous! I mean, they’re very pretty to look at with that sort of oil-on-water look, but that’s not their main claim to gorgeousness. It’s the fact that they are sharp to the tips, and (according to the information I found about them) self-sharpening, so they should last pretty much forever. They are also very, very accurate. Well, that partly depends on the hand that holds them, obviously … but I found that if I tried to do the same thing once with my stork scissors and once with squissors, it was always easier, quicker and more accurate with the squissors.

But before you all run out to your local needlework shop (if you are lucky enought to have one) or fire up the browser for some online shopping, I have to tell you some sad news. Dobra Craft are no longer Dobra Craft, they do surgical instruments only now, and the people who took over from them appear to have discontinued the line. Shops which according to Google sell titanium squissors turn out not to, or not anymore. One shop had just one left, which I immediately snapped up. Should you find a pair anywhere, grab them and hang on to them! Should you find a shop that has a dozen or so left, let me know and I’ll get the lot for Mabel’s Fancies.

So what if you can’t find titanium squissors for love or money? I’d still advise any Hardanger stitcher to get a pair of the widely available ones – as I said, they are good in their own right, and will make cutwork a lot easier. And how do you use squissors? Well, it has to be said that you have to get used to them, and a few practice snips on some left-over scraps of fabric are definitely a good idea, but once you’ve got the hang of it it soon becomes second nature.

One thing to bear in mind is that, as with so many things in stitching, there are often several "right" ways of doing things. Some people prefer to keep the scissors parallel to the fabric and cut all four threads bordered by a Kloster block in one go. Personally I always advise people to hold the scissors/squissors at right angles to the fabric, and snip the threads one by one. I also find it helpful to turn the work so that the Kloster block sits to the right of where I’m cutting, but again, others will not turn the work at all. The thing to do is to try out several ways, and see which works for you. Below are some pictures which show how I do the cutting; they also show how to hold the squissors. Why not get a pair, have a try, and let me know how you get on!

Hold the squissors at right angles to the fabric Keep the Kloster block to the right of the squissors Cut the four threads one by one