Christmas gifts and more Orpheus

Do you give and receive Christmas presents? When I grew up in the Netherlands, presents came courtesy of St Nicholas on the evening of 5th December, so Christmas was a gift-free zone. That changed, predictably, when I married into an English family! True, there has for some years now been a “non-present pact” with my husband’s siblings (apart from small gifts of fancy nibbles or special chocolates, or in my case this year, home-made coffee liqueur), but we do still exchange presents intergenerationally (which is a difficult way of saying “with parents and children”…). Inspired by only the slightest of hints, my two lovely stepsons gave me the RSN Goldwork book, so that I can refresh my memory about the techniques that were taught at the day class I did. They also intended to give me some Embroidery Den vouchers but as the card with the goldwork book explained, they hadn’t realised they were proper paper vouchers which had to come all the way from Australia smiley. So much the better – I’ll have another present to brighten some cold, grey January day!

RSN goldwork book design pages in the RSN goldwork book

In spite of Christmas and all that comes with it I managed to do some work on Orpheus, particularly the last of the pulled stitches. They wouldn’t fit into the hoop I used for the other eyelets, so I had to stitch them with the fabric on the roller frame. Not ideal because the tension isn’t as tight as I’d like it to be for pulled work. (Digression: I’ve heard very good things of the Needle Needs Millenium frame which apparently keeps the fabric taut as a drum throughout, but it is expensive, takes months to order, and really needs its own stand which adds to the cost. What I would really like is to be able to try one for a few days before deciding!) Well, they’re done now – four spot eyelets, and yes they did distort the fabric rather, but fortunately after wetting and ironing it looks a lot better. The one below, by the way, comes from the coloured version of Lviv; just imagine them in orange-on-Pumpkin-Patch-marbled-orange and you’ll know what they look like in Orpheus.

Spot eyelet from Lviv


Tucked away in a drawer somewhere is my RSN (Royal School of Needlework) folder; in it are the kits I got at the one-hour workshops I’ve done at various Knitting & Stitching shows. There are five in total, and I was pleased to see that I had actually finished most of them (a one-hour workshop is never enough to finish the project there, so there’s always homework) – the goldwork dragonfly I’ve shown here before, plus crewelwork, blackwork and silk shading.

RSN crewelwork project

RSN blackwork project

RSN silk shading project

I vaguely remember having done a stumpwork class as well but I can’t find it, and I’m not sure that was a RSN one. The only unfinished project in the folder was the little goldwork bee I mentioned last time, and I will definitely finish it some time soon; it’s got an area of chipwork (more about that later) I’m looking forward to trying. But oh dear – the cutwork (more about that later, too!) that’s there already is really rather embarrassing, and I may undo it and start over again.

All this talk of chipwork and cutwork leads neatly to what is really meant to be the subject of this FoF, the RSN goldwork day class I attended last Saturday. I’ve got lots of pictures of all the beautiful sparkly materials, and of some of the techniques we’ve been learning, although the merest glance at some of the work Sarah Homfray, the tutor, had brought along for us to see was enough to bring on severe self-doubt about showing any of my own. Fortunately Sarah turned out to be a great teacher who managed to correct while encouraging – brilliant.

Let’s start with the pack we used for the class. It was well-presented, everything bagged up in little acid-free paper bags, good picture of what we were meant to produce, and stitch instructions to remind us when finishing the work at home. Just opening all the little bags and feeling the materials (goldwork must be one of the most tactile forms of embroidery) was enormously enjoyable; and we hadn’t done a single stitch yet!

RSN goldwork pack

The “basic” supplies (apart from the fabric which I didn’t photograph unused) were various needles, some of them very fine, some sewing thread in a yellow-gold colour, and a piece of beeswax. Proper beeswax is apparently better for goldwork than the synthetic version whose name I can’t remember for the moment.

needles, thread and beeswax

Having taken everything out of the pack, we were given advice on how to put the fabric in the hoop (pushing the inner ring into the outer ring from the back; this made it really taut but unfortunately wouldn’t work with the flexi-hoops I tend to use), and shown the first of the techniques we would be using. The instructions were very clear and delivered in manageable chunks, with information about the materials as well as the stitches. Here’s a little goldwork nugget: you plunge thread, but not wire.

Plunging, in case you’re wondering, has nothing to do with necklines but everything with taking your threads through to the back of your fabric for finishing off. And one of the threads we would have to do that with is Japanese thread (which Sarah told us on no account to call “Jap”, as some people do). It’s a core of silk or cotton with a long strip of gold wrapped around it. Well, not 100% gold, obviously. About 2%, apparently, down to ½% for more affordable threads. But it looks very effective and gold-like nonetheless!

Japanese thread

The next thread isn’t a thread but a coiled wire, and it’s my favourite goldwork material so far, if only because of what it’s called. It rejoices in the gloriously silly name of pearl purl. Like most of these materials it comes in several thicknesses; the gold in the picture is what came in the RSN pack and is, I think, a #2, the silver is from my stash and according to the label a #3. The bit at the end that looks different is where I’ve pulled it apart. You’re meant to do that, by the way, though not quite as far as this.

pearl purl

Then there were sparkly bits; beads and coloured sequins, and spangles. The spangles are interesting: they are still made in the traditional way by flattening little loops of metal. Because of this, each one is slightly different, and they have a gap which you have to bear in mind when stitching them down.

spangles, beads and sequins

Two more types of wire: bright check and smooth purl. The bright check is triangular in cross section and very sparkly, the smooth purl is, well, smooth. The coloured bits are a very fine bright check.

bright check and smooth purl

And finally two threads which I haven’t actually tried yet. We were shown how to use them at the end of the class, so there wasn’t any time to get stitching with them. But as they are applied in the same way as the Japanese thread they shouldn’t present any great problems. The wavy thread is called Rococo (spelled with varying numbers of “c”s depending on which website you visit), the other one is called Twist for the obvious reason that it is three gold-covered threads twisted together. It apparently frays like anything.

gilt rococo and gilt twist

Well, those were the materials, and here is what I managed to do during the class:

What I managed to finish during the goldwork class

The three main techniques used in it are chip work, cut work, and laid work. For chip work you cut bright check into little pieces, as square as you can manage, and then attach them much as you would beads. The direction of the pieces should be random for maximum sparkle. I’m not sure whether you can do chip work with any of the other wires – I must ask some time. Cut work is like chip work but with longer pieces. In proper goldwork it is attached over felt or string padding (which I did do in the dragonfly and bee) and the big challenge is to cut your wire to exactly the right length needed to cover the padding; too long and it buckles, too short and the padding is visible. Both these errors are in evidence in my earlier pieces. Bright check, by the way, like smooth purl, is in effect a tube, so they are attached by taking a fine needle through the pieces, very carefully so you don’t damage the tube by pulling the coil apart or poking your needle through it. The smooth purl especially can pretty much unravel on your needle. Approach with caution.

chip work cut work

You can use cutwork in a different way as well, with deliberately long bits that stand up in a loop for example, in this case to create flower petals. The sequins and spangles can be attached with plain stitches (which I haven’t done here), with a bead, or with a chip of bright check.

cut work, spangles and sequins

The watering can is laid work, which as far as I can make out is anything couched onto the fabric or over a base of felt or string padding. The main body of the can is double Japanese thread, and it is couched down with a single thread in a brick pattern. In the corners you couch the two strands separately to make a nice crisp turn. This part was worked from the outside in, and somehow I managed to end up with a triangular shape in the centre, so I plunged the two strands separately and filled in the little gap with chipwork. Ideally I’d have kept it rectangular all the way through and filled it completely with Japanese thread. Oh well. The spout and handle are worked in couched pearl purl. You start by pulling it, a little at a time because if you overstretch it you can’t push it back. When it no longer coils when you let go of it, it’s ready to use. You couch at an angle between the coils so the thread slips down and is invisible, although in “free” goldwork you can overstretch deliberately and couch very visibly with coloured threads for effect. Will definitely try that some time!

Watering can - couched Japanese thread and pearl purl

This was just a day course, and so we only scratched the surface of all that is possible in goldwork. For a look at a proper, full-blown RSN project, have a look at this great set of blog posts which follow one stitcher’s project from the very start to the final assessment (the posts are in reverse date order).


Not a proper FoF today (although I am working on one about the goldwork class I attended recently) but just a few photographs. Firstly, two showing the Tamar threads in a more relevant way – I realised that showing them in isolation yesterday wasn’t really very helpful. So here is the blue/green/purple shade (both light and dark) with the DMC colours used in Sunken Treasures, and the yellow/peach shade with DD Jaffa and one of the DMC Variations. As you can see the DMC is actually an almost perfect match, but unlike Anchor, DMC unfortunately produce their variegated perles in #5 only.

Tamar replacement for DD Daydream with DMC threads Tamar and DMC replacements for DD Jaffa

Reading yesterday’s FoF, my husband wondered why I had bothered to post the last picture (of Orpheus out of its hoop) as the most interesting bit was blurred. I explained that the picture was meant to illustrate the severe creasing flexi-hoops can cause, but on second thoughts I do agree that it’s a bit mean not to show anything of the work in progress. So to make up for it, here is a snippet of Orpheus.

A snippet of Orpheus

And finally a sneak preview of the goldwork FoF – this is part of the project I worked on last Saturday. Can you guess what it is?

A peek at my goldwork project

Going through my pictures of the Royal School of Needlework mini workshops I attended at various Knitting & Stitching Shows, I noticed that one of them is a little goldwork bee which I don’t think I ever finished. Must see if I can find it!

Tamar Embroideries and more Orpheus

In my continued search for threads to replace the perle cottons so inconsiderately discontinued by Dinky Dyes some time ago, I found a few likely looking shades at Tamar Embroideries. Most of their threads aren’t perles as such, but are perfectly usable for Hardanger, especially their Combed Cotton (also called Cotton Twist) and Fine Perle. I ordered the two shades I thought might do as substitutes for DD Jaffa and Daydream, the latter having proved particularly problematic to replace as it is used in combination with several shades of DMC (in Sunken Treasures).

Tamar replacements for Dinky Dyes

I was quite pleased with the bottom shade; the Combed Cotton is a little on the pink side for Jaffa, but the Fine Perle is quite a close match (it’s quite surprising sometimes how different different threads look which have been dyed in the same shade), so it’s certainly one of the threads now suggested in the Citrus chart pack (perhaps the thicker thread could represent pink grapefruit…)

The top shade is not another example of how differently the dye takes on different threads – I had ordered the lighter shade in both thicknesses but the Fine Perle was out of stock. Very generously, Tamar Embroideries refunded me for that skein but sent me a complimentary skein of the darker version! (I would have liked the option of cancelling if one thickness of a pair is unavailable, but even so it is a very kind gesture and jolly good customer service.) Comparing the lighter shade to Daydream I was very pleased to see they are very much alike; the Tamar thread is a little paler, and the look is different because it is a much matter thread than perle cotton, but it’ll definitely work – yay!

Meanwhile, work continues on Orpheus. And as the pulled work needs more tension than my roller frame provides, a flexi-hoop was called for. Unfortunately, because of their quite fierce grip on the fabric, flexi-hoops cause rather severe creases; not usually a problem when the whole design is within its circle, but not good when the crease runs across a part where there will be stitching later on. So every evening (and this is definitely a first for me, even though it would be good practice whatever I stitch) I take the fabric out of the hoop, and in the morning I iron it to take out every suspicion of crease, only to put new ones in in the evening. I’m hoping that this way they won’t become permanent creases.

Orpheus taken out of the flexi-hoop

PS That smudge in the middle is what I’ve done so far, artistically blurred. Well, I don’t want to give too much away smiley.


Had a very enjoyable Christmas lunch with our stitching group this afternoon, and yes, I did have 12 stitched cards with me smiley. Of necessity the stitched part was rather small, but I hope the ladies realised they weren’t any the less well-meant for that.

Rummaging through my designs I decided that even my little stand-by motif was going to take too long to stitch – I can stitch it by heart, but it involves cutting and bar-wrapping which eat up time. Obviously, something non-cut was called for, like the little freebie star I did some time ago. But no beads. Too time-consuming. Perhaps a surface square filet? But that needed a bit more space in the centre, so I shortened the inward-pointing bits to open it up. I played around a bit with the inner corners, trying them both square and rounded; I think I prefer the latter as it joins the sides together a little more. And here they are: twelve little stars, all in different colours, and the second picture shows them on their cards.

Motifs for stitching group Christmas cards Stitching group Christmas cards finished

And for those of you who have some last-minute Christmas stitching to do, and who like this alternative version of the non-cut mini star, here is the chart. Get out your odds and ends of pretty threads to play with and enjoy!

Chart for the non-cut star motif

Christmas craft, twice

Last Saturday afternoon Dunchurch Junior School was buzzing with the excitement of the 2014 DBC Christmas Craft Event; more than 60 children came and made penguin wise men, gift bags, Christmas cards, sparkly candle holders, and of course stitched bookmarks!

Children stitching at the Christmas Craft event

The design this year was much freer than usual – the children were given a kit with a pinked-edged blue felt bookmark, black sticky felt to tidy up the back after stitching, 5 silver and gold star sequins, stranded cotton (blue, red or green) to attach them wherever they liked, and white, yellow, red and green crochet cotton to embellish the rest of the bookmark with letters, lines, holly leaves or whatever else took their fancy, either drawn on with gel pen or freehand. And boy did it unleash their creativity! Nimble fingers produced letters of all shapes and sizes, a great variety of constellations, satin stitch berries and even a Christmas tree.

Ruby's bookmark

Alex's bookmark

Bookmark by a girl whose name I don't know

Erin's bookmark

Katie's bookmark for her friend Sophie

I didn’t take a picture of one impressive bookmark produced at my table that day: young James put a star in each of the corners and then traced a big J in running stitch. It was the very first stitching he had ever done. Well done him! Can you imagine how proud (and surprised) his mum was?

My second Christmas craft has a rather more immediate deadline than I intended. Last year I forgot to bring cards to our stitching group’s Christmas lunch, and promised I’d make up for it by giving them all a hand-stitched card this year. That’s 12 cards. And our Christmas lunch is not next Wednesday, as I blissfully thought, but this Wednesday. I’ve got some speedy stitching to do…

Cards and Caron threads for the stitching group's Christmas cards

P.S. I’m rethinking the double cable stitch border on Orpheus, which looks as though it might make the centre a bit too crowded; the single cable stitch I’ve done so far (with small bits of double) may well be enough.

Working on Orpheus

I’ve been using a frame – and my Lowery stand – again for the first time in many, many months. Well, I always use the Lowery in that it is by my side and holds my needles and scissors by means of some little disc magnets, but I am now using it for its prime purpose of holding a frame. Orpheus is just a little too large to sit comfortably in any of my hoops except the 12″ one, which is too large for my cut of hand-dyed fabric (square designs and round hoops are never an ideal combination when trying to be thrifty with fabric).

So into the Easy-Clip frame it went, and I must say, it really is an easy frame to use; not like lacing fabric onto a slate frame, which I’ve never done but looks like a day’s job in itself judging by some of the online tutorials I found. One consequence, however, of not having the sides of the fabric secured to the frame is that tension is OK North-South, but not so great East-West, and so the central motif looks a bit elongated. In fact, it’s 8cm wide and nearly 9cm high. I hope ironing and stretching when the whole thing is finished will correct that.

A slightly elongated Orpheus

Now I’ve got to a part of the design that has pulled stitches and I’m worried the tension isn’t enough to stand up to all that pulling. I’ve decided to put the fabric into an 8″ flexi-hoop temporarily, do the stitches, then quickly take it out, iron it, and put it back on the frame for the rest of the work. Unfortunately there are four small pulled motifs which I don’t think will fit into the hoop, so they will just have to be done on the frame. It’ll be interesting to see if there is a visible difference.

While working on Orpheus I had a sudden thought that it might look better using #12 for some of the stitches; unfortunately DMC 402 doesn’t come in #12, nor does any closely-related shade, or any similar Anchor shade. Oh well. I may put a suggestion in the chart pack which stitches could look good in #12 if you happened to do it in a colour that comes in all three thicknesses. Actually, I think DMC 3813, which I’m doing the second Orpheus design in, does come in #12, so I might experiment there.

And finally, why I always stitch designs myself before putting them on the website – because sometimes it’s only when stitching a design that I realise a stitch or stitch combination which looked obvious and simple on paper actually needs a fair bit of thought when producing it with thread on fabric. The double cable stitch border surrounding the central motif will have to be done, not in the usual 2 start-wherever-you-like stages, but in 3 fairly carefully planned ones!


My stitching task for today was not stitching as such – I decided to lace the two larger Extravorganzas (the smaller ones have already been mounted in cards). Lacing is a neat finish, convenient for display and ready for framing should I decide to later, but it does take quite a bit of time and effort. However it’s also quite relaxing, in a way, so quite a good activity for a dreary Saturday afternoon.

As the organza backing is so much part of these designs, I decided to play around a bit with them, and for Extravorganza 2 I cut the orange organza into a rough floral shape large enough to cover the cut area, then backed it with yellow felt for extra brilliance. The orange shape very subtly shines through the fabric and forms a sort of ghostly frame around the stitching. It was a bit of a gamble, but I think the effect is quite, well, effective smiley.

Extravorganza 2, laced and with its shaped organza backing

For number one, in purple, I wanted a black background behind the whole thing. In itself not difficult, as I’d just got some black adhesive felt which was easily attached to the foam board (kindly cut to size by my helpful husband, who is much more dextrous with a Stanley knife than I am). Unfortunately, though unsurprisingly considering how diaphanous it is, this made the purple organza look black too. White felt to the rescue! A patch the shape and size of the cut area, covered by the organza, made the holes show up a pretty purple while maintaining a uniform dark background for the rest of the fabric.

If you’ve never laced embroidery before you may wonder what the effort is I was referring to. There are plenty of very good tutorials out there on the web (none of which I have bookmarked to share with you I’m afraid) so I’m not going to write one here, but just jot down a few notes with some pictures.

First cut your board to size; I use foam board for the very simple reason that I was offered a few sheets for free by someone who had some left over. In order to soften the lines I usually cover it with felt first, either adhesive or plain. This also means I can have different coloured backgrounds depending on what I’m lacing. Place the stitching over it and make sure it is centred, then stick a pin in the centre of each edge. Pulling the fabric straight, keep adding pins until the fabric is evenly stretched (left-hand picture). Using a strong sewing thread, lace two opposing sides by zigzagging; stagger the stitches so the fabric doesn’t get pulled apart (right-hand picture). When I’ve laced one direction I go over the threads from the beginning, pulling them taut, and it’s surprising how much slack there is in threads you thought you’d pulled quite tight!

The stitching is pinned to the foam board on all sides

Lacing the first two sides together

I hate doing corners, as I can never get them as neat as I would like. Still, they have to be done, so I cut a triangle off each corner and fold them as best I can, then secure them with pins. Lace the other two sides, take the pins out, and secure the corners with a few small stitches (left-hand picture). Check it looks OK at the front (and as undoing everything is a major pain I hardly ever decide it doesn’t…), and remove all the pins (middle and right-hand pictures). And there you have it, one laced piece of needlework and one needleworker glowing with a sense of achievement.

Corners tucked in and secured, and all sides laced

Does the front look OK?

Pins removed, all neat and tidy

Having finished Extravorganza there was one other thing to do – put the fabric for Orpheus on a frame. I’m looking forward to some more Ukrainian white work (even though in this case it’s orange…)

Orpheus ready to go

Notes on a simplified coaster

Right, so I’ve been doing some coaster stitching (it’s remarkable how much you can get done in a hospital waiting room, on the London Underground, or at an Austin Seven auction!) to try out my various ideas for quick-to-stitch coasters for charity. Definitely stick with the smaller central cut motif – it really is very versatile, and makes for a nice lacy, Hardanger-y look without too much cutting or bar wrapping.

First I tried the design without a coloured border (I also left out the four stitches in the corners of the Hardanger motif). It’s probably a matter of taste, but to me it just doesn’t look quite right; it’s not defined enough. It’s also a little on the small side. Both problems were addressed by adding a simple coloured cross stitch border, and I do think it looks more complete that way, but perhaps a little too big. Also the leaf stitch seems a bit too chunky for the smaller central motif, although their shape, as always, is very pleasing, and the whole thing did actually look OK once I put it in its coaster. I do like the effect of using Caron Wildflowers thread for the wrapped bars and picots; it adds a nice splash of colour to the centre. I’ll keep this design as a possible – not ideal, but definitely usable.

Simplified design without border

Simplified design with border

Keep those coloured picots, then, and back to the drawing board for the other bits. Using a smaller corner motif means we can move the border in by a few threads, bringing the whole design down to 60 stitches square while retaining that finished feel of a coloured frame holding the whole design together. But can I do something a bit different from simple crosses? How about a little “bird’s foot” of three stitches? I decided to try it out using some of that stunningly colourful Threadworx perle called Bradley’s Balloons. The chain stitch diamond and the border certainly looked very cheerful, and the smaller heart motifs in the corners worked well too, but I felt the thread was just a little too bright for wrapped bars and picots. Cheerful and bright is good, but we don’t want to produce coasters that are a health hazard to the eyes. So for this one I decided to go with white wrapped bars and coloured sunburst. Future coasters will use slightly more muted threads.

Simplified design with border and hearts

And another thing, not everyone likes hearts. Some people actively dislike hearts. (In designs, that is. I assume they have nothing against them biologically.) Coasters, like bookmarks, are useful presents to give to men, or so I’ve been told by several ladies who confessed it was almost impossible to buy presents for their menfolk; but people might feel coasters with hearts make less suitable man presents. An alternative design was therefore called for, about the size of the hearts but of a different shape. I decided on three small satin stitch leaves. While charting this variation I also lengthened the middle “toe” in the bird’s foot border, just to see what that would look like. Well, it looks like this smiley:

Simplified design with border and small leaves

I like both these designs, and will very likely use them alternately – hearts and small leaves, picots and sunbursts and spider’s webs. Of the borders I have a definite preference for the long-toed one. One day I will also try solid colours, to see if the coasters still look pretty and decorative when using standard, non-variegated threads (but with so many lovely variegated threads to choose from, it may be a while before I get round to the solids…). And, because recently I’ve got kits on the brain, I’m having a look at which design and which threads would work best for a coaster kit, and whether to include one or two coasters. Plus, of course, whether I can put them together for a price people are willing to pay while still making a bit of profit!