Preparing for the Christmas Craft Event

Another November, another Christmas Craft Event – I don’t know how many of these Dunchurch Baptist Church has organised over the years, but this is my ninth. Perhaps I should start recycling craft projects instead of trying to come up with a new one every year! On the other hand, thinking up new projects is fun, so perhaps I’ll wait until I’ve got a back catalogue of at least ten projects before dipping into it for future events.

Bookmarks having featured rather largely in my stitching recently I thought I’d put together another one for this occasion. Not a Hardanger one, obviously, as it needs to be one of a number of crafts the children cram into two hours; and as all the children are under twelve and many of the ones ending up at my table are 7 or 8, it needs to be something relatively easy so they can all complete it (with a little help from mum or dad or gran if necessary).

Rummaging through my stash I found some star sequins and crochet cotton in various shades, as well as scraps of felt both plain and sticky-backed. Cut the felt with pinking shears, put it all together and you get two varieties of bookmark – with a name worked in whipped running stitch, or with a running stitch holly leaf and and whipped berries. The sticky felt is cut smaller and used to cover up the back of the stitching, adding some stiffness in the process. (I need to buy some more of it, and will probably go for black as it’s more neutral than green, so I’ll be able to use it for other things as well.)

2014 Christmas Craft Event - bookmarks 2014 Christmas Craft Event - bookmarks

Aesthetically I suppose the holly version would look nicer with a fly stitch leaf and satin stitch berries, but we simply don’t have the time – I have to remember it’s not a class, and anything they learn has to be picked up on the fly. But the bookmarks are decorative, they’ll make lovely gifts, and they will be something of which they can say proudly, “I made that!”

A pressing problem concerning bookmarks

Well, not really – but as it involves bookmarks and ironing it was too good (or bad, according to your definition and taste) a pun to miss. My two bookmark testers did their worst, and they (the bookmarks, that is) bore it all with fortitude; even the one with the weak spots did not go to pieces under the strain, and the stitching stood up to it all beautifully, without so much as a cut end poking out at the end of the test period. The only mild criticism from both testers was that the bookmarks are relatively chunky, which could be a minor problem when used in very light, thin books.

Far be it from me to suggest that everyone should read only thick, heavy books, and although the felt will probably compact a little with use quite naturally, I wondered whether it might not be encouraged to do so a bit more quickly. In other words, I planned to iron them. Felt being what it is, my theory was that ironing them at a higher heat than wool would normally find comfortable might cause the fibres to fuse, making the bookmark both thinner and stiffer. Time, then, to heat up the iron and put my theory to the test. There would have to be a layer of some sort between the iron and the bookmark or I’d probably end up with a ruined iron (not to mention the bookmark), so I confiscated one of my husband’s older and tattier hankies to sacrifice to this great scientific experiment.

Next was the question of when to iron the bookmark; that is to say, at what stage of production. I chose to try it both at the tasselled-but-otherwise-untouched stage and at the stitching-attached stage. Ideally I would like to use the first method as it means I can pre-iron the bookmarks in the kits; however, if by ironing them they end up so stiff and/or solid that attaching the stitching becomes a problem, I’d have to add a note to the kit instructions about ironing the bookmarks after making them up. Not an insurmountable problem as most people have an iron kicking around the house, but nicer if they don’t have to.

Because the felt I use is handmade, no two bookmarks are the same thickness. For this experiment I chose two of the turquoise bookmarks, which seem to have come out a little thicker than the other colours on average. Here they are pre-ironing, a front view and a side view.

The two bookmarks, one with patch and one without, pre-ironing A pre-ironing side view

Using the handkerchief as a buffer between the iron (set to “Cotton”) and the felt, I got to work. Nothing much happened. The bookmark looked a little smoother, and a little thinner, but there was no fusing. Perhaps this is what I should have expected from pure wool. I tried ironing a bit without the handkerchief. No fusing, no bits of bookmark sticking to the iron. More ironing. The bookmark got a little flatter and smoother still. After a while we seemed to have reached maximum compaction, so I stopped.

So was this experiment a success? Well, the fusing and stiffening I had rather hoped for didn’t happen. On the other hand, the bookmarks are definitely thinner and smoother, and they as they didn’t stiffen it is fine to iron them before attaching the patch. This is a definite plus as the one I ironed with the patch already on it came out looking just a little, well, flat. The stitching looked a bit lifeless and had lost some of its 3D quality. The enhanced smoothness doesn’t show up very well in the picture below, although it will at least give you an idea, but the side view does show the bookmarks to be thinner than they were.

The two bookmarks, one with patch and one without, post-ironing A post-ironing side view

As the bookmarks definitely looked better ironed, as well as being a bit thinner, I decided it would be worth ironing the ones already in kits, as well as the ones I’ve got ready tasselled for my charity stitching. And as I was on a roll, I then did the two small stacks of untasselled ones I have in stock as well. Out of curiosity I decided to measure the stacks; both were 6cm high. Post-ironing one was 4.5cm high, the other 4.8cm – a 20%-25% reduction in thickness! It’s always nice to get confirmation that you’ve done the right thing smiley.

An unexpected gift, and some very thin Vilene

Do you like hand-dyed fabrics? If so you probably already know about Kate at Sparklies, one of my favourite suppliers. But there are others out there, like Sam at Chromatic Alchemy – visit her Facebook page to see some of the lovely colours and patterns she produces. I happen to know her in-laws and when I heard she was thinking of trying out sparkly materials I dug out some 28ct opalescent Lugana for her to try. She dyed it in blues and lilacs in striking swirls (the picture below doesn’t do justice to the colours but at least it shows the pattern) and then gave it to me! I feel I ought to warn her about being too generous and kind, although it seems a shame when there isn’t nearly enough of either going around in the world today.

Fabric by Sam from Chromatic Alchemy

Remember my note to self about getting some more thin black interfacing for the coasters? Well, I found a great bargain on eBay, but it’s a little different from the Vilene I had before – it works perfectly well but it’s so thin it needs to be covered with baking parchment when ironing because otherwise it sometimes crumples and sticks to the iron!

A belated Knitting and Stitching Show report

It’s been a while since my last FoF, but for very pleasant reasons – first there was the Knitting & Stitching Show and my usual two-night stay in London (thank you kind sister-in-law for putting up with me once again), then my mother came to visit for a week which was lovely after her long and difficult treatment, and she was hardly on the plane back to Holland when we were off on a visit to my husband’s parents (stopping on the way to attend an auction). Now we’re back to what passes for normal here and I’ve got a little breathing space to catch up with my posting.

K&S was very enjoyable as usual; the workshop was fully booked, and in fact one lady asked if she could attend as number 13, but unfortunately I’d only brought 12 kits. Also, 12 people is really the most I can do in a workshop – even then it can be a bit of a struggle to make sure everyone gets enough attention. However, one person who’d booked didn’t turn up so the lady was able to join in after all. My favourite bit of the workshop has to be when we do the cutting, and suddenly there are gasps of surprise as the lacy look of the Hardanger almost miraculously emerges when the cut threads are pulled out – it’s always a great moment.

I had time to look around the stands as well, and had an interesting chat with the lady demonstrating goldwork at Golden Hinde where I got the gold and silver kid for Treasure Trove some time ago. I also took the opportunity of trying to find replacement threads for the discontinued Dinky Dyes perles. Stef Francis and Oliver Twists both had lovely threads, but none that would match the three DD ones. The Threadworx perles at West End Embroidery showed some promise, but still weren’t quite the thing. The people there were terribly helpful, though, going through the Weeks Dye Works threads with me and making suggestions. I noticed this at many a stand – needleworkers are quite simply a lovely helpful bunch of people! Nowhere more so than at the Calico Cat, where Carol went through all the Gloriana threads with me, and eventually gave me a skein each of stranded silk and stranded wool in the shade Monet’s Pond! If ever you need Gloriana or Valdani threads, or advice about them, do remember the Calico Cat – they haven’t got a website, but you can email them or call them at 07779 103280.

Another find was a Dutch lady selling Wonderfil threads. Most of them aren’t really suitable for Hardanger, but there was one which drew my attention: a 12wt Egyptian cotton called Fruitti (and yes, there is also a thread called Tutti. And Razzle. And Dazzle. I don’t like the names but you can’t have everything) which is similar in thickness to a perle #12. They had large bobbins which worked out cheaper but I picked a set of five small bobbins so I’d have more colours to experiment with. I’ll let you know how they stitch up. Anything else? Ah yes, five tiny wooden buttons. Remarkably restrained, don’t you think? You can see my entire haul in the picture (except for the delicious Linden Lady chocolates which had mysteriously disappeared by the time I took the photograph). By the way, isn’t the colour difference between Gloriana’s wool and silk enormous? And yet they are both given the same shade name. It makes me wonder what the silk perles of that shade are like; I may have to try them…

My modest stash haul

Kit assembly line (and one more bookmark)

Yay! My bulk purchase of felt tags has arrived, and very colourful it looks too. I’ve checked them all and although there are a few thin bits here and there they’ll probably all be usable; two are a bit doubtful, but if I use them myself for producing bookmarks rather than making them part of a kit I think they’ll be all right.

My bulk purchase of felt tags

As you may have noticed from the picture above, there’s a new shade on the block. I included two Apple Green tags in my order, just to find out what colour it was in real life! It turns out to be a pleasantly bright shade, certainly not mossy like the photograph on Blooming Felt’s website but neither, fortunately, quite so lurid as the soft cotton picture that was said to match it. There is no suitable Anchor Multicolor shade for it though, so I won’t get any more but just stitch these two up for charity using Caron Wildflowers.

Apple Green felt tags with Caron thread

Putting kits together is a time-consuming activity, so the easier it can be made the better I like it. One effective time-saving strategy is to make lots rather than one at a time (“lots” in the context of Mabel’s Fancies meaning about two dozen). So I printed out 24 sets of instructions, attached 24 cover photographs, put 48 gold-plated needles into 24 pieces of felt, cut 24 squares of fabric and all the threads needed and here is my kit assembly line (well, assembly coffee table) before the felt tags had come in – doesn’t it look colourful? As you can see I had just started on cutting the threads for the bookmark tassels. Twelve of these kits are for next year’s Knitting & Stitching Show, the others will go on sale on the website after I’ve returned from this year’s show.

The bookmark kit assembly line

And finally one more felt tag bookmark – the first one with a cross instead of a square motif.

Felt tag bookmark with a cross motif

More charity stitching ideas

One thing you need to consider when stitching for charity is that the materials shouldn’t eat up all the profits. It’s all too easy to go on a stash-buying spree to make beautiful and desirable little items, only to work out afterwards that no one is going to pay what you would need to charge to cover your costs. Buying in bulk is useful in keeping costs down, whether it’s the felt tags I ordered last week or (my latest idea) coasters, so I splashed out and got 100. I’m sure they’ll get used, if not this decade, then the next; after all, it’s not as if they’ve got a best before date!

The next question is what to put in them. Round Dozen is great for coasters, but even though the designs are relatively quick to stitch, they’re still a bit too labour-intensive when trying to get a mini production line going. So let’s see if we can’t simplify the design a bit while keeping its decorative qualities.

First we’ll do it on Hardanger fabric instead of 25ct Lugana so that a smaller design will sufficiently fill the coaster. The originals are a fairly tight fit anyway, and a bit more breathing space may not be a bad thing. Make the central part smaller, keep the coloured diamond – chain stitch, I think, as it’s a bit quicker than double cable stitch – and leaf stitch in the corners for no other reason than that I particularly like leaf stitch. In the first draft I had some coloured surface stitches snugly fitted into the corners of the central motif, but perhaps they’d look better as a coloured border, although that is a bit more work and may make the thing too big. I will have to try out both designs and see which one works best.

Simplified Round Dozen design for charity coasters

Simplified Round Dozen design for charity coasters

Ah. I’ve just realised that the border consists of double cross stitches. I like double cross stitch – it’s a quick and easy way of adding some 3D texture to a project, and it looks great in cards. Unfortunately there is only so much 3D texture that a coaster can accommodate, so back to plain old single cross stitches. And now let’s get some models stitched up!

Note to self: get some more thin black Vilene.

Congress cloth Hardanger and freedom to vary

Does Hardanger have to be stitched on Hardanger fabric? If you have ever browsed Mabel’s designs (or those of many other designers), you’ll know that the answer to that is “no”. In fact, when Hardanger embroidery started there was no Hardanger fabric. As long as the fabric is an evenweave, and as long as you can find threads in suitable thicknesses, you can use whatever you like, from 14ct afghan fabric to 55ct linen (I’ve seen the pictures to prove it, but haven’t been brave enough to try it myself). Even so, the fabric of choice of Nordic Needle’s Roz Watnemo has always struck me as unusual – Congress cloth.

Why unusual? It’s not the count; at 24 threads to the inch it’s perfect to use with perle #5 and #8. But it’s not a fabric – it’s a canvas. That means it’s very stiff and also quite open, both of which seemed to me unsympathetic to Hardanger. My main questions were: if the weave of the fabric is relatively open, will there be enough contrast between it and the cut parts? Won’t the stiffness make it harder to cut, and practically impossible to tuck in the cut ends? Will the stiffer threads have enough “give” when working bars, for example when pulled together in a wrapped bar? There was really only one way to find out. Try it.

To my surprise, it worked. Of course it shouldn’t really have surprised me – if an experienced Hardangerista like Roz Watnemo swears by it, it’s unlikely to be impossible. Even so, I hadn’t expected it to stitch up just as quickly as on my usual fabrics.

Hardanger on Congress cloth

So how did the experience differ from my normal stitching? And will I use Congress cloth again? To begin with the first question, for one thing the material is much stiffer. You couldn’t use a hoop if you wanted to, I think. But then, you don’t need it, as tension is not really a problem with such a stable material. With a small snippet of a project like this, not having to use a hoop is quite an advantage, as it saves on material – you can stitch in hand on a little off-cut, rather than having to use a 5″ square to fit a 4″ hoop (note to self: must try a 3″ one to see if it will do; perhaps if I work “in the well”?). Not sure how I’d like to stitch anything big on this canvas, though I suppose a roller frame would work if you didn’t want to stitch a large project in hand.

Cutting was fine, the squissors coped beautifully with the stiffer threads, but as predicted, poking in the cut ends is more difficult on Congress cloth than on Hardanger fabric or Lugana (looking at pictures of Congress cloth Hardanger projects online I didn’t find any without visible cut ends). They do eventually bend back on themselves, but they are more likely to unbend again and poke their annoying little heads through the stitches. Working the bars was much easier than I’d expected: the canvas had enough “give” to allow me to pull the threads together. And finally, the look of it. That is to a great extent a matter of taste, but for me the weave is just too open – too much of the coloured backing shines through, making the contrast with the cut areas less striking.

Congress cloth vs Hardanger fabric

The answer, then, is no, I won’t be using it again; at least not for Hardanger. But it was an interesting experiment to try, and I can see it would be a useful material for building up 3D Hardanger shapes such as Christmas ornaments.

As I was stitching the patch for the last of my sixteen bookmarks yesterday, I suddenly realised that I’ve completed the wrapped bar/sunburst models needed for potential kits (except for the pink and turquoise versions as I had only one tag of each and they’d already been made up with woven bar/dove’s eye patches). This means that I am now free to stitch any future felt-tag-bookmarks-for-charity with whatever backstitch motif & bar & filling combination I’d like to use. To celebrate I finished number sixteen with picots smiley.

A picot felt bookmark

When I’ve ordered some more tags I’d like to try personalising one or two by stitching initials underneath the patch (chain stitch, probably). And stitch a few with the little baptism cross – being rectangular rather than square it would look good on the rectangular bookmark, and both good causes I am stitching for (Dunchurch Baptist Church's new building, and the Elijah Gambia foundation) are Christian, and likely to attract a fair number of fellow Christians to their charity sales. It looks like I’ll have plenty of enjoyable little projects to keep me occupied even if I don’t get round to my larger designs – and of course the annual Christmas Craft Event is looming, so I need to think up a project for that as well!

PS Two of the bookmarks are now in the hands of bibliophile friends who have promised to test-drive them ruthlessly. We’ll see how they stand up to the treatment…

Hand-made felt and the right surroundings for a sunburst

Would you believe it, I found I had six more tags than I thought – so I can do 16 bookmarks before having to think of ordering more! Here are the six different colours all made into bookmarks, and the first three bookmarks to use sunburst stitch instead of dove’s eye.

All six colours made into bookmarks The first three bookmarks with sunbursts

More about the sunburst stitch later, but first the tags. It’s been really enjoyable making these bookmarks, and I’d love to make some more, but there are a few things to consider before I put my order in. First of all, much as I love these bookmarks, will other people love them enough to buy them? After all, they are meant to raise money for charity. Secondly, are all colours equal? Are the pink bookmarks going to appeal as widely as the dark blue or purple ones? And what about that unknown green? Thirdly, am I or am I not going to produce Felt Bookmark Kits? I’m tempted to put together at least one set of twelve, as my project for next year’s Knitting & Stitching Show – it would make a nice change from the needle books, which I will have used twice already by then. Fourthly, how many do I get? The difference between an order of 16 and an order of 60 is 8p per tag. And finally (and rather importantly), are the tags up to the task?

There is a reason for that last question. You may remember that one problem was that the little hole in the tag (or rather, the felt around the hole) wasn’t strong enough to hold the tassel; but that could be got round by trimming the tag and taking the tassel through with a large-eyed needle. A bigger worry is that, being hand-made, the felt isn’t equally thick throughout. In most of the sixteen tags that I have the irregularity isn’t big enough to matter, but in at least one it looks as though over time and with a fair bit of use it may start to come apart.

Thin areas in the hand-made felt

Now this was just one out of sixteen; and it will probably be all right. But if I were using these tags to make up kits, I’d probably choose to discard this one as not being up to scratch, which means the money spent on that tag has been wasted. So here’s what I’ll do: write to Blooming Felt (who have been very helpful in answering my previous questions) and ask whether there is a way of guaranteeing that I’ll get only usable tags, and then place an order for sixteen (the maximum number I can get at their lowest postage) including one Apple Green.

I promised you more about the sunburst stitch and here it is – my experiments with different bars. The easiest one to work is the sunburst in woven bars, and it looks great when the sunburst is worked in colour against white bars (1st picture). White on white it gets a bit cluttered, even though I pulled the woven bars quite tightly so they were thinner than usual (2nd picture). Working a sunburst in wrapped (3rd picture) and double wrapped bars (4th picture) is more fiddly, because the loops around the bars aren’t anchored (with woven bars the loops go through the bars rather than around them, so they stay put). This makes the double wrapped version more effort than it’s worth as it really isn’t any less cluttered than the woven bar version, which is much easier to work. That leaves the wrapped bar version, which is the one I will go for if these do make it into kits – a bit more work, but a nice open, airy look.

Coloured sunburst stitch in woven bars

Sunburst stitch in woven bars

Sunburst stitch in wrapped bars

Sunburst stitch in double wrapped bars

More about bookmarks

Three more felt tag bookmarks have been finished – they really are very quick which is just what I want. True, I pre-tasselled the tags and pre-cut the threads and fabrics, which makes the whole process a bit quicker still (quite a production line, in fact), but I do think that an experienced stitcher could put together one of these, start to finish, in about 2 hours. Ideal for charity stitching, or indeed for swiftly producing a good number of small Christmas presents. It might be an idea to put some kits together!

Three more felt tag bookmarks

As straightforward running stitch is not quite secure enough for my liking in attaching the patch (the first bookmark has been unpicked and restitched) I tried two different patterns: a zigzag (below right) and running stitch turned 90 degrees – perhaps you could call it perpendicular running stitch (below left). Both use more thread than ordinary running stitch but both definitely look and feel more secure. Another observation: the slightly stiffer Hardanger fabric (left) behaves better than the softer, floppier Oslo (right).

Two different ways of attaching the patch

On the whole I incline towards perpendicular running stitch as it is quicker to do, and also a little less noticeable. Both methods, if pulled fairly firmly while stitching, make the patch “puff up” and give a slightly padded effect. Both methods should not be looked at too closely on the back of the bookmark, but I hope people won’t mind that. One way of making the back neater is to attach the patch with thread the same colour as the tag, but unfortunately that would make it stand out rather on the front, and I’m not sure it would look as good as with white securing stitches.

Talking of colours, the Blooming Felt tags come in eight different shades; one of them is Ivory, which wouldn’t work unless you used coloured fabric, then the six colours I’ve got, and one more called Apple Green. The picture on their website, however, looks more of a mossy green. A very pretty colour, but not particularly apple-y. (It didn’t help that the picture of the Turquoise tag looked quite a different shade from the turqoise tag I’d just been using, making me think they might have changed the colour since I last ordered from them.) So I wrote to ask what DMC shade Apple Green was closest to, and quickly got a very helpful reply saying that they sell DMC soft cotton in shades to match their felts, with a link to the one that matched Apple Green. Well, what can I say.

Blooming Felt's Apple Green felt tag Blooming Felt's Apple Green soft cotton

With such a difference between the two pictures it would be anybody’s guess what Apple Green actually looks like, but fortunately I remembered that some DMC’s soft cotton shades match their stranded cotton shades, and both this one and the turquoise soft cotton happen to be shades I have in my stash. Turquoise is definitely like the tag I already have, and Apple Green is bright rather than mossy. In a way that’s a shame as I rather like mossy green; and this bright green will probably not go with any of the Anchor Multicolor perles. What it comes down to is that I’ll just have to order one to see what, if anything, it will go with.

But first there’s six more tags to finish. So far I’ve used woven bars and dove’s eye for all of them, and I’ll do one of each colour that way. The other four, which are duplicate colours, I’ll vary a bit; especially if I’m going to make them into kits, it would be good if the patch wasn’t exactly like the Mini Kit ones. I’m leaning towards using sunburst stitch (as used in Floral Lace: Forget-Me-Not and Song of the Weather: November) but haven’t quite decided yet what bars to surround it with. So far I’ve only used it with woven bars, but I’ll try it out with wrapped and double wrapped as well, plus perhaps some slightly different backstitch motifs.

Sunburst stitch

Worrying thought: I haven’t actually tried out any of these bookmarks in a book…

Charity bookmark ideas

Not having stitched at all for some time now (I just can’t seem to get round to picking up a project), I felt I needed something small to get me back into the swing of things. How about some of those charity bookmarks I’d been thinking about? But I still needed to work out some simplified finishes – the variegated buttonhole edge looks lovely but unfortunately is the most time-consuming part of the whole bookmark. Idea: stitch the adapted bookmark design, attach it to felt with running stitch, then cut around it with pinking scissors, and fray the fabric up to the running stitch. We’re preparing for a trade fair at the moment (for the day job, not for Mabel), but I’ll try this out when we’re back.

Then I had another idea. (Two ideas in one day, I was obviously on a roll.) Remember those felt gift tags from Blooming Felt? How about threading a tassel through the hole of the gift tag, then attaching a little Hardanger motif to the tag, and using it as a bookmark? It wouldn’t be quite so long as most bookmarks, but after all there is nothing against slightly shorter ones. Might even be useful if you read a lot of small books.

Gift tags and a purse from Blooming Felt

I worked it out in a bit more detail. Use the matchbook design, working the backstitch motifs in a variegated perle #8 to match the colour of the tag. Make a tassel from some more of that variegated perle together with a little white perle, and attach it by feeding a loop through the little hole in the tag, then pulling the thread ends through the loop (I’m sure there’s a name for this sort of fastening but never having been a boy scout – or even a girl guide – I have no idea what it is).

Felt tags and variegated perle to make bookmarks

Here I hit the first snag. When pulling the tassel taut, the thin edge of the hole pulled away from the tag, leaving me with a disconnected tassel clinging on to a wispy scrap of felt, and a hole-less tag. Hmm. This obviously needed some thought. I decided to trim the tag so it looked nice and tidy again, then use a needle to pull the bunch of threads through the felt until there is an equal length of threads on both sides, and knot the whole bunch together. This worked better and the tassel withstood my experimental tugs admirably. The little Hardanger motif was soon stitched, so all that remained was to attach it. I realised it would be difficult to trim the fabric after it was attached to the felt, so I trimmed it first, then worked running stitch all around it, two threads from the edges. Fray up to the running stitch, and voilà, bookmark!

The tag with its tassel, and the finished stitching Prepared tags with their tassels The finished gift tag bookmark

Now I did say “first snag”, a little while back. There were two more. One is that it’s quite fiddly to get the motif on to the tag straight. I kept tugging and adjusting while putting in the running stitch, and it still came out ever so slightly crooked. We may just have to accept that as being part of its genuine hand-made charm. The final snag is that although I think the running stitch is secure enough, in one spot it looks as though the fabric might one day try to escape, especially if it is handled a lot – which, as a bookmark, of course it will. So I may use a slanted stitch for the other ones, which should prevent any of the frayed edge from working loose. And then all people need to do is buy them at the Charity Fair!