A last-minute rethink

Once upon a time there was a stitch. It looked lovely on paper. It had an attractive name. It got itself included in the Round in Circles SAL. It was stitched up in a model, and given a diagram and a description. So far so good.

But the more I looked at that stitched model, the less happy I was with it. Not with the design as a whole; that was fine. But with That Stitch. It looked fussy. And muddly. And not nearly as attractive as its paper counterpart. It had been stitched in two colours; I re-stitched it in one. It looked a little better, but not much. I re-charted it to be a little bigger, and had a go at various sizes and colour combinations on my doodle cloth. None of them did anything to brighten my day.

In the end I decided to go for a different stitch altogether. Unpick, re-chart, re-stitch, draw a new diagram and write new instruction – better that than putting out a design I’m not happy with!

And what was the offending stitch? A Maltese cross. I still like the name, and I still like the way it looks on paper. I even like some of its stitched versions. I did one myself four years ago, and it surprised me at the time by looking nothing like its charted version.

Maltese Cross

So what’s the trouble with it? I’m not absolutely sure. One problem may be that in the confines of a small design I chose to do a single “unit” of Maltese interlacing instead of this bigger version which consists of five looped sections (four for the arms of the cross, plus the central one). The larger version comes out as a highly textured cross, the single unit just looks rather blobby.

A single unit of Maltese interlacing

A few other ideas I picked up from images I found on the internet, and from doodle-cloth experiments based on them:

  • The stitch seems to work best (for me at least) in two highly contrasting colours, whereas the SAL will in most cases be either all-white, or two shades of the same colour.
  • The version I liked best uses the same weight of thread for the mesh and the weaving (which I didn’t in the SAL design), and quite a light weight for its size at that. I think my combination of a heavy weaving thread and a small size made it look too dense.

The Maltese cross below shows the high-contrast, lightweight look which I think works well, and which makes me think that even the small single-unit, low-contrast version in the SAL might have looked just about OK if it had been stitched in perle #12.

High-contrast, lightweight Maltese cross

However, I didn’t want to add yet another thread to the SAL, and by now I was getting thoroughly fed up with Maltese interlacing anyway smiley, so I will keep it stored away for future use in other projects, and use my alternative stitch for the SAL. And no, I’m not telling you yet what alternative stitch!

Five basic stitch types revisited

Well, I should obviously have written about those five basic stitch types before – because no sooner had I posted this than I serendipitously found the Henry Art Gallery’s rather grandly named
Embroidery Stitch Identification Guide. It’s a very apt name as that is exactly what it does: it helps you identify stitches by classifying them and showing what they look like. It’s not an instruction manual that tells you how to work the stitch; but once you know its name you can look it up in other books which do just that (the stitch descriptions even suggest books in which you can find these instructions).

The whole Guide is interesting, but from the stitch category perspective the most interesting part is their Stitch Classification. It is uncannily close to what I remembered. There are seven, not five, categories, but one of them I would probably discard as the “Composite” class consists of two or more named stitches combined. The added condition that they are “worked in one journey” may make a difference, I suppose, but I am interested in basic stitches – the ones that composite stitches are made up of. I would also leave out the “Crossed” class as it explicitly states that these consist of straight stitches.

That leaves five sections, three of which correspond closely to the three I identified. Their “Flat” class is what I called “Straight”, except that “flat” stitches don’t pass over or under anything, which is why they need a separate category for cross stitches and the like. Even after a certain amount of thought I can’t see the need for that separation, but do let me know if you think otherwise! Their “Knotted” and “Looped” classes use the same names I did.

So we come to the two remaining classes, which (random thought that just popped into my head) are the only two to contain stitches which could be worked in more than one colour, as far as I can see. You may remember I suggested that one of the remaining classes might be corded, laced or woven, and HAG’s stitch classification does have a class called “Interlaced, plaited, or woven”. I’d prefer a less complex name and would suggest “Woven” as a sort of simple catch-all term if it weren’t for the fact that things like Pekinese stitch (as used in the border of SotW June) are so obviously not woven. Perhaps “Interlaced” would be the better choice – do you think that could include woven stitches?

Pekinese stitch used as a border

Their final class is “Couched”, which makes sense. To me this would include lattice work, though I’m not sure the Indentification Guide mentions that. There is still some overlap between the categories if you go by looks alone; to take the Pekinese stitch again, it looks rather like a series of couched loops. It is only when you look at the process (the backstitches come first, and the loops are laced through them) that you can tell it’s not a couched stitch (where the loops would be laid first and then the backstitch worked on top of them to attach them – which would, incidentally, be a very fiddly thing to do).

So here are the Five Basic Stitch Types that I will be using from now on when classifying stitches based on how they are worked: Straight, Knotted, Looped, Interlaced, Couched.

I contacted the Henry Art Gallery for permission to use some of their images (to give you an idea of what their stitch illustrations look like and what level of detail they show), but haven’t heard back yet, so for the moment I can’t – you’ll have to browse the Stitches section yourself (hover over a name for a small picture, click on it for more detail). It’s worth doing so anyway, because you may well come across stitches you wouldn’t otherwise have known about, let alone tried out!

An experimental wreath

As I was trying out various stitches on my doodle cloth, I was rather taken with one of them, a raised chain stitch arranged in a circle. Lots of texture, relatively quick, and – after a bit of trial and error with a pencil and squared paper – it looked good on the counted fabric I was using (unfortunately not all freestyle embroidery stitches can be successfully transformed into a counted equivalent, so I was particularly pleased with that).

Raised chain stitch in a circle

Does it remind you of something? Forget for a moment that it is very pink. It may be the season that put it into my head, but doesn’t it look like a Christmas wreath?

A quick-to-stitch motif that looks a bit like a Christmas wreath – I don’t know about you, but I immediately think Christmas cards. It’s lovely to send hand-made Christmas cards, but unless you choose something fairly quick to do you’ll either be stitching Christmas cards the entire year, or you just give up on the idea. Could I perhaps transform this into something usable for next year’s Season’s Greetings? If so, what would be needed? Well, for one thing, it would have to be a bit bigger; this one measures only 2cm across, which is on the small side for a card motif. About twice as big would be nice.

Now when you’re working a stitch like this on freestyle fabric, you can make it whatever size you please without too much trouble. Especially if you have one of those useful diagrams of circles divided into segments, you just pick the circle size and number of foundation stitches you want, transfer the necessary lines to your fabric and hey presto, you’re ready to stitch. On counted fabric it takes a bit more work. So back to the paper and pencil, and after some more drawing and rubbing out and re-drawing a larger circle with more foundation stitches emerged. The smaller one had been stitched using perle #8 for the foundation and #5 for the raised chain itself, so in order for this bigger one not to look too spindly I decided perle #5 and #3 were called for. Fortunately I had a perle #3 in green in my stash, though if these do make it into production I might buy a slightly brighter, Christmassy green. The foundation stitches I worked in brown – not much of them is visible, but if some of the colour did peep through it would look like twigs.

Raised chain stitch in a larger circle, single chain

OK, not too bad – add some red and gold beads as baubles, and a ribbon bow at the top, and we’re nearly there. But in spite of the perle #3 it looked a bit thin. I showed the wreath-in-progress to my husband. He said it looked a bit thin. Couldn’t I add another round of chain stitch? Yes, I could, but the foundation stitches would have to be lengthened, and because it’s a counted fabric that meant more re-drawing. Still, if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing right, as they say, so back to the squared paper.

So let’s start a new wreath. First the longer foundation stitches, in a variegated brown perle #5 I happened to have lying around.

Foundation stitches for the double-width wreath

Then the first ring of raised chain stitch – the inner ring, because if you start with the outer one it will pull towards the middle.

The first ring

I thought it would add texture if I stitched the two rings in opposite directions, one clockwise, the other counter-clockwise. It didn’t – the two seemed to cancel each other out and the texture just went muddy. So unpick the second ring and do it again; when both are stitched in the same direction the whole retains its crisp look, and this method automatically provides little gaps for the beads to snuggle into later on. Best, by the way, to work both rings anti-clockwise; makes it easier to get the needle underneath the foundation stitches.

Both rings together

Now for a bow. Big needle with a 3mm ribbon, down and up just above the wreath, then tie as neat a bow as you can manage. Alternatively, get a small ready-made bow and sew it on… Finally some red and gold beads attached randomly; actually it would have been easier to do this before tying the bow. It looks nicest when the beads sit snugly in the little gaps. I used a white thread to attach them which unfortunately is visible here and there, so it might be better to use a green thread to match the chain stitch.

And here is the finished wreath, ready to become a Christmas card!

The complete wreath with beads and bow

Next year.

Adding bling to your SAL to make the most of postage

It makes sense, doesn’t it? You order one small thing that you need for a project, and pay the standard postage. And then you realise that the same standard postage would apply if you added a few other things. Which you’d be getting practically for free. Well, postage-free anyway.

True, unsympathetic persons will probably point out that the only thing it really means is that you are spending more than you originally planned; but anyone who has the sort of hobby for which you buy materials in smallish amounts will recognise the argument, especially when “buying only the one thing you need” turns out to mean paying twice or three times in postage what the item itself costs.

So how does this sound principle lead to adding more bling to your SAL? Well, you may remember that one of the items on the SAL materials list is metallic kid leather. It is optional (I realise not everyone wants to get into goldwork), but if you decide that you’ll give it a go and you don’t already have metallic kid in your stash you will have to buy some. And unless you are lucky enough to have an uncommonly well-stocked local needlework shop, that means buying online, and paying postage.

Golden Hinde sells sensible-sized bits of metallic kid for 70p. Which sounds very affordable indeed until you find out that their minimum postage is £2.60. So what are the options? Well, one option is to buy one small piece of kid and pay £3.30. Another is to go for one of their larger pieces (9 times as big but only about 7 times the price) and still pay £2.60 postage. Or you could think of it as your golden opportunity to collect some serious bling and experiment with it in the SAL.

Without increasing the postage you can go for the larger piece of kid leather, and add 1 gram of 3mm gold spangles (about 70, more than enough for the SAL) or 4mm silver spangles (about 40, still enough) as well as 18″ of a purl of your choice. Purls (except for pearl purl, which I love and which has a brilliant name but wouldn’t work in these projects) are thin, flexible tubes of wound gold/silver/copper wire, shiny or matt, circular or angular, which you can cut into “chips” (short lengths) and use as you would seed beads or bugle beads. For the SAL, a size 6 would probably work best.

The aforementioned unsympathetic person would no doubt point out that including the unchanged postage your shopping basket now stands at £14.40 instead of £3.30 – and he’d be absolutely right. So if you’re fairly certain goldwork isn’t your cup of tea, this would be the moment to close the Golden Hinde website and stick to beads, sequins and a scrap of gold or silver lamé, a 22mm round sequin or even some shiny card instead.

But if your budget can stand it and you’d like a not-too-daunting introduction to using some of the standard goldwork materials, think about it. Because, well, don’t they look pretty?

Optional goldwork materials for the SAL, gold Optional goldwork materials for the SAL, silver

Five basic stitch types

Some time ago I read somewhere that all embroidery stitches are essentially variations on or combinations of five basic stitch types. This idea appealed to me; I am definitely a cataloguing/listing sort of person. It could also be quite useful in making sense of the bewildering array of stitches out there: classifying stitches into five types would mean that you could more easily look for stitches that are like the ones you already know, increasing your stitch repertoire with only a little effort.

Annoyingly, however, I can’t remember what the five basic types were, and I can’t remember where I read it! So I’ve been trying to reconstruct the list from memory with a bit of common sense and stitching logic. The first category was “straight”. This included things like running stitch and satin stitch – anything, in fact, where you bring the needle up and take it down without any changes of direction in between. I suppose that includes cross stitch, which is after all made up of two diagonal straight stitches on top of each other.

Then there was “knotted”; French, colonial, Palestrina, bullion, Danish, coral and so on. Again, fairly easy to identify. The third category I remember covered all stitches where you leave a loop of working thread at the front of the fabric, which you then catch as you come up. The name escapes me, but “looped” would work. This would include obviously looped things like chain stitch and lazy daisy, but also feather stitch, fly stitch and blanket stitch – in each of these you use the second half of the stitch to alter the shape of the first half, or in other words, the first half needs the second half in order to work. Without the second half, the first half would simply be a straight stitch or (in the case of chain stitch and lazy daisy) disappear altogether.

Straight, knotted and looped stitches

But what were the other two categories? Something twisted perhaps? Corded? Laced? Woven? I’ve been trying to think of stitches I know which aren’t covered by the first three categories, and from that to deduce what the other two are, but so far I have not been very successful. Any suggestions would be very welcome!

A SAL materials Christmas tree

Time for the next step in the 2016 Round In Circles Stitch-Along: you can now sign up! Another month until you can get your needles and threads out, but until then here is a bit more about the designs we’ll be stitching – something about the cost of doing the SAL, some ideas for stitchers who would like to vary their fabrics but not by colour, and a bit more information for those of you who have decided to do the White version (whether on coloured or white fabric).

Will the SAL eat heavily into your stash budget? It could, very easily, if you decided for example to stitch it using hand-dyed silk perles and silk ribbon and stranded silks on fine linen, and to use pure gold spangles instead of sequins. But it doesn’t have to. Assuming you buy your threads, beads, metallic braid and fabric from Sew & So in one purchase; sequins, sheer ribbon and a piece of felt from a local haberdashery shop; and metallic kid leather from Golden Hinde, then a white-on-white version on Hardanger fabric can be done for well under £35 (including postage and signing up for the SAL) or less than £3 per month. That is if there are absolutely no suitable threads, beads or scraps of felt in your stash and you have to buy everything from scratch, but you may well be able to use bits and pieces you already have. And of course there’s always Christmas/birthday/anniversary presents smiley.

What if you would like to experiment a bit with your fabrics, but you’d rather not use colour? Well, one option is to vary the count and raw material – that is to say, you could do some months on cotton, some on linen, some on mixed fabrics; and the counts could be anything from 18ct Davosa and 22ct Hardanger (cotton) to 22ct Fine Ariosa and 20ct, 25ct, 28ct and 32ct Lugana (cotton mix), from 18ct, 25ct and 32ct Floba (linen mix) to the Zweigart pure linens which range from 20ct to 55ct (that last one not recommended unless you’ve got extremely good eyesight…). Some of them even come with a little sparkle!

And finally a bit about stitching the SAL in white only. I have a confession to make. It’s not strictly speaking possible. The SAL includes a few stitches which only work in two colours, and one stitch which looks better in two colours than in one. This is why the materials list for the White version includes gold or silver braid. However, you could opt for a sparkly white braid (like Kreinik #4 5760 Marshmallow) – this would give enough contrast to make the aforementioned stitches work, while keeping the overal look white. If you’re happy to add a touch of gold or silver, you might want to add it to all twelve months, not just the ones where it is specified; so in those months where sparkle isn’t necessary I will suggest which stitches you could do in metallic braid anyway (if I forget, remind me).

For the stitched models I used the Colour version, but throughout 2016 I’ll be stitching the White version on those lovely hand-dyed fabrics I showed you a while ago. And this is what I’ll be stitching with, all neatly arranged into a seasonal tree shape as promised in the post title smiley. I’m looking forward to using them!

Materials for the White version of the SAL

A flower garden grows and toadstools get freckles

The Little Wildflower Garden was originally designed to be stitched on a small square of hand-dyed felt that I happened to have in my stash. The felt just fitted a 3″ hoop, so I scaled the design to fit comfortably within a 3″ circle. But the nice thing about freestyle embroidery is that you can easily make a design larger or smaller if you want. Yes, I know you can do so with counted embroidery as well, but there it depends on the count of the fabric; as freestyle embroidery doesn’t depend on holes in the fabric, it can be any size you like (within reason, of course). And so the chart pack shows two sizes of garden – one where I printed the design to be 5cm wide, and one where the width is 6.5cm.

When you enlarge a design there is a decision to make about the threads – do you use the same as for the smaller version, or do you scale the thread thickness up as well? When doing Hardanger, I’d definitely change the threads to suit the size, as you wouldn’t get the right coverage otherwise; although even there some stitchers might prefer using perle #5 and #8 on 28 count, giving a plump, well-covered look, while others choose perle #8 and #12 for a lighter feel. Here I decided to use the same number of strands for the larger transfer as for the smaller one, and see what the effect is. It turns out to be the same sort of effect as the Hardanger one I mentioned just now – the larger garden is lighter and airier, the flowers and the grass less dense. Is that a good thing? It largely depends on your tastes and preferences. Personally I like the well-filled effect of the smaller one where everything blends into a densely stitched patch, but some friends said they’d prefer the larger one where the various parts have a bit more breathing space and room to themselves. What do you think?

A little wildflower garden in two sizes

Another design that saw some changes is the Toadstools. As you know I found the outline-only version a bit flat, so I got to work with seed stitches to create a bit of shading. In hindsight, it might have been helpful to have done some pencil shading on my paper design first to decide where to put the seed stitches, but the “let’s get stitching and see what we end up with” approach seems to have worked all right – I’m happy with my freckled toadstools!

Toadstools in outline only Toadstools with seed stitch shading

The SAL approaches!

It is nearly the end of November and so in anticipation of the “Join the SAL” button appearing on 1st December I am ready and poised, with the whole SAL – all 12 chart packs with their charts, diagrams and instructions and all 24 blog posts with their explanatory close-up photographs – stored on my computer in glorious completeness, and a pile of 24 finished projects (12 on white fabric, 12 on coloured) mounted in cards and neatly tidied away in my project drawer.

If only. Or possibly even “yeah right”.

Don’t worry, we’re still on schedule here, I’m just not as far ahead of schedule as I would like to be. In some ways it would be reassuring to have the whole SAL ready for distribution throughout the coming year, but actually it’s much more fun to stitch the second set of 12 along with (or only a little bit ahead of) everyone else, and write the blog posts in real time – it also means I can react to feedback and rewrite descriptions or include extra photographs if that seems helpful.

And so I am gathering together lots of beautifully coloured Hardanger fabrics to use throughout 2016, and my doodle cloth is still at the ready to try things out and make last-minute changes if necessary. By the way, one necessary change has been to the SAL Materials List where some fairly vital words had got left out, and there was an “or” that should have been an “and”. So if you downloaded the list the moment I put it up, do please get the latest version.

And just to give you some ideas, here are the fabrics I’ve chosen for the White On Colour version: Sparklies’ hand-dyed Hardanger fabric in Cancer, Leo, Etain, Thalia and Ocean Depths, a solid coloured Hardanger (07 Dusty Green) from Spinning Jenny, and Chromatic Alchemy’s hand-dyed shade Dune.

Coloured fabrics for the SAL

As for the doodle cloth, does that provide a sneak peek at what will be in the SAL? Well, some of it does… and some of it doesn’t. You’ll have to wait and see which is which smiley.

Colours, beads and bead pots

Sometimes colours work just fine when you look at them on the skein or ball, but when they’re actually on the fabric, in stitches, they’re just not quite right. This happened on Join The Band as I was working the perle #8 stitches in the uncut purple Kloster block bands. Far too little contrast between light and dark – the dark will have to be a LOT darker! For this band, in fact, I’ll go for DMC 550, a lovely rich purple; the blue and green bands will likewise get more of a contrast.

Too little contrast between the shades

Incidentally, I’ve been having some ideas about the blue and green bands. The idea was that the purple bands would be uncut, with some surface stitching as a filling, while the blue and green bands would be cut and filled in the usual Hardanger manner (except that the cut squares are not separated by worked bars but by double-sided Kloster blocks). But while picking the new, darker filling colours I thought it would be interesting to have three different approaches: the purple ones uncut with surface decorative stitching, the green one uncut with a Hardanger filling, and the blue ones cut with a Hardanger filling. Some traditional filling stitches can be worked equally well on uncut fabric as in a cut area, as long as the square it is filling is surrounded by four Kloster blocks (I used this in the four Kaleidoscope designs, which can be worked cut or uncut according to the stitcher’s preference).

But first things first – as I was working the surface stitching in dark purple I suddenly realised that what I had taken to be French knots were actually beads. Well, I did design this a long time ago, and I’d forgotten… So off to my bead tins to find some purple beads. Ah. There weren’t any, or at least none that were dark enough to go with DMC 550. Off, then, to Sew & So, my first port of call for most supplies. As it is difficult to know what a colour really looks like from just seeing it on screen, I got two shades, one a standard-sized seed bead and one a petite. The petite bead won the colour competition hands down, and turned out to fit the design rather better size-wise as well!

Choosing beads to go with the dark purple in Join The Band

However, these new beads created a new problem: I need more bead tins! Unfortuately I can’t get those useful watchmaker’s tins any more; there is a company in America that sells them with slightly larger pots, but I prefer the smaller ones, and anyway it comes out far too expensive with postage and import duty. eBay has lots of gem pots and what have you on offer, but the containers for the pots are generally too large. Then I found 60 pots in two reasonable-sized containers at Stitch Craft Create (well, those three words anyway, although they may be in a different order). The pots are 25mm like my old ones, only a little taller; the two containers are a little bigger than my watchmaker’s tins but not too bad. And having transferred my beads to the pots and seeing the colourful picture they make, I’m happy with my new storage!

My new bead pots The bead pots, filled