Designing a mini shisha project

Designs start and grow in very different ways, and I thought you might like to see one in action. This is a mini shisha project which I’d been doing some sketches for over the past weeks, and which got itself to the top of my list when a lady who attended the shisha mini workshop asked whether I did any other similar workshops. I told her I did a Hardanger one as well, but she said no, she meant another 2-hour shisha one. Now as I’d been thinking of putting together a second shisha mini kit anyway, I thought I might as well get it done so I could tell her and the other ladies in her craft group that yes, I did do another shisha workshop.

From the start, the two important things about this second design were a) to make use of at least one of the other shisha variations I’d already drawn and diagrammed and b) to use it in a non-floral way. Another consideration was using different stitches for the non-shisha elements. The existing workshop uses chain stitch and fly stitch, as well as sequins and beads. I was happy to use the latter again – you can’t beat a bit of extra bling in this sort of project – but I didn’t want to repeat the others. Probably stem stitch instead of chain stitch for any line elements, then, and one other stitch.

Size-wise, I wanted the new design to fit in the same aperture cards as the first one, and possibly have a leafy element so that the two could be worked as a pair; not identical, not even very alike perhaps, but with enough elements echoing each other for them to go together. In order to get away from the floral theme (which wasn’t easy as the shisha variations remind me so much of flowers) I decided on a scroll-type border. After some very sketchy sketches it was time to work things out a bit more precisely. I wasn’t too bothered about getting repeated elements exactly the same as I like the informality of much shisha embroidery, but placement is something I did get a little fussy about; I’m a bit of a symmetry nut and I felt that if things were too wonky it would probably keep irritating me. So roll on tracing paper, compasses and what back home we called a “geodriehoek” (geo-triangle), a sort of triangular ruler with angle markings on it. I’m sure it has a proper English name.

Sketches, tracing paper, compasses and so on

By the way, the robin is another mini design I’m working on, inspired by a 1920s starch advert. Who’d have thought starch could be inspiring?

But on with the shisha. When I’d got all the detail I wanted in pencil, I scanned it and continued work in my photo editing program, where I produced three variations, with 16, 24 and 32 dots around the central circle, to accommodate herringbone, Cretan and crossed long-armed fly stitch shishas, as well as the plaited fly stitch version of the first kit. I like to keep my options open.

From the start, this design had bits I was certain of, and bits that I wasn’t. Or more precisely, one bit. The definitely-here-to-stay bits are the shisha placed centrally, the four scrolly bits surrounding it, and the sequins; although I hadn’t quite decided whether to use cup sequins (shinier, but possibly a little too big and noticeable) or flat 3mm ones. The not-quite-sure-if-this-will-work bit was the leaf shape sitting in the “valley” of each of the four scrolls. They might or might not look right with the rest of the design, but to find that out I needed to stitch the certain bits first. Here they are, minus sequins for now.

The bits I'm certain of

Then I added cup sequins, and I do like the look of them. They are sequins, which links this design with the other shisha mini, but they are cup sequins, which makes them different from the other shisha mini (which uses flat sequins). I think I’ll stick with the cup sequins, but I will try one or two with the flat ones as well, just to see the difference. Finally, I worked the little leaf shapes. That is to say, I worked one. And it didn’t work. I’d opted for triple chain stitch (used in one of the Happy Hour designs), which is three reverse chain stitches emerging from three spots along a line, but anchored by the same stitch. In Happy Hour it is a nice, plump stitch. Here it just looked very thin and elongated. The problem was the size – I was trying to make it too big. Some stitches obviously only work small.

So what to put in its place? The triple chain stitches were indicated in the pattern by a small dash and three dots, all in a line, and I had already made four transfers onto some Normandie fabric, so if I could work something that used the same placement dots that would save me from having to scrap four pieces of perfectly good fabric (that’ll teach me not too get ahead of myself). I started with an asymmetric arrangement of three lazy daisies (bottom right), but neither I nor my husband, whom I bounced this idea off, liked it. All the other elements are symmetrical, and this just doesn’t fit in comfortably. Usable if absolutely necessary, but not ideal. Next up was a symmetrical arrangement of three lazy daisies (bottom left). Better. Definitely. But not as pointed as I had in mind – my original drawing shows something that is longer on the diagonal of the design, pointing to the corner, than it is wide. Still, keep that one as a possible. My third trial stitch (top left) was what I called Chinese lantern when I first drew it for Round the World: East and what I’ve since learned other people know as tulip stitch. OK, but a bit small, and just not what I wanted. Finally I tried a single lazy daisy (top right) with what would have been French knots if I hadn’t run out of thread; if you could imagine those tiny straight stitches as little round knots you’ll get an idea of what I intended.

Four options - and counting

I like the look of that final one, but it’s on the small side. And if you make a lazy daisy bigger/longer, it does what my triple chain stitch did in the first place, it goes narrow and elongated (I wish I’d remembered to take a picture of it but I stitched and unpicked it at my stitching group and I didn’t have my camera with me). So it looks like a few more experiments are called for; perhaps a more solid leaf using fishbone stitch, perhaps a leaf outline in buttonhole stitch or something knotted like Palestrina stitch. I’ll remember to take pictures and will report back soon!

Incidentally, the little robin I mentioned earlier gave me an opportunity to try out a new purchase – to transfer it I used an iron-on transfer pen from Sublime Stitching. It works really well! I was in a bit of a hurry so my tracing wasn’t the most accurate and some of the lines were definitely wonky or even double in places, but the ironing process was quick and easy (just remember to iron the fabric first so it’s warm) and the two transfers I got from this tracing were both good and clear; I could probably get at least one and very likely two more transfers from it, judging by how little difference there is between the first transfer and the second (in fact the second one, on Normandie, looks if anything a bit clearer than the first one, on twill). I’ll certainly be using this again.

Two transfers made from one iron-on pen tracing

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