Stitching while…

Do you “stitch while”? Stitch while waiting at the airport or the dentist, stitch while on holiday, stitch while manning a stand or shop when there aren’t that many customers – it’s remarkable how much stitching you can get done while doing other, relatively inactive things. Last week there was a Craft Fair at our church in aid of the building fund, and one of the stands there was mine. One half of the stand was covered in completed projects to demonstrate what you can do with needlework (Bible cover, lap tray, box tops, framed, ornament, cushion, etc.) while at the same time showing some of the designs available from the website, and the other half had items for sale, such as chart packs, kits, cards, bookmarks, coasters and shopping bags.

Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Sale part Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Show part

The Fair attracted a good number of visitors, but around lunch time the attractions of home-made soups, artisan bread and home-made cakes served in the rear hall proved to be a greater lure than the range of unique Christmas presents available in the front hall, and so there was time to do some stitching. In fact I’d been stitching off and on the whole morning, as it makes a nice talking point and offers an opportunity to demonstrate squissors or show a design in action.

Now some time ago I bought some felt “luggage labels” to make into bookmarks, and I got a little felt purse at the same time to experiment with, but I never could decide what to do with it. I’d been thinking of using tissue paper to stitch on felt, and the purse being black I thought it would look rather good with the Little Wildflower Garden on it. It was also a small enough project to do while keeping an eye of the stand – perfect! What I hadn’t considered was that it wasn’t just small, it was also very fiddly; stitching through tissue paper, and trying to manoeuvre needle and fingers inside the purse. Even with the shortest needle I could find fastening off was quite a challenge! But it worked, and here it is:

Little Wildflower Garden stitched on a black felt purse

A couple of days after the Fair I travelled to Holland to visit my mother for a few days, and as she sleeps a good deal because of her illness I knew I’d have a fair amount of time on my hands. Some of that would be taken up with doing the shopping and the washing up and so on, but there would be plenty of time left, and I’d been thinking of a suitable project to take with me, bearing in mind that I travel with hand luggage only so that the Millennium frame plus lap stand were out of the question. It needed to be something small and portable. At the Fair I’d quickly sold out of coasters, and two people had asked whether I could make some more to order in time for Christmas – just the thing to work on both at my mother’s and at the airport! The only problem was that although I bought some embroidery scissors last time I was in Holland, I didn’t have any squissors there, and I didn’t want to risk trying to take a pair through airport security. But then I remembered a fairly plain pair that I was sent as a sample some years ago; its action isn’t as smooth as the titanium-coated ones, but it is serviceable, and more importantly if it were confiscated at the airport I wouldn’t mind very much. Well, it wasn’t, so it now stays at my mother’s for future use, and I was able stitch (and more importantly, cut) my Hardanger projects. I returned last Thursday night with six of them complete and ready to be made into coasters, in time to deliver them at church tomorrow. Another brick for the new building smiley.

Six small Hardanger projects ready to be turned into coasters Six coasters ready to become Christmas presents

I’ve got a lap cat!

One of the most important criteria for any needlework stand is, of course, whether it will accommodate a cat. I didn’t have our resident feline with me when trying out the Aristo, but fortunately it turns out that it is exactly the right height for Lexi to drape herself across the bottom part while leaving room for my hands to manoeuvre underneath my stitching. Just. Well, that’s a relief – I might have had to send it back!

The Aristo lap stand, with cat

I’ve got a lap stand!

Some weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to try out the Aristo lap stand at Needle Needs’ workshop. I liked the idea of the lap stand, but was worried about the wobble that was noticeable in the video demonstrating it. It’s quite an understandable wobble – a lap, after all, is not a flat and solid surface. But would it drive me up the wall when working with it, or would I hardly feel it was there after a while? Quite an important question when you’re considering a piece of equipment that isn’t exactly cheap. Don’t get me wrong, Needle Needs’ workmanship is worth every penny, but not if this extremely well-made stand would end up just, well, standing, somewhere in a dusty corner. (Yes, there are dusty corners in our house. Sorry. Housework just isn’t one of my hobbies.)

As we would be in the vicinity while travelling from an auction to my parents-in-law, I’d therefore arranged to drop in at the workshop and have a try. They promised they’d have one there for me, not to take away, unfortunately, as they were all spoken for, but I was welcome to have a careful go at using it with my own Millennium frame. So far, so good. Except for one slight snag – I have a sawdust allergy. A workshop full of wood-turning and wood-sanding and other woodworking activities is not the ideal place for me. Mr John Crane (I think it was he) very kindly brought the lap stand out to where I was, and having admired the beautiful smooth wood and lovely lines we looked about for a place to sit. There wasn’t one. So in the end I tried out the Aristo sitting sideways in our car, which actually worked out quite well – after all, if I could work with it comfortably in that position, my usual easy stitching chair should pose no problems whatsoever!

Trying out the Aristo lap stand

Well, what can I say? It worked. It worked very well. So I asked whether, if I ordered one now, I could come and pick it up early next year when we had another auction-plus-parent-visit. Of course, he said. Or you could have this one.

I think I may have looked practically half-witted as I stared at him in amazement. I’d been told very specifically that I would not be able to take one home. But he explained that they had discovered a knot in the wood of this one, and so they weren’t going to send it out. The knot, let me explain, is a purely cosmetic flaw, if you can even call it that. It has absolutely no effect whatsoever on how well the stand works, and personally I think it gives the whole thing a bit of extra character. So when he said I could take it with me, at a bit of a discount, what did I do?

Actually, I still hemmed and hawed a bit. Incredible, isn’t it? Then my husband decided to step in and buy the thing for me as a Christmas/birthday/anniversary present. And so five minutes later we drove off with an Aristo lap stand on the back seat, and a ridiculous grin on my face. And I used the stand while at my in-laws’, and I’ve used it at home, and it’s lovely, and I am terribly pleased with it.

But as I was using it the other day, I had a thought. The lap stand needs to be as level as possible, so that it doesn’t work very well when you’re sitting in very low or very high chairs. This obviously limits its use a little – what if your favourite chair happens to put your lap at an angle? Well, what about having a little bean bag attached to the bottom? You know the sort I mean, they come attached to lap trays so that your soup doesn’t slosh about when you’re having dinner in front of the telly. If the Aristo came with one of those, ideally as a detachable accessory, wouldn’t that just make it perfect? Perhaps I should suggest it to Needle Needs…

P.S. While we were at the workshop, I was also given an opportunity to see the prototype of the redesigned Necessaire floor stand. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, and he asked me not to mention particulars as it is not on their own website yet, but he showed us various improvements and further plans and all I could think was, “Great, now I’ll need to get one of those as well!” smiley. No, not really, as I have my Lowery and I Do Not Need two floor stands. If I keep telling myself that often enough, eventually I’ll believe it. Perhaps.

Bits and pieces (II)

Once a month there is a craft group at our village library; everyone brings whatever they are working on and we have tea or coffee and cake and a chat. This time I decided to bring the Toadstools. In a sense they are finished – all the outlines have been worked in different “thicknesses” of stem stitch, and although I want to make a few changes to some of the colours, otherwise I could just leave it as it is. But it looks a bit flat, and I decided it could do with a little shading in the form of seed stitch. Having decided this, I then proceeded to ignore the project entirely for several months. But I needed something smallish to take to the library, and Toadstools fitted the bill. In the end (and I will explain why a bit later) only a little bit of seed stitching got done, but I am rather pleased with its effect and will definitely do some more of it; with no chart to follow and only some standard DMC stranded cottons needed this may be just the right project to take when we visit my husband’s parents later this month.

Some shading is added to a toadstool Seed stitch shading

So why did I get so little seed stitching done? Because at the very last minute before leaving the house I popped a piece of hand-dyed felt in a 3″ hoop – just to see if it would fit, you understand – and when it did I thought I might as well take it and do some flower embroidery on it using the colours in my Toadstool project box. And that’s what I did; with a little sketch I’d scribbled on a bedside notepad the night before as a rough guide, but otherwise just seeing where it would go. Unfortunately the Toadstool box is not very well-stocked with blues and purples which meant I couldn’t work a planned cornflower and sprig of lavender, so I then did some seed stitching, taking the flowered felt home in its incomplete grass, daisies and one poppy stage.

Freestyle flowers on felt - the beginning

In the evening I got out my thread boxes and chose two blues for the cornflower, but for the sprig of lavender I decided to blend 2 strands of lilac with one strand of light green, and I’m rather pleased with the look of the resulting French knots.

blended threads used for the lavender

Finally, having stitched everything that was in my sketch, I added an ear of wheat. I felt the design could do with something yellowy, and something tall. I had to cheat a bit by taking the stem behind stitches I’d done before; when I stitch this design again I’ll start with the wheat. Writing a list of colours and stitches used (as much as an aide-memoire for myself as for possible future use in a chart pack) another thing I changed is the way the cornflower is worked. Here it is a small circle of dark blue fly stitch, with a large circle of medium blue fly stitch on top. The effect of the fly stitches on top is fine, but underneath simple straight stitches radiating from the centre will do just as well and be less bulky. And finally the middle daisy – that needed to come down a bit. So based on the finished stitching I cleaned up the drawing and made it into a proper line transfer, with all the parts in the right place and order.

The finished flowers

And then I added a bee.

The finished flowers, with bee

Well, what can I say – I like little creatures in my embroideries. (Stitched ones, that is; let no real-life moth dare come near them!) And I’ve been wanting to try out a bi-coloured bullion knot for ages. Anyway, I’m happy with how this came out, and in its cleaned-up form (with or without the rather challenging bee) it might work rather well as a beginners’ workshop; perhaps another one for the Church Building Fund? All I need now is a good method for transferring a design on to felt…

Bits and pieces (I)

Stitching-wise, it’s been a bitty week – and none of it what I should have been stitching! Still, I’ve made progress on Join The Band, got some useful finishing done, and I’ve been trying out a couple of ideas which I’m sure will be useful as well some day.

The finishing involved all those little shisha tiles I stitched to find the version that I want to use for a second shisha kit. There they were, in a pile on the dining room table (which doubles as my place-to-put-projects-in-progress – as well as folders full of sketches, boxes of threads, a magnifier light, transfer pens, and my recently acquired lightbox), waiting for me to decide what to do with them. I could just have kept them as a record of all the variations, but I have photographs of them all and it seemed a bit of a waste, so an evening of production line cutting, padding and sticking turned them into 10 cards.

10 Shisha Tile cards 10 Shisha Tile cards

With Join The Band I’m finishing all the guilloche bands before getting to the cutting. At first I intended to complete each band before moving on to the next, but then – as with the cards – I got a bit of a production line going, finishing all the stem stitch first (done), then adding the satin stich (two more left to do), and finally the lacing and French knots (only the middle one completed as yet). I decided to take a picture for my records because at the moment the project shows all these stages in progress.

Building up a guilloche stitch

And the ideas I’ve been trying out? More about those next time!

Buying and trying at the K&S Show

Well, I’m back from the Knitting & Stitching Show (have been for some days now, in fact) and I had a lovely time. Quite a bit of my London visit was actually spent outside Ally Pally, walking in all sorts of places both familiar and new; on Friday I decided to get off the train at Hampstead Heath and walk from there to the Show, which turned out to be a wonderful walk showing me lots of bits of London I hadn’t seen before, as well as giving me rather sore feet by the time I arrived at Alexandra Palace two and a half hours later. And then I was on those feet for another 90 minutes teaching the Shisha workshop. Possibly not the best way of organising the day…

Besides teaching I did get to do some shopping as well (now there’s a surprise) – some pearl purl #2 in gold, silver and copper, and a lovely wire check in silver, as well as some very striking copper kid leather from Golden Hinde, where I also had a look at some materials that so far I had only seen online. A very useful exercise as it showed me that one thread I was considering was far too thin, and a certain braid was much too heavy, so I could cross them off my wish list. At Calico Cat I got a skein of golden yellow Gloriana Lorikeet wool which I intend to use for couching, to contrast with a couched gold thread (whether real metal or just a metallic-looking one). And finally I got some closely-woven cotton fabric for freestyle embroidery.

Purchases at the Knitting & Stitching Show

That I got at Rowandean‘s stand, where I had a much-needed and very relaxing sit-down, and made grateful use of the opportunity to do some impromptu stitching. Unfortunately I didn’t write down the name of the kind lady who hosted it and who does all Rowandean’s designs as I thought I would remember, which predictably I didn’t. Something like Katrina or Kristina and a last name beginning with Wi, I think. On one side of their stand there was a table covered in thread, pins and bits of organza, and surrounded by very comfortable and happy looking stitchers. I joined the throng, was handed a needle and a hoop with fabric that had some lines and dots on it, told how to create a floral picture by pinning bits of organza to the ground fabric and then stitching over them, and then just got on with it, putting a purple French knot here and a bright red lazy daisy there, until I felt it was done. The idea was to use only basic stitches like the ones I mentioned just now plus some long straight stitches, but I will admit to adding some fly stitches secured with French knots – I wanted to depict the sort of lavender that has flowers with bits sticking out, or possibly something like a wild orchid.

A bit of organza embroidery at Rowandean

I liked the ground fabric so much I bought a fat quarter of it, and I remembered the hand-dyed organza I bought some years ago and some of which I’ve used for Extravorganza; there is still a fair amount left in various colours, so I will have a go at some more of this style of embroidery – it’s very relaxing to do and the finished projects will make great cards. While I was unearthing the organza I also came across some hand-dyed felt I’d bought at the same time, and that might work as well as the basis for simple floral designs like these. I can feel some experimenting coming on!

21st Century Yarns silk organza 21st Century Yarns felt

The Day of the Trivets

When I ordered the, alas, unsuccessful Stitchmaster seat stand I tried to make the most of the postage by ordering a few other things as well (well, that’s my excuse). Just the usual stuff, you know, a few skeins of soft cotton for the Shisha Clover, a couple of trivets. Trivets? Yes. I’d been sent the Sew & So catalogue and saw them there, looking rather like oversized coasters. As I’m always looking for ways to finish or display projects, I decided to get two to see whether I liked them. Here they are, with three possible projects to fill them: Flora, the green Wedgwood, and Tudor.

Two trivets, and some possible 'fillings'

The trivets are made of quite solid plastic, and each comes with an insert to wrap the stitching around and an adhesive backing which is white on the adhesive side, cork on the other. Having wrapped all three designs around the smaller card and pushed them into a trivet it soon became obvious that Tudor was just a little too big – no breathing space. Both the others worked well, but there was one small problem: the white of the adhesive backing shows through the plastic rim of the trivet, and although it looked just about OK with the coloured fabric of Wedgwood, it didn’t do anything to show off Flora. The solution turned out to be some adhesive black felt which I stuck to the back before attaching the cork backing. A bit fiddly, but I’m happy with the result. Not sure whether I’ll actually put my hot pans on them, though…

Cork backing on the trivet Flora and Wedgwood mounted in the trivets

How a shisha clover changes

I was getting on really well with the Shisha Clover. My order of working the various parts was not exactly as it will be in class, but that shouldn’t be a problem. On Monday evening I’d finished everything (including the clover outline) except for one part – an outer outline of fat, juicy French knots made with plump soft cotton to go between the top tear drop’s inner outline, and the clover outline. I’d done these before on other designs, and I like the look of them. They make a statement, they are bold. And when I’d stitched them the statement they made was “we’re too bold for this design”.

Don’t you just hate it when your stitches talk back to you?

Anyway, there was no help for it; they’d have to go. But what would the thing look like without them? I should really have been able to remember – after all, they’d only been there for ten minutes or so – but I couldn’t. And although I’d taken several progress pics, I hadn’t taken one at that particular stage. What if I took them out and then decided it did after all look better with them in? I turned to my photo editing program and a bit of digital French knot removal. The conclusion: with the French knots it looks fussy and cramped, without them it looks bare.

With French knots, or without?

My first idea was to take out the knots and re-do them in a thinner threads, closer to the purple wool outline. I wasn’t absolutely sure this would work, but surely it must be better than the big French knots. Foolishly, I decided to sleep on it. The result: red ghosting when the knots had been removed. And in places where it wouldn’t be covered. Help! By now desperation was setting in, so I created a little mild ghosting on a corner of the fabric and then dabbed it with bleach. This morning that ghosting had practically disappeared and the fabric had not disintegrated. It might still disintegrate in the long term, but I wasn’t too bothered by that right now, as long as it lasted until the workshop in November.

The ghosts of French knots

The overnight ghosting turned out to be more persistent, and of course there were the pencil dots of the transfer, but on the whole it worked out all right. Except for the bit where I got some bleach on the green outline and turned some of the hand-dyed cotton white… Fortunately I found a crayon in the right shade smiley.

The ghosts are getting fainter - but so is some of the colour

So it was time to stitch. I still wasn’t sure about using French knots of whatever size and was debating what to do when a friend on the Cross Stitch Forum mentioned that she preferred the big knots to the empty version because it sort of echoed the lacy edge of the bottom motif. Bingo! The bottom motif uses a fly stitch shisha variation, so why not use fly stitches in red coton à broder around the purple wool? Not all the way around, but in the same way as the left and right-hand motifs, and working the stitches in graduated size. And so I did. And it worked. Thank you Sally Squirrel for your brilliant suggestion.

Shisha Clover finished

And if you would like to stitch the Shisha Clover yourself, and you’re in the neighbourhood of Rugby on Saturday 14th November, do join me at the Percival Guildhouse day class.

The Stitchmaster seat stand

Well, last Friday my Stitchmaster Seatstand (one word, which looks a little odd I must say) arrived, and although I had expected it to need assembling, I was a bit taken aback by how flat and in bits it looked! Still, I have been known to put together a flat-pack bookcase virtually single-handedly with only a few screws left over, so I figured that as long as I took my time and didn’t rush things (especially as it would need to be pristine should I decide to return it) I should be fine.

The seat stand, as it comes

You may feel that the “should I decide to return it” was a little pessimistic. The reviews on Sew & So’s website are almost entirely positive, and even the one person who didn’t like it seemed to blame herself rather than the stand. Even so, I bore the possibility in mind.

The first step was to unpack everything and read the instructions to see if all the bits were there. They were, but what immediately struck me was that they didn’t look particularly well finished. Not that there were big splinters or anything, but several of the slots were rather rough on the inside and one of them looked as though the movement of the securing screw when adjusting the part’s position might well take a thin strip of the wood off. I also found that the holes for the long screw that kept the upright to the base didn’t quite line up. This was a bit of a problem because forcing the screw in would probably make the thing unreturnable, something which I was now seriously beginning to consider. I decided to leave that part for the moment and to assemble all the other parts first. Oddly enough the instructions showed some of the bolts going in one way, while the picture on the box clearly showed them going in the other way round. The bolts all had a “shoulder”, a slightly thicker part just underneath the head, which wouldn’t go into the holes. My husband assured me that this was fine, they would sink into the wood when tightened sufficiently, but again I didn’t really want to try that for fear of damaging the wood.

The seat stand, still in bits Which way do the bolts go in?

Bearing all this in mind, the stand I put together was undoubtedly not as stable as it would have been if I had forcefully tightened all the nuts and done up the bottom screw right into the wood. Even so, I wasn’t convinced. The Millennium is not the lightest of frames, and needs something pretty solid to support it. And notwithstanding my husband’s reassurances about the bolts he did think it would probably need a shim to keep the horizontal bar from drooping a little – even without the frame on it. Then there was the wedge that supports the slanting arm which is attached to the upright. From the pictures I had expected a much gentler angle, but this was very steep, and when I tried the stand (very carefully, what with the various nuts and bolts not having been done up at their tightest) the frame had very little tilt backwards – almost like having it on a fairly upright easel.

The supporting wedge is much steeper than expected

Finally, there were the supporting arms. I realise that the Millennium is not an everyday frame, and that it is quite chunky compared to others (though not much more so than, say, Q-snaps), so I wasn’t too surprised that the little dowels on which the frame or hoop sits were a bit on the short side for it. What did surprise me was that the frame seemed to stick out rather on the right-hand side. The box says that the seat stand will accommodate frames up to 53cm, which is about 21″, and I’ve got 16″ bars, so it should really have room to spare, but it didn’t.

It won’t surprise you that the seat stand has by now been disassembled and neatly put back into its box. When Sew & So let me know how they would like me to return it it will be on its way back to Stroud. But that leaves me with the problem I had before – how to handle frequent flips on the Millennium frame.

The obvious answer is to go for Needle Needs’ Aristo lap stand after all. But the noticeable on-the-lap wobble in Nicola Parkman’s excellent demonstration video worries me. I rang Needle Needs to ask whether they would be bringing one to the Knitting & Stitching Show, and if so whether I could try it out there, but they told me they don’t do shows any more as they are practically overwhelmed with orders anyway. I could, however, come and see (and try) one in their workshop if I wanted, and if I gave them a few days’ notice. And would you believe it, when we next visit my husband’s sister and parents we’ll be more or less passing by Needle Needs’ front door. So I’ll have my Millennium frame with me, ready for a bit of lap stand stitching.

For now I have set the Lowery slightly higher, and my husband very kindly cut a bit of superfluous thread off the lever that controls the flip, so that it doesn’t quarrel with the arm of the chair any longer. If in action the Aristo’s lap wobble turns out to be too noticeable for me, this set-up will work quite well (if a little laboriously with undoing and re-tightening, and managing the Meccano prop). And if the lap stand turns out to be ideal, I’ve got my Christmas and birthday list sorted smiley.

How a shisha clover grows

Later this year I’ll be teaching a day class in shisha embroidery at the Percival Guildhouse. Some years ago I used the Shisha box top as one of the projects in a course of mixed techniques, but this was meant for a two-hour class, so something a bit more complex was needed to fill a day class. I still wanted it to fit in a 6″ hoop, though – I’ve got plenty of them smiley, it’s a nice size to turn into box tops or cushion cover patches, and while large enough for a fair bit of stitching it isn’t so large as to be inconvenient to hold for a long period of time. After some experimenting I settled on a clover-shaped design. This then needed to be made into a simple outline for transferring, and a slightly more complicated drawing showing the various stitches used.

The transfer version of Shisha Clover The Shisha Clover version showing the stitches

Then it came to picking colours and threads. I want to offer a variety of threads for the students to use, some of which they may be familiar with, others not; and the colours should be quite bright and a bit folksy. Ideally I’d offer several colourways, but that’s just not practical; on the other hand, the transfer outline will be in their chart pack so they can always do another one some time later! To work out what colours I wanted to use exactly, I printed several copies of the stitch drawing and went to work with our old box of crayons and partially dried-up felt tips. Based on the one I preferred, I then digitally coloured in the chart using my photo editing program. Quite therapeutic, and it made me feel rather up-to-date what with colouring books for grown ups being all the rage!

Some of the stitches took some deliberation too, especially the clover outline. In the end I narrowed it down to two options: laced running stitch, or whipped blanket stitch, both in two shades of green. I like the look of the blanket stitch better, but it is quite labour intensive and I don’t want students to be left with too much to do at home. I may decide to include stitch diagrams for both versions and let every student decide for herself; but the first thing is to stitch both versions myself and time them.

Coloured in, with laced running stitch Coloured in, with whipped blanket stitch

So Join The Band is temporarily shelved, and I’ll be stitching away with coton à broder, soft cotton, stranded cotton, silk perle, metallic cord, sequins and beads attaching mirrors, couching cords, and creating bullion knots, buttonhole wheels, French knots and seed stitches. Not quite so soothing and relaxing as those repeated purple, green & blue bands perhaps, but I’ll definitely enjoy the cheerful colours and the variety of materials!