Relaxation or challenge?

At the moment I’m working on the stitched model for Join The Band, and finding it very enjoyable – a band sampler with alternate bands of Hardanger and guilloche stitch, it has enough repetition to be soothing and relaxing, and enough variation to remain interesting. But this post mentions “challenge” rather than “interest”. So do I ever want my stitching to be challenging? Yes, within reason. I love learning new stitches and new techniques, and that surely is a challenge, doing something you haven’t done before and trying to do it well. But if it becomes a struggle, and puts me off my stitching, then I am quite happy to decide that this particular stitch or technique is simply not my cup of tea. After all, when it comes down to it embroidery is my hobby, and I mean to enjoy it!

Fortunately Join The Band is giving me just the right amount of challenge; and working with a lovely palette of purple, blue and green just adds to the pleasure (although I must say I’m also looking forward to working the alternative version in three shades of coral red).

A little preview of Join The Band

Incidentally, there is quite a bit of frame flipping while working this design, which with the Millennium frame on the Lowery isn’t very easy; because of the width of the frame the mechanism for flipping it gets stuck on the arm of the chair, and anyway it’s a bother having to undo and fasten screws every time, not to mention having to push my purpose-built Meccano prop out of the way. So I’ve been looking at the Stitchmaster Seatstand which is like Needle Needs’ floor and lap stands in that the frame rests on it rather than being clamped to it in some way, but has the advantage of being smaller than the floor stand, and I suspect less wobbly than the lap stand (because you sit on the paddle rather than perching the whole thing precariously on your lap). My one concern was that the frame wouldn’t sit high enough, as I couldn’t quite gauge the size and height from the pictures. So I rang Sew & So and asked them whether they knew what height the upright post is. The very helpful lady called Claire whom I spoke to said she would measure it and call me back. She did, I did a bit of experimenting with a 12″ ruler, and I’ve just ordered my seat stand smiley – expect pictures soon!


I love my squissors, as you all know. Especially for Hardanger, but they can be used quite effectively as all-round embroidery scissors as well, snipping threads and waste knots with as much ease and accuracy as cutting fabric threads surrounded by Kloster blocks. There is, however, one thing that they aren’t very good at – cutting very closely around a buttonhole edging or other type of hem. For that I’ve got the small, very sharp, very pointy scissors I mentioned a few years ago, and I love them nearly as much as my squissors. So sharp and pointy are they that they could probably be used for Hardanger as well, although I haven’t tried it. And they look attractive with their coloured finger holes and protective cover. Together, this pretty pair of rainbow-coloured squissors and transparently coloured scissors are all I need as far as cutting is concerned. (When stitching, I mean; I don’t count the scissors needed for cutting the fabric to size beforehand, although these scissors could probably do the job perfectly well for small to medium-sized projects.)

My favourite tool, squissors My small, sharp embroidery scissors

Because I like to have spares of any tool that I find really useful (as you never know when these things may get discontinued or changed or “improved” or whatever) and because I always like to have spare scissors around, preferably one per project (and I am, as you may have realised by now, a multiple-project girl) I decided to see if I could find some more of these. I did, but unfortunately postage for one or two pairs was rather prohibitive. Postage for sixteen pairs, however, was quite reasonable, so I said to myself, “if I like them that much, mightn’t other stitchers like them too? And if so, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have them on Mabel’s Fancies?” Myself thought this was a spiffing idea, and so here they are for your delight: useful, accurate and pretty embroidery scissors!

A pile of scissors Pretty and useful

One finished bag

After all that hemming I still haven’t got much to show for it. Last weekend I got myself settled at the kitchen table with the hemmed projects, bags, ruler, sharp needle, perle cottons, a Poirot audio book and lots of good intentions, and several hours later I had 1 finished bag, 4 projects each assigned to a suitably coloured bag, 1 bag for which it turns out I didn’t have a suitable project, and 4 projects for which I did not yet have suitable bags. I also had a confirmation email from Clever Baggers about an order for more bags, including some chocolate brown ones which they are apparently discontinuing but which would be perfect for Moss Agate, Reindeer Moss and the Coral Cross.

So not a particularly productive afternoon, but then there is no great hurry to get these bags finished, so I can do them at a rate of one a weekend if I like. The only one that did have a deadline of sorts was the one I got finished – a large canvas bag now decorated with Spring Romance, and to be used on my October visit to the London Knitting & Stitching Show. This should be just about big enough to hold two workshops’ worth of kits and squissors as well as my overnight stuff! (It’s a good thing I’m happy to travel light…)

Spring Romance canvas bag

Nine variations on a shisha tile

The first shisha kit I produced used a floral design; after some deliberation, I decided that my second shisha kit was to be a square tile with scrolls. OK so far. Draw the design, choose a background fabric. The fabric in the first kit is blue, so let’s have something else for this one. A visit to the local fabric shop yielded a nice yellowy cream (or is it creamy yellow?) cotton. Well, that’s practically it, isn’t it? Now all I have to do is decide on the threads and stitches!

This turned out to take a while… There were the scrolls. Stem stitch, yes, but what thread? So I stitched up models using Tamar Embroideries Brodery Cotton, 1 strand of TE stranded cotton, and DMC coton à broder. Then the corner motif – either pistil stitches or French daisies in Brodery cotton, DMC coton à broder, or 1 or 2 strands of TE stranded cotton. And finally I tried different stitches for attaching the mirrors (or sequins or coins), varying the number of petals as well:

  • Plaited fly stitch with 12 petals (in perle #5), 16 petals (#5) and 24 petals (#8)
  • Cretan stitch with 16 petals (#5) and 24 petals (#8)
  • Herringbone stitch with 16 petals (#5) and 24 petals (#8)
  • Long-armed fly stitch with 24 petals (#5)
  • Crossed long-armed fly stitch with 32 petals (#8)

And so before you know it you’ve got nine variations on a shisha tile!

Nine shisha tiles

I think the final version will use one of the long-armed fly stitch variations, simply because it seems most different from the petals in the first kit. As for the scrolls, DMC coton à broder. TE’s Brodery cotton is lovely, but it’s simply too heavy for this purpose, and it’s also very, very twisty – this can make it rather awkward to work with, which you definitely don’t want in a kit aimed at relative beginners. But I love the TE threads so I will use the stranded cotton for the corner motifs; I just haven’t decided yet whether to use one or two strands, and which stitch. On the whole I think if pistil stitch, then two strands – if French daisy, then 1 strand. But I may change my mind smiley.

One nice thing in my search for materials for these tiles is that I found a source of “mirrors”. Well, they’re acrylic really, and very light; I’d had some before but couldn’t remember where I bought them. This shop has them in colours as well, so I got some yellow and green ones to try out. You can see them in the two long-armed fly variations.

On the website their size was given as 18mm (just what I wanted!), but when they arrived I measured some and they were 17mm. Not really a problem, but not accurate either. I was about to write to the shop to let them know so they could change their description when I decided to measure one by putting it on top of the ruler instead of the ruler on top of the mirror, and it was 18mm after all. Turns out the sides are slightly sloping, and the mirrors are 18mm at the bottom and 17mm at the top!

Acrylic shisha mirrors in various colours

Model stitching for the SAL – a snag

There are various reasons for stitching a model before releasing a design. With the SAL, one of them is that I need to work out how much thread is needed for each month (and preferably do that before 1st November…), but even when that is not an issue it’s a good idea to stitch something before allowing it out into the real world. The main reason is that you can do things on paper which you can’t do on fabric. On at least one occasion I managed to draw something that looked lovely, just what I wanted, but which was actually impossible to stitch. And I do mean impossible – if you’d tried to work it as originally drawn, you’d be undoing the first half of the stitch with the second half.

And even when it isn’t that disastrous, it is good to remember that a design on paper never looks exactly like that same design worked in thread on fabric. For one thing, Kloster blocks look beautifully square in my design program, and while in theory they should be, considering the number of threads they cover vertically and horizontally, in practice a Kloster block is a rectangle, narrower in the direction of the stitches than across.

Kloster blocks on a chart Kloster blocks on fabric

Normally I have this in the back of my mind and sort of compensate for it while designing; but one of the SAL designs has what you might call a “floating” Kloster block, one that doesn’t border on a cut area but is only there to balance things out. On paper, where all the Kloster blocks are square, it works just fine. Stitched, I’m not so sure. The design consists of two identical halves, so I stitched the two in different ways – one with, and one without the non-essential Kloster block. And I’m still not quite sure which one to choose! I may do a bit of shisha-ing while I mull this one over.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a little SAL Sneak Peek (like the one I posted on FaceBook a while ago, but with different colours to keep things interesting smiley).

A SAL sneak peek

A needlework shop – with a tea room!

You may have noticed that Mabel’s Fancies has been closed quite a lot recently, and is closed again this week. This is partly due to family circumstances, partly business (the vintage cars, not Mabel), and partly the fact that my husband and I celebrated our 10th anniversary last week by going on a second honeymoon in the Peak District. We had a lovely, relaxing time driving and walking around beautiful countryside and visiting Haddon Hall and Chatsworth, and while at our cottage the absence of our usual feline was made up for by these friendly visitors.

Relaxing at Chatsworth Visiting chickens

Whenever I’m on holiday, I always try to find a local needlework shop. Very often, alas, there isn’t one, even if research beforehand suggests that there should be – remember the one I was hoping to visit in Edinburgh, which turned out to have closed about four months earlier? This time I didn’t do a lot of research; I found out some time ago that Wye Needlecraft in Bakewell had closed (or rather, it’s been taken over and moved) and didn’t look any further. Then, one day, we needed petrol. And as we went on a little detour to get it, I noticed a shop called White Peak Embroidery. A needlework shop!

Later that day we met up with local friends and while the husbands talked cars, Mary and I talked countryside, walks, and of course Needlework Shops. Did she know White Peak Embroidery? Yes she did and it was a lovely shop, with a tea room, and besides embroidery supplies they did quite a lot of knitting yarn as well. I wasn’t too interested in the knitting yarn, but the tea room certainly sounded interesting smiley.

A few days later we visited the shop, and I can’t praise it highly enough. Not only for the wide range of beautiful threads, fabrics, buttons, books and kits, and the lovely stitched models on display, but for the friendly welcome and knowledgeable service – this is the sort of needlework shop where you could easily spend most of the day, stopping only for a light lunch and afternoon tea at the attached Grace’s Tea Room (which also houses the knitting supplies). I took a few pictures but they really don’t do the shop justice, so do visit their website for a closer look or better still, visit them in person!



White Peak Embroidery The tea room at White Peak Embroidery Fabrics and threads Threads, ribbons and tools Speciality threads and kits

Of course I couldn’t leave without getting a few bits and bobs. The haul is two silk perles by Rainbow Gallery – these are Elegance, their #8 perle – and some silk ribbon which I think is YLI but I forgot to make a note so I don’t know the colour numbers. I may have to go back just to check…

Silk perles and ribbons from White Peak Embroidery

The best direction for whipping and the best length for stem stitch

One of the stitches I want to use in the Tree of Life is whipped backstitch. Mary Corbet points out that the direction in which you whip the stitches makes a difference to the look of the finished line, with pictures to illustrate this, but in order to fix the difference in my mind and have a sample to remind me which direction produces which line I thought I’d better work both types myself. Both are stitched using floche, which is an S-twist (that is to say the direction of the thread’s twist is like the slant in an S, top left to bottom right), and I prefer the line where the whipping is done as a Z-twist (on the right; it’s worked bottom to top, taking the needle through from right to left every time) – it’s tighter and more rope-like, whereas the other version lacks definition to my mind. Note to self: if using a Z-twist (like rayon or some silks) whip in an S-twist to get the same result.

Two lines of whipped backstitch worked in different directions

Besides some bands of Hardanger and satin stitch, the main component of Join the Band, for which I’m stitching the model at the moment, is guilloche stitch. It’s a very decorative band stitch, and although I’ve mostly seen it stitched on non-countable fabrics I’ve found it really works equally well on counted fabric, like my favourite 25ct Lugana. This goes for quite a few freestyle/surface stitches, as I’m finding out in charting the new SAL. But they do sometimes take a bit of working out; you can’t play with the stitch length and size quite so freely when you’re constrained by 25 holes to the inch. On the plus side, it makes consistency in spacing and length a lot easier!

One of the things I had to decide on was the stitch length for the two outer lines of stem stitch. It is worked in perle #5, so the stitches can’t be too short or it will look bunched up; on the other hand, make the stitches too long and you lose the rope-like look that characterises stem stitch. Some stitch samples were obviously called for. I stitched one complete band of guilloche stitch with the stem stitches stretching over 6 threads, and then an additional line of stem stitch over 4 threads. By the way, although the colours used in the sample are the ones used in the complete model, they are not distributed in the same way, so the final version will look a bit different. Also bear in mind that this sample was worked on a scrap of fabric which was too small to fit in a hoop (I shouldn’t be so stingy about using proper-sized doodle cloths); stitching in hand is not my forte, so the tension is, uhm, a little erratic. Still, it gives an idea of what the two stitch lengths look like.

Stem stitch over 3 and 6, or over 2 and 4

The trouble is that, having stitched a sample, I’m still not sure which one I prefer! To my surprise the longer stitch length actually produced a thicker line than the shorter – I hadn’t expected that, although come to think of it perhaps I should have; the shorter stitch is a bit like twisting a thread more tightly, which makes them thinner. The long stitch length gives the lines a looser look which I quite like, but they do seem to crowed the centre part rather. The short stitch length is thinner and also more regular, but it would be difficult to claim categorically that that is because of the stitch length; it may just be my varying tension.

I may stitch another sample on hooped fabric, using the other colour scheme, and see whether that makes a difference; or rather, whether it makes it clearer to me which one to use. I think for the moment I’ll decide to be indecisive…

And even more hemming…

Do you have special travel projects? Something small and not too complex, with few ingredients, perhaps? I do, although the latter criterion isn’t always strictly adhered to – last time I visited my mother I took a selection of Shisha minis, with all the beads, sequins and mirrors that entails. Great fun, but not exactly ideal airport stitching.

And talking of airports: there is an additional difficulty when choosing my on-the-go project as I travel with hand luggage only at the moment, so scissors are a no-no. It says at the luggage check that “scissors with blades over 6cm” are prohibited, implying that anything smaller is OK, but I have found the security people to be erratic in these things and I am not risking my favourite squissors or my small, very sharp, very pointy embroidery scissors on their benevolence. So I take this little gadget:

A safe little gadget for cutting threads

And very useful it is, too, for snipping threads, but obviously Hardanger is out of the question. As is hemming. And this time I had decided to take hemming. Lots of hemming, and nothing but hemming.

Six hemming projects

The plan being that I would finally finish this dull but useful work if I had no other projects to distract me. And it wasn’t until the airport that I realised I rely on my very sharp, very pointy embroidery scissors to cut the fabric very close to the hemming, something which is done every time one side is finished. My mother has a pair of serviceable dressmaking shears but they would hardly do for this, so I could see myself returning home with a stack of projects all with one side hemmed, and three-quarters of the work still to do.

Then I had a brainwave. I could buy a pair of sharp, pointy scissors in the Netherlands, use them, and leave them there for next time! I found a useful pair in the local sewing machine/quilting shop and set to.

First up was Cross My Heart, which I worked in blanket stitch. It is a very useful and relatively quick finishing stitch, but it has one drawback – any individual stitch isn’t very secure until the next one has been worked. If you let the tension on the thread relax after finishing a stitch, it Doesn’t Stay Put. This is annoying.

The normal way of working blanket stitch The finished stitch isn't very stable

Now I remembered that there is a blanket/buttonhole stitch variation which is secure the moment you finish the stitch, but I couldn’t remember how it was done, nor what it was called in Dutch, so the local library wouldn’t be any help. Thinking I might go and google the stitch in English at my aunt & uncle’s (my mother doesn’t do computers, let alone internet), I found my mind equally blank in that language. Something like tailored or tailor’s buttonhole, and something with a knot of sorts… I decided to experiment a bit on a scrap of fabric just cut off Cross My Heart, and found that if you take the needle through the blanket stitch loop from the front instead of from the back, the extra little loop formed around the thread keeps it firmly in place once you’ve pulled through and given it a bit of a tug.

The reverse way of working blanket stitch The finished stitch Stays Put

I’m not sure whether this is, in fact, the official way of doing knotted or tailor’s buttonhole/blanket stitch, but it works and it’s pretty much as quick as the ordinary blanket stitch, so I’m happy smiley. BonBon got the looped blanket stitchtreatment, as did Dying Embers and Vienna. I was on a roll!

But I still hadn’t started on the one that I really want to get done. Spring Romance is intended for my big canvas Going-To-London-For-The-Knitting-And-Stitching-Show bag. The problem was that, much though I liked the looped blanket stitch (LBS from now on), I still wasn’t absolutely sure whether to use that or the other finishing stitch I’d been considering, the hemstitch/nun stitch variation. Moss Agate was the only other unfinished piece left so I thought I’d try that in hem/nun stitch to see whether it worked as nicely as the LBS.

It didn’t. I know I liked it originally and I still like the look of it, but what at first seemed an advantage (that the attaching stitches would sit very near the edge) on second thoughts struck me as unwise – a little further in feels much more secure – and although it is a lot faster that four-sided edging (most things are…) it is quite a bit slower and more fiddly than LBS. So I unpicked the few inches of hemming I’d done and finished Moss Agate as I had finished the other four. And when I finally got round to Spring Romance, that got finished in the same way. Not a lot of variation, but then is anyone going to buy several bags and then complain that they all use the same finishing stitch? And using the same stitch for each piece certainly helped to get a rhythm going and speed up the process.

So here they are, 10 recently finished projects plus one I had lying around, some waiting to be put on bags and some waiting for more bags to be put on. I’d better put in another order at the bag shop!

Eleven hemmed projects

PS don’t tell anyone, but I had to do some creative counting on Spring Romance – a slight miscalculation at the start which I didn’t notice until I’d already cut one side of the fabric. But if you don’t mention it and I don’t mention it, I’m sure no-one will ever notice…

More hemming

I’m still patiently (well, reasonably patiently; for me) hemming old projects preparatory to them being attached to shopping bags. My aim was to find a method that looks good, and is both secure and quick to work. Four-sided edging scores well on two out of three – quick it is not. Also, with most of its stitches being double, and the backstitch used to attach it to the bag doubling the single bottom line, it is a bit bulky. Better keep this for bookmarks and other items that are frequently handled.

Four-sided edging, front Four-sided edging, back

Blanket stitch looks a little less “finished” but is a lot quicker to work, and the attaching backstitch will fill in the gaps at the bottom to make it look like a less bulky four-sided stitch. This is definitely one to keep on the list.

Blanket stitch, front Blanket stitch, back

The next one was a bit of an experiment – cross stitch through both layers of the folded edge, but slightly away from the edge. By working this in two rounds the back gets a cross stitch pattern too, although of course this will be invisible once the fabric is attached to the shopping bag. This one will probably be attached with running stitch in the gaps between the crosses, worked in the middle of the line. it’s a bit difficult to explain in words, but it should look a bit like this: x-x-x-x-x-x

Cross stitch edging, first round, front Cross stitch edging, first round, back Cross stitch edging, second round, front Cross stitch edging, second round, back

Finally I tried combination of surface hem stitch and nun stitch. It’s not quite hemstitch, as the “teeth” are pointing outwards and it’s worked away from the edge, and it’s not quite nun stitch, as all the lines are single, not double, but it works, and will be attached by means of backstitch along the open top of the stitches. This means the attaching stitches are closer to the edge than in any of the other methods, so there will be less of a rim to catch on things. The third picture shows a change of direction only noticeable on the back – this stitch can be worked in two different ways, and the one I started out with made turning the corners very difficult if not impossible, so I changed horses mid-stream. It made the corners nice and secure, and will be invisible once the patch has been attached to the bag.

Surface hem stitch edging, front Surface hem stitch edging, back Surface hem stitch edging, back

The cross stitch version was quite fiddly to work so I don’t think I’ll use that one again; the hem/nun stitch is a bit more fiddly than the blanket stitch, but I like the look of the folded edge and the fact that it can be quite securely attached. Probably, then, future hemming projects for bags will use blanket stitch or hem/nun stitch as the fancy takes me. And with a bit of luck I’ll soon have some pictures of finished bags to show you!

Notes on toadstools and a robin

I’m having great fun with my toadstools! Of my several plans I decided to start with the medium-sized, insectless version, simply outlined in stem stitch throughout. At this point I had ideas as to what I wanted the fungi to look like, but nothing set in stone – probably golden yellow for the right-hand toadstool, cream with blue or purple spots for the left-hand one, and the middle one the traditional red-with-white-spots (the only thing that is non-negotiable!). An enjoyable hour or so with my boxes of DMC and an LED light (invaluable when selecting and matching colours in the evening) produced a nice collection of bobbins, but as any stitcher knows, colours on bobbins don’t necessarily look like those same colours stitched onto fabric!

Toadstools ironed on, and colours chosen

By the way, I used the black iron-on pen to do the transferring. It worked beautifully, but there are a few things to keep in mind for future transfers; not criticisms exactly, just notes-to-self. First, although the line drawn with the pen is quite fine, the ironed-on line on the fabric is a little thicker. On small designs where a single strand is used this may cause the line to remain visible. Second, the ironed-on line is much lighter than the pen line looks on the transfer paper. On the fabric, the “black” pen looks a pale blue-grey. This is not a problem in itself – the lines are perfectly visible as they are and it might even be a drawback if they were any darker, as it would be more difficult to cover them up. Finally, I have the feeling that the lines fade a little over time. I transferred two copies of the robin (more of him below), and the second one, which hasn’t been stitched yet, is a very pale blue now – still visible, still workable, but paler than it was when I’d just ironed it on. I think. It’s very difficult to remember accurately the exact darkness or lightness of a line two weeks later!

Back to the toadstools. They were worked in standard DMC stranded cotton, using two strands for the two outer toadstools, and three strands for the middle one and the grass. The grass is worked in two strands of dark green and one of light green.

Toadstools outlined in stem stitch

I quite like the look of it as it is, but I feel it needs a few tweaks. My ideas so far:

  • I like the contrast between the slightly heavier middle toadstool and the lighter outside ones. However, the outlines of the outer two toadstools aren’t as clear as I’d like, and the spots are a bit too heavy. Next time try 4 strands and 3 strands respectively for the outlines, 3 and 2 for the spots. The grass is OK at 3 strands (2 dark, 1 light).
  • The red is too orange and too bright; try tweeding a darker red into it. The line forming the underside of the cap is a bit dark; would it look better in a very dark red? Then fill in the under-cap area with gills in brown – either straight stitch, or stem stitch in one strand.
  • The ecru toadstool is rather light, probably even with an extra strand. Think of a different colour. Spots in blue rather than purple?
  • The outline-only version looks a bit empty (as does the no-insect bit). Try seed stitch (in 3 strands for the middle one, 2 for the outer two) of diminishing density top down (start at the top of the cap with dense stitching and become more scattered downwards, stopping at about the half-way point). Same principle for the stems, and the frill on the middle one.
  • Is there a blueish fungus of the left-hand shape? If so this might look better than the yellow. (Then the insect can be done in a warm shade.)

So there’s my homework for the coming time: experiment a bit more with the toadstools, both as regards colours and stitches. Incidentally, did you spot the addition to the design? Serinde suggested in a comment that a snail would be a good alternative to an insect, and I thought that was a spiffing idea, so I drew a snail version and also added it to the project in progress, as you can see above. It took me a while to decide on colours and number of strands for him, but eventually I settled on the dark brown used in the middle toadstool, and the purple used in the right-hand one, both in one strand. As this is a trial piece I’m afraid he wasn’t stitched as carefully as he should have been (the shape of his body is too much of a smooth arc, it should have some bends in it) but it gives an idea.

The toadstools with a little snail added The snail has been stitched

The little stylised robin inspired by a 1920s starch advert has been played about with as well. As with the toadstools, I decided to do one simply outlined in stem stitch to begin with. Well, apart from its eye, which is a black, round Rhodes stitch, to make it nice and beady (using that word makes me think I could just have used a bead; still, I like this look and a bead might have been a bit too shiny compared to the rest). For this one I used Rainbow Gallery Splendor silk, which is lovely and soft to work with. Just so that it wouldn’t look too “flat”, I tweeded quite a few of the colours, using one strand each of a darker and a lighter shade – it’s a simple way of adding a bit of instant shading.

On the whole I’m quite happy with this little chap, although I will do the legs differently next time – either outlined in one strand, or in two or three strands but as single lines. As they are here (outlined in two strands) they look too heavy compared to the rest of the bird. I was also thinking of stitching one filled in with long & short stitch, but on second thoughts I’m not sure that naturalistic shading won’t look out of place on such a stylised design. Perhaps using tweeded stem stitch as a relatively blocky filling would suit his look better.

The starchy robin outlined in stem stitch