Some years ago I found that if you’re a small-project girl like me, coasters are a really good way of displaying your work; they are useful, they keep the embroidery clean, and they make great gifts into the bargain. I found some made of good durable plastic with elegant rounded corners and a display area of about 8cm, and soon worked out that this made them just the right size for any of the Round Dozen designs worked on 25ct fabric.
Then I was asked to supply some stitched items to a sale in aid of Elijah Gambia, a charity set up by friends of ours, and coasters and bookmarks seemed the most saleable. Now I did have a simple and quick design for felt bookmarks, but not for coasters – and Round Dozen, however attractive, was a bit too labour-intensive for mass production. So I set about simplifying the Round Dozen idea, with a little less cutting and worked on 22ct Hardanger instead of 25ct Lugana, so that a smaller design would still fill the coasters satisfactorily. In the end I came up with 3 or 4 variations on a theme (if you do have to stitch something over and over again it’s as well to have some variation to keep it interesting), one of which made it into a kit.
As you may know I’ve been teaching workshops at the London Knitting & Stitching Show for several years now, and as I was stitching these coasters I wondered whether they would make a good workshop project. Well, what are the criteria for a good workshop project? It’s actually quite difficult to give an unequivocal answer to that, as they can vary from one tutor to the next, so the question is really “what are my criteria?”
Ideally I want my workshops to be accessible for beginners, without being boring for those with a little (or a lot) more experience, so the design has to be suitable for a group with mixed abilities. I’ve stitched these coasters with beginners and didn’t run into any problems, while the use of colour and the choice of filling stitch can add interest for the experienced stitcher. So far so good. Then I like the project to be made into something usable and/or displayable. A coaster ticks that box. And finally it’s a definite plus if the project can be finished, or almost finished, during the workshop. Ah.
By the time I’d stitched 50 or so of these coasters I was getting pretty quick at it, but even then each one took me more than two hours. Obviously some further reduction was needed to make them suitable for a 90-minute or even a 2-hour workshop. So I fired up my designing software and started playing around with the designs as used for the charity coasters. I wanted it to be suitable for 22ct Hardanger fabric; there are 18ct-fabrics which could be used, but that would need perle #3 for Kloster blocks and satin stitch. Not only did I want to keep the materials as standard as possible, I had my doubts whether a design worked in perle #3 would fit inside the coaster without being squashed out of shape, if it would fit at all.
On 22ct fabric I wouldn’t be able to reduce the overal size too much, or the design would look marooned in the middle of the coaster with a sea of empty fabric around it. I definitely wanted to keep the central Hardanger motif and the chain stitch diamond surrounding it, so what if I went for slightly smaller corner motifs and a border that sat level with the tips of the diamond instead of outside it? and if I made the border a sort of dotted line of cross stitches over one, that would be quite quick and easy.
That was as much as I could do on paper (or rather, on screen) – the time had come to try it out in fabric and thread. I took a print of my experimental design and material for two coasters with me to my stitching group and got stitching. As we meet for two hours, that would give me some idea of timing as well. Some idea, as there is also a certain amount of chatting going on, as well as looking at other people’s work and drinking tea and so it’s not 2 solid hours of stitching time. Also, as I was stitching the cross stitch border I found that I didn’t like the look of it, so I worked each corner in a different pattern, and then asked others what they thought of them. I ended up with 1) cross stitch over one thread, 2) alternating V shapes, 3) half cross stitch and 4) a smaller version of the satin stitch block border used in the original coasters.
The cross stitch border looks a bit too solid and blocky to go well with the chain stitch diamond; the V border is very pretty but relatively labour-intensive, and would probably look better in a darker thread; the half cross stitches are too insubstantial; the block border has quite an interesting texture. It was between numbers 2 and 4, and in the end I plumped for the alternate V border because I liked the shape best, but I think I will chart the final workshop version with both borders so people can choose the one they prefer (I may even include a very simple running stitch border for those wanting to save even more time). Worked in a darker shade – this is Caron’s Tanzanite – the V border stands out well, and although there is more fabric around the design than in the earlier coasters, I do think it fills the coaster well enough.
By the way, I always check coasters (the ones people use to mount their own projects) before sending them out to customers and remove any with blemishes. These can be used later for demonstration models. But this time there was one with a narrow black dappled sort of smudge which looked like paint but appeared to be inside the plastic. I didn’t think I’d be able to use that and was about to write it off as a loss when I realised the smudge was running roughly diagonally. I tried it with the experimental workshop coaster in dark blue and would you believe it, with a bit of manipulation the smudge was all but lost in the chain stitch line! (Could you spot it in the picture above?)