Projects for stash

When I wrote about stash with no immediate purpose, did I by any chance mention the very colourful autumn maple leaves which nestled themselves among the floral gems in my shopping basket last month? No? Or the icy snowflakes that came with my order as a free sample? I can’t think how they slipped my mind…

Leaf and snowflake shaped embellishments

Anyway, I do now have a very specific purpose for the floral gems! Some time ago I bought aperture cards that were just the right size for the three freebie stars, in the hope that they would make quick Christmas cards. Which they will. Some day. But as I was thinking of cards to make for our church’s Craft Fair in November it struck me that they would also be just the right size for a small embroidery centred around some of those sparkly little flowers – and wouldn’t they make lovely cards for all sorts of occasions? (I did think of adding the little bunny face I stitch-doodled some time ago, but I’m not sure I can make him small enough, and I wouldn’t want a monster bunny in these tiny little embroideries!)

A little garden of gem flowers A floral celebration card

My first attempt was, as you can tell from the picture, a rather informal affair, and relatively naturalistic, but the flowers (and the butterfly) can also be used in a slightly more formal and abstract arrangement. The four curves are a bit wonky but actually I rather like the not-quite-symmetry.

A floral tile A more abstract floral celebration card

And then I found I had some cards with slightly larger, circular apertures which also work with these embellishments! (Must not get carried away, however – the whole idea is that they should be quick and not use too many resources; if you’re stitching for charity you want to keep your costs down. On the other hand, I think I have the makings of another workshop here!) Note to self: keep butterflies lightish in shade, they look better that way.

A circular floral design A third floral celebration card

An added bonus about these little projects is the fact that they can be worked completely freehand should I want to; as long as I have some hint of the visible area on my fabric (i.e. a lightly pencilled square just a little bigger than the aperture of the card) and make sure I stay well inside it, it’ll work. These might just become my go-to travel projects for the next few months!

Incidentally, several people have been giving me bags (small and large) of needlework materials over the past two months – some asking me to find a good home for the threads/canvases/books/frames, others offering them for use in the charity workshops or a similar purpose, and I have indeed used some of the threads already in these Floral Gem cards. In one of these bags there were three small boxes with six compartments each, used for some beads and odds and ends of threads. I found they make the perfect receptacle for the various beads, gems and sequins I’m hoping to use for these cards, as well as some of the threads. And the boxes look so inviting they can’t fail to inspire me to stitch a great many of them.

Materials for Floral Gem cards in three neat little boxes

A novel use for split washers?

As my husband (to whom I’ve been married 11 years today!) was packing up an order for a customer of the Figworthy household’s main business (spares for pre-war Austin Sevens, in case you’re wondering), he handed me a small part and said, “isn’t this rather like your spangles?” It was a split washer, and he was right in that it is gold-coloured, round, and has a hole and a split in it. “Could you use it?” he then asked. A challenge! Well, it definitely looks as though it might be part of a goldwork project, if not perhaps in a very traditional design.

A split washer

Now I must admit that I am not very good at gauging sizes (remember that 4mm ribbon which turned out to be 6mm?) and although it did seem to me that it was probably rather larger than the 3mm spangles in my goldwork stash box I hadn’t quite realised how much bigger…

A split washer and a 3mm spangle

Steampunk goldwork, anyone?

Historic needlework

Last week a kind friend took me and another friend to see the parsonage in Haworth where the Brontë sisters did their writing. A very interesting place, and rather sad – Patrick Brontë, father of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, outlived his wife and all six of his children. We were there on a sunny day with cloudless blue skies when neither the parsonage nor the surrounding Yorkshire countryside could by any stretch of the imagination be described as “bleak”, but it was easy to see that come the winter, with short days and lots of rain and wind, it would have no problems at all living up to its less than cheerful reputation.

My friend’s interest was due for a large part to the fact that she has just finished her PhD thesis on Mrs Gaskell, who besides many other things wrote a biography of Charlotte Brontë. Although I was a linguistics scholar rather than a literature one, the 19th century is by far my favourite period, so I was happy to accompany her. But as a stitcher I was also fascinated by Charlotte’s needlework, some of which could be seen at the parsonage. There was a red tea cosy embroidered in white chain stitch, and some examples of whitework which unfortunately I couldn’t get a close look at as they were part of a room display.

Some pieces of her work, however, were displayed in cases and could be studied in more detail. Flash photography wasn’t allowed, so my photographs are a bit blurred, but I thought you might like to see two of the projects she worked. The first is a sampler finished shortly before her 12th birthday, made up of Bible verses and borders in absolutely minuscule cross stitches. She had a love of all things miniature, and that love obviously started when she was young. Foolishly I forgot to measure the sampler, so I can’t give you an idea of the scale; all I can say is that in some parts it was difficult to distinguish the individual crosses.

Charlotte Brontë's sampler

Again rather blurred, so no chance at all of seeing the individual stitches, but isn’t this an absolutely lovely needle roll? Clearly marked “Darners”, it is divided into useful sections all likewise marked with the size of the needles. Some time ago I made a very rough and ready needle roll out of felt marked with needle sizes, but not nearly so decorative – it was only meant to be chucked into a travel project bag. But having seen this I’m beginning to wonder whether it wouldn’t be a nice idea to make a less utilitarian one to keep at home by my larger projects.

Charlotte Brontë's needle roll

And all this by candlelight!

A visit to the Viking Loom

You may remember that a while ago I bought some satin display boxes from the Viking Loom. Last Monday I quite unexpectedly had the opportunity to visit their new premises just outside York, and of course I jumped at the chance! I had been to their old shop in High Petergate, which was lovely, but I’d read on their website the new place was much bigger, including workshop space. My sister-in-law kindly lent me a bike (which took a bit of getting used to, as my trusted Dutch bike has back-pedal brakes and no gears) so off I went up Wigginton Road and past the chocolate factory, which was rather like being bathed in cocoa – very invigorating!

To say that the new place is more spacious is definitely a bit of an understatement. It’s not many craft shops that you approach by means of a tree-lined avenue, or where the car park is overlooked by horses and a a dovecote, and where you can park your bike next to a miniature orchard with geese in it.

The drive leading to the Viking Loom Horses and dovecote Geese roaming in the orchard

The house , too, is impressive, but unfortunately not part of the shop so an outside view only. A lovely yellow labrador of supreme laid-backness welcomes you (if that is not too active a word) to the Viking Loom itself, and the first room you get into is awash with colour, filled as it is with innumerable shades of Appleton’s crewel and tapestry wool.

The house Welcomed by the dog A colourful entrance

Then it’s upstairs, to a room devoted to all things quilting (which I didn’t photograph), followed by the embroidery room which had kits and books and threads and tools and a surprising number of goldwork bits and bobs. As I wandered into this room a lady asked if I was looking for anything in particular or if I would prefer to browse. When I said I’d browse a bit first, please, she offered me coffee or tea – I can tell you it’s a rather nervous affair, walking around with a hot drink while looking at all these gorgeous things! The tea (proper, strong Yorkshire tea, with lots of milk) was made in a little kitchen attached to the workshop space, where two ladies were having a lovely time sewing and “escaping the housework and the children”, as they informed me.

Threads and kits Kits and hoops The kitchen in the workshop room

Of course I couldn’t possibly leave without taking a little bit of stash with me. As luck would have it, I found two things which I had been reading about, and wanting to try out, but I didn’t like to order them online without having at least some idea what they were like. One of these was trigger cloth, a fairly closely woven fabric for freestyle embroidery; unfortunately they only had it in bright white, not the antique white I usually prefer, but it felt nice and sturdy with enough body not to need backing (unless you’re using very heavy embellishments or goldwork materials). And as I was looking at the fabrics, a piece of hand-painted (not dyed) silk jumped out and said “goldwork seahorse” to me, so that got added to the trigger cloth. The silk is actually painted on the premises by a lady who comes there every now and then to paint a batch.

Trigger cloth and hand-painted silk A close-up of the fabrics

The other thing I’d been reading about was heavy metal thread, as used by Hazel Everett in her goldwork book. Unfortunately she doesn’t mention a brand name, or where to buy it, and so some further research was called for. This lead me to Madeira’s #12 metallic thread, which is indeed known as Heavy Metal, a misnomer if ever there was one for this fine, 3-ply thread which can be used as it comes, or split into its three plies for detailed or miniature work. I could find it online, but not very easily, and the postage for these chunky reels made it rather too expensive to buy on the off-chance that it would be to my liking. But there it was, at the Viking Loom, ready to be inspected and touched, and available in four colours. I got them all.

Madeira heavy metal threads

Visiting family is fun anyway, but if they happen to live close to a place like the Viking Loom it’s even more fun!

Stash for projects, and vice versa

Sometimes (most often, perhaps) we stitchers buy stash with a particular project in mind. But sometimes you have to think up a project for some stash which inexplicably found its way into your shopping basket because it was too pretty to ignore/on special offer/added to make the most of the postage. The gorgeous green silk (Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk in the shade Princess pea) falls somewhere in between the two categories, as it was bought for a specific project, which however is as yet only a few sketches on two Church meeting agendas (at least I won’t have a problem dating that particular design). The shiny flowers come unashamedly in the second category – I was stocking up on sequins for the Shisha kits when I got lured by the “Clearance Sale” link, where I found some very good-value silver seed beads, and these irresistible little gems at a mere 50p a bag. So I bagged one. Just in case I would think of a design to use them in. Which I’m sure I will.

Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk and some floral embellishments

Simply Sequins always send a little complimentary bag of goodies with their orders, and this time it was mixed sequins and shapes. I picked out some particularly pretty ones with a broadly floral theme, together with a few beads and some things already in my stash, and a few of those lovely sparkly flower gems I’d ordered in the sale, and they are now all together in another bag, ready to be experimented with. Don’t they look inspiring?

A little bag of inspiration

I’m putting together a short course of embroidery tasters at the moment and was thinking of using ribbon embroidery for the fifth lesson, but I’m wondering now whether some extremely free freestyle embroidery with lots of sparkle might not make rather a pleasing contrast with the much more structured Hardanger project which is set to be the opening lesson. Hardanger embroidery – Shisha embroidery – Freestyle embroidery – Tactile embroidery – Go Mad with Bling embroidery. Does that sound nicely balanced?

PS. I admit it. I’m a pushover for sparkly pretties. I liked the floral gems so much I ordered another bag of them, in mixed colours. Just to use in the embroidery taster classes, of course! (And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything…)

More flowers

Unruly ribbons

While we were away in The Netherlands I worked on a few small projects which had been languishing, half-finished, on a pile surrounded by More Urgent Things. They were two Shisha Tiles and a Christmas Wreath. Getting kits ready for the workshops in October and November I’ve been stitching a fair few of the latter, and I like them better every time. But the ribbon can be a bit of a challenge.

Once the wreath is completed and the bow attached, I arrange the ribbons nicely by curving them slightly (as in all the best Christmas illustrations) and pushing them against the wreath stitches to keep them in place. This usually works, but the problem is that it isn’t a very permanent way of arranging them. Make the wreath into a card or try and push the card into an envelope and suddenly the ends of the ribbon stick out very straight instead of in nice decorative curves. Sometimes this happens without even touching the embroidery, with the ribbon straightening itself out by a sheer effort of will the moment your back is turned.

Curved ribbon ends on the Christmas Wreath Straight ribbon ends on the Christmas Wreath

Incidentally, the second photograph above also shows a different distribution of beads. When teaching non-counted embroidery I’ve found that the “free” in freestyle makes some people nervous. They’d much prefer to have dots showing exactly where the French knots are to go rather than be told to “work some random French knots inside the circle”. So it occurred to me that placing the beads on the Christmas wreath, for which there is no chart or guide, might put some people off. Could a simple circle of alternating red and gold beads down the centre of the wreath be a usable alternative? I think it could; personally I prefer the random distribution, but this looks quite effective as well and will definitely be offered as an option for those stitchers who don’t enjoy randomness.

Anyway, back to ribbons. Would it be possible to secure the ends of the ribbons where I wanted them without it looking as though they were secured? Well, I will let you be the judge – do you think the ribbons in this wreath look as though they are flowing naturally?

Curved ribbon ends, secured

In a completely different project, I was doing some ribbon embroidery. I tried and tried to get a gathered ribbon right – but it just wouldn’t work. It kept coming out far bigger than I had expected and planned. I had originally charted it for either 3mm or 4mm ribbon, so I knew that the 4mm ribbon I was using would come out a little bigger than a 3mm ribbon, but even so it looked ridiculously big. Then it finally dawned on me that the ribbon I was using was actually 6mm instead of 4mm…

Transferring again

Before our little family holiday to The Netherlands my evenings (and any other time off-duty) seemed to consist mostly of kits! Workshop kits, kits to be sold through the website or at fairs, the kitchen table was full of bits of kits. By the time we drove off to catch the ferry at Harwich the dining table was piled with 53 complete kits, 12 just waiting for my LNS to get some 2oz wadding in, and 30 ready to be assembled from my collection of parts.

Some of the kits being assembled

One of the things that needed doing for some of the kits – the Wildflower Garden and the two Shisha ones – was transferring designs onto the pieces of light blue or pale yellow cotton, so my trusty lightbox was taken out of the padded envelope in which it resides most of the time.

Getting ready to transfer All done!

As I was transferring the kit designs, I thought I’d try the lightbox on a piece of wine-red dupion fabric bought some time ago for a goldwork design I had in mind. Dark fabrics aren’t ideal for use with a lightbox – much better to use the prick & pounce method, but I’m still feeling a little apprehensive about that. So why not give the lightbox a go, with a white gel pen? I grabbed the Jacobean goldwork design from the pile of projects-in-some-sort-of-progress and set the lightbox to full strength.

Well, it worked. I wouldn’t want to use it for a very detailed design, but for this fairly simple flower, where it didn’t matter too much if a stem or leaf was copied slightly off the original lines it just was fine, and the white showed up better than I had expected, without any bleeding! (The lines don’t show up very well on the thumbnail, but they do on the full-sixed photograph; even then, unfortunately, the picture doesn’t really capture the lovely dark red colour.)

The Jacobean goldwork design in white pen on dark red dupion

But now I’m facing a dilemma: on which fabric am I going to do the Jacobean goldwork flower, my original cream dupion, or this lovely rich burgundy? Red is not such a good background when you’re including copper, and I have rather set my heart on doing the gold/silver/copper shading, so I think I’ll stick with the cream. Anyway, I promised to do a goldwork demonstration at the next Church Craft Fair in November, so perhaps the red dupion will be useful for that. It certainly looks rich and splendid enough to distract people’s attention from any mistakes I may be making in the goldwork smiley.