Cats and elephants and what to do with them

Sometimes, usually much to my own surprise, I do manage to finish my finished projects. That is to say, rather than stuffing them into my “stitched models” folder I turn them into something useful or decorative (or, if I’m feeling particularly inspired, both). Over the past few weeks my small elephants (variations on the bigger Remember the Day elephant) were given the useful-and-hopefully-decorative treatment and turned into a gift tag (or place card, or favour tag) and a felt bookmark. The bookmark is on the large side, which is why I’m showing it off marking a large book smiley.

Bookend elephants made into a bookmark, and an elephant tag The elephant bookmark in action

The freestyle Elegant Cats couldn’t possibly be allowed to languish in a plastic folder; for one thing, Lexi wouldn’t allow it! Fortunately I bought a selection of satin-covered boxes from the wonderful Viking Loom a while back, and even as I was stitching the cats I had a vague idea in my mind that there was a rectangular box of that sort of size in my box of boxes – and that it might just be dark green. There was, and it was, and it was just the right size, and Lexi was deeply impressed with the result, as you can see…

Elegant Cats mounted in a jewellery box Elegant Cats with an elegant cat

PS When posting some of these pictures elsewhere people asked me about the artist whose book the elephants are marking. He is a Dutch artist called Rien Poortvliet who started out as mostly a wildlife painter, but who wrote and illustrated many books on a variety of subjects, including the history of his family inspired by a chest belonging to one of his ancestors, a life of Jesus, books about dogs and horses, a book about “whatever happened to come into his mind”, books about gnomes, and this one about Noah’s ark. I admire his art as much as I admire his simple but profound faith.

Remnants, ducks and Essex

Besides a splurge on hoops I’ve also been splashing out on fabrics. The immediate reason for this was my goldwork boot. This was stitched on a dusty pink fabric which was lovely and soft, quite densely woven but with a good drape. As my sketches for a goldwork parasol began to take shape, I started thinking of the sort of fabric I’d like to stitch it on; and I decided I’d like to stitch it on the sort of fabric that came in the boot kit.

With the kind help of the Royal School of Needlework I contacted Angela Bishop, who taught the boot day class. She replied very promptly but was unfortunately unable to help as it was a fabric from her stash, sourced from the remnants box at a fabric shop. She must have a lovely fabric shop!

Doing some research in my own local fabric shop and online, one of the things that became clear was that the fabric I was looking for was heavier than quilting/patchwork cotton. But what is the weight of quilting cotton? Most websites I looked at simply called it “medium weight”. Eventually I found that this apparently meant somewhere between 140 and 160gsm (grams per square metre), while a fabric described as “medium-to-heavy” was 200gsm, and I’d already found out earlier that my heavy-weight calico is 208gsm. On the whole it looked like I should aim for something between 200 and 240gsm, or described as either medium-to-heavy or heavy.

I found that in Essex linen. I’m not sure why it is called Essex linen as it doesn’t seem to have any clear connection with the county, and it is in fact not linen but a linen/cotton mix. Never mind, it’s 200gsm, comes in some very pretty colours (though not the dark dusty pink of the boot), and judging by the online pictures it looked not quite identical but definitely similar to the boot kit fabric, so I got a few colours to try out – including a bright but unusually cool shade of orange which I probably wouldn’t have bought if it hadn’t been half price, and just enough to push me over the free postage limit, which meant I effectively got the fat quarter for 30p.

Essex linens

So having seen and touched them in real life, are they like the boot fabric? Well, not quite. They don’t feel quite as soft, or as dense. But they will make a very nice background for goldwork projects, or other freestyle embroidery for that matter, so I’m pleased with my purchase.

Then there were two other fabrics which I’d bookmarked on eBay some time ago when I was looking for a heavier cotton fabric to use in the Shisha and freestyle workshops, hoping to do away with the need for backing fabric. One of these was confusingly called “cotton heavy canvas” in the title and “medium weight cotton canvas” in the description. I rang the company and asked whether they knew the weight of the fabric, but they said they didn’t class their fabrics by gsm weight; they assured me, however, that it was heavier than quilting cotton. On the grounds that I would be able to use it anyway, be it with or without backing fabric, I ordered a metre. It arrived yesterday, and it’s an interesting fabric – it’s a relatively coarse weave, quite dense, and up close it almost looks like a counted evenweave fabric with less noticeable holes. It’s definitely thick enough to use without backing, and as a result transferring designs of any complexity will need more than just window with good daylight, it’ll need the lightbox; I think I could just about transfer the Shisha Flower without it, but not something like the Little Wildflower Garden. The picture shows this cotton canvas side by side with my usual fabric for these designs, a pale blue quilting cotton – as you can see the latter is a much finer weave; it is also much thinner, but that may not be so obvious from the picture. As for the colour, the cotton canvas seems to have a definite hint of turquoise (again, not so noticeable in the picture) which is surprising considering that the shade I bought was called Pale Blue.

Cotton canvas and quilting cotton Cotton canvas and quilting cotton, close-up

The other fabric I looked at was cotton duck (irrelevant but interesting snippet of information: the “duck” in cotton duck apparently comes from the Dutch word “doek”, or “cloth”). According to Wikipedia, the lightest duck is no. 12, which weighs 7 oz per 36 by 22 inches – no doubt a useful way of measuring its weight when introduced by the Cotton Duck Association (I wonder if they are affiliated with the Rubber Duck Association), but not of any great help to me. Fortunately Wikipedia helpfully converts this into more modern terms, informing me that 7 oz per 36 by 22 inches equates to 390gsm. A slightly alarming result, as this is rather heavier than the piece I ordered from eBay was described to be: “approx. 7oz per square yard or 240 gsm”. I may just have to cut it down to a square yard or a square metre and weigh it! Anyway, it too arrived yesterday, and is equally interesting. A dense fabric with a slightly softer feel than the cotton canvas, it will likewise need the lightbox for any detailed transferring. The weave is not nearly so visible as on the cotton canvas, and I wonder whether that will make accurate placement of the stitches easier. It looks like a nice, neutral background for freestyle stitching, with just enough texture not to look bland or flat.

Cotton duck fabric Cotton canvas and cotton duck

Later today I’ll transfer the Little Wildflower Garden to both fabrics, and I’ll let you know how they stitch up!

Cock-a-hoop

I’ve been having a bit of a splurge on hoops this week. Not that I didn’t have plenty already – mostly flexi-hoops, but also standard wooden hoops, a couple of spring hoops and a solitary hard plastic hoop. So how are these new ones different?

One of the hoops came from the Royal School of Needlework’s shop, and I bought it because it’s the type of hoop they use in their workshops and tutorials, and I enjoyed using those. The website offers them in several sizes, but all attached to a bewildering selection of table frames, floor stands, sit-on frames, stalks and table clamps. Could I just have a hoop, please? Well, when I rang the shop it turned out that I could, and a very helpful lady called Shirley checked whether they had one in stock, pulled out a table stand to answer some questions I had about that, and then sent the hoop the very next day, apologising that she hadn’t sent it the day I rang (even though that was late in the afternoon). Great service!

The main difference between the RSN hoops and standard woorden hoops is that they are much deeper: the wooden rim measures about 2cm, pretty much double the depth of an ordinary hoop. This means they have a very good grip on the fabric, which is especially helpful when doing goldwork, where the fabric is at times quite mercilessly pulled at (when plunging, for instance). This hoop is an 8″ one and should accommodate most of the goldwork projects I intend to do.

A deep 8-inch hoop Comparing the deep hoop with a standard hoop

The other two hoops are square hoops. I say “square” but of course truly square hoops wouldn’t work as they’d damage the fabric on the corners, and these are in fact more like circles with the sides pushed in. Even so, they do offer more room compared with a round hoop of the same size, and will prove very useful particularly in the case of square designs (which many of mine, especially the Hardanger ones, are). The hoops feel nice and sturdy and are beautifully polished – the customer service gentleman at Barnyarns told me they are made in Germany from sustainable hardwood and are very good quality, which does unfortunately make them rather pricey. They also have a slightly odd indentation on one side which is meant to make life easier for machine embroiderers when placing the hoop under the machine’s stitching foot, or whatever you call it. As long as you keep it to the side that you’re not holding, it doesn’t get in the way of hand embroidery, although it did make me wonder whether it will prove to be a weak point in the hoop.

Two square hoops A helpful dent - for machine embroiderers

One interesting thing I noticed when comparing my new hoops was that the indicated sizes seem to be just a little haphazard. I’ve often wondered which width of a hoop is actually measured when determining its size as a case can be made for the outer diameter, the inner diameter, and the point where the outer and inner rings meet. The most useful one to my mind is the inner diameter (of the inner ring), as that determines how much working space you actually have, but that rarely seems to be used. The RSN hoop follows the middle method, but the square hoops seem to measure the inner diameter, and then give you a bit extra. This is partly because the hoops are not actually square – they are rectangular (though only by a little). The 8-inch square hoop measure a full 8 inches from the top inside to the bottom inside, and well over 8½ inches from left to right. The 6-inch hoop is likewise at least half an inch wider than it is high. Not a problem, but definitely something to bear in mind when cutting the fabric!

An 8-inch deep hoop and an 8-inch square hoop A 6-inch flexihoop and a 6-inch square hoop

A gold leaf and a gold boot

Finishing the goldwork leaf I’d started at my RSN tutorial took a little longer than I had intended, but fortunately there was no deadline and I could just enjoy the process! The first step was to work an inner line along the Jap that was couched around the edge of the leaf. Heather had intended that to be another line of double Jap, with the couching “bricked”, that is to say with the couching stitches positioned in between the ones on the first line. However, having done quite a bit of bricking on earlier projects I wanted to try something different – something wavy, in fact. My first thought was milliary wire, but back home I realised there is actually quite a choice in wavy threads and wires, so I put three of them with the Jap outline to see which I preferred. They were check thread (tight wave), rococco (longer wave) and milliary (pointy wave attached to a straight wire).

Possible wavy threads for the leaf Check thread Rococco thread Milliary wire

And after all that I decided on … milliary wire. At least in part because, as a wire, it doesn’t need the dreaded plunging!

The leaf with its milliary wire inner edge

Then I got on with finishing the cutwork, and I am relatively pleased with what I produced. There are definite issues (I’ll come to those in a bit), but bearing in mind that this is the first cutwork I’ve done over soft string padding (much more raised than the few bits I’ve done over felt) it’s not too bad. In fact, some of the things I’m about to point out are not nearly so noticeable in real life as they are in a close-up photograph – fortunately!

The finished padded cutwork

Right, here we go. The blue arrow points to where the the tapering is not as even as I would have liked; the green arrow shows up a length of purl cut just too short; the purple arrow points to a length that is just too long and has therefore cracked; and the red and orange arrows highlight some of the places where I failed to line up the adjoining lengths correctly – some are pushed up by neighbouring lengths (red) while some get lost underneath others (orange).

Some issues

Having said all that, I am honestly pleased with what I learnt, and even with the slightly wonky finished article. It just shows there is room for improvement, and let’s face it, I would have been a miracle embroiderer if there hadn’t been. And now for a bit of advice (which I should start taking myself): unless there is a very good reason for it, Do Not Point Out Your Mistakes. When people are sincerely admiring your stitching, don’t tell them of that one stitch which should have been a millimeter to the left, or that other stitch which you accidentally worked in the wrong colour. For one thing, it may well embarrass them because it suggests they have been uncritical or ignorant in their comments. It also practically obliges them to repeat the compliment. So you see, it’s actually much more modest and humble NOT to point out your mistakes! smiley

So here, without any apologies for any of it, is the finished leaf, with some added spangles:

The finished leaf with extra spangles

Having had such fun with the leaf I decided to dig out the boot I started at the rather ill-fated RSN day class last April. During the class I managed to finish couching all the Jap, but not plunging all the ends, so that my boot looked rather like a helping of gold spaghetti. I took the boot and my lap frame to my Monday afternoon embroidery group and set about plunging. And for two hours, that’s all I did. Well, I had tea as well. And I may have chatted a bit. But embroidery-wise I plunged and secured and plunged and secured some more. My theory being that if I took the boot home with all the plunging done, I’d be much more likely to pick it up and continue with it; also, plunging doesn’t take as much concentration as some of the other aspects of goldwork, which is a definite plus as the embroidery group is not the most distraction-free environment. Well, the theory was correct, and that evening I added a double line of rococco, and immediately plunged those ends as well!

Work done on the goldwork boot during the class Plunging done, and rococco added

None of the remaining techniques – couched pearl purl, chipwork and spangles – require plunging, so I was expecting to finish quite quickly; I had a whole Saturday afternoon to myself, which would surely be enough. Well, it was, but only just – I keep forgetting how time-consuming chipwork is! What looks like a small enough area of felt to be covered begins to look huge when you put the first tiny chip on. So my optimistic hopes that I might even start a new project were dashed, but the boot was finished. It’s not easy to capture the sheer sumptuous sparkle, shine and glow of goldwork in a photograph (unless, presumably, you are a professional photographer) but I hope these give you some idea.

The finished boot The finished boot in bright sunlight

And here are a few close-ups, of the bricked Jap boot cuff (where I took one Jap thread around the front before plunging because the edge looked rather ragged and this seemed the easiest way of tidying it up) and the chipwork toe.

Close-up of the bricked Jap boot cuff Close-up of the chipwork toe

What next, goldwork-wise? Well, there is a certain balloon which has been languishing for far too long now, so I mounted it on the Millennium frame and I will try to make that my next finish. Unfortunately there is a rival on the horizon, or rather a pair of rivals. A lady on the Cross Stitch Forum, on seeing the boot, said wouldn’t it be lovely to work the rest of the outfit in goldwork as well – dress, gloves, hat etc. I can confidently tell you that that is not going to happen, but reading her comment I suddenly saw a goldwork parasol; well, the germ of one (if parasols germinate). And now I have a parasol/umbrella pair of possible projects. Never mind jewellery or scent or even stitchy presents, could someone give me a couple of extra months for Christmas? They don’t even have to be gift-wrapped!

Cats go freestyle

When we went down to Devon to visit the in-laws recently, I wanted to take something fairly simple as a project to work on in the evenings – preferably outlines in stem stitch or something like that. No counting, no complicated stitches. But apart from some Kelly Fletcher freebies I didn’t really have anything suitable. Or did I?

What about my Elegant Cats? Originally they were designed in cross stitch, for an exchange of ATCs (Artist Trading Cards) on the Cross Stitch Form (and stitched on 36ct evenweave to make them fit; as usual I’d tried to cram in far too much detail). But the cross stitch design was based on my original line drawing, and a couple of years ago I cleaned up the line drawing and digitised it for some future occasion. Perhaps that future occasion was now! Line drawings, after all, are almost by definition suitable for freestyle embroidery, especially for line stitches like stem stitch.

Elegant Cats in cross stitch

I transferred the drawing to a piece of linen twill, hooped up, picked the colours I wanted to use (mostly the ones used in the original cross stitch plus a few others in case I needed more shading), and packed it all into my stitching bag.

The Elegant Cats project set up

Before any stitch was put in, however, a lot of thinking was needed. In the cross stitch version the cats were both solidly stitched; something I definitely didn’t want in the freestyle version. But the “outlines only” approach threw up a number of obstacles, first and foremost among them the black cat’s white patch. This stands out very noticeably when the cat is otherwise solid black, but might get lost if it was white stitched on off-white inside an empty black outline. Another challenge was the ginger cat’s stripes. Stitched simply as the stripes on the line drawing they might look a bit sparse, but how to bulk them out? Could I work them in some sort of spiky stitch like Mountmellick or long-armed Palestrina?

In order to give myself a bit more time to think about these things I started with the bits I had already decided on: the main outlines, which would be stitched in stem stitch using three strands – nice and chunky. trying to visualise whether the black cat would look better in stark black or very dark grey I made a last-minute decision to blend, something which I hoped would give depth to the outlines, and which I subsequently also used on the ginger cat.

A stem stitched outline Blending

For the ginger cat’s stripes I decided against any of the more exotic stitches – I wanted to keep this design simple in both its outlines and its execution, and so sticking to the basic repertoire of stitches (as very scientifically defined by my mother-in-law, who after decades of very intricate stitching says that she will now use only “stem stitch, chain stitch, French knots and fly stitch”) seemed a good idea (although I retained the option of adding one or two basic stitches not on her list, such as ray stitch; it may sound exotic but is basically a group of straight stitches radiating from one point).

Chain stitch seemed to fit the bill as it is a line stitch with some width to it, unlike stem stitch. But one line of chain stitch, even with the added shading of blended threads, still looked too thin. How about building up the stripes to the sort of shape they had in the cross stitch version by adding lines of chain stitch on top of each other?

Stacking chain stitch for the ginger stripes

That worked. Next challenge, the black cat’s white patch. As I expected an outline-only version just looked insignificant and negligible, even using three strands. Well, how about filling it in with chain stitch, subtly echoing the chain stitch in the other cat’s stripes? In one strand, to keep an airy look – it wouldn’t do to have it too solid or I’d have to beef up the black as well! And yes, a round-and-round filling of light chain stitch gave me the effect I wanted.

A white patch in outline only A white patch filled in

Fairly last-minute, and for no particular reason other than that it suddenly struck me as a good idea, I gave both cats a white tail tip. This may have been partly a displacement strategy so I wouldn’t have to think about what was the final, and rather daunting, challenge in the design process, that of the black cat’s body colour. I delayed this decision even more by first finishing the paw print border, which was always going to be padded satin stitch with French knots and therefore didn’t present a problem.

But eventually everything had been stitched that could be stitched without coming to the black cat’s potential body filling or shading, and so it had to be faced. Because I definitely wanted to steer clear of solid filling, the best option seemed to be a sort of hatched shading, worked in one strand like the patch to keep it light. I picked the grey from the blend, feeling that the full black would probably make the hatching look too stark, and simply started stitching, hoping that I’d have the good sense to stop when enough was enough. I think I did smiley – and now the Elegant Cats exist in freestyle as well as in cross stitch. Which must be a good thing, as you can never have too many cats! (Well, not in stitch anyway.)

An unshaded black cat A shaded black cat

Shopping and workshopping

Some three weeks ago (where does the time go!) I was at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Alexandra Palace, having a jolly good time both as a tutor and as a stitcher going round the stands. I’m really enjoying the combination – my stash of fabrics, threads and other bits and bobs is so well-stocked after years of stitching that I’m not sure two days of solid shopping would on its own be a reason for going, but mixed with teaching workshops it’s great.

And I didn’t just shop, either: in between looking for silks and buttons I wandered onto a stand where you could learn to knit or crochet. I’m OK with crochet, but knitting, in spite of several attempts and in spite of having a knitting grandmother, mother, aunts and mother-in-law, has so far eluded me. I only had about 20 minutes before the next workshop, but the kind volunteer teaching me to cast on, knit and purl was so clear and helpful that I managed to produce something which, though not in any way aspiring to being useful (it will never become a jersey or even a dishcloth), did at least look like acceptable knitting. A very proud moment!

A tiny bit of knitting

I did do some shopping as well, of course, and bought a few supplies (spending all of £7). Having learnt the basics of soft string padding at my RSN goldwork class the day before, I got a card of soft string to practice with at home (well, I couldn’t possibly go to Golden Hinde’s stand and not buy at least one thing), and from John James’ stand I got some good value petite tapestry needles for the Christmas Wreath kits and the Butterfly Wreath workshop.

Purchases at the 2017 Knitting & Stitching Show

There is a third item in the picture above: ten little wooden floral buttons. They are the culmination of a two-year search, which sounds much more serious than it is smiley. You may remember I stitched an elephant for our niece’s wedding, and that after things going rather badly wrong during the finishing process it did eventually turn into quite a nice card, embellished with four small wooden floral buttons. As I’d originally bought five, at a previous Knitting & Stitching Show, I had one left. And I really liked them. So I tried to find some more, both at the K & S and in shops – unsuccessfully, until this October. Yes, this time I finally found the exact match to my remaining button – yay!

A Wedding Elephant Matched buttons

What I forgot to do, however, is make a note of who sold them, so if I want any more the whole search will have to be repeated … My task for next year: find the stand that sells the buttons and write down the name!

One thing I did notice – and it may not be as bad or as widespread as it looks to me; I hope it isn’t – is that fewer small independent shops have stands. Kate at Sparklies pulled out several years ago, and this year The Calico Cat, from whom I had hoped to purchase some 3-yard skeins of Gloriana silk, was absent. Both mentioned spiralling costs as one of the reasons that they didn’t come to the Knitting & Stitching Show any more. It seems to me that the K & S are shooting themselves in the foot here, as it is surely these small shops, often one-woman or husband-and-wife outfits, that make the show so interesting. Yes, being able to buy needles at a discount from John James, to name but one of the “big” names, is useful, but it’s the relatively unknown designers, the makers of unique hand-dyed threads and fabrics, the purveyors of kits you could only get from them, who make us come back year after year. Or am I projecting my own ideas onto everyone else? When you go to a Show like this (or if you had the opportunity to go), why do you/would you go? What makes it interesting to you? I’d love to hear.

And then there were the workshops. I do enjoy those! Especially when the people coming to them tell me that they have enjoyed them too smiley. Here is a small impression of what was produced at the Shisha, freestyle and embellished embroidery workshops, including my own very artistic doodle cloth. (Incidentally, K & S, slightly more inspiring surroundings to teach the workshops in would be really nice…)

The Shisha workshop The freestyle workshop The workshop doodle cloth  
 Some of the Shisha projects Some of the embellished projects Some of the freestyle projects Some more embellished projects

Goldwork with a view

Two weeks ago, before getting into the whirl of teaching four workshops in two days at the Knitting & Stitching Show, I had treated myself to a three-hour one-on-one goldwork tutorial at the Royal School of Needlework. My tutor Heather Lewis and I were at a table by a window in a cubby-hole leading to a storage room. But then you don’t need much room to embroider, and anyway this was not just any cubby-hole – this was a cubby-hole with A View!

Embroidery with a view

I’d asked specifically for the tutorial to concentrate on attaching fabric to fabric in such a way that it doesn’t wrinkle or pucker, and on soft string padding. The former because I simply cannot seem to get smallish bits of beautiful fabric attached to large bits of useful calico backing and have the same tension on both, and the latter because it is a technique I’d never tried and I liked the 3D look of it. Heather gave me some good advice about attaching fabrics (the main one: don’t have too much tension on your ground fabric when applying the top fabric) but as you will see from the pictures, I need a bit more practice – the green silk for the leaf is definitely not completely flat!

An applied leaf, and soft string being couched

You can see a bit of the other technique in there as well – soft string padding uses, unsurprisingly, soft string (in yellow as padding for gold, and white or grey for silver) which is couched down in a bundle and cut gradually from below to fill the desired shape, in this case the leaf stem. You start with the full bundle at the widest part of the shape, then cut one or two threads at a time from the bottom of the bundle (hence flipping it over as in the picture above) depending on how quickly the shape becomes thinner. Below you can see the stem all cut and couched into shape; this will be covered in cutwork, but first the leaf was outlined in double couched Jap. I chose to couch in visible green rather than invisible gold, a choice I regretted just a little bit as any irregularities in your couching are so much more noticeable in colour.

Soft string padding complete, and Jap being applied

You’ll have noticed that the stitches attaching the silk leaf to the background are not quite covered by the double line of Jap. Another line is needed, but as I’ve done a fair bit of couching before Heather and I decided I could do that at home, even though strictly speaking it should have been finished before starting the next bit. There was enough Jap in the kit to do another line, bricking the stitches as is traditional, but I’ve decided I’d like a different, wavy effect so I will do the inner line using either rococo, check thread or milliary wire (which I described to my husband as “the goldwork equivalent of Toblerone”). I’ll probably add some spangles of different sizes as well. A bit of extra bling never hurt anyone!

Plunging the Jap threads Possible wavy threads

So on to the cutwork. This uses small lengths of purl (in this case smooth purl, but rough, wire check or bright check can also be used) which are attached much as you would beads, by taking the needle through them. The trick is to cut them to exactly the right length to cover the soft padding, and to handle them as little as possible. It is fiddly and time-consuming, and I didn’t manage to finish it all, but on the whole I am not dissatisfied with my first attempt.

Sewing on the cut lengths of purl Cutwork covering part of the padding

So here is the leaf as it was at the end of the tutorial; and now to finish it. The bits nearer the ends of the stem are going to be more tricky and no doubt some re-cutting will occur. I’ll probably do the wavy inside line of the leaf before completing the top end of the stem so that I’m doing it as much as possible in the “proper” order, and then spangles to round the whole thing off. With some spare time this weekend and next it shouldn’t be too long before I can show you the finished article!

The leaf at the end of the tutorial

Kits. Lots of kits.

When I started Mabel’s Fancies, it was because I found that other people liked the things I’d been designing for my own use, and as I had some experience in writing websites it seemed a good idea to set one up for myself and offer the designs for sale, thus to at least partly finance my hobby. My husband, ever ambitious, has long urged me to expand and go for world domination, but I’m perfectly happy for it to stay small-scale and bring in some stash money so I don’t have to worry about buying goldwork threads or hand-dyed fabrics.

To this end, I decided that digital chart packs were the way to go. There was a bit of a scare a while back when it looked like I would have to charge VAT for every digital sale abroad and make sure that it was the correct VAT for whatever country the buyer was from, which would have put a complete stop to that side of Mabel’s Fancies, but fortunately the law turned out not to apply to things sent out by email. Phew.

Quite early on in Mabel’s existence I did add one kit (or rather a set of three kits) to the range: the Mini Needlebook kits for people who wanted to try out Hardanger. Between them they cover the three most common bars and filling stitches, and you end up with one or more usable needlebooks. And that was it. A few tools were added, like squissors, but on the whole most of Mabel’s fancies were digital ones.

Set of Hardanger needle matchbooks

Then I started teaching classes and workshops. And for those classes and workshops I needed to provide material packs. And as I was putting those together I thought I might as well put together a few more and bung them on the website, and so the needlebook kits were joined by bookmarks and notebooks and coasters (all in Hardanger), as well as a number of cards in Shisha, freestyle, tactile and embellished embroidery. It was definitely expansion, though fortunately still a long way away from the world domination advocated by my husband.

On the whole, I can get away with making up a few kits at a time, or even just making them up as and when they are needed. I’ve got two boxes with kit materials, some of them pre-cut, and so putting a single kit together when it’s ordered is fairly quick, and it means I’m not taking up storage space which is rather at a premium in our house. Even when it’s a single workshop, which is usually for a maximum of twelve people, it’s all quite manageable. It’s when there are three or (as now) four workshops looming that the production line begins to get a bit overwhelming.

And so this is what our house has been looking like for the past week or so:

Preparing Shisha kits And more Shisha kits Preparing Wildflower kits Preparing Butterfly Wreath kits
And more butterfly kits Cutting the fabric Ironing the fabric Transferring the patterns

You may have noticed, by the way, the complete and slightly surprising absence of Cat in these pictures. Lexi took pity on me and decided not to spread her fur onto the fabric, tangle the threads in a play-fight or photobomb the FoF pics. She confined herself to attacking and killing a few off-cuts – I am much obliged to her.

An elephantine fillip

As all stitchers know – as anybody with a hobby or favourite pastime knows – life can get rather in the way sometimes. Not necessarily in very dramatic or tragic ways (although that, too, happens) but just by the demands of work, other obligations, and the odd spell of under-the-weather-ness. It is this that explains why throughout September no Fancies took Flight and it is also the reason why very little stitching got done in the Figworthy household during that time; I simply did not have the inclination, apart from some experimental leaves for the Tree of Life (more about which hopefully later this month).

Sometimes the projects that we have lined up simply fail to inspire, however enthusiastic we may have been about them at the outset. Although I enjoy stitching the various leaves once I get into them, often I simply don’t feel like picking them up and getting started on them; and even when I do I can get stuck half-way through – quite an achievement when the whole project is one small leaf! Fortunately I had other things to occupy me, such as putting together 48 workshop kits (more about that later as well…), but it feels odd not to have something stitchy on the go that I want to get on with.

And then, as I was thinking about an email I need to write concerning some designs, I was reminded of this elephant:

A Wedding Elephant

Some time ago, well over a year in fact, I was asked whether I would consider doing a smaller version of the elephant (known as The Wedding Elephant as well as by its official title “Remember the Day”) which would work on favour cards or place cards. At the time I just stored that idea away in the back of my mind, as it would require a fair bit of fiddling with the design – how small does an elephant need to get if it is to fit onto a favour card? Surely too small to accommodate both the lattice work and the flowers? And an empty elephant would look a bit minimalist, besides not tying in with the original elephant (whether the person who asked me was thinking of the original elephant as a wedding invitation I don’t know, but she definitely meant the small one to complement the full-sized one).

But as the elephant was brought to my mind again by that email (which, incidentally, is still unwritten…), I could suddenly envisage what the mini elephant might look like. Could there be a pair of elephants, facing each other, one with the lattice and one with the flowers? Or if you couldn’t fit two of them on one favour card, perhaps half the cards could have the lattice one facing one way, and the other half the floral one facing the other way. Diversity in symmetry, or something like that.

So I got to work drawing and redrawing and mirroring and resizing, and getting my boxes of hand-dyed stranded cottons and silks out, and now I can’t wait for my stitching time after dinner to get to work on a baby elephant or two. Hurray for a stimulating pachyderm!

Mini variations on an elephant

Playing with material combinations

In my previous post I mentioned that somehow some particularly nice fabrics seem to have found their way into my stash, fabrics just right for appliqué projects. Sound recognisable? I blame the internet myself, but then as that also indirectly found me a particularly nice husband I’m not likely to complain too vociferously smiley.

The fabrics in question are five shades of Makower Spraytime, and they were a bit of a gamble. They would have to work with the various Anchor Multicolor perles I already have, and it is notoriously difficult to judge colours on a computer screen. But I found a shop that offered them at a good price with very reasonable postage, decided that even if they weren’t quite the right shade to use with the Multicolors there was bound to be some other perle in my stash that would match them, and before I knew it Pink P42, Apple Green G46, Orange N56, Mid Blue B15 and Mauve L45 were on their way to me. And hip hip hurray, they do work with the Anchor threads!

Appliqué fabrics and possible Anchor threads

But the threads are just the first colour-coordinated hurdle. When the appliqué embroidery has been completed, it is to be finished as a card. Do the cards I generally use come in colours that will suit the fabrics (and the threads, not to mention the gems)? I decided to concentrate on the fabric as providing the biggest area of colour, and got aperture cards in several likely shades from my stash. These were not necessarily the right cards aperture-wise, but they would do to see which card colours would go with which fabric. As it turned out there were suitable colours for most of them in my collection, the only slightly awkward one being the orange fabric. Brown and yellow cards will work, and possibly (when embroidered with the green/yellow/orange Anchor perle) dark green, though none are ideal; unfortunately I don’t think Craft Creations (my go to place for aperture cards) have anything more suitable available – they did a nice rich orangey yellow years ago but for some reason that got dropped from their range. Oh well, one or more of the others will have to do.

Appliqué fabrics and possible card colours

So now that I’ve got the various colour combinations worked out, all that remains to be done is to stitch several of them to iron out the inevitable hiccups (mixed metaphor, I know), photograph everything, write the instructions and turn them into a kit, and that’s another workshop sorted!