Ideas for a tree

Ever since I saw my mother-in-law’s Suffolk puff Christmas tree, I’ve been wanting to make one myself. I knew I had some cream fabric with holly leaves and berries left, but not enough for half a tree; so I would need another fabric, rather darker than this cream background, and some gold lamé. As it happens there is a fabric shop right next door to where my weekly embroidery group meets, and they had put all their Christmas fabrics on sale – 50% off! So I came away with a lovely red, green & gold fabric, but no gold; they were out of gold lamé. The proprietess said she would be ordering in some gold satin lining which might also work, so yesterday I went in again to see if it had arrived. It hadn’t, but in the section of satin dupions I suddenly spotted two golds which I hadn’t noticed the week before – then there had only been a rather pale champagne shade. The lady on duty said that she had rearranged that section only that morning, and they had probably been hidden at the back before. She gave me two swatches to take home and compare to my Christmassy fabrics.

Fabrics for a red, green and gold Christmas tree Possible golds for a red, green and gold Christmas tree

In my stash I also had some non-Christmassy fabrics scraps from previous projects (silver lamé and patterned white for the Frosty Pine ornament and a patterned blue/turquoise for our niece Isobel’s door hanger) which I thought might work rather well together for a less traditional Christmas tree; though that one will have to be smallish as all three fabrics are left-overs and I can’t remember where I originally got them.

Fabrics for a blue, white and silver Christmas tree

Now I just need to finish all my current projects and I can start on these – probably the very earliest I have ever started a Christmas project!

How a variation becomes a new design

The twelve parts of Round in Circles were designed in pairs; to be, so to speak, a positive and a negative of the same shape. If in one design a central horizontal band was cut, then in its counterpart that central band would be solid, and the half-moon shapes above and below it would be cut. One of these pairs (Rounds Six and Twelve) was designed around a diagonal cross, cut in Round Six and solid in Round Twelve.

Rounds Six and Twelve

When charting the diagonal cross, I had several options; two of them looked almost identical on paper, but because one of them used floating Kloster blocks (which are purely decorative and are not needed to keep the fabric from fraying) and double-sided Kloster blocks (cut on both sides) whereas the other used only standard Kloster blocks, they had a different distribution of cut holes (shown by the pink and blue dots in the diagrams below).

Two diagonal crosses

I stitched both of them, with their whipped backstitch circle but without any surface stitches or cutting, and eventually decided on the one which included non-standard Kloster blocks – both because that shape was the exact negative of its counterpart, unlike the one using standard Kloster blocks only, and because it meant an extra technique to include in the Stitch-Along. The unused model went to the bottom of the pile, to be used at some later date for something or other.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was looking for a small Hardanger project, and remembered the discarded diagonal cross. I didn’t want to use the same surface stitches, and the filling stitches used in the SAL version wouldn’t work because of the difference in cut holes, so I copied it into my charting program and played around a bit. Because of the triangular nature of the solid parts I thought of a heart-shaped stitch of some sort; after dismissing a few other possibilities I chose Rhodes hearts. I liked the French knots surrounding the spider’s web stitches in the SAL version (well, I wouldn’t have designed them like that if I didn’t smiley) but wanted to get that dotted effect in some other way. Sequins! and if I worked the hearts in one colour, and attached the sequins with another, I could then use both colours in the filling stitch.

But what filling stitch? Being rather fond of nutmeg and mace stitch at the moment, I charted the design with a two-coloured version of those for the time being. Then I started stitching the surface stitches, and doing the cutting.

As I was poking in the cut ends Lexi decided that my lap was the perfect place for a cat to be, and in such a position that going on to the bars wasn’t really an option. I did some sketching instead as I suddenly thought this might make rather a nice pair if I could come up with a matching design. Not the positive/negative match, I wanted to keep that as a Round In Circles thing, so what else? Well, a diagonal cross might be rather nicely matched with an upright cross. Both with hearts and sequins, fillings to be decided on later.

“Later” turned out to be around midnight as I was in bed, falling asleep. Fortunately there is always a notebook by my bed, and even more fortunately my scribbles still made sense to me the next morning! A bit more experimenting is needed, but suspended sequins are likely to feature, and a two-coloured version of square filets.

Sketches for new designs

As for the scribble at the top of the printed page, that was to remind me to check Shakespeare’s Richard III for the exact quotation which I seemed to remember included something like “even so thy breast encompasseth my poor heart”, in the hope that it might furnish me with a catchy name for the design. It didn’t. The two circles with Rhodes hearts and blingy sequins will instead be known as Heart’s Treasure.

A surprise in the post

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – stitchers are lovely people! On a damp, grey, rather dreary day the postman brought a parcel containing this:

A surprise book and card

A beautifully stitched card (now where have I seen that design before…) and a book on Hardanger, sent by a thoughtful fellow stitcher. She told me that the book had come to her via a charity shop to which it had been donated by a Dutchwoman! No, it wasn’t me smiley (that would really have been the coincidence to top all coincidences) so I will enjoy reading this new edition to my stitching library.

Squeezing Delft into a coaster

Recently several people have asked me about designs for coasters. More specifically, one lady asked whether the Round In Circles designs would work with the acrylic coasters, and if not, which designs would; another lady wanted to know whether the Floral Lace designs would fit. In case other FoF readers have been wondering about this too, I thought it would be useful to put the answers I’ve been giving together and share them here.

The Round In Circles designs are just about the right size for coasters when done on 25ct (and if you leave out the circular border they will fit very easily); the same goes for the Song of the Weather designs (the previous Stitch-Along), which are the same size. However, it’s because I try to include lots of texture and techniques in the SALs that they are not all suitable for use in coasters even when size-wise they would fit. The flatter the better, generally, when finishing something as a coaster; so try not to use very textural stitches; raised chain stitch, for example, would simply get squashed out of all recognition, and padded goldwork (if you could sqeeze it in at all) would lose the very reason why the padding was added in the first place! French knots may just fit if done in relatively thin thread – as such they might work as a substitute for beads, because being thread they are at least squashable, which beads aren’t.

Floral Lace is too large for coasters as it stands; the stitch count is 82 square, which even on 25ct would be too big to fit. Without the gold cross stitch border, the size would be ideal on 25ct and would probably also work stitched on 22ct. On 28ct fabric they would fit with the border, but the floral cross stitch motifs, which are worked over one fabric thread, might be a bit challenging. The biggest problem here, however, is the beads, which are a pretty integral part of the design in this series. Beads, as I mentioned before, will not be squeezed into coasters, so an alternative would have to be found. Very small gold French knots could work, or 2mm sequins attached with two stitches and with the central hole in the same place as where the bead is charted. See below for this idea in practice!

Is Hardanger on the whole a no-no for coasters then, unless you’re willing to do an awful lot of adapting and fiddling? Definitely not, I’ve done stacks of Hardanger coasters myself – but you need to bear all the above in mind when choosing your design.

Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design Some of the Round Dozen designs in coasters Kaleidoscope in coasters

Generally, any Hardanger without beads or particularly chunky stitches should be fine. The design in the Coaster kit works of course (I should jolly well hope so!) and all the Round Dozen designs fit (on 25ct), as do Kaleidoscope and Happy Hour (on 22ct). From the Small section, Jewel, Frozen Mist and Snowflake work when done on 25ct.

And finally, some designs will work if stitched on a finer fabric; the Afghan Squares, for example, although originally designed using chunky threads on 18ct afghan fabric, would fit perfectly into a coaster when using standard #5 and #8 perles on 28ct fabric – including the border! One of the designs which I actually stitched on 28ct Lugana to test my own advice is Delft. Here I could try out two aspects of all that I’ve written above: using a higher count fabric, and substituting 2mm sequins (which I happened to have in my stash – I knew when I bought them at the sale for no particular purpose that they’d come in handy one day smiley) for the beads.

It took a bit of squinting and some extra light – my own fault for choosing to try this on dark green fabric with some of it stitched in dark green – but it did work! The design fits, and the sequins stand in well for the beads, even though I had to lose one of them in each of the backstitch motifs; possibly I could have fitted in two, but I felt it would look too full and decided to go with a single sequin with room to breathe.

Delft in green on 28ct fabric 2mm sequins used instead of beads

There was a slightly tense moment when it came to ironing on the thin black interfacing. Would the sequins stand it? They are generally not happy about being subjected to intense heat, as I found out when ironing a shisha design some time ago… But fortunately they survived intact (probably because they were protected by the interfacing, be it ever so thin, and the extra layer of baking parchment needed to keep the interfacing from sticking to the iron), and during the final assembly they didn’t keep the coaster from snapping shut – victory!

Delft on 28ct mounted in a coaster

It’s not the quickest coaster to make; if speed is of the essence (a last-minute birthday present, for example) you are better off with a smaller design, especially one without the need for sequins, on 22ct Hardanger fabric. But as coasters are such useful items and ideal presents for anyone who drinks tea or coffee or hot chocolate or hot toddies (does that exclude anyone?) it’s good to know that many designs can, with a bit of thought, be used to make them.

Very fine needlework, a fabric tree and a book of inspiration

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to you all – may 2017 bring only good things your way!

And with a bit of luck some of those good things will be enjoyable stitching projects. Not much stitching got done over the holiday period while visiting the in-laws; there was family to be chatted to, food to be cooked and eaten, walks in the crisp winter air to be enjoyed, and the Cotehele Garland to be admired (this year’s version was blue and white). And not much stitching is getting done in this post-festive period either, as I am contending with a cold and new glasses, which take a bit of getting used to. That is not to say there hasn’t been needlework in my life – just not mine smiley.

Some time ago my husband passed on to me some hand-embroidered handkerchiefs that had belonged to his grandmother, Susan. The initial isn’t right for me, but they are lovely dainty little things and I use them with a lot of pleasure. Not, I hasten to say, to minister to my cold; their daintiness is such that one good nose blow would probably render them ready for the laundry. But they are just the thing to have in my handbag for cleaning my glasses with.

The needlework on them – satin stitch, cutwork, needleweaving – is incredibly fine; sometimes the cutwork leaves a single thread of the ground fabric in between the needleweaving. The corner below is about 13cm square, which will give you some idea of the scale of the work. My mother-in-law tells me that the handkerchiefs were most likely embroidered and bought in China, where her aunt and uncle lived for some years, and either sent or brought back as a present for Susan. She didn’t give me a date but I’m guessing the second quarter of the 20th century.

My husband's grandmother's hand-embroidered handkerchief

This sort of embroidery could make the average stitcher weep with frustration and discourage us from ever picking up a needle again, but I’ve decided simply to admire and dismiss any thought of ever emulating work this fine. I’m quite happy to stick with fairly chunky Hardanger and do that as best I can!

Talking of chunkier needlework, my mother-in-law showed me a project she had done at her embroidery group for Christmas: a Suffolk puff Christmas tree. A Suffolk puff (I keep wanting to call it a Suffolk Punch, but that’s a horse!) is made by sewing running stitch around the edge of a circle and then gathering it so it doubles up into a puffy disc. I’d seen them before made into leggy clowns or animals, with lots of puffs strung onto a thread to make the limbs, but didn’t know what they were called. Here twelve graded puffs are pinned onto a wooden skewer set into a base, and topped with a wooden bead (a star or something similar would work as well). The idea was to sew beads on as baubles, and possibly other decorations as well, but my mother-in-law decided that the fabrics she had chosen were quite decorative enough in themselves, and I think she was absolutely right. I’m not much of a seamstress, but this is one project I might have a go at for next Christmas – I think it just about falls within my capabilities smiley.

a Suffolk puff Christmas tree

The other stitching in my life at the moment is as yet on paper rather than on fabric: Mildred Graves Ryan’s Complete Encyclopaedia of Stitchcraft. It covers knitting, crochet and other things besides embroidery, but for the moment it is the embroidery part that I’m concentrating on. The book is full of interesting stitches, all presented with lovely clear diagrams, and over the years I have already taken one or two ideas from it, for example the Portuguese band or border stitch used in Song of the Weather: April.

Mildred Graves Ryan's Complete Encyclopaedia of Stitchcraft A sample page

So laying aside my “proper” projects for the moment, I’ve got my doodle cloths at the ready to do some non-challenging stitching over the next few days; anything crooked or wrong doesn’t matter there, and if I can’t see well enough I can just make the stitches bigger!

Doodle cloths ready to use