Four shades of green

Not quite 40 shades of green in the Figworthy household at the moment (although if I went through all my thread boxes I could probably get together at least that number; but let’s not go there) – four are quite enough for now. They are the variegated greens I am trying out for the wheatear border on the third Floral Gems design, which will be made into a workshop, and they are Weeks Dye Works (WDW) perle #12, Cottage Garden (CG) perle #12, Chameleon perle (Cham) #16 and Sulky Blendables (SB) 12wt.

Four shades of green to try

Let me start with an apology and a spoiler – this is not going to be a detailed analysis, just an impression of what the threads are like to work with; and I like all four threads.

Having got that out of the way, let’s have a look at the four threads in close-up. WDW (top) looks a little heavier than the other threads, even though CG is a perle #12 as well. SB is a 12wt which I had assumed (although I have not been able to find any very clear-cut information about it anywhere – thread weights are complicated!) to be about the same thickness as a #12, but it looks thinnest of the four, possibly because it is quite tightly twisted. It wasn’t until I looked at this close-up picture that I noticed another difference between SB and the other threads: it is a Z-twist, whereas the others are the more usual S-twist. I knew some silks and rayons are Z-twists but didn’t think there were any cotton ones – you learn something new every day! (I’ll say a little more about Z-twists later.)

The four threads close up: WDW, CG, Cham, SB

In all of the following samples I worked with 90cm (1 yard) lengths; far too long according to received wisdom, but I dislike fastening off and on too often, and it seems to work for me. Well, generally. With perles, which are twisted, it can lead to the thread bunching up (very noticeable with Treenways’ fine cord, for example, which is a very tight buttonhole twist – you very definitely need shorter lengths there!) The stitch is wheatear, which gives the wreath outline a bit more interest than a plain chain stitch. It is essentially a reverse chain stitch (shown here by Mary Corbet) with straight stitches sticking out, and like chain stitch works well in a circle.

First up is WDW perle #12 (2171 Emerald). It was occasionally a bit tangly but the variegation has a lovely effect, it’s a beautiful colour (I got another shade, 2166 Bayberry, which is even closer to what I was looking for, but it came too late for me to use it in these experiments) and it’s exactly the right thickness – it has enough body to show off the colour, but is thin enough for the stitch to have good definition.

Weeks Dye Works perle #12 Weeks Dye Works perle #12 close-up

Next is Cham perle #16 (Fennel). I knew Chameleon Threads, a South-African company, from their hand-dyed stranded silks – in my silk boxes you will find most of the colours from their Shades of Africa range (used in Remember the Day). I found this #16 perle at the Knitting & Stitching Show; it’s a relatively new range, as yet available in a fairly limited palette which fortunately for my purpose includes this attractive, subtle green. It’s a nice, well-behaved perle to work with, and although obviously a bit thinner than the WDW it still gives enough coverage in the stitch to be an effective frame for the design.

Chameleon perle #16 Chameleon perle #16 close-up

The third thread is CG perle #12 (809 Oregano). Cottage Garden is an Australian company, and their range includes stranded cotton as well as #8 and #12 perle (but no #5, which means I can’t use them for Hardanger on my usual 25ct fabric). Although off the skein it looks a bit thinner than WDW #12, it stitches up with more or less the same look. It’s fairly well-behaved, even with my 90cm lengths.

Cottage Garden perle #12 Cottage Garden perle #12 close-up

And finally SB 12wt (4086 Cactus). As I mentioned above, this is different from the other three threads not only because it isn’t a perle, but also because it is a Z-twist. This means that when looking at the twist in the thread, the slant has the direction of the diagonal of the letter Z; in an S-twist the slant goes the other way. There is a little bit more about it in this post about whipped stitches, and a lot more in this recent post on Mary Corbet’s blog.

SB is very tightly twisted, but unexpectedly it doesn’t bunch up like some of the others – it is a very pleasant thread to work with, and (not unimportant when considering threads for workshops or kits) it works out much more economically than any of the others. It has a nice crisp look, and although the variagation is a bit stronger than I would have liked, it doesn’t break up the unity of the wreath.

Sulky Blendables 12wt Sulky Blendables 12wt close-up

So which do I like best? If I were just looking at the threads, how they handle and how they stitch up, I’d go for Weeks Dye Works; it is my favourite where colour and variegation are concerned, and in spite of some tangling it is comfortable enough to work with. I just really like the look of this thread in wheatear stitch. Chameleon and Cottage Garden I will happily use again, but they wouldn’t be my first choice. In the end, however, I have to bear in mind what I am choosing this thread for – kits and workshops. The materials have to be of good quality, but it is just not viable to pick anything too expensive. In trying out several hand-dyeds I was probably being a bit unrealistic to begin with, and Sulky makes a good alternative – it is a high-quality thread with the interest of variegation, but mass-prodused and therefore more affordable than the more labour-intensive hand-dyed threads. So in spite of its rather unfortunate name (whoever thought that was a good idea?) Sulky Blendables will be my choice for the Floral Gems.

The start of a craft room

After a couple of years of empty-nesting we have had both fledglings back temporarily (though not simultaneously), something which could have meant an indefinite delay to The Craft Room.

The Craft Room has existed in concept practically since we moved into this house 11 years ago. It has, you see, a small downstairs study, just the thing to be turned into a little nook for the lady of the house. One day. Because with two teenagers in the house it first became The Telly Room, a.k.a. The Den. Their need was greater than mine. I could wait.

And so my various bits and bobs got distributed around the house, in a chest of drawers, a wall-mounted bookcase, a specimen cabinet, a drawer under the bed and a blanket chest, as well as The Temporary Craft Storage Shelf, a.k.a. the dining table.

The present craft storage, a.k.a. the dining table

But Youngest (the fledgling currently at home) has generously said he can now do without The Den, and so the transformation is in progress. The old telly has been taken to the local charity shop, my hi-fi (brought with me from the Netherlands but rather superfluous as my husband already had a better one) has been claimed by Youngest as it has a record player and he is into vinyl. Several other items which had made their home in that room for the past decade have been returned to their respective owners, to be stored in their own room/flat. The Craft Room To Be is getting emptier.

The telly room, window side The telly room, door side

Of course when I say “emptier” I use the word in its loosest possible sense… That blue behemoth is a sofa bed which we hope someone will want to come and collect, the boxes and stuffed animals on it are things from my mother’s flat waiting to be sorted out, and the trays of Austin Seven spares in the middle of the room are part of our trade fair stand in need of re-organising. But we’ve made a start!

Eventually, when the room is empty apart from the bookcase and the low coffee table, it will be time to start filling it up again. I’m sure things will get re-arranged more than once, but this is the provisional layout:

Floorplan for the craft room

The bookcase (minus the video tapes and DVDs it holds at the moment) will be moved to the opposite, north-facing wall, so that even with the curtains open there won’t be too much light falling on whatever is stored there (probably all my thread boxes). The coffee table will remain where it is, and a very tall unit for CDs will snuggle in beside it and hold my audiobooks. A desk that is at present in our storage room will go by the window, with a small Ikea filing cabinet (not bought yet) by its side. The desk has three drawers which I think will be just the right size to hold my hoops, including the sets of workshop hoops.

The light grey rectangles drawn inside the desk and table are plastic storage boxes; they are the sort advertised as under-the-bed storage, but there is no reason why they shouldn’t sit quite as comfortably under anything else on legs smiley. By the way, one of them has now got a dark lid – when I got them home I found one of the lids was cracked, and although Wilko were happy to replace it they didn’t have any transparent ones. As they’ll be hidden away anyway I wasn’t too bothered.

Under-the-bed boxes

The rectangle between the desk and the coffee table is what the shop called a “Really Useful Rainbow Storage Tower”, which is as good a description as any. It did need a little adjusting, though – originally the pink drawer at the top was positioned between the red and the orange drawers!

A rainbow storage tower

Now I know that it’s really silly to start filling boxes and drawers when I haven’t got a place to put them yet, but I couldn’t resist. And so the rainbow tower and one of the storage boxes now hold all my fabrics. (I’ve since changed my mind about the other box with the hoops – as mentioned above they will probably go into the desk drawers instead.)

Beginning to fill the boxes A fabric tower

Until I have sorted through Mum’s boxes, and we’ve got rid of the sofa and moved the trays of spares, any further Craft Room arrangements will have to be made on paper, so I’m happily occupying myself with measuring shelves and drawers and boxes and seeing what will fit where.

Calculations

There are a few other things that aren’t on the floorplan yet – the sewing machine which is to have a permanent place on the desk in the hope that I will actually start using it, the wall-mounted cupboard/shelf unit which my mother used as a coat rack and which used to be my grandparents’, and possibly another wall-mounted unit if I can convince my husband that our storage room doesn’t really need it. If everything goes to plan, I should have a fully furnished craft room some time this year!

An exciting plan

Over the years I’ve been to several Royal School of Needlework workshops and day classes; they are always well-taught, well-organised and very enjoyable, and the workshops especially have been a great way of finding out in a relatively economical way which types of embroidery are just not my cup of tea (I’m talking about you, stumpwork) and which are not just my cup of tea but a whole afternoon tea at the Ritz (hello goldwork!)

Whenever I’ve found something I enjoy doing (like calligraphy and various embroidery techniques), I tend to read as many books about it as I can and then just have a go (for example with the padded gold kid in Treasure Trove, and my present goldwork Work-In-Progress the Jacobean Flower).

Jacobean Flower in progress

But sometimes it’s helpful – not to mention a lot of fun – to get some formal instruction. After the first RSN goldwork taster workshop I did in 2012 (the dragonfly) there followed another one at the next Knitting & Stitching Show (the bee; which did end up looking a little different from the original design…); then I found the RSN occasionally did day classes in Rugby and treated myself to one as a St Nicholas present (the watering can). And this year they’re offering another one! I’d hoped they would do an Intermediate level this time, but oh well, I’m happy to take what I can get smiley so I am now booked in for April, where it looks like we’ll be stitching a goldwork ankle boot.

The goldwork dragonfly in all its glory The goldwork bee framed in a flexi-hoop The goldwork watering can finished

This is, you will agree, quite as much excitement as a stitcher can be expected to handle, but there is more! Following a link in the RSN’s recent newsletter I found that they offer private one-to-one tutorials.

I’ll allow some time to let that sink in a bit.

A private lesson, taught by one of the RSN tutors, at Hampton Court Palace *starry-eyed look* – what more could any stitcher wish for? Well, a bigger needlework budget would be nice. It would be lovely to book a whole day (10am till 4pm with an hour off for lunch) (who needs lunch?) (actually, I would; I like food quite as much as I like stitching) but a quick look at the latest bank statement suggests that a 3-hour class is probably more realistic. So I took the plunge and rang them, and I am now pencilled in for a goldwork tutorial on Wednesday 11th October, an extension to my usual Knitting & Stitching Show jaunt. It is as yet dependent on them finding a tutor available, so I’ll let you know when I hear more!

Colour squared

This

Two-tone square filets

doesn’t look much like this

The first scribble

does it? And yet that’s where it started, with a midnight idea and a scribble in thick and thin pencil lines. The idea was as follows: when working a square filet, unlike with a dove’s eye, the thread goes down into the fabric. And if one colour goes down into the fabric, a different colour may come up. Furthermore, unlike for example the spider’s web, the square filet is made up of equal “passes”, so that any colour changes will result in a regular, symmetrical pattern.

As the square filet consists of four passes, in theory it would be possible to work a single four-coloured one:

A four-tone square filet

That would take rather a lot of fastening off and on, however. Perfectly doable, but much easier and more efficient to get the effect when working a set of them. The scribble was based on a cross shape, simply because of the design I was working on at the time. The four passes in this case would be four V shapes of incomplete square filets. I was working in two shades of the same colour, and started with a dark pass.

First pass for two-tone square filets

Fasten off, then pick the sequence up with a light thread.

Second pass for two-tone square filets

Then another dark pass and finally a light one to complete the cross shown in the very first picture. I could have used four colours, in which case the central square filet would have shown all four and looked like the diagram above. To have four colours throughout would necessitate taking the needle through the intervening woven bar between every pair of square filets, and I’m not sure the effect would be worth the effort! However, it is possible to work sets of square filets in straight lines in four colours relatively easily.

Four-tone square filets in straight rows

I may try this out one day. If I do, FoF will have the pictures!