Playing with alternatives: bees

Last year, after my annual embroidery workshops for the church building fund, I idly remarked that I was beginning to run out of techniques to teach, and I’d have to resort to goldwork. It’s dangerous to make remarks like that, even idly. Less than one year on and I’m getting the materials together for a goldwork workshop!

More about getting the materials later – the first priority is to get the design right. One of the things I wasn’t quite sure about in my initial version was the bee and so I decided to work three bees close together on the same piece of fabric so that it would be easy to compare the effect of the various metals. Another thing I wanted to work out was whether it would be better to stitch the wings before the body, or the other way around.

Well, the latter was the easiest question to answer – definitely wings first! Having sorted that out, it was on to the bodies themselves. My original idea was to use no.4 bright check, which is quite chunky, but as it is also quite expensive I used a sadi thread on my first model. Sadi threads (or wires, rather) are used in Indian embroidery and are similar to goldwork threads but as far as I know they have no precious metal content, and they come in only two sizes for each type. The fine check sadi (which is quite as chunky as the bright check no.4 – I wouldn’t like to work with the broad check!) is a lot more open in texture than the “proper” goldwork threads, and very shiny. As it doesn’t come in copper (or at least I haven’t been able to find it in copper) my first bee had to be gold and silver.

In this bee experiment the sadi version is on the bottom left – you can see how sparkly it is. The top bee is worked in bright check no.4. I really like the effect of the gold/copper combination, but the chunkiness of the thread made for a very fat bee! It was also quite difficult to get the wires to curve nicely over the felt on such a small area. The third version, which is definitely my preferred one, is worked in wire check no.6 – the higher the number on these, the thinner the thread, so this is narrower than the bright check. It is also less sparkly: wire check is the matt version of bright check. But the texture is interesting and almost fuzzy, and once I get some copper wire check, the stripes will be better defined.

Three goldwork bees in a hoop

Some of the ladies in my stitching group, whose opinions I asked, actually preferred the sadi version as it was the shiniest, so I may offer that as an alternative; but as it is billed as a goldwork class, I would like to use traditional goldwork materials as much as possible. The only sadi wire I will use is the pearl one, which is really very similar to the traditional pearl purl.

One slightly odd thing I noticed in the wire check is that the gold is an S-twist and the silver is a Z-twist (and not as closely twisted). Trying to remember where I got them from I think that the silver may have been in the kit of a day class I attended, whereas I bought the gold separately later. You’d expect them to be quite uniform, wouldn’t you? It’ll be interesting to see what the ones I’ve got on order are like, and whether there is a difference between the gold, silver and copper.

Opposite twists in wire check

And finally something that has absolutely nothing to do with goldwork. Last week we were at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen to see an exhibition with my in-laws, and in the gallery shop had these lovely wooden door wedges, very smooth and a joy to handle (not that you handle door wedges a lot, but you know how tactile and strokeable wood can be). Until now the door of my craft room has been wedged open (when it is safe to do so, i.e. our inquisitive pussycat is outdoors) with a bright green frog wedge that used to be in one of the children’s bedrooms – it works, yes, but this one was something altogether different. As I was debating with myself whether I could really justify another extravagance, my mother-in-law took it out of my hands and gave it to me as a present! It now sits looking beautiful in the craft room. Trouble is, it rather shows up the scruffy door…

A lovely wooden door wedge

Life’s too short to work a moss stitch – or is it?

The craft room was never meant to be a room to spend a lot of time in, despite the desk – when putting it together I thought of it more as a handy way of storing all my stitching stuff in one place. But a few days ago I went in there and sat at the desk, with a lovely view of the snowdrops in the garden, bird song coming in through the open window and the early morning light streaming in, and as I set about putting a kit together and mounting a small goldwork project in a card I realised that everything I needed for these two tasks was in the same room as I, mostly within reach from where I was sitting. Bliss!

So I may be spending more time there than I thought, and one of the things to do there is try out stitches on my doodle cloths. When I went to my stitching group last Monday, we were told a lady had donated two boxes of stitching supplies to the Guildhouse (the local adult education centre where we meet), and would our group like to have a rummage; anything we didn’t want would then be offered to the beading class. Well! Who would say no to the chance of rummaging through two boxes of stitching books, fabrics, ribbons, beads, scissors and other bits and bobs? This is what I eventually went home with: beads, two pendants for mounting embroidery in, and The New Anchor Book of Crewel Stitches and Patterns.

My share of the Guildhouse booty

One of the stitches mentioned in the book is moss stitch, and from its diagram it looks very attractive, and very symmetrical. I should have been warned by the fact that the ones in the accompanying photograph of an actual embroidery were rather less clearly defined…

The diagram for moss stitch

After having produced a number of less than uniform moss stitches I tried to work out what the problem was. Well, one of them was the fact that as I pulled the working thread through on the last step, it invariably got itself knotted, and so it wouldn’t pull snugly around the base cross. Looking at the diagram again, I realised I was following it almost exactly, but not quite: I didn’t anchor the thread loop with my finger! Perhaps that was where I went wrong. Tried it again, with the loop duly anchored while pulling through. A bit better, but still nothing like as tidy as the diagram. Eventually I found that tightening the working thread around the needle while it was still inserted under the cross, and only then pulling the needle through, produced a reasonably neat result.

A row of uneven moss stitches Pulling the working thread tight against the needle A completed moss stitch

So is moss stitch like a stuffed mushroom – something that life is too short for? It rather depends on how attractive you think the stitch is, and how much effort you are willing to put into what will mostly be used as a scatter stitch. Once you get into a routine it should speed up the process, and having the hoop on a stand so that you can use both hands (which I didn’t) would certainly help. But whether I use it a lot or very rarely, it’s a new addition to my repertoire, which is always welcome.

The completion of a craft room, part 3

At the end of the last FoF we left the new craft room filled with all its components parts – desk, bookcases, storage towers, boxes, fabrics, threads, tools – and, frankly, in a mess. Time to get organised! One thing that got added which wasn’t absolutely necessary was a new lampshade; the old one didn’t fit the light fitting very well and wobbled precariously, but I suppose strictly speaking it was still serviceable. Nevertheless, a shiny new craft room deserves a bright new lampshade (with a daylight bulb), and I couldn’t resist this cheerful red one with poppies on the inside which shine through to the outside when the light is on – magic! The desk has a craft light, my lightbox, felt boards and other odds and ends; the album was a Christmas gift which I was about to fill with some small projects that had so far been languishing in a box. The cat was allowed in one last time to see what all the fuss was about, before being banished forever.

A bright new lampshade The poppy lamp illuminates the newly organised room, with desk and cat

Behind the desk and chair are the two rainbow storage towers, holding most of my fabrics, some finishing materials, and my stock of scissors, squissors and coasters. The coffee table has the Millennium frame and lapstand plus my doodle cloths and anything in the process of being kitted up, as well as a useful lap tray. Underneath are more storage boxes (large pieces of fabric plus wadding), and next to it a CD tower holding my audiobooks. Not really craft-related, but they used to live underneath that coffee table and I needed the space there, and the CD tower tucks in nicely behind the door when it opens. The bookcases hold all my thread boxes, embroidery books, and kits, and on top sit various decorative thread boxes, one with a tapestry cover, the others with some of my embroidery.

Storage towers, coffee table with boxes underneath, and CD tower Filled bookcases with decorative storage boxes on top

The left-hand bookcase holds threads which ideally should be shielded from the light, as the boxes in which they are stored are transparent or at least translucent. The few boxes in the right-hand bookcase hold mostly beads, gems and shisha materials which are not light-sensitive, so a solution was needed for the one bookcase only. “Needed” might be putting it rather strongly – when I’m not in there the curtains are kept closed, and the bookcases are on a north-facing wall, so the amount of light getting to the boxes is probably negligible; still, I knew I’d feel more at ease with some sort of curtain or cloth in place. Now I can’t really work a sewing machine, so a ready-hemmed piece of material would be ideal. Did we perhaps have some old curtains somewhere in the attic? Well, yes, but they were rather heavy and unlikely to be the right size. Then I remembered a couple of sarongs I had been given a few years back by a friend from Kenya. Could one of those… yes it could. A bit of engineering wizardry by Mr Mabel and my threads were protected!

The sarong in place The thread boxes accessible but protected

And so here, finally, is the craft room – complete, organised, and in use.

The craft room in action

Now all it needs is a small conservatory smiley.