Any tool will do?

While at my mother-in-law’s last Sunday I was in need of A Thing That Makes Holes. As a travel project I’d brought some kit preparations instead of embroidery, and I was cutting threads for the tassels used in the Felt Bookmark kits (which, incidentally, will need re-thinking as the shop from which I get the felt shapes have annoyingly discontinued them. Grrr).

The felt bookmarks with their tassels

To attach the tassels I thread a bundle of white and variegated perle threads through the felt, then knot it. But even with a size 18 chenille needle this was proving very difficult, and the strong pull needed to get them through caused a rather unsightly kink in the threads. The obvious answer was to pre-pierce the felt with something rather thicker than the needle I was using. I couldn’t remember the word for the tool I wanted so asked my mother-in-law if she had an awl. She asked if I meant a stiletto. Of course that was exactly what I meant; she produced one, and I produced the necessary holes, and all was well.

Back at home I started thinking of getting my own Thing That Makes Holes; I’d heard that some people use the pointy end of their mellor (a curiously shaped object used in goldwork to push metal wires into shape) but I wasn’t at all sure whether the pointy end was really pointy enough for my purpose. It is apparently very good for gently pushing fabric threads apart rather than piercing and possibly damaging the threads, so the hole will close again, but on trying it out I found that pushing it through the fabric (especially a non-woven fabric such as felt) took a lot of force because the point is in fact relatively blunt.

A goldwork mellor

I then drooled for a while over a rosewood stiletto available from the London Embroidery School. It was beautiful, but unfortunately also rather expensive, especially with the postage, and quite apart from that I was a bit concerned about the sharpness and strength of the point. Although wooden stilettos have been used for yonks I felt a metal version would be more reliable.

A rosewood stiletto

eBay offered me a great variety of pointy hole-making things under various names, most of them impossibly cheap and coming from China or Hong Kong. Eliminating any items from outside the EU I found a UK-based basic awl. I seriously considered this one – cheap, nicely tapered and sharp but, well, not very inspiring.

A basic awl

A bit more searching and my workbox is now enhanced with this rather pretty compromise: an inexpensive antique stiletto (advertised as a bodkin) with a mother-of-pearl handle. Not as cheap as the basic awl, but a lot less than the rosewood stiletto. The metal is a little stained, but the tip is sharp and a little rubbing with nothing harsher than paper left it feeling nice and smooth.

An antique bodkin

And does it make proper holes? Yes it does, and you can control the size of the hole by how far you push the tool in. The four holes along the top of the fabric were all made with the stiletto, and range from sizeable to practically non-existent; the one on the right was made with the mellor, and I think all holes made with it would be about this size. The second picture shows that even when making the biggest hole the fabric isn’t damaged very much, and can be stroked or rubbed back into shape should that be necessary. The fabric around the mellor-made hole by contrast still looks rather dented. So hurray for my new tool!

Holes made with the stiletto The holes closed up after rubbing the fabric

On a different topic, I promised to let you know if Kelly Fletcher got back to me. She did, saying, “sorry to hear you had trouble with the threads. You assumed correctly that I have no control over the packaging of the kits. But I will pass on your experience and the links to your two posts to my publisher.” In fact she did more than that – she looked at the colour numbers I mentioned in FoF, and with her publisher worked out that the Amazon seller had sent me a replacement set of threads for a different kit, her Boho Chic one. The publisher offered to send me the proper threads, but considering the amount of thread I’ve got that seemed rather silly; I asked her, however, to pass on my thanks for their customer service as it would no doubt be greatly appreciated by any beginner who had the same thing happen.

Trying out a kit

After several evenings of putting kits together and tidying away new goldwork materials I finally got round to setting up some of the projects from Kelly Fletcher’s Classic Creations kit. Even when I don’t get any stitching done, I like setting up projects smiley; there is something very soothing about hooping up and looking at pretty colours.

This was made slightly less soothing by the fact that I was looking at fewer pretty colours than I should have done. As I went to pick the colours needed for my first project (that cheeky fox, of course!) I found that the yellow skein was missing. Had it been there when I opened the plastic envelope containing the threads, needles and fabric? Had it somehow got mislaid? Had the cat gone off with it? I haven’t been able to find it anywhere, and looking at a close-up of the picture I took of the kit with the materials still in their wrapping, I don’t think it was ever there.

Nine skeins instead of ten

For now I’ve grabbed a skein of yellow from my stash; it seems a little warmer than the yellow that was meant to be with the kit, but it’ll work just fine. Even so, although it’s not a problem for someone like me who’s got threads practically coming out of her ears, if you got this as a beginner’s project (which is what it is really aimed at) you’d have to go out and buy the skein. I’ve contacted the seller (not the one in the link above – I got mine off Amazon, which may prove a bad choice) to say that one skein is missing, and we’ll have to wait and see what they say.

Mind you, assuming that this was a one-off oversight and that all the other kits do come with their full complement of threads this is an impressive kit. One thing I really like is the size of the two pieces of fabric that are included: absolutely no problem fitting them in the provided hoop. They are very generously cut, with enough room for framing should you want to.

A good-sized piece of fabric

The pieces of fabric were quite creased from being folded up inside that plastic envelope, but fortunately some serious ironing got all but a ghost of a crease out.

Creased pieces of fabric The ghost of a crease

Then it was time to transfer my two chosen designs (the cheeky fox and a butterfly) to the fabric. As you can see I didn’t do too well ironing on the butterfly – it says not to make ironing movements but to press the iron down, carefully lift it off, then put it down on a different part of the design, until the whole thing is transferred; well, when I carefully lifted the iron the second time, the paper stuck to it and lifted off before I’d quite finished – and of course it is impossible to put it back in exactly the same spot, so I left it as it was. There should be enough to work from.

Transferred butterfly, a bit patchy

And here is the fox, with a little work done on him. As usual *sigh* I haven’t followed the instructions exactly; I should have done both sides of his body in a double line of stem stitch first, but I found I could minimise fastening off and on by going round the legs and part of the tail before doing the second line of stem stitch.

A start on the cheeky fox

So, first impressions. On the plus side, the designs are attractive and colourful, the instructions are generally very good (although with one or two of the stitches the instructions seem to assume some prior knowledge), and the iron-on transfers are clear when transferred correctly. The bamboo hoop works well, the fabrics are a generous size, and having a milliner’s needle included for the French knots is definitely a bonus. The threads have DMC labels on them (though they come with only one wrapper instead of two per skein) and I’m sure that’s what they are, but they feel softer than my standard skeins; whether this is because they’ve been rubbing together in the packaging, or whether DMC produce a separate stranded cotton for use in kits I don’t know, but whatever the reason I rather like it!

Are there any downsides? One or two, but in the grand scheme of things they amount to no more than niggles. Although the size of the fabric is generous, the size of some of the designs makes them only just small enough to fit inside the hoop (as you can see from the fox, which is not even the largest of the designs). The instructions say that you can move the hoop around, even on top of your stitching, and this may be a good lesson to learn (that stitching will stand up to quite a bit of squashing and handling), but I would have preferred them to be stitchable without moving the hoop. Actually you probably can just about do it without moving the hoop, but personally I’d have gone for slightly smaller designs.

The lines of the iron-on transfers are beautifully clear, but that does mean that you have to be reasonably accurate in your stitching to make sure that they are fully covered. The instructions are often for 3 or 4 strands, which helps especially in the stem stitch, but I definitely had to unpick and re-place a few of the backstitches in the legs. And although the booklet mentions that you might like to use a backing fabric, this is not included, so you can’t find out whether you would like using a backing fabric without buying some.

All in all, however, I’m really pleased with this kit and would definitely recommend it. With its bright, jolly designs it would make a great kit for teaching children to stitch (especially as it is so affordable), but it’s equally good for an experienced stitcher who wants some simple travel projects or something to stitch in between larger, more challenging designs.

PS As I was about to post this, a padded envelope came through the letterbox. It contained a packing slip from the Amazon Marketplace seller with “replacement skeins” scribbled on it, and a complete plastic-wrapped set of skeins like the one in the original box, including needles (but not fabric). I’d just suggested sending the yellow – not because I need it, but because other people might have the same problem and no stash to fall back on, and I thought it might concentrate the sellers’ minds.

A replacement set of skeins

Now the booklet mentions ten colours, not specifying the DMC numbers. They are: black, white, yellow, orange, salmon, light salmon, dark blue, light blue, dark green and light green. The original package had only nine skeins, and the colours were 310, B5200, [missing yellow – I supplied 743], 970, 350, 352, 517, 519, 704 and 905. The replacement set does have ten skeins, but there is NO BLACK. The colours are Blanc, 744, 741, [3777, 3831, 3833 – burgundy/pink rather than salmon], 825, 827, 704, 701.

The colours in the original box, plus the yellow I supplied myself The colours in the replacement package

Good try at customer service, but not very successful… I can understand not specifying DMC numbers in the booklet so that you can vary which dark and light green you send out, for example, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man to make sure that it includes one of every colour mentioned in the booklet, and none that aren’t. Kelly Fletcher isn’t well served by this as it’s her name on the box but she is, I assume, not responsible for these mix-ups. I’ll contact her and let you know what she says.

…and relax

What do you think of this cheeky chappie? He arrived at our house today, as an emergency stitching aid. Let me tell you why he is about to join my already impressive pile of WIPs.

A cheeky fox

Sometimes I simply don’t get round to stitching. At the moment I have about five different projects in various stages of completion (or rather incompletion), from just hooped up to fairly far advanced, and am I stitching? No I’m not. It’s not that I don’t like the projects I’ve got set up – my goldwork snowman especially is definitely calling to me – but somehow nothing’s happening. Looking at it objectively I can identify several reasons: the heat, family circumstances, workshop preparations. But even so, I want to stitch, yet I’m not stitching.

Perhaps it’s this: most of what I stitch will eventually become a chart pack, kit or workshop. And that means that I have to make notes, take pictures, consider the practicalities of using this stitch or that, wonder if it’s worth drawing a very complicated stitch diagram for a stitch I may never use in any other design, and so on and so forth. Usually this is a nice challenge, and an interesting addition to the stitching process. But at the moment I just want to do some mindless, uncomplicated stitching with absolutely no purpose other than to enjoy the act of embroidering.

For this sort of stitching I love using Kelly Fletcher’s designs. Now I realise that I may just have implied that Ms Fletcher’s designs are mindless, or appeal to the mindless, but I’m sure you will understand I mean no such thing. Her designs are clean-lined, modern, bright, and you can follow her instructions to the letter or play with them using pretty much any stitch you like. I have a folder full of them, and have used a fair few as travel projects.

But even that seemed like too much trouble at the moment. Having to pick fabric, and threads, and using the lightbox to transfer the outlines… And then I got her newsletter, and it mentioned a new kit that could be pre-ordered. It also mentioned previous, similar kits, all containing about a dozen designs, and one of them decorated with that Fox Full Of Character. I fell for his charms and bought the kit, and today it arrived!

Kelly Fletcher kit, outside

It’s a sturdy cardboard box shaped like a very fat book, with a lid that is held shut magnetically. When you open it there is a detachable booklet on one side, and all the materials in a secure compartment on the other side.

Kelly Fletcher kit, inside

The booklet contains coloured pictures of each of the twelve designs, instructions for stitching them, and photographs of all the stitches used. It also has information about the various materials, instructions on how to use the transfers, and a bit about Kelly Fletcher herself.

Design booklet

The compartment on the right contains two pieces of cotton fabric, twelve iron-on transfers (hurray! no lightbox! though having to use an iron in a heatwave may not be that much better…), ten full skeins of DMC stranded cotton, needles, and a 6″ hoop.

Hoop, threads, fabric and transfers

From the website that Kelly Fletcher links to in her newsletter you can get these kits for about £13, but shop around and you can find them for under a tenner. That’s twelve designs with instructions, ten skeins of floss, a hoop and two pieces of fabric – it really is excellent (not to say incomprehensible) value for money!

I’ll report back when I’ve done some stitching; at first glance I would say this is an excellent buy for anyone who wants a collection of attractive small projects with practically all the preparatory work done for you.