What does it all mean?

What do embroidery designs mean? Well, sometimes I don’t think they mean anything much – we stitch a daisy, a mountain lake, a cat, the Girl with the Pearl Earring, the Tardis, because we like the picture. Sometimes there is a bit more to it; the Tardis might be more than just something from the tv series you enjoyed, it may remind you of watching that series with a loved one who is no longer with you; the daisy may have trumped the rose and the violet because your name happens to be Daisy; the cat may be the spitting (or hissing) image of your own pet.

You might think there isn’t much room for that sort of thing in the design I did for my RSN Certificate course, because the subject is decided for you; everyone who does the crewel module stitches a Tree of Life. But that leaves plenty of room for personal input! So what are the reasons and stories behind the elements in my version of the Jacobean tree?

First there’s the tree itself. As some of you will know, I’ve been working on a Tree of Life design on and off for the past few years, and it has now turned itself into a SAL. That tree is not Jacobean, but it does share the stylised nature of the RSN design, albeit in a much simpler form. I love the idea of the Tree of Life, which for me is firmly rooted in the word picture painted of the New Jerusalem in the Bible, and so the opportunity of doing a second Tree was always going to be an attractive one.

The complete design, transferred and with some stitching done

Staying with the flora of the design for the moment, the most noticeable thing is probably the enormous flower at the top. I love the complete lack of proportions in Jacobean designs, they lead to some hilarious pictures – not just the historical squirrels-half-the-size-of-lions, but my poor Rabbit threatened by an enormous Carnation. Because I am Dutch, I thought a tulip would be a good flower to incorporate into my Certificate piece, and I found a particularly beautiful example in a design by Shelagh Amor in the A-Z of Crewel Embroidery. Because of copyright I was going to change it fairly radically, but Angela assured me that as the Certificate piece is a) for my own use only and b) for educational purposes, I could actually use parts of existing designs. Even so, I changed the fillings and also added a frill as I wanted an area that would work for buttonhole stitch with a detached buttonhole edge. In the original tulip there is a lot of orange in the filling stitches; that didn’t quite work within my colour scheme, but the outlines and the fringe will be worked in the two shades of coral in my palette, which should be orange enough to emphasise the Dutch connection.

Carnation frightening a rabbit Shelagh Amor's tulip design The tulip in my RSN Certificate design

Originally I meant to base my large flower on the rather ancient carpet that adorns the children’s corner in the Coffee Shop room at our local Methodist Church, whose chapel we (the local Baptists) are sharing while we are rebuilding our own church. As part of the chapel into which we have been welcomed so warmly, to me it represents the unity of all Christians (I admit that is rather a lot to make an old carpet mean, but it does to me). But then the large tulip rather took over. Even so, I still wanted to use that carpet, and in the end I used the part indicated by the orange arrow as the inspiration for the small “flower” (for want of a better word) on the left of the design.

The carpet on which the small flower is based The small flower as it appears in the Certificate design

Many RSN Certificate Jacobean pieces (Google the phrase, you’ll find lots of pictures!) have some sort of hillock or hillocks at the bottom, and that’s where the design ends. Mine could easily have ended there too. But I wanted a river. Or some sort of water at least. I’ve written about the significance rivers have for me in a previous FoF, but the short version is that they remind me of my mother, who at the end of her life was greatly comforted by the image of the River of Life. According to that description of the New Jerusalem I mentioned earlier, it is where the Tree of Life grows. How could I not have a river?

The river

As an added bonus it gives me the opportunity to use a stitch I first saw in an embroidery by my mother-in-law, fly stitch couching.

Fly stitch couching

Let’s move from flora and inanimate nature to fauna. The brief for the Certificate design says that it must contain at least one animal. Well, that was never going to be enough – I love adding animals to things. It’s only because I thought of it too late that there isn’t a web with a spider in it attached to the tree somewhere!

The first animal is based on a poem by A. A. Milne. It’s called “The Four Friends” and it’s in either When We Were Very Young or Now We Are Six. It contains my favourite line ever from children’s poetry: “James gave the huffle of a snail in danger, and nobody heard him at all”. Over the years, many leisurely moments have been pleasurably spent trying to imagine the sound of that huffle. James was going to be included. He needed a bit of tweaking, though. According to the poem he is “a very small snail”, something that doesn’t work very well in Jacobean embroidery. So James was bulked up a bit. He is also meant to be sitting on a brick, but any brick I tried to design was far too angular to fit in with the rest of the design. In the end I drew something that looked more like a stone, but it will be stitched in the orange shades to make it look a bit more brick-like.

The Four Friends, by Milne The snail

And finally there is the cat. Of course there is a cat. A cat inspired by Lexi, our Bengal/tabby cross, in one of her less ladylike poses – you know the one, front legs stretched full-length, backside in the air and tail curled over her back. I saw her do it in the garden while doodling initial ideas for the Certificate design and I knew I simply had to have her in there, in that pose. I sketched a quick outline, which was just as well as despite numerous attempts to sneak up on her with a camera when she was doing her stretchy pose, I was never quick enough to catch her. Then came the question of colour. In my first colour scheme, I soon realised that the cat would have to be a ginger. Not in itself a problem (Lexi disagreed on this point), as our previous cat, the lovely Alfie, was a ginger, and in fact it would be rather nice to have them both in there, the pose of one with the colour of the other. But later colour schemes actually made it more suitable for the cat to be done in browns – they aren’t quite her colours, but I hope they are close enough to pacify her a bit.

Alfie Lexi The ginger cat The tabby cat

So there you have it, a bit of background to the design I’ll be working on for the next seven or eight months. I hope I still like the various parts of it as much by the time I finish…

Persistent pounce, tremendous trestles and The First Stitch

Last Saturday was the third of my “contact days” for the Jacobean module of the RSN Certificate. I hesitate to call them “classes” because they aren’t really, although we learn a lot; most of it seems to be done in a learning-through-doing sort of way. As ten students were expected we had two tutors this time, Helen Jones and Angela Bishop, but as it happens only six students turned up so we all got even more attention than usual smiley.

It was going to be an exciting day for me, as I would be transferring my pricked design to the fabric and actually Start Stitching! I’ve transferred designs using prick & pounce before, but only small ones like the little silverwork sheep, so this was going to be a bit of a challenge. Using grey pounce (simply a mixture of black pounce – charcoal – and white pounce – ground-up cuttlefish) I carefully went over all the holes, trying to stay away from the edges of the tracing paper. As you can see, I wasn’t very successful in the latter. In fact, I got in a mild panic when I noticed that I’d rubbed a fair bit of pounce into the fabric at the bottom of the design (where the pricked lines actually didn’t get that close to the edge of the tracing paper; what on earth was I doing?), but Angela said not to worry, it would all come out just fine.

The pounced design

Except it didn’t. After giving the fabric a good beating from behind with a brush (apparently the accepted method of getting the pounce off while leaving the paint on; it looks a bit brutal but I’m willing to learn) there were two noticeable shadows below the hillocks. More beating, slightly less noticeable shadows but still definitely noticeable. More beating. Same result. Angela said she’d never known it to do this. The mild panic was beginning to grow into something less mild. Pounce can obviously be very persistent.

However, as there was no way I was going to start the whole thing again (prepare a new piece of fabric, dress the frame, prick & pounce, paint) I’d have to think of something. Helen said she thought the traces would actually disappear as I worked on it, and I decided with Angela that I would simply extend the water a bit. It was originally going to be a wavy line roughly parallel to the bottom of the hillocks, now it would be more of a circle segment, deeper in the middle.

My husband claims he can’t actually tell where the shadows are, and I must say I’m finding them hard to spot now unless I take my glasses off, so perhaps Helen is right and I can go back to plan A for the water, but it’s a reassuring thought that I have a plan B.

By the way, painting the design was an interesting experience in itself. It’s remarkable how, the moment you get the slightly thinned gouache on your fine brush and near the fabric, you stop breathing. Trying to draw steady lines, as thin as possible, while not leaning your hand on the not-yet-connected pounce dots requires nerves of steel and intense concentration. Not being in an old building with creaky floors that move when someone walks across the room would also help. As does remembering to breathe every now and then. Still, between moving floors and not breathing I managed to produce an acceptable transfer, with only one or two places where I may have to stitch slightly more heavily to cover the lines (though of course those places would be in one of the more open parts of the design…)

Joining the dots with thinned gouache paint The painted design

Now that the design was firmly on the fabric, we could roll it up slightly for easier access. As I am still getting to grips with the slate frame Angela helped me do this (remind me never to try and join the Boy Scouts; well, for obvious reasons, but in this case mostly because I simply cannot remember how to do a slip knot!) and before long I was finally ready to stitch.

Rolling up the fabric for better access Ready to stitch

My frame, unfortunately, is not quite flat so I had a little trouble keeping it stable on the trestles (this was also the reason I had been told to do my transferring on a table, with a heavy book on one corner of the frame, instead of on the trestles – try as we would, we couldn’t get it to sit right). Helen suggested hanging a heavy weight on the corner that was sticking up, but as we didn’t have any in the classroom I made do with slipping my camera strap over the offending slat; it’s a fairly lightweight camera but it did make a bit of difference.

We’d decided I’d start with the tree trunk, for one thing because in crewelwork (in fact, in most Western types of embroidery) you work a design from the back to the front, so elements that are in front of others get worked later, and the tree trunk is at the very back of the design. It was also one of the elements where I was absolutely sure what stitch I wanted to use, and in what colours. I’d done a stitch plan but there were still a few “To Be Decided” areas, so starting with one of the Definites felt nice and safe.

At this point I will admit I felt almost reluctant to actually put in the first stitch! But after a bit of lunch I really couldn’t put it off any longer, and fortunately I was beginning to feel quite excited about the whole thing. I started with Very Dark brown chain stitch. The die was cast. More lines of chain stitch, of staggered lengths to help with the shading. Even a little jump to the top half of the trunk. Then the realisation that there was too much Very Dark, and I should have made the last line shorter and switched to Dark. On to my first unpicking, and then to adding the second shade, and beginning to shape the triangular void at the foot of the tree which will be filled with Cretan stitch.

The very first stitches The first unpickings Two shades of brown

As it was getting on for 4 o’clock I went through my homework for next time with Helen, and packed up. No stitching time at home, unfortunately, but I did spend a little time getting my Home Stitching Set-Up just right. Two clamps to hold down the two springy corners (in the hope that over time they’ll give up fighting against the clamps and just lie flat), a stool to get me nice and close to my stitching, and the trestles put up several notches so I can stitch without bending my neck all the time.

The set-up at home The set-up at home

And talking of trestles, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the Ikea ones actually work better for me than the RSN ones! Because I use the narrower frame, the trestles have to be pushed in quite close, and I kept hitting my left elbow on the upright bar; I also found I had to wriggle around the right-hand upright bar when I wanted to bring my right hand to the top of the fabric. The Ikea frames have no uprights, and my elbows enjoy perfect freedom. Win-win smiley.

Finally a picture of the complete design, with the work done so far. By the next meeting (late September) I hope to have finished at least the trunk, the vine, some of the large flower, and the left-hand hillock with the snail; I also need to decide on the remaining stitches. I have managed to come to a decision about the colour distribution: the cat is going to be a tabby rather than a ginger (Lexi will be pleased).

Where I've got to after the third class

Incidentally, I found it very encouraging to see a male stitcher at the class – Marcel was working on his Diploma Whitework module. I am definitely going to groom the imminent grandbaby to be a manbroiderer!

What do I want a SAL to do?

And, also a pertinent question, what do I not want a SAL to do, especially this particular SAL? Well, for one thing I don’t want it to give the wrong impression, and it might, in view of recent FoFs. So let’s get that out of the way first!

For the first module of the RSN Certificate I am required to stitch a Tree of Life in the Jacobean style, in crewel wool on twill. Although I haven’t quite decided on the final colours (well, I know which colours, but not necessarily where and in what stitch) the design is pretty much done. It’s got a very stylised tree, with large leaves, and some critters.

Colour schemes for the RSN Certificate

As you can read on the SAL information page, the design for this stitch-along is a Tree of Life, and it is described as a very stylised tree, with large leaves, and some critters. This might just lead people to think that the SAL is based on the Certificate course, and from there it might easily lead to some rather too high expectations – let’s make it quite clear, I’m not aiming to get you to RSN Certificate level in 10 easy instalments!

In fact the SAL Tree of Life came into being long, long before I even thought of the Certificate as something I might possibly one day do. It was initially inspired by a tree I saw in a picture of some Indian embroidery which had a sinuous stem and seven leaves. I took it from there, and my Tree does still have a sinuous stem and seven leaves but otherwise doesn’t resemble the Indian tree in the slightest. But – and this is important – nor does it resemble what I might call a Certificate tree. It is not Jacobean (although it could certainly be stitched in crewel wools on twill), and although it will contain many different stitches, it is not nearly as complex and detailed as a Certificate piece is expected to be; a relatively small number of colours is suggested (partly to keep the costs down – see below) but unlike with the limited palette of the Certificate tree, here there are no rules and you can stitch the whole things as a rainbow of leaves if you like.

Sneak peeks at the SAL

So what does the SAL aim to do? Does it have an aim at all? Does it have to? You may know that I am a great believer in never asking of a piece of needlework: “What is it for?” As far as I’m concerned stitching is for enjoying, that’s what it’s for. Even so, when one of the kind friends who gave their opinions and advice about the SAL information page asked me a similar question, it made me take a good look at the whole project. Why did I decide to publish this design as a SAL-with-variations, with all the time and effort that goes into writing the instructions for the extra stitches and 10 blog posts with detailed photographs of the stitching process and so on? And when I put it like that, I realised that my motivation for the SAL was not that much different from the motivation for my taster sessions and workshops. Here is what I replied:

“As with the Hardanger SALs it’s definitely intended for people who want to Have A Go. I hope that those who are more experienced will be kept interested by the variety and choice of stitches, but my ‘target audience’ is those who have never tried freestyle embroidery, or perhaps just dabbled a bit, and would like to see if it’s for them.
If you have been cross stitching for some time you’re likely to have all the threads you need in your stash (if you choose the stranded cotton route) so just add a piece of fabric and some sequins and beads (which you may also already have) and you’re good to go with not much of a financial outlay (another of my main concerns).”

In other words, I’d love people to try something new, or to enjoy something familiar in a slightly different way; to be challenged but not frightened off; to create something decorative; and to be able to do so without having to take out a mortgage smiley. If that appeals to you, do join in!

Multi-functional trestles and felted jaws

Now that I’ve got my trestles-for-the-slate-frame, they turn out to be quite useful for other things as well!

We have a marquee which we use for our annual trade show, and which we occasionally lend to people. Last weekend our local churches used it for their stand at the village fête, but as we took it down after letting it dry out in our back garden the canvas got torn in two places. We can get mending patches to glue on, but they tend to work better if the tear is pre-mended by sewing it up. Guess who usually gets that job smiley.

Now the canvas part of the marquee is rather large and cumbersome, and not easy to manoeuvre around; I usually try to stretch the affected bit on some chair backs if I can. This time my husband tentatively suggested using the trestles. Tentatively, because as a man with plenty of tools himself (he owns vintage cars, after all) he knows people can get upset when you suggest putting a piece of equipment to non-standard use (think embroidery scissors for cutting a nail, or shiny new spanners for hitting a nail – different types of nail, of course). In this case, however, I felt it was a legitimate extension of the trestles’ proper function; we draped the canvas so that the tear was easily accessible, and yes, this round of mending was definitely a lot quicker than previous ones.

The canvas of a marquee stretched on the trestles Mending a marquee on the trestles

On to another bit of equipment: my trusty Lowery stand. It holds hoops and frames perfectly but the side clamp, like the rest of the Lowery, is made of sturdy metal, and I’m always slightly worried it will damage the hoop. Cue a doubled bit of felt folded around the edge of the hoop before inserting it into the clamp.

The felt I used in the Lowery clamp The felt folded around the edge of a hoop

This works perfectly well, but it can be a bit fiddly to keep the felt in place when feeding the hoop into the jaws (that sounds rather odd, but let me reassure you no hoops were hurt in this procedure), and when not in use the felt has to be kept somewhere; I usually keep it in the clamp, but then I undo the clamp forgetting it’s there and it falls out and gets pounced on by the cat or I step on it. There must be an easier, more permanent way of doing this, surely? Well, there is always sticky felt, or failing that ordinary felt and double-sided sticky tape. And why I didn’t think of that years ago is beyond me. But when the idea did come to me I wanted to try it out immediately, so with the works phone parked nearby on the floor in case of people wanting to place an order, I plonked myself down beside the Lowery with felt, sticky tape, and two types of scissors (see above remark about improper use of tools) and got to work.

Ready to put some more permanent felt on the jaws of the Lowery

And did it work? Yes it did. Not too much later I had two neatly felt-covered clamp jaws, and a quick trial run showed it to clamp a hoop beautifully; as protected as with the loose felt, but possibly even a little firmer and more secure than before because this felt can’t slip. Victory!

Felt attached to the top jaw Felt attached to the movable bottom jaw The felted clamp in action

The pros and cons of versatility

A friend just posted something on Facebook about Constance Howard, who set up a Department of Embroidery at the Goldsmiths College of Art. The video picked up on her opinion that “you don’t need to know hundreds of stitches. But you need to use the ones you do know well!”

There is a lot of sense in that. My mother-in-law, who does probably know hundreds of stitches, in recent years has said that she prefers to embroider using only about a handful of them – stem stitch, fly stitch, chain stitch, buttonhole, French knot – because with them she can make whatever she wants. As this pretty-much-exclusively-chain-stitched tea cosy demonstrates.

Tea cosy embroidered in chain stitch

On the other hand, I do think that my willingness to try all sorts of techniques has been helpful to my development as an embroiderer, if only because it showed me which things I liked and wanted to learn more about (hello goldwork!) and which things were just not for me (I’m looking at you, stumpwork). If I’d never ventured beyond my first steps in stitching I would be doing only cross stitch. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m glad I did try other things! So I’m not sure I agree with her belief that “a desire to try everything can actually have a detrimental effect on your work as a textile artist”.

When I mentioned this to a friend who knew Constance Howard (through his grandmother, an accomplished needle artist), he said “‘Know (about) and have decided not to use’ is a perfectly valid state for any stitch – if you don’t learn/try them you don’t know whether you want to use them.” And I would agree with that. I get what CH says about versatility being a possible enemy of artistic development, because you can get bogged down in adding lots of variety for the sake of it, or feel unable to decide which of the umpteen techniques and stitches in your repertoire to use (although I have found that often a design suggests its own technique); and there is always the danger of being a Jack (or Jill) of all trades, and master (or mistress) of none. Still, on the whole I feel you need to know things in order to make an informed decision as to whether they are appropriate for the design you’re working on.

Of course the easiest way of avoiding that decision is to get a kit and follow the instructions, and sometimes it’s really enjoyable to do just that. Did I mention that stumpwork was just not my thing? I wonder how that little stumpwork butterfly made its way into my Sarah Homfray shopping basket a while ago… I’ve even made a start on it! It’s challenging because I’m trying things I haven’t done before, reassuring because it also includes stitches and techniques I’m already familiar with, and relaxing because someone else has made all the decisions for me smiley.

Sarah Homfray stumpwork butterfly kit The butterfly attached and wire couched

PS With regards to the Jack-of-all-trades thing – is it really such a bad thing to be moderately good at lots of things? I will never be as good at goldwork or crewel embroidery as some of the frighteningly talented stitchers out there; but I enjoy my projects, I produce quite decorative results, and I am creating something that is as good as I am capable of creating. You don’t have to achieve Grade 8 in order to enjoy playing the piano, after all!

Getting it wrong and starting again – the joy of designing

Designing can occasionally feel like the famous procession at Echternach, going three steps forward and two steps back. Take Hengest the Medieval Unicorn. No, I’m not talking about the spot debacle – that was just me not paying attention. It’s when something in the design just doesn’t work.

In the case of Hengest it was (among other things) his chest band. In my original design, meant to be worked in silk with a bit of goldwork and gem embellishments, the chest band is bright golden yellow with colourful pip beads all along its length. But then the spots are meant to be “coloured white” – the very lightest shades of various colours. Wool Hengest’s spots are rather more colourful than that, so giving him such gaudy tack simply wouldn’t look right.

Very well then, we need a different chest band. Leather? Gold and leather? That sounds quite good – an outline in golden yellow with brown for the main body of the band; perhaps with a few honey-gold pip beads.

A changed chest band

But as I was working on it, I liked it less and less. Too little golden yellow (it was hardly noticeable once I started adding the brown) and the brown itself was much too dark. Unfortunately the next shade of this brown in my stash is rather light, and I wasn’t at all sure that would look any better.

The dark brown doesn't work But will the light brown be any better?

Still, this darker brown was definitely not working, so out it came, and soon it was reduced to a pile of rejected fluff.

Cutting out the dark brown A pile of rejected fluff

It was getting rather late, but as I was on a roll, I added the extra rows of golden yellow.

Extra gold

And at my next embroidery group meeting I filled in with the lighter brown.

Light brown leather

It is rather a light shade for leather, but with the rest of Hengest being so pale and pastel it does look better on him. However, without the coloured pip beads the effect is a bit more solid than I’d like, and even the honey-gold pip beads don’t really look the part with the wool. Let’s try adding a little swirly pattern in a slightly lighter gold:

A swirly gold pattern saves the day

And that is why Wool Hengest’s chest band looks the way it does. Is it too much to hope that his bridle and mane will work first time round…?

Recycling a memory

After my mother died, a little over three years ago, I had to clear out the rented flat she had lived in since 1973 (with solid help from my aunt who lives in the same tower block), and decide what I was going to take back with me to England, and what would be sold or given to charity. Among the things I took were several duvet covers (Dutch duvet covers have tucking-in strips at the bottom, which I sorely miss on the ones I can buy here), one of which was a particular favourite of mine. The seam at the top was frayed but otherwise it was fine, so I mended it – by hand, as sewing machines and I don’t really get on – and we’ve used it ever since (not continually, I hasten to say).

A mended duvet cover

But last week I had to admit defeat. It’s not just seams coming apart, it’s the actual fabric that is perishing.

A duvet cover beyond repair

Is it stupid to cry over a duvet cover? Perhaps not if it’s the memories more than the cover itself. Even so, it’s no use crying over spilt duvet covers, as they say, and so I had to decide what to do with it. Consign it to the rag bag? Turn it into dusters? Or… recycle it as protective flaps for my slate frame instead of the tissue paper I was given when framing up?

A slate frame covered in tissue paper

The more I thought of it, the more it seemed like a spiffing idea. Bearing in mind the size of the actual design I’d be working on (rather than the size of the twill fabric mounted on the frame) I sketched a few ideas, took some measurements, and decided to go with two 35cm square flaps, and two 40cm square ones; with a double-folded seam (0.5cm, then 1cm) that meant I’d need two 38cm squares and two 43cm ones. Even staying well away from the perishing edges (shame I couldn’t re-use the seams) there should be plenty of fabric in a double duvet cover!

A sketch and the necessary measurements

Now I was all set to do this by hand (did I mention my less-than-cordial relationship with sewing machines?) – and then my mother-in-law came to stay. Although nowadays she prefers to sew by hand, she is a whiz with the sewing machine (many, many quilts bear witness to this) and so I enlisted her help. My husband got the old Singer down and installed it on the kitchen table, I cut the squares, my mother-in-law finger-pressed the first narrow seam, I ironed the full seams, she sewed them, I read bits of the sewing machine manual and re-wound bobbins and ironed the final squares. Teamwork!

Finger-pressed turn-under Pinning the hems Mother-in-law subdues the sewing machine Ready to iron

Behold, the finished squares. As it happened, the thread on the bobbin ran out halfway through and a little part of one hem was left unsewn, so there is a little bit of hand sewing in them after all smiley.

Square 1 Square 2 Square 3 Square 4 A bit of hand stitching

Here they in situ, attached to the webbing with safety pins, ready to do their protective job. At my next class I’ll ask how to attach the top and bottom flaps when the fabric is rolled up on the bars.

The side flaps folded over the twill All four flaps folded over the twill The flaps folded back to show the stitching area And the view that will distract me

And so bits of old duvet cover will aid me in my stitching while reminding me of both my mother and my mother-in-law – a great outcome, don’t you think?

My 10% trestles

Right, so I’ve got the slate frame, and all framed up too – now where do I put it? Thinking about it, that question could go in two different directions, so first I’ll briefly touch upon the one I didn’t intend.

Although that was not what I was driving at, the question could mean “where do I store it?”, and although the easy answer to that is “in my craft room”, that won’t really do. Do I just keep it in the big sturdy plastic wrapper I was given in my starter kit? And if so, how do I transport it? So the slightly more complicated answer turned out to be “in a bag”. Or more accurately, “in a very very big bag”. This one was made for me by Adele at Little Thimble Co based on measurements and requirements I gave her. In hindsight, an inch less all around would have sufficed, but at least the frame isn’t cramped in there!

The quilted bag for my slate frame The quilted bag for my slate frame

What I actually meant when I asked the question was “where do I put it when I’m using it?” As soon as I saw the slate frame in its full glory I realised there wasn’t a hope of using it with any of the stands I have, whether of the floor, seat or lap variety. It would have to be trestles. And after a brief play with the ones we use for our annual trade fair I decided to splash out, not on the £500+ RSN ones, but a more modestly priced pair of Ikea ones which set me back almost exactly a tenth of that. If I was going to do a lot of ecclesiastical embroidery I’d have called them my tithe trestles, but as Baptists don’t go in much for vestments and altar cloths I’ll have to stick with the more secular-sounding 10% trestles.

My husband is an engineer, so no sooner had the box arrived than he was on the floor, putting the first of the trestles together. Here he is with our inevitable assistant.

Mr Figworthy building one of the trestles, supervised by Lexi

When one trestle had been completed, I was entrusted with the pile of bits that would make up the second one.

One trestle down, one to go

So would the frame fit on the trestles? And more to the point, once the trestles were in the right position to support the frame, would I be able to fit my legs in between? A quick trial run demonstrated that as long as I didn’t indulge in manspreading (unlikely, you will agree) then yes, I would fit. We also found that with a modest one-hole tilt (one end of the trestle pegged one hole further up than the other end) there was no need for added stops on the lower ends of the trestles, as gravity and friction kept the slate frame from slipping. Even with a two-hole tilt it was reasonably secure, and I don’t think I’ll often use it at that angle.

Trying the trestles on for size

And here is the trestles-and-frame set-up in what will be its designated spot whenever I want to work on my Certificate piece. Isn’t it idyllic?

My Certificate stitching set-up

PS Don’t the trestle shelves look like the purrfect place for a pussycat to curl up and have a nap? So far Lexi has resisted the temptation.

Poland to the rescue!

Last month I wrote about the stitched models I’d been producing for the No Place Like Home workshop, and I mentioned that one of the shades of Lana I was using in them has been discontinued by Madeira. When Barnyarns told me this I went on a quest to find a shop that had one or two spools left. One spool will do me 200 kits, so no need to go overboard. Unfortunately it soon became clear that my only option in the UK was an eBay Buy It Now offer of five spools at a cost of about £21. Other shops who still showed the colour on their website usually wrote back immediately to say they didn’t actually have any left; one shop which, like Barnyarns, allowed the order to be processed, cancelled it after a few days and when I rang (as their email said it had been cancelled at my request) said that they’d never stocked the variegated Madeira Lana at all, so they were at a loss why it was shown on their website.

A post on the Mary Corbet Facebook group brought a fair few suggestions, but mostly from shops which I’d already found and rejected because they were in the US or Australia or New Zealand – with the postage that these countries charge for sending anything to the UK, let alone something as bulky as spools of threads, and considering that anything over £15 attracts VAT plus Royal Mail’s frankly criminal £8 handling fee, it would simply be too expensive.

So as we are, for the moment, still part of the EU, I looked for shops in Europe. I found three, all of which confirmed that they did have at least two spools of the variegated red in stock, and as they had all been equally helpful by email I went for the cheapest one, a Polish company called Haftix Pasmanteria. I put two spools of red in the shopping basket, and then added a few others to see if that would change the postage. It didn’t so I got a light green which Barnyarns didn’t have any more, plus the brown and sandy orange which are also used in the kits. Including postage they set me back only 35p more than the set of five reds would have been.

And here they are, less than a week after I ordered them – three cheers for Haftix Pasmanteria!

My Poland-to-the-rescue spools of Madeira Lana

A patchy rabbit excuse (or a patchy excuse for a rabbit)

Long, long before I was even beginning to consider doing the RSN Certificate (well, several months ago, anyway) I started a crewel project cobbled together from two designs taken from two different books, to give my Heathway Milano crewel wools a nice work-out and get some practice in crewel work. Little did I know back in January that I’d be getting plenty of crewel practice this year!

Setting up the Rabbit and Carnations

Because of various other projects, and the fact that I am a fickle stitcher and will pick up and ditch projects at the slightest provocation, it wasn’t until March that I actually started stitching this, and even then it stalled for a long time after I’d stitched the larger of the two stems. But as I started the Certificate’s crewel module, I found that my little rabbit project was a perfect doodle cloth! Bayeux stitch, burden stitch, detached buttonhole, they all got practiced, and all the while I was building up a decorative picture rather than scattered stitch samples.

I said this last time, and I’ll say it again: I do not much like the look of block shading (even when done a lot better than my ragged first attempt). But as it is one of the required elements in the Certificate piece, I’ll have to learn to love it, or at least learn to do it correctly. Left to my own devices, the hillock on which the rabbit sits would have been done in long and short stitch, but as it’s the right sort of shape for block shading I thought I might as well have a go. Did I mention that my first attempt came out rather ragged? Stitch direction and edges definitely leaving something to be desired.

Starting on block shading

Oh well, we all have to start somewhere. For the water I could have used the stitch I’m considering for the Certificate piece (fly stitch couching), but I didn’t; I liked the chain stitch water I did on my little willow tree project, and anyway, I may use fly stitch couching for one of the hillocks, in which case the water may well be done in these flowing chain stitch lines.

Chain stitch water

Having thought of this as my rabbit project from the start, it was nice to finally get round to stitching the rabbit! In the picture above you can see the split stitch outline, and a satin-stitched ear. The instructions to the original design call for long and short stitch, but that one ear actually looks satin-stitched in the photograph, so I went with that. And then I hit a snag.

The rabbit is meant to be stitched in three browns plus off-white or ecru. Now the colour families in Heathway Milano wool all consist of nine shades from very very light to very very dark, but not having an endlessly elastic budget I opted to buy only numbers 2 4 6 and 8 of the colours I wanted, on the assumption that that would give me quite a nice range for shading. And so it does. Until you want to shade a rabbit.

The colour family I chose for the rabbit is Drab, which is a lot nicer-looking than it sounds. My darkest shade, #8, was far too dark to be usable, so I was left with the other three from that range plus off-white from a separate group. I filled in the furthest front paw in shade #6, which looked a bit dark but then it’s sort of in shadow, so it will do. Then the off-white chest and inside-of-ear. Then the outer part of the ear in the lightest of the Drabs. And this is where things went a bit pear-shaped. Drab #2 is simply not that much darker than off-white, and there wasn’t enough contrast. But using #4 would upset the shading pattern – I needed #4 to be my medium shade, a bridge between the very light #2 and the rather dark #6.

As Drab is not dissimilar to Appletons Chocolate, which I’m using in the Certificate piece, I put them together to see if I could pinch one of the Appletons threads to work as an in-between shade. I found one that was a bit darker than #2, and did the second ear in it. But was there enough difference between this borrowed shade and #4? I decided to use the Appletons in addition to the three Drabs, with Drab #2 used for the face and not much else.

Juggling browns to create a rabbit

The face, when finished, made the rabbit look as though pale with shock at meeting a fox (or perhaps with fear of that rather threatening carnation hanging over him). So I used the Appletons to add a bit of not-quite-so-pale shading to the contours of the face, and then as the lightest shade in the body, followed by Drab #4 with Drab #6 creating the shaded area of his belly.

A finished rabbit Close-up of the rabbit's shading

So there it is, the finished project. And on the whole I’m quite happy with it. But the shading is simply not subtle enough, and not just because of deficiencies in my long & short stitch.

You know what this means, don’t you?

I will have to buy all those in-between shades.

Oh dear…