The right hoop for the right project, and more binding

My RSN hoops arrived this week. I splashed out on three of them, to make the most of the flat rate postage (that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it). To put the sizes in perspective, that tiddly one in the centre is actually 8 inches. As my husband remarked, “I thought you were a small project girl. What happened?!?”

Large, deep hoops

Well, what happened was the Tree of Life. Generally speaking it’s true: I’m a Small Project Girl. In Hardanger this means on the whole nothing larger than 220 stitches square (less than 9 inches on 25 count fabric) and usually much smaller; in freestyle embroidery this translates into a feeling of mild panic if the transfer pattern can’t be printed on a sheet of A4.

And just as I want my printed designs on a single A4, so I prefer my stitched designs to fit well within the boundaries of whatever hoop or frame I’m using (this also means I don’t feel guilty about leaving projects in the hoop for months on end, as any hoop marks will disappear in the framing/finishing anyway). The revamped Tree of Life, although it will just fit inside a 10-inch hoop, really needs at least a 12-inch and preferably a 14-inch hoop to meet that requirement. Either that, or it will have to go on the Millennium frame, where I may *gasp* need to scroll to reach every part. I know that’s what it’s designed for, but it feels uncomfortable. That’s purely my little idiosyncrasy, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t give in to it smiley.

Then I had a sudden flash of insight: I want to do two versions (because it is likely to become a SAL), one in crewel wool and one in silk & gold. Well, the silk one can be done smaller than the crewel one – so I could use a 14-inch hoop for the crewel version, and put the smaller silk one on the Millennium frame!

Now I have hoops in all… well, not all shapes obviously, as most of them are round (barring a couple of vaguely squarish ones), but certainly all sorts of sizes. But my largest wooden hoop pre-RSN-order was 12 inches – and it’s an ordinary, shallow wooden hoop. And having worked with the RSN’s 8-inch and 10-inch quilting hoops, I’ve come to prefer those deeper hoops (20mm wide) for the larger sizes anyway. So off I went to the RSN shop, to order a deep 14-inch hoop. Somehow the deep 12-inch and the standard 8-inch joined it, on the grounds that they were bound to Come In Handy some day, and, as I said before, to make the most of the postage.

So all that that remained was to bind them. And large hoops take large amounts of tape, so that to begin with the set-up looked rather like a pile of pasta or a tangle of tapeworms. It was up to me to transform this unpromising-looking collection into beautiful bound hoops.

Large hoops ready to be bound

Based on the carefully measured tape requirements for an 8-inch standard hoop, I had calculated that a deep 12-inch hoop would take about 6½ metres. Oddly enough, at the end of the process I had a little over 7 metres left, and I’d bought two 10-metre lengths of tape. Measuring the other 10-metre length showed it to be nearly 11½ metres, so I have no idea how much tape it took to bind the 12-inch hoop. But having pre-measured the second length I can tell you that the 14-inch deep hoop took 5¼ metres – rather less than I had expected.

Large hoops with their binding complete

In some ways, binding a larger hoop is easier than binding a smaller one, even though it takes longer – you’ve got more room to work in, and the curve of the hoop is more gradual, so getting the tape to lie flat is much less of a struggle. And when it comes to securely finishing off the end of the tape, a large hoop gives this near-sighted stitcher a much more convenient way of getting close to the sewing!

Finishing off a hoop if you're near-sighted

Incidentally, I’ve discovered why I find binding hoops such a hassle. Because I make things difficult for myself, that’s why! While having a look at some RSN online classes, I noticed a freebie video about binding hoops. And the stills illustrating it showed a bound hoop that took me rather aback – the tape looked positively wrinkled! Now I will admit that even in my own estimation I am a bit obsessive when binding a hoop; I want every wrap to overlap by exactly the same amount, and I want everything to lie absolutely flat, even though I realise neither of these things is essential. So has this made me think differently? Well, my mind did say “if the RSN is happy with a hoop like that, it’s bound to work” (ha ha). But I simply can’t get myself to do it like that. When I look at my very tidily bound hoops, I get a happy feeling, and I just know that a wrinkly hoop would annoy me whenever I look at it. So, as binding is a one-off process for each hoop anyway, I will stick with my time-consuming, finger-cramp-inducing method, and smile at the finished product.

An RSN-bound hoop which undoubtedly works Tidy hoop-binding

And now I’m off to stitch that tree!

The effect of “more” on a design

We’ve probably all had moments when we were presented with too wide a choice and just ended up saying “I don’t know” and not picking anything. Too much choice can be paralysing. And even if you are usually an extremely adventurous stitcher, there may be times when you don’t want to hear “you can do this design in 5 different colourways, would you like the blue, red, purple, green or neutral, and with or without speciality stitches?” – you just want to pick up a kit or chart that tells you exactly what to do in exactly what spot with exactly what thread in exactly what colour.

On the other hand, it is equally true to say that choice is liberating! Now that I have more shades or Pearsall’s crewel wool to choose from, I can decide whether I want Hengest’s spots to be muted pastels (which is all I had until my most recent purchase) or bright pastels, if the latter isn’t a contradiction in terms. And I’ve chosen the bright pastels (my husband says they remind him of Edinburgh rock). They’re so cheerful that I find myself smiling just looking at them, and I’m looking forward to seeing Hengest in all his unnaturalistic, brightly pastel-spotted glory.

New colours for Hengest's spots

By the way, I managed to fit in irises! (And incidentally also found that surrounding the eyes with a single line of white before working the vertical lines of the face sets them off beautifully while also reducing the dark grey outlines to something a little more subtle.)

Hengest has blue eyes

As I was using that light blue anyway, I treated myself to a few spots smiley. Just the one colour, the rest of the sweet shop will have to wait until I’ve finished his face!

A first few spots

The lure of more

“Once I’ve got my own craft room everything will be lovely and I won’t need any extra storage ever again!” Ha.

Don’t get me wrong, everything is lovely in my still relatively new craft room. It’s my optimistic ideas about storage which have turned out to be less than accurate. So something needed to be done. And before you ask, no, I didn’t start breeding my tall rainbow storage towers. But isn’t this dinky little matching set of drawers just the perfect find?

A little tower of drawers joins the large ones

As for the reason behind this purchase, let’s go to another I-spoke-too-soon remark I made to myself not so long ago.

“Now that I’ve got at least four shades of pretty much every colour of crewel wool on Pearsall’s website, I’m sorted and won’t need any other crewel wools ever again!” Ha.

Listening to Jessica Grimm on Fiber Talk (incidentally, if you missed Mabel’s last month it’s here) I was reminded that I bought loads of spangles from her last year, and paid another visit to her website. And there I found Heathway Milano wools in more colours than on the Pearsall’s website!

Surely this couldn’t be right – Pearsall’s are the original producers of this wool. So I contacted Carol (the helpful lady who went through the available starter packs with me over the phone when I first dipped my toes into the crewel waters) and she confirmed that these colours (including a true orange, a gorgeous turquoise and some beautifully bright purples) were indeed available, they just hadn’t made it onto the Pearsall’s website yet. “Just order as many blacks as you want colours and then let me know which ones you really want.” Well, how could I resist? And so a true orange, a gorgeous turquoise and some beautifully bright purples, as well as some daffodil yellows and various pinks, have been added to my ever-growing collection.

The latest additions to my crewel wool collection

And this is why the little storage tower joined the two big ones – I now have colour-coordinated crewel wool drawers! (Which are already beginning to feel a bit crowded. Oh dear…)

Colour-coordinated drawers with wool The Teal drawer

The eyes have it

Last week, Hengest gained a face. And what a face it was. Let’s just say that someone compared him to Claudia Winkleman.

Is it Hengest, or is it Claudia?

When stitching Ethelnute at the medieval embroidery retreat I found that the dark lines we put in for the nose and eyes looked much less prominent once the other stitching had been done around it (the later stitching part-covered it, pushing up against it) so that’s what I expected would happen here as well. But even so, the eyes were very black. Very very black. And I remembered that Ethelnute’s facial features had actually been done in a dark brown. And that, in the past, I had read or heard that pure black is often a no-no.

So I surveyed my collection of crewel wools and pulled out the darkest grey and the darkest brown I could find; because of all the other greys in Hengest, I picked the brown from the more muted, cooler range, rather than one of the warm browns.

Hengest with black, grey and brown for the eyes

Lots of people have come up with comments and suggestions about how to make this change, and mulling them over for a bit I decided to cut out the black, then stitch the outline only in a quick running stitch in brown for one eye and grey for the other. Some people suggested stitching the eyes last, when I have a better overview of what Hengest’s colours look like together, but as I said above, I think the eyes (and the nostrils) will actually blend in better if the other stitching is done around them.

Did you notice I said “cut out the black”? Having read what I wrote about unpicking split stitch when Hengest acquired his unplanned blue spot, a fellow-stitcher asked why I didn’t just cut the stitching out. Well, there I was taking out part of a thread, and I needed to retain enough of the unpicked bit to be able to fasten off again, so the other part of the thread, which was clean and OK to stay put, wouldn’t get undone. The eyes and nostrils, on the other hand, are isolated elements, so here I was definitely happy to take the short cut and use my nice small pointy scissors. And tweezers as well, because black leaves quite a residue!

Unpicking Hengest's eyes Black residue

Then it was a matter of trying with the two dark-not-blacks, in simple running stitch so it’ll be easy to take out before the official restitch.

A brown eye and a grey one

So now I’ve got a brown and a grey eye. And I don’t know which one I like best. I still think the grey would fit in better with the rest of the palette, but in isolation I rather like the look of the brown. Perhaps I could give him grey eyes and brown nostrils! That way I can use the brown, but not in such a prominent position. But no, that’s just chickening out from taking a decision. So my decisive decision is that I’ll mull it over for a bit, perhaps stitch some other wool project, or something different altogether, and then have another look at it and make a real firm decisive decision.

By the way, someone on an embroidery FB group posted a close-up picture of the original Steeple Aston Cope horse, and oh my goodness me, it’s got irises! I hadn’t noticed that in the pictures I used, which were all rather smaller. However, I don’t think I’ll manage to get in an iris in Hengest’s eyes, as he is much more diminutive than his cope cousin. Not in the wool version anyway – it should be possible in the silk though… *scuttles off to find the coloured pattern and add a line of blue*

The original eyes have an iris!

PS concerning my earlier remarks about not posting embroidery photographs which are not your own even if the embroidery itself is in the public domain – they still hold, but I decided that showing the eyes only would probably be all right. If you know otherwise, please let me know so I can rectify it.

Binding hoops and bad habits

Some time ago – last August, in fact, just before the medieval embroidery retreat – I told you about binding my first ever hoop. (That is, it was my first ever binding of a hoop. Not my first ever hoop. That is probably lost in the mists of time.)

Preparing to bind a hoop Bound inner hoop Bound inner hoop, fitted inside the outer hoop

Having reported that I found it terribly fiddly (my verdict being “unless the effect is really really noticeable, never again!”) I promised to let you know after the retreat whether I would ever bind another hoop. And I didn’t. Didn’t let you know, I mean – but I did bind more hoops!

Does that mean I found it worth the hassle? Yes, though not quite for the reason that is often given, that you can get better tension with a bound hoop. My problem with wooden hoops (and one of the reasons for my love of flexi-hoops) is that they do not keep the tension. Setting up the project and getting it good and taut is one thing, but if you have to keep pulling the fabric taut again whenever you’ve been putting a bit of strain on it (for example by pulling through a very thick thread, or pulling a needle through a very densely stitched area) it’s not an encouragement to use that type of hoop.

I found that the deep hoops – also known as quilting hoops – which I got from the Royal School of Needlework held the tension better (more grip, as the hoops are about 2cm deep instead of the usual 1cm) but were still not ideal. The bound hoop I took to the embroidery retreat, however, behaved impeccably in that respect!

In fact it held its tension so well that it encouraged me in a Bad Habit: I do not take my project out of its hoop after every stitching session. Until fairly recently I was not aware that this was a bad habit. You put your fabric in a hoop, and when the project is completed you take it out again. Simple, right? But apparently there are two reasons for not doing this. The first is that it can leave permanent marks on the fabric, and the second is that it can stretch the fabric beyond its powers of springing back.

Warning: I am going to go against received embroidery wisdom!

They sound like compelling reasons – but I’m not convinced. The second one I can’t say I’ve noticed; yes, there is always a certain amount of give in a fabric, some more than others, and I can see how permanent stretching over a long period might leave it, well, permanently stretched. But as I have often thought my work looks best when it is still stretched in the hoop, and as I tightly lace any of my works that will be framed anyway, I’m not bothered by that.

As for the first, I ignore that for a purely personal reason, which is that all my projects are small enough to fit well within the confines of the hoop I’m using. Yes there are permanent hoop marks, but they get cut off when I prepare the work for framing or whatever finishing method I use. If your projects are larger than the hoop you’re working with, and you have to move the hoop around and sometimes have it cover previous stitches (something that makes me nervous simply contemplating it) then do take it out of the hoop every time you finish a stitching session.

So I have what is generally regarded as a Bad Stitching Habit, but at least it is now off-set by a Good Stitching Habit – I have bound all my wooden hoops, right down to the tiddly 3-inch one (which is probably overkill, but I got into the zone).

A three-inch hoop, bound

Incidentally, for those who like facts and figures, I use 14mm cotton twill tape for smaller hoops (up to 6 or 7 inches) and 20mm cotton herringbone tape for anything larger, and anything deep. Some people prefer to use bias binding. Having forgotten to measure how much I used on all the hoops I bound in one go, I did remember to make notes when I bound my new 8-inch hoop: 2.25 metres. I assume that a deep hoop of the same size would take twice that, and that you can work out the requirements for other sizes by comparing circumferences (diameter times π). That’s quite a lot, and it’s partly because I choose to overlap my binding by about half the width of the tape; some people abut it exactly, which would take considerably less. I hold the start with a clothes peg, and at the finish oversew the folded-over end several times, making sure it’s on the inside of the hoop. Definitely fiddly – I still think so after binding about eight hoops – but worth it.

A stained unicorn and the benefit of hindsight

Wool Hengest is coming on well, but he is eating wool at a rate of knots. I haven’t done that much stitching in crewel wool, and nothing that was completely covered in split stitch, so I didn’t really have a realistic idea of how much wool would be needed. I got two skeins of Arctic White but hardly expected I’d need the second skein. Well, I do. Here is Hengest after one complete skein has gone into him.

Hengest after one skein of white

I was all set to start the second skein, when disaster struck! No, don’t worry – no-one’s injured, our house is still standing, the cat’s fine. It was a disaster in stitching terms only. And it was one of my own making.

The hoop I bought for this project is a simple 8″ wooden hoop. It works just fine, but there were some rough patches on the outside of the outer ring which occasionally caught the wool and fluffed it up. So I asked my husband for some sandpaper to rub it smooth, he got me some of the finer paper in his collection, and I set to. Carefully pulling the fabric out of the way I sanded the offending bits, which took only a few rubs – the roughness really wasn’t very bad, only occasionally just annoying enough for me to want to do something about it. I made sure I wasn’t accidentally sanding the fabric, but otherwise I was more concerned with keeping any sawdust away from my nose and mouth, as I’m allergic to the stuff.

After a while I could rub my finger along the hoop without encountering any noticeable roughness, so I put the sandpaper down on the kitchen table and took the hoop back into the sitting room. It was only then that I looked at the fabric. And gasped.

Hengest feels blue

The picture above actually shows the stain after I had already brushed some of it off the fabric – it originally showed a bright azure spot where there is only a smudge in the photograph. What had happened? Well, the piece of sandpaper, which was fairly long and narrow, had some sort of blue powdery residue on one side of one of its shorter edges which neither my husband or I had noticed, and this had flopped over while I was sanding and deposited some of its powdery blueness on Hengest.

Of course I was extremely wise after the event, and told myself that what I should have done was take the fabric out of the hoop before sanding, but I’ve got it so nicely hooped up, all snug and at just the tension I like, that I didn’t want to disturb it, so I left it in and there it was. I was by now feeling more blue than the unicorn, but there was very little to be gained by What Ifs, so I got on with seeing whether the thing could be salvaged. A good brushing removed all the blue from the fabric, but the wool proved to be more resistant to my ministrations. Having brushed it to within an inch of its life, it looked decidedly more fluffy but still faintly blue.

Remnants of blue

There was no help for it, some of the stitching would have to come out. As it happens the worst affected stitches were actually at the start of a new thread, so I unpicked the two rows of split stitch nearest the edge. And I can tell you now that unpicking split stitch is not something I would recommend as relaxation therapy. Because the threads are split, you can’t unpick it all from the front – it has to be done half a stitch at a time, and as I occasionally put in random stitches to fill in gaps where the rows aren’t quite close enough together some of it was rather like unravelling a mystery looking for clues (which word, incidentally, comes from “clewe” meaning ball of thread; rather appropriate).

Having unpicked those two rows I wasn’t completely happy with the previous couple of rows; depending on the light they varied from white to probably OK to definitely blueish. And part of the idea behind Hengest is that the whiteness of his body contrasts with the pale pastels of his spots; having part of his body (a small part, but a part nonetheless) pale blue would rather defeat that aim. To be on the safe side, I took those rows out as well.

Blue or not? A clean start

While I was at it I then upicked a small section right at the top of his neck where I didn’t like the stitch direction; I replaced it with satin stitch because with the new stitch direction it was a bit narrow to fit in more than one split stitch per row.

The stitch direction I didn't like New satin stitch

And so after all that, and a day on which I had hoped to get through half the second skein and finish Hengest’s body or perhaps even his head, here is where I am: pretty much back where I started. But – with no blue! And tomorrow it’s my weekly embroidery group, where in between chat and tea I’ll had a stab (pun intended) at getting that body finished; all the time reminding myself that this is a project purely for my own enjoyment, so that it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t get finished until next year. Relax smiley.

Progress...