I’ve got the silk blues

I love silks, I do, really. But sometimes when working with them (or trying to work with them!) I hanker after the predictability of DMC stranded cotton. In my project box for Soli Deo Gloria there are some lovely Soie d’Alger silks in reds, purples, yellows, greens and, today’s topic, blues. Here are those blues on the Au Ver à Soie shade card:

The blues according to Au Ver a Soie's shade card

And here they are (four of them) in real life. DMC-wise they are similar to 791, 792, 340 and 809 – spot the odd one out.

The blues in real life

So I contacted Nelly at Hardanger Atelier and asked if she had a 4913 without the purple cast (and how Au Ver a Soie allowed that dye lot out I will never understand!) – she hadn’t, nor was there any other blue that would go with 4914 and 4916; but she promised to see if there was a series that was like DMC 797/798/799, which would work with my chosen reds and purples.

Meanwhile I considered that not all the silks in a project necessarily have to be the same brand. Rummaging through my collection of silk samples (well, they are full skeins but I mean where I have just a few of a particular brand) to see which were likely to have the same look as Soie d’Alger I realised most of them were hand-dyed and over-dyed silks, and therefore not the solid colours I was looking for. The only suitable solid silk was Caron’s Soie Cristale, which unfortunately I have only in an attractive but irrelevant series of five yellows and oranges. My digital Caron shade card did throw up a series of likely-looking blues, but at about £4.50 a skein it’s rather an expensive gamble.

A series of blues in Caron Soie Cristale

I went to Sew & So’s website to see whether their catalogue pictures were anything like the shade card I have (this sort of comparison can give valuable extra information about what colour the thread is likely to be when you actually get your hands on it) and would you believe it, they had a Soie Cristale sale on! Not quite half price but jolly nearly. Well, I couldn’t ignore a bit of luck like that could I? So four blue Caron silks (the series minus the lightest one on the shade card) should be on their way to me now. If they turn out not to be quite right for this particular project, they may well be perfect for a bird I have in mind. Or that modern floral design. Or the Celtic cross. Or something.

Soie Cristale blues on the Sew and So website

Trying to cover all my bases, I then remembered West End Embroidery. I’ve bought silks and other threads from them in the past and have always found them very helpful. An email, a very quick reply and a phone call later a non-purple 4913 has been ordered, and I am looking forward to seeing it snuggled up to 4914 and 4916 and hopefully looking like one of the family, as it should. In which case the Soie Cristale will have to be put to some other use. Oh dear smiley.

Incidentally, you may wonder why I didn’t just use the next lightest shade I already had, which as you can see from the picture above does fit in colour-wise with the two darker ones. Well, here’s why:

The Soie d'Alger blues stitched samples

The sample on the left is two rows each of 4916, 4914 and 4912; the middle sample is 4916, 4916/4914 blended and 4914; the final sample is 4914, 4914/4912 blended and 4912. As you can see, whenever it’s used the 4912 just stands out far too much – in the blended section on the right the two shades don’t really blend at all, they just happened to have been used in the same needle!

It’ll do at a pinch, but this project is rather close to my heart and I want it to be just right! Even if it means building up an impressive collection of blue silks (the sacrifices I make for my art…)

Binding a hoop – the finicky way

A little while ago I mentioned a tutor from the Royal School of Needlework demonstrating how to bind a hoop. It is a free video on their Online Classes page; you do need to “buy” it, but the price is £0, and once you’ve bought it you can then watch it for free.

In the video, Amy Burt uses very wide, fairly rough strips of calico, with a connecting seam right in the middle of the length, secures the beginning with double-sided sticky tape, and wraps the hoop at high speed without any apparent concerns about wrinkles. It takes about 5 seconds.

An RSN-bound hoop which undoubtedly works

I take a lot longer. And seeing that the RSN are happy for Amy Burt’s hoop-binding to be demonstrated under their aegis, I can only assume that my more time-consuming method is no more effective in keeping tension and protecting the fabric than her high-speed one.

And yet. And yet I stick with mine. Because I love the look of the regular wraps. Because it feels good when I run my fingers over the neat binding. Because it gives me a warm glow when I see it as I get ready to mount the fabric. Because in spite of everything it just feels more secure.

So for those of you who recognise themselves in the above description, here is how I bind my hoops. It is, as demonstrated by the RSN and countless other online videos, not the only way. It is not the quickest or easiest way. But, if I say so myself, boy does it produce neat hoops smiley!

What do you need? An unbound hoop, some tape (I use 20mm cotton twill/herringbone tape for anything over 8 inches, 14mm for smaller ones), two clothes pegs or other not-too-fierce, not-too-big clamping devices, some sewing thread and a short needle. Be aware that the method I’m showing here takes quite a lot of tape; the 14-inch hoop I showed in a previous post took well over 5 metres and I like to start out with at least a metre to spare, just in case.

Start by threading a short needle with sewing thread; knot it and put is aside for the moment. Folding over about half a centimetre of the tape, put it against the inside of the hoop and keep it in place with your thumb. Wrap the tape around the hoop, at a slight angle and overlapping the first bit by half. When you have room (it may take another wrap) replace your thumb with one of the clothes pegs. In the pictures below I have just completed the second complete wrap, and as both overlap by half this one is exactly one width on from the beginning of the tape.

Secure the first wrap with a clothes peg Secure the first wrap with a clothes peg

A quick word about overlapping. Some sources say that you should never overlap because it creates bulk and irregular thickness, others say you should overlap by anything up to half the width of the tape. I prefer overlapping, precisely because it creates bulk – that nice thick cushioning is what grips and protects the fabric – but if you do overlap, I would recommend you always do it by exactly half, so that the thickness of the binding is uniform along the entire hoop. In other words, either don’t overlap at all and abut your wraps exactly so that there is one layer of tape all the way around, or (my preferred method) overlap by half so that there is a double layer of tape all the way round.

By the way, the tape will twist while you’re wrapping. This means that, depending on the size of the hoop you’re binding and where you are in the process, you are trying to work with 6 or 7 metres of intractable twill spaghetti. I’ve not found an effective way to counteract this; I tried winding it beforehand, but it just uncoiled as I wrapped. So now I simply bunch up the remaining tape into a squashed handful, and manoeuvre it around the hoop that way.

Back to the binding. Keeping fairly strong tension on the tape, wrap on, overlapping by half the width of the tape both on the inside and on the outside of the ring. I like to give the tape an extra pull just before going over the top or turning under the bottom, to make sure there are no wrinkles. Because of the curve of the hoop, and winding the tape around it at a slight angle, you may find that sometimes a bit of tape simply will not lie flat, however much you pull. In that case, make sure the wrinkle is on the inside of the ring, and flatten it out as much as possible when you cover it with your next wrap. (If you bind the outer ring as well – which I don’t, because I bind for tension and grip rather than for fabric protection, and binding the inner ring only is sufficient for that – make sure any wrinkles are kept on the outside of the ring; in other words, you want wrinkles to be on the side where they don’t make contact with the fabric.)

Pull the tape just before going over the top Pull the tape again just before turning under the bottom

Incidentally, I am right-handed and therefore normally use my right hand for wrapping and pulling the tape; in the photographs above I am using my left hand only because my right hand was needed to operate the camera! If you are left-handed, you may find it more comfortable to wrap the hoop anti-clockwise.

If at any point you have to interrupt your binding (because you’ve got cramp in your fingers, or the phone rings, or the cat is trying to pounce on the remaining tape) secure the last wrap temporarily with the second clothes peg.

Use a second clothes peg if you have to interrupt your work

When you come to the end of your hoop (or rather, the beginning) and are either abutting or getting very close to your first wrap, cut the tape leaving a good-sized tail for the last wrap and securing. The one I left here was actually a little short; it’s better to cut it generously, as you will trim it more precisely before securing.

Getting back to the beginning Cutting a generous tail

When you have half-overlapped your first wrap, bring the tail to the inside of the hoop, trim so that you can fold over about half to three-quarters of a centimetre and end up well within the inside of the hoop. Hold it in place with your thumb, and pick up your needle with sewing thread. This is why you pre-threaded and pre-knotted it smiley.

Folding the end of the tape

Bring your needle up through the fold, so that the knot sits inside the fold, and secure the tape along the top with small stitches. Then go down the side, securing it for about 1 centimetre. Bring the needle back to the fold by going behind the fabric, go back along the top and secure the other side. Fasten off with a few knots, take the needle behind the tape for a few centimetres and pull taut, then cut.

Secure the fold of the tape with small stitches Work around the sides of the folded tape The secured end of the tape

And there is your bound inner ring, soon to be covered up by fabric and the outer ring and become invisible, but always there, neat and tidy and lovely.

The outside of the bound ring The inside of the bound ring The 12-inch and 14-inch hoops, bound

Perhaps a beautifully bound hoop is rather like the silk underwear worn by the actresses in Gone With the Wind. When one of them asked the costume mistress why they were wearing these expensive silk petticoats when no-one would ever see them, she replied “because you will know you are wearing them”.

Excursions into needlepoint

I’ve been binge listening to Fiber Talk podcasts recently, and one of the types of needlework that is often discussed (at least in part because both Gary and Christine are into it) is needlepoint. Now I understand from their discussions that American needlepoint is somewhat different from English/Continental needlepoint, and uses many more types of stitches and threads. As they were talking about Jessica stitches with Debbie Rowley I thought, “I’ve done Jessica stitches! I’ve been doing needlepoint and I didn’t know it!”

Of course many stitches are what you might call cross-over (I feel I ought to insert a cross stitch pun here) or multi-purpose, in that they can be used in several styles or techniques of needlework. French knots for example crop up in freestyle, ribbon and counted embroidery, and probably some other styles as well. And so with the Jessica, although I would say that you’re unlikely to see it outside counted work. Mine were used in the Hardanger piece Treasure Trove, framing padded circles of metallic kid leather.

Needlepoint, however, seems to be defined by its ground fabric, which is canvas. Years ago I inherited some 18 point canvas (i.e. 18 holes to the inch), and I must have intended to do something with it because one square piece has been cut from it and the edges bound (well, stuck) with masking tape. I have no idea what happened to the project I meant it for. At more or less the same time I bought some Congress cloth, which is a 24 count canvas; that’s the one I used for the Necessities Sampler which now adorns one of my stash boxes, and I also tried out some Hardanger on it.

Necessities Sampler on Congress cloth

Now as I was looking for something in the many needlework folders on my computer, I came across a small design I must have saved to my Inspirations/One-Day-I-Will-Get-Round-To-This folder years ago.

Now where did I find this design?

As you can see it is actually stitched on fabric, not canvas, but I thought it would be the perfect little thing to refresh my acquaintance with canvas work. I dug out the 18 point canvas and the Congress cloth (in cream and black) and picked some Appleton’s crewel wool for the former, and Carrie’s Creations overdyed stranded cotton for the latter.

Trying out threads and canvases

I decided to start with the canvas, as it would be a bit easier on the eyes and they are giving me a little trouble at the moment. Unfortunately I decided against starting in the middle with the Rhodes stitch, which would have “anchored” the various parts to each other, and having done one of the Amadeus stitches (the blue fan-like shape in the corner) I then got so carried away with the rhythm of the double herringbone that I took it too far. Equally unfortunately I carried the threads to continue from the left-hand row of herringbone to the right-hand one, which will therefore also have to be unpicked. I couldn’t quite face that, so switched to stranded cotton on black Congress cloth.

Appleton's crewel wool on 18-count canvas

Yes. Black. Which is not easy on the eyes. But it does make those bright colours pop smiley. And having learnt from my canvas experience and started with the central Rhodes stitch, I then managed a fair bit of work in the doctor’s waiting room!

Waiting room progress

It was finished at home, and inspected by the resident feline. I think she approved. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

The finished project inspected by a feline Lexi approves. I think.

The next day I finished the canvas version as well, and it’s interesting to see how different the two are, when (apart from a little variation in the herringbone stitch) they are identical and stitched in very similar colours. Perhaps it’s my preference for smaller things, perhaps it’s that striking contrast of the jewel colours on black, but I definitely like the Congress cloth one best.

On 18 point canvas On Congress cloth The same motif on 18 point canvas and Congress cloth

Even though I don’t think I’ll ever get into needlepoint to the extent of doing a large project, I enjoyed these small snippets; there is something almost mesmerising about the rhythm and repetition-with-variation of these stitches – quite meditative, really. Some of the needlepoint stitches I’m discovering may well find their way into future counted designs, but even if they don’t, I’m just having fun with these! Well, apart from unpicking several rows of double herringbone stitch with the Appleton’s getting thinner and flakier all the time… in fact in the end I cut my losses and started over again on a fresh bit of canvas (shh, don’t tell anyone).

A needling question

Last year I talked a little about needles, and whether the very expensive Tulip ones were worth the extra expense. I also mentioned some between/quilting needles by Clover which I’d picked up in the Netherlands and which I really enjoyed stitching with. In my quest to find some more, I came across Clover’s black-coated needles as well as their more economical gold-eye ones, and tried those too – but in the end I came to the conclusion that neither the Tulips nor the Clover blacks felt that much smoother or more accurate than the ones I’d picked up back in the old country.

But some mystery surrounded those Dutch-bought needles. For one thing, I’d bought them in sizes #7, #9 and #11 – but when trying to buy some spares I could not find Clover #7 needles anywhere. Unfortunately I’d decanted the needles into little lip seal bags (like the more recently bought #10s in the picture below, but marked with the size only) and got rid of the original packaging, so I had no information about the dimensions of each size or anything else.

Clover needles, decanted

Husband to the rescue: with his micrometer he measured all three sizes, I made a note of them and contacted Clover. Clover denied ever having made #7 needles of any kind. (Incidentally, I also asked them why their #12 needles are actually thicker than their #10s, when it is pretty universally true for all brands that higher numbers denote smaller – both thinner and shorter – needles; they replied, “Our Clover needles doesn’t match its rule. Basically we try to fit the rule but some item could not do so.” If this makes more sense to you than it did to me, do enlighten me!)

I settled for some #8 and #10 needles, which were the closest I could find to the ones I had. And then an additional mystery arose: nice though these new needles were, the ones I originally bought in the Netherlands seemed rather nicer. Was this the gloss of nostalgia that an ex-pat sometimes applies to anything connected with “home”? Surely Clover’s Japanese factories wouldn’t send different needles to different countries?

It took a while, and some serious Googling of needle sizes, but eventually I found the answer: the needles I bought in the Netherlands are actually the German brand Prym…

So now I can tell you definitely: my favourite, go-to needles are Prym gold-eye betweens, #7 for 2-3 strands, #9 for one strand, #11 for beading. I picked up some more from Minerva Crafts and am now probably all right for needles for the next five years or so. But I may get a few more packs just to be on the safe side.

Prym betweens in two sizes

After all, needles are the most frequently used tool or equipment in our stitching. And one of the nice things about these ones is that they are even more affordable than the ordinary (i.e. non-black-coated) Clovers; with postage they come in at about 10p a piece, and if you can pick them up at a show or a shop they come to less than 8p a needle. Which means that, unlike with £1 Tulip needles, you need have no scruples about using a new needle for every new project, or even several needles if the project is a large and long-term one. And the feeling of stitching with a fresh needle is so satisfying it is a treat in itself.

An 8p treat that enhances your stitching and puts a smile on your face. What’s not to like smiley?