More haste, less speed; and distracting vestments

We’re back from our holiday in Kent, where we had a lovely time and I did no stitching at all on one of the projects I’d brought, and only a little stitching on the other. (Yes, I took two projects with me. Just in case, you know, that I’d do so much stitching that one project wasn’t enough. Ha.) I did see some lovely stitching, though – none at Chatham Dockyard, not surprisingly, but Ightham Mote, Hever Castle and Penshurst Place all had their fair share of tapestries, garments, fire screens, stumpwork caskets and mirror frames and so on.

Some of it I could get close enough to to be able to look at it without my glasses (as I’m very short-sighted that’s the best way for me to see small details), but most items were frustratingly just too far behind the glass to allow a naked-eye, close-up look. I did ask at one place whether they ever allowed people to study the pieces up close, and they did, but it was obvious from the way she phrased it that this was for serious academic researchers only, not for just anyone who happened to be interested in embroidery. Oh well.

Gold and silk embroidery at Hever Castle Various embroideries at Hever Castle

The last full day of our holiday was Sunday, so we started with early morning Communion at the local church – of which more later – then visited a nearby wildlife reserve which used to be gravel pits, had a picnic in a field, and returned for a quiet afternoon and evening before the journey home on Monday. Just the opportunity to get out my stitching! Well, after I finished the detective novel I had with me… By the time I’d finished that it was not quite so hot outside, so I put a chair out on the lawn, gathered my project and threads and scissors and glasses, sat down, and found the inquisitive wet nose of the resident Alaskan Malamute alarmingly close to my fabric. Fortunately Blade, though enormous and very solid, was extremely friendly; and anyway, he soon decided that my embroidery was not edible and that I wasn’t about to scritch him behind the ears, so he ambled off to find a shady spot.

This left me to do some work on Llandrindod: I was about to put in the surrounding facets on the first jewel. This is done in split stitch, wih all sections worked in a clockwise direction, three of them in the medium shade and three in the light shade (the large centre facets were worked in the dark shade). Unfortunately the medium red doesn’t show up quite as different from the dark red as I’d expected, but I hope that with the light shade and the accents in pearlescent thread which I will add later the overall effect will still be that of a jewel with light playing on it.

Split stitch is slow work, so by the time I’d finished the three medium facets it was nearly time to start cooking dinner (i.e. put the pies we bought at the local deli in the oven). But I really wanted to see what the effect of adding the third shade would be. Now there is a tiny facet right at the bottom of each gemstone which is worked in the light shade, and surely that wouldn’t take long. I’d just quickly put that in and then pack everything away. I did. I looked at the effect of the third shade. And then I realised I’d stitched it in the wrong direction – anticlockwise instead of clockwise.

Facets added to the ruby in Llandrindod

I could have left it, I suppose. It’s a very, very small section indeed. Would anyone notice in the grand scheme of things? Possibly not. But I would. And it would annoy me. So out it came. As you may remember from Hengest, unless it’s confined to the last one or two stitches it’s practically impossible to unpick split stitch; you have to cut the stitches and pick out all the little bits of fluffed-up thread. Fortunately the linen I’m using stands up well to this sort of abuse, so there’ll be no problem when I get round to doing the section again, clockwise this time!

Unpicking, or rather, uncutting A fresh start

I mentioned that we visited the local church on Sunday morning – an 11th-century building rejoicing in the name of St Edmund King and Martyr, a mere three minutes’ walk from us. It turned out to be fairly high church, and the priest’s vestments had a rather interesting design in gold on them. It intrigued me, because I couldn’t see how it was done. For the first part of the service my brain was chewing over this conundrum in the background until I realised that this was not the right preparation for Communion, and cast the matter aside for the moment. Oddly enough, it was while receiving Communion that I found the answer to the problem.

So what was the problem? Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me so I couldn’t ask the priest afterwards if I could take a picture of the vestments, but when we got back to our AirBnB I quickly did a sketch from memory. It looked somewhat like this:

Sketch based on the West Kingsdown vestment

The parts that particularly caught my eye were the thin concentric circles within the wide circle, and the way in which the sides of the outer circle were part of the vertical borders. I was trying to interpret the design in couched pairs of Jap or possibly twist, and the circles looked like a fairly solid outer circle of several pairs of Jap, with a gap the width of one pair followed by a thin circle consisting of one pair, and this gap-and-circle then repeated. In other words, the gaps and the thin circles were the same width. This same effect was also used in the top and bottom parts of the design (the parts with straight sides, concave outer edge and convex inner edge). There was also an interesting weave effect in those top and bottom parts, consisting of short lengths of gold-gap-gold.

There were several things which I couldn’t work out by looking at it from a distance. For one thing, I couldn’t tell where the thin circles were plunged. They seemed perfectly continuous, with no break anywhere in their sheen and sparkle. And talking of plunging, all those short length making up the weave would have to be plunged individually – that’s a lot of plunging and a lot of bulky gold to get rid of at the back of the work! And then there were the parts where the wide circle intersected wit the vertical borders; there should be a change of reflection there, as the curved lines of Jap met the straight vertical ones, but there wasn’t. There should also be a noticeable break, unless the embroiderer working on this garment had attained such a degree of perfection in her plunging that you literally couldn’t see the joins.

A problem if you couch the design

It was as I received Communion and looked up at the priest and saw the vestment close-up that I realised my problem was caused by an incorrect assumption. I had assumed that the design was made up of lines of couched gold thread, but it wasn’t – it was cut from solid gold fabric and presumably appliquéd on. Cutting and applying the thin circles and other thin lines must have been quite a fiddly job, but not nearly so fiddly as trying to do it this neatly in couched Jap. (Incidentally, I didn’t work all this out while taking the bread and wine – I just stored the information away for later contemplation. Important as embroidery is, one has to get one’s priorities right!)

So there it is, a lovely design but probably not really suitable for working in couched threads, which is the way I would want to do it. I will probably try the wide-circle-with-voids-and-thin-circles motif some day, just to see if it is possible to make the plunging practically invisible. Perhaps as part of the RSN goldwork module…?

Quirks of photography and remedial wing work

Although stumpwork has never really appealed to me – I admire what other people do with it, but on the whole don’t feel a great inclination to have a go myself – somehow I managed to end up with a stumpwork kit: Sarah Homfray’s holly blue butterfly. I bought it because it was a beautiful butterfly, and because it was small enough not to seem too much of a challenge. Also, there were no big wooden beads. Don’t ask me why, but any stumpwork design with big wooden beads in it (to represent hips and haws and berries, generally) puts me off immediately. This one had some florist’s wire, but otherwise it was mostly standard embroidery with standard stranded cottons, the only difference with a needle painting kit being the fact that the butterfly would be cut out; well, I’ve cut around a buttonhole edge before, albeit on counted fabric and not quite so fine, but it’s the same sort of thing. The shading on the wings was likely to be more of a problem!

Sarah Homfray stumpwork butterfly kit

And so it turned out to be. When I’d completed the bottom wings I couldn’t help but notice that my butterfly had very distinct banding, which the picture in the kit did not have. As usual I had taken some photographs of my progress, and it was then that I discovered an odd quirk of photography. No, I don’t mean the fact that close-up photographs will show up irregularities in your stitching that you never noticed even when working on it with strong magnifying glasses (all stitchers have to learn not to judge their own work on the basis of close-up photos). Let me show you.

Have a look at the two pictures below. They were taken about 10 seconds apart. Neither of them has been edited or Photoshopped in any way – the only difference is that the first one was taken with the butterfly’s head pointing towards the window, and the second with its bottom towards the window. And yet the second one looks much more blended than the first. I suppose it must have something to do with the direction of the stitches and the way they catch the light, but it’s odd that the effect is not nearly so noticeable with the naked eye. What makes it show up so much more in photographs?

The butterfly photographed with the top towards the window The butterfly photographed with the bottom towards the window

Whatever the reason, the second photograph looked decidedly better than the first, and so that was the one I posted on the Cross Stitch Forum and the Mary Corbet Facebook group; like most people I prefer to show my stitching in the most flattering light. But even though I could photograph it to look not too bad, whenever I looked at it directly I saw the banding, even more so after I’d done the top wings (and was rather pleased with them!) Now I was definitely not going to unpick the entire lower wings (I’m not that much of a pefectionist) so it was time for a little cosmetic work.

The banding on the bottom wings stands out against the blended top wings

It turns out (as various tutors have told me – and they must know smiley) that long and short stitch, or silk shading, is quite a forgiving technique; especially so when done in crewel wool, but even in stranded cotton it is possible to sneak in some extra stitches to create a more blended look. After a few minutes with three needles threaded with three different colours, the bottom wings were much more in tune with the top wings. Even when the butterfly was photographed with its head towards the window.

The bottom wings with their additional blending

Do you recognise this? The happier you are with the way a project is progressing, the more you want to finish it. (Although not feeling up to more challenging and demanding projects may have had something to do with it as well…) The moment the two baptism bookmarks were completed, I got back to the butterfly. My first ever attempt at turkey rug stitch produced a nice fluffy body – not quite so evenly trimmed as I might have liked perhaps, but perfectly serviceable; then it was just a matter of cutting around the buttonhole edge and shaping and attaching the antennae, and here I present what is likely to be my one and only stumpwork finish, on a plain background and in more natural surroundings.

The finished butterfly The butterfly in more natural surroundings

I’d rather hoped one of the many butterflies currently treating our garden as their home would sit down beside him, but alas, they wouldn’t oblige. Perhaps just as well, as God’s handiwork is much more exquisite than mine could ever be smiley.

Another way of finishing a bookmark

Many years ago, when Flights of Fancy was in its Flights of InFancy, I wrote a post about different ways of finishing bookmarks. As none of these ways was quite what I wanted for the baptismal bookmarks I was stitching for two church friends, I devised another one. And as you can never have too many ways of finishing your stitching, here is a short illustrated demonstration of how it works.

The first thing, of course, is to complete the stitching. How you do this can sometimes be determined, at least in part, by how you intend to finish it – framing, for example (not that you’re likely to frame a bookmark) requires a lot more spare fabric around the design than mounting in a card. Here I was going for a combination of felt backing and fraying of the main fabric, which needs relatively little space around the design, and as I was planning two bookmarks and I don’t like wasting fabric, I decided to stitch them fairly close together on one piece of fabric. A running stitch outline defined the size of the bookmarks and helped with placing the various elements.

The stitching is finished; now for the finishing

Next: two pieces of felt, cut to the dimensions of the outline.

Felt backing cut to size

The felt backings were initially held in place with pins. As it was not easy to see whether the felt was staying put while I was buttonholing (or rather, blanket stitching) around the outline, I adjusted the arms on my lap stand so that the frame was nearly vertical, and sat facing the window so that the light was behind my work. In this way, I could keep an eye on the position of the felt while stitching.

The light behind the works shows the position of the felt

Incidentally, to fasten on I knotted my thread (a single strand of DMC cotton) and with the needle parallel to the felt I took the thread a little way through the felt – not from the back to the front, but travelling “inside” the felt for a few centimetres. The knot was on the side of the felt that sat against the back of the stitched fabric, and the needle emerged on the edge of the felt. I could then take it up through the Hardanger fabric right on the outline to start the blanket stitch.

And here they are with the blanket stitch outlines complete, seen from the front and the back.

Blanket stitch all around the bookmarks The bookmarks seen from the back

Finally I cut around the outline, leaving three fabric threads all around (or strictly speaking fabric pairs, as this is Hardanger fabric), and then frayed the fabric up to the buttonhole line. In the picture below the blue bookmark has been cut but not yet frayed, while the pink one is completely finished.

The excess fabric has been cut away, and the fraying is in progress

Cut and frayed, this is what they eventually look like front and back.

The finished bookmarks, front and back

And there you have it, one more way of finishing your stitching as a bookmark!

How to pack a mug

Thank you to the many people who gave me feedback on the matter of packing my Mug That Cheers kit. On the whole, opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of a single, slightly larger bag. The main argument was that it was more convenient to have everything together, especially if the kit was to be kept for a while before stitching it, or if it was bought as a present. Several people indicated a concern that the envelope, if supplied separately, might get lost.

The contents of the kit, minus envelope

Very valid concerns, and ones I had considered myself. So surely the solution is simple: just get the next size grip seal bag and get on with it. There was just one slight problem with that solution. I didn’t like it.

In a way that shouldn’t really matter; after all, I’m not the one buying the kit! But I simply couldn’t reconcile myself to the idea of a baggy kit, with the instructions and everything else just rattling around in it like a child in a hand-me-down from a cousin two sizes larger.

And then there was another issue. A couple of people remarked that they would much prefer no plastic at all. Again, a very valid concern. The suggestion of making cotton bags for the kits was simply not feasible – too labour-intensive or, if bought in, too expensive for my scale of operations (especially if I wanted to make sure they were ethically made without sweatshop labour) – and paper envelopes or bags unfortunately have neither the strength nor the flexibility of the plastic grip seal bags.

But there was another option, and one which I already had in the house: the cardboard boxes I use for the goldwork kits. Because of the fragility of some of the goldwork materials, a squishy plastic bag is simply not a practical way of packing those kits. But they are not just sturdier than the plastic bags, they are also ever so slightly wider. Would they be wide enough to hold the awkward envelope?

Front of the boxed mug kit What's in the boxed mug kit Boxed mug kit, open

Yes they were smiley.

There are a few small points still to work out; for example, how to attach the kit picture to the front without ripples, whether to add tissue paper inside, and how to wrap the box so that it doesn’t exceed the Large Letter postal rate dimensions. And then there is the cost – the boxes are about ten times the price of the grip seal bags, and as they are heavier, postage will increase as well. Still, as people are becoming more and more environmentally conscious, selling the kits in a recyclable and reusable container may well be something that customers are willing to pay a little more for.

Who knows, in the near future all Mabel’s kits may come in those nifty little boxes!

Mugs half full and awkward envelopes

Is there a word that means “doing something that needs doing, but not urgently, so that you have an excuse not to do something that is much more urgent”? I’m sure we’ve all done it in one way or another (I wonder how many houses/sheds/garages get a thorough clean when the income tax returns are due) and “procrastination” doesn’t quite fit the bill because you are in fact doing something useful.

Why this little linguistic aside? Because hurray! I’ve got all my kits ready for the Knitting & Stitching Show, but, well, they aren’t needed until the second week of October and I should really have been working on either the SAL or the RSN Certificate, and preferable both.

Kits for the K&S workshops in October

Still, they’re done and safely stored away, and there was actually a good reason for not leaving them to the last moment (or so I tell myself): two of the designs, No Place Like Home and The Mug That Cheers, have never been kitted up before, so there are generally little bumps in the process that need sorting out. Additionally, when kits are being made up for a workshop rather than for a straightforward sale, there are extra things to be done. If the design is a non-counted one, as these are, it needs to be transferred onto the fabric beforehand; K&S workshops are usually 90 minutes long, and you want the students to get stitching straight away – quite apart from the logistics problem of providing twelve light boxes for tracing!

The little house was by far the easier of the two to kit up; for one thing, it uses only one type of thread (Madeira Lana) and one needle, and transferring the design was the only extra thing that needed doing for the workshop version. The mug was quite another matter. At one point the entire dining table was covered in the various bits and pieces needed for it: organza ribbon, metallic ribbon, floral gems, sequins, beads, quilting cotton, Bondaweb, plain and variegated perles and plain and variegated stranded cottons were sitting in small and large piles, waiting to be put together.

And then there was another thing. The top and bottom of the mug are worked in appliqué; to do that, you first trace the parts onto Bondaweb, iron that onto the bits of coloured fabric, cut out the parts, remove the paper backing and sew the parts onto the ground fabric. This is fine if a) you have half a day or so and b) you have an iron. The latter could probably be arranged, but the process would eat heavily into the hour and a half we have available. The only workable solution was to iron and cut both the mug parts myself and pre-attach one of them. And because there were twelve kits to prepare, and because Bondaweb is double-sided, I decided to iron rather than sew on the bottom parts. And here they are (well, one of each colour):

Pre-attaching part of the mug

Afterwards I thought that actually this could be turned into a teaching moment – for although some people may enjoy the process of sewing on the appliqué parts with small invisible stitches, others may just want to get on with the decorative embroidery and the embellishments. This shows the students both options when doing this sort of stitching: hand-sew the entire thing, or iron on the coloured fabric for a quicker finish.

So far so good. The ground fabric for the workshop kits had to be cut rather larger than I would normally have done because the K&S people will provide 4″ hoops or 8″ hoops but not 6″ hoops, so I decided to transport the twelve fabric squares with their attached half mugs separately rather than having to do a lot of folding to fit them into the kit bags, but otherwise I could start putting everything together. Almost.

Here is one of the Mug kits. Like all my kits, except for the goldwork one (which comes in a sturdy cardboard box), it comes in a roughly A5-sized grip seal bag. This works because the chart packs are printed on A4 paper which, folded double, is A5. Folded instrcutions, fabric, threads, any other bits and bobs, needles, finishing materials – it all fits beautifully in my standard bags.

The appliqué Mug kit

Except for the envelope that goes with the card that is used to finish the appliqué mug. The card itself will fit, just. But the envelope won’t.

The contents of the kit, minus envelope

For the workshop that’s not a problem; I’ll just keep both the ground fabric and the envelopes separate from the kits, and hand them out at the start of the class. But what if I want to put the Mug kit on general sale? For that it’s over to you!

When buying a kit like this, would you prefer it to come in a slightly larger grip seal bag which would be a little, erm, baggy, but which would have all the parts of the kit in it? Or would you prefer a snug bag with the envelope sent separately (not separately as in two separate parcels, obviously, but outside the kit bag)? Your feedback, either in the comments or by email, would be really helpful to decide on the best way forward with the Mug.

A needle mystery

If you follow my Facebook page, you may have read that I had some trouble ordering needles for kits. The John James website would not recognise my password, would not let me reset it because my username didn’t exist, and would not let me re-register because my username did already exist. In the end I rang them and a kind lady took my order over the phone. Sorted!

JJ sell their needles in various quantities – the usual blister packs you find in the shops, envelopes of 25 (more economical) and bulk buys of 1000 (more economical still, but for now definitely overkill for my scale of kit production). I tend to go for the envelopes. My immediate reason for ordering was the fact that right in the middle of putting kits together I’d run out of the one size needed for pretty much every non-Hardanger kit I produce (#7), so I ordered plenty of those, plus a few envelopes of other sizes (#3 and #10) to make the most of the postage.

Today they arrived. General rejoicing! And then I noticed that one of the envelopes said “002”.

An order of needles

Fortunately the #3 needles had very much been a “padding” order; I would definitely be using them, but I didn’t need them for the present run of kits. Even so, I thought I’d better ring JJ about it. The phone was answered by the same lady who had taken my order. I said the needles had arrived, and thanked her for sending them out so promptly, and then mentioned that one of the packets was the wrong size. “The number 2s?” she asked. It turns out the writing on the order had got smudged before she could put it together, and she couldn’t read the last size. She couldn’t get me on the phone and as I’d said the order was urgent she’d decided to send it out with her closest guess, which unfortunately turned out to be the wrong one. She promised she’d send out a packet of 3s to replace them, and told me not to worry about sending the 2s back, but just to pass them on to someone else if I couldn’t use them.

Very good service, you’ll agree. But then I thought I might as well check how different size #2 was from #3; after all, if they were’t too much bigger they would probably work. I took out a needle and held it next to one of my #3. It looked exactly the same. I remembered there was a size guide on the JJ website, and that some sizes of needles were actually identical – perhaps this was the case for #2 and #3? But no, it wasn’t; #2 should be the same as #1, distinctly larger than #3 and #4.

Needle sizes

And yet they looked the same. Unless I borrowed my husband’s micrometer I couldn’t be sure of the needles’ diameters, but I could easily measure their lengths. They were both 45mm long. Somehow the packet of size #2 I was sent by mistake for a size #3, actually contained size #3 needles. Perhaps sometimes two wrongs do make a right! I rang JJ to tell them not to send me the replacement packet, turned the 2 into a 3 on the envelope and tucked it into my needle box with the other size #3 packets. I love a happy ending smiley.

Needlepoint coasters

When Mabel’s Fancies first branched out into selling what you might call physical items, I decided that I would only offer things which I enjoyed using myself. No wonder then that first on the list were my trusty titanium squissors, but they were soon followed by the acrylic coasters which I must by now have used to mount several hundred pieces of Hardanger and cross stitch (most of them for charity or as gifts, I hasten to add, just in case you are now picturing my house groaning under a load of embroidered coasters).

Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design Cross stitch kitten coasters Cross stitch initial coasters Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design

Last week I was contacted by a lady who wanted to know whether they were suitable for needlepoint. Now Hardanger is relatively chunky, and although the coasters aren’t deep enough for anything with beads I have successfully mounted designs that use sequins – but I had to admit that I’d never actually tried them with needlepoint. However, you may remember that some time ago I stitched some small needlepoint experiments, so I promised her I’d try them out and let her know.

I unearthed the needlepoint pieces, and found a coaster which I’d set aside because it had a slight blemish so I couldn’t sell it. I was ready to go!

Two pieces of needlepoint and a coaster

I started with what was likely to be the less challenging one to fit into the coaster, stranded silk on Congress cloth. Because of the stiffness and openness of the canvas, I could trim it simply by cutting along the edges of the coaster’s backing plate.

Trimming the canvas to size

Having pulled the canvas a bit to get it properly square, I popped it into the coaster and snapped the backing in place without a problem. One down, one to go.

The finished coaster

The second piece was worked in crewel wool on 18 mesh canvas, and is much chunkier than the black version. In particular the Rhodes stitch in the centre looked like it might cause trouble, especially because it is almost as high on the back of the canvas as it is on the front. Double trouble! I wasn’t very hopeful, but I cut it to size and fitted it into the coaster recess.

A chunky Rhodes stitch may cause problems Rhodes stitches are chunky both sides

Now for the backing. I pushed in one end. I pushed in the other. The first end popped out again. I applied pressure to the whole back at the same time, spreading fingers to push in all four edges simultaneously. It stayed put. Hurray! Not a complete success, as the Rhodes stitch looks decidedly flattened (and that’s without any added backing fabric or Vilene), but it does fit.

A slightly squashed coaster

Much will depend on the type of needlepoint this lady does, so I sent her photographs of the two finished coasters plus information about the materials used in the stitching, to help her decide whether the coasters might work for her. But whether or not they will, it was an interesting exercise – and as I can’t sell the coaster or use it for kits anyway, I put the black canvas needlepoint back in so that I’ve got another decorative coaster to use.