Some small projects

It has been a shamefully long time since I’ve written anything here – this was partly because of trying to get things done (particularly all the SAL blog posts) before going away for a weekend (in Wales) and a week (in the Netherlands), and partly because even since those trips were cancelled due to Coronavirus I’ve been working on other websites that I look after (such as our Church’s) to keep them up to date with the latest advice. I also seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time foraging; all of a sudden I feel great sympathy for our grandmothers’ generation who had to spend a considerable part of their day shopping for food.

Meanwhile, the Figworthy household is keeping well, and in line with government advice both the main family business and Mabel’s Fancies remain open as they are online only. So work as usual, and stitching mostly in the evenings as usual, but although in some ways things haven’t changed too dramatically for us, I do find it difficult to concentrate on anything large and/or complicated. It was time for a few more small projects. And the perfect occasions were two birthdays: my aunt, whose 80th birthday I was meant to be celebrating with her in the Netherlands, and my sister-in-law.

For my aunt I turned to a set of number outlines I keep by for this sort of card, Anchor’s perle-with-metallic, some Petite Treasure Braid and petite seed beeds for added bling, and a spare piece of material left over from some old cushions.

Setting up aunt Juliette's 80

It stitched up quite quickly but still looks suitably festive – not quite the same thing as celebrating her birthday with her (we were going to have a combined party for her 80th and my 50th) but I hope it will make her smile.

Aunt Juliette's 80 mounted in a card

For the other birthday card, which had to be stitched in a single evening because I started rather late, I chose a Sarah Homfray freebie – a small butterfly. I changed the shape of the lower wings a little, and got out my box of coton à broder #16; a slightly chunkier thread so that even with mostly outline stitches it wouldn’t look too empty.

Preparing Sarah Homfray's butterfly

The bullion knots were a last-minute addition because the wings looked a bit bare without them. I did think of adding some detached buttonhole frills here and there, but as it was past 11pm by then I decided against it; they would have made an interesting addition but they weren’t absolutely necessary to make the butterfly look pretty. And in fact it was rather nice to know that a very decorative butterfly could be produced in a little under two and a half hours!

The finished butterfly

The next morning, Saturday, I had to make up the card in time to catch the 11am post – and preferably in time for me to still be able to go for my usual Saturday walk with a group of friends (observing proper social distancing). In my stash of cards I found a wine-red one with an oval aperture which would have been ideal if it hadn’t been just too small – I should have measured it first and adjusted the design size to it! Fortunately a dark blue card with a circular aperture made quite a good alternative.

Making up the card

Finally, before sending it off, it had to be inspected by the Quality Control Feline. She approved.

The card is inspected by Lexi

So what next? Well, there are a few things still to do on the SAL, and of course there is the Certificate Tree of Life – although what with classes having been suspended because of Covid-19 who knows when I’ll be able to hand it in for assessment. Not to mention that mounting it the proper way is not something to be undertaken lightly, as I have been told by other students, and really should be done with a tutor present. So for now my plan is to finish the stitching by 22nd April as I originally intended, and then to decide how to proceed. I may just take it off the frame and store it flat until I can go to a class to mount it, and in the meantime prepare as much as possible for my Canvaswork module. We’ll see.

I’d also like to get back to Hengest the Medieval Unicorn, who has lain neglected for far too long, and to start on Soli Deo Gloria – a good reminder in these uncertain times. But I will also start a few projects that are not my design, and which I can just have fun with. A smaller version of Percy the Parrot worked in coton à broder #25, a Sarah Homfray freebie flower (not sure yet what stitches I’ll use for that, but I’m thinking of using Palestrina stitch as a filling for the stem, with the knots offset in consecutive lines) and some designs from one of the small Anchor embroidery books, including a teddy bear for our grandson Teddy, and some aeroplanes for his room to tell him about his late great-grandfather who flew planes in the war. That should keep me busy for a bit!

Possible future projects

Proud Percy

Percy the parrot turned out to be the perfect travelling project, as well as the perfect relaxing project – no planning, no thinking, no note-taking, just stitching. Bliss.

He came out looking rather different from his inspiration, although in one respect he resembles the original more than I thought he would. You may remember I described the Anchor version as being worked in “colours (purples and blues and pinks on a blue background) that were not what I would have chosen” and yet here he is with blue and purple plumage and accompanied by a pink flower!

The original parrot in the Anchor book Percy the Parrot, finished

Some people have asked about the stitches I used, and also whether they can use them in projects of their own. The answer to the latter part of the question is that it’s not up to me to say yes or no to that! Embroidery stitches belong to no-one, so you can use any and every stitch you like. As for the former part, the picture below shows what I used where; the order in which I worked the various bits, as far as I can remember, was branch/feet & beak/leaves & flower/tail/chest/wing/crest/head/eye.

Stitches used for Percy

I pretty much used whatever stitch happened to pop into my mind when looking at the design; I decided on whipping the tail feathers each in a blue that was one shade lighter than the chain stitch, partly to create texture but mostly to make sure they weren’t just three separate feathers – the colours link them together. For his chest feathers I was originally going to use Mountmellick stitch, but I felt that was more spiky than feathery, and so I went for the more frilly look of detached buttonhole stitch.

Incidentally, for something that was meant to be relaxing and non-challenging I did occasionally make things unnecessarily complicated; at one point I was trying to get the shading I wanted in the branch by having three threads on the go at once, threading and re-threading because I’d only brought one needle. Sigh. Note to self: try and keep travel projects straightforward.

Juggling three shades of brown and one needle

And after all that, am I pleased with him? On the whole, yes. There are a few things which I would probably do differently if I stitched him again (not an unlikely event – I’ve already printed out my pared-down version of the design in several sizes, the smallest to be used for cards) but I like his look, and I am partcularly pleased with his eye. It’s got character, that eye smiley.

Percy printed out in several sizes Percy the Parrot, a close-up

So what would I have changed? And am I being too fussy and self-critical, as so many stitchers are? To answer that last question first, I tend to look at anything I stitch with a critical eye, but with different aims in mind. I look at the RSN Certificate piece to find anything that isn’t as near-perfect as I can make it, and improve it if I feel that I can. I look at something like Percy with a critical eye in order to store up ideas for future projects. I’m definitely not unpicking and re-doing him – he is fine as he is!

But for future reference, I would divide the second-lightest bit of the wing into two parts like the part underneath it (in the middle shade of blue) – I think that would look more balanced. I would not use the rather bright shade of orange that is on the outside of the flower centre (the colour is shown more accurately in the close-up). And I would probably keep only his chest in purple, and use blues for his crest – although I must admit the purple crest is growing on me.

Things I would do differently Rather too orange

One thing which niggles me but which I won’t change because I think the alternative would look less effective is the placing of his tail in front of the branch he is sitting on. In the original, the branch is (correctly, from a perspective point of view) stitched over the tail feathers. But in the original the branch is a single line of chain stitch, whereas mine is a rather more elaborate affair. I feel it would break up the flow of the tail feathers too much (quite apart from making those feathers more awkward to stitch). And let’s face it, he’s not exactly a naturalistic parrot anyway! So in future versions as here I will allow Percy to show off his tail in all its glory.