A sheep, a SAL, a mag, and a trio of kits

First of all apologies for the long radio silence here at Flights of Fancies. This was partly to do with the final wrap-up of the Tree of Life Stitch-Along, partly with new tasks and obligations which have sprung up during lockdown, partly with a small project I wanted to do for a friend which took longer than I expected, partly with an article I need to write by mid-June, and partly with me somehow having more trouble than usual to work up the motivation and energy for anything that requires the least mental effort. Comments from friends and family tell me I am not alone in this; perhaps it’s the effects of nine weeks of lockdown.

Fortunately our hobby is one that can be enjoyed even when we don’t get round to stitching much – surely it’s not just me who enjoys looking at, playing with and rearranging threads, fabrics, stitch books and all the other paraphernalia of embroidery!

But as I said I did actually get some stitching done, and it took longer than expected because it was a sheep whose fleece was made up of several thousand French knots. No, I didn’t actually count them, but that’s definitely what it felt like. Still, I was pleased with the resulting fluffy sheep, which you may recognise as the stranded cotton twin to Trina’s silverwork Sheep.

A sheep for Dot

Finishing all the stitching and blog writing for the Stitch-Along felt almost on a par with finishing the stitching on my RSN Jacobean module smiley. It’s been great to see people’s different trees growing leaf by leaf and creature by creature, and a few stitchers have already sent in pictures of their finished trees. Some have even stitched two trees, using different materials for each one – impressive!

Incidentally, although all ten parts of the SAL are now out (you can see my own two completed trees below), you can still sign up until midnight 31st May for immediate access to all parts and the SAL blog with its stitch pictures and extra tips & tricks – after that the Tree of Life will be on the website as a stand-alone design with optional blog access.

Tree of Life in Heathway Milano crewel wool on linen twill Tree of Life in Silk Mill stranded silk and goldwork threads on close-weave linen

Another exciting thing that happened this month (yesterday, in fact) was the publication of Stitch Magazine issue 125, which contains a little willow that may be familiar to regular readers of FoF… It’s odd to think that when I submitted the article to the editor in mid-February we were all still happily going about our business, and that even a month later the Knitting & Stitching Show organisers were sending out their usual request for workshop proposals. I’m delighted to say four of mine were accepted, but whether I’ll actually get to teach them is anybody’s guess!

Stitch Magazine issue 125 with a familiar willow

Still, it keeps me off the streets smiley. As will my lockdown resolution of supporting independent designers and embroidery suppliers – you may have seen the spoils in a previous FoF, and to that impressive pile were added these three Bluebird Embroidery silk shading kits. My excuse is that they will be good practice for the RSN Certificate Silk Shading module.

Three Bluebird Embroidery silk shading kits

The kits are well presented, each with the design printed on the fabric (which, together with a piece of backing fabric, comes wrapped in tissue paper) in crisp thin lines, and a detailed and richly illustrated instruction booklet.

The silk shading Fox ready to go (after a few other projects) The Fox booklet

The only area where there is room for improvement in these kits (and it is a fairly minor niggle) is that the blue envelope which holds the materials is very difficult to open neatly, and once it is open it is very difficult to get the tissue-wrapped fabric out without it sticking to the envelope’s extremely sticky flap. With the other two kits I decided to slit open the envelopes with a letter opener.

The kits with one of the envelopes containg the materials The envelope has a sticky flap

But as I said, a minor niggle only, and I look forward at having a go at this cheeky fox. First, however, it’s the goldwork racehorse to finish – and if I can resist the temptation to spend all my free time this weekend in the garden with a book, I’ll post an update next week!

An experimental coaster, bear and printing

Recently I’ve been stitching several little Quatrefoils as trial pieces, such as this one in Splendor silk on dark red dupion (where I transferred the outline using the Quaker Tapestry method).

A quatrefoil on silk dupion

I did another one, you may remember, to try out Empress Mills’ Mountmellick fabric, and although generally I am quite happy to keep experiments like these in a folder for future reference, occasionally the urge to Do Something With Them does grab me. In this case it did so because I was getting some coasters to send out, and putting aside one which had a few small blemishes and which therefore I can’t sell. Hmmm, I thought – could you put the Quatrefoil, with its dense stitching and couched goldwork thread, into a coaster?

Well, the answer turns out to be “yes you can, but it’s probably better not to” smiley. What makes this little flower work well in a card is the padding behind it, which hides the lumps and bumps at the back of the work and makes the embroidery stand proud. The top of the coaster, on the other hand, pushes the stitching down and makes it very difficult to even out the fabric around it, although in the end I managed a just-about-acceptable look with the judicious addition of a little light wadding.

The blemishes on the coaster The finished coaster, with uneven fabric

Back to stitching. Several of my projects, like the Ottoman Tulip, Llandrindod and Hengest, have now been going (very slowly) for quite some time, but one new project had a bit of a built-in deadline: I bought a light blue bodysuit for our grandson Teddy to be embellished with, yes, a teddy, and it obviously had to be finished while it still fits him, which considering the rate he is growing at would not be very long!

A baby  suit and a teddy

I got the teddy design from one of the small Anchor stitch guides (the same series that Percy the Parrot came from), but of course I couldn’t possibly stitch it as it came… a T-shirt was added to the denim dungarees and around the bear I charted the words “Oma’s favourite Teddy” (Oma being the Dutch word for Granny). The threads had to be easily washable so I went for coton à broder.

An added T-shirt and a message The colours of coton a broder I picked for the project

I’ve not done an awful lot of stitching on clothing or other made-up items so it wasn’t until I got the romper suit home that I realised something a bit shorter and/or more open at the bottom would have been rather easier to work on – but as it turned out the real challenge was to keep the stitch tension even while working in hand on stretchy fabric! I don’t think I’ve produced anything quite this wonky and puckered for several decades, but as it was definitely out of my comfort zone I’m pretty pleased with it nonetheless smiley.

The finished body suit

One puzzling thing about this project was the fact that lines which I stitched absolutely parallel somehow managed to be definitely not parallel when finished. Stem stitch at the front produces backstitch at the back, and the lilac and yellow backstitch lines forming the T-shirt’s neckline look just fine on the inside of the bodysuit (I’m afraid I forgot to take a picture of this before I wrapped it up). But the two stem stitch lines showing at the front of the suit get closer to each other from left to right – how does that happen? Oh well, I’m sure Teddy won’t mind; he’ll only see it upside down when looking down his chest and that distorts the perspective anyway!

Inexplicably wonky lines

The final experiment is in production as you read this, and by someone else, so I can’t show it yet. But I’m very excited about getting samples printed for workshop & kit fabrics! At the moment any transfers are done by me by hand, aided by my trusty light box and some very fine technical drawing pens. I’ve looked into screen printing but I was rather put off that by a number of kits I bought (from different sources) which had such thick lines that I had to add stitches to make sure everything was covered; if anyone knows of screen printers who will produce nice thin lines I’d be delighted to know! Anyway, I’m waiting for the arrival of one sample of plain cotton, one of calico and one of duchess satin, each with a different design; they should be here next week. Watch this space…