Babies galore

Another baby! Unlike baby Evelyn, baby Noah is known to us only through his paternal grandparents, who are members of our Small Group (groups within our church that meet for Bible study, chat, support, prayer, encouragement and so on, all by Zoom at the moment) so just one card needed this time. But not simply a repeat of Evelyn’s motif; that would just feel like a production line!

What then? Well, with a baby called Noah what could it be but an ark? I grabbed a scrap of paper to sketch a quick idea (and only afterwards noticed it had some scribbles on it for last week’s group meeting – how appropriate). The smudgy lines at the top are a rainbow, the circle outline is the size of the aperture of the card I want to use.

Sketch for Baby Noah's card

Then it was a matter of tidying it up in my image editing program, where I also added a cloud and some words. I didn’t draw in the individual rainbow lines; instead, I intended to do the top line in red, the bottom line in purple, and then work inwards from both ends spacing the colours out more or less (as it turned out definitely less) evenly. At this point I didn’t decide whether to go for a solidly filled rainbow or just thin lines of colour, but thought it would probaby be the latter as the rest was going to be outline-only as well. The cloud would have a detached buttonhole frilly edge, possibly in a fluffy thread like the clouds in the Hope designs.

The tidied-up design

Just because I could I printed the design out in three sizes, and found aperture cards to go with the two larger sizes. And then I decided that although the smallest size would probably look really nice done in one strand of cotton, the detail would be easier to show in the largest size, stitched using two strands. I would keep the smallest one to stitch in one strand at some later time, but for now go with the version I could be reasonably sure would work.

Which size to pick?

Time to start stitching! Cotton sateen again, as it doesn’t need a backing fabric, and this time simply good old DMC stranded cotton; it has so many colours to choose from, which makes a nice change from some of the speciality threads.

Picking the colours The transferred design and the colours

As you can see I pre-wrote “BOY” in silver gel pen, intending to stitch “it’s a” on top of the rainbow; I mean, on top of the stitching. That was clearly not going to work but I pushed that problem away for the moment and got on with the rest of the design. I do like this non-solid way of stitching the rainbow, though!

First progress shows the rainbow lettering won't work

Eventually I wrote the additional words in a very fine blue drawing pen, and outlined the silver letters. Then I added a frilly edge to the cloud. I caught the thread once or twice so it’s not as neat as I would have liked it to be, but then clouds aren’t regular, are they? Inside the card I quoted a children’s song that was part of our online Sunday service only a few days before he was born: “The Lord was good, the Lord was strong / And Noah lived his life for Him”.

The main stitching finished with the writing in the cloud With the fluffy cloud edge Made into a card

By now the card has been delivered, but I’m still playing with the design and tweaking it here and there. The boat definitely needs some colour besides the three browns, but the ones I used were a bit too different from the rest of the design. I will try using colours from the rainbow, or slightly lighter shades from the same series. I also picked a slightly lighter green for the rainbow and lowered the windows a bit. The fluffy cloud detached buttonhole edge works OK in the larger version but for the smaller version I’ll go with stem stitch in fluffy thread, and I may also try simply stem stitching the outline without any fluff at all. And when I’m happy with them I’ll write the instructions and pop it on the website for you to create your own celebratory ark!

Trying out the tweaked design in two sizes

Golden memories

On the day that I should have been at my fifth class, a FoF about what was accomplished at my fourth class, and what I’ve done since. The fourth class, my goodness – I’m half way!

The first thing was to discuss with the tutor (Becky Quine) whether to leave or unpick the couched cloud. She said for rococco you would normally ignore the wave but couch by distance, making bricking easier. That makes sense but I wish I remembered where and when I was told to go by the wave; I’m fairly certain I didn’t just make it up! Becky agreed that the couching on the cloud was a little wide because of my trying to follow the wave but advised leaving it as taking it out might cause damage to the fabric (even though I hadn’t plunged them yet). So I plunged and secured the threads, and we’ll see what the assessors think.

The cloud is finally plunged

The picture above shows the start of the mixed couching on Bruce’s back. I had decided to use alternating pairs of very fine rococco and Jap; Becky said to use the larger rococco only as the very fine doesn’t come in the kit you get at the beginning of the module and it might be an issue in the assessment. I told her that I didn’t get the kit because I had pretty much all the materials already so Angela said to work from stash; and had also approved my using different sizes of rococco because the size isn’t specified in the brief. We agreed that I’d note my decision to use the very fine rococco in my log.

As I was couching a pair of the rococco I noticed the gold wrapping was rather gappy, showing the core thread. It would have annoyed me whenever I saw the piece if I left it, so I took it it out and picked a better bit to replace it with. Towards the end it needed a single very short line of rococco to cover the felt completely, which was fiddly but necessary to make sure it looked neat and tidy. Well, except for the spaghetti ends sticking out everywhere.

Some of the gold wrapping on the rococco was gappy Mixed couching leads to a lot of spaghetti

To practice creating a nice edge I first plunged the side that will be bordered by the couched Jap in the haunch, then the edge that would remain exposed. And that’s what the front looked like at the end of my fourth class.

The first edge plunged And the second At the end of the fourth class

Besides stitching there was a lot of discussing various bits of the design. I asked about the teeny details such as Haasje’s nose and Bruce’s nostril – as I can’t possibly do them in any of the threads in the brief, do I just leave them out or would I be allowed to stitch them in a thin metallic thread? Becky confirmed that for anything this small a thin or stranded metallic like Ophir is permitted. Unfortunately Ophir has been discontinued and I never managed to get hold of any, but in my goldwork stash I have a very thin Kreinik Jap #1 and a Madeira 3-ply Heavy Metallic, 1 ply of which should work well. I’ll take them to my next class to see what the tutor thinks of them.

At home the first task was to secure all the plunged ends of the mixed couching on Bruce’s back; as I mentioned in an earlier FoF, I couldn’t manage with the John James needles and I broke my last curved beading needle after only half the oversewing. Fortunately the Creative Quilting needles arrived not too long after and I could finish it. They are very nice to work with indeed, stronger than the beading needle but a bit finer and more flexible than the JJ ones; just what you need in a dense area such as this.

Bruce's back fully plunged and secured

Next was the front leg. I’d worked out two possible arrangements of the couched Jap, and I felt I couldn’t properly visualise them on paper – some sampling was called for!

Two possible front leg arrangements

Now this sampling was not done as neatly as I hope the real leg will be done, simply because I didn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time getting it neat when the aim of the sampling was simply to compare the look of the two “layouts”; moreover, in order not to use up lots of precious Jap I used some unidentified Jap of a similar thickness which I rescued from a tangle in my mother-in-law’s work chest, and which is decidedly less than pristine in places. Because of this, it didn’t behave as well in tight turns as the proper stuff will. But it definitely gave me some idea of which I preferred.

The front leg sampled two ways

I expected to like the one on the right best, and I do like the way the lines run in that one (more like the way you would fill in that leg if you were drawing or painting it), but the version on the left is a lot neater. Purely in isolation that would be fine, but I feel that the gold going across the top makes it look cut off from the rest of the body, instead of flowing into it. Hmm, some thought and tutor input needed there.

So that’s where I am at the moment, and the question is, What next? I do need to get some homework done, especially now that my next class may well be a couple of months away. Well, not the front leg. That needs bouncing off the tutor. I was advised to do the line of grass later as it is so close to the bottom of the frame and it might get damaged if I lean on it to get to higher-up bits of the design. Still, I keep it covered when not working on it, I don’t lean on my frame much anyway as it’s so small, and it’s done in couched twist which seems quite sturdy, so as long as I don’t put the chips in I should be OK. I’ll probably do some work on the rear leg as well, as I’ve discussed the arrangement of that (starting with a loop start in the toe) in quite a bit of detail with two tutors. And then? If there’s no class in sight yet, I will put it away and go back to the racehorse – that way I will keep in practice with goldwork, and not risk ruining anything important smiley. And if there are still no classes when the horse is finished, well, I may just possibly have bought two of Alison Cole’s goldwork kits the other day which arrived at unprecedented speed and are therefore winking at me seductively from my craft room desk…

Alison Cole's Pearl Butterfly Alison Cole's Beetle Wing Floral

Speedy triplets

Well, a baby in triplicate. Last week we had the lovely news that a baby had arrived safely into the world: little Evelyn. Both the new parents and all three grandparents are church friends of ours (I actually taught the baby’s mum in Sunday school, which makes me feel terribly old), so three cards were needed. I had to find a nice baby motif, and also decide whether to embroidery the name on each card.

Now many years ago in one of the many cross stitch magazines that I used to pick up at car boot sales I found a very pretty pattern of a baby-on-a-frilly-blanket, and I stitched it for a friend’s daughter’s first Christmas. Some years later I stitched it again (with darker hair, to match the baby in question) for the newborn son of friends of ours. That was quite an interesting card to make as there was a power cut halfway through, and as I was going to see the family the next day I finished stitching it by the light of an Aladdin lamp.

Stitching during a power cut Card for baby Rakan

I felt this would be a good motif to use for the three cards needed this time, but doing it in the original cross stitch version would take far too long. Fortunately it wasn’t difficult to turn it into a line drawing and transfer it to three bits of fabric. For the threads I decided on floche with possibly some Blomstergarn (Danish flower threads) – I have a sum total of five skeins of it and tend not to use it much because cream, two yellows and two greens don’t give a lot of scope beyond the odd buttercup or dandelion. But I wanted to make the romper suits different colours so they don’t look like a job lot, and the yellow and green would make a nice bright splash of colour.

The materials for the baby cards

Baby #1 was soon finished and I was particularly pleased with the frilly blanket, but a few tweaks were needed. The eye was too dark, so I took it out and re-did it in a lighter brown after this picture was taken. I also decided that in the other two I would work the face outline in whipped backstitch instead of split stitch – it makes a cleaner line – and use a slightly darker pink. As for the name, the embroidery would have to be very fine and fiddly and take rather a lot of time, so I settled for writing it on the fabric in silver or gold gel pen when mounting them in the cards.

Baby number 1

Baby #2 had the tweaks incorporated, and I did like the face outline better this way. In my quest to make them all different I left out the detailing in the hair and stitched the romper suit in two shades of green with the darker one used at the tummy and the far sleeve; I also added some petite beads.

Baby number 2

Baby #3 was given a yellow romper suit and darker hair; I couldn’t tell from the few photos I’d seen what Evelyn’s actual hair colour is, but her mother is a fair ginger and her father quite dark, so it’s anybody’s guess. This time I added tiny sequins, which I wanted to put in the same arrangement as the beads. Unfortunately I miscounted when getting them out of the bag and I found I was one short, but by that time the bag had been put away in the craft room and Lexi was comfortably curled up on my lap with no intention of moving. Explaining to Mr Figworthy exactly where in the craft room to find a small bag of 2mm sequins was just too complicated, so I re-spaced the sequins I had.

Baby number 3

Now all that remained was to turn all three into cards. I found three aperture cards in colours roughly matching each of the romper suits, but that looked a bit dull so I mixed them up. I added the baby’s name making sure the whole thing still fitted inside the aperture, and then had a think about what to write on the card. “Congratulations” would be the usual thing but for some reason I didn’t like that; you sometimes see “A new baby!” or “It’s a girl!” but that sounded a bit obvious. And then I remembered the baby’s middle name – perfect smiley.

Three babies made into cards

Is it stash or stock?

I felt very virtuous this morning because most of the embroidery-related things I’ve been ordering recently have been necessary stock: postal boxes for my goldwork and appliqué kits, lightweight calico which is the backing fabric in all the non-counted kits, plunging needles and bamboo hoops for the goldwork kits. But then I came across part of a purchase which I couldn’t quite classify – is it stock or stash? Or both?

The items in question are two lengths of coloured purl. A dark pink one called Berry which will be used for the little flower in the goldwork kits, but which might of course also end up in some of my own projects. And a Bottle Green which is definitely for one of my own projects – a goldwork snowdrop I’m planning. But as that is likely to become at least a chart pack and possibly a kit, perhaps it still counts as stock?

There was no way, however, that I could pass off the things that came with the purls as stock – they were just pure indulgence. It started with a Facebook post by Sarah Homfray showing some octagonal display frames. As I love finishing projects in hoops I thought they’d be ideal, especially as they are the perfect size for a lot of what I do. And as they are quite bulky and fell into the higher postage band anyway this was a great opportunity to add the wingnut tightener I’d been eyeing for some time.

Octagonal frames and a wingnut twizzler

Then, as I thought the postage might stretch to a bit more, the purls were added. I like to be able to offer a nice range of colours for the small flower in the goldwork kit, and that snowdrop had been in my sketch folder for yonks so it was about time I did something about it. And then, as I browsed the rest of the site, I noticed some printed fabrics for two crewelwork fruit trees. They used to come as kits, I think, and they were a set of four: apple, orange, lemon and pear as far as I remember. I really liked them but didn’t really want the kits; I have plenty of threads and the stitching on them was fairly straightforward. Now the apple and orange were there as a “fabric only” option – great for relaxing in-between projects to use up odds and ends of threads in whatever stitches I feel like at the time! They duly made their way into the shopping basket, and as they didn’t tip the postage over into the next band, they were duly ordered with the rest. I’m going to enjoy those!

Printed trees and coloured purls

By the way, having stocked up on postal boxes and small bamboo hoops I’ve been thinking of converting some of the other kits I offer to boxed ones including a hoop, especially the kits aimed at beginners. On the other hand, a beginner at Shisha embroidery may well have done other types of stitching before and therefore already have the necessary hoops. What do you think?

When we had classes…

A belated Happy New Year to you all! This post was meant to appear earlier this week, and it should have started: “As I’m now halfway between classes, it’s about time I gave you an update on the Goldwork module”. Unfortunately, because of lockdown I am no longer halfway between classes, as they have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Disappointing, of course (especially the fact that assessments are also on hold) but completely understandable, and so we just get on with things as best we can.

But first we must go back. I realise that the last thing I showed you (apart from a couple of looks at the back of the work) was the state of affairs after my November class, so today I’ll show what I did in the run-up to the December class, and next week what was done when I got there. You may remember I’d couched the cloud outline but was leaving the ends unplunged because I wasn’t altogether sure about the bricking, so ignoring that for the moment it was time to couch some pearl purl (PP). To get into it with something not too challenging I started with the outline of the sun.

The sun's outline in pearl purl

The next bits (the far legs) were more intricately shaped, and I wanted the line drawing near so I could keep referring to it. My needle minder was pressed into multitasking as a paper minder, and helped me keep an eye on the outline I was trying to create. You might think surely the paint lines would do that, and most of the time they do. But sometimes the paint lines (remember the smudged pounce debacle?) are not exactly like the line drawing, and although they have to be covered, a bit of careful placing of the wires here and there can improve the outline… I was going to say “considerably”, but in reality I’ll probably be the only one who notices smiley; still, for me that makes it worth the effort.

A way of keeping the line drawing near The far legs completed

For Haasje (worked in the thinner PP) having the drawing there was even more important – after all, it’s essential to the look of the finished piece that I get his expression right. And this was the bit where the pounce had got smudged most. In a couple of places my decision to create the outline I wanted especially for Haasje’s head may have left a teeny bit of paint visible, but I came to the conclusion that whatever the effect on the assessment, making Haasje look the way I wanted him weighed more heavily with me. And I’m happy with the way he’s turned out, even without his big spangle eye. But my goodness some of the smaller and curvier bits were fiddly!

Haasje outlined

The final bit of PP was the inner line of Bruce’s ear, and then it was on to the twist outline. As Helen had said single twist is always couched using the “invisible” method, that’s what I did, including some challenging pointy bits. I also had to work out which bits of Bruce’s outline were behind which other bits, so the overlaps looked as natural as possible. And then I plunged one bit of twist a little too short… fortunately I managed to tease the end back out and plunge it a little closer to the line. Phew.

Bruce's inner ear A pointy ear in couched twist

The first ear was followed by back and tummy, head, other ear, front leg, and finally rear leg with haunch.

Bruce's back and tum outlined And his head And his other ear And his front leg And finally his rear leg

That’s a lot of twist, I can tell you, and at that point I’d reached homework saturation point. It was time to take Bruce and Haasje to class, show them to Becky Quine (who was taking over last minute from Helen Jones), and decide what to do next. To be, as they say, continued!