Change in progress (III) – Twin butterflies

While I was on a roll with the tulip-and-some-other-flower designs last month I took the opportunity to tidy up a drawing I did some time ago; it’s not dated but from the surrounding scribbles it seems to have been intended as a freestyle project for beginners.

Sketch for a butterfly project for beginners

But not just for beginners – there are stitch suggestions for what might be called an intermediate version as well. So when I edited the sketch on the computer I created two versions, one with basic stitches as a project for people with little embroidery experience, and one with slightly more advanced stitches for those who are familiar with the basics and would like to branch out.

Two butterfly variations

Having tidied up the two butterflies I was looking forward to trying them both, especially the second version which promised to be quite interesting texturally. But I decided to take them in order and begin with the basic butterfly. I’d printed both butterflies at a little under 9cm high, transferred them to Rowandean’s embroidery cotton and picked some lovely Splendor silk threads (the same ones I used for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday present). True, if this ever makes it into a workshop I won’t of course be using silk threads, but why not give myself a treat while model stitching? Well, the threads were indeed a treat but as I was stitching I soon found that even a basic butterfly may need to go through quite a few changes during the design process!

The first thing to become obvious was that the butterfly’s size meant I’d have to work with four strands to make the stitches stand out and fill the space sufficiently. This worked all right in most cases but combined with the very soft nature of Splendor silks it didn’t look very good in the chain stitch part; the stitches just blended into each other, the loops didn’t show their open centres, and the whole thing lacked definition. So my next version will smaller, worked in standard cottons, and use a maximum of three strands.

Silk chain stitch lacking definition

The buttonhole wheel I had planned for its head turned out lumpy and awkward. That will have to be changed in the new model, probably to backstitch with straight stitch “spokes” for the Beginner version, and whipped backstitch for the Intermediate one.

A lumpy buttonhole wheel

For the wings I’d chosen whipped running stitch, and I will keep that, but I will definitely have to make the stitches smaller – my rather hasty ¼ version doesn’t make for a nice smooth outline…

Spiky whipped running stitch

And finally there was the butterfly’s body. It was charted in both versions as buttonhole stitch with a line of backstitch to close the teeth end, and each of the sections adorned with a French knot. But then I though it would be nicer to have two different types of body for the two different butterflies, and I also decided to leave French knots for the Intermediate version. So the Beginner body got changed to two opposing lines of buttonhole stitch, with the teeth interlocking. I like the effect of it and will keep that in the final design, but I must remember that for the teeth on the second line to be centred between the teeth of the first line, it is important not to bring the needle up centrally – because of the way buttonhole stitch works, this actually pushes the teeth off-centre.

Spiky whipped running stitch

It sounds like not a lot is left of the original idea, doesn’t it? But I do like this butterfly, and most of it will actually be as originally planned. When I’ve stitched the revised version you’ll see it hasn’t changed that much from the first try – well, except for the difference between soft shiny silks and thinner, sharper cotton threads, of course!

The first butterfly

And talking of threads, as the butterfly is meant to be usable for a beginners’ workshop I felt it might better not to use a stranded thread at all, but something indivisible. Perle #8 is one option, and I’ve got quite a collection of it, so I will probably try it on one of the smaller butterflies. It can be quite twisty. however, which might be a problem. The other I will work in coton à broder #16 – a little thinner, but easy to work with. Unfortunately I only had two of those in my stash, so I treated myself to a small collection of useful colours. Don’t they look inviting?

Coton a broder no. 16 Coton a broder wound on bobbins in a project box

Change in progress (II) – beads

In the first part of Change In Progress showed you some changes that had been made to the three wooden pendant designs as I was stitching them; added stitches, added shading, changes in colour. But sometimes changes in a design are more in the nature of an extra, alternative design. The Old & New pair was designed to be stitched in double cross stitch using Petite Treasure Braid, but having stitched both designs I thought it might be fun to try the smaller of the two in beads as well. This was partly because some years ago I saw 18th-century bead work in an exhibition and I was blown away by how vibrant it looked compared to silk embroideries of the same period, which had faded to the beigey shades we’ve become used to in old embroidery. Well, it definitely worked smiley – the colours absolutely popped!

Old & New 1 worked in beads

If the Christmassy one on black worked so well, would the one on opalescent fabric work equally well? I simply had to find out. However, whereas finding suitable red, gold and green beads had been quite easy, finding usable silver, blue and purple beads turned out to be much harder! For one things there don’t seem to be quite so many shades of purple Mill Hill beads; a fair few lilac ones, and several bluey-purples and reddish-purples but not many “pure” purples. Then I wanted the beads to be shiny, not matt; and of course the blue and purple (and the silver) needed to go together. And silver! Mill Hill’s silver beads, though shiny, are actually rather dark and grey.

Perhaps some sort of white was the answer? I picked a shiny blue and a shimmery lilac, both rather lighter than I had originally envisaged, and combined them with an opalescent white. They looked good together! But white isn’t silver, and I did want to try and stay as close to the original as I could. What silver beads did I have? Well, there was Mill Hill silver, which as I said before is more gun metal than precious metal; some very silvery beads which unfortunately are unbranded, and therefore not suitable for a published design which needs “repeatable” materials; and Mill Hill’s Frosted Ice, somewhere between white and silver, a little subdued in its lustre but a definite possibility.

Blue, lilac and shimmery white beads for Old & New 2 Various silver beads

To make the final decision I compared the opalescent white and the frosted silver on the sparkly fabric I would be using, and although both worked quite well, I decided to go for the latter to keep that touch of silver in the design.

Opalescent white versus frosted silver

And here it is! Now all I need to do is write up the chart pack, and Old & New should be available on the website soon.

Old & New 2 worked in beads

A revitalised bug and an impossible daffodil

Well, whether or not I finish the 90th birthday tulip in time, it has certainly re-ignited my stitching bug! I know, I know – mixed metaphor; only very nasty people ignite bugs smiley. But last night I definitely picked up my stitching with more enthusiasm than I have for some time.

The 90th birthday tulip in progress

I’m tackling this project in rather an ad hoc manner; mostly stem stitch, some straight stitch and seed stitch filling, probably something knotty for the mouth of the daffodil’s trumpet (is it called a trumpet in English or am I translating literally from Dutch?) – pretty much what feels right for whichever bit I’m doing at the time.

The “90” takes a bit more consideration, however. The numbers need to stand out, but I don’t want to fill them in completely (for example with satin stitch); that would be too solid. Stem stitch wouldn’t stand out enough what with all the other stem stitch used; even with twice the number of strands it would look too samey for my taste. I was tempted to use raised chain stitch, but that would work better for a number that consists of a single line. Simple chain stitch won’t make a solid enough line. Perhaps a chain stitch variation? So for now the choice is between heavy chain stitch (easy and solid but not very textural) or Hungarian braided chain stitch (lovely texture but more complicated to work, and slower – a definite drawback in this case!)

Incidentally, even as I was sketching the daffodil design I had a nagging feeling something wasn’t quite right about it, and as I tidied it up I realised what it was – the petal behind the stem is bisected in a way which makes it extremely fiddly to work in metal thread. The bit indicated by the pink arrow would have to be cut and couched separately; not absolutely impossible, but not something I would like to include in a design for other people to stitch. Fortunately it’s not a problem in the project I’m working on at the moment as it’s easy enough to do in stem stitch, but the goldwork version will need a little bit more work.

Fine in freestyle, but not in goldwork

Positive consequences of stomach flu

There aren’t many positive sides to gastric flu. For a moment it seemed to hold the promise of starting the Easter egg season with a few pounds to spare, but even that proved short-lived. However, it did mean that last weekend I had energy for very little more than sitting in the garden, reading a bit, absorbing the sunshine (and incidentally getting my calves sunburnt), observing the bumblebees and enjoying the colourful sight of the tulips and grape hyachinths and late daffodils, and I’m sure this was very good for my soul. It also gave me some ideas.

Having looked forward so much to my RSN day class I understandably had goldwork on my mind, and looking at the bold outlines and the variety of petal shapes of our red, yellow and pink tulips I was reminded of a vague intention some time ago to “do” something with tulips and goldwork. I exchanged my novel for a sketchbook and tried to capture the various tulip profiles, with some grape hyacinths thrown in for good measure.

Sketching the tulips More tulips!

After a few separate doodles I decided on a combination of a single tulip with a couple of grape hyacinths, and some random sprigs of flowering grass which no botanist could possibly put a name to. I also scribbled some notes as to possible threads and wires and techniques to be used; for the grape hyacinths I jotted down two options, one using purl chip work and one using spangles. I like both options so may try a separate grape hyacinth to see which looks best. As the design has two grape hyacinths I toyed for a moment with the idea of doing one in each style, but on second thoughts I discarded that idea – it would just look indecisive and confused. I do want spangles in there somewhere so I’ll probably use tiny ones for the flowering grass, and chips for the grape hyacinths.

Sketch for a goldwork design of tulip and grape hyacinths

The next day I tried incorporating some of my daffodil sketches into the mix, but I simply couldn’t get them all to work together; the result was a separate design of a single tulip and a single daffodil.

Sketch for a goldwork design of tulip and daffodil

Over the next week I tidied them up in my photo editing program, and in the process produced a second version of each design in which the tulip had been shortened a bit. For some reason I tend to create designs which are square or nearly square (or circular), and this one looked a bit elongated. I haven’t quite decided yet which I prefer.

Tidied-up sketches

As I was playing with the designs it occurred to me that they would also work quite well in coloured embroidery, whether using stem stitch throughout, or a variety of stitches (like short bullion knots for the grape hyacinths – nothing like setting yourself a bit of a challenge). In fact, I felt it would be just the thing for a little celebratory embroidery in honour of my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday if I added a “90” to it. So I did. Now I just need to stitch it. By Thursday evening at the very latest. So far, I’ve chosen the silks…

Tulip and daffodil for a 90th birthday

Change in progress (I)

The design process: an idea – paper & pencil / charting program – a finished design. Right? Well, sometimes. There are times when an idea just flows from the head to the paper to the fabric, and it works. Ah, bliss smiley.

Often, however, a design changes between idea and chart, and again between chart and stitched model; the stitching is as much part of the design process as the charting. This goes for big complicated designs as well as for itty-bitty mini designs like the ones I did for the wooden pendants I picked up recently. The ginger cat acquired whiskers following the suggestion of a stitching friend, for example. When looking at the designs again in preparation for stitching the tulip on the second wooden pendant the leaves, in a single shade of green, looked rather flat, so I quickly pencilled in shaded areas of darker green. And the small lines on the petals of the small flowers were changed from a lighter shade of the flower to the yellow of the flower centre.

Three slightly changed designs for the wooden pendants

All three are now available as freebie charts, and if you would prefer to have a whiskerless cat, flat tulip leaves or less yellow flowers then feel free to stitch them exactly as you want them! here are my versions:

Cat cross-stitched on a wooden pendant Tulip cross-stitched on a wooden pendant Small flowers cross-stitched on Aida fabric

Stitching on wood

Although thread on fabric is still the most usual combination for needlework, there is no reason to limit yourself to that – you can stitch on all sorts of things! Fortunately for those of us who find car doors, slices of bread or tennis rackets a bit too challenging, there are non-fabric ideas which are a little less daunting. Pre-drilled wooden pendants, for example. Some of them are so small that they will take only a few stitches, others have a bit more room to play with, although that may make them a little less wearable too. Even so, I went for the latter, mostly because even though I like small projects I wasn’t sure I’d be able to design anything memorable in 4 x 5 stitches.

Wooden pendant

I really liked the look of the pendant when it arrived, but then I noticed it was damaged – a small chip had come off one of the scallops. Fortunately Sew & So were very good about it, as usual; not only did I get a replacement but I was told to keep the other one! I’ve since coloured the chipped edge to blend in with the rest and so it will be fine for experimenting with.

Now, what to stitch on them? I had a vague idea that perhaps I could use the little peacock I designed some years back, but that turned out to be too big. So I drew six outlines in my charting program, to make sure I wouldn’t stray outside the stitchable area, and set to fitting something attractive into a smallish space, preferably an animal or something floral. I ended up with a ginger cat, two small flowers and a tulip.

Three designs for the wooden pendants

You will notice that there is a problem with the above designs: there are three of them, and only two pendants. That is why one of the stitched models will be done on fabric. But they will definitely all fit the pendant!

I decided to start with the ginger cat because I like pussycats smiley. The pendant is a little over 11ct so as I wanted good coverage four strands seemed called for, with the added advantage that I’d be able to use a loop start. The size 24 needle I would normally use on a low-count fabric with four strands turned out to be too thick – wood is much less flexible than fabric, in fact it’s got practically no flexibillity at all, and the needle got stuck trying to pass through holes with previous stitches. A size 26 worked better, although it was still a bit of a fiddle when doing the whiskers and coming up in holes where four stitches were crowded in already. Those whiskers, by the way, were a bit of an afterthought – you may have noticed they weren’t in the original design shown above. Then a lady at my embroidery group, on seeing my ginger Tom, said he was lovely but could really do with some whiskers. A moment’s consideration showed her to be absolutely right, so I added them there and then.

Cat cross-stitched on a wooden pendant

On the chart I’ve lowered the cat by one hole, as it seemed to be a bit too high up, but you could also use the space at the bottom to add some initials or a short name. If you’d like to stitch your own pendant using the ginger cat design, or if you’d like to use it for some other purpose, head to the Freebies page where you can download it; the other two will be added once I’ve stitched them.

How a variation becomes a new design

The twelve parts of Round in Circles were designed in pairs; to be, so to speak, a positive and a negative of the same shape. If in one design a central horizontal band was cut, then in its counterpart that central band would be solid, and the half-moon shapes above and below it would be cut. One of these pairs (Rounds Six and Twelve) was designed around a diagonal cross, cut in Round Six and solid in Round Twelve.

Rounds Six and Twelve

When charting the diagonal cross, I had several options; two of them looked almost identical on paper, but because one of them used floating Kloster blocks (which are purely decorative and are not needed to keep the fabric from fraying) and double-sided Kloster blocks (cut on both sides) whereas the other used only standard Kloster blocks, they had a different distribution of cut holes (shown by the pink and blue dots in the diagrams below).

Two diagonal crosses

I stitched both of them, with their whipped backstitch circle but without any surface stitches or cutting, and eventually decided on the one which included non-standard Kloster blocks – both because that shape was the exact negative of its counterpart, unlike the one using standard Kloster blocks only, and because it meant an extra technique to include in the Stitch-Along. The unused model went to the bottom of the pile, to be used at some later date for something or other.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was looking for a small Hardanger project, and remembered the discarded diagonal cross. I didn’t want to use the same surface stitches, and the filling stitches used in the SAL version wouldn’t work because of the difference in cut holes, so I copied it into my charting program and played around a bit. Because of the triangular nature of the solid parts I thought of a heart-shaped stitch of some sort; after dismissing a few other possibilities I chose Rhodes hearts. I liked the French knots surrounding the spider’s web stitches in the SAL version (well, I wouldn’t have designed them like that if I didn’t smiley) but wanted to get that dotted effect in some other way. Sequins! and if I worked the hearts in one colour, and attached the sequins with another, I could then use both colours in the filling stitch.

But what filling stitch? Being rather fond of nutmeg and mace stitch at the moment, I charted the design with a two-coloured version of those for the time being. Then I started stitching the surface stitches, and doing the cutting.

As I was poking in the cut ends Lexi decided that my lap was the perfect place for a cat to be, and in such a position that going on to the bars wasn’t really an option. I did some sketching instead as I suddenly thought this might make rather a nice pair if I could come up with a matching design. Not the positive/negative match, I wanted to keep that as a Round In Circles thing, so what else? Well, a diagonal cross might be rather nicely matched with an upright cross. Both with hearts and sequins, fillings to be decided on later.

“Later” turned out to be around midnight as I was in bed, falling asleep. Fortunately there is always a notebook by my bed, and even more fortunately my scribbles still made sense to me the next morning! A bit more experimenting is needed, but suspended sequins are likely to feature, and a two-coloured version of square filets.

Sketches for new designs

As for the scribble at the top of the printed page, that was to remind me to check Shakespeare’s Richard III for the exact quotation which I seemed to remember included something like “even so thy breast encompasseth my poor heart”, in the hope that it might furnish me with a catchy name for the design. It didn’t. The two circles with Rhodes hearts and blingy sequins will instead be known as Heart’s Treasure.

Slow progress is still progress

Remember the Craft Fair last Saturday? The organisers had asked people with stands if they could give demonstrations at various points throughout the day, and several did, among them a lady spinning wool, and a woodturner. I offered to demonstrate goldwork embroidery, which proved a good opportunity to finally get some work done on my SANQ/Jacobean flower project! I’d already been playing fast and loose with the design so I decided to leave the picture of the model, which is usually magneted to my frame, behind and just do whatever I liked. Ah, liberty! The two petals, originally intended to be done in paired gold Jap, I did in silver, and I intend to have some tiny silver spangles in there with the charted green silk. The cone, or whatever that other bit of the flower is called, was likewise charted in paired gold Jap with fairly chunky pearl purl on the outside; I swapped this for very fine pearl purl and some of the check thread I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show. I really like the effect of the wavy line bordering the delicate purl, and will definitely use it again.

To show the progress, here are some Before and After pics.

Gold and silk Silver and some wavy gold added

Some years ago I designed a series called Floral Lace; as my husband won’t let me forget, it started out as a small collection of three designs but kept growing until in the end there were 18. Some of these came out in late autumn and it gave me the idea of doing a Remembrance pair as well. I decided on Poppy and Rosemary, made some sketches none of which quite satisfied me, and so they disappeared into my When I Get Fresh Inspiration folder. Then one night last week I woke up with the design worked out in my head; the next morning I quickly got it charted up in my design program and so after well over two years “Floral Lace: Remembrance” is finally finished. I’ve even started stitching it, at my Embroidery Group yesterday afternoon with a bit more work done in the evening.

Floral Lace: Poppy - in progress

It seemed oddly appropriate to be stitching a remembrance-themed project at the group meeting yesterday, as we recently lost one of our long-standing members, and a number of us will be attending her funeral today. It’s a nice thought that this piece, as well as symbolising a more public remembrance, will also remind me of Jean.

Symmetry and balance

I like symmetry. That is probably one of the things which attracted me to Hardanger embroidery – although you can of course design asymmetric Hardanger, it tends to be nicely mirrored along at least one axis and often two. In other techniques as well, symmetry appeals to me, which explains the Shisha Tile (though not the Shisha Flower). Sometimes it is only an almost-symmetry, as in the Shisha Clover, and occasionally I go mad and throw all symmetry out of the window and design something like the Little Wildflower Garden. But on the whole, symmetry it is for me.

And then I decided to use Mountmellick stitch in a Hardanger design.

Many embroidery stitches are symmetrical in themselves, or can easily be arranged so. Mountmellick stitch, with its saw-tooth appearance, doesn’t lend itself to that quite so easily. Still, by using it in four straight lines radiating from the centre I thought it would probably work. As I charted it for Round Nine of the SAL the stitch was the same width as a Kloster block, and so it was easy to place it perfectly centred between the various cut areas, which I tend to separate by a multiple of Kloster block widths.

Mountmellick stitched placed centrally

Perfectly centred … and it just didn’t look right. Because of its shape, Mountmellick stitch has more “weight” on one side than on the other, and the saw-tooth tips just didn’t have enough solidity to balance the straight edge on the other side. This is when I realised that I don’t just like symmetry – there needs to be balance as well, and as I was finding out sometimes balance can only be had by sacrificing perfect symmetry. I shifted the line of Mountmellick stitch one thread towards the tips, and that looked much better.

Mountmellick stitched placed off-centre

If I had ever been a printer I might have realised this before, as I believe some letters have to be given more or less space than others on account of their shape, and sometimes two letters placed at the same distance as two other letters may look much closer because of how their shapes interact. It’s interesting to find that this goes for embroidery stitches as well!

More miniature baubles and some free tickets

Having doodled some miniature baubles vaguely inspired by Round Eight of the SAL, I soon realised that the placement of the coloured bars would make stitching them rather awkward. Possible, but requiring travelling through previously woven bars and so on. There must be an easier way, surely. More scribbling and doodling led to several more variations, two of which I’ve actually stitched, and you can now get the charts (plus two extra variations) from our Freebie page!

First variation on the miniature bauble Second variation on the miniature bauble

And there are more freebies to get – Twisted Thread have very kindly issued all tutors with four complimentary tickets to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace next week, valid on Wednesday, Thursday evening, Friday or Sunday. To win a ticket, leave a comment here or on our Facebook page telling us why you would like a chance to visit the show. You can enter until midnight 30th September; four names will be drawn from the entries and the winners announced here and on FB on Saturday 1st October. Good luck!

Mabel's Fancies Competition