Practicalities in designing

I am not always as organised as I would like to be. For example, it’s my favourite aunt’s birthday next Wednesday, but until yesterday I hadn’t really put any thought into her birthday card; and bearing in mind that she lives abroad, this made for a certain urgency in the matter. I definitely wanted to send her a stitched card, but it would have to be relatively simple. Not too simple, though – it must be festive! Because her birthday is on 21st March she used to be known as the Spring Baby or the Spring Child at home, so I decided on a daffodil, to be worked in silks and with some gold outlining.

There was a practical reason for this as well as the fact that it seemed very appropriate: I could nick it from the Spring Flowers design I did for my mother-in-law last year! I cropped the daffodil to an approximate square, printed it to the right size for one of my small aperture cards, transferred the design, got the silks and the right thickness of gold together, and I was set to go.

A birthday daffodil

And then I noticed the stem. In the original, the placement of the stem in front of one of the rear petals means the stitching is a bit fiddly, but that’s all. Here, however, I meant to outline the petals in smooth passing, and having to interrupt the outline for the stem would mean a lot of extra plunging and a lot of ends to secure at the back of the work. A slight adjustment was called for.

Two designs with different stems

There was now just one challenge left (well, besides the challenge of actually stitching the whole thing in time for her birthday) – re-drawing the outline on the fabric. It’s not a particularly expensive or special fabric, but even so I don’t like wasting it. Fortunately one of those plastic erasers turned out to do the trick, so all that remains is a very slight roughness where the original stem was; and I probably only notice that because I know it’s there. So on to the stitching!

The redrawn transfer

Playing with alternatives: bees

Last year, after my annual embroidery workshops for the church building fund, I idly remarked that I was beginning to run out of techniques to teach, and I’d have to resort to goldwork. It’s dangerous to make remarks like that, even idly. Less than one year on and I’m getting the materials together for a goldwork workshop!

More about getting the materials later – the first priority is to get the design right. One of the things I wasn’t quite sure about in my initial version was the bee and so I decided to work three bees close together on the same piece of fabric so that it would be easy to compare the effect of the various metals. Another thing I wanted to work out was whether it would be better to stitch the wings before the body, or the other way around.

Well, the latter was the easiest question to answer – definitely wings first! Having sorted that out, it was on to the bodies themselves. My original idea was to use no.4 bright check, which is quite chunky, but as it is also quite expensive I used a sadi thread on my first model. Sadi threads (or wires, rather) are used in Indian embroidery and are similar to goldwork threads but as far as I know they have no precious metal content, and they come in only two sizes for each type. The fine check sadi (which is quite as chunky as the bright check no.4 – I wouldn’t like to work with the broad check!) is a lot more open in texture than the “proper” goldwork threads, and very shiny. As it doesn’t come in copper (or at least I haven’t been able to find it in copper) my first bee had to be gold and silver.

In this bee experiment the sadi version is on the bottom left – you can see how sparkly it is. The top bee is worked in bright check no.4. I really like the effect of the gold/copper combination, but the chunkiness of the thread made for a very fat bee! It was also quite difficult to get the wires to curve nicely over the felt on such a small area. The third version, which is definitely my preferred one, is worked in wire check no.6 – the higher the number on these, the thinner the thread, so this is narrower than the bright check. It is also less sparkly: wire check is the matt version of bright check. But the texture is interesting and almost fuzzy, and once I get some copper wire check, the stripes will be better defined.

Three goldwork bees in a hoop

Some of the ladies in my stitching group, whose opinions I asked, actually preferred the sadi version as it was the shiniest, so I may offer that as an alternative; but as it is billed as a goldwork class, I would like to use traditional goldwork materials as much as possible. The only sadi wire I will use is the pearl one, which is really very similar to the traditional pearl purl.

One slightly odd thing I noticed in the wire check is that the gold is an S-twist and the silver is a Z-twist (and not as closely twisted). Trying to remember where I got them from I think that the silver may have been in the kit of a day class I attended, whereas I bought the gold separately later. You’d expect them to be quite uniform, wouldn’t you? It’ll be interesting to see what the ones I’ve got on order are like, and whether there is a difference between the gold, silver and copper.

Opposite twists in wire check

And finally something that has absolutely nothing to do with goldwork. Last week we were at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen to see an exhibition with my in-laws, and in the gallery shop had these lovely wooden door wedges, very smooth and a joy to handle (not that you handle door wedges a lot, but you know how tactile and strokeable wood can be). Until now the door of my craft room has been wedged open (when it is safe to do so, i.e. our inquisitive pussycat is outdoors) with a bright green frog wedge that used to be in one of the children’s bedrooms – it works, yes, but this one was something altogether different. As I was debating with myself whether I could really justify another extravagance, my mother-in-law took it out of my hands and gave it to me as a present! It now sits looking beautiful in the craft room. Trouble is, it rather shows up the scruffy door…

A lovely wooden door wedge

Goldwork for all weathers

When I completed the RSN goldwork boot some time ago, and posted pictures of it on the Cross Stitch Forum (yes, I know, it isn’t cross stitch – but they humour me and allow me to stay a member even though I do mostly other needlework now smiley), one lady remarked that it would be fun to stitch the whole outfit to go with the boot in goldwork: gloves, hat, corset, dress… I agreed it would make a lovely series, but that it was very unlikely to happen, especially to scale! But suddenly a picture of a parasol entered my mind, and refused to budge.

When that happens, resistance is futile – and so I started looking for basic umbrella/parasol shapes. Although the original idea had been for a parasol as an accessory to the never-to-be-stitched Edwardian costume, at this point I wasn’t sure whether it might not become an umbrella, and anyway they are pretty much the same shape, aren’t they? A parasol just being a lighter, more elegant version of an umbrella. But I knew quite certainly the sort of outline I wanted: what you might call a child’s version of an umbrella, with four or five panels, and tilted about 45 degrees. After a few sketches I did a first line drawing on the computer.

The first line drawing

This captured the essence of umbrella-ness I was looking for, and I did some work on the fillings and materials, but something bothered me. When I had a closer look, I realised what it was – the drawing was wonky. The left-hand panels were longer than the ones on the right-hand side, making it impossible to place any decorative motifs satisfactorily, and the angle of the shaft was slightly off. Back to the drawing board.

Changes to the line drawing The new line drawing

Once the outline had been tweaked to my satisfaction, I could work on the decoration of the panels. After a while I found myself with two versions which I liked equally. OK, so why not have two projects, a parasol and an umbrella? And to make them look more balanced when stitched as a pair, I reversed one of them.

An umbrella and a parasol Mirror images

While all this was being done on the computer, I was also still scribbling notes on the first printout, jotting down ideas for materials and stitches.

Notes about stitches and threads

Deciding which of the various ideas to use is never easy, because inevitably some have to be discarded (unless you want to end up with a whole herd of umbrellas – and how many goldwork umbrellas am I likely to want to stitch?!?) Eventually I managed to work out which ones I liked best, and in which combinations, and I could add some indication of stitches to the bare transfer drawings.

Working charts incorporating ideas for stitches and threads

The fabrics for both projects had already practically picked themselves – two of the shades of Essex linen I bought last month, Teal for the umbrella (in silver), and Orange for the parasol (in gold). Both behaved beautifully on the lightbox, and I’ve got a beautiful deep 10" hoop that’s just the right size, large enough to give the design breathing space and small enough to be manageable. And here they are (only in unstitched outline as yet): Come Rain, Come Shine.

Come Rain on teal Essex linen Come Shine on orange Essex linen

Now for the fun part of picking the threads, wires, spangles and whatnots!

Big mugs, little mugs, glued mugs

Some time ago, I started experimenting with embroidered appliqué – first a Christmas tree, then a bauble with embellishments, and then, because I thought it would make a nice workshop and I happen to know the workshop co-ordinator at the Knitting & Stitching Show doesn’t like Christmas-themed projects in October, a mug. Of tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate, or whatever beverage you prefer. With the same embellished band (only slightly curved) as the bauble. Because of this, the size of the mug was pretty much decided for me; but this caused a bit of a problem. A mug large enough to contain the embellished band would be rather too large for the aperture cards I had in my stash. This would mean buying outsized cards, with matching envelopes, and that would drive the kit price up. Could I make the mug smaller while still having room for the gems and sequins in the decorative band? I printed the design in the original size and one slightly smaller, and played about with the gems. They would just about fit.

Two sizes of mug with gems

But would it look OK in fabric and thread? A stitched model was obviously called for. I didn’t add the steam this time as I just wanted to compare sizes, and anyway I hadn’t quite worked out yet how to combine the steam with framing the mug in an aperture card. I did use this project to try something else, however: Heather, my tutor at the RSN workshop, had used Bondaweb to stabilise the green silk from which the leaf was cut for the appliqué part of the goldwork project. You iron it onto the back of the fabric, draw the desired shape on the paper backing (in reverse), cut it out and remove the paper. At that point you can actually iron it onto your background fabric, should you wish to, but she just used it to give a bit of body to the silk and keep it from fraying; it was attached in the old-fashioned way with small stab stitches. As I’d had a little trouble with fraying on the larger mug, this seemed a good idea. The smaller mug was soon stitched, and the band, though a little more densely packed than on the larger mug, still worked.

The appliqué mug in two sizes

Time to get out my aperture cards, the ones I use for the Shisha flower and tile. The mug didn’t fit. I had reduced the size of the mug to the size of the aperture, but without any space around it, and with the chunky raised chain stitch outline it was now actually a little bigger than the drawing. Oh well, use the next size up – it would still be better than having to get the very large cards for the larger mug. I fitted the aperture over the smaller mug. It looked a bit spacious. Just out of curiosity I fitted it over the larger mug. That fitted too… So now I have a choice – using the same card I can use either the small or the large mug, according to preference. I try to think of this as A Good Outcome.

The small appliqué mug in a card

Having used Bondaweb to stabilise the fabric, and wondering whether this project could be fitted into a 90-minute workshop, I decided to try another small mug (any excuse to use another of those lovely Makower fabrics, not to mention the Anchor Multicolors) and this time to iron on the appliqué bits, and work the decorative stitches on top of the fabric edges without first stab-stitching them. This worked beautifully, and in fact kept the fabric flat better. For the workshop I may therefore iron on one of the bits, and have the students sew on only one. It’ll still teach them the technique, but won’t take quite so much time. The steamy ribbon will probably be part of the kit as an optional extra, which they can choose to add or not. It is a little fiddly, attaching the ribbons up to the point where they will exit the card, and requires a certain amount of measuring and trying with the aperture card which would probably be better done at home. I will of course show them how to do it – one of the comments people had left about some of the Knitting & Stitching workshops (not mine, fortunately!) was that the tutor just handed out the written instructions and expected people to get on with in on their own. Anyway, what do you think of this mug for a workshop – suitable? tempting? any other comments? They’ll be very welcome.

Another attempt, with ironed-on fabric A small mug with steam A small mug with steam, in a card

A garden on canvas and duck

A few weeks ago I got two new fabrics to play with: a medium weight cotton canvas in light blue, and a cotton duck in off-white. Both are non-count fabrics, although the cotton canvas looks as though you might count it – it has a much more noticeable weave than the cotton duck. Both are quite a bit heavier than any of the other fabrics I use; that was in fact why I got them, to see if they could be used without the need for a calico backing. They can, but the downside to that is that it is also difficult to transfer designs onto them by lightbox, especially when the design is fairly complex with a lot of detail in a small space, like the Wildflower Garden I had decided to use for my experiments. I just about managed to get a workable transfer drawn, but for future occasions I made a much darker transfer picture, and divided it into two parts, so that I can transfer all the grass and stalks first, then superimpose the flowers.

The Wildflower Garden pattern darkened and split

Having got the transferring out of the way, it was time to stitch. First up was the medium cotton canvas. It’s light blue, which is the colour I usually use as a background for the Wildflower Garden. Because of its very visible weave I was afraid it might be difficult to place the stitches accurately, but that turned out not to be as much of a problem as I had expected. The needle went through the fabric easily, and didn’t get “persuaded” into the holes when what was needed was to pierce the fabric threads. I like the colour, which I think sets the design off well, but on the whole I think the texture shows itself just a bit too much. The fabric is perfectly usable, especially for the little Shisha flower projects (which has a much simpler transfer), but I probably won’t get any more of it.

Little Wildflower Garden on medium cotton canvas

On to lightweight cotton duck. This is not at all lightweight compared to the quilting cottons I tend to use, but it is the lightest weight of cotton duck. I got it in off white because I thought it would work well as a neutral background for freestyle projects (I am trying it out with some leaf outlines at the moment). It’s not really a suitable background for the Wildflower Garden because the daisies don’t show up quite so well, and the little bee’s wings get rather lost. Still, in order to compare the fabrics I thought it best to work the same design on both, so the Garden it was.

I like this a lot. It’s got enough texture to be interesting, but not enough to distract from the embroidery. It’s heavy enough not to need backing, and provided the transfer design is printed in bold enough lines it can be used with the lightbox. I would imagine it takes an iron-on transfer quite well too. It would be interesting to try it with the prick and pounce method, but as yet I haven’t been brave enough to tackle that. As for stitching on it, that works well; it is dense enough to make accurate placement possible, and soft enough for the needle to go through quite easily. Yes, I may well get some more of this in a variety of colours.

Little Wildflower Garden on light cotton duck

This would also look quite good as a background for goldwork if you don’t want the sheen of dupion, I think. But for now I have other fabrics lined up for that…

Cats and elephants and what to do with them

Sometimes, usually much to my own surprise, I do manage to finish my finished projects. That is to say, rather than stuffing them into my “stitched models” folder I turn them into something useful or decorative (or, if I’m feeling particularly inspired, both). Over the past few weeks my small elephants (variations on the bigger Remember the Day elephant) were given the useful-and-hopefully-decorative treatment and turned into a gift tag (or place card, or favour tag) and a felt bookmark. The bookmark is on the large side, which is why I’m showing it off marking a large book smiley.

Bookend elephants made into a bookmark, and an elephant tag The elephant bookmark in action

The freestyle Elegant Cats couldn’t possibly be allowed to languish in a plastic folder; for one thing, Lexi wouldn’t allow it! Fortunately I bought a selection of satin-covered boxes from the wonderful Viking Loom a while back, and even as I was stitching the cats I had a vague idea in my mind that there was a rectangular box of that sort of size in my box of boxes – and that it might just be dark green. There was, and it was, and it was just the right size, and Lexi was deeply impressed with the result, as you can see…

Elegant Cats mounted in a jewellery box Elegant Cats with an elegant cat

PS When posting some of these pictures elsewhere people asked me about the artist whose book the elephants are marking. He is a Dutch artist called Rien Poortvliet who started out as mostly a wildlife painter, but who wrote and illustrated many books on a variety of subjects, including the history of his family inspired by a chest belonging to one of his ancestors, a life of Jesus, books about dogs and horses, a book about “whatever happened to come into his mind”, books about gnomes, and this one about Noah’s ark. I admire his art as much as I admire his simple but profound faith.

Cats go freestyle

When we went down to Devon to visit the in-laws recently, I wanted to take something fairly simple as a project to work on in the evenings – preferably outlines in stem stitch or something like that. No counting, no complicated stitches. But apart from some Kelly Fletcher freebies I didn’t really have anything suitable. Or did I?

What about my Elegant Cats? Originally they were designed in cross stitch, for an exchange of ATCs (Artist Trading Cards) on the Cross Stitch Form (and stitched on 36ct evenweave to make them fit; as usual I’d tried to cram in far too much detail). But the cross stitch design was based on my original line drawing, and a couple of years ago I cleaned up the line drawing and digitised it for some future occasion. Perhaps that future occasion was now! Line drawings, after all, are almost by definition suitable for freestyle embroidery, especially for line stitches like stem stitch.

Elegant Cats in cross stitch

I transferred the drawing to a piece of linen twill, hooped up, picked the colours I wanted to use (mostly the ones used in the original cross stitch plus a few others in case I needed more shading), and packed it all into my stitching bag.

The Elegant Cats project set up

Before any stitch was put in, however, a lot of thinking was needed. In the cross stitch version the cats were both solidly stitched; something I definitely didn’t want in the freestyle version. But the “outlines only” approach threw up a number of obstacles, first and foremost among them the black cat’s white patch. This stands out very noticeably when the cat is otherwise solid black, but might get lost if it was white stitched on off-white inside an empty black outline. Another challenge was the ginger cat’s stripes. Stitched simply as the stripes on the line drawing they might look a bit sparse, but how to bulk them out? Could I work them in some sort of spiky stitch like Mountmellick or long-armed Palestrina?

In order to give myself a bit more time to think about these things I started with the bits I had already decided on: the main outlines, which would be stitched in stem stitch using three strands – nice and chunky. trying to visualise whether the black cat would look better in stark black or very dark grey I made a last-minute decision to blend, something which I hoped would give depth to the outlines, and which I subsequently also used on the ginger cat.

A stem stitched outline Blending

For the ginger cat’s stripes I decided against any of the more exotic stitches – I wanted to keep this design simple in both its outlines and its execution, and so sticking to the basic repertoire of stitches (as very scientifically defined by my mother-in-law, who after decades of very intricate stitching says that she will now use only “stem stitch, chain stitch, French knots and fly stitch”) seemed a good idea (although I retained the option of adding one or two basic stitches not on her list, such as ray stitch; it may sound exotic but is basically a group of straight stitches radiating from one point).

Chain stitch seemed to fit the bill as it is a line stitch with some width to it, unlike stem stitch. But one line of chain stitch, even with the added shading of blended threads, still looked too thin. How about building up the stripes to the sort of shape they had in the cross stitch version by adding lines of chain stitch on top of each other?

Stacking chain stitch for the ginger stripes

That worked. Next challenge, the black cat’s white patch. As I expected an outline-only version just looked insignificant and negligible, even using three strands. Well, how about filling it in with chain stitch, subtly echoing the chain stitch in the other cat’s stripes? In one strand, to keep an airy look – it wouldn’t do to have it too solid or I’d have to beef up the black as well! And yes, a round-and-round filling of light chain stitch gave me the effect I wanted.

A white patch in outline only A white patch filled in

Fairly last-minute, and for no particular reason other than that it suddenly struck me as a good idea, I gave both cats a white tail tip. This may have been partly a displacement strategy so I wouldn’t have to think about what was the final, and rather daunting, challenge in the design process, that of the black cat’s body colour. I delayed this decision even more by first finishing the paw print border, which was always going to be padded satin stitch with French knots and therefore didn’t present a problem.

But eventually everything had been stitched that could be stitched without coming to the black cat’s potential body filling or shading, and so it had to be faced. Because I definitely wanted to steer clear of solid filling, the best option seemed to be a sort of hatched shading, worked in one strand like the patch to keep it light. I picked the grey from the blend, feeling that the full black would probably make the hatching look too stark, and simply started stitching, hoping that I’d have the good sense to stop when enough was enough. I think I did smiley – and now the Elegant Cats exist in freestyle as well as in cross stitch. Which must be a good thing, as you can never have too many cats! (Well, not in stitch anyway.)

An unshaded black cat A shaded black cat

An elephantine fillip

As all stitchers know – as anybody with a hobby or favourite pastime knows – life can get rather in the way sometimes. Not necessarily in very dramatic or tragic ways (although that, too, happens) but just by the demands of work, other obligations, and the odd spell of under-the-weather-ness. It is this that explains why throughout September no Fancies took Flight and it is also the reason why very little stitching got done in the Figworthy household during that time; I simply did not have the inclination, apart from some experimental leaves for the Tree of Life (more about which hopefully later this month).

Sometimes the projects that we have lined up simply fail to inspire, however enthusiastic we may have been about them at the outset. Although I enjoy stitching the various leaves once I get into them, often I simply don’t feel like picking them up and getting started on them; and even when I do I can get stuck half-way through – quite an achievement when the whole project is one small leaf! Fortunately I had other things to occupy me, such as putting together 48 workshop kits (more about that later as well…), but it feels odd not to have something stitchy on the go that I want to get on with.

And then, as I was thinking about an email I need to write concerning some designs, I was reminded of this elephant:

A Wedding Elephant

Some time ago, well over a year in fact, I was asked whether I would consider doing a smaller version of the elephant (known as The Wedding Elephant as well as by its official title “Remember the Day”) which would work on favour cards or place cards. At the time I just stored that idea away in the back of my mind, as it would require a fair bit of fiddling with the design – how small does an elephant need to get if it is to fit onto a favour card? Surely too small to accommodate both the lattice work and the flowers? And an empty elephant would look a bit minimalist, besides not tying in with the original elephant (whether the person who asked me was thinking of the original elephant as a wedding invitation I don’t know, but she definitely meant the small one to complement the full-sized one).

But as the elephant was brought to my mind again by that email (which, incidentally, is still unwritten…), I could suddenly envisage what the mini elephant might look like. Could there be a pair of elephants, facing each other, one with the lattice and one with the flowers? Or if you couldn’t fit two of them on one favour card, perhaps half the cards could have the lattice one facing one way, and the other half the floral one facing the other way. Diversity in symmetry, or something like that.

So I got to work drawing and redrawing and mirroring and resizing, and getting my boxes of hand-dyed stranded cottons and silks out, and now I can’t wait for my stitching time after dinner to get to work on a baby elephant or two. Hurray for a stimulating pachyderm!

Mini variations on an elephant

More workshops

When I had put together the two Church Building Fund workshops for last May and June, stitching the Floral Gems wreath, I decided that this was going to be the last for a while. Over the past three years I’ve taught five sets of workshops covering Hardanger, shisha, freestyle, tactile (the raised wreath) and embellished embroidery, and I felt I was running out of techniques. There is goldwork, of course, which would no doubt be very popular, but the cost of the materials makes it unsuitable for a charity workshop. So I mentioned this to the ladies attending, and was met with a wave of disappointment. And when I showed the appliqué Bauble to the participants at the second workshop as a possible project for some unspecified time in the future, they all agreed that a pre-Christmas workshop was called for. This year.

The appliqué bauble in a card

Incidentally, this is not the card I would choose for the workshop – it’s all a bit too circular – but it’s what I happened to have in my card stash. If the workshop does materialise (and it seems likely that it will, as somehow I seem to have mysteriously acquired some new fabrics that are just right for this project) I’ll probably go for a card with a square aperture of the same width. This would also accommodate… but wait, I am getting ahead of myself!

Considering this new workshop, I naturally thought of ways in which to use it again after the initial Building Fund run, and the obvious candidate for that is the Knitting & Stitching Show. Although four workshops is as much as I want to teach at any one show, I like to offer the organisers as wide a range as possible from which to pick what they feel will best fit into their programme. Unfortunately, as I found when I offered the chunky Christmas Wreath, the workshop organiser is not fond of Christmas projects in October. Personally I think October is just about the right time to start stitching for Christmas, but heigh-ho, if that’s the situation then offering another Christmas project is not going to be enthusiastically welcomed.

But I still thought the technique would make a great K&S workshop, and I particularly liked the band of gems and sequins edged with couched metallic ribbon. Could I incorporate this into a non-festive-seasonal design? Something that would appeal to a mostly British audience? Of course – a mug of tea!

Sketch for an appliqué mug

The steam rising from the mug (which could also contain coffee, of course, or hot chocolate – the beverage isn’t visible so whatever appeals to the stitcher!) could be worked in twisted couched organza ribbon extending beyond the aperture, or for a simpler project simply be left out. There was just one slight drawback. The mug as I drew it to incorporate a central band the same size as the bauble came out rather big; it would need a larger card with a special envelope which would make the kits more expensive. It’s easy enough to make the design smaller, but would it still be able to accommodate the gem/sequin band?

Two sizes of mug with gems

Well, it looks just about OK on paper. I will just have to try them both out on fabric to see whether it works in practice. And talking of fabric… (watch this space).

Applying appliqué lessons

You may remember that my first appliqué bauble suffered from a few flaws, most notably visible attaching stitches. A second bauble was called for, with two changes: the thread used to attach the patterned fabric would match that fabric, not the calico it was being attached to; and the embroidery stitch covering the edges (in this case heavy chain stitch) would be worked in perle #5, not perle #8. Together these measures should make the stitches pretty much invisible. So I set to work.

The patterned fabric attached with coordinating thread

So far so good; the thread I’m using is variegated so it doesn’t match the fabric everywhere, but as the fabric is patterned it doesn’t matter too much. Yes, definitely pleased with that.

The next bit is unchanged from the first bauble, because I quite liked it as it was – two lines of Kreinik 1/8″ silver ribbon couched with the same variegated stranded cotton I used to attach the coloured fabric.

The central band is bordered by silver ribbon

Now for the second change, working the border stitch in perle #5. Well, the stitched circle itself looked fine (it is my firm belief that very few things stitched in Anchor’s Blue Hawaii shade could ever look bad) but I noticed something that had occurred in the previous bauble as well: the appliquéd fabric seemed to pucker as I covered the edges.

I held it up to the light at different angles; I pulled the calico tighter in the hoop; I squinted at it. None of it was any good. There was no doubt about it, it puckered.

The fabric puckers after working the heavy chain stitch

So there we are. Using a matching thread to attach the coloured fabric and a thicker perle for the border did solve the problem I’d set out to solve, but the problem I hadn’t really thought much about was, if anything, worse. When I noticed it in the first bauble I rather thought it was just one of those inexplicable things that sometimes happen in embroidery and it would be fine in subsequent projects – after all, there had been no puckering in the appliqué Christmas tree. It now seems that it may be a direct consequence of the border stitch I chose. The Christmas tree was worked in raised chain stitch, most of which is on the surface; only the foundation stitches go through the fabrics, and there isn’t much strain on them, whereas the heavy chain stitch pulls quite strongly at the fabric.

The finished tree, embellished

So it seems there will have to be a third bauble, bordered in perle #5 raised chain stitch! One advantage of that stitch is that it takes corners better than heavy chain stitch; not crucial in the bauble design, which is perfectly circular (or as perfectly circular as I can make it), but I have other ideas…