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

Variations on a bauble

Several Round In Circles participants remarked that Round Eight reminded them of a Christmas bauble – very pleasing to hear, as this particular design was the original bauble when I was still considering calling the SAL “The Twelve Months of Christmas” and making it a collection of twelve baubles. As it turned out this was too restrictive a design brief, so I kept the circular theme but let go of the idea that they should all look baubly, to coin a phrase.

Even so, within this one design a lot of variation is possible, as is so often the case in Hardanger (especially when combined with surface embroidery). You can use any combination of bars and filling stitches in the two cut areas, and there are plenty of line stitches around (many of them used in Round In Circles) to decorate the central horizontal band with. Some of those stitches are used on the diagonal in the SAL, but most of them could easily be worked horizontally as well.

I had a little play in my charting program, combining the Round Eight outline with line stitches and other motifs from the previous rounds – and I added a little “wire loop” at the top to make them look maure bauble-like. By the way, the later rounds offer very usable stitches as well, but of course I don’t want to give anything away about those! I hope you’re not too disappointed that I didn’t actually stitch them all smiley, but that may well happen in future if I am ever tempted again to stitch all my Christmas cards (although something smaller and quicker would probably be more sensible).

Bauble variations

One SAL participant suggested making the design smaller and having two or three of them together to emphasise their baubleness (baublicity?). That would definitely produce an interesting effect, although my worry was that there would of course be much less room for line stitch variations. Also, the smaller you make a Hardanger circle, the less circular it tends to look. Still, I had a go, and came up with the little bauble below. It doesn’t actually have any room for line stitches at all, so the horizontal band needs to be created by means of coloured bars and/or filling stitches. So not really like Round Eight at all, but quite usuable nonetheless, I think – and if this stitches up nicely you may well see it on Mabel’s Fancies or at least in a FoF some time in the future!

Miniature baubles

Projects for stash

When I wrote about stash with no immediate purpose, did I by any chance mention the very colourful autumn maple leaves which nestled themselves among the floral gems in my shopping basket last month? No? Or the icy snowflakes that came with my order as a free sample? I can’t think how they slipped my mind…

Leaf and snowflake shaped embellishments

Anyway, I do now have a very specific purpose for the floral gems! Some time ago I bought aperture cards that were just the right size for the three freebie stars, in the hope that they would make quick Christmas cards. Which they will. Some day. But as I was thinking of cards to make for our church’s Craft Fair in November it struck me that they would also be just the right size for a small embroidery centred around some of those sparkly little flowers – and wouldn’t they make lovely cards for all sorts of occasions? (I did think of adding the little bunny face I stitch-doodled some time ago, but I’m not sure I can make him small enough, and I wouldn’t want a monster bunny in these tiny little embroideries!)

A little garden of gem flowers A floral celebration card

My first attempt was, as you can tell from the picture, a rather informal affair, and relatively naturalistic, but the flowers (and the butterfly) can also be used in a slightly more formal and abstract arrangement. The four curves are a bit wonky but actually I rather like the not-quite-symmetry.

A floral tile A more abstract floral celebration card

And then I found I had some cards with slightly larger, circular apertures which also work with these embellishments! (Must not get carried away, however – the whole idea is that they should be quick and not use too many resources; if you’re stitching for charity you want to keep your costs down. On the other hand, I think I have the makings of another workshop here!) Note to self: keep butterflies lightish in shade, they look better that way.

A circular floral design A third floral celebration card

An added bonus about these little projects is the fact that they can be worked completely freehand should I want to; as long as I have some hint of the visible area on my fabric (i.e. a lightly pencilled square just a little bigger than the aperture of the card) and make sure I stay well inside it, it’ll work. These might just become my go-to travel projects for the next few months!

Incidentally, several people have been giving me bags (small and large) of needlework materials over the past two months – some asking me to find a good home for the threads/canvases/books/frames, others offering them for use in the charity workshops or a similar purpose, and I have indeed used some of the threads already in these Floral Gem cards. In one of these bags there were three small boxes with six compartments each, used for some beads and odds and ends of threads. I found they make the perfect receptacle for the various beads, gems and sequins I’m hoping to use for these cards, as well as some of the threads. And the boxes look so inviting they can’t fail to inspire me to stitch a great many of them.

Materials for Floral Gem cards in three neat little boxes

Unruly ribbons

While we were away in The Netherlands I worked on a few small projects which had been languishing, half-finished, on a pile surrounded by More Urgent Things. They were two Shisha Tiles and a Christmas Wreath. Getting kits ready for the workshops in October and November I’ve been stitching a fair few of the latter, and I like them better every time. But the ribbon can be a bit of a challenge.

Once the wreath is completed and the bow attached, I arrange the ribbons nicely by curving them slightly (as in all the best Christmas illustrations) and pushing them against the wreath stitches to keep them in place. This usually works, but the problem is that it isn’t a very permanent way of arranging them. Make the wreath into a card or try and push the card into an envelope and suddenly the ends of the ribbon stick out very straight instead of in nice decorative curves. Sometimes this happens without even touching the embroidery, with the ribbon straightening itself out by a sheer effort of will the moment your back is turned.

Curved ribbon ends on the Christmas Wreath Straight ribbon ends on the Christmas Wreath

Incidentally, the second photograph above also shows a different distribution of beads. When teaching non-counted embroidery I’ve found that the “free” in freestyle makes some people nervous. They’d much prefer to have dots showing exactly where the French knots are to go rather than be told to “work some random French knots inside the circle”. So it occurred to me that placing the beads on the Christmas wreath, for which there is no chart or guide, might put some people off. Could a simple circle of alternating red and gold beads down the centre of the wreath be a usable alternative? I think it could; personally I prefer the random distribution, but this looks quite effective as well and will definitely be offered as an option for those stitchers who don’t enjoy randomness.

Anyway, back to ribbons. Would it be possible to secure the ends of the ribbons where I wanted them without it looking as though they were secured? Well, I will let you be the judge – do you think the ribbons in this wreath look as though they are flowing naturally?

Curved ribbon ends, secured

In a completely different project, I was doing some ribbon embroidery. I tried and tried to get a gathered ribbon right – but it just wouldn’t work. It kept coming out far bigger than I had expected and planned. I had originally charted it for either 3mm or 4mm ribbon, so I knew that the 4mm ribbon I was using would come out a little bigger than a 3mm ribbon, but even so it looked ridiculously big. Then it finally dawned on me that the ribbon I was using was actually 6mm instead of 4mm…

An impromptu bunny rabbit

One of the ladies who came to the first Wildflower Garden workshop earlier this month is also a member of the stitching group I go to every Monday afternoon during term time. On one of those Monday afternoons she told me she’d finished the Wildflower Garden and had added some other flowers, but that she would have liked to have added a hare. Idly I remarked that you could probably put together a decent enough hare peeping out of the grass using only the stitches used in the rest of the design, and went on with my stitching.

But her words had obviously set something in motion in the back of my brain, because a few minutes later I could see quite clearly two ears made from lazy daisies and a little face made from a fly stitch. I had a pencil handy because I was working out the best route for some wrapped bars in one of the SAL designs so I quickly got it down on paper before it disappeared.

Bunny rabbit doodle on a bit of SAL

And that’s where it would probably have ended if I hadn’t come across the paper last Saturday, when I was at home with a doodle cloth handy – a doodle cloth with stuck into a corner a needle ready-threaded with brown perle #5! It was a Lugana cloth rather than the uncounted fabric I had in mind when scribbling down the sketchy leporid, but I felt that for a quick let’s-see-how-it-works-out that would be fine. And here he is, possibly more rabbit than hare, but I like him, and he does use only Wildflower Garden stitches: lazy daisy, fly stitch, French knot and straight stitch. If at any time you have need of a quick and not too detailed bunny face, feel free to use him.

The bunny rabbit on one of my doodle cloths

My husband suggested that I might like to add a stitch to indicate the top of his head, and of course that would be quite easy to do. I may try it and see if I think it looks better, but here I was trying to stick as closely as possible to the original doodle; also, I rather like his sketchy outline – somehow it seems to go quite well with the informality of the Wildflower Garden that inspired him!

A successful workshop and a swarm of bees

Last Saturday was the first of the three Freestyle Embroidery workshops in aid of the Dunchurch Baptist Church building fund; I found myself doing some last-minute preparations around lunchtime (transferring the design to twelve pieces of blue cotton and putting them in hoops with some backing fabric) but fortunately got everything done in time *phew*.

When we got to the church, 45 minutes before the workshop was about to start, two ladies were already waiting – they were from relatively far away and hadn’t been sure how long the journey would take, although I hope their early arrival was at least partly due to enthusiasm and eagerness as well!

The twelve participants came from a wide range of ages, from 14 to 90, which was lovely; but they were all women. Not that I mind women, you understand – I am one myself, after all – but I know for a fact that there are some very talented male stitchers out there. What keeps them from attending these stitching workshops? Is it seen as unmanly? Are they afraid people might spot them as they stealthily creep out of the church, clutching a piece of stitching? I hereby call on all men, stitchers or not, to come and have a try; it’s not difficult, or scary, or dangerous, and if you can wield a precision screwdriver a needle and thread should hold no terrors for you.

By the way, do you remember Katie my helpful guinea pig, who tried out workshop kits for me to see if they were suitable for young stitchers? She was there, and was by far the fastest stitcher. That’s what dedicated concentration does for you smiley.

Everyone enjoyed the afternoon, and in spite of a good amount of chatting, and some time spent on tea or coffee with biscuits and buttered scones (the latter kindly donated by one of the participants), by the end of the afternoon twelve wildflower gardens were flourishing in various degrees of completeness.

Fierce concentration A relaxing cup of tea Good progress

I have been told of at least three that have been finished since then – and indeed more than finished. Jenny was not satisfied with her first bee, and so with laudable determination she kept on trying until she was. If any of the flowers in her garden fail to get pollinated, it won’t be for lack of effort on her part!

A swarm of bees

One workshop down, two more to go, and in an attempt to be more organised I am getting the kits ready now. Ironing the fabric, cutting it to size and transferring the design to it; printing the instructions and attaching the cover photographs to them; sticking 2 needles per kit into a bit of felt; folding the cards, inserting them into their envelopes and adding a piece of wadding each; and my favourite bit, getting the threads together. Don’t you just love playing with colourful stranded cottons?

The Wildflower Garden kits, without threads Threads for the Wildflower Garden kits