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

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

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

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

A sheep for Dot

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

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

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

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

Stitch Magazine issue 125 with a familiar willow

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

Three Bluebird Embroidery silk shading kits

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

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

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

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

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

An experimental coaster, bear and printing

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

A quatrefoil on silk dupion

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

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

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

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

A baby  suit and a teddy

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

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

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

The finished body suit

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

Inexplicably wonky lines

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

Another way of finishing a bookmark

Many years ago, when Flights of Fancy was in its Flights of InFancy, I wrote a post about different ways of finishing bookmarks. As none of these ways was quite what I wanted for the baptismal bookmarks I was stitching for two church friends, I devised another one. And as you can never have too many ways of finishing your stitching, here is a short illustrated demonstration of how it works.

The first thing, of course, is to complete the stitching. How you do this can sometimes be determined, at least in part, by how you intend to finish it – framing, for example (not that you’re likely to frame a bookmark) requires a lot more spare fabric around the design than mounting in a card. Here I was going for a combination of felt backing and fraying of the main fabric, which needs relatively little space around the design, and as I was planning two bookmarks and I don’t like wasting fabric, I decided to stitch them fairly close together on one piece of fabric. A running stitch outline defined the size of the bookmarks and helped with placing the various elements.

The stitching is finished; now for the finishing

Next: two pieces of felt, cut to the dimensions of the outline.

Felt backing cut to size

The felt backings were initially held in place with pins. As it was not easy to see whether the felt was staying put while I was buttonholing (or rather, blanket stitching) around the outline, I adjusted the arms on my lap stand so that the frame was nearly vertical, and sat facing the window so that the light was behind my work. In this way, I could keep an eye on the position of the felt while stitching.

The light behind the works shows the position of the felt

Incidentally, to fasten on I knotted my thread (a single strand of DMC cotton) and with the needle parallel to the felt I took the thread a little way through the felt – not from the back to the front, but travelling “inside” the felt for a few centimetres. The knot was on the side of the felt that sat against the back of the stitched fabric, and the needle emerged on the edge of the felt. I could then take it up through the Hardanger fabric right on the outline to start the blanket stitch.

And here they are with the blanket stitch outlines complete, seen from the front and the back.

Blanket stitch all around the bookmarks The bookmarks seen from the back

Finally I cut around the outline, leaving three fabric threads all around (or strictly speaking fabric pairs, as this is Hardanger fabric), and then frayed the fabric up to the buttonhole line. In the picture below the blue bookmark has been cut but not yet frayed, while the pink one is completely finished.

The excess fabric has been cut away, and the fraying is in progress

Cut and frayed, this is what they eventually look like front and back.

The finished bookmarks, front and back

And there you have it, one more way of finishing your stitching as a bookmark!

Needlepoint coasters

When Mabel’s Fancies first branched out into selling what you might call physical items, I decided that I would only offer things which I enjoyed using myself. No wonder then that first on the list were my trusty titanium squissors, but they were soon followed by the acrylic coasters which I must by now have used to mount several hundred pieces of Hardanger and cross stitch (most of them for charity or as gifts, I hasten to add, just in case you are now picturing my house groaning under a load of embroidered coasters).

Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design Cross stitch kitten coasters Cross stitch initial coasters Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design

Last week I was contacted by a lady who wanted to know whether they were suitable for needlepoint. Now Hardanger is relatively chunky, and although the coasters aren’t deep enough for anything with beads I have successfully mounted designs that use sequins – but I had to admit that I’d never actually tried them with needlepoint. However, you may remember that some time ago I stitched some small needlepoint experiments, so I promised her I’d try them out and let her know.

I unearthed the needlepoint pieces, and found a coaster which I’d set aside because it had a slight blemish so I couldn’t sell it. I was ready to go!

Two pieces of needlepoint and a coaster

I started with what was likely to be the less challenging one to fit into the coaster, stranded silk on Congress cloth. Because of the stiffness and openness of the canvas, I could trim it simply by cutting along the edges of the coaster’s backing plate.

Trimming the canvas to size

Having pulled the canvas a bit to get it properly square, I popped it into the coaster and snapped the backing in place without a problem. One down, one to go.

The finished coaster

The second piece was worked in crewel wool on 18 mesh canvas, and is much chunkier than the black version. In particular the Rhodes stitch in the centre looked like it might cause trouble, especially because it is almost as high on the back of the canvas as it is on the front. Double trouble! I wasn’t very hopeful, but I cut it to size and fitted it into the coaster recess.

A chunky Rhodes stitch may cause problems Rhodes stitches are chunky both sides

Now for the backing. I pushed in one end. I pushed in the other. The first end popped out again. I applied pressure to the whole back at the same time, spreading fingers to push in all four edges simultaneously. It stayed put. Hurray! Not a complete success, as the Rhodes stitch looks decidedly flattened (and that’s without any added backing fabric or Vilene), but it does fit.

A slightly squashed coaster

Much will depend on the type of needlepoint this lady does, so I sent her photographs of the two finished coasters plus information about the materials used in the stitching, to help her decide whether the coasters might work for her. But whether or not they will, it was an interesting exercise – and as I can’t sell the coaster or use it for kits anyway, I put the black canvas needlepoint back in so that I’ve got another decorative coaster to use.

Covering a book

One of the topics mentioned in my email correspondence with the Lady in America (see last week’s FoF) was Lviv, and particularly the way it was turned into a Bible cover. Composing a reply to her I was about to include a link to the FoF post about how the Bible cover (usable for other books as well, of course) was put together, when I found that I never wrote one! This was a bit puzzling, as I remembered the post as distinctly as the one about turning Douglas into a pen holder.

Lviv Bible cover, front Lviv Bible cover, back

Still, no amount of searching for terms like “cover” “Lviv” or “Bible” brought up a post about this particular finishing process, so in the end I was forced to acknowledge that my distinctly-remembered FoF was probably non-existent. Time to remedy that!

For some reason I seem to have saved some of the pictures I took of this finishing method at a much lower resolution than the others, which is why the first four are smaller. Nor do I seem to have photographed the very first stages. It’s rather too late to remedy either of these things, but I hope that even so you will find the sequence of images clear enough to show what I did.

First I measured the book I wanted to cover and drew a diagram with the sizes. I added one centimetre to the height of the cover, but used the exact width (front cover + spine + back cover). Then I decided on the width of the flaps (I went for 5cm, but for smaller or larger books you may want to adapt that) and added that to the overall size. To give a general example, if the book is 20cm x 12.5cm and the spine is 5cm wide, the “book-rectangle” would be 20cm x 30cm; add 5cm either side for the flap, and your final rectangle comes to 20cm x 40cm.

Now I had to work out where on the cover I wanted the stitching to end up, and then backstitch a rectangle of the size I had calculated around my stitching. Because I used two pieces of stitching I had to do two “half” rectangles and whipstitch the two together so they made one big rectangle; that’s what you see in the picture.

Backstitch around the stitching according to the measurements you calculated

The next step is to trim the fabric to about 1.5cm from the backstitch.

Trim the fabric around the backstitching

Here’s the back, to show you how the two bits of fabric were connected using whipstitch – If I did this again I would work out the positions beforehand and stitch front and back on one piece of fabric.

The two parts whipstitched together

I folded over all the edges and pressed them with an iron. The top and bottom folds were stuck down with double-sided hem interfacing; the spine and the flaps were reinforced with regular iron-on interfacing.

Fold the hems and reinforce spine and flaps

For the flaps I used trusty old whipstitch again (shown close up in the first picture; for that project, a bookmark, I worked the stitch in two colours). Fold over the front flap and whipstitch first the top and then the bottom: using the same sort of thread you used for the backstitch, bring the needle up between the two backstitches on either side of the fold, then take your needle underneath the first stitch on the “flap side” and the first stitch on the “book side”. You only go underneath the stitches, you don’t take the needle through the fabric. Go on taking your needle underneath the next backstitch on the flap side and its opposite number on the book side until the flap is fully connected. Do the back flap in the same way.

Whipstitching, close-up Whipstitch the flaps in place The finished cover

And that’s it smiley. All that is left to insert the book!

Vintage goldwork materials and a blingy sheep

An apology is due: I have been sadly remiss in providing FoFs recently. It’s not that there isn’t anything to write about (there are several half-written posts lurking on my computer), it’s getting round to editing pictures and putting together a coherent tale and so on – what with workshops and some health hiccups it’s been so much easier to just bung a few lines on Facebook (do have a look when you haven’t got any other pressing matters needing your attenttion). However, before we close for our family holiday, a FoF (or at least a mini FoF-let) there must be!

You may remember that a few months ago I was given a collection of vintage goldwork materials. They were lovely, and some, like the gold and silver kid, could be used as they were. Most of the threads and wires, however, were rather tarnished. Is there any way of getting the tarnish off goldwork materials? If they are already part of an embroidery the answer appears to be a resounding No. Tarnish is part of the nature of goldwork, and we might as well embrace it. But what about pre-embroidery? I couldn’t find any suggestions on the internet, either because I looked for the wrong thing or because there simply aren’t any, so I had to come up with something myself. My answer? Silver dip.

My husband swears by the stuff for any silver that needs cleaning, and it is very effective. It just smells awful. As my husband doesn’t mind the smell, he got the task of dipping the vintage wires (I didn’t think it would do the wrapped threads any good, because of their cotton or silk core).

Silver dipping vintage goldwork wires

They were rinsed, and as they lay drying they looked pretty spiffing!

The vintage wires after dipping

But after a short while, they seemed to re-tarnish, especially the silver pearl purl, which I’d been hoping to use for my goldwork snowman.

Pearl purl re-tarnished

Meanwhile, however, we’d picked up a metal plate which cleans silver (and other metals) electrolytically with the help of hot water and soda crystals. (No, I don’t understand how it works, but it does.) I decided to try it on the silver pearl purl.

And it did come out cleaner! This may not last either, but it is definitely less yellow. Unfortunately comparison with newly-purchased pearl purl shows that there is still a considerable colour difference. Nevertheless, its rather mellowed silver glow is very attractive in its own right. It won’t do for stitched models which need to be photographed for kits or chart packs, but I will keep it for “private” projects, in which it will look just fine.

A comparison between vintage and new pearl purl after cleaning

And changing the subject somewhat but sticking with goldwork, I’d like to show you the serendipitous frame I found for my little silverwork sheep! A friend sent me a parcel for my birthday which included a Pakistani bangle. It was far too large for me (someone has since told me that it is probably an ankle bracelet) and I couldn’t think what to do with it. Then I noticed there were rims on both sides of the inner surface and thought it might do as a frame for something small, possible Shisha work. And then I noticed the little sheep lying on my desk, waiting to be Finished Properly. There was a fair amount of sparkle and bling on the bracelet – would it be too much when combined with a sparkly sheep? I tried. It wasn’t. They suited each other perfectly!

Silverwork sheep mounted in a bracelet

A friend who saw the framed sheep suggested I find more bangles to use as frames, but I don’t think I will. This was a felicitous combination, but part of its charm to me is that I was able to use a friend’s gift in an unexpected way. The sheep bangle will be a one-off.

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.

Ready for the Fair

In a frantic last-minute rush of finishing yesterday afternoon (thank you boss for giving me time off smiley) I managed to transform 5 projects into displayable items (including a very old bit of goldwork started at the Knitting & Stitching Show years ago). I didn’t find a design that would fit one of the jewellery boxes, unfortunately, but then I did buy those for future goldwork projects. I’ll add separate pictures of the Mabel designs to the Gallery later.

Four satin boxes and a frame ready for display

Then in the evening it was time to set up my stand – a good thing we got the opportunity to do this in advance as my husband is marshalling at a vintage car trial today, and walking to church with the stack of boxes I’d piled up in the kitchen didn’t bear thinking about! He was also a great help setting up, putting tables out, pinning bags in place and so on; I’m very lucky smiley. I much prefer the look of a stand with lots of people browsing, of course, but here is a (badly lit) picture of the stand all pristine and awaiting visitors.

The stand ready for action

Orpheus is finally boxed!

Less than a week to go until the Craft Fair and I haven’t really had a go at mounting anything much in any box whatsoever. True, I have crocheted about half a dozen little butterfly brooches, and jolly pretty they are too if I say so myself, but that doesn’t quite make up for the lack of display items.

Two little butterfly brooches

So yesterday I finally sat down with Orpheus and an as yet unadorned thread box. The reason I had been putting this off was that until I received the box I hadn’t realised that A) it had glass in the lid, and it was impossible to remove without damaging the box, and B) the construction of the box was such that I couldn’t lace or in any way stretch the embroidery around a board before inserting it. This meant that the fabric would have to be cut exactly to size – scary stuff!

Cutting the fabric very close - scary!

What you see above is the wooden backing covered in double-sided sticky plastic, then covered in dark brown felt leaving a sticky rim around the edge, covered with Orpheus, and Orpheus then cut as close to the sides of the panel as possible. This order of doing things at least kept the sticky stuff away from the embroidered part of the fabric! And although the sticky plastic was strong enough to mildly stretch the fabric, it did allow me to pull and reposition the edges just enough to get it all straight.

Orpheus safely mounted in its box

Now its outside was looking just fine, but no thread box is complete without threads. So here I present the Orpheus thread box complete Threadworx perles and silks; don’t you just love the colours?

And the box filled with pretty threads

An unexpected find, an enjoyable task and a sample of kindness

Surprises, as long as they are of the pleasant variety, are always welcome. Guess what I found as I was getting some things out of a bottom drawer in preparation for the Craft Fair. Coasters! Now I’ve been stitching away for the past month or so making coasters because they sold quite well last year and I ran out within an hour. So this year I wanted to make sure there would be a good stock of them:

The coaster sets made for the 2016 Craft Fair

But the more the merrier, and although the four I found were some experimental designs which I put into coasters and then forgot about, they are attractive enough to join the sale I think.

An unexpected extra set of coasters

Another thing I need for the Craft Fair is some new display items for the “For Show” part. You may remember that in anticipation and with a touching optimism I bought some lovely satin boxes from the Viking Loom some months ago.

Satin display and jewellery boxes from Viking Loom

As you probably expected, these are all still in their plastic wrapping, and no stitching has been anywhere near them. Time to change all that, and over the next two weeks, in between workshops, I’m hoping to mount some of my stack of finished project in at least some of the boxes. I’m aiming for three, although there are plenty of projects to cover all of them and have several left over!

Projects that might finish up on the boxes

Quite a few of those projects are too big for the satin boxes, but there is another box which has been waiting to be embellished for months now – a lovely wooden thread box which I’m hoping to fill with my collection of Threadworx perles and silks. Because of the shape of the box a rectangular design is called for, the options are a bit limited as most of my designs are square. Still, there are two which will fit very nicely; so now the only question is, Join the Band or Orpheus?

Orpheus or Join the Band for this box?

And finally another example of crafters being very kind people. I’ve been looking for a suitable fabric for some new kits, as the one I’m currently using for the stitches models is rather expensive. It’s a bit of a balancing act: I want my kits and workshop materials to be of good quality, but I also want to keep them affordable, and so sometimes I reluctantly decide that “good quality” does not necessarily have to mean “exceptional but expensive quality”. (For the same reason I occasionally use standard threads where a hand-dyed thread would be more attractive, but also much more costly.)

Well, I found a possible fabric online, but as you know it can be very difficult to get a good idea of fabrics (or threads for that matter) from a picture on a screen; the colour and texture looked right, but I couldn’t tell what sort of weight it was. However, there was a phone number so I rang it and spoke to a very nice lady called Val. We discussed what the fabric would be used for, and other fabrics that might be suitable, and in the end she said she’d send me a sample of the fabric so I could see whether it was right for my purpose – and she’d send it first class so I’d get it before the weekend! The envelope arrived this morning, and in it were three samples: the fabric I’d expressed an interest in and two others. (In the picture there’s only a strip of the off-white fabric as I’d already taken it away to transfer a design onto it.)

A semi-bleached calico and two cotton/linen mixes

When I’ve tried it I’ll let you know what I think!