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!

A birthday initial

Inspired by Mary Corbet’s blog about voided initials I decided that one of my oldest friends’ birthday coming up was a great occasion to try this for myself. I’d found a quirky little book that I thought she would like, but it needed something else, and a coaster with her initial would be just the thing. After some deliberation the colour scheme picked was blue, green and yellow – nice and cheerful and bright.

The first stage was outlining the initial in stem stitch, and I chose dark green and blue to do that, in a sort of shaded arrangement. You know how you can give a letter depth by doing one part in light and one in dark? Well, like that, only in two colours instead of two shades of the same colour. Then I filled in the area around it with seed stitches in yellow plus light and medium blue and green. Some stitching techniques almost automatically give you a neat back – Hardanger for example. Seed stitching does not. It does, however, make rather a nice modernist picture in its own right!

The M outlined in stem stitch in two colours The M surrounded by seed stitch The back of the M

The next step was ironing Vilene (iron-on interfacing) to the back; this stiffens it a bit, and also secures the edges when cutting the fabric. Cutting a fairly fray-prone fabric to the exact size it needs to be is quite scary! The thing is to get it into the coaster as quickly as possible once it’s been cut.

The M secured with Vilene The M cut to size The M in a coaster

Finally attach to a card and write the Dutch equivalent of Happy Birthday on it, and Instructions For Use. They translate as: 1) Remove coaster from card; 2) Place coaster on side table by favourite chair; 3) Place favourite drink on coaster; 4) Place self on favourite chair; 5) Enjoy drink and book.

The coaster card The coaster instructions

Seed stitch is relatively labour-intensive, especially in five colours (it takes a lot of organisation to make it look random…), but I think the effect is worth it.

Boxes!

Do you like Lolcats? Some of them can be rather silly, but many put a smile on my face (which is why I have a folder full of them on my computer which are shown on my desktop in random order). None of them are generally even remotely relevant to my stitching, but today I felt rather like this:

Box with boxes

And why? Because the lovely people at the Viking Loom sent me this:

A box full of boxes from Viking Loom

Looks tempting enough even when it’s all wrapped up, doesn’t it smiley? But then I got to take them all out of their plastic coats and see them in their full glory.

Satin display and jewellery boxes from Viking Loom

The theory is that this will help me clear out some of my stack of Ghost Projects by turning them into Useful Boxes To Put Things In. In practice, some of them are just crying out for those small goldwork designs I’ve been doodling and scribbling over the past few months…

The Ghost of Projects Past

In a room upstairs where few dare to enter (because it is the storage room and there is a real danger of being knocked out by boxes of Jiffy bags or spring shackles tumbling down from their precariously balanced stacks) there is a chest of drawers. Like all chests of drawers, it has a bottom drawer. Unlike most chests of drawers, its bottom drawer is haunted. It houses the Ghosts of Projects Past.

I love designing, but not everything I design gets stitched. Well, not immediately. There are designs which have been waiting for years to be tried out in fabric and thread. There is only so much stitching time, after all. They do get some attention, though, as they tend to get tweaked every now and again while waiting to be stitched.

I love stitching, but not everything I stitch gets finished. I don’t mean I stop before the last stitch (although that happens too, occasionally), I mean it doesn’t get Finished. Those of you who have followed FoF for a while will know that I am not one of nature’s Finishers. When the last stitch is in, the project gets photographed for my records and then stored. In, you’ve got it, the Haunted Bottom Drawer. A few of them get framed, a few get made into ornaments, one or two are mounted on boxes, but most of them languish forgotten, poor ghosts wailing accusingly at me whenever I open the drawer to put in a new companion.

So it is with awe and admiration that I open my monthly email from Sheryl, one of the stitchers participating in the Round In Circles SAL. Not only does she stitch the monthly design, but she immediately makes it into something beautiful and useful. So far there have been two ornaments, a tape measure cover, a purse, a needlebook and a rosary bag. Others have sent in Finishes, and very pretty they are too, but none so consistently as Sheryl, whom I hereby crown Queen of SAL Finishers!

Sheryl's finishes of the Round In Circles SAL, January to June

Now perhaps I should get one or two of those ghosts out…

Backgrounds, sizes, coasters and finishings

FoFs have been few and far between recently, mainly because of serious illness in the family, and for that same reason they will, for the time being, continue to happen very much as and when. On the positive side, one of those as and whens is now!

I’ve been doing some experimenting with the various kits and workshops I’m putting together, trying things out, making changes and generally getting them just the way I want them. And one of the things I’ve been looking at is finishing items.

I’ve finished the Christmas Wreath in two ways so far – as a card, and as a Christmas Tree ornament. The card is not a problem, I’ve done plenty of those, but the ornament posed a dilemma: laborious & proper, or quick & easy. The first involves working running stitch all around the excess fabric, stitching a little way away from the hoop, gathering the fabric by pulling the sewing thread tight and knotting it, and then attaching a piece of matching felt with tiny stitches using a curved needle. I did this a while ago to finish a piece of goldwork, and it does look very neat, while being quite sturdy and durable at the same time.

The goldwork bee framed in a flexi-hoop The felt-covered back of the framed bee

It is also a lot of work. Could this be simplified in any way? Yes, I found some pretty cardstock with a holly pattern, cut a circle out of that and glued it to the back of the hoop after gathering the fabric. It worked, although it took a little adjusting to make sure it wasn’t too bulky around the edges. Edges. Hmmm. Flexi-hoops hold fabric quite tightly. And the stitching won’t be taken out of the hoop once it’s an ornament. So why not cut the excess fabric right down to where it emerges from the hoop at the back until it’s level with the hoop, then seal the fabric edge with a line of glue and cover with the cardstock disc? This turned out to keep the fabric at the front perfectly taut while also presenting a neat enough posterior which will stand up to a certain amount of wear and tear (and let’s face it, a Christmas tree ornament is unlikely to get a lot of wear and tear, unless you have an exceedingly playful cat; if it’s the children you’re worried about, simply hang it where they can’t reach it). Definitely worth offering as an alternative!

Christmas tree ornament Backing the ornament with card

Another thing I’ve been looking at a bit more is the reduced coasters suitable for use in a workshop. I wanted to offer another border besides the alternating-V one (left-hand picture), so tried two further likely candidates in one coaster – two alternating lines of running stitch, and the block border (middle picture). The running stitch border didn’t appeal to me (though funnily enough it was my husband’s favourite) and I unpicked it, completing the border in block stitch (right-hand picture).

Workshop coaster with alternating-V border Two more borders to try Workshop coaster with block border

The final change in this, the really-absolutely-finally-final workshop coaster design, is the corner motif, which is now three separate little leaves instead of one 3/4 clover motif; it may not seem much of a change,but it saves 16 stitches in total!

The original corner motif The simpler corner motif

Next on the list was the Little Wildflower Garden, which I wanted to try in different sizes and on different backgrounds to see which would be best for the kit and workshop. The smaller the design is stitched, the denser it will look if the same number of strands are used in all versions (which is what I did). Personally I like small, and the first version I stitched and from which the design was subsequently drawn is the smallest one at 5cm wide. It was stitched on hand-dyed wool felt, and I love it dearly, but it’s not very suitable for a kit because the felt is to thick for a light box and won’t take a transfer pen. When I stitched the same size on a felt purse later on, I had to transfer the design to tissue paper and stitch through that. Also, because the stitching is very dense, many of the design lines get covered up while stitching, which could be confusing. So no felt, and not the smallest size. Pity.

Little Wildflower Garden, small size, on felt

I then tried a larger size (6.5cm wide) on Rowandean’s embroidery fabric; it’s white, looks as though it might be countable but isn’t, and is slightly fuzzy on one side as though lightly brushed. It’s a lovely fabric to work on and doesn’t need backing, which is a plus, but the daisies and especially the bee’s wings got rather lost on the white background.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on Rowandean cotton

The stitching on the large version, which I had also tried on blue quilting cotton earlier, looked quite open and airy – perhaps a bit too much so. I decided to try two more things: the large size on brushed blue cotton (as the slightly fluffy fabric might counteract the openness of the stitches) and a medium size (5.75cm wide) on blue quilting cotton. I worked and photographed them in the same hoop for ease of comparison, but I needn’t have bothered. It’s not that one looked immediately and unmistakenly better than the other, but that the brushed cotton suffered from the same problem as the felt: too thick for the lightbox to penetrate and project a clear traceable image, and too fluffy to hold the ink in thin, crisp lines. So although I do like the look of the brushed cotton (which I’d rather hoped would be a good compromise between ordinary cotton and my preferred but unusable felt) the kit will use the medium-sized design on quilting cotton.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on brushed cotton Little Wildflower Garden, medium size, on quilting cotton Little Wildflower Garden kit

Incidentally, I’ve discovered one reason why it’s called freestyle embroidery: because it never turns out the same twice. Here’s a collection of slim, chubby, long, short, narrow-striped, broad-striped bees to prove it smiley.

A variety of Wildflower Garden bees

Reducing coasters

Some years ago I found that if you’re a small-project girl like me, coasters are a really good way of displaying your work; they are useful, they keep the embroidery clean, and they make great gifts into the bargain. I found some made of good durable plastic with elegant rounded corners and a display area of about 8cm, and soon worked out that this made them just the right size for any of the Round Dozen designs worked on 25ct fabric.

Round the Year in coasters

Then I was asked to supply some stitched items to a sale in aid of Elijah Gambia, a charity set up by friends of ours, and coasters and bookmarks seemed the most saleable. Now I did have a simple and quick design for felt bookmarks, but not for coasters – and Round Dozen, however attractive, was a bit too labour-intensive for mass production. So I set about simplifying the Round Dozen idea, with a little less cutting and worked on 22ct Hardanger instead of 25ct Lugana, so that a smaller design would still fill the coasters satisfactorily. In the end I came up with 3 or 4 variations on a theme (if you do have to stitch something over and over again it’s as well to have some variation to keep it interesting), one of which made it into a kit.

Coasters with a simplified variation on the Round Dozen

As you may know I’ve been teaching workshops at the London Knitting & Stitching Show for several years now, and as I was stitching these coasters I wondered whether they would make a good workshop project. Well, what are the criteria for a good workshop project? It’s actually quite difficult to give an unequivocal answer to that, as they can vary from one tutor to the next, so the question is really “what are my criteria?”

Ideally I want my workshops to be accessible for beginners, without being boring for those with a little (or a lot) more experience, so the design has to be suitable for a group with mixed abilities. I’ve stitched these coasters with beginners and didn’t run into any problems, while the use of colour and the choice of filling stitch can add interest for the experienced stitcher. So far so good. Then I like the project to be made into something usable and/or displayable. A coaster ticks that box. And finally it’s a definite plus if the project can be finished, or almost finished, during the workshop. Ah.

By the time I’d stitched 50 or so of these coasters I was getting pretty quick at it, but even then each one took me more than two hours. Obviously some further reduction was needed to make them suitable for a 90-minute or even a 2-hour workshop. So I fired up my designing software and started playing around with the designs as used for the charity coasters. I wanted it to be suitable for 22ct Hardanger fabric; there are 18ct-fabrics which could be used, but that would need perle #3 for Kloster blocks and satin stitch. Not only did I want to keep the materials as standard as possible, I had my doubts whether a design worked in perle #3 would fit inside the coaster without being squashed out of shape, if it would fit at all.

On 22ct fabric I wouldn’t be able to reduce the overal size too much, or the design would look marooned in the middle of the coaster with a sea of empty fabric around it. I definitely wanted to keep the central Hardanger motif and the chain stitch diamond surrounding it, so what if I went for slightly smaller corner motifs and a border that sat level with the tips of the diamond instead of outside it? and if I made the border a sort of dotted line of cross stitches over one, that would be quite quick and easy.

That was as much as I could do on paper (or rather, on screen) – the time had come to try it out in fabric and thread. I took a print of my experimental design and material for two coasters with me to my stitching group and got stitching. As we meet for two hours, that would give me some idea of timing as well. Some idea, as there is also a certain amount of chatting going on, as well as looking at other people’s work and drinking tea and so it’s not 2 solid hours of stitching time. Also, as I was stitching the cross stitch border I found that I didn’t like the look of it, so I worked each corner in a different pattern, and then asked others what they thought of them. I ended up with 1) cross stitch over one thread, 2) alternating V shapes, 3) half cross stitch and 4) a smaller version of the satin stitch block border used in the original coasters.

Experimental coaster - cross stitch border Experimental coaster - alternating V border Experimental coaster - half cross stitch border Experimental coaster - block border

The cross stitch border looks a bit too solid and blocky to go well with the chain stitch diamond; the V border is very pretty but relatively labour-intensive, and would probably look better in a darker thread; the half cross stitches are too insubstantial; the block border has quite an interesting texture. It was between numbers 2 and 4, and in the end I plumped for the alternate V border because I liked the shape best, but I think I will chart the final workshop version with both borders so people can choose the one they prefer (I may even include a very simple running stitch border for those wanting to save even more time). Worked in a darker shade – this is Caron’s Tanzanite – the V border stands out well, and although there is more fabric around the design than in the earlier coasters, I do think it fills the coaster well enough.

Workshop coaster with V border

By the way, I always check coasters (the ones people use to mount their own projects) before sending them out to customers and remove any with blemishes. These can be used later for demonstration models. But this time there was one with a narrow black dappled sort of smudge which looked like paint but appeared to be inside the plastic. I didn’t think I’d be able to use that and was about to write it off as a loss when I realised the smudge was running roughly diagonally. I tried it with the experimental workshop coaster in dark blue and would you believe it, with a bit of manipulation the smudge was all but lost in the chain stitch line! (Could you spot it in the picture above?)

The blemish on the coaster is hardly visible

Hoop sizes, wreaths, and a lack of stitching

First of all a belated “Happy New Year” to you and yours! May it bring you all many good things, and may any challenges be pleasant ones.

Various family visits meant that we’ve been away from home more than we’ve been at home in 2016, but in the coming weeks I hope to make up for that with a prolonged period of domesticity – a period which will, with any luck, include rather more stitching than I’ve managed so far, which is two small Christmas wreaths. In fact, while several stitchers were sending in pictures of their completed January SAL projects (some as early as Friday 1st) I didn’t put in my first stitch of the new year until Saturday 9th.

For some reason I just couldn’t get myself to pick up any of my current projects. It doesn’t particularly worry me; most stitchers, I would guess, have periods in which stitching simply doesn’t happen. Perhaps life is particularly busy; perhaps the concentration needed for stitching is just not there because other matters clamour for attention. When the latter is the case I find that a few relaxing sessions organising threads and beads and ribbons (or “playing with stash”, as my husband calls it) work very therapeutically, as does a small, simple project that requires very little close attention.

Like the wreaths. Once you’ve got the foundation stitches in place, there’s no more counting; you start the raised chain stitch and keep going until you come to the beginning again; and all the beads are placed at random, in whichever way pleases the eye. Ideal.

I’ve already stitched this seasonal little design several times as it continues to develop. The original was in one shade of green, but you may have noticed that the one in my “Christmas card” was in two – light on the inside, darker on the outside. The greens I used were fairly bright, and the bow put together separately and sewn on.

Two-coloured wreath in bright greens

As I looked through my collection of aperture cards for one that would be a comfortable fit for a 4cm wreath, the idea struck me that it would make rather a nice Christmas tree ornament as well – it looked very jolly in its red flexi-hoop! the only problem was that the hoop, a 3″ one, was really a little too big. But I once got a smaller one in a job lot of hoops, which I assumed must be 2½”; it was light blue, so the effect would be rather different, but I decided to stitch another wreath in the smaller hoop to check it for size. Also a good opportunity to try out different greens, a pair of slightly more bluey, piney greens.

Two-coloured wreath in pine greens

The smaller hoop definitely looked better as a frame than the larger, so I started looking for places selling 2½” red flexi-hoops. There were fewer than I expected, but I found one and ordered a few to experiment with. Slightly to my surprise, they were more expensive than 3″ hoops, but still just about feasible for possible inclusion in kits.

The hoops arrived. I unpacked one. It was small. Very small. Smaller, surely, than my blue hoop. I measured it. 2½” exactly. What was the matter?

The matter was that assumption on my part. I had one 3″ hoop, and one hoop that was a bit smaller. Bear in mind that I didn’t grow up with inches, and that they still don’t come quite naturally to my mind. Centimetres I can visualise. Inches I have to think about carefully. I simply assumed that the size below 3″ would be 2½”.

A 3-inch hoop on the left, but what size is the other?

It wasn’t. It was 2¾.

3-inch, 2.75-inch and 2.5-inch hoop

So here I was, with five very small red hoops, and no idea whether you’d actually be able to wield a needle in something that size. Fortunately most of the stitching, apart from fastening off, is done at the front of the fabric, but the perle #3 used for the raised chain stitch needs a size 22 tapestry needle, which doesn’t come in the dainty category. There was only one thing for it – I’d have to stitch another wreath.

And it worked. A petite needle might be a tad more comfortable, but is not essential. I had used a scrap of left-over fabric that was just a little too small to finish off easily with the usual line of running stitch around the hoop to gather the fabric together at the back of the hoop, but for a kit I’d cut the fabric quite a bit larger anyway. In the end the wreath turned out to work in several different ways – in brighter or more muted green; with a tied bow or a pre-assembled one; in a card or as an ornament. Expect to see more of it!

Two wreaths mounted in aperture cards Two wreaths mounted in aperture cards