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

Stitching while…

Do you “stitch while”? Stitch while waiting at the airport or the dentist, stitch while on holiday, stitch while manning a stand or shop when there aren’t that many customers – it’s remarkable how much stitching you can get done while doing other, relatively inactive things. Last week there was a Craft Fair at our church in aid of the building fund, and one of the stands there was mine. One half of the stand was covered in completed projects to demonstrate what you can do with needlework (Bible cover, lap tray, box tops, framed, ornament, cushion, etc.) while at the same time showing some of the designs available from the website, and the other half had items for sale, such as chart packs, kits, cards, bookmarks, coasters and shopping bags.

Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Sale part Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Show part

The Fair attracted a good number of visitors, but around lunch time the attractions of home-made soups, artisan bread and home-made cakes served in the rear hall proved to be a greater lure than the range of unique Christmas presents available in the front hall, and so there was time to do some stitching. In fact I’d been stitching off and on the whole morning, as it makes a nice talking point and offers an opportunity to demonstrate squissors or show a design in action.

Now some time ago I bought some felt “luggage labels” to make into bookmarks, and I got a little felt purse at the same time to experiment with, but I never could decide what to do with it. I’d been thinking of using tissue paper to stitch on felt, and the purse being black I thought it would look rather good with the Little Wildflower Garden on it. It was also a small enough project to do while keeping an eye of the stand – perfect! What I hadn’t considered was that it wasn’t just small, it was also very fiddly; stitching through tissue paper, and trying to manoeuvre needle and fingers inside the purse. Even with the shortest needle I could find fastening off was quite a challenge! But it worked, and here it is:

Little Wildflower Garden stitched on a black felt purse

A couple of days after the Fair I travelled to Holland to visit my mother for a few days, and as she sleeps a good deal because of her illness I knew I’d have a fair amount of time on my hands. Some of that would be taken up with doing the shopping and the washing up and so on, but there would be plenty of time left, and I’d been thinking of a suitable project to take with me, bearing in mind that I travel with hand luggage only so that the Millennium frame plus lap stand were out of the question. It needed to be something small and portable. At the Fair I’d quickly sold out of coasters, and two people had asked whether I could make some more to order in time for Christmas – just the thing to work on both at my mother’s and at the airport! The only problem was that although I bought some embroidery scissors last time I was in Holland, I didn’t have any squissors there, and I didn’t want to risk trying to take a pair through airport security. But then I remembered a fairly plain pair that I was sent as a sample some years ago; its action isn’t as smooth as the titanium-coated ones, but it is serviceable, and more importantly if it were confiscated at the airport I wouldn’t mind very much. Well, it wasn’t, so it now stays at my mother’s for future use, and I was able stitch (and more importantly, cut) my Hardanger projects. I returned last Thursday night with six of them complete and ready to be made into coasters, in time to deliver them at church tomorrow. Another brick for the new building smiley.

Six small Hardanger projects ready to be turned into coasters Six coasters ready to become Christmas presents

The Day of the Trivets

When I ordered the, alas, unsuccessful Stitchmaster seat stand I tried to make the most of the postage by ordering a few other things as well (well, that’s my excuse). Just the usual stuff, you know, a few skeins of soft cotton for the Shisha Clover, a couple of trivets. Trivets? Yes. I’d been sent the Sew & So catalogue and saw them there, looking rather like oversized coasters. As I’m always looking for ways to finish or display projects, I decided to get two to see whether I liked them. Here they are, with three possible projects to fill them: Flora, the green Wedgwood, and Tudor.

Two trivets, and some possible 'fillings'

The trivets are made of quite solid plastic, and each comes with an insert to wrap the stitching around and an adhesive backing which is white on the adhesive side, cork on the other. Having wrapped all three designs around the smaller card and pushed them into a trivet it soon became obvious that Tudor was just a little too big – no breathing space. Both the others worked well, but there was one small problem: the white of the adhesive backing shows through the plastic rim of the trivet, and although it looked just about OK with the coloured fabric of Wedgwood, it didn’t do anything to show off Flora. The solution turned out to be some adhesive black felt which I stuck to the back before attaching the cork backing. A bit fiddly, but I’m happy with the result. Not sure whether I’ll actually put my hot pans on them, though…

Cork backing on the trivet Flora and Wedgwood mounted in the trivets

One finished bag

After all that hemming I still haven’t got much to show for it. Last weekend I got myself settled at the kitchen table with the hemmed projects, bags, ruler, sharp needle, perle cottons, a Poirot audio book and lots of good intentions, and several hours later I had 1 finished bag, 4 projects each assigned to a suitably coloured bag, 1 bag for which it turns out I didn’t have a suitable project, and 4 projects for which I did not yet have suitable bags. I also had a confirmation email from Clever Baggers about an order for more bags, including some chocolate brown ones which they are apparently discontinuing but which would be perfect for Moss Agate, Reindeer Moss and the Coral Cross.

So not a particularly productive afternoon, but then there is no great hurry to get these bags finished, so I can do them at a rate of one a weekend if I like. The only one that did have a deadline of sorts was the one I got finished – a large canvas bag now decorated with Spring Romance, and to be used on my October visit to the London Knitting & Stitching Show. This should be just about big enough to hold two workshops’ worth of kits and squissors as well as my overnight stuff! (It’s a good thing I’m happy to travel light…)

Spring Romance canvas bag

And even more hemming…

Do you have special travel projects? Something small and not too complex, with few ingredients, perhaps? I do, although the latter criterion isn’t always strictly adhered to – last time I visited my mother I took a selection of Shisha minis, with all the beads, sequins and mirrors that entails. Great fun, but not exactly ideal airport stitching.

And talking of airports: there is an additional difficulty when choosing my on-the-go project as I travel with hand luggage only at the moment, so scissors are a no-no. It says at the luggage check that “scissors with blades over 6cm” are prohibited, implying that anything smaller is OK, but I have found the security people to be erratic in these things and I am not risking my favourite squissors or my small, very sharp, very pointy embroidery scissors on their benevolence. So I take this little gadget:

A safe little gadget for cutting threads

And very useful it is, too, for snipping threads, but obviously Hardanger is out of the question. As is hemming. And this time I had decided to take hemming. Lots of hemming, and nothing but hemming.

Six hemming projects

The plan being that I would finally finish this dull but useful work if I had no other projects to distract me. And it wasn’t until the airport that I realised I rely on my very sharp, very pointy embroidery scissors to cut the fabric very close to the hemming, something which is done every time one side is finished. My mother has a pair of serviceable dressmaking shears but they would hardly do for this, so I could see myself returning home with a stack of projects all with one side hemmed, and three-quarters of the work still to do.

Then I had a brainwave. I could buy a pair of sharp, pointy scissors in the Netherlands, use them, and leave them there for next time! I found a useful pair in the local sewing machine/quilting shop and set to.

First up was Cross My Heart, which I worked in blanket stitch. It is a very useful and relatively quick finishing stitch, but it has one drawback – any individual stitch isn’t very secure until the next one has been worked. If you let the tension on the thread relax after finishing a stitch, it Doesn’t Stay Put. This is annoying.

The normal way of working blanket stitch The finished stitch isn't very stable

Now I remembered that there is a blanket/buttonhole stitch variation which is secure the moment you finish the stitch, but I couldn’t remember how it was done, nor what it was called in Dutch, so the local library wouldn’t be any help. Thinking I might go and google the stitch in English at my aunt & uncle’s (my mother doesn’t do computers, let alone internet), I found my mind equally blank in that language. Something like tailored or tailor’s buttonhole, and something with a knot of sorts… I decided to experiment a bit on a scrap of fabric just cut off Cross My Heart, and found that if you take the needle through the blanket stitch loop from the front instead of from the back, the extra little loop formed around the thread keeps it firmly in place once you’ve pulled through and given it a bit of a tug.

The reverse way of working blanket stitch The finished stitch Stays Put

I’m not sure whether this is, in fact, the official way of doing knotted or tailor’s buttonhole/blanket stitch, but it works and it’s pretty much as quick as the ordinary blanket stitch, so I’m happy smiley. BonBon got the looped blanket stitchtreatment, as did Dying Embers and Vienna. I was on a roll!

But I still hadn’t started on the one that I really want to get done. Spring Romance is intended for my big canvas Going-To-London-For-The-Knitting-And-Stitching-Show bag. The problem was that, much though I liked the looped blanket stitch (LBS from now on), I still wasn’t absolutely sure whether to use that or the other finishing stitch I’d been considering, the hemstitch/nun stitch variation. Moss Agate was the only other unfinished piece left so I thought I’d try that in hem/nun stitch to see whether it worked as nicely as the LBS.

It didn’t. I know I liked it originally and I still like the look of it, but what at first seemed an advantage (that the attaching stitches would sit very near the edge) on second thoughts struck me as unwise – a little further in feels much more secure – and although it is a lot faster that four-sided edging (most things are…) it is quite a bit slower and more fiddly than LBS. So I unpicked the few inches of hemming I’d done and finished Moss Agate as I had finished the other four. And when I finally got round to Spring Romance, that got finished in the same way. Not a lot of variation, but then is anyone going to buy several bags and then complain that they all use the same finishing stitch? And using the same stitch for each piece certainly helped to get a rhythm going and speed up the process.

So here they are, 10 recently finished projects plus one I had lying around, some waiting to be put on bags and some waiting for more bags to be put on. I’d better put in another order at the bag shop!

Eleven hemmed projects

PS don’t tell anyone, but I had to do some creative counting on Spring Romance – a slight miscalculation at the start which I didn’t notice until I’d already cut one side of the fabric. But if you don’t mention it and I don’t mention it, I’m sure no-one will ever notice…

More hemming

I’m still patiently (well, reasonably patiently; for me) hemming old projects preparatory to them being attached to shopping bags. My aim was to find a method that looks good, and is both secure and quick to work. Four-sided edging scores well on two out of three – quick it is not. Also, with most of its stitches being double, and the backstitch used to attach it to the bag doubling the single bottom line, it is a bit bulky. Better keep this for bookmarks and other items that are frequently handled.

Four-sided edging, front Four-sided edging, back

Blanket stitch looks a little less “finished” but is a lot quicker to work, and the attaching backstitch will fill in the gaps at the bottom to make it look like a less bulky four-sided stitch. This is definitely one to keep on the list.

Blanket stitch, front Blanket stitch, back

The next one was a bit of an experiment – cross stitch through both layers of the folded edge, but slightly away from the edge. By working this in two rounds the back gets a cross stitch pattern too, although of course this will be invisible once the fabric is attached to the shopping bag. This one will probably be attached with running stitch in the gaps between the crosses, worked in the middle of the line. it’s a bit difficult to explain in words, but it should look a bit like this: x-x-x-x-x-x

Cross stitch edging, first round, front Cross stitch edging, first round, back Cross stitch edging, second round, front Cross stitch edging, second round, back

Finally I tried combination of surface hem stitch and nun stitch. It’s not quite hemstitch, as the “teeth” are pointing outwards and it’s worked away from the edge, and it’s not quite nun stitch, as all the lines are single, not double, but it works, and will be attached by means of backstitch along the open top of the stitches. This means the attaching stitches are closer to the edge than in any of the other methods, so there will be less of a rim to catch on things. The third picture shows a change of direction only noticeable on the back – this stitch can be worked in two different ways, and the one I started out with made turning the corners very difficult if not impossible, so I changed horses mid-stream. It made the corners nice and secure, and will be invisible once the patch has been attached to the bag.

Surface hem stitch edging, front Surface hem stitch edging, back Surface hem stitch edging, back

The cross stitch version was quite fiddly to work so I don’t think I’ll use that one again; the hem/nun stitch is a bit more fiddly than the blanket stitch, but I like the look of the folded edge and the fact that it can be quite securely attached. Probably, then, future hemming projects for bags will use blanket stitch or hem/nun stitch as the fancy takes me. And with a bit of luck I’ll soon have some pictures of finished bags to show you!

Starting some finishing

Remember those shopping bags I bought a while ago? I have now picked out some projects from my completed project folders with which to embellish them, among them Wedgwood (the blue version), Coral Cross, Windmills, Horizon and Spring Romance. But before I attach them to the bags, they need to be hemmed.

Well, I suppose strictly speaking they don’t. I could just attach them straight to the bag with nun’s stitch or something similar, and then fray up to the edges. But there are a few drawbacks to that, although I will readily admit that most of them are to do with my personal preferences. For one thing, I dislike stitching on bags because it’s awkward working with one hand inside the bag, and pre-hemming means the attaching can be done with fewer stitches. For another thing, I don’t really like a frayed finish on a bag. Don’t ask me why – it’s not about things catching when the bag is in use, because you can just as easily catch the edge of a hemmed piece once it’s attached to the bag, especially when it’s attached in the way I generally use. Nor is it about securing the fabric edge; a frayed edge may be a little more likely to start fraying more, but really, if it’s attached with some solid stitching it should be fine. No, it’s just the look of the thing. It’s just me.

Hemming it is then, and I use the word in its very broadest sense to mean anything that will neaten the edge of the fabric and secure it. One of my favourite methods of hemming something that will be handled a lot, like bookmarks, is four-sided edging. Unfortunately I haven’t yet found a book that actually describes how you turn a corner with this type of edging, so I rather had to work this out for myself, but now I’m so familiar with this method of finishing that I can do it almost automatically. And the finish is secure. I mean really secure. Pull it about as much as you will, it’ll stay put. Besides that, it looks attractive, and you can trim the back very close indeed.

Working on four-sided edging for Wedgwood Mini kit bookmark

On the other hand, it is extremely labour intensive – and that’s in spite of cheating by starting out with a single line of backstitch rather than a double line. Even then, it takes a long time, however much you get a rhythm going. Also, for something that is going to be secured to a bag by yet another line of stitching, and which is not going to be handled a lot (the bag will, but the stitching itself won’t be that much), it’s overkill. So the blue Wedgwood will be the only one of this lot to be finished using four-sided edging.

What other methods are there? Well, there is buttonhole stitch. I could buttonhole all around the stitching, then cut very close to the buttonholing. Again a good secure finish, and quite attractive (see the Windows on the World bookmarks below), but like four-sided edging it takes a lot of time. And you can charge only so much for the finished bag. So the quest is on for quicker methods which are still secure enough to ensure a usable bag.

Buttonhole edging on Windows of the World bookmarks

So far I’ve decided on three methods, one of which I’ve used before (on a bag with two versions of Delft on it), and two of which are experimental. The first one, shown below, is a relatively widely spaced (4 fabric threads) blanket stitch all around, attaching the patch to the bag by backstitch along the bottom edge of the blanket stitching, which creates a look a little like four-sided edging (though without the scalloped looking edge). The two experiments involve folding over the edge of the fabric and working stitches along the edge through both layers of fabric, but a little way away (only one or two fabric threads) from the fold. This should create a slightly “puffed” edge, especially if I don’t iron or finger-press the fold first. I’ll probably use cross stitch on one, and surface hem stitch on the other, although herringbone stitch may work as well. The biggest problem is going to be turning the corners, which I’ll have to work out from scratch. I’ll let you know how I get on!

Blanket stitch edging on Delft