Mugs half full and awkward envelopes

Is there a word that means “doing something that needs doing, but not urgently, so that you have an excuse not to do something that is much more urgent”? I’m sure we’ve all done it in one way or another (I wonder how many houses/sheds/garages get a thorough clean when the income tax returns are due) and “procrastination” doesn’t quite fit the bill because you are in fact doing something useful.

Why this little linguistic aside? Because hurray! I’ve got all my kits ready for the Knitting & Stitching Show, but, well, they aren’t needed until the second week of October and I should really have been working on either the SAL or the RSN Certificate, and preferable both.

Kits for the K&S workshops in October

Still, they’re done and safely stored away, and there was actually a good reason for not leaving them to the last moment (or so I tell myself): two of the designs, No Place Like Home and The Mug That Cheers, have never been kitted up before, so there are generally little bumps in the process that need sorting out. Additionally, when kits are being made up for a workshop rather than for a straightforward sale, there are extra things to be done. If the design is a non-counted one, as these are, it needs to be transferred onto the fabric beforehand; K&S workshops are usually 90 minutes long, and you want the students to get stitching straight away – quite apart from the logistics problem of providing twelve light boxes for tracing!

The little house was by far the easier of the two to kit up; for one thing, it uses only one type of thread (Madeira Lana) and one needle, and transferring the design was the only extra thing that needed doing for the workshop version. The mug was quite another matter. At one point the entire dining table was covered in the various bits and pieces needed for it: organza ribbon, metallic ribbon, floral gems, sequins, beads, quilting cotton, Bondaweb, plain and variegated perles and plain and variegated stranded cottons were sitting in small and large piles, waiting to be put together.

And then there was another thing. The top and bottom of the mug are worked in appliqué; to do that, you first trace the parts onto Bondaweb, iron that onto the bits of coloured fabric, cut out the parts, remove the paper backing and sew the parts onto the ground fabric. This is fine if a) you have half a day or so and b) you have an iron. The latter could probably be arranged, but the process would eat heavily into the hour and a half we have available. The only workable solution was to iron and cut both the mug parts myself and pre-attach one of them. And because there were twelve kits to prepare, and because Bondaweb is double-sided, I decided to iron rather than sew on the bottom parts. And here they are (well, one of each colour):

Pre-attaching part of the mug

Afterwards I thought that actually this could be turned into a teaching moment – for although some people may enjoy the process of sewing on the appliqué parts with small invisible stitches, others may just want to get on with the decorative embroidery and the embellishments. This shows the students both options when doing this sort of stitching: hand-sew the entire thing, or iron on the coloured fabric for a quicker finish.

So far so good. The ground fabric for the workshop kits had to be cut rather larger than I would normally have done because the K&S people will provide 4″ hoops or 8″ hoops but not 6″ hoops, so I decided to transport the twelve fabric squares with their attached half mugs separately rather than having to do a lot of folding to fit them into the kit bags, but otherwise I could start putting everything together. Almost.

Here is one of the Mug kits. Like all my kits, except for the goldwork one (which comes in a sturdy cardboard box), it comes in a roughly A5-sized grip seal bag. This works because the chart packs are printed on A4 paper which, folded double, is A5. Folded instrcutions, fabric, threads, any other bits and bobs, needles, finishing materials – it all fits beautifully in my standard bags.

The appliqué Mug kit

Except for the envelope that goes with the card that is used to finish the appliqué mug. The card itself will fit, just. But the envelope won’t.

The contents of the kit, minus envelope

For the workshop that’s not a problem; I’ll just keep both the ground fabric and the envelopes separate from the kits, and hand them out at the start of the class. But what if I want to put the Mug kit on general sale? For that it’s over to you!

When buying a kit like this, would you prefer it to come in a slightly larger grip seal bag which would be a little, erm, baggy, but which would have all the parts of the kit in it? Or would you prefer a snug bag with the envelope sent separately (not separately as in two separate parcels, obviously, but outside the kit bag)? Your feedback, either in the comments or by email, would be really helpful to decide on the best way forward with the Mug.

A needle mystery

If you follow my Facebook page, you may have read that I had some trouble ordering needles for kits. The John James website would not recognise my password, would not let me reset it because my username didn’t exist, and would not let me re-register because my username did already exist. In the end I rang them and a kind lady took my order over the phone. Sorted!

JJ sell their needles in various quantities – the usual blister packs you find in the shops, envelopes of 25 (more economical) and bulk buys of 1000 (more economical still, but for now definitely overkill for my scale of kit production). I tend to go for the envelopes. My immediate reason for ordering was the fact that right in the middle of putting kits together I’d run out of the one size needed for pretty much every non-Hardanger kit I produce (#7), so I ordered plenty of those, plus a few envelopes of other sizes (#3 and #10) to make the most of the postage.

Today they arrived. General rejoicing! And then I noticed that one of the envelopes said “002”.

An order of needles

Fortunately the #3 needles had very much been a “padding” order; I would definitely be using them, but I didn’t need them for the present run of kits. Even so, I thought I’d better ring JJ about it. The phone was answered by the same lady who had taken my order. I said the needles had arrived, and thanked her for sending them out so promptly, and then mentioned that one of the packets was the wrong size. “The number 2s?” she asked. It turns out the writing on the order had got smudged before she could put it together, and she couldn’t read the last size. She couldn’t get me on the phone and as I’d said the order was urgent she’d decided to send it out with her closest guess, which unfortunately turned out to be the wrong one. She promised she’d send out a packet of 3s to replace them, and told me not to worry about sending the 2s back, but just to pass them on to someone else if I couldn’t use them.

Very good service, you’ll agree. But then I thought I might as well check how different size #2 was from #3; after all, if they were’t too much bigger they would probably work. I took out a needle and held it next to one of my #3. It looked exactly the same. I remembered there was a size guide on the JJ website, and that some sizes of needles were actually identical – perhaps this was the case for #2 and #3? But no, it wasn’t; #2 should be the same as #1, distinctly larger than #3 and #4.

Needle sizes

And yet they looked the same. Unless I borrowed my husband’s micrometer I couldn’t be sure of the needles’ diameters, but I could easily measure their lengths. They were both 45mm long. Somehow the packet of size #2 I was sent by mistake for a size #3, actually contained size #3 needles. Perhaps sometimes two wrongs do make a right! I rang JJ to tell them not to send me the replacement packet, turned the 2 into a 3 on the envelope and tucked it into my needle box with the other size #3 packets. I love a happy ending smiley.

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.

Changing suppliers

I don’t like change. This may sound odd coming from someone who changed country, job and marital status in one fell swoop some 14 years ago, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Even the knowledge that quite a lot of change in my life has been for the better, and that I am fully enjoying the new (but by now familiar) situation, does not make me embrace change as it happens. And recently I’ve been faced with three disconcerting changes in suppliers. But is there a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel(s)?

Well, let’s start with the first tunnel: Sew & So. Anyone in this country (and many abroad) who does needlework will at least have heard of Sew & So, even if they’ve never bought anything from them. They are the go-to place for all basic supplies and quite a few not-so-basic ones; just to illustrate this, they stock both a wide range of standard Zweigart fabrics and a good selection of hand-dyed and silk threads. So to see the following notice after I’d just put some things in my shopping basket the day before (you can still see them there, but I can’t access them any more) came as rather a shock:

Sew and So has closed

In a way it was a shock-in-stages – last year they completely changed their website, making it much less user-friendly, and although there were plenty of comments and suggestions from customers on their Facebook page none of these seemed to be taken any notice of. Last month they suddenly closed temporarily for a “change of ownership”, opening again a few days later, so all seemed well. Then, looking for the RSN’s online courses (which they offer in partnership with Sew & So) after a conversation with a lady in America, I found they were no longer listed. I should perhaps have twigged it might be something to do with the Sew & So side of things, but I didn’t. Not until that notice! On their website and Facebook page they say that they are “securing a new home for you”, but no-one seems sure what that means. Tunnel #1 is very dark indeed.

Now for the second tunnel. In quite a few of the kits I offer, the projects are finished by mounting them in aperture cards. The freestyle Wildflower Garden, the two Shisha designs, the raised Christmas Wreath, the embellished Butterfly Wreath, the goldwork Flowers & Bee, plus a couple of workshop projects that aren’t for sale on the website yet – all made into cards. I like that way of finishing because it is relatively quick and you end up with something you can use.

As I have neither a suitable die-cutter nor the time or inclination to produce the cards myself, I buy them in. And for the past few years I’ve been getting all my cards from Craft Creations, who had an enormous range as well as the option to buy as few or as many as you needed of any size, cut and colour. Ideal.

Aperture cards from Craft Creations Craft Creations' value range

And then I got an email announcing that Craft Creations had been taken over by a new owner. With slight trepidation I checked the website. There was hardly anything there.

At this point I rushed into the craft room to check my stock of aperture cards, and found to my relief that there was a fairly good selection in my stash to tide me over, if the tiding-over period wasn’t going to be too long. I contacted the company and a kind lady told me that she was fairly sure all the card types I was looking for would be back in stock in time, as they would be adding more and more of the previous range to the website again, but that it might take time because they were trying to source materials themselves. Fair enough, I would exercise patience and have another look in a few months’ time. I did. Most of the cards I needed are still not there; the one cut and size that is there, is available in limited colours; and only in packs of twelve. Clearly it was time for another email.

This time I was told that they were still sourcing materials, but that in any case they would no longer be selling individual cards. That in itself need not be an insurmountable problem; it merely means that I will have to limit the number of colours I use for the various kits. Some come in a limited range already – the Wildflower Garden in red, blue and cream, the Christmas Wreath in red and green, the No Place Like Home workshop in red, green and blue. I’ll have to have a good look at the thread colours I use in the other kits and pick the two or three card colours that will work with most thread combinations.

Another possibility is to source the cards elsewhere, but unfortunately I have not found any other company with the range that Craft Creations used to do. There is a company who cut cards to order; they don’t offer all the exact sizes and colours I’m using now, they are more expensive, and they too require a minimum order, in their case at least nine of every different size/cut/colour combination. Still, they may be a useful option to fall back on if Craft Creations doesn’t come up with the goods.

So yes, there is a little light at the end of Tunnel #2, but I hope it grows brighter quickly as I’m beginning to run out of some of the cards!

As for the third tunnel, you may remember the picture below – Pearsall’s crewel wool starter pack. I found out about their lovely Heathway Milano crewel wool while trying to find the silks I used to buy from them, only to be told that they no longer did them (see what I mean? change everywhere! even though in this case it had a positive spin). Carol was absolutely lovely and looked through several available starter packs for me to see which would best suit my requirements, and I have bought a fair few skeins of wool from her since.

Wool from Pearsall's starter pack

Unfortunately my crewel Rabbit & Carnations piece showed that there were lamentable gaps in my collection of Heathway Milano crewel wool, so when a bit of website maintenance (I’m nothing if not versatile) brought in a little extra cash, I was off to the Pearsall’s website with whoops of delight before you could say HTML. Mabel may be pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to stash, but if any of my non-needlework activities can lend a helping hand, I’m all for it!

Once on the website I was so engrossed in the delightful problem of deciding which colours to pick as definites and which as possibles that I initially missed a narrow red banner at the top; it bore the ominous message “Pearsalls Embroidery is closing down. Purchase of goods is disabled. Click here for more information.” Clicking as instructed brought up a message to the effect that the business was being taken over by Catkin Crown Textile Studio, with an email address.

Now I knew that Carol was thinking of selling the business, but I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. And I was worried whether Catkin Crown would carry on with the lovely wools. Time for yet another email.

And hurray, light! Steve & Hazel, who are Catkin Crown, turned out to be extremely helpful people. They assured me that although they will be adding all sorts of exciting products to the shop’s range of supplies, they are very keen on keeping the Heathway line going, and in fact it (and twill fabric) will be their core product range to begin with. They also said that although the new website was taking a bit longer than expected, if I could send them a list of the colours I wanted they’d see which ones they had in stock, and they’d be happy to do a special order for me.

So I did, and they did, and look:

A parcel from Catkin Crown Twill and Heathway Milano wool The new wools sorted by colour

Tunnel #3 is going to be just fine smiley.

Multi-functional trestles and felted jaws

Now that I’ve got my trestles-for-the-slate-frame, they turn out to be quite useful for other things as well!

We have a marquee which we use for our annual trade show, and which we occasionally lend to people. Last weekend our local churches used it for their stand at the village fête, but as we took it down after letting it dry out in our back garden the canvas got torn in two places. We can get mending patches to glue on, but they tend to work better if the tear is pre-mended by sewing it up. Guess who usually gets that job smiley.

Now the canvas part of the marquee is rather large and cumbersome, and not easy to manoeuvre around; I usually try to stretch the affected bit on some chair backs if I can. This time my husband tentatively suggested using the trestles. Tentatively, because as a man with plenty of tools himself (he owns vintage cars, after all) he knows people can get upset when you suggest putting a piece of equipment to non-standard use (think embroidery scissors for cutting a nail, or shiny new spanners for hitting a nail – different types of nail, of course). In this case, however, I felt it was a legitimate extension of the trestles’ proper function; we draped the canvas so that the tear was easily accessible, and yes, this round of mending was definitely a lot quicker than previous ones.

The canvas of a marquee stretched on the trestles Mending a marquee on the trestles

On to another bit of equipment: my trusty Lowery stand. It holds hoops and frames perfectly but the side clamp, like the rest of the Lowery, is made of sturdy metal, and I’m always slightly worried it will damage the hoop. Cue a doubled bit of felt folded around the edge of the hoop before inserting it into the clamp.

The felt I used in the Lowery clamp The felt folded around the edge of a hoop

This works perfectly well, but it can be a bit fiddly to keep the felt in place when feeding the hoop into the jaws (that sounds rather odd, but let me reassure you no hoops were hurt in this procedure), and when not in use the felt has to be kept somewhere; I usually keep it in the clamp, but then I undo the clamp forgetting it’s there and it falls out and gets pounced on by the cat or I step on it. There must be an easier, more permanent way of doing this, surely? Well, there is always sticky felt, or failing that ordinary felt and double-sided sticky tape. And why I didn’t think of that years ago is beyond me. But when the idea did come to me I wanted to try it out immediately, so with the works phone parked nearby on the floor in case of people wanting to place an order, I plonked myself down beside the Lowery with felt, sticky tape, and two types of scissors (see above remark about improper use of tools) and got to work.

Ready to put some more permanent felt on the jaws of the Lowery

And did it work? Yes it did. Not too much later I had two neatly felt-covered clamp jaws, and a quick trial run showed it to clamp a hoop beautifully; as protected as with the loose felt, but possibly even a little firmer and more secure than before because this felt can’t slip. Victory!

Felt attached to the top jaw Felt attached to the movable bottom jaw The felted clamp in action

Recycling a memory

After my mother died, a little over three years ago, I had to clear out the rented flat she had lived in since 1973 (with solid help from my aunt who lives in the same tower block), and decide what I was going to take back with me to England, and what would be sold or given to charity. Among the things I took were several duvet covers (Dutch duvet covers have tucking-in strips at the bottom, which I sorely miss on the ones I can buy here), one of which was a particular favourite of mine. The seam at the top was frayed but otherwise it was fine, so I mended it – by hand, as sewing machines and I don’t really get on – and we’ve used it ever since (not continually, I hasten to say).

A mended duvet cover

But last week I had to admit defeat. It’s not just seams coming apart, it’s the actual fabric that is perishing.

A duvet cover beyond repair

Is it stupid to cry over a duvet cover? Perhaps not if it’s the memories more than the cover itself. Even so, it’s no use crying over spilt duvet covers, as they say, and so I had to decide what to do with it. Consign it to the rag bag? Turn it into dusters? Or… recycle it as protective flaps for my slate frame instead of the tissue paper I was given when framing up?

A slate frame covered in tissue paper

The more I thought of it, the more it seemed like a spiffing idea. Bearing in mind the size of the actual design I’d be working on (rather than the size of the twill fabric mounted on the frame) I sketched a few ideas, took some measurements, and decided to go with two 35cm square flaps, and two 40cm square ones; with a double-folded seam (0.5cm, then 1cm) that meant I’d need two 38cm squares and two 43cm ones. Even staying well away from the perishing edges (shame I couldn’t re-use the seams) there should be plenty of fabric in a double duvet cover!

A sketch and the necessary measurements

Now I was all set to do this by hand (did I mention my less-than-cordial relationship with sewing machines?) – and then my mother-in-law came to stay. Although nowadays she prefers to sew by hand, she is a whiz with the sewing machine (many, many quilts bear witness to this) and so I enlisted her help. My husband got the old Singer down and installed it on the kitchen table, I cut the squares, my mother-in-law finger-pressed the first narrow seam, I ironed the full seams, she sewed them, I read bits of the sewing machine manual and re-wound bobbins and ironed the final squares. Teamwork!

Finger-pressed turn-under Pinning the hems Mother-in-law subdues the sewing machine Ready to iron

Behold, the finished squares. As it happened, the thread on the bobbin ran out halfway through and a little part of one hem was left unsewn, so there is a little bit of hand sewing in them after all smiley.

Square 1 Square 2 Square 3 Square 4 A bit of hand stitching

Here they in situ, attached to the webbing with safety pins, ready to do their protective job. At my next class I’ll ask how to attach the top and bottom flaps when the fabric is rolled up on the bars.

The side flaps folded over the twill All four flaps folded over the twill The flaps folded back to show the stitching area And the view that will distract me

And so bits of old duvet cover will aid me in my stitching while reminding me of both my mother and my mother-in-law – a great outcome, don’t you think?

My 10% trestles

Right, so I’ve got the slate frame, and all framed up too – now where do I put it? Thinking about it, that question could go in two different directions, so first I’ll briefly touch upon the one I didn’t intend.

Although that was not what I was driving at, the question could mean “where do I store it?”, and although the easy answer to that is “in my craft room”, that won’t really do. Do I just keep it in the big sturdy plastic wrapper I was given in my starter kit? And if so, how do I transport it? So the slightly more complicated answer turned out to be “in a bag”. Or more accurately, “in a very very big bag”. This one was made for me by Adele at Little Thimble Co based on measurements and requirements I gave her. In hindsight, an inch less all around would have sufficed, but at least the frame isn’t cramped in there!

The quilted bag for my slate frame The quilted bag for my slate frame

What I actually meant when I asked the question was “where do I put it when I’m using it?” As soon as I saw the slate frame in its full glory I realised there wasn’t a hope of using it with any of the stands I have, whether of the floor, seat or lap variety. It would have to be trestles. And after a brief play with the ones we use for our annual trade fair I decided to splash out, not on the £500+ RSN ones, but a more modestly priced pair of Ikea ones which set me back almost exactly a tenth of that. If I was going to do a lot of ecclesiastical embroidery I’d have called them my tithe trestles, but as Baptists don’t go in much for vestments and altar cloths I’ll have to stick with the more secular-sounding 10% trestles.

My husband is an engineer, so no sooner had the box arrived than he was on the floor, putting the first of the trestles together. Here he is with our inevitable assistant.

Mr Figworthy building one of the trestles, supervised by Lexi

When one trestle had been completed, I was entrusted with the pile of bits that would make up the second one.

One trestle down, one to go

So would the frame fit on the trestles? And more to the point, once the trestles were in the right position to support the frame, would I be able to fit my legs in between? A quick trial run demonstrated that as long as I didn’t indulge in manspreading (unlikely, you will agree) then yes, I would fit. We also found that with a modest one-hole tilt (one end of the trestle pegged one hole further up than the other end) there was no need for added stops on the lower ends of the trestles, as gravity and friction kept the slate frame from slipping. Even with a two-hole tilt it was reasonably secure, and I don’t think I’ll often use it at that angle.

Trying the trestles on for size

And here is the trestles-and-frame set-up in what will be its designated spot whenever I want to work on my Certificate piece. Isn’t it idyllic?

My Certificate stitching set-up

PS Don’t the trestle shelves look like the purrfect place for a pussycat to curl up and have a nap? So far Lexi has resisted the temptation.

Poland to the rescue!

Last month I wrote about the stitched models I’d been producing for the No Place Like Home workshop, and I mentioned that one of the shades of Lana I was using in them has been discontinued by Madeira. When Barnyarns told me this I went on a quest to find a shop that had one or two spools left. One spool will do me 200 kits, so no need to go overboard. Unfortunately it soon became clear that my only option in the UK was an eBay Buy It Now offer of five spools at a cost of about £21. Other shops who still showed the colour on their website usually wrote back immediately to say they didn’t actually have any left; one shop which, like Barnyarns, allowed the order to be processed, cancelled it after a few days and when I rang (as their email said it had been cancelled at my request) said that they’d never stocked the variegated Madeira Lana at all, so they were at a loss why it was shown on their website.

A post on the Mary Corbet Facebook group brought a fair few suggestions, but mostly from shops which I’d already found and rejected because they were in the US or Australia or New Zealand – with the postage that these countries charge for sending anything to the UK, let alone something as bulky as spools of threads, and considering that anything over £15 attracts VAT plus Royal Mail’s frankly criminal £8 handling fee, it would simply be too expensive.

So as we are, for the moment, still part of the EU, I looked for shops in Europe. I found three, all of which confirmed that they did have at least two spools of the variegated red in stock, and as they had all been equally helpful by email I went for the cheapest one, a Polish company called Haftix Pasmanteria. I put two spools of red in the shopping basket, and then added a few others to see if that would change the postage. It didn’t so I got a light green which Barnyarns didn’t have any more, plus the brown and sandy orange which are also used in the kits. Including postage they set me back only 35p more than the set of five reds would have been.

And here they are, less than a week after I ordered them – three cheers for Haftix Pasmanteria!

My Poland-to-the-rescue spools of Madeira Lana

A slate frame day

Last Wednesday was my second class for the RSN Certificate. And did I get to stitch? Well, that rather depends on your definition of “stitch”…

I stitched on my doodle cloth – I’d done some homework stitching trying out battlement couching and padded buttonhole for my snail’s shell to show to Angela, and while there I tried some fillings for a leaf. Not very successfully, as I still don’t know what I want to use, but at least I stitched!

Battlement couching A snail's shell Doodling a leaf

Then there was a lot of stitching that was sewing rather than embroidering when we got on to dressing the slate frame (after cutting the fabric exactly on the grain). Sewing the fabric to the webbing, sewing herringbone tape to the sides of the fabric, and (using a positively lethal bracing needle) “sewing” the herringbone tape to the side bars. My hands got an awful lot of exercise!

The slate frame parts and my on-the-grain fabric The fabric pinned to the webbing, ready for stitching Lacing the fabric to the frame with a bracing needle Some very very tight fabric

I’d been working as fast as I could while still being accurate (I’d even curtailed my lunch break to 45 minutes instead of an hour, and didn’t have an afternoon cup of tea – quite unheard of, as I tend to live on intravenous tea) but by the time the fabric was taut on the frame there was no way I was going to get the design on. However, I did manage to get my tracing (or rather my cleaned-up version printed on tracing paper) pricked so that next time I can get started on transferring the drawing by pouncing (not an inappropriate term with that cat in the design) and then connecting the dots with paint (trying to keep the lines as fine as possible).

The printed tracing The design ready-pricked

In between getting the fabric on the frame I managed to discuss some of my questions with Angela, and have a look at the colour plans I’d done (two on the computer, one in pencil). Over the next month I’ll have to consolidate these into one which I’m sticking with, and I also need to work out a detailed stitch plan. There are some stitch ideas and indications in these colour plans, but not nearly precise enough.

Three colour plans with stitch indications

Several stitch ideas will have to be tried out first on a doodle cloth; the one I started with is not very big and will soon be full, but my fabric drawers yielded a larger piece of twill (you can doodle on calico or any other material, but I like the idea of seeing how it works on the right fabric with the actual threads I’ll be using) which I got some years ago and managed to scorch slightly when ironing it *oops*. This makes it unfit for a proper project, but perfect for a doodle cloth! So this one will probably see my attempts at curved burden stitch for the cat’s body, detached backstitch for the snail’s shell, various shapes filled with satin stitch, and block shading. I don’t particularly like the look of block shading but it’s one of the obligatory elements; I’ve been trying it out on the crewel rabbit & carnations project, which is proving to be quite a good practice piece for this course.

A larger doodle cloth Starting on block shading

So one month and two contact days into the Certificate, what have I got? I’ve got my fabric mounted on the slate frame, a pricked-but-not-pounced design, several colour plans and half a notebook full of questions, sketches and stitch ideas. It doesn’t sound much, does it? But it’s a start, and next time I am definitely going to get stitching on the real thing!

Colourful post

Well, not as colourful as some of the post I receive (like my Silk Mill silks), but quite exciting nonetheless – yes, the Appletons crewel wools for my Certificate piece have arrived!

The Appleton crewel wools needed for my Certificate piece

Although Angela, the tutor, had said that one skein of each colour would probably be enough, after some consideration I decided to go for the half-hank option offered by Cleopatra’s Needle; after all, I intend to do a lot of trial stitching, not only to determine which stitches work best where but also to see what different colour combinations look like in the various elements of the design, so being able to use the same wools I’ll be using for the final piece is obviously a good idea.

Incidentally, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that there are three shades of orange in the collection, rather than the two that I’m allowed as my accent colours. This is because Angela was concerned that the two shades I chose initially might be too similar – but the alternative shade is rather darker and also a bit brighter than what I had in mind. On the other hand, I will need some contrast between the two; otherwise they may not create distinctive stripes on the ginger cat.

Talking of which… I’m not sure Lexi likes the idea of being turned into a ginger cat. Having studied the threads she was giving me a look that definitely translated into something like “you’d better use some of those darker browns to represent me, it’s not ideal but at least it’s closer than orange!

Lexi inspects the colours and gives her opinion

I had originally intended to order skeins rather than half hanks of the three oranges; after all, they are my accent colours only, so I’m unlikely to need as much of them as of the others, even with trial stitching. Also, once I’ve decided which of the two darker shades I’ll use, the other one is automatically superfluous. Unfortunately, however, they don’t sell single skeins, and buying those three somewhere else would mean paying a second lot of postage. Anyway, whichever two I choose and however much I have left even of those two, I’m sure I’ll think of something to do with all the surplus orange. I’m Dutch, after all smiley.

So now it’s time to hoop up the doodle cloth, and get trialling!

Doodle cloth at the ready!

Is this a bad time to start thinking about a purple-and-green colour scheme…?