Playing with material combinations

In my previous post I mentioned that somehow some particularly nice fabrics seem to have found their way into my stash, fabrics just right for appliqué projects. Sound recognisable? I blame the internet myself, but then as that also indirectly found me a particularly nice husband I’m not likely to complain too vociferously smiley.

The fabrics in question are five shades of Makower Spraytime, and they were a bit of a gamble. They would have to work with the various Anchor Multicolor perles I already have, and it is notoriously difficult to judge colours on a computer screen. But I found a shop that offered them at a good price with very reasonable postage, decided that even if they weren’t quite the right shade to use with the Multicolors there was bound to be some other perle in my stash that would match them, and before I knew it Pink P42, Apple Green G46, Orange N56, Mid Blue B15 and Mauve L45 were on their way to me. And hip hip hurray, they do work with the Anchor threads!

Appliqué fabrics and possible Anchor threads

But the threads are just the first colour-coordinated hurdle. When the appliqué embroidery has been completed, it is to be finished as a card. Do the cards I generally use come in colours that will suit the fabrics (and the threads, not to mention the gems)? I decided to concentrate on the fabric as providing the biggest area of colour, and got aperture cards in several likely shades from my stash. These were not necessarily the right cards aperture-wise, but they would do to see which card colours would go with which fabric. As it turned out there were suitable colours for most of them in my collection, the only slightly awkward one being the orange fabric. Brown and yellow cards will work, and possibly (when embroidered with the green/yellow/orange Anchor perle) dark green, though none are ideal; unfortunately I don’t think Craft Creations (my go to place for aperture cards) have anything more suitable available – they did a nice rich orangey yellow years ago but for some reason that got dropped from their range. Oh well, one or more of the others will have to do.

Appliqué fabrics and possible card colours

So now that I’ve got the various colour combinations worked out, all that remains to be done is to stitch several of them to iron out the inevitable hiccups (mixed metaphor, I know), photograph everything, write the instructions and turn them into a kit, and that’s another workshop sorted!

Alternative use for a sandwich box

Some time ago I bought some large storage boxes with clip fastenings; they are square and flattish and hold the finished projects that I haven’t quite got round to “finishing” – you know, as cushions or bags or box lids or framed pictures or baby blankets or whatever. I also got a rectangular box with compartments, rather deeper than my usual boxes, for my goldwork materials. That too has a clip fastening. They’re nice and secure, which is not so important in the case of the finished pieces of stitching, but essential when they are filled with beads or spangles or bits of gold wire. One drawback is that they are not the cheapest storage options around.

So when I needed a small project box for my Jacobean goldwork flower, and I found that my usual project boxes wouldn’t do because the compartments were too shallow for the envelopes holding the gold threads and wires, I was delighted to find that the smallest of a set of three clip boxes we’d bought for sandwiches and the like was actually just the right size for a smallish goldwork project!

But what about my Tree of Life? It will use some goldwork materials and, in one version, crewel wool. Which is not wound on bobbins and like the goldwork bits and bobs won’t fit into a standard project box. Could I perhaps find a slightly larger sandwich box? I could and I did, and it was even more useful than I had imagined because some genius had decided to fit it with two small compartments along one side, presumably for some cherry tomatoes or a small tub of salad dressing.

A supermarket sandwich box

I wonder if the designer ever envisaged his lunch box looking like this?

A sandwich box with crewel wools and gold

Goldwork hide-and-seek and picking threads

I keep most of my goldwork materials in small glassine envelopes – little greaseproof paper bags which are translucent so you get an inkling of what’s inside (and how pretty it looks). The envelopes are in turn kept in a storage box, where they are stacked in shallow rows: a stack of different pearl purls, a stack of spangles, a stack of milliary wires and so on.

Goldwork threads in their glassine envelopes

It works very well, and I can lay my hands on whatever I want with ease. Generally. Recently, however, I could not find an envelope of gold Elizabethan twist, and one of silver smooth passing. I knew I had them (I keep a record of all my stash), I could visualise them, but although I went through every compartment of the storage box half a dozen times, they would not turn up.

This puzzled me especially because I remembered quite clearly that the Elizabethan twist was a relatively large roll of metallic thread which had only just fitted inside the envelope. Surely that couldn’t hide anywhere so successfully? The solution to the mystery turned out to be twofold: a) bad memory – my stock of Elizabethan twist wasn’t nearly as big as I though, it was the gold smooth passing (which was not missing) that rather stretched its envelope, and b) an annoying tendency for glassine envelopes to form close bonds with each other, especially when not very full. The gold twist and the silver passing were both where they were meant to be, just hiding inside the flaps of their neighbours…

How glassine envelopes hide

So now that I had all threads and wires present and correct I could finally do what I had actually got the storage box out for: choosing the golds for the silk version of the Tree of Life. These will be used for the bird sitting on one of the leaves, for a small detail in the top leaf, and for or nué (a type of couching) on the final leaf. After some consideration I’ve chosen smooth passing, pearl purl and wire check, as well as some gold kid which isn’t shown here. I’m looking forward to showing you my golden bird and leaves!

Gold threads for the Tree of Life

Baubling with ideas

Experimenting is great – if a project is an experiment, it means that it doesn’t matter if anything goes wrong smiley. My second embroidered appliqué piece, a turquoise bauble, uses rather more stitches and materials than the original, unadorned tree, and so there was much more to go wrong: couching some silver ribbon, for example, or the placement of the floral gems and sequins in the unappliquéd central band. In the end what went wrong was much more basic – the attaching stitches. If you look closely, you can see them peeping from under the covering heavy chain stitch.

Appliqué bauble Up close the attaching stitches are visible

There are two ways of solving that problem, or perhaps even three. The easiest is to work the attaching stitches in the colour of the patterned fabric, so that even if they protrude they won’t be so noticeable. Another option is to make the attaching stitches smaller; that would probably be more difficult, as they’d have to be placed very carefully to attach the fabric without fraying the edge – in the worst case you end up with small stitches on the ground fabric, and the patterned fabric fraying itself loose. One of the things I like about these projects is that they are relatively informal, and not needing too much concentration. I want to be able to attach the top fabric without having to think about every stitch. The final option is to make the covering embroidery stitch wider. On the tree I used chunky raised chain, here I used slightly less chunky heavy chain, and I worked it in perle #8 rather than #5. Fortunately Anchor’s lovely variegated perles come in both weights, so all I have to do is stitch another bauble using perle #5!

I do like the effect of the band embellished with gems & sequins and bordered by couched metallic ribbon, so I will keep that in the design. Some of the ladies at my stitching group suggested this technique would make an excellent Christmas workshop, and although I wasn’t actually planning any, I can see their point. It would definitely be the bauble – the corners on the tree are a bit tricky, and there is more scope for embellishment on the bauble because of the empty band. It also uses an extra technique, couching. And I happen to have lots of floral gems in lots of pretty colours!

In fact, this was the perfect excuse to play with stash and look at the various colour combinations I could use for the baubles. With apologies for the sometimes inaccurate colours (shiny bits are apparently difficult for a camera to get right) here is my collection of Anchor Multicolor perle #5 with the eight different floral gem colours I’ve got (not including the clear one).

Anchor Multicolor perles with floral gems

Not all of the perle shades are usable with the gems, but even so they yield a pretty good range of combinations – ten to be precise, including the perle I used for the bauble (although I paired it with the light blue gems only, not the yellow).

perle and gem combinations

Now all I need is nine more matching fabrics…

Leafy experiments

No, not “Leaves”, which is still in my designs-in-progress folder, but the Tree of Life. I haven’t quite decided yet on the stitches to use for two of the leaves, as I can’t really visualise the ones I’ve picked as possibles. Added to that, I’d like to stitch the tree in both wool and silk, but I’m not sure I want to do the whole trunk twice as well (that’s the labour-intensive part). So I’ll work all the leaves separately as mini projects in their own right, in wool, working some of them in two different stitches to compare the effect in real life. Then when I’ve made a final decision on the stitches to use I’ll work the whole tree in silk.

Leaves Tree of Life

I’ve been doing a bit of stitch doodling in preparation. The two leaves which are still undecided are down provisionally as closed fly stitch and laid lattice work. I think the laid lattice will work quite well, so there’s not really a pressing need for an alternative there, except that I’ve been wanting to try detached buttonhole as a filling for some time. Some investigation was called for. After carefully studying several stitch books and watching a number of videos showing the stitch in action, I don’t think it’s the right one, but in one of the books I came across a related stitch called Ceylon stitch which looks promising! That’ll be my next doodle.

The fly stitch leaf is the one I’m really not sure about. Although it should do a good job representing the leaf veins, and it’s nice and easy to work it in graded colours, I’m afraid it might be a bit dull. Almost from the start Cretan stitch has been down on my list as an alternative, so here it is on my doodle cloth. It looks rather like fishbones! But then fishbones and leaf veins do look quite similar (if you half close your eyes and squint a bit). A later addition to the alternative list was burden stitch. I doodled this both straight (which would fill the leaf from top to bottom without trying to imitate the vein pattern) and angled. I like the stitch, but I don’t think I’ll use it for this particular project. It’s been filed away for future reference, with a mental note to self that in order to look good, it has to be stitched rather more neatly than my doodles smiley.

Cretan stitch Burden stitch

I’ve picked two sets of Pearsall’s Heathway Merino crewel wool for the tree, one for each of the colourways I had in mind, but as I will definitely do the silk version in blue/green/purple I’ll probably stick with the autumnal palette for the wool experiments.

Blue/green/purple Heathway wools for the Tree of Life Autumnal Heathway wools for the Tree of Life

Change in progress (II) – beads

In the first part of Change In Progress showed you some changes that had been made to the three wooden pendant designs as I was stitching them; added stitches, added shading, changes in colour. But sometimes changes in a design are more in the nature of an extra, alternative design. The Old & New pair was designed to be stitched in double cross stitch using Petite Treasure Braid, but having stitched both designs I thought it might be fun to try the smaller of the two in beads as well. This was partly because some years ago I saw 18th-century bead work in an exhibition and I was blown away by how vibrant it looked compared to silk embroideries of the same period, which had faded to the beigey shades we’ve become used to in old embroidery. Well, it definitely worked smiley – the colours absolutely popped!

Old & New 1 worked in beads

If the Christmassy one on black worked so well, would the one on opalescent fabric work equally well? I simply had to find out. However, whereas finding suitable red, gold and green beads had been quite easy, finding usable silver, blue and purple beads turned out to be much harder! For one things there don’t seem to be quite so many shades of purple Mill Hill beads; a fair few lilac ones, and several bluey-purples and reddish-purples but not many “pure” purples. Then I wanted the beads to be shiny, not matt; and of course the blue and purple (and the silver) needed to go together. And silver! Mill Hill’s silver beads, though shiny, are actually rather dark and grey.

Perhaps some sort of white was the answer? I picked a shiny blue and a shimmery lilac, both rather lighter than I had originally envisaged, and combined them with an opalescent white. They looked good together! But white isn’t silver, and I did want to try and stay as close to the original as I could. What silver beads did I have? Well, there was Mill Hill silver, which as I said before is more gun metal than precious metal; some very silvery beads which unfortunately are unbranded, and therefore not suitable for a published design which needs “repeatable” materials; and Mill Hill’s Frosted Ice, somewhere between white and silver, a little subdued in its lustre but a definite possibility.

Blue, lilac and shimmery white beads for Old & New 2 Various silver beads

To make the final decision I compared the opalescent white and the frosted silver on the sparkly fabric I would be using, and although both worked quite well, I decided to go for the latter to keep that touch of silver in the design.

Opalescent white versus frosted silver

And here it is! Now all I need to do is write up the chart pack, and Old & New should be available on the website soon.

Old & New 2 worked in beads

Half a day class

We had a lovely weekend planned, my husband and I. Separately, it is true; he was to go on a vintage car trial in Scotland with a friend, I was to attend my RSN goldwork day class, a belated birthday present to myself. It didn’t quite go to plan. Stomach flu intervened, and if you’ve ever had it you will know that it is not an intervention you can easily ignore. Scotland had to be given a miss altogether, and although I did go to the class I had to hoist the white flag after a couple of hours. Oh well, it can’t be helped; at least I got a little bit done, and had the kit to take away with me to finish at home.

Work done on the goldwork boot during the class

As this was another beginners’ class (like the watering can I did some years back) there weren’t any techniques in the design which I hadn’t come across before, so I’m reasonably confident I’ll be able to produce a creditable Victorian ankle boot! I may add a few extra flourishes just to use some of my goldwork stash though…

The tutor for this workshop was Angela Bishop, who funnily enough recognised me from the previous day class when she assisted Sarah Homfray. The kit was very nicely presented in a neat little box, which held general notes on goldwork, instructions for this design, and of course all the threads and wires and bits and bobs. (The cat was not part of the kit. She’s just being nosy.) The third picture shows you most of the materials in close up: a pretty little heart-shaped bit of beeswax, a sparkly snaky length of bright check purl (sometimes known simply as bright check) to be used for chipwork, wavy Rococco thread, a piece of stiff-but-pliant pearl purl (great name), and three spangles (which can be told from sequins by the little indentations, caused by being made from a flattened coil). I’d already used most of the Jap thread, so that’s not shown, and you can see the remnant of a piece of yellow felt (used to pad the toe of the boot) in the box.

The workshop kit came in a neat box The contents of the box, with cat Goldwork threads, wires and spangles

I still haven’t finished the Jacobean flower, but I may try to complete the boot first, just so it doesn’t get put away in a drawer and forgotten for several years (it’s not been unknown…). Updates to follow, hopefully soon!

Stitching on wood

Although thread on fabric is still the most usual combination for needlework, there is no reason to limit yourself to that – you can stitch on all sorts of things! Fortunately for those of us who find car doors, slices of bread or tennis rackets a bit too challenging, there are non-fabric ideas which are a little less daunting. Pre-drilled wooden pendants, for example. Some of them are so small that they will take only a few stitches, others have a bit more room to play with, although that may make them a little less wearable too. Even so, I went for the latter, mostly because even though I like small projects I wasn’t sure I’d be able to design anything memorable in 4 x 5 stitches.

Wooden pendant

I really liked the look of the pendant when it arrived, but then I noticed it was damaged – a small chip had come off one of the scallops. Fortunately Sew & So were very good about it, as usual; not only did I get a replacement but I was told to keep the other one! I’ve since coloured the chipped edge to blend in with the rest and so it will be fine for experimenting with.

Now, what to stitch on them? I had a vague idea that perhaps I could use the little peacock I designed some years back, but that turned out to be too big. So I drew six outlines in my charting program, to make sure I wouldn’t stray outside the stitchable area, and set to fitting something attractive into a smallish space, preferably an animal or something floral. I ended up with a ginger cat, two small flowers and a tulip.

Three designs for the wooden pendants

You will notice that there is a problem with the above designs: there are three of them, and only two pendants. That is why one of the stitched models will be done on fabric. But they will definitely all fit the pendant!

I decided to start with the ginger cat because I like pussycats smiley. The pendant is a little over 11ct so as I wanted good coverage four strands seemed called for, with the added advantage that I’d be able to use a loop start. The size 24 needle I would normally use on a low-count fabric with four strands turned out to be too thick – wood is much less flexible than fabric, in fact it’s got practically no flexibillity at all, and the needle got stuck trying to pass through holes with previous stitches. A size 26 worked better, although it was still a bit of a fiddle when doing the whiskers and coming up in holes where four stitches were crowded in already. Those whiskers, by the way, were a bit of an afterthought – you may have noticed they weren’t in the original design shown above. Then a lady at my embroidery group, on seeing my ginger Tom, said he was lovely but could really do with some whiskers. A moment’s consideration showed her to be absolutely right, so I added them there and then.

Cat cross-stitched on a wooden pendant

On the chart I’ve lowered the cat by one hole, as it seemed to be a bit too high up, but you could also use the space at the bottom to add some initials or a short name. If you’d like to stitch your own pendant using the ginger cat design, or if you’d like to use it for some other purpose, head to the Freebies page where you can download it; the other two will be added once I’ve stitched them.

Daylight table top lamp

Oh dear. It’s time to admit it: middle age is creeping up on me! I used to be able to work quite happily on 36ct without any special light or magnification, but I’m beginning to find anything over 28ct a struggle, unless I take off my glasses altogether and work in extreme close-up – which is fine for a few stitches but not for a whole evening, especially when I’m trying to follow NCIS at the same time. As I needed new glasses anyway, and the optician had said that reading glasses might be a good idea (even though I could read the finest print at the bottom of their reading chart without any problems), I looked into varifocals. After a lot of discussion with the very helpful gentleman at Vision Express (and some experimental stitching at their premises) we decided that was not the way forward. Plain glasses plus a pair of stitching glasses, a little stronger than the reading glasses the optician had recommended.

Getting used to my new glasses (or rather my new frame) has been a bit of a struggle, and is taking a lot longer than I had expected, so I’ve tried the stitching glasses only a few times, but they definitely help and I will probably use them when working on anything very fine or detailed like goldwork – projects that need concentration, and that I’ll be working on without any distractions. Not for my usual evening’s stitching, however, as I can’t see the telly very well with them, and I tend to combine the two (did I mention NCIS?)

Obviously an additional aid was needed, and after some research I settled on Daylight’s table-top lamp. It has quite a few accessories which I’m not using at the moment, and it would have been nice if the lamp were available at a discount without them, but it isn’t – I rang the company and asked. Fortunately I found the lamp on offer at Sew & So at a price well below any others I could find, so it doesn’t feel like I’m paying for something I won’t use, and anyway, I may well feel the need for a magnifier, a chart clamp and a storage tray some time in the future.

And does it make a difference? Yes it does – a lot! Not only does it help me see smaller stitches, but the colours are more true to life, meaning I can choose fabrics and threads and beads in the evening and actually find the next day that they still match smiley. It does also show up in rather ghastly detail that our chairs could do with re-upholstering, or at the very least a good wash…

Daylight's table top lamp, off Daylight's table top lamp, on

So all hunky-dory then? Well, no. As you can see the shade is a milky white, and when the lamp is on, even after we’d changed the 20W bulb for a 12W one, the whole shade becomes a big glowing blob of whiteness. It’s a bit distracting to me, using it (I would prefer all the light to be on my stitching, not radiating all around), but even more so to my husband, who sees it not only from the corner of his eye, but also reflected in the television screen. Did they do dark shades for them, he asked. Alas, no. Some lateral thinking was called for.

I temporarily draped some black Lugana around the shade, and this made a noticeable difference, but the light still shone quite fiercely through the holes. Right, a fabric without holes then. Felt! Fortunately the lamp doesn’t get very hot, so that shouldn’t be a problem. After playing about with some paper templates and full circles of felt (felt does not pleat very successfully…) I managed to cut out a shape that wrapped cosily around the shade without too much ruffling. Another one followed, as even the felt could not contain the lamp’s output with one layer. Because felt sticks to itself I now have a double-layered lamp jacket which is easily put on and removed. Marital harmony preserved by a piece of felt!

The lamp with its felt jacket, switched off The lamp with its felt jacket, switched on

Four shades of green

Not quite 40 shades of green in the Figworthy household at the moment (although if I went through all my thread boxes I could probably get together at least that number; but let’s not go there) – four are quite enough for now. They are the variegated greens I am trying out for the wheatear border on the third Floral Gems design, which will be made into a workshop, and they are Weeks Dye Works (WDW) perle #12, Cottage Garden (CG) perle #12, Chameleon perle (Cham) #16 and Sulky Blendables (SB) 12wt.

Four shades of green to try

Let me start with an apology and a spoiler – this is not going to be a detailed analysis, just an impression of what the threads are like to work with; and I like all four threads.

Having got that out of the way, let’s have a look at the four threads in close-up. WDW (top) looks a little heavier than the other threads, even though CG is a perle #12 as well. SB is a 12wt which I had assumed (although I have not been able to find any very clear-cut information about it anywhere – thread weights are complicated!) to be about the same thickness as a #12, but it looks thinnest of the four, possibly because it is quite tightly twisted. It wasn’t until I looked at this close-up picture that I noticed another difference between SB and the other threads: it is a Z-twist, whereas the others are the more usual S-twist. I knew some silks and rayons are Z-twists but didn’t think there were any cotton ones – you learn something new every day! (I’ll say a little more about Z-twists later.)

The four threads close up: WDW, CG, Cham, SB

In all of the following samples I worked with 90cm (1 yard) lengths; far too long according to received wisdom, but I dislike fastening off and on too often, and it seems to work for me. Well, generally. With perles, which are twisted, it can lead to the thread bunching up (very noticeable with Treenways’ fine cord, for example, which is a very tight buttonhole twist – you very definitely need shorter lengths there!) The stitch is wheatear, which gives the wreath outline a bit more interest than a plain chain stitch. It is essentially a reverse chain stitch (shown here by Mary Corbet) with straight stitches sticking out, and like chain stitch works well in a circle.

First up is WDW perle #12 (2171 Emerald). It was occasionally a bit tangly but the variegation has a lovely effect, it’s a beautiful colour (I got another shade, 2166 Bayberry, which is even closer to what I was looking for, but it came too late for me to use it in these experiments) and it’s exactly the right thickness – it has enough body to show off the colour, but is thin enough for the stitch to have good definition.

Weeks Dye Works perle #12 Weeks Dye Works perle #12 close-up

Next is Cham perle #16 (Fennel). I knew Chameleon Threads, a South-African company, from their hand-dyed stranded silks – in my silk boxes you will find most of the colours from their Shades of Africa range (used in Remember the Day). I found this #16 perle at the Knitting & Stitching Show; it’s a relatively new range, as yet available in a fairly limited palette which fortunately for my purpose includes this attractive, subtle green. It’s a nice, well-behaved perle to work with, and although obviously a bit thinner than the WDW it still gives enough coverage in the stitch to be an effective frame for the design.

Chameleon perle #16 Chameleon perle #16 close-up

The third thread is CG perle #12 (809 Oregano). Cottage Garden is an Australian company, and their range includes stranded cotton as well as #8 and #12 perle (but no #5, which means I can’t use them for Hardanger on my usual 25ct fabric). Although off the skein it looks a bit thinner than WDW #12, it stitches up with more or less the same look. It’s fairly well-behaved, even with my 90cm lengths.

Cottage Garden perle #12 Cottage Garden perle #12 close-up

And finally SB 12wt (4086 Cactus). As I mentioned above, this is different from the other three threads not only because it isn’t a perle, but also because it is a Z-twist. This means that when looking at the twist in the thread, the slant has the direction of the diagonal of the letter Z; in an S-twist the slant goes the other way. There is a little bit more about it in this post about whipped stitches, and a lot more in this recent post on Mary Corbet’s blog.

SB is very tightly twisted, but unexpectedly it doesn’t bunch up like some of the others – it is a very pleasant thread to work with, and (not unimportant when considering threads for workshops or kits) it works out much more economically than any of the others. It has a nice crisp look, and although the variagation is a bit stronger than I would have liked, it doesn’t break up the unity of the wreath.

Sulky Blendables 12wt Sulky Blendables 12wt close-up

So which do I like best? If I were just looking at the threads, how they handle and how they stitch up, I’d go for Weeks Dye Works; it is my favourite where colour and variegation are concerned, and in spite of some tangling it is comfortable enough to work with. I just really like the look of this thread in wheatear stitch. Chameleon and Cottage Garden I will happily use again, but they wouldn’t be my first choice. In the end, however, I have to bear in mind what I am choosing this thread for – kits and workshops. The materials have to be of good quality, but it is just not viable to pick anything too expensive. In trying out several hand-dyeds I was probably being a bit unrealistic to begin with, and Sulky makes a good alternative – it is a high-quality thread with the interest of variegation, but mass-prodused and therefore more affordable than the more labour-intensive hand-dyed threads. So in spite of its rather unfortunate name (whoever thought that was a good idea?) Sulky Blendables will be my choice for the Floral Gems.