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…?

Of slate frames and trestles

I have been known to say that embroidery is one of the most affordable hobbies known to woman. At the most basic level of supplies, all you need is an old pillowcase, some thread and a needle and you’re good to go. But, as we all know, you can spend a lot more…

When I wrote about signing up for parts of the Royal School of Needlework’s Certificate course, did I by any chance mention that they use slate frames? Now if you’ve never seen one you may wonder why that was even a consideration when coming to a decision about whether or not to sign up. Well, for one thing (as you may have gathered from the first paragraph), there is the price. Even the smallest frame costs more than a third as much again as my Millennium frame – quite an expense for something you may not use again when the course has finished. But although I didn’t actually ask, I sensed that the slate frame is non-negotiable. And I suppose that seen as a proportion of the cost of the whole Certificate (or even half a certificate) it’s not too frightening. So that cleared the price hurdle.

Then there is the size. I know I said “smallest frame” just now, but in spite of the innocuous-looking picture in the RSN’s web shop, all the slate frames I had ever seen (in pictures, documentaries etc.) were huge. I do not do huge.

A slate frame as sold by the RSN

Fortunately I was informed by Hari, the RSN’s extremely helpful Education Manager, that there were two sizes of frame to choose from, and I could go for the small frame, which measures a mere 18″ square. Oh well, my Millennium frame is 20″ wide (although it is only about a foot high when extended) so I dare say I’ll be able to handle that. That cleared the size hurdle. But have you ever seen what goes into dressing a slate frame?

Dressing a slate frame is putting your embroidery fabric on it and getting it ready to start stitching. As some of it seems rather reminiscent of lacing somebody into a corset, “dressing” is quite a good term, although I suspect linguistically/etymologically it is more closely related to dressing a chicken or a cooked crab. But unlike this culinary dressing, a slate frame can take many hours to set up properly. Here is Mary Corbet’s very informative if slightly off-putting picture tutorial. Off-putting because to anyone whose preparation, like mine, is to whack a piece of fabric in a hoop, give it a few good tugs and tighten the hoop’s screw, it looks like far too much of an undertaking, however good the result.

Sarah Homfray uses a scroll frame, not a slate frame, in her video demonstration, but the procedure is apparently identical apart from the fact that a slate frame is tightened vertically with pins in holes instead of wing nuts on roller bars. Her frame is smaller than Mary’s, and the video takes only 15 minutes, but that does include some time leaps following instructions like “now pin the other side in the same way”. This means that even for a small slate frame, setting-up time is going to be substantially longer than anything I’ve done before. On the other hand, I’m likely to be working on each project for quite some time, and once it’s set up that’s it, apart from occasional tightening of the side strings. Another hurdle that is not insurmountable.

In fact I’m clearing hurdles like an Olympic athlete! But never mind hurdles, what about trestles?

“Where do trestles come in?” I hear you ask. Well, they are what the slate frame rests on. Yes, I have a Lowery floor stand and an Aristo lap stand but I don’t think either of those is really going to cut the mustard with a frame of this size and weight. The RSN sells custom-made beechwood ones which are beautiful, but at £550 a pair they really make sense only if embroidery is going to be your full-time career and you’ll be using them all the time. Jo, my Certificate-encourager, sent me a link to instructions for a DIY version, but as unlike her I do not happen to have a clever wood-working father I don’t think that’s going to happen. And then there is Ikea.

Ikea? Yes, Ikea, as suggested by Hari in our extensive correspondence. Some of their trestles are even height-adjustable!

Trestles from Ikea Trestles from Ikea

These were very tempting – a tenth of the price, sturdy-looking and adjustable. Looking at the measurements, my husband and I could detect just one possible problem: as I said I’m going for the smallest available slate frame, which is 18″ wide. The base of the Ikea trestles is also about 18″ wide, which means that in order for the supporting tops to be no more than 18″ apart, the bases will have to meet; and that in turn means I won’t be able to get my legs between the trestles. There is obviously a good reason why both the RSN trestles and the DIY ones have straight legs!

There is, however, another option to explore before either emptying the bank account or finding a good handyman.

I can take up my husband’s suggestion and appropriate two of the trestles we use for our annual car trade show.

They are a little bit rough and ready, but as you can see in the pictures the width of their base is adjustable, so there is enough of a gap for me to wiggle my legs through and sit stitching quite confortably. Surprisingly comfortably, in fact – I hadn’t expected to like the flat position of the frame, as I like mine tilted towards me, but this didn’t feel bad at all. Obviously this was just a 30-second trial, and we’ll have to see how I like it after a few hours of serious stitching, but this may well be our budget-saving solution to the trestle problem. Clever husband!

Placing the Millennium frame on our trade show trestles Working with the Millennium frame resting on our trade show trestles

Incidentally, Rugby RSN had some earlier places available, so my slate frame adventure will start rather sooner than expected – this coming Saturday, in fact! If my first taste of the Certificate course is as good as previous Certificaters generally report, expect an exuberant post and lots of pictures. If, on the other hand, I come back as a tearful wreck, deciding that this is far too much of a challenge for me – erm, would anyone be interested in a second-hand slate frame…?

Counting the uncountable

You may have noticed the linen I’m stitching Llandrindod on; it’s definitely a surface embroidery fabric, with its lovely dense weave which makes it really easy to put the needle exactly where you want it. On the other hand, it’s an evenweave. So, having the sort of mind I have, I wondered – could you use it for counted techniques, say, Hardanger? In fact Hardanger in particular, as the dense weave would contrast rather nicely with the cut areas. Worth a try, would’t you say?

There’s a simple little cross design I use for sympathy cards and which, unfortunately, I have stitched so often I can now do it from memory. Actually that’s rather nice when I stitch it for that purpose, as it means I can think of the person who passed away, and the people the card will be sent to, while stitching it. But it also made it an ideal project to try out this linen.

Now I usually stitch this on hand-dyed Hardanger fabric, which is 22ct; that makes the design a good size for putting into a card. This linen is 40ct. And did I mention the weave is dense? I decided this was definitely a take-off-my-glasses project, letting my short-sighted eyes do what they do best, which is look at things extremely close up. To give you an idea of the size, this is a 3″ hoop, and the needle resting on the fabric is a size 26 tapestry needle. The thread is a perle #8.

Starting Hardanger on surface linen

The surface stitching was fine. Even the touches of gold worked in blending filament were OK. But the cutting… oh my. I did it, without snipping any of the stitches, and I even managed to tuck in all the cut ends as I usually do; but I can tell you now that this is definitely a one-off! Here it is, all finished:

The finished Hardanger cross on surface linen

And here it is again, accompanied by a match (and no, it’s not one of those extra long ones smiley)

Hardanger on 40ct linen, with match

So I won’t be using this fabric for anything counted again, but it is lovely for surface embroidery, and I am seriously thinking of discarding the piece of Normandie with Soli Deo Gloria drawn on it and re-transferring the design onto this fabric. Well, I won’t discard the Normandie entirely; I could use it for a different version, perhaps in wool or stranded cotton, using different stitches. But the silk-and-gold version – yes, I do think this is just the fabric for it.

Blue silks dispel the silk blues – now for purples. And greens.

The post was exciting this week, with several blue silks dropping through the letterbox. These are the “why not as they are on offer and I’m bound to use them” Caron silks – aren’t they beautiful?

Soie Cristale blues

Colourwise, they would definitely be an option; but if at all possible my preference was still to do the whole project in Soie d’Alger, even though there’s nothing in priniciple against mixing silks. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I opened the envelope from West End Embroidery, with a single skein of Soie d’Alger 4913.

A single skein only, but the sheer relief when it turned out to fit in exactly with the rest of the series, without even a tingle of purple, made me positively giddy!

The new Soie d'Alger fits in!

So now I have my series of three blue silks. In fact, I have a series of four. And that is, of course, fatal, because it means choice. Do I use the three darkest and discard the lightest, or vice versa? How does this fit in with the two other colour runs in the project? Well, here are the four blues together with the three reds and purples which are my current selection. Do you see the problem?

The four blues, with three reds and purples

That’s right, when matching the colours by lightness/darkness the gaps don’t line up. My husband’s view was that it needed a lighter red. Well, I just happened to have one!

The missing purple

Much better, true. But what I really want now is a fourth purple to fill the gap, and use the three lighter shades of each colour. The trouble is that those three purples are the entire series of that particular colour. And by now I know from experience that trying to choose a similar series containing at least four shades from the digital Au Ver à Soie shade card is a mispurchase waiting to happen.

And then there are the greens. Not the ones in Soli Deo Gloria, they’re sorted. But I’m thinking of re-using the blues, reds and purples in a Celtic cross together with a series of greens. I’m going to try something facetted rather than the shaded look in the trial colour version below, but even so I’d need at least three and preferably four shades of a bright, warm green.

Colour idea for the Llandrindod cross

So back to Yvonne at West End Embroidery, who must be getting fed up with me by now but who is far too polite to show it smiley. I’ll keep you informed!

I’ve got the silk blues

I love silks, I do, really. But sometimes when working with them (or trying to work with them!) I hanker after the predictability of DMC stranded cotton. In my project box for Soli Deo Gloria there are some lovely Soie d’Alger silks in reds, purples, yellows, greens and, today’s topic, blues. Here are those blues on the Au Ver à Soie shade card:

The blues according to Au Ver a Soie's shade card

And here they are (four of them) in real life. DMC-wise they are similar to 791, 792, 340 and 809 – spot the odd one out.

The blues in real life

So I contacted Nelly at Hardanger Atelier and asked if she had a 4913 without the purple cast (and how Au Ver a Soie allowed that dye lot out I will never understand!) – she hadn’t, nor was there any other blue that would go with 4914 and 4916; but she promised to see if there was a series that was like DMC 797/798/799, which would work with my chosen reds and purples.

Meanwhile I considered that not all the silks in a project necessarily have to be the same brand. Rummaging through my collection of silk samples (well, they are full skeins but I mean where I have just a few of a particular brand) to see which were likely to have the same look as Soie d’Alger I realised most of them were hand-dyed and over-dyed silks, and therefore not the solid colours I was looking for. The only suitable solid silk was Caron’s Soie Cristale, which unfortunately I have only in an attractive but irrelevant series of five yellows and oranges. My digital Caron shade card did throw up a series of likely-looking blues, but at about £4.50 a skein it’s rather an expensive gamble.

A series of blues in Caron Soie Cristale

I went to Sew & So’s website to see whether their catalogue pictures were anything like the shade card I have (this sort of comparison can give valuable extra information about what colour the thread is likely to be when you actually get your hands on it) and would you believe it, they had a Soie Cristale sale on! Not quite half price but jolly nearly. Well, I couldn’t ignore a bit of luck like that could I? So four blue Caron silks (the series minus the lightest one on the shade card) should be on their way to me now. If they turn out not to be quite right for this particular project, they may well be perfect for a bird I have in mind. Or that modern floral design. Or the Celtic cross. Or something.

Soie Cristale blues on the Sew and So website

Trying to cover all my bases, I then remembered West End Embroidery. I’ve bought silks and other threads from them in the past and have always found them very helpful. An email, a very quick reply and a phone call later a non-purple 4913 has been ordered, and I am looking forward to seeing it snuggled up to 4914 and 4916 and hopefully looking like one of the family, as it should. In which case the Soie Cristale will have to be put to some other use. Oh dear smiley.

Incidentally, you may wonder why I didn’t just use the next lightest shade I already had, which as you can see from the picture above does fit in colour-wise with the two darker ones. Well, here’s why:

The Soie d'Alger blues stitched samples

The sample on the left is two rows each of 4916, 4914 and 4912; the middle sample is 4916, 4916/4914 blended and 4914; the final sample is 4914, 4914/4912 blended and 4912. As you can see, whenever it’s used the 4912 just stands out far too much – in the blended section on the right the two shades don’t really blend at all, they just happened to have been used in the same needle!

It’ll do at a pinch, but this project is rather close to my heart and I want it to be just right! Even if it means building up an impressive collection of blue silks (the sacrifices I make for my art…)

Binding a hoop – the finicky way

A little while ago I mentioned a tutor from the Royal School of Needlework demonstrating how to bind a hoop. It is a free video on their Online Classes page; you do need to “buy” it, but the price is £0, and once you’ve bought it you can then watch it for free.

In the video, Amy Burt uses very wide, fairly rough strips of calico, with a connecting seam right in the middle of the length, secures the beginning with double-sided sticky tape, and wraps the hoop at high speed without any apparent concerns about wrinkles. It takes about 5 seconds.

An RSN-bound hoop which undoubtedly works

I take a lot longer. And seeing that the RSN are happy for Amy Burt’s hoop-binding to be demonstrated under their aegis, I can only assume that my more time-consuming method is no more effective in keeping tension and protecting the fabric than her high-speed one.

And yet. And yet I stick with mine. Because I love the look of the regular wraps. Because it feels good when I run my fingers over the neat binding. Because it gives me a warm glow when I see it as I get ready to mount the fabric. Because in spite of everything it just feels more secure.

So for those of you who recognise themselves in the above description, here is how I bind my hoops. It is, as demonstrated by the RSN and countless other online videos, not the only way. It is not the quickest or easiest way. But, if I say so myself, boy does it produce neat hoops smiley!

What do you need? An unbound hoop, some tape (I use 20mm cotton twill/herringbone tape for anything over 8 inches, 14mm for smaller ones), two clothes pegs or other not-too-fierce, not-too-big clamping devices, some sewing thread and a short needle. Be aware that the method I’m showing here takes quite a lot of tape; the 14-inch hoop I showed in a previous post took well over 5 metres and I like to start out with at least a metre to spare, just in case.

Start by threading a short needle with sewing thread; knot it and put is aside for the moment. Folding over about half a centimetre of the tape, put it against the inside of the hoop and keep it in place with your thumb. Wrap the tape around the hoop, at a slight angle and overlapping the first bit by half. When you have room (it may take another wrap) replace your thumb with one of the clothes pegs. In the pictures below I have just completed the second complete wrap, and as both overlap by half this one is exactly one width on from the beginning of the tape.

Secure the first wrap with a clothes peg Secure the first wrap with a clothes peg

A quick word about overlapping. Some sources say that you should never overlap because it creates bulk and irregular thickness, others say you should overlap by anything up to half the width of the tape. I prefer overlapping, precisely because it creates bulk – that nice thick cushioning is what grips and protects the fabric – but if you do overlap, I would recommend you always do it by exactly half, so that the thickness of the binding is uniform along the entire hoop. In other words, either don’t overlap at all and abut your wraps exactly so that there is one layer of tape all the way around, or (my preferred method) overlap by half so that there is a double layer of tape all the way round.

By the way, the tape will twist while you’re wrapping. This means that, depending on the size of the hoop you’re binding and where you are in the process, you are trying to work with 6 or 7 metres of intractable twill spaghetti. I’ve not found an effective way to counteract this; I tried winding it beforehand, but it just uncoiled as I wrapped. So now I simply bunch up the remaining tape into a squashed handful, and manoeuvre it around the hoop that way.

Back to the binding. Keeping fairly strong tension on the tape, wrap on, overlapping by half the width of the tape both on the inside and on the outside of the ring. I like to give the tape an extra pull just before going over the top or turning under the bottom, to make sure there are no wrinkles. Because of the curve of the hoop, and winding the tape around it at a slight angle, you may find that sometimes a bit of tape simply will not lie flat, however much you pull. In that case, make sure the wrinkle is on the inside of the ring, and flatten it out as much as possible when you cover it with your next wrap. (If you bind the outer ring as well – which I don’t, because I bind for tension and grip rather than for fabric protection, and binding the inner ring only is sufficient for that – make sure any wrinkles are kept on the outside of the ring; in other words, you want wrinkles to be on the side where they don’t make contact with the fabric.)

Pull the tape just before going over the top Pull the tape again just before turning under the bottom

Incidentally, I am right-handed and therefore normally use my right hand for wrapping and pulling the tape; in the photographs above I am using my left hand only because my right hand was needed to operate the camera! If you are left-handed, you may find it more comfortable to wrap the hoop anti-clockwise.

If at any point you have to interrupt your binding (because you’ve got cramp in your fingers, or the phone rings, or the cat is trying to pounce on the remaining tape) secure the last wrap temporarily with the second clothes peg.

Use a second clothes peg if you have to interrupt your work

When you come to the end of your hoop (or rather, the beginning) and are either abutting or getting very close to your first wrap, cut the tape leaving a good-sized tail for the last wrap and securing. The one I left here was actually a little short; it’s better to cut it generously, as you will trim it more precisely before securing.

Getting back to the beginning Cutting a generous tail

When you have half-overlapped your first wrap, bring the tail to the inside of the hoop, trim so that you can fold over about half to three-quarters of a centimetre and end up well within the inside of the hoop. Hold it in place with your thumb, and pick up your needle with sewing thread. This is why you pre-threaded and pre-knotted it smiley.

Folding the end of the tape

Bring your needle up through the fold, so that the knot sits inside the fold, and secure the tape along the top with small stitches. Then go down the side, securing it for about 1 centimetre. Bring the needle back to the fold by going behind the fabric, go back along the top and secure the other side. Fasten off with a few knots, take the needle behind the tape for a few centimetres and pull taut, then cut.

Secure the fold of the tape with small stitches Work around the sides of the folded tape The secured end of the tape

And there is your bound inner ring, soon to be covered up by fabric and the outer ring and become invisible, but always there, neat and tidy and lovely.

The outside of the bound ring The inside of the bound ring The 12-inch and 14-inch hoops, bound

Perhaps a beautifully bound hoop is rather like the silk underwear worn by the actresses in Gone With the Wind. When one of them asked the costume mistress why they were wearing these expensive silk petticoats when no-one would ever see them, she replied “because you will know you are wearing them”.

A needling question

Last year I talked a little about needles, and whether the very expensive Tulip ones were worth the extra expense. I also mentioned some between/quilting needles by Clover which I’d picked up in the Netherlands and which I really enjoyed stitching with. In my quest to find some more, I came across Clover’s black-coated needles as well as their more economical gold-eye ones, and tried those too – but in the end I came to the conclusion that neither the Tulips nor the Clover blacks felt that much smoother or more accurate than the ones I’d picked up back in the old country.

But some mystery surrounded those Dutch-bought needles. For one thing, I’d bought them in sizes #7, #9 and #11 – but when trying to buy some spares I could not find Clover #7 needles anywhere. Unfortunately I’d decanted the needles into little lip seal bags (like the more recently bought #10s in the picture below, but marked with the size only) and got rid of the original packaging, so I had no information about the dimensions of each size or anything else.

Clover needles, decanted

Husband to the rescue: with his micrometer he measured all three sizes, I made a note of them and contacted Clover. Clover denied ever having made #7 needles of any kind. (Incidentally, I also asked them why their #12 needles are actually thicker than their #10s, when it is pretty universally true for all brands that higher numbers denote smaller – both thinner and shorter – needles; they replied, “Our Clover needles doesn’t match its rule. Basically we try to fit the rule but some item could not do so.” If this makes more sense to you than it did to me, do enlighten me!)

I settled for some #8 and #10 needles, which were the closest I could find to the ones I had. And then an additional mystery arose: nice though these new needles were, the ones I originally bought in the Netherlands seemed rather nicer. Was this the gloss of nostalgia that an ex-pat sometimes applies to anything connected with “home”? Surely Clover’s Japanese factories wouldn’t send different needles to different countries?

It took a while, and some serious Googling of needle sizes, but eventually I found the answer: the needles I bought in the Netherlands are actually the German brand Prym…

So now I can tell you definitely: my favourite, go-to needles are Prym gold-eye betweens, #7 for 2-3 strands, #9 for one strand, #11 for beading. I picked up some more from Minerva Crafts and am now probably all right for needles for the next five years or so. But I may get a few more packs just to be on the safe side.

Prym betweens in two sizes

After all, needles are the most frequently used tool or equipment in our stitching. And one of the nice things about these ones is that they are even more affordable than the ordinary (i.e. non-black-coated) Clovers; with postage they come in at about 10p a piece, and if you can pick them up at a show or a shop they come to less than 8p a needle. Which means that, unlike with £1 Tulip needles, you need have no scruples about using a new needle for every new project, or even several needles if the project is a large and long-term one. And the feeling of stitching with a fresh needle is so satisfying it is a treat in itself.

An 8p treat that enhances your stitching and puts a smile on your face. What’s not to like smiley?

The right hoop for the right project, and more binding

My RSN hoops arrived this week. I splashed out on three of them, to make the most of the flat rate postage (that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it). To put the sizes in perspective, that tiddly one in the centre is actually 8 inches. As my husband remarked, “I thought you were a small project girl. What happened?!?”

Large, deep hoops

Well, what happened was the Tree of Life. Generally speaking it’s true: I’m a Small Project Girl. In Hardanger this means on the whole nothing larger than 220 stitches square (less than 9 inches on 25 count fabric) and usually much smaller; in freestyle embroidery this translates into a feeling of mild panic if the transfer pattern can’t be printed on a sheet of A4.

And just as I want my printed designs on a single A4, so I prefer my stitched designs to fit well within the boundaries of whatever hoop or frame I’m using (this also means I don’t feel guilty about leaving projects in the hoop for months on end, as any hoop marks will disappear in the framing/finishing anyway). The revamped Tree of Life, although it will just fit inside a 10-inch hoop, really needs at least a 12-inch and preferably a 14-inch hoop to meet that requirement. Either that, or it will have to go on the Millennium frame, where I may *gasp* need to scroll to reach every part. I know that’s what it’s designed for, but it feels uncomfortable. That’s purely my little idiosyncrasy, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t give in to it smiley.

Then I had a sudden flash of insight: I want to do two versions (because it is likely to become a SAL), one in crewel wool and one in silk & gold. Well, the silk one can be done smaller than the crewel one – so I could use a 14-inch hoop for the crewel version, and put the smaller silk one on the Millennium frame!

Now I have hoops in all… well, not all shapes obviously, as most of them are round (barring a couple of vaguely squarish ones), but certainly all sorts of sizes. But my largest wooden hoop pre-RSN-order was 12 inches – and it’s an ordinary, shallow wooden hoop. And having worked with the RSN’s 8-inch and 10-inch quilting hoops, I’ve come to prefer those deeper hoops (20mm wide) for the larger sizes anyway. So off I went to the RSN shop, to order a deep 14-inch hoop. Somehow the deep 12-inch and the standard 8-inch joined it, on the grounds that they were bound to Come In Handy some day, and, as I said before, to make the most of the postage.

So all that that remained was to bind them. And large hoops take large amounts of tape, so that to begin with the set-up looked rather like a pile of pasta or a tangle of tapeworms. It was up to me to transform this unpromising-looking collection into beautiful bound hoops.

Large hoops ready to be bound

Based on the carefully measured tape requirements for an 8-inch standard hoop, I had calculated that a deep 12-inch hoop would take about 6½ metres. Oddly enough, at the end of the process I had a little over 7 metres left, and I’d bought two 10-metre lengths of tape. Measuring the other 10-metre length showed it to be nearly 11½ metres, so I have no idea how much tape it took to bind the 12-inch hoop. But having pre-measured the second length I can tell you that the 14-inch deep hoop took 5¼ metres – rather less than I had expected.

Large hoops with their binding complete

In some ways, binding a larger hoop is easier than binding a smaller one, even though it takes longer – you’ve got more room to work in, and the curve of the hoop is more gradual, so getting the tape to lie flat is much less of a struggle. And when it comes to securely finishing off the end of the tape, a large hoop gives this near-sighted stitcher a much more convenient way of getting close to the sewing!

Finishing off a hoop if you're near-sighted

Incidentally, I’ve discovered why I find binding hoops such a hassle. Because I make things difficult for myself, that’s why! While having a look at some RSN online classes, I noticed a freebie video about binding hoops. And the stills illustrating it showed a bound hoop that took me rather aback – the tape looked positively wrinkled! Now I will admit that even in my own estimation I am a bit obsessive when binding a hoop; I want every wrap to overlap by exactly the same amount, and I want everything to lie absolutely flat, even though I realise neither of these things is essential. So has this made me think differently? Well, my mind did say “if the RSN is happy with a hoop like that, it’s bound to work” (ha ha). But I simply can’t get myself to do it like that. When I look at my very tidily bound hoops, I get a happy feeling, and I just know that a wrinkly hoop would annoy me whenever I look at it. So, as binding is a one-off process for each hoop anyway, I will stick with my time-consuming, finger-cramp-inducing method, and smile at the finished product.

An RSN-bound hoop which undoubtedly works Tidy hoop-binding

And now I’m off to stitch that tree!

The lure of more

“Once I’ve got my own craft room everything will be lovely and I won’t need any extra storage ever again!” Ha.

Don’t get me wrong, everything is lovely in my still relatively new craft room. It’s my optimistic ideas about storage which have turned out to be less than accurate. So something needed to be done. And before you ask, no, I didn’t start breeding my tall rainbow storage towers. But isn’t this dinky little matching set of drawers just the perfect find?

A little tower of drawers joins the large ones

As for the reason behind this purchase, let’s go to another I-spoke-too-soon remark I made to myself not so long ago.

“Now that I’ve got at least four shades of pretty much every colour of crewel wool on Pearsall’s website, I’m sorted and won’t need any other crewel wools ever again!” Ha.

Listening to Jessica Grimm on Fiber Talk (incidentally, if you missed Mabel’s last month it’s here) I was reminded that I bought loads of spangles from her last year, and paid another visit to her website. And there I found Heathway Milano wools in more colours than on the Pearsall’s website!

Surely this couldn’t be right – Pearsall’s are the original producers of this wool. So I contacted Carol (the helpful lady who went through the available starter packs with me over the phone when I first dipped my toes into the crewel waters) and she confirmed that these colours (including a true orange, a gorgeous turquoise and some beautifully bright purples) were indeed available, they just hadn’t made it onto the Pearsall’s website yet. “Just order as many blacks as you want colours and then let me know which ones you really want.” Well, how could I resist? And so a true orange, a gorgeous turquoise and some beautifully bright purples, as well as some daffodil yellows and various pinks, have been added to my ever-growing collection.

The latest additions to my crewel wool collection

And this is why the little storage tower joined the two big ones – I now have colour-coordinated crewel wool drawers! (Which are already beginning to feel a bit crowded. Oh dear…)

Colour-coordinated drawers with wool The Teal drawer

Binding hoops and bad habits

Some time ago – last August, in fact, just before the medieval embroidery retreat – I told you about binding my first ever hoop. (That is, it was my first ever binding of a hoop. Not my first ever hoop. That is probably lost in the mists of time.)

Preparing to bind a hoop Bound inner hoop Bound inner hoop, fitted inside the outer hoop

Having reported that I found it terribly fiddly (my verdict being “unless the effect is really really noticeable, never again!”) I promised to let you know after the retreat whether I would ever bind another hoop. And I didn’t. Didn’t let you know, I mean – but I did bind more hoops!

Does that mean I found it worth the hassle? Yes, though not quite for the reason that is often given, that you can get better tension with a bound hoop. My problem with wooden hoops (and one of the reasons for my love of flexi-hoops) is that they do not keep the tension. Setting up the project and getting it good and taut is one thing, but if you have to keep pulling the fabric taut again whenever you’ve been putting a bit of strain on it (for example by pulling through a very thick thread, or pulling a needle through a very densely stitched area) it’s not an encouragement to use that type of hoop.

I found that the deep hoops – also known as quilting hoops – which I got from the Royal School of Needlework held the tension better (more grip, as the hoops are about 2cm deep instead of the usual 1cm) but were still not ideal. The bound hoop I took to the embroidery retreat, however, behaved impeccably in that respect!

In fact it held its tension so well that it encouraged me in a Bad Habit: I do not take my project out of its hoop after every stitching session. Until fairly recently I was not aware that this was a bad habit. You put your fabric in a hoop, and when the project is completed you take it out again. Simple, right? But apparently there are two reasons for not doing this. The first is that it can leave permanent marks on the fabric, and the second is that it can stretch the fabric beyond its powers of springing back.

Warning: I am going to go against received embroidery wisdom!

They sound like compelling reasons – but I’m not convinced. The second one I can’t say I’ve noticed; yes, there is always a certain amount of give in a fabric, some more than others, and I can see how permanent stretching over a long period might leave it, well, permanently stretched. But as I have often thought my work looks best when it is still stretched in the hoop, and as I tightly lace any of my works that will be framed anyway, I’m not bothered by that.

As for the first, I ignore that for a purely personal reason, which is that all my projects are small enough to fit well within the confines of the hoop I’m using. Yes there are permanent hoop marks, but they get cut off when I prepare the work for framing or whatever finishing method I use. If your projects are larger than the hoop you’re working with, and you have to move the hoop around and sometimes have it cover previous stitches (something that makes me nervous simply contemplating it) then do take it out of the hoop every time you finish a stitching session.

So I have what is generally regarded as a Bad Stitching Habit, but at least it is now off-set by a Good Stitching Habit – I have bound all my wooden hoops, right down to the tiddly 3-inch one (which is probably overkill, but I got into the zone).

A three-inch hoop, bound

Incidentally, for those who like facts and figures, I use 14mm cotton twill tape for smaller hoops (up to 6 or 7 inches) and 20mm cotton herringbone tape for anything larger, and anything deep. Some people prefer to use bias binding. Having forgotten to measure how much I used on all the hoops I bound in one go, I did remember to make notes when I bound my new 8-inch hoop: 2.25 metres. I assume that a deep hoop of the same size would take twice that, and that you can work out the requirements for other sizes by comparing circumferences (diameter times π). That’s quite a lot, and it’s partly because I choose to overlap my binding by about half the width of the tape; some people abut it exactly, which would take considerably less. I hold the start with a clothes peg, and at the finish oversew the folded-over end several times, making sure it’s on the inside of the hoop. Definitely fiddly – I still think so after binding about eight hoops – but worth it.