Another trial fabric to use with another book

Some time ago now I got Thread Painting and Silk Shading by Margaret Dier (from the same series as the Lizzy Pye and Becky Quine books). It’s got lots of interesting information and some pretty projects (must try felt padded stitching some time – I’ve used it in goldwork of course, under metallic kid, chipping and cutwork but never under other types of embroidery).

A thread painting book

One of them, a small part-padded Japanese flower (there are also some interesting Chinese ones) struck me as perfect to try out two new Empress Mills samples: their Egyptian cotton. They sent me white and natural, and I tried one without and one with backing fabric. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the samples when they arrived, so I can only show them with the stitching!

These two little projects also offered a nice opportunity to use different types of silk: a spun silk, overdyed Soie d’Alger (Chameleon Threads’ Shades of Africa), for the un-backed version on natural cotton, and a discontinued flat reeled silk called Eterna on the backed version on white. Spun silk is generally easier to work with than reeled silk, which is made from the continuous silk filament as it comes off the silk worm’s cocoon (and is therefore also known as filament silk); filament silk, especially when it’s a flat silk, will snag on thin air but it has an incredible sheen, whereas the lustre of spun silk is a little more muted.

Chameleon Threads' Shades of Africa overdyed Soie d'Alger Eterna flat filament silk

The version without any backing stood up remarkably well to some serious stitching, especially the padding which is worked with 6 strands in the needle, which means that where it doubles up around the eye I was pulling 12 strands through the fabric. In spite of this rough treatment, there were no obvious holes or distortions in the fabric. Thumbs up!

The design drawn onto the natural cotton Padding for the petals The first row of long and short stitch The finished flower

On the version with backing I decided I could try an extra layer of padding, as the petals weren’t quite as rounded as I’d hoped and expected with a single layer. Even though the unbacked fabric had taken the full six strands for the padding surprisingly well, I felt that two layers of six strands might be inflicting a bit too much of a challenge on the fabric in spite of the strengthening layer of muslin behind it; on the other hand, adding an extra layer of padding but making both layers less voluminous would rather defeat the purpose. I compromised by using three strands doubled in the needle – I’d still be stitching with six strands, but there wouldn’t be the extra bulk of the tail going through the eye.

Six strands in the needle, twelve strands by the eye Three doubles dtrands in the needle, six strands by the eye

The extra padding definitely worked to make the outside of the petals more curvaceous and the difference in height towards the centre more noticeable, and with the sheen of the flat silk that shows up even more (although unfortunately it seems to be impossible to capture the effect satisfactorily in a photograph if you’re an amateur). And the fabric behaved beautifully – not surprisingly, as apart from the colour it is exactly the same as the one used for the other flower and it had the added advantage of a backing fabric. The pure white is a bit stark for my taste, so I would probably have the natural-coloured cotton as my default choice.

A double layer of padding The first row of long and short stitch in shiny flat silk The finished flower

A successful experiment then, both because I enjoyed trying out this part-padded embroidery and seeing how it gave a more subtle lift to the petals than complete padding, and because I’ve got another fabric to add to my list of Useful Embroidery Fabrics!

In the pink

Nearly eight years ago I tried some embroidery scissors at a Knitting & Stitching Show workshop (before I started teaching there) and I was so impressed with them that I put them on my Christmas wish list. Small, sharp, manoeuvrable, and with very pointy blades, they were the perfect complement to the squissors I mostly used for Hardanger. I was given two pairs, in two different colours so I could keep one for goldwork and one for general embroidery. They turned out to be particularly effective for cutting around the buttonhole edging of projects like Windows on the World; that they came with a useful protective cap and in pretty colours was a bonus!

My small, sharp embroidery scissors Buttonhole edging on a pair of bookmarks

Three years later I wanted some spares and for various reasons ended up stocking them in Mabel’s Fancies’ shop. When the order came in I was pleasantly surprised to see that the new scissors came with pretty floral caps! No blue ones, though – the only ones I could get were purple and turquoise (or what the supplier called “green”).

Scissors with floral caps

Fast-forward several years and suddenly the company I always ordered these from no longer supplies them. I got the last few pairs they had, including some blue ones with plain caps, but then the search was on for a new supplier. Unfortunately I could only find retailers in America and Australia, and with the postage and import duty they were simply not an affordable option. I decided to try the manufacturer, hoping that they would be willing to stretch the definition of “wholesale” for a small outfit like mine. Their initial suggestion of a minimum order of 600 pairs nearly made me lose heart, but after a week’s email correspondence we managed to find a quantity we were both happy with.

But no turquoise. Which is a shame because it really is a very pretty colour. No blue either. Purple, yes. And pink. Any orders placed would be half purple, half pink.

Now I know Mabel’s logo is pale pink and turquoise, but oddly enough I’m not really a pink girl myself. Still, that was the only option and I did want to keep stocking these useful little scissors, so the order was placed and late last week there arrived on our doorstep a box full of purple and pink floral snippers. And the pink turned out to be quite a robust fuchsia colour which is definitely growing on me!

Which means that if you want to get yourself a pair of these pretty 4″ embroidery scissors, for the time being you’ve got a choice of no fewer than four colours. Of the floral-capped ones we have purple and pink in quantity, and a limited number of turquoise; plus a small number of blue with plain caps.

Scissors in four colours

And they all cut equally well smiley.

Enjoying new stitching goodies

I’ve had an embarrassing number of lovely parcels arrive on my doorstep in the course of March and April – another book from the same series as the Lizzy Pye goldwork one, Crewelwork Embroidery by Becky Quine; floche from Needle in a Haystack in the US (a special treat as you can’t easily get it here in the UK, but unfortunately paid for just when the pound was at its weakest); coton à broder from Spinning Jenny; doodle canvas and some Splendor silks from West End Embroidery (who got it to me the very next day, with second class postage!); Heathway Milano crewel wool from Catkin Crown Textile Studio, whose dangerous website went live two weeks ago today; a lovely goldwork monogram kit (now discontinued, I bagged one of the last two) by Lizzy Pye of Laurelin; and (courtesy of my mother-in-law’s birthday present) two crewel kits from Melbury Hill. Now these are things to keep your spirits up!

A crewelwork book and stocking up on floche Coton a broder in two sizes Canvas and Splendor silk
Stocking up on Heathway Milano crewel wool A goldwork monogram from Laurelin Embroidery Two Melbury Hill kits

I spent some happy hours bobbinating my new threads and rearranging some of my storage boxes to take the new acquisistions – aren’t they like beautiful jewel caskets?

Floche thread box and stock A box of coton a broder A box of Splendor silks

As for the kits, taking a peek inside the plain, unmarked box from Laurelin Embroidery was a treat in itself. A beautifully presented instruction booklet, full skeins of DMC and bobbins of sewing thread as well as plenty of goldwork materials, and the fabric with its calico backing neatly wrapped in tissue paper. As for the colours, Lizzy had very kindly substituted a turquoise for the usual green to match the colours of the Mabel’s Fancies logo; and would you believe it, in my stash I happened to have a wire check in a light turquoise that goes with it perfectly! I’ll enjoy working out where to incorporate it into that gloriously blingy and colourful M.

The instruction booklet and the transfer pattern Threads and goldwork materials Wire check in two colours to go with the DMC threads

The Melbury Hill kits, though understandably a bit short on the sparkly wow-factor by comparison and with a little less in the way of instructions, are nevertheless very enjoyable to open and explore. The first is Strawberry Fair – the picture on their website shows it with the strawberry sticking up, but I think it looks more natural (in as far as Jacobean-style crewelwork ever does) with the fruit hanging down. By the way, I love the way they use the Bayeux couching stitches to represent the strawberry pips – I wish I’d thought of that!

Melbury Hill's Strawberry Fair kit

The second kit is the Heritage Cat & Tulip Tile. Now I would not normally have bought this – for one thing it includes a hoop I don’t need, but more importantly it uses a single stitch throughout in a monochrome design and is therefore unlikely to “stretch” me. However, a few things made me reconsider. To start with the most altruistic of my reasons, in this time of lockdown I try to support independent businesses and designers. The second reason is that with the present situation being so unpredictable, unsettling and worrying I really like the thought of a relaxing project; sometimes you don’t need stretching, you need soothing! Thirdly, my mother-in-law had given me a birthday present and it felt right to spend this on something that was not necessarily useful to Mabel’s Fancies but just fun. And finally, I am a Dutch ex-pat who loves cats. How could I not buy a blue & white tile with a cat and a tulip on it? The perfect project for Koningsdag (the Dutch King’s birthday, on 27th April)!

Melbury Hill's Heritage Tile kit

And I haven’t finished last year’s Queen’s Silks yet, or even started on 30s Revisited

The RSN metalwork course project Helen Stevens' 30s Revisited kit

A manageable frame

If you’ve been following my RSN Certificate progress you may have picked up a hint or two (or three, or four…) that I do not like working with the slate frame. Well, that’s not absolutely true, I do greatly appreciate the excellent tension you get on a slate frame, and I rather enjoy doing embroidery in a way that connects me with stitchers from many centuries ago; what I do not like was its size, which means you have to use it with trestles, which in turn means that even with considerable added tilt, the work is still at a near-horizontal angle.

A near-horizontal slate frame

This seems to work for some, maybe even most people (although I have heard from at least one RSN graduate that she hardly ever uses a slate frame anymore because it “did her back in”) but I am hampered by my eyesight. Not only am I very short-sighted, I have protein deposits in one eye which cause blurring. Together they make it impossible for me to see the whole slate frame in focus when it is positioned on the trestles. I could reasonably comfortable work on the bottom third of the design, and also on the top third by the simple expedient of turning the frame round. It was when working on a particularly challenging part right in the middle of the design that I found the only way I could see well enough to do the stitching with the required level of accuracy was to stand up and bend over the frame. Doing my back in? I’ll say!

Back-breaking work at the slate frame Back-breaking work at the slate frame

It was very clear to me that I needed a smaller slate frame. The RSN don’t do anything smaller than my present 18″ one, but several other people do, among them Jenny Adin-Christie, a former tutor and studio embroiderer at the RSN and therefore well-acquainted with what is required of a slate frame. It just remained to convince the RSN that I could, in fact, do the next three modules on a 12″ slate frame as the size requirements were so much smaller than for the Jacobean module (A5 max instead of A4). Initially they were not happy with the idea; it took a fair few emails (including mentioning that I would not be able to continue with the Certificate in the present set-up) and a promise that I would discuss it with my tutors, but in the end they did agree and the very next day I ordered my smaller frame.

A smaller slate frame

It’s difficult to tell the size when seeing it in isolation, so here it is (with pinned lengths of herringbone band to help it keep its shape) on top of the old one – once on top of the covers and once showing my Jacobean piece, which actually very nearly fits!

The new slate frame on top of the old The smaller frame would almost accommodate the Tree!

The main thing about getting this smaller slate frame was that I could dispense with the trestle set-up. But it’s obviously too big to hold – it needs a stand of some sort. On her site, Jenny Adin-Christie says this size can be used with a Lowery, although it will need support on the unclamped side. Well, that’s not going to be a problem – remember this?

A Meccano solution (with cat) The Meccano prop in place

But the Lowery is not ideal from a portability perspective. To use this frame at my classes it would be really helpful if it worked with the Aristo lap stand, the arms of which in their natural state are not quite long enough to support the slate frame at full stretch.

The arms of the Aristo lap stand are not quite long enough

Once again, Meccano and Mr Mabel’s engineering expertise to the rescue! (He has modestly requested I show only his hands, not his face.)

Picking useful bits of Meccano Putting things together

And here it is, ready for use when I start my Canvaswork module (whenever that may be…)

The finished extension in place The finished extension in use

PS By the way, the conversations with my tutors about the slate frame were interesting. One said that it was unusual but she had no doubt I’d manage as long as I could find a stand to use it with in class (sorted, see above); with the other, the conversation went as follows: “I’ve been allowed to work on a smaller frame.” “Yeah, that’s fine.” “No, but a much smaller frame.” “Yes, OK.” “I mean, 12-inch small”. “Yes, fine.” Well, that was obviously a big problem smiley.

Pretty threads and a parrot project

In my search for inspiration threads for canvaswork I came across a job lot of Rainbow Gallery Silk Lamé on eBay. Will they be used in the RSN Canvaswork module? Perhaps. Certainly not all of them. But they are very, very pretty, and they came to less than half price. I succumbed.

Rainbow Gallery Silk Lamé

These threads are for future projects, however, so we will put them aside for now and move on to the exciting topic of Travel Projects! I need a travel project for when we go and visit my mother-in-law. I don’t actually need a new travel project because there are at least four small existing ones, ranging from itty bitty (the Quatrefoil I started in order to try out the Quaker Tapestry transfer method and a padded rose about which I will write more in a future FoF) to a little bit larger but still fitting a 5″ hoop (the Ottoman Tulip and the kaleidoscope design I got from Oh Sew Bootiful). But you know how it is…

Some time ago I found one of those small Anchor embroidery books in a charity shop – there’s a whole series of them, introductory guides about 6″ not-quite-square. This one was about crewelwork, and besides stitch descriptions it also has photographs of projects worked using these stitches (although as quite a few of them are worked in stranded cotton or perle they aren’t strictly speaking crewelwork), as well as transfers for most of these designs in the back of the book.

The Anchor Crewel book

One design that caught my eye was a parrot on a branch. True, because of the way the big circle around his eye had been stitched he looked rather grumpy, and the colours (purples and blues and pinks on a blue background) were not what I would have chosen, but in spite of all that he had that indefinable quality of Potential. This parrot could go places!

Parrot from the Anchor book, far too blue and purple

And so he will – to Devon, when we visit my mother-in-law smiley. I wanted him to be a relatively small and simple project, so I left out quite a bit of the foliage when I transferred him onto a spare piece of Essex linen I had lying around. As for threads, I’m doing quite a lot of things in crewel wool at the moment so he is not going to be a proper crewel parrot; instead, I’m going to use some of the DMC floche I got from America several years ago. Because it’s so difficult to find here I’ve never felt able to use it in any of my own designs, as it would be difficult for customers from the UK and Europe to get the threads. But Percy Parrot here is just for my own enjoyment, so I can use whatever I like. I’ve put my whole (admittedly not extensive) collection of floche in the travel box so I can decide what colours to use as I stitch, and I haven’t got a stitch plan – he is going to be very free freestyle.

A parrot travel project

By the way, that little blue bird shape in the project box is a hummingbird needle threader – Mary Corbet wrote about it on Needle ‘n Thread and I found it was available in the UK as well for only a couple of pounds; it looks like a good one for threading the smaller needles, which isn’t always easy with regular needle threaders. The trick in using it appear to be that after you’ve pushed the little hook through the needle’s eye and hooked the thread you move the needle along the threader to slip it off rather than pulling the threader through. I haven’t used it yet, but I’ll let you know how I get on with it!

Trying out fabrics

Although choosing threads (both the type and the colours) is, to me at least, by far the most enjoyable part of getting materials together for a design, the fabric is also very important – not just because of its contribution to the final look of the piece, but also because the pleasure I get from working on a project can be seriously marred or enhanced by the fabric I’m stitching on. I have a few favourites (like that lovely dense linen I’m doing one of the SAL models on) but I’m always on the lookout for nice fabrics to add to my collection.

A week or two ago I contacted Empress Mills about the weight (gsm) of their lightweight and heavyweight Mountmellick fabrics and they very generously sent me a couple of samples. It’s a cotton sateen, and that type of weave means it looks different back and front, because the weft goes over several warp threads in one leap instead of going over one, under one. The picture shows one side of the heavyweight and the other of the lightweight.

Two weights of Mountmellick fabric

The samples were just big enough to fit into a 3″ hoop, so I decided to try them with my little Quatrefoil flower to see what they are like to work on.

Quatrefoils transferred to the Mountmellick fabric

Both allowed for a well-lit-window transfer (I couldn’t easily get at my lightbox) and both of them have a nice “feel”, but from first impressions I thought the heavyweight would be more suitable for use in kits as it’s nice and sturdy; and would the two weights stand up differently to the goldwork threads being plunged, I wondered?

Using a well-lit window as a lightbox Holding the design and the fabric in place

The lightweight, which I tried first, took it quite well, although the strain put on it by plunging the Jap threads did seem to distort it a bit. It was absolutely fine for the crewel part. It’s quite a dense weave so it’s easy to place the needle just where you want it, and in fact it would be perfectly good fabric for any kits bar the goldwork one, especially with the light calico backing I usually include.

One down, one to go

The heavyweight was next. As they are both Mountmellick fabric/cotton sateen I’d rather expected them to look exactly alike with the only difference being the weight, but the heavyweight somehow looks a little more even and this sample at least is also somewhat straighter on the grain. But would the difference be noticeable in practice?

Yes it was, but really only the difference in weight. The weave on both samples is more or less equally dense, and placing the needle was therefore equally easy. The weight of this sample, however, did sometimes make it slightly more difficult to pull the needle through, especially where there was a lot of previous stitching to get through. On the other hand, it stood up much better to plunging and having the gold threads secured at the back without distorting the front. I think this fabric would work particularly well if you’ve got a project that needs a solid ground but for whatever reason you’d prefer not to use an extra backing fabric. I’d have to try it on a bigger design, but I’d expect it to work just fine with a moderate amount of goldwork, and certainly with anything lighter.

The Quatrefoil on heavyweight Mountmellick

So I ordered some of the heavyweight, as well as half a metre of another fabric they do which is simply called “cotton sateen”, and which is available in all sorts of interesting colours. As Mountmellick is a type of cotton sateen I wondered what the difference was, and when I rang Empress Mills the lady told me it was mostly the weight. The fabrics arrived last week (I showed a picture of them in the previous FoF) and the cotton sateen does indeed feel much like the lightweight Mountmellick fabric. I may get a few more colours, as it looks like a useful kit fabric!

Certificate decisions

Last week I wrote about a significant set of four RSN Stitch Guides and ideas for the Canvaswork module of the RSN Certificate and this means, doesn’t it, surely it must, that I’ve decided to do The Whole Thing after all. As you may remember I set out on this course with the clear intention of doing the Jacobean and Goldwork modules, and then stopping. Several people (including tutors, my very supportive husband and a fellow student) have since encouraged me to do the whole Certificate, and I’ve been keeping this in the back of my mind throughout the first module. The ideas are there – my canvas scribbles and pictures-for-inspiration are fairly obvious indications of that. And yet.

Various ideas for the Canvaswork module

Having stitched for quite a few hours now using the trestle-and-slate-frame combination, I think I can confidently say it is simply not my cup of tea. I find the stitching position uncomfortable and the nearly horizontal orientation of the frame (even after putting the rear of the trestles up another notch to give it extra tilt) puts a strain on my eyes – with my ordinary glasses I can see the further end of the embroidery, but I can’t see the details nearby, while with my stitching glasses I can’t see far enough without things going blurry. When stitching the tree trunk, which covers quite a bit of the height of the design, neither of my glasses allowed me to work an entire row of chain stitch in focus while keeping a comfortable (and healthy!) posture.

The trestles at maximum tilt

But the slate frame is obligatory when doing the Certificate (and the other “big” RSN courses like the Diploma and the Future Tutor programme), and I don’t think it is negotiable. Not for the Canvaswork and Goldwork modules, with A5-sized projects, and not even for the Silk Shading module, where the brief specifies that “overall the piece should be no bigger than 8×8 centimeters (3in x 3in)”. Leaving aside for the moment that 3 inches is even less than 8 centimetres, does this really need a slate frame, even my “small” 18-inch one? I fear that it probably does if it’s part of the Certificate, and that no amount of coin-bouncing off my laced Millennium frame will convince them otherwise. But just possibly the Bling SAL Tree may sneak into my frame bag, come to my February class and show off its drum-taut tension, and then who knows?

Laced Millennium frame

PS Depending on the outcome, would anyone be interested in taking over a hardly-used slate frame in a year or so? With trestles?

How absent-minded ordering leads to another project

As you may know I’ve got seven or eight projects on hold, patiently waiting in my craft room in various stages of WIP-ness, and have only allowed myself the Ottoman Tulip because I need something that I can just use as a sort of paint-by-numbers exercise in between the Certificate and the SAL – and then my lovely Heathway Milano wools arrived.

Heathway Milano wool for the SAL

I ordered them as back-up for the SAL threads, with a few spares thrown in for good measure. But as I sorted through them I realised that for two of the greens I’d ordered as spares, I already had a spare. And because Steve at Catkin Crown had very kindly pointed out to me that if I ordered one more skein I’d qualify for free postage I had also ordered another “neutral”; always useful, but I now have perhaps slightly more than I strictly speaking need. And then there was a brown for which I ordered a spare and of which I had a bit left from a previous skein. And they went so beautifully together, and I happened to have a spare bit of twill…

To cut a long story short, this is another Oh Sew Bootiful design; it is meant to be done in purple and yellow stranded cotton and contains French knots as well as stem stitch and satin stitch, but I’m ditching the knots – I want some really relaxing embroidery to do when I’m tired and just want to enjoy the rhythm of the needle, and the soothing colours and the soft feel of the threads.

The transfer on this is quite wobbly (all right, I admit, I rushed it) and the two circles I’ve stitched so far are, to say the least, rustic. But oh my goodness I enjoyed stitching them! It was the most relaxing bit of embroidery I’ve done in a long time, and I don’t care what it looks like when I’ve finished – this is just the perfect bit of therapy smiley.

Oh Sew Bootiful kaleidoscopic design

Can you tell I’ve waxed?

Commenting on a previous FoF about the Tree of Life SAL, Louise asked about Thread Heaven as a conditioner and we got onto the subject of using beeswax. I use it in goldwork to wax the threads used for couching or otherwise attaching the gold threads and wires, but I have never used it to smooth or tame wayward embroidery threads – I’ve always been slightly nervous of making the thread lose its sheen or look, well, waxy. However, I know of stitchers who have used it and they tell me it makes the thread more manageable without affecting the look.

Then a fellow-member of the Mary Corbet Facebook group asked about Silk Mill silks and when I mentioned how springy they are (I may have used the technical term “boingy”…) she expressed concern that they would not lie flat. Now I’ve only used the silk for split stitch and a bit of underside couching, where this is not a great issue. But in satin stitch, for example, it would be. I could feel an experiment coming up.

Earlier that day I had been re-arranging boxes and folders of designs, and in one of them there was a 3″ flexihoop and a piece of Normandy fabric which I’m sure had a purpose at one time, but as I couldn’t remember what it was I decided it would do very well for this experiment (which I wanted to be fairly quick). In one of the folders I also found a Mary Corbet freebie, the inner part of which was just right for trying out both line and filling stitches. I would work the lines in stem stitch and the shapes in satin stitch, half of the project with waxed threads and half with unwaxed (and unsteamed) threads.

Notes for the Silk Mill waxing experiment

I transferred the design standing at an awkward angle over my lightbox wearing the wrong glasses, which is why the lines are not the cleanest, but it’ll do. The experiment could have been done in one colour, but I chose two for a bit of interest, and also to see whether different colours would stitch up differently when waxed. I will readily admit that the combination is not very subtle, but the green is a colour of which I was sent a duplicate in error so I’ve got plenty of it, and the pink (which I chose based on the Silk Mill website rather than on their real-life samples) turned out to be much more shockingly pink then I had expected, so I’m unlikely to use it in any “proper” project.

Materials for the Silk Mill waxing experiment

I started with the outermost circle in unwaxed pink stem stitch. And I’d got about half-way round the circle when something I knew in the back of my mind suddenly came rushing to the fore: Silk Mill silk is Z-twisted! What does this mean? Well, almost all cotton and wool embroidery threads and most silks are plied in an S-twist, that is to say the direction of the thread’s twist is like the slanting middle part of an S, top left to bottom right. But rayons and some silks, including Silk Mill, are plied in a Z-twist, with the slant of the thread going bottom left to top right like the diagonal line of a Z.

At this point a polite non-stitching friend might say “ah”, displaying a mild interest and wondering whether the knowledge could come in handy in a pub quiz some time; a less polite one might opt for “so what?” And it is true that the difference is not always important. As I said, so far I’ve only used this particular silk for split stitch and underside couching, neither of which involves a great amount of twist (in fact underside couching involves no twist at all, as most of the thread lies flat of the surface with bits of it pulled through to the back at regular intervals by the couching thread). This means that the twist of the working thread doesn’t make much difference to the look of these stitches. But when working stitches that do incorporate a certain amount of twist, such as stem stitch or French knots, S-twisted threads and Z-twisted threads behave differently.

Take stem stitch. When working from left to right, the loop of working thread is always kept underneath the line of stitching. This results in that lovely rope-like texture which makes such nice crisp outlines. Were you to keep the loop of working thread above the line of stitching, you would technically be producing outline stitch – and the effect is quite distinct, especially when worked in a thread with a noticeable twist like perle cotton. This is because stem stitch twists the working thread in the direction of its natural twist, causing it to tighten up, whereas outline stitch twists it in the opposite direction, making the twist looser and the line of stitches much less textured.

Stem stitch (top) versus outline stitch (bottom) Outline stitch (left) versus stem stitch (right)

At least it does when the thread is S-twisted; but if you have a Z-twisted thread, the effect is the opposite! So when the stitch instructions for a design say “stem stitch” but you’re using a Z-twisted thread, you need to work outline stitch, and vice versa. You’ll also have to twist the thread around the needle in the opposite direction when doing French knots or bullions, and it will make a difference to whipped stitches as well. You can see this effect in the picture below; you’d expect the green to be stem stitch and the pink to be outline stitch, but in fact it’s the other way round as they are worked in Z-twisted Silk Mill silk.

Outline stitch (green) and stem stitch (pink) in a Z-twisted thread

I’m rather pleased to think that my choice of silk is going to add another learning experience to the SAL: I’ll be able to point out in the blog which stitches need to be worked in mirror image to the usual instructions to get the same effect!

But back to waxing. The finished experiment shows stem stitch, unwaxed (pink circle), outline stitch, unwaxed (green circle), stem stitch, waxed (pink quatrefoil), outline stitch, waxed (green quatrefoil), satin stitch, unwaxed (outer pink) and satin stitch, waxed (green and central pink).

The experiment complete

And the first thing that struck me was how much darker the waxed quatrefoil lines look than the unwaxed circle ones. Whether the coating of wax does actually make them darker or whether it’s because they reflect less light (or reflect it differently; there definitely seems to be less of a sheen), the effect is quite noticeable and would have to be borne in mind when choosing whether to wax. A second difference between the unwaxed and waxed threads shows up more clearly in the satin stitch sections: when waxed the threads look much more cord-like and separate – they don’t blend into one smooth surface nearly so well as the unwaxed threads.

The experiment complete

That’s how wax influences the thread’s look; but does it make a difference to how it handles? Well, waxed it was a little more manageable with less bounce to it, although I was actually surprised how well the unwaxed thread behaved when I was doing satin stitch, especially considering that I hadn’t steamed them. On the whole I don’t think the slight improvement in handling is worth the loss of sheen and the loss of “spread” in the satin stitch areas. Yes, I can tell where I’ve waxed – and I won’t be doing it again.

All framed up

All right, I can’t resist. I’m so ridiculously pleased with the lacing I’ve done on the Millennium frame and the good tension I managed to get on my 14″ hoop that I just want to show them off! A bit of work in my photo editing programme to blur the transferred designs, and now I can share my framed and hooped SAL fabrics without spoiling the mystery smiley.

I photographed them both with the threads and other bits and bobs around them to give some sense of the size (the cat in the hoop picture is not there for scale, just for her decorative value). For a stitcher who until relatively recently thought of a 7″ hoop as quite large, this 14″ whopper comes as a bit of a shock whenever I see it. The bigger the hoop, the more difficult it is to get good tension on the fabric, but as I mentioned before the bound inner hoop helps, as does the fact that it is a 20mm deep quilting hoop; a few more judicious tugs at the fabric yesterday and some persuasive wingnut action and the tension is now equal to what I would expect from a much smaller hoop.

Hooped fabric and materials for the plain Tree of Life

The Millennium frame has superb tension when used as it comes, even side to side – in fact surprisingly so for a frame which (like pretty much all scroll frames) holds the fabric top and bottom only. The top-to-bottom tension is incredible, and must, I assume, be so much better than on any scroll frame I’ve tried because it is achieved by lengthening the side bars (they each have a thick wooden screw inside them which screws up and down), in effect pushing the roller bars apart, rather than by trying to roll the fabric tightly onto the bars. You can apply so much more force that way. The Millennium frame’s side-to-side tension is derived purely from the scroll bars – because the fabric is held firmly along its entire width by an ingenious groove-and-rod combination, it is almost as taut at the edges as it is in the centre, something that is practically unheard of with other scroll frames.

Orpheus mounted on the Millennium frame

So why lace the fabric? Two reasons. Firstly, I said “almost as taut”. You can bounce a penny off the centre of the fabric, but there is a little bit of give right at the edges. Secondly, because of the very strong top-to-bottom tension the fabric will stretch vertically, albeit only slightly; this will be more noticeable the longer the fabric is on the frame, and this project will likely be there some time. You can slacken off the tension between sessions, but I prefer to keep the fabric taut so the tension remains more or less the same throughout my work on the piece.

Neither of these is an insurmountable problem, and I have happily used the frame without any further fabric preparation, as you can see from the picture above. But because this time I’m working with two layers of fabric, and there are goldwork elements in the piece, I thought I’d apply some of my newly-gained knowledge of dressing a slate frame to this smaller frame for even better tension. Attaching the fabric to the top and bottom bar is done as usual – there is no canvas to sew it on it to, and I’m very pleased there isn’t as the rod-and-groove system is a lot quicker – and after that I extended the side bars enough to make the fabric sit flat, without sagging, but not so much that it was stretched.

Next, sew herringbone tape to the sides of the fabric, and use that lethal bracing needle I showed last time to lace them to the side bars. Slightly more fiddly than with a slate frame because the Millennium side bars are not uniformly shaped from top to bottom, and part of what I’m lacing around is the exposed wooden screw. But with a bit of string manipulation it works perfectly well, so on to the final stage of gradually increasing the tension in both directions by extending the side bars and tightening the lacing. At the end of all that I’ve got a piece of fabric you could play an impressive drum solo on, and it’s much more portable and manoeuvrable than the slate frame, sitting quite happily on my Aristo lapstand rather than needing trestles. Win!

Framed fabric and materials for the bling Tree of Life

I might sneak in a few SAL stitches later this week during my RSN Certificate Homework Time…