The start of a craft room

After a couple of years of empty-nesting we have had both fledglings back temporarily (though not simultaneously), something which could have meant an indefinite delay to The Craft Room.

The Craft Room has existed in concept practically since we moved into this house 11 years ago. It has, you see, a small downstairs study, just the thing to be turned into a little nook for the lady of the house. One day. Because with two teenagers in the house it first became The Telly Room, a.k.a. The Den. Their need was greater than mine. I could wait.

And so my various bits and bobs got distributed around the house, in a chest of drawers, a wall-mounted bookcase, a specimen cabinet, a drawer under the bed and a blanket chest, as well as The Temporary Craft Storage Shelf, a.k.a. the dining table.

The present craft storage, a.k.a. the dining table

But Youngest (the fledgling currently at home) has generously said he can now do without The Den, and so the transformation is in progress. The old telly has been taken to the local charity shop, my hi-fi (brought with me from the Netherlands but rather superfluous as my husband already had a better one) has been claimed by Youngest as it has a record player and he is into vinyl. Several other items which had made their home in that room for the past decade have been returned to their respective owners, to be stored in their own room/flat. The Craft Room To Be is getting emptier.

The telly room, window side The telly room, door side

Of course when I say “emptier” I use the word in its loosest possible sense… That blue behemoth is a sofa bed which we hope someone will want to come and collect, the boxes and stuffed animals on it are things from my mother’s flat waiting to be sorted out, and the trays of Austin Seven spares in the middle of the room are part of our trade fair stand in need of re-organising. But we’ve made a start!

Eventually, when the room is empty apart from the bookcase and the low coffee table, it will be time to start filling it up again. I’m sure things will get re-arranged more than once, but this is the provisional layout:

Floorplan for the craft room

The bookcase (minus the video tapes and DVDs it holds at the moment) will be moved to the opposite, north-facing wall, so that even with the curtains open there won’t be too much light falling on whatever is stored there (probably all my thread boxes). The coffee table will remain where it is, and a very tall unit for CDs will snuggle in beside it and hold my audiobooks. A desk that is at present in our storage room will go by the window, with a small Ikea filing cabinet (not bought yet) by its side. The desk has three drawers which I think will be just the right size to hold my hoops, including the sets of workshop hoops.

The light grey rectangles drawn inside the desk and table are plastic storage boxes; they are the sort advertised as under-the-bed storage, but there is no reason why they shouldn’t sit quite as comfortably under anything else on legs smiley. By the way, one of them has now got a dark lid – when I got them home I found one of the lids was cracked, and although Wilko were happy to replace it they didn’t have any transparent ones. As they’ll be hidden away anyway I wasn’t too bothered.

Under-the-bed boxes

The rectangle between the desk and the coffee table is what the shop called a “Really Useful Rainbow Storage Tower”, which is as good a description as any. It did need a little adjusting, though – originally the pink drawer at the top was positioned between the red and the orange drawers!

A rainbow storage tower

Now I know that it’s really silly to start filling boxes and drawers when I haven’t got a place to put them yet, but I couldn’t resist. And so the rainbow tower and one of the storage boxes now hold all my fabrics. (I’ve since changed my mind about the other box with the hoops – as mentioned above they will probably go into the desk drawers instead.)

Beginning to fill the boxes A fabric tower

Until I have sorted through Mum’s boxes, and we’ve got rid of the sofa and moved the trays of spares, any further Craft Room arrangements will have to be made on paper, so I’m happily occupying myself with measuring shelves and drawers and boxes and seeing what will fit where.

Calculations

There are a few other things that aren’t on the floorplan yet – the sewing machine which is to have a permanent place on the desk in the hope that I will actually start using it, the wall-mounted cupboard/shelf unit which my mother used as a coat rack and which used to be my grandparents’, and possibly another wall-mounted unit if I can convince my husband that our storage room doesn’t really need it. If everything goes to plan, I should have a fully furnished craft room some time this year!

Suspended animation

You may remember that some time ago I was finishing off some half-completed small projects, among them some Shisha tiles. They use sequins. I’d also been stocking up on sequins for kits (and being seduced by those floral gems). Consequently my mind was in sequin mode, and as it turned out my subconscious mind was as well, as I actually dreamt of sequins one night. Could you, I wondered as I woke up at 2am, suspend a sequin in the centre of a Hardanger cut area? I’ve done it with beads, both single and multiple, so why not sequins? I grabbed the little notebook that lives on my bedside table and scribbled down a few ideas. The following morning it still made sense (not all my night-time scribbles do) although I did realise I’d have to work it slightly differently from my first idea.

Off to my doodle cloth I went, with some floche which happened to be in the needle and a sequin. Here’s what I tried: fasten on and come up in a corner of a cut hole, then thread on a sequin. Down in the fabric at the opposite corner and up in the cut area in the same corner, then take the needle over the diagonal thread.

Come up in a corner of a cut hole Thread on a sequin Go down into the fabric at the opposite corner Come up in that same corner in the cut area

Go underneath the diagonal, then down through the sequin hole from above. Wrap around the diagonal towards the first corner and go down the fabric. My wrapping wasn’t very even so the sequin isn’t centred, but that’s a matter of practice, and anyway, we’re not done yet smiley. Stretch a thread across the other diagonal (up in the cut hole in one corner, through the sequin and down into the fabric in the opposite corner).

Go underneath the diagonal, then down through the sequin hole from above Wrap around the diagonal towards the first corner and go down the fabric The sequin isn't centred, but all is not lost Stretch a thread across the other diagonal

Back along the diagonal as before, wrapping around the thread and going through the sequin, then down into the fabric in the corner again. Voilà, a suspended sequin! And the second diagonal has helped to centre the sequin, even though it was quite a bit off on the first diagonal. (Apologies for the optional cat hair that has enveigled itself into the stitch; I didn’t notice it until I saw the photographs at full size…)

Wrap along the second diagonal, going through the sequin Suspended sequin Suspended sequin catching the light

Depending on the size of the sequin this would work on various counts of fabric, I expect. This is a 3mm sequin with 25ct Lugana – 22ct Hardanger would give it a bit more breathing space. With fine fabric you could use a 2mm sequin, I suppose, although I have some in my stash and there isn’t a lot of body to them, so they might get rather lost in the holding threads. 4mm would probably work with 22ct, but as I’ve only got cup sequins in that size I can’t try it out; you really need a flat sequin for this to work. But it needn’t be round, although I would expect it to look most effective with a regular shape. However, if you’d like to try it out with a heart or crescent-shaped sequin do send me a picture to show how it turned out!

An unexpected find, an enjoyable task and a sample of kindness

Surprises, as long as they are of the pleasant variety, are always welcome. Guess what I found as I was getting some things out of a bottom drawer in preparation for the Craft Fair. Coasters! Now I’ve been stitching away for the past month or so making coasters because they sold quite well last year and I ran out within an hour. So this year I wanted to make sure there would be a good stock of them:

The coaster sets made for the 2016 Craft Fair

But the more the merrier, and although the four I found were some experimental designs which I put into coasters and then forgot about, they are attractive enough to join the sale I think.

An unexpected extra set of coasters

Another thing I need for the Craft Fair is some new display items for the “For Show” part. You may remember that in anticipation and with a touching optimism I bought some lovely satin boxes from the Viking Loom some months ago.

Satin display and jewellery boxes from Viking Loom

As you probably expected, these are all still in their plastic wrapping, and no stitching has been anywhere near them. Time to change all that, and over the next two weeks, in between workshops, I’m hoping to mount some of my stack of finished project in at least some of the boxes. I’m aiming for three, although there are plenty of projects to cover all of them and have several left over!

Projects that might finish up on the boxes

Quite a few of those projects are too big for the satin boxes, but there is another box which has been waiting to be embellished for months now – a lovely wooden thread box which I’m hoping to fill with my collection of Threadworx perles and silks. Because of the shape of the box a rectangular design is called for, the options are a bit limited as most of my designs are square. Still, there are two which will fit very nicely; so now the only question is, Join the Band or Orpheus?

Orpheus or Join the Band for this box?

And finally another example of crafters being very kind people. I’ve been looking for a suitable fabric for some new kits, as the one I’m currently using for the stitches models is rather expensive. It’s a bit of a balancing act: I want my kits and workshop materials to be of good quality, but I also want to keep them affordable, and so sometimes I reluctantly decide that “good quality” does not necessarily have to mean “exceptional but expensive quality”. (For the same reason I occasionally use standard threads where a hand-dyed thread would be more attractive, but also much more costly.)

Well, I found a possible fabric online, but as you know it can be very difficult to get a good idea of fabrics (or threads for that matter) from a picture on a screen; the colour and texture looked right, but I couldn’t tell what sort of weight it was. However, there was a phone number so I rang it and spoke to a very nice lady called Val. We discussed what the fabric would be used for, and other fabrics that might be suitable, and in the end she said she’d send me a sample of the fabric so I could see whether it was right for my purpose – and she’d send it first class so I’d get it before the weekend! The envelope arrived this morning, and in it were three samples: the fabric I’d expressed an interest in and two others. (In the picture there’s only a strip of the off-white fabric as I’d already taken it away to transfer a design onto it.)

A semi-bleached calico and two cotton/linen mixes

When I’ve tried it I’ll let you know what I think!

New threads, vanishing threads and non-existent threads

Putting together a new workshop/kit often means looking into various materials, threads and other bits and bobs that would be suitable for it (I know, it’s a hard life smiley). In this case I was looking for a non-divisible variegated green thread a little thicker than a strand of stranded cotton. Three of the possibles I’m considering at the moment are (from left to right) Weeks Dye Works perle #12, Chameleon perle #16 and Sulky Blendables 12wt. I’ve never tried any of these before so I’m looking forward to stitching some samples with them.

Weeks Dye Works perle #12 Emerald Chameleon perle #16 Fennel Sulky Blendables 12wt Cactus

The WDW shade is called Emerald, and I’ve got one called Bayberry on back order from Sew & So – it looks lovely but I think it may be just a little too thick for what I want. The Chameleon one, a shade called Fennel, I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show; about the right thickness, but not many shades available unfortunately. You may notice that the Sulky image (of a shade called Cactus) is a stock one, as I ordered this from America and it hasn’t arrived yet. There is another possible green in the Blendables range but that looks rather dark online. I had hoped to find them at the K&S Show so I could see them in the flesh, but either they weren’t there or I missed them – easily done with so many stands there!

The vanishing thread is Tamar Embroideries’ mercerized cotton (which used to be called brodery cotton). It is being discontinued, not because it wasn’t popular, but because they can’t get the thread anymore for dyeing! So goodbye to this lovely variegated green thread that was perfect for little lazy daisy leaves. I hope they’ll find a good substitute soon.

Tamar Embroideries mercerized cotton shade 243

And the non-existent threads? I dreamed them. In one of those very realistic-seeming dreams a friend was explaining a printing machine to me, which turned into a weaving machine; beside it was a wooden rack with hanks of thread hanging from it, all labelled. I particularly noticed two of them, very attractive slightly fluffy threads not unlike chenille. The labels identified them as “fine priel” and “open priel”.

I woke up and the dream turned out to be as illogical in the cold light of day as dreams usually are, but I did remember the name of the thread! Alas, the only priels I managed to find were a mountain and a meandering stream; neither of them at all fluffy and both impossible to stitch with.

2016 Knitting and Stitching Show

My annual Knitting & Stitching outing was once again very enjoyable. I always combine it with some serious walking around London, taking in a good number of parks (and the odd cemetery) on the way, and this year there were the added pleasures of the Opus Anglicanum exhibition at the V&A, and meeting up for lunch with an old friend, the Salvation Army Major who married my husband and me 11 years ago.

If you have the opportunity, do go and see the exhibition; it runs until 5th February 2017 and shows an incredible collection of medieval English embroideries – mostly ecclesiastical, but some secular as well. And although many of the exhibits are showing their age, being rather faded and moth-eaten, quite a few are remarkably colourful and sparkly still, and the ones you can get really close to give you an opportunity to see in detail what stunning work the embroiderers produced (and with what minuscule stitches). After so many centuries, some of the symbolism is lost on us, and I was particularly grateful for the explanatory notice beside a depiction of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, which said, “The striped leggings of Christ’s attackers were a marker of their sinful pride and bad character.” I had some stripy tights years ago, and never knew they revealed my bad character!

At the Knitting & Stitching Show itself I really enjoyed the many exhibitions, both great and small, of various forms of needlework; I also took the opportunity of adding my bit, or my bunny, to the Embroiderers’ Guild’s World’s Longest Embroidery which is in the Guinness Book of Records. It is officially finished but wherever it is displayed they encourage people to put in a small bit of embroidery where they can find a space, whether a small motif or just a sample of stitches.

Mabel's contribution to the World's Longest Embroidery

Of course I bought one or two things as well… although a large part of the stash I brought home was actually stuff I had ordered a month earlier from the Golden Hinde and was picking up at the Show to save on postage, so there may be some justification in not counting it as a Show purchase. On the other hand, why would that make a difference smiley? It is new stash, and I’m going to enjoy it! Some of this is for my Jacobean goldwork – I found I didn’t have a lot of pearl purl #2 left after using it for the stem, and I also wanted to try some of the wavy check thread as a substitute for the prescribed thread on the flower. The two coloured purls are an impulse buy; I thought they would make rather nice forget-me-not flowers with a gold bead in the centre.

Purchases from the Golden Hinde

At another stand I was chuffed to find Sadi threads, used in Indian embroidery. As they are rather less expensive than goldwork threads they are great for practice pieces or beginners’ workshops. They don’t come in quite so many sizes and types, but are very useful nonetheless (you can read more about them on Mary Corbet’s blog). I got Sadi fine smooth purls in silver and pale gold. My final stash purchase was a skein of Chameleon hand-dyed #16 perle; I love the Chameleon overdyed silks and have been wanting to try out their perles, and a #16 is new to me so will make an interesting experiment, probably as part of a Floral Gem project. Oh, I also managed to get good quality petite tapestry needles (for the Floral Gem and Christmas Wreath kits) at 2/3 the usual price but had already put them away when I took the photograph and anyway they really aren’t that exciting to look at smiley.

Other show purchases

It was nice not to have to worry too much about the expense of these pretties as the two workshops I taught easily covered them and my travelling costs. But quite apart from that benefit, I just enjoy teaching workshops! This year it was the freestyle Wildflower Garden and the Shisha tile, and I got some lovely feedback from the participants which was very encouraging. Below is a collage of some of their work.

Some of the Freestyle participants' work Some of the Shisha participants' work

At the Royal School of Needlework’s stand I picked up a leaflet with a special Show offer of 10% off their day classes – and there is a goldwork class in Rugby next year… To make use of it I will have to decide by 31st October; I’ll let you know!

A compact hobby

As I’ve probably mentioned before, once a month I go to a craft group at our local library. It’s enjoyable to meet up with others who appreciate making things with needle and thread or wool or bits of fabric, depending on whether they are stitchers, knitters/crocheters (how do you pronounce that?) or quilters, and there is always tea or coffee and cake as well. Usually my preparation for a meeting amounts to deciding what project to bring, but this time I was in charge of the eatables, as our usual baker was on holiday. A batch of cheese muffins and one of coconut bites later that part was taken care of. Now for the stitching project, which couldn’t be too big as most of the space in my bag would be taken up by the muffins/bites.

And this is the sort of situation where needlework turns out to be a most convenient hobby (unlike playing the double bass, or turning clay pots) – you need very little for it! One of the small Floral Gem projects seemed like a nice, compact idea, and although I could easily have taken one of my small project boxes, I rather liked the challenge of keeping everything to a minimum. So here it is, everything that is needed to complete the project, with all the threads, beads and embellishments fitting in a 1½” tin, and the whole lot fitting into a 5″ x 7½” seal bag.

All the materials for the project Everything needed in a compact bag

And did I complete the project? Well, no, not quite. Not in 90 minutes, and some of that time taken up with eating muffins and trying to keep the cream cheese off the fabric. smiley But I made a start, and now there’s only the outer wheatear stitch border to do.

A good start on the project

Surprising finds

Life is full of surprises, to make an unoriginal observation, and they come when you least expect them smiley. I had two this weekend, one at the Beaulieu Autojumble where Mr Figworthy and I have a stand and one when we returned home. Although both were stitching-related, they were surprising in different ways – both pleasant, fortunately!

While wandering around the Autojumble on the look-out for valve spring compressors, rubber bump stops and what not, we stopped at a stand that sold fuses, washers, and other small stuff. You could buy individual fuses, washers and other small stuff, or you could get selection boxes (which sound as though they ought to contain chocolates). Smallish boxes with compartments. Project-box-sized boxes with adjustable compartments, to be precise. And he sells the boxes separately as well (though not at the fair). And they are cheaper than your usual craft boxes. And they look as if they’re stackable. And he is based not too far from us. I can feel an order coming on some time in the future. If they look this good with fuses in them, just imagine how beautiful they will look filled with stash.

Boxes of colourful bits for cars

It was surprising to find anything that might be useful to a stitcher at an Autojumble; it generally isn’t surprising to find stitching things at the house of a stitcher. Even so some stash may be unexpected, not to say mysterious! When we arrived home I found a plastic folder full of stranded cottons and a chunky pair of scissors lying on the sofa, without a note or anything to identify the sender or the reason for sending. Oldest son had found it pushed through the letterbox and had put it in a conspicuous place for me to find, assuming (very probably correctly) that it was meant for me rather than for my husband. Colourful, isn’t it? Lots of useful threads for the charity workshops, which is what I will use them for unless I hear from the giver that they meant them for a different purpose.

A mysterious folder of threads, with scissors

I wonder what the next surprise will be?

Projects for stash

When I wrote about stash with no immediate purpose, did I by any chance mention the very colourful autumn maple leaves which nestled themselves among the floral gems in my shopping basket last month? No? Or the icy snowflakes that came with my order as a free sample? I can’t think how they slipped my mind…

Leaf and snowflake shaped embellishments

Anyway, I do now have a very specific purpose for the floral gems! Some time ago I bought aperture cards that were just the right size for the three freebie stars, in the hope that they would make quick Christmas cards. Which they will. Some day. But as I was thinking of cards to make for our church’s Craft Fair in November it struck me that they would also be just the right size for a small embroidery centred around some of those sparkly little flowers – and wouldn’t they make lovely cards for all sorts of occasions? (I did think of adding the little bunny face I stitch-doodled some time ago, but I’m not sure I can make him small enough, and I wouldn’t want a monster bunny in these tiny little embroideries!)

A little garden of gem flowers A floral celebration card

My first attempt was, as you can tell from the picture, a rather informal affair, and relatively naturalistic, but the flowers (and the butterfly) can also be used in a slightly more formal and abstract arrangement. The four curves are a bit wonky but actually I rather like the not-quite-symmetry.

A floral tile A more abstract floral celebration card

And then I found I had some cards with slightly larger, circular apertures which also work with these embellishments! (Must not get carried away, however – the whole idea is that they should be quick and not use too many resources; if you’re stitching for charity you want to keep your costs down. On the other hand, I think I have the makings of another workshop here!) Note to self: keep butterflies lightish in shade, they look better that way.

A circular floral design A third floral celebration card

An added bonus about these little projects is the fact that they can be worked completely freehand should I want to; as long as I have some hint of the visible area on my fabric (i.e. a lightly pencilled square just a little bigger than the aperture of the card) and make sure I stay well inside it, it’ll work. These might just become my go-to travel projects for the next few months!

Incidentally, several people have been giving me bags (small and large) of needlework materials over the past two months – some asking me to find a good home for the threads/canvases/books/frames, others offering them for use in the charity workshops or a similar purpose, and I have indeed used some of the threads already in these Floral Gem cards. In one of these bags there were three small boxes with six compartments each, used for some beads and odds and ends of threads. I found they make the perfect receptacle for the various beads, gems and sequins I’m hoping to use for these cards, as well as some of the threads. And the boxes look so inviting they can’t fail to inspire me to stitch a great many of them.

Materials for Floral Gem cards in three neat little boxes

A novel use for split washers?

As my husband (to whom I’ve been married 11 years today!) was packing up an order for a customer of the Figworthy household’s main business (spares for pre-war Austin Sevens, in case you’re wondering), he handed me a small part and said, “isn’t this rather like your spangles?” It was a split washer, and he was right in that it is gold-coloured, round, and has a hole and a split in it. “Could you use it?” he then asked. A challenge! Well, it definitely looks as though it might be part of a goldwork project, if not perhaps in a very traditional design.

A split washer

Now I must admit that I am not very good at gauging sizes (remember that 4mm ribbon which turned out to be 6mm?) and although it did seem to me that it was probably rather larger than the 3mm spangles in my goldwork stash box I hadn’t quite realised how much bigger…

A split washer and a 3mm spangle

Steampunk goldwork, anyone?

A visit to the Viking Loom

You may remember that a while ago I bought some satin display boxes from the Viking Loom. Last Monday I quite unexpectedly had the opportunity to visit their new premises just outside York, and of course I jumped at the chance! I had been to their old shop in High Petergate, which was lovely, but I’d read on their website the new place was much bigger, including workshop space. My sister-in-law kindly lent me a bike (which took a bit of getting used to, as my trusted Dutch bike has back-pedal brakes and no gears) so off I went up Wigginton Road and past the chocolate factory, which was rather like being bathed in cocoa – very invigorating!

To say that the new place is more spacious is definitely a bit of an understatement. It’s not many craft shops that you approach by means of a tree-lined avenue, or where the car park is overlooked by horses and a a dovecote, and where you can park your bike next to a miniature orchard with geese in it.

The drive leading to the Viking Loom Horses and dovecote Geese roaming in the orchard

The house , too, is impressive, but unfortunately not part of the shop so an outside view only. A lovely yellow labrador of supreme laid-backness welcomes you (if that is not too active a word) to the Viking Loom itself, and the first room you get into is awash with colour, filled as it is with innumerable shades of Appleton’s crewel and tapestry wool.

The house Welcomed by the dog A colourful entrance

Then it’s upstairs, to a room devoted to all things quilting (which I didn’t photograph), followed by the embroidery room which had kits and books and threads and tools and a surprising number of goldwork bits and bobs. As I wandered into this room a lady asked if I was looking for anything in particular or if I would prefer to browse. When I said I’d browse a bit first, please, she offered me coffee or tea – I can tell you it’s a rather nervous affair, walking around with a hot drink while looking at all these gorgeous things! The tea (proper, strong Yorkshire tea, with lots of milk) was made in a little kitchen attached to the workshop space, where two ladies were having a lovely time sewing and “escaping the housework and the children”, as they informed me.

Threads and kits Kits and hoops The kitchen in the workshop room

Of course I couldn’t possibly leave without taking a little bit of stash with me. As luck would have it, I found two things which I had been reading about, and wanting to try out, but I didn’t like to order them online without having at least some idea what they were like. One of these was trigger cloth, a fairly closely woven fabric for freestyle embroidery; unfortunately they only had it in bright white, not the antique white I usually prefer, but it felt nice and sturdy with enough body not to need backing (unless you’re using very heavy embellishments or goldwork materials). And as I was looking at the fabrics, a piece of hand-painted (not dyed) silk jumped out and said “goldwork seahorse” to me, so that got added to the trigger cloth. The silk is actually painted on the premises by a lady who comes there every now and then to paint a batch.

Trigger cloth and hand-painted silk A close-up of the fabrics

The other thing I’d been reading about was heavy metal thread, as used by Hazel Everett in her goldwork book. Unfortunately she doesn’t mention a brand name, or where to buy it, and so some further research was called for. This lead me to Madeira’s #12 metallic thread, which is indeed known as Heavy Metal, a misnomer if ever there was one for this fine, 3-ply thread which can be used as it comes, or split into its three plies for detailed or miniature work. I could find it online, but not very easily, and the postage for these chunky reels made it rather too expensive to buy on the off-chance that it would be to my liking. But there it was, at the Viking Loom, ready to be inspected and touched, and available in four colours. I got them all.

Madeira heavy metal threads

Visiting family is fun anyway, but if they happen to live close to a place like the Viking Loom it’s even more fun!