A kind and generous artist

A few weeks ago Sew & So posted a new kit on their Facebook page – a rectangle completely filled with stylised cats and one dog, called The Imposter. It was quirky. It was fun. I liked the colours. The only problem is that I very rarely stitch other people’s designs now, having quite enough of my own to fill all my stitching time and then some. But I really, really liked this picture, so I messaged Sew & So to ask them if they knew whether the design was available as a print.

The Imposter cross stitch kit

They replied that they didn’t know, but suggested that I ask the artist, Pete Underhill. I found his FB page and sent off a message to explain where I’d seen The Interloper (yes, I know – I managed to get the name wrong…), and to ask about prints. I soon got a reply saying that he had no plans for prints of this particular design but that he’d be happy to send me a copy. And today it arrived, signed, and with a note apologising for the quality of the paper smiley. It is now waiting to be framed and will in time grace one of the walls of my new craft room.

The Imposter print

By the way, when I apologised for getting the design’s name wrong, Mr Underhill replied that he had originally given it that very title – how’s that for a coincidence?

Win a ticket to the London Knitting & Stitching Show or get a discount

A special offer for all who love needlework (and who will be reasonably near London in October): we have three complimentary tickets to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace to give away!

Each ticket admits one adult on one day, and they are valid on Wednesday 11th, Friday 13th or Sunday 15th October all day, or Thursday 12th October evening only.

To be in with a chance of winning one, please comment to say what you think you would enjoy most at the Knitting & Stitching Show. The competition closes at midnight on Wednesday 12th July, and I will announce the winners on Thursday.

And if you’re not one of the lucky winners? Well, this year the K&S organisers have kindly given the tutors a discount code to share with their customers. Instead of paying £14.50 for an advance adult ticket, you pay just £12.00 (excluding any booking fees).

So if you have ever, since the start of Mabel’s Fancies on Easter Monday 2011, been a customer (or would like to become one smiley) drop me an email and I will send you the discount code!

Special offers for the Knitting & Stitching Show

Leafy experiments

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

Leaves Tree of Life

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

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

Cretan stitch Burden stitch

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

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

An exciting plan

Over the years I’ve been to several Royal School of Needlework workshops and day classes; they are always well-taught, well-organised and very enjoyable, and the workshops especially have been a great way of finding out in a relatively economical way which types of embroidery are just not my cup of tea (I’m talking about you, stumpwork) and which are not just my cup of tea but a whole afternoon tea at the Ritz (hello goldwork!)

Whenever I’ve found something I enjoy doing (like calligraphy and various embroidery techniques), I tend to read as many books about it as I can and then just have a go (for example with the padded gold kid in Treasure Trove, and my present goldwork Work-In-Progress the Jacobean Flower).

Jacobean Flower in progress

But sometimes it’s helpful – not to mention a lot of fun – to get some formal instruction. After the first RSN goldwork taster workshop I did in 2012 (the dragonfly) there followed another one at the next Knitting & Stitching Show (the bee; which did end up looking a little different from the original design…); then I found the RSN occasionally did day classes in Rugby and treated myself to one as a St Nicholas present (the watering can). And this year they’re offering another one! I’d hoped they would do an Intermediate level this time, but oh well, I’m happy to take what I can get smiley so I am now booked in for April, where it looks like we’ll be stitching a goldwork ankle boot.

The goldwork dragonfly in all its glory The goldwork bee framed in a flexi-hoop The goldwork watering can finished

This is, you will agree, quite as much excitement as a stitcher can be expected to handle, but there is more! Following a link in the RSN’s recent newsletter I found that they offer private one-to-one tutorials.

I’ll allow some time to let that sink in a bit.

A private lesson, taught by one of the RSN tutors, at Hampton Court Palace *starry-eyed look* – what more could any stitcher wish for? Well, a bigger needlework budget would be nice. It would be lovely to book a whole day (10am till 4pm with an hour off for lunch) (who needs lunch?) (actually, I would; I like food quite as much as I like stitching) but a quick look at the latest bank statement suggests that a 3-hour class is probably more realistic. So I took the plunge and rang them, and I am now pencilled in for a goldwork tutorial on Wednesday 11th October, an extension to my usual Knitting & Stitching Show jaunt. It is as yet dependent on them finding a tutor available, so I’ll let you know when I hear more!

Ideas for a tree

Ever since I saw my mother-in-law’s Suffolk puff Christmas tree, I’ve been wanting to make one myself. I knew I had some cream fabric with holly leaves and berries left, but not enough for half a tree; so I would need another fabric, rather darker than this cream background, and some gold lamé. As it happens there is a fabric shop right next door to where my weekly embroidery group meets, and they had put all their Christmas fabrics on sale – 50% off! So I came away with a lovely red, green & gold fabric, but no gold; they were out of gold lamé. The proprietess said she would be ordering in some gold satin lining which might also work, so yesterday I went in again to see if it had arrived. It hadn’t, but in the section of satin dupions I suddenly spotted two golds which I hadn’t noticed the week before – then there had only been a rather pale champagne shade. The lady on duty said that she had rearranged that section only that morning, and they had probably been hidden at the back before. She gave me two swatches to take home and compare to my Christmassy fabrics.

Fabrics for a red, green and gold Christmas tree Possible golds for a red, green and gold Christmas tree

In my stash I also had some non-Christmassy fabrics scraps from previous projects (silver lamé and patterned white for the Frosty Pine ornament and a patterned blue/turquoise for our niece Isobel’s door hanger) which I thought might work rather well together for a less traditional Christmas tree; though that one will have to be smallish as all three fabrics are left-overs and I can’t remember where I originally got them.

Fabrics for a blue, white and silver Christmas tree

Now I just need to finish all my current projects and I can start on these – probably the very earliest I have ever started a Christmas project!

A surprise in the post

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – stitchers are lovely people! On a damp, grey, rather dreary day the postman brought a parcel containing this:

A surprise book and card

A beautifully stitched card (now where have I seen that design before…) and a book on Hardanger, sent by a thoughtful fellow stitcher. She told me that the book had come to her via a charity shop to which it had been donated by a Dutchwoman! No, it wasn’t me smiley (that would really have been the coincidence to top all coincidences) so I will enjoy reading this new edition to my stitching library.

Squeezing Delft into a coaster

Recently several people have asked me about designs for coasters. More specifically, one lady asked whether the Round In Circles designs would work with the acrylic coasters, and if not, which designs would; another lady wanted to know whether the Floral Lace designs would fit. In case other FoF readers have been wondering about this too, I thought it would be useful to put the answers I’ve been giving together and share them here.

The Round In Circles designs are just about the right size for coasters when done on 25ct (and if you leave out the circular border they will fit very easily); the same goes for the Song of the Weather designs (the previous Stitch-Along), which are the same size. However, it’s because I try to include lots of texture and techniques in the SALs that they are not all suitable for use in coasters even when size-wise they would fit. The flatter the better, generally, when finishing something as a coaster; so try not to use very textural stitches; raised chain stitch, for example, would simply get squashed out of all recognition, and padded goldwork (if you could sqeeze it in at all) would lose the very reason why the padding was added in the first place! French knots may just fit if done in relatively thin thread – as such they might work as a substitute for beads, because being thread they are at least squashable, which beads aren’t.

Floral Lace is too large for coasters as it stands; the stitch count is 82 square, which even on 25ct would be too big to fit. Without the gold cross stitch border, the size would be ideal on 25ct and would probably also work stitched on 22ct. On 28ct fabric they would fit with the border, but the floral cross stitch motifs, which are worked over one fabric thread, might be a bit challenging. The biggest problem here, however, is the beads, which are a pretty integral part of the design in this series. Beads, as I mentioned before, will not be squeezed into coasters, so an alternative would have to be found. Very small gold French knots could work, or 2mm sequins attached with two stitches and with the central hole in the same place as where the bead is charted. See below for this idea in practice!

Is Hardanger on the whole a no-no for coasters then, unless you’re willing to do an awful lot of adapting and fiddling? Definitely not, I’ve done stacks of Hardanger coasters myself – but you need to bear all the above in mind when choosing your design.

Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design Some of the Round Dozen designs in coasters Kaleidoscope in coasters

Generally, any Hardanger without beads or particularly chunky stitches should be fine. The design in the Coaster kit works of course (I should jolly well hope so!) and all the Round Dozen designs fit (on 25ct), as do Kaleidoscope and Happy Hour (on 22ct). From the Small section, Jewel, Frozen Mist and Snowflake work when done on 25ct.

And finally, some designs will work if stitched on a finer fabric; the Afghan Squares, for example, although originally designed using chunky threads on 18ct afghan fabric, would fit perfectly into a coaster when using standard #5 and #8 perles on 28ct fabric – including the border! One of the designs which I actually stitched on 28ct Lugana to test my own advice is Delft. Here I could try out two aspects of all that I’ve written above: using a higher count fabric, and substituting 2mm sequins (which I happened to have in my stash – I knew when I bought them at the sale for no particular purpose that they’d come in handy one day smiley) for the beads.

It took a bit of squinting and some extra light – my own fault for choosing to try this on dark green fabric with some of it stitched in dark green – but it did work! The design fits, and the sequins stand in well for the beads, even though I had to lose one of them in each of the backstitch motifs; possibly I could have fitted in two, but I felt it would look too full and decided to go with a single sequin with room to breathe.

Delft in green on 28ct fabric 2mm sequins used instead of beads

There was a slightly tense moment when it came to ironing on the thin black interfacing. Would the sequins stand it? They are generally not happy about being subjected to intense heat, as I found out when ironing a shisha design some time ago… But fortunately they survived intact (probably because they were protected by the interfacing, be it ever so thin, and the extra layer of baking parchment needed to keep the interfacing from sticking to the iron), and during the final assembly they didn’t keep the coaster from snapping shut – victory!

Delft on 28ct mounted in a coaster

It’s not the quickest coaster to make; if speed is of the essence (a last-minute birthday present, for example) you are better off with a smaller design, especially one without the need for sequins, on 22ct Hardanger fabric. But as coasters are such useful items and ideal presents for anyone who drinks tea or coffee or hot chocolate or hot toddies (does that exclude anyone?) it’s good to know that many designs can, with a bit of thought, be used to make them.

Very fine needlework, a fabric tree and a book of inspiration

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to you all – may 2017 bring only good things your way!

And with a bit of luck some of those good things will be enjoyable stitching projects. Not much stitching got done over the holiday period while visiting the in-laws; there was family to be chatted to, food to be cooked and eaten, walks in the crisp winter air to be enjoyed, and the Cotehele Garland to be admired (this year’s version was blue and white). And not much stitching is getting done in this post-festive period either, as I am contending with a cold and new glasses, which take a bit of getting used to. That is not to say there hasn’t been needlework in my life – just not mine smiley.

Some time ago my husband passed on to me some hand-embroidered handkerchiefs that had belonged to his grandmother, Susan. The initial isn’t right for me, but they are lovely dainty little things and I use them with a lot of pleasure. Not, I hasten to say, to minister to my cold; their daintiness is such that one good nose blow would probably render them ready for the laundry. But they are just the thing to have in my handbag for cleaning my glasses with.

The needlework on them – satin stitch, cutwork, needleweaving – is incredibly fine; sometimes the cutwork leaves a single thread of the ground fabric in between the needleweaving. The corner below is about 13cm square, which will give you some idea of the scale of the work. My mother-in-law tells me that the handkerchiefs were most likely embroidered and bought in China, where her aunt and uncle lived for some years, and either sent or brought back as a present for Susan. She didn’t give me a date but I’m guessing the second quarter of the 20th century.

My husband's grandmother's hand-embroidered handkerchief

This sort of embroidery could make the average stitcher weep with frustration and discourage us from ever picking up a needle again, but I’ve decided simply to admire and dismiss any thought of ever emulating work this fine. I’m quite happy to stick with fairly chunky Hardanger and do that as best I can!

Talking of chunkier needlework, my mother-in-law showed me a project she had done at her embroidery group for Christmas: a Suffolk puff Christmas tree. A Suffolk puff (I keep wanting to call it a Suffolk Punch, but that’s a horse!) is made by sewing running stitch around the edge of a circle and then gathering it so it doubles up into a puffy disc. I’d seen them before made into leggy clowns or animals, with lots of puffs strung onto a thread to make the limbs, but didn’t know what they were called. Here twelve graded puffs are pinned onto a wooden skewer set into a base, and topped with a wooden bead (a star or something similar would work as well). The idea was to sew beads on as baubles, and possibly other decorations as well, but my mother-in-law decided that the fabrics she had chosen were quite decorative enough in themselves, and I think she was absolutely right. I’m not much of a seamstress, but this is one project I might have a go at for next Christmas – I think it just about falls within my capabilities smiley.

a Suffolk puff Christmas tree

The other stitching in my life at the moment is as yet on paper rather than on fabric: Mildred Graves Ryan’s Complete Encyclopaedia of Stitchcraft. It covers knitting, crochet and other things besides embroidery, but for the moment it is the embroidery part that I’m concentrating on. The book is full of interesting stitches, all presented with lovely clear diagrams, and over the years I have already taken one or two ideas from it, for example the Portuguese band or border stitch used in Song of the Weather: April.

Mildred Graves Ryan's Complete Encyclopaedia of Stitchcraft A sample page

So laying aside my “proper” projects for the moment, I’ve got my doodle cloths at the ready to do some non-challenging stitching over the next few days; anything crooked or wrong doesn’t matter there, and if I can’t see well enough I can just make the stitches bigger!

Doodle cloths ready to use

Historic needlework

Last week a kind friend took me and another friend to see the parsonage in Haworth where the Brontë sisters did their writing. A very interesting place, and rather sad – Patrick Brontë, father of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, outlived his wife and all six of his children. We were there on a sunny day with cloudless blue skies when neither the parsonage nor the surrounding Yorkshire countryside could by any stretch of the imagination be described as “bleak”, but it was easy to see that come the winter, with short days and lots of rain and wind, it would have no problems at all living up to its less than cheerful reputation.

My friend’s interest was due for a large part to the fact that she has just finished her PhD thesis on Mrs Gaskell, who besides many other things wrote a biography of Charlotte Brontë. Although I was a linguistics scholar rather than a literature one, the 19th century is by far my favourite period, so I was happy to accompany her. But as a stitcher I was also fascinated by Charlotte’s needlework, some of which could be seen at the parsonage. There was a red tea cosy embroidered in white chain stitch, and some examples of whitework which unfortunately I couldn’t get a close look at as they were part of a room display.

Some pieces of her work, however, were displayed in cases and could be studied in more detail. Flash photography wasn’t allowed, so my photographs are a bit blurred, but I thought you might like to see two of the projects she worked. The first is a sampler finished shortly before her 12th birthday, made up of Bible verses and borders in absolutely minuscule cross stitches. She had a love of all things miniature, and that love obviously started when she was young. Foolishly I forgot to measure the sampler, so I can’t give you an idea of the scale; all I can say is that in some parts it was difficult to distinguish the individual crosses.

Charlotte Brontë's sampler

Again rather blurred, so no chance at all of seeing the individual stitches, but isn’t this an absolutely lovely needle roll? Clearly marked “Darners”, it is divided into useful sections all likewise marked with the size of the needles. Some time ago I made a very rough and ready needle roll out of felt marked with needle sizes, but not nearly so decorative – it was only meant to be chucked into a travel project bag. But having seen this I’m beginning to wonder whether it wouldn’t be a nice idea to make a less utilitarian one to keep at home by my larger projects.

Charlotte Brontë's needle roll

And all this by candlelight!