Materials for a goldwork workshop (I)

When a new workshop or kit is developed, there inevitably comes a time when I need to buy any materials I haven’t yet got in my stash. Oh the hardship! Especially when it’s for goldwork…

Now you’ll be expecting pictures of lots of blingy threads, but actually there’s more to it than that, and it was the other supplies that I happened to buy first. Like needles, lots of needles, both for sewing and for plunging, and Gütermann sewing thread in golden yellow and light grey. I didn’t photograph those as they are fairly generic, but here is something generic that I did take pictures of – not so much for the item itself as for the very decorative box it came in. Rather a suprise to find useful but rather dull acid-free glassine envelopes (for putting the various goldwork threads in) inside what looks like a portable stamp collection!

A decorative box Glassine envelopes

And then there were cards. When I spoke to Craft Creations’ customer service about an order I’d just placed, the lady alerted me to their Value Range. I’d never seen it! It doesn’t come in such a wide range of colours as their more expensive range, but they are perfectly usable. And they give me a way of keeping the goldwork kit costs reasonable without having to compromise too much on the threads.

Craft Creations' value range

Oh all right, a bit of bling then smiley. These came from Sew & So rather than a specialised goldwork supplier: pearl sadi (the Indian embroidery alternative to pearl purl), and Jap (also known as Japan or Japanese thread).

Pearl sadi and Jap

And finally another non-thread necessity for goldwork: beeswax. Sarah Homfray very kindly agreed to sell me 50 of the little hearts she uses in her own workshops – much more affordable than the larger pieces which are generally available. When they arrived the first thing that struck me was that they looked remarkably like vanilla fudge! I resisted the temptation to try one, but I think I’d better not put out that little pot of goodies when there are guests around or something unfortunate might happen.

Beeswax hearts Beeswax hearts in a little pot

The completion of a craft room, part 3

At the end of the last FoF we left the new craft room filled with all its components parts – desk, bookcases, storage towers, boxes, fabrics, threads, tools – and, frankly, in a mess. Time to get organised! One thing that got added which wasn’t absolutely necessary was a new lampshade; the old one didn’t fit the light fitting very well and wobbled precariously, but I suppose strictly speaking it was still serviceable. Nevertheless, a shiny new craft room deserves a bright new lampshade (with a daylight bulb), and I couldn’t resist this cheerful red one with poppies on the inside which shine through to the outside when the light is on – magic! The desk has a craft light, my lightbox, felt boards and other odds and ends; the album was a Christmas gift which I was about to fill with some small projects that had so far been languishing in a box. The cat was allowed in one last time to see what all the fuss was about, before being banished forever.

A bright new lampshade The poppy lamp illuminates the newly organised room, with desk and cat

Behind the desk and chair are the two rainbow storage towers, holding most of my fabrics, some finishing materials, and my stock of scissors, squissors and coasters. The coffee table has the Millennium frame and lapstand plus my doodle cloths and anything in the process of being kitted up, as well as a useful lap tray. Underneath are more storage boxes (large pieces of fabric plus wadding), and next to it a CD tower holding my audiobooks. Not really craft-related, but they used to live underneath that coffee table and I needed the space there, and the CD tower tucks in nicely behind the door when it opens. The bookcases hold all my thread boxes, embroidery books, and kits, and on top sit various decorative thread boxes, one with a tapestry cover, the others with some of my embroidery.

Storage towers, coffee table with boxes underneath, and CD tower Filled bookcases with decorative storage boxes on top

The left-hand bookcase holds threads which ideally should be shielded from the light, as the boxes in which they are stored are transparent or at least translucent. The few boxes in the right-hand bookcase hold mostly beads, gems and shisha materials which are not light-sensitive, so a solution was needed for the one bookcase only. “Needed” might be putting it rather strongly – when I’m not in there the curtains are kept closed, and the bookcases are on a north-facing wall, so the amount of light getting to the boxes is probably negligible; still, I knew I’d feel more at ease with some sort of curtain or cloth in place. Now I can’t really work a sewing machine, so a ready-hemmed piece of material would be ideal. Did we perhaps have some old curtains somewhere in the attic? Well, yes, but they were rather heavy and unlikely to be the right size. Then I remembered a couple of sarongs I had been given a few years back by a friend from Kenya. Could one of those… yes it could. A bit of engineering wizardry by Mr Mabel and my threads were protected!

The sarong in place The thread boxes accessible but protected

And so here, finally, is the craft room – complete, organised, and in use.

The craft room in action

Now all it needs is a small conservatory smiley.

The completion of a craft room, part 2

As I was cleaning the old bookcase ready to be propped up against the other wall and filled according to my “shelf document” my husband, who had kindly offered to repair various bits that had fallen off or got damaged, remarked that even with quite a lot of work it wasn’t going to be a very satisfactory bookcase. For one this, lacking a back it wasn’t particularly stable. “Why don’t we do this properly and look for a suitable bookcase at Ikea or something?” he said. So we did.

The old bookcase ready for some surgery Calculations

Now some time before I had drawn a floor plan for the craft room, and on it, as some of you may remember, there was a small Ikea filing cabinet. Desk height, six drawers, and just the thing for large bits of fabric or anything fairly bulky. Available, unfortunately, in black, white and bright green only. As we got ready to pick up the bookcases (two together would provide about the same amount of storage space as the old double one) I had another good look at the filing cabinet online and decided that really I didn’t need it. With the slightly larger bookcases, the three under-the-bed-boxes and the rainbow storage tower I had oodles of room already. So Helmer stayed at Ikea, and two Billies came home.

The Craft Room floor plan A possible filing cabinet

A scrub and a hoover (or rather a Henry) to clean the room while it was as empty as it was going to be, and then the next step was to build the bookcases. Not a problem, I’ve assembled flat packs in the past and none of them has collapsed yet, so armed with two screwdrivers, a hammer, a mug of tea and a speculaas sandwich (made with two slices of bread and some Dutch biscuits – and let no-one who comes from the nation that invented the chip butty cast any aspersions!) I set to. Oh, there was a helpful feline assistant as well.

Cleaning the room Assembling Billy the Bookcase A little help from Lexi

Ta-dah!

The two finished bookcases

Time to get the desk in (originally kept in the storage room, where it just got cluttered), put some pictures on the wall, place the rainbow tower in its permanent position and fill the bookcases.

A desk to work at The bookcases are filled

This was beginning to look very promising! Until the dining table was cleared…

The dining table is visible and usable again But the craft room floor isn't...

Back to square one? No, not quite. But there was clearly a lot more to do, and one important step was to realise that there was no way I was going to get all that into the available storage. Not even the originally-planned filing cabinet would do. A second rainbow storage tower was needed! And a sarong. Of course.

A second rainbow storage tower A sarong for the craft room

The completion of a craft room, part 1

Some time in February last year I FoFfed about the Craft Room To Be. Just to remind you, this is what it looked like shortly before that post – and that was after getting rid of the giant CRT telly!

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

That post closed with the line “If everything goes to plan, I should have a fully furnished craft room some time this year!”

Ha. ha. ha.

Some progress had been made by the time I wrote that, in the sense that I had gained a rainbow storage tower and three storage boxes, but with The Den still filled almost to capacity it was all I could do to squeeze them in, inaccessible except by some serious mountaineering. After our trade fair in September at least the trays of Austin Seven spare parts went one by one, so I could see some floor space, but there still wasn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre. As Christmas came ever nearer, I decided Something Must Be Done. Stuff scattered along the window sill and other surfaces – much of it made or collected or won by the boys in days long gone – was boxed up ready to be handed over to the proud owners to display in their own homes (or not, as the case might be). I went through the boxes of documents and photos and keepsakes from Mum’s house, and (with my husband, as it was a combined collection) through the stacks of videos, CDs and DVDs in and on top of the bookcase. What we wanted to keep went in boxes to the storage room for the time being. There was a distinct sense of not-quite-so-cluttered-ness about the ex-telly room!

No more trays or videos

Except, of course, for that sofa bed. The biggest obstacle (in every sense) in the Craft Room project, it was inherited decades ago from my husband’s grandmother. No-one in the family wanted it, no-one else was willing to come and take it away for free (not even after we discovered that it was a Vono sofa and could be described as vintage/retro), and the charity shops wouldn’t touch it because it didn’t have the required fire safety labels. I suspect people weren’t that fussed about furniture fire safety when this was made. Finally, in desperation I asked Eldest and fiancée whether they really wouldn’t like a sofa bed for their spare bedroom. They came over to have a look at it, and decided that yes, they would like it after all. Victory! “When can you come and pick it up?” Not until 2018, as it happened, but on the first Saturday of the new year this was the state of play:

No more sofa bed

All it needed was some cleaning and a bit of work on the bookcase, which was already in the room when we bought the house nearly twelve years ago, and which was definitely showing signs of age. Don’t we all. A bit of TLC and I’d be able to start populating the shelves!

The old bookcase ready for some surgery

Or perhaps not…

Shopping and workshopping

Some three weeks ago (where does the time go!) I was at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Alexandra Palace, having a jolly good time both as a tutor and as a stitcher going round the stands. I’m really enjoying the combination – my stash of fabrics, threads and other bits and bobs is so well-stocked after years of stitching that I’m not sure two days of solid shopping would on its own be a reason for going, but mixed with teaching workshops it’s great.

And I didn’t just shop, either: in between looking for silks and buttons I wandered onto a stand where you could learn to knit or crochet. I’m OK with crochet, but knitting, in spite of several attempts and in spite of having a knitting grandmother, mother, aunts and mother-in-law, has so far eluded me. I only had about 20 minutes before the next workshop, but the kind volunteer teaching me to cast on, knit and purl was so clear and helpful that I managed to produce something which, though not in any way aspiring to being useful (it will never become a jersey or even a dishcloth), did at least look like acceptable knitting. A very proud moment!

A tiny bit of knitting

I did do some shopping as well, of course, and bought a few supplies (spending all of £7). Having learnt the basics of soft string padding at my RSN goldwork class the day before, I got a card of soft string to practice with at home (well, I couldn’t possibly go to Golden Hinde’s stand and not buy at least one thing), and from John James’ stand I got some good value petite tapestry needles for the Christmas Wreath kits and the Butterfly Wreath workshop.

Purchases at the 2017 Knitting & Stitching Show

There is a third item in the picture above: ten little wooden floral buttons. They are the culmination of a two-year search, which sounds much more serious than it is smiley. You may remember I stitched an elephant for our niece’s wedding, and that after things going rather badly wrong during the finishing process it did eventually turn into quite a nice card, embellished with four small wooden floral buttons. As I’d originally bought five, at a previous Knitting & Stitching Show, I had one left. And I really liked them. So I tried to find some more, both at the K & S and in shops – unsuccessfully, until this October. Yes, this time I finally found the exact match to my remaining button – yay!

A Wedding Elephant Matched buttons

What I forgot to do, however, is make a note of who sold them, so if I want any more the whole search will have to be repeated … My task for next year: find the stand that sells the buttons and write down the name!

One thing I did notice – and it may not be as bad or as widespread as it looks to me; I hope it isn’t – is that fewer small independent shops have stands. Kate at Sparklies pulled out several years ago, and this year The Calico Cat, from whom I had hoped to purchase some 3-yard skeins of Gloriana silk, was absent. Both mentioned spiralling costs as one of the reasons that they didn’t come to the Knitting & Stitching Show any more. It seems to me that the K & S are shooting themselves in the foot here, as it is surely these small shops, often one-woman or husband-and-wife outfits, that make the show so interesting. Yes, being able to buy needles at a discount from John James, to name but one of the “big” names, is useful, but it’s the relatively unknown designers, the makers of unique hand-dyed threads and fabrics, the purveyors of kits you could only get from them, who make us come back year after year. Or am I projecting my own ideas onto everyone else? When you go to a Show like this (or if you had the opportunity to go), why do you/would you go? What makes it interesting to you? I’d love to hear.

And then there were the workshops. I do enjoy those! Especially when the people coming to them tell me that they have enjoyed them too smiley. Here is a small impression of what was produced at the Shisha, freestyle and embellished embroidery workshops, including my own very artistic doodle cloth. (Incidentally, K & S, slightly more inspiring surroundings to teach the workshops in would be really nice…)

The Shisha workshop The freestyle workshop The workshop doodle cloth  
 Some of the Shisha projects Some of the embellished projects Some of the freestyle projects Some more embellished projects

Kits. Lots of kits.

When I started Mabel’s Fancies, it was because I found that other people liked the things I’d been designing for my own use, and as I had some experience in writing websites it seemed a good idea to set one up for myself and offer the designs for sale, thus to at least partly finance my hobby. My husband, ever ambitious, has long urged me to expand and go for world domination, but I’m perfectly happy for it to stay small-scale and bring in some stash money so I don’t have to worry about buying goldwork threads or hand-dyed fabrics.

To this end, I decided that digital chart packs were the way to go. There was a bit of a scare a while back when it looked like I would have to charge VAT for every digital sale abroad and make sure that it was the correct VAT for whatever country the buyer was from, which would have put a complete stop to that side of Mabel’s Fancies, but fortunately the law turned out not to apply to things sent out by email. Phew.

Quite early on in Mabel’s existence I did add one kit (or rather a set of three kits) to the range: the Mini Needlebook kits for people who wanted to try out Hardanger. Between them they cover the three most common bars and filling stitches, and you end up with one or more usable needlebooks. And that was it. A few tools were added, like squissors, but on the whole most of Mabel’s fancies were digital ones.

Set of Hardanger needle matchbooks

Then I started teaching classes and workshops. And for those classes and workshops I needed to provide material packs. And as I was putting those together I thought I might as well put together a few more and bung them on the website, and so the needlebook kits were joined by bookmarks and notebooks and coasters (all in Hardanger), as well as a number of cards in Shisha, freestyle, tactile and embellished embroidery. It was definitely expansion, though fortunately still a long way away from the world domination advocated by my husband.

On the whole, I can get away with making up a few kits at a time, or even just making them up as and when they are needed. I’ve got two boxes with kit materials, some of them pre-cut, and so putting a single kit together when it’s ordered is fairly quick, and it means I’m not taking up storage space which is rather at a premium in our house. Even when it’s a single workshop, which is usually for a maximum of twelve people, it’s all quite manageable. It’s when there are three or (as now) four workshops looming that the production line begins to get a bit overwhelming.

And so this is what our house has been looking like for the past week or so:

Preparing Shisha kits And more Shisha kits Preparing Wildflower kits Preparing Butterfly Wreath kits
And more butterfly kits Cutting the fabric Ironing the fabric Transferring the patterns

You may have noticed, by the way, the complete and slightly surprising absence of Cat in these pictures. Lexi took pity on me and decided not to spread her fur onto the fabric, tangle the threads in a play-fight or photobomb the FoF pics. She confined herself to attacking and killing a few off-cuts – I am much obliged to her.

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?