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!
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.
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 . 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!
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 . 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…)
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.
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:
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 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.
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 . It is now waiting to be framed and will in time grace one of the walls of my new craft room.
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?
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 ) drop me an email and I will send you the discount code!
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.
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 .
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.
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).
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 so I am now booked in for April, where it looks like we’ll be stitching a goldwork ankle boot.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 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 (that would really have been the coincidence to top all coincidences) so I will enjoy reading this new edition to my stitching library.
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.
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 ) 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.
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!
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.