In defence of multiple projects

Wherever stitchers meet, sooner or later the discussion comes up – one project or many? And I’d be perfectly happy to let everyone enter that discussion for themselves, if it weren’t for something I’ve noticed: that it often starts with a remark like “I really shouldn’t start another project, I’ve got two on the go already” or “Do you think it’s all right to start a new project when I haven’t finished the one I’m working on?” or something equally apologetic.

Now if you happen to be the sort of person who likes finishing one thing before starting another, even if that one thing takes three years, then that’s all well and good. But if you’d like to work on more than one project at a time, why on earth shouldn’t you?

About a week ago, that discussion came up in one of the embroidery groups I’m a member of. At that time (the situation is slightly different now) I had three works actually in progress (the Wedding Umbrellas, a small pansy, and Sarah Homfray’s crewel bird), four more hooped up and ready to go (a Quatrefoil in Madeira Lana, a willow tree based on a Dutch pop-up restaurant’s logo [don’t worry, I asked their permission smiley], a Hardanger design on hand-dyed fabric, and a silk & gold flower called Soli Deo Gloria), three in the design stage (Tree of Life, Mechthild the Medieval Queen and Hengest the Medieval Unicorn), and two kits (Helen Stevens goldwork and Sarah Homfray stumpwork butterfly).

Projects in progress Projects hooped up Projects in the design stage Kits

I will admit that a dozen projects is probably as much as I would like to have in one or other stage of progress at any given time; even I don’t usually have that many. But my point is that there is no need to apologise for this, or to feel guilty about it. Unless the multitude of projects stops you from finishing any of them, this variety can actually work quite beneficially! For example, yesterday I’d reached a part of the crewel bird which I didn’t want to do until I’d watched Sarah Homfray’s video about it, as mentioned in the kit instructions. Unfortunately, the video is not actually on her site; so I’ve emailed her, and in the meantime worked on the pansy.

Another instance: having finished the wedding project, my next big piece (not size-wise – I don’t really do big – but in complexity and time to complete) will be Soli Deo Gloria. But the bit it starts with (the French knots filling the centre) has thrown up the first dilemma of this design. This silk and gold flower is based on one I did some time ago, where I took a Kelly Fletcher freebie and worked it in completely different colours, stitches and threads (more about that in a later FoF). For that one, I used slightly variegated Gloriana silks; for this present one I’m using solid-coloured Soie d’Alger. The centre will be worked in two shades of golden yellow, but how? Blended, to reproduce to some extent the original variegation? In two distinct regions, with the darker of the two providing shading? Randomly dotted throughout the circle (as suggested in my coloured-in outline)? If I had just that one project on the go, I’d be stuck for something to stitch until this matter has been solved to my satisfaction. But as it is, I can ponder this question at leisure while doing some Hardanger, or crewel work, or freestyle embroidery. What’s not to like?

The variegated centre of the Kelly Fletcher flower in silk and gold The centre of the new flower - blended, shaded or dotted?

Having several (though not necessarily a dozen) projects ready to go gives me a sense of freedom; I can pick up whichever I feel like stitching – colourful or muted, big or small, counted or freestyle, simple or complex. If occasionally the range of choices on offer makes me indecisive, leading to an evening of no stitching at all, on the whole I think for me the benefits outweigh any disadvantages. After all, on evenings when I simply can’t decide what to stitch, I can always rearrange my fabrics or stroke my silks, or even write a FoF smiley.

An interruption

I have an aunt whom I love very much. She lived with my mother and me for two years from the time I was three (which must have been quite crowded, two grown-up sisters and a child in a two-bedroom flat – but you don’t think of that when you’re little), and after that had a flat three floors up in the same tower block. When she lived with us she made up a series of bed-time stories featuring my favourite stuffed toy Haasje (Little Hare), detailing his adventures in Australia where he travelled around in the pouch of a friendly kangaroo. She took me on my first trip to London when I was thirteen. I ring her or she rings me about once a week, when we talk for 40 minutes or so to catch up on things. Did I mention I love her very much?

And then, today, she called me just as I was trying to make the most of what miserable light we get at this time of year, for the delicate operation of unpicking and restitching two letters in my big Wedding Project. Well!

You will be relieved to hear that my better self won, I was a Good Niece and we had a nice 50-minute chat smiley. But it did make me wonder whether we stitchers are perhaps not as mild and friendly as people might expect us to be… (Mind you, they may not be deceived anyway; a friend recently posted a cross stitch on my FB timeline that read “This is proof that I have the patience to stab something 1000 times”.)

It also reminded me of something I said yesterday to Gary Parr of Fiber Talk as he interviewed me for a podcast (to be published Sunday after next, by the way); that I enjoyed going to stitching classes and retreats so much at least partly because they offer an opportunity to stitch without any interruptions whatsoever. Ah, bliss!

But in everyday life we have to deal with interruptions, and I am pleased to say that the Wedding Project (also known as the Wedding Umbrellas, even though one of them is a parasol) got finished nonetheless – yay! It just needs to be laced, which I hope to do tomorrow.

And what was all the unpicking about? Well, the names of the groom (our eldest) and his bride are on the umbrella and parasol, and I was unhappy with the last two letters of Andreea’s name; they were a bit too small, and too low. I’d been hemming and hawing about whether to unpick or not, and had been putting off the decision by doing everything else on the project first, but today I finally bit the bullet and unpicked.

As it happens I couldn’t change the letters very much or they would no longer have fitted in with the other letters (and I was definitely not going to unpick the entire name), but I hope the small change has made enough of a difference in the overall look. There are still some things I’d probably do differently if I did this again, but as I won’t be doing it again I won’t worry about those!

The Wedding Project, finished

PS Should this project remind you of Come Rain and Come Shine in the Planned section of the website, you are absolutely right – it was shamelessly copied from those two designs, conceived as full-blown goldwork and silverwork projects but as yet unstitched. After all, if you can’t plagiarise your own work, whose work can you plagiarise!

A newly furnished stitching spot and unrelated ponderings

It’s possible to stitch practically anywhere. I have stitched on trains, in a field, and various waiting rooms, for example. But it’s really nice to have a comfy permanent stitching spot, one where it is not just possible, but a great pleasure to stitch. At home, I have two such spots, and one of them has just had a make-over.

That’s the armchair in our sitting room (the other spot is at the dining table by the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the garden). My Lowery embroidery stand and Serious Reader light stood with one of our pair of big blue wing armchairs which had a small side table and a standard lamp between them, and which were in dire need of being both re-upholstered and resprung. Now we’ve been clearing out my mother-in-law’s bungalow as she has moved into sheltered accommodation, and my husband and his sisters have been choosing bits and pieces from the house, paintings, family papers, mementoes, and also bits of furniture. Last Tuesday my eldest sister-in-law and her husband dropped off, among other things, two pretty armchairs and a side table with shelf and drawer.

The chairs have relatively recently been overhauled, and they are of a rather more moderate size than our two blue giants (they also fit much better into the overall colour scheme of our sitting room). And because they are narrower than the old chairs and a bit lower

  1. I can have the really useful wider side table with drawer and shelf to put all my stitching on and in;
  2. my Lowery stand actually reaches the middle of the chair so it’s much more comfortable to stitch; and
  3. there is more room for a cat underneath the stitching smiley
The new set-up of chairs and wider table The new set-up in action, with cat

I have to admit that since that picture was taken I have adjusted the Lowery a bit, as with me sitting lower the stitching was rather too close to my eyes – a little less space for Lexi, but still considerably more than in the original set-up, so we’re both happy.

The project I’ve been working on in my new stitching chair is Sarah Homfray’s crewel bird Turaco, and I’m really enjoying it. But it did bring home to me how often we stitchers judge our work from the wrong distance, and in doing so are far more harsh on ourselves than we need be. We tend to look at our work from, well, a working distance, and sometimes forget that we are very probably the only people ever to look at it like that. Literally standing back from our work can be very beneficial; while working on it the stitching looks uneven, lumpy, not neat – but take a step back and hey presto, it suddenly looks much better! In my case it was the bird’s tail feathers. I just could not get them to look even and tidy, and after a while I decided to give it a rest and see if I could do better in daylight. I swung the Lowery stand away from me, got up to stretch my legs, caught sight of the embroidery while standing a little way away, and realised that they don’t look so bad after all!

The tail feathers on Sarah Homfray's crewel bird

Do you change things when you stitch other people’s designs? I often do. Not, I hasten to assure you, from an arrogant conviction that I know better than the designer, but just because we all have different tastes, and even when I like an overall design I might tweak a bit here or change a colour there to make it just the way I like it. For example, in the Turaco kit the branch on which the bird sits has “empty lines” among the stem stitch; but I happen to love the look of closely fitting stem stitch, so my branch is fully stitched. I also adjusted the printed line of the bird’s head (but as in this case it was to make it more like Sarah’s own stitched model that doesn’t really count).

You may remember I also played about a lot with several of Kelly Fletcher’s designs. I hope she and Sarah don’t mind (and as Kelly Fletcher posted some of my pics on her FB page I assume she at least doesn’t!) – I certainly don’t, and actually find it rather satisfying when people take a design of mine and make it their own. Your stitching project is yours, to stitch as you want it to be. If you stitch a Mabel design but want to do it in pink instead of blue, or use different threads, or stitch only part of it, or stitch it lots of times to make a big project, then go ahead – and please send me a picture of it for the Stitchers’ Gallery where it can join such personalised projects as a BonBon in purple instead of pink, Blackthorn worked in poppy colours, and an extended Flodgarry.

purple BonBon poppy-coloured Blackthorn enlarged Flodgarry

Playing with other people’s designs

Designing your own projects is very satisfying of course, but it can be quite relaxing to work on someone else’s – especially as there are so many embroiderers out there with great ideas! Recently I’ve been finding a proper treasure trove of designs on the Needle ‘n Thread Community FB group, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with them.

First there was the video containing a little four-petalled flowers to which I added leaves and some gold. I called it the Quatrefoil and it is now on the Freebie page with some notes on stitches and number of strands used and so on. It’s a lovely little design to use up odds and ends of threads, or to try out new ones; so far I’ve stitched three in silks (Rainbow Gallery Splendor, Madeira and Chameleon Shades of Africa) and one in wool (Heathway Milano crewel wool), using Jap, passing and twist for the gold couching. As I was stitching all these different versions I realised that I had originally drawn the inner circle too big – in the third picture you can see the gaps around the French knots – so the final drawing has had that amended.

The first Quatrefoil; Rainbow Gallery Splendor and Jap The first Quatrefoil; Madeira stranded silk and Jap The first Quatrefoil; Chameleon Shades of Africa and double passing The first Quatrefoil; Heathway Milano crewel wool and gold twist

I want to try out several more, one using silks in slightly different colours on a new fabric I got recently, a Higgs & Higgs linen-look cotton (recommended by a Cross Stitch Forum friend), and one using Madeira Lana (a thin wool/acrylic thread).

Then there was a woven picot poinsettia originally conceived by Sarah Fragale Roberts in tapestry wool. Not having any tapestry wool, I used some yarn I bought to use for crochet. Finishing it as a brooch was a bit fraught – I didn’t think it through in advance!

A picot poinsettia Making a brooch - buttonhole stitch Finishing a brooch - cutting around the flower Finishing a brooch - where to put the pin

What I should have done, and will do next time if there is a next time, is what I’ve tried to capture in this diagram:

Finishing the poinsettia brooch, ideally

Catherine Kinsey showed her brown felt Christmas bunny ornament, and I knew it was exactly the right thing to make for my daughter-in-law who had just had to say goodbye to her pet rabbit, Harry. Only Harry was grey, so grey felt it was. From the pictures I couldn’t quite tell whether it was meant to be double-sided, but as it was to be an ornament I thought I’d better make it look good on both sides! I’m not really used to this sort of embroidery so some of it was a bit challenging (not to mention fiddly!) but the end result was definitely appreciated – sigh of relief.

The Christmas bunny, front The Christmas bunny, back

And finally there was a Christmas tree embroidered freehand on paper by Sandy McGrath. It looked simple, and elegant, and quick, and just the no-deadline-no-stress sort of project I could really do with. I’d forgotten to ask Sandy the size of hers, but judging by the size of the beads in her picture and assuming they were seed beads, I went for 10cm high (hers, it turns out, was 9cm). I used red beads instead of her rose gold ones. And rather more of them. Otherwise it was identical smiley. Then my husband suggested candles instead of baubles. I played around with some bugle beads to put on a second tree, and then decided that you could actually have baubles and candles on one tree! So there it is, a baubly candly tree that you can stitch in an evening. The only change I’ll make to future trees (something which both Sandy herself and my husband mentioned) is to lengthen the trunk a bit at the bottom.

Quick Christmas tree - guidelines Quick Christmas tree, stitched but bare Quick Christmas tree with baubles Quick Christmas tree with baubles and candles

Besides giving me lots of enjoyable stitching projects, this has also reminded me once again what a generous lot stitchers are: when asked, all these people were perfectly happy for me to take their original ideas and play around with them, and the Christmas tree will even become one of my Church Building Fund workshops (if everything goes to plan) – watch out for it on the Workshop page towards the end of 2019!

The Holly and the Napkin

Late last month I wrote about a napkin I was embroidering with a rather wonky Kelly Fletcher monogram. Well, it got finished, wonkiness and all, and in time will no doubt be used and get stained with tomato soup or something; some people say that’s a shame, and it’s far too nice to be used (like the tea towel I embroidered recently), but the alternative is to put them in a drawer and forget about them, so I’m in the “use it” camp.

A Kelly Fletcher monogram on a Clever Baggers napkin

That, however, was not what I meant to write about today. The fact is that I enjoyed stitching that napkin, and it gave me an idea for a small Christmas present for a friendly couple. The wife is a fellow stitcher (she also quilts) and often presents us with a stitched present at our annual pre-Christmas dinner, and in return so far I’ve been rather unimaginatively sticking with cards. Well, what about Christmas napkins? I drew a simple holly wreath and the plan is to stitch a napkin each, with their initial in the holly wreath.

For this I needed two things: more napkins, and a plan on how to stitch the holly leaves. The napkin I had in my stash was one made of a cotton/linen mix, and was bought from The Clever Baggers. Unfortunately their postage is rather high for small orders (the original napkin had hitched along with a larger order of cotton bags), so I looked elsewhere. I found a modestly-priced pack of eight napkins, slightly smaller than the CB one and 100% cotton.

A quick comparison with my first napkin showed that they are quite different: the cotton/linen napkin is softer and has a more open weave, while the cotton napkins are much more densely woven. The latter is perhaps not a bad thing for surface embroidery where you can’t use a backing fabric, as it makes it less likely that any threads carried at the back will show at the front.

A corner of the Clever Baggers napkin A corner of the eBay napkin

One thing to bear in mind when buying napkins (or any fabric really), especially when they arrive folded up in a pack like these ones did, is that they may well need ironing before you can use them. These had obviously been in their pack for quite some time; they were so creased that I decided to wash them first, and iron them while still damp. While ironing the first one I had to iron some parts of it so much that I managed to scorch it slightly (just about visible in the picture), and even then the creases were still very much in evidence. The only thing to do was to find the smoothest corners on the two least creased ones and use those. Oh, and by the way, how did a cat hair make its way onto the new napkins already!?!?

A creased and scorched cotton napkin ...with a cat hair

On to the holly. I wanted to keep the wreath quite plain, although I did draw a slightly denser one with a double ring of holly leaves as well, but that won’t get used this time.

Plain holly wreath Denser holly wreath

But with either design, the important decision is how to stitch the holly leaves. Solidly filled? Outlined? If the former, satin stitch, long & short, fly, fishbone? If the latter, backstitch (whipped or plain), split stitch, running stitch? Or even fly stitch as well? Having used fishbone stitch on the leaves in the Kelly Fletcher napkin, I rather liked that idea, but I had to see whether I could make it work for the spiky holly shape. Roll on a doodle cloth, on which I stitched two fishbone holly leaves (the second a bit less successfully spiky than the first), one using fly stitch as a filling and one-and-a-half using fly stitch as an outline, with the holding stitches forming the spikes.

Trying out holly leaves The back of the stitched holly leaves

All in all I like the fishbone look best, and the back is quite neat too. The fly stitch outline I’ll keep in mind for the denser holly wreath, where it could be used alternatingly with fishbone stitch so that it wouldn’t get too dense. Now to decide how to stitch the initials – it shouldn’t be too solid (or it would overpower the wreath), but not too wispy either (or it would get overwhelmed itself). An outline in whipped chain stitch seemed to fit the bill best; a red initial for her and a green one for him, both whipped in golden yellow. Unfortunately the coton à broder #16 I wanted to use comes in a fairly limited range, and nothing from DMC’s golden yellow range is available in that thickness, so I resorted to the thinner #25 for the whipping. It works quite well!

A start on the wreath The wreath with berries A chain stitch initial The initial whipped

Should you like to try these holly wreaths for yourself, you can now find them on the Freebies page; the PDF contains notes about stitches and threads, and both wreath in two sizes. Enjoy smiley!

What next for a neck?

Ethelnute the medieval king had a full head of hair (with a crown on it) framing a fully stitched face. He also had a collar with some serious bling on it. What he didn’t have yet, was a neck to connect the two parts; this was because there was a bit of a challenge about that part of his anatomy, and it took me some time to decide which of the various options to go with.

When doing split stitch in one shade, indicating a dividing line can really only be done with a change of stitch direction. Instinctively I would have stitched the neck in curved horizontals, as it is done in most medieval embroidery, but because of the way his chin was stitched (lack of foresight there) that wouldn’t show up. The tutors at the Coombe Abbey retreat solved a similar problem in one of their stitched models by adding a line of a darker pink, which you can also see in some genuine medieval examples of this type of work. Even so, it wasn’t my preferred solution.

Stitching the neck in curved horizontals

Another option was to stitch the neck in verticals; although this doesn’t show the roundness and curve of the neck, I thought it would actually make for a rather regal look, giving the neck a proud, erect attitude. However, as far as I can tell necks are hardly ever (if at all) stitched this way in the genuine article, so it wouldn’t have the authentic look. I hadn’t convinced myself that it would work in the tout-ensemble, so that one was stored away as a possible-if-nothing-better-turns-up.

Stitching the neck in verticals

My third idea was to go horizontal, but straighter, so there would be some contrast in direction. The very tip of the chin would still be in the same direction as the neck (indicated by the blue arrow), but the rest should show a clear line.

Stitching the neck in straight horizontals

All in all I was leaning towards the third option, but then I shared the neck pictures on an embroidery Facebook group and several people said they preferred the vertical version! One voiced concerns that horizontal lines (whether curved or straight) would give poor Ethelnute a turkey neck, and another pointed out that verticals, if they are slightly curved outward at the bottom, actually follow the lines of the large muscles in the neck and might look rather more naturalistic.

I was still hesitating when one member suggested manipulating the vertical lines to give him an Adam’s apple. For some reason that really appealed to me, and I also saw how curving the lines outward to follow the neck outlines would almost automatically create that little hollow at the base of the neck, between the collar bones. That was it, I was sold. It was a while before I could schedule a good chunk of uninterrupted stitching time, but when that came round, I was on to Ethelnute like a shot.

The first thing was to put in some guide lines; nothing too precise, just a little indication where the Adam’s apple was to go, and the stitch direction.

Pencil guide lines

I decided to start on the right, which was going to be the largest block of uninterrupted curved vertical lines as Ethelnute is facing away from us to the left (his right). The first few lines were slightly too widely spaced (not very easy to see with the light-coloured silk and the bad lighting, but it’s where the blue arrows point to) so I filled the gaps in later. When I’d got to the point where the curve would have to change direction, I started from the other end, putting in a line with the outline of the Adam’s apple as a guide.

The right side of the neck The left side of the neck with Adam's apple

So did it work the way I intended? Yes, mostly. The division between chin and neck is clear without the need for an additional stitched line in a darker shade. The hollow at the bottom of the neck is not as noticeable as I thought it would be, but there is some change in texture there. And the Adam’s apple definitely shows up, albeit that it is extremely difficult to show the full effect in photographs; this is undoubtedly at least partly because I’m not a very good photographer, but also because the play of light on silk (and therefore the effect of the stitch direction) is best seen when either the embroidery or the viewer moves. Perhaps I need to do a video…

Shading of the neck The effect of the stitch direction

Now the king needed only a finishing touch: a bit more gold underside couching along his jewelled collar. I added a line of green silk as well, to balance the red, but that turned out to be far too prominent, so I took it out again – the gold will have to do on its own. It would have been brilliant to have been able to use my very own hand-rolled gold thread, but alas, that was not to be. Never mind, the gold twist from the kit creates a very satisfactory blingy border, too – and so Ethelnute’s portrait is complete. And if he lasts even one-tenth as long as some of those medieval vestments and wall hangings, I’ll be well pleased!

A far too prominent line of green silk Some last-minute unpicking Ethelnute finished

P.S. The class kit came with an oval flexi-hoop to frame the embroidery in; but I thought King Ethelnute might look rather regal mounted on the lid of one of my satin boxes, and I had a vague feeling there was a burgundy red one among them. There was – but it was tiny! I took some measurements and found that he would just fit. Snugly, but definitely a fit. I went for it and do you know what, I really think his tight-fitting frame makes him pop smiley.

A frame and a box Ethelnute mounted on his satin box Ethelnute mounted on his satin box

Floral fun (with silk and gold)

On a FB group someone posted a video with “embroidery tricks”. Most of them weren’t really tricks at all, just types of stitch, although there was an interesting example of disguising a tear with embroidery. But a little flower caught my imagination – a very simple, small, four-petalled outline filled in quite quickly (yes, I did allow for the speeded-up filming smiley) with satin stitch, some straight stitches and french knots. This is what it ended up looking like in the video:

A small embroidered flower

Because at no point the needle or the hand of the stitcher was shown, it was difficult to gauge the size, so I drew a similar flower, printed it off in sizes ranging from 2 to 3.5cm and decided on the 3cm one. After completing the first stage it was clear that that was too big (or rather, not small enough), and the one in the video seemed more likely to be the 2.5cm version. (As it happens, it wasn’t – more about that later. What I should have done, of course, was stitch a cluster of one fat French knot with six French knots around it, measure it, and take the size from that.)

As per instructions I started with the white satin stitch, using four strands of Rainbow Gallery Splendor silk (their strands are about the same thickness as DMC). A few points for improvement: according to the video the white stitches should actually have stopped short of the central circle (I went right up to the edge of the circle) and I didn’t get those edges curved enough, especially on the first petal, which is practically straight (blue line). Never mind, learning “curve” smiley.

Room for improvement

The purple streaks didn’t present any problems, but when I came to the central circle it soon became clear that there was no way of filling it with only seven French knots. Even with four-strand, three-wrap knots it took eight for the outer circle and three in the middle. OK, so it didn’t look quite like the original – but I was rather pleased with the result anyway!

Not quite like the original, but nice!

I did feel it could be improved upon, however. But first I decided to try the 2.5cm version – surely that would be small enough for seven French knots to be sufficient? Well, no. And for some reason the flower also ended up rather elongated horizontally. All in all nice enough, but not as nice as the bigger version, which I felt looked a bit less cramped.

The smaller flower didn't work quite as well

As the smaller flower was the less satisfactory of the two, I wasn’t going to bother with an even smaller version just to see if I could get one whose centre would be completely filled by seven French knots. I returned to the 3cm version, which (although without trying the 3.5cm one I can present no actual evidence of this) seems to be the Goldilocks size. What about giving it some leaves? It looked a bit bare as it was.

An idea for some leaves The leaves completed

I liked the way this framed the flower. But it lacked just that little something… What about the tangle of Jap I was given by my mother-in-law, and which was sitting on the little table by my stitching chair now neatly wound onto a reel? Its gold wrapping suffered slightly in the untangling process, and I will probably never use it for projects which take several weeks to complete or which will be framed, but that makes it just perfect for jazzing up inconsequential little projects like this flower without feeling decadent or wasteful! Incidentally, I’d started calling it The Mini Quatrefoil, and don’t you think that has a sort of gold-rimmed sound to it? It also made for a good opportunity to try out the translucent couching thread I bought at the Knitting & Stitching Show. The Quatrefoil was too small to take the usual double line of Jap, so I worked a single line, around the petals only (it would look too fussy to have the leaves gold-rimmed as well).

Adding a little bling

When looking at it close up you can see the imperfections in the Jap, but bear in mind that the actual flower is only 3cm high – in real life it really isn’t noticeable. The translucent couching thread was very easy to work with, and is practically invisible – I’ll definitely be using that more often! As for the overall look, I like the way the project has developed away from its video inspiration; and it turns out to be just the right size for some aperture cards I’ve got in stock (left over from an abandoned Christmas card idea several years ago).

The mini quatrefoil made into a card

As the whole thing takes only a few colours, a small scrap of fabric, and about an evening, that makes it a great last-minute card design, and it would also work well as a travel project. Add to that the fact that you can play around with the colours to create several different-looking flowers to go with all those different shades of card I’ve got, and the Quatrefoil turns out to be a very lucky find. The Serendipitous Quatrefoil – now there’s a grand name for a small flower!

Disappointing developments and wonky fun

Some time ago I started a project pouch, on which I was going to embroider “Mabel” in line-sampler letters. These letters to be outlined in stem stitch using Anchor Multicolor perle #5, with each letter being a different colour combination. Nice and bright, as random and freehand as I am ever likely to achieve, in fact the perfect pick-up-and-stitch project. If it weren’t for one or two things.

Clever Baggers tablet case

First, because of the way the pouch is constructed all stitching has to be done using the sewing method, and I am by nature a stabbing girl (only with an embroidery needle, and only on fabric, I hasten to add!) – and all fastening on and off has to be done from the front, and be kept invisible. This makes it rather less relaxing than I intended. In theory the padded lining can be flipped up so you can get at the back of the fabric, but unfortunately some of my sewing motions managed to pick up a bit of the lining, which is now attached to the outer fabric and therefore unflippable.

Tablet case padding Inside of the tablet case

Secondly, I do not like the look of the stem stitch outline. I thought that would be my favourite part, because normally I really like chunky stem stitch in perle #5, and I love the Anchor Multicolors. But not only was it difficult to stitch, I could not manage to get the rope texture nice and tight, especially around corners. Oh, I know, smaller stitches help. But the fabric is relatively thin, and even with fairly long stitches it get a bit pulled and distorted; too many chunky stitches close together would be a nightmare to stitch, and look even worse.

Stem stitch outline of the first letter

This will need a bit of thinking. I will probably unpick the outline, and restitch it in Multicolor stranded cotton; it won’t stand out quite so much, but should be easier to do, and end up less floppy-looking around the corners. For the moment, I’m going to put this one aside; it was meant as an easy in-between project, but as it will now take rather more thought and work it no longer qualifies as such. I’ll definitely finish it – for one thing I don’t want to waste that pouch – but not now.

OK, so sometimes a project goes wrong, and that makes it less attractive. But sometimes a project can go wrong, yet be tremendous fun! I needed something easy to stitch while we were down at my mother-in-law’s, doing some sorting and clearing in the house she’s just moved out of. There wouldn’t be that much stitching time, so it had to be something simple, preferably with small parts within the design that could be finished quickly. Something like one of Kelly Fletcher’s monograms, in fact, particularly the one with the leafy border. And I happened to have a ready-to-embroider napkin bought as an experiment at the same time as the project pouch! Perfect.

Or it would have been, if I’d had time to transfer the design before we went. Unfortunately I didn’t, so one evening when there was just about enough light left I tried to do the transfer against a west-facing window. My usual pencil had somehow disappeared from my bag, so I tried one of the many pencils in the house. It was a very hard pencil, and after painstakingly tracing most of the design I thought to check, only to find that it had left no imprint whatsoever. The other pencils I found were either equally hard, or far too blunt, and there wasn’t a sharpener around. A blue pencil seemed the most likely to produce a usable line, so I gave that a try. It did leave a ghostly outline, but to be usable it had to be more visible; I decided that by now I might as well use a pen and be done with it. Tracing over the faint blue lines I realised that when holding a fairly large napkin up against a window for tracing, it is almost impossible to keep it square. It sags. It drags. And so the circular border was anything but circular. To make matters worse, I then put the initial in at the wrong angle – it should have pointed towards the corner. It doesn’t. And let’s not even mention the leaves, which are meant to be uniform in size and spacing. Quite.

A wonky transfer Lots of fishbone leaves

But you know what? I’m enjoying stitching this enormously. It will produce a perfectly usable and reasonably decorative napkin, I’m getting lots of practice doing fishbone stitch, and if anything doesn’t go quite as planned it doesn’t matter as it can’t possibly get any worse than it already is smiley. The perfect pick-up-and-stitch project! Unlike the pouch…

Could you use…?

When you are known to be a needleworker, sooner or later you will be asked the question “Could you use…?” The item in question may be a great aunt’s collection of half-finished canvases, threads once bought but never used, inherited patterns, or fabrics, needles, hoops or beads which the owner can’t use anymore because of deteriorating eyesight or increasing arthritis. It often includes a great many things which frankly you will never be able to (or want to) use, but there are gems, too. And knowing other needleworkers means that it is rare for these donations not to find a good home eventually.

Recently a gentleman who came to our house to purchase parts for his pre-war Austin Seven (Mr Figworthy’s main line of business, when he is not assisting Ms Figworthy in attaining world domination in embroidery) noticed the various bits of stitching dotted around the house, and asked The Question. In this case it was what he described as “a bag of designs” that once belonged to his grandmother. Last week he dropped them off, and it turned out to be parts 1 to 34 of a series called Embroidery Magic, complete with all the iron-on patterns and two ring binders. Judging by the style they date back to the 1980s, and I’m going to have fun looking through them and picking things which I may want to stitch before taking them to my various embroidery groups for the ladies there to fight over smiley.

Embroidery Magic

Rather longer ago my mother-in-law gave me a box of unidentified silks on cardboard tubes. So far I haven’t done anything with them, but from the start the colours suggested peacocks to me. I’m now thinking of using them for a split stitch version of the miniature cross stitch peacock I designed for a pendant (the picture shows the anonymous silks at the top, followed by discontinued Eterna silks, Piper silks with a couple of discontinued Filofloss, and Threadworx hand-dyed Vineyard silks).

A box of unknown silks A peacock in silk

Or perhaps it could become a miniature-stitching-on-silk-gauze workshop? I have acquired a few inexpensive pendants which I hope will be perfect for that. Now to convince the Knitting & Stitching show that silk gauze embroidery is just what they need on next year’s workshop programme!

The mini peacock in my own silver locket The original pendant and the possible workshop ones The miniature peacock fits the new pendant

Pretties in the post (II): Goldwork

I’ve got plenty of things to be getting on with at the moment, but looking for some deep hoops on the RSN website I also came across a goldwork kit by Helen Stevens, and fell in love with it.

Helen Stevens' 30s Revisited

I havered a bit though, as it was quite expensive. Knowing what fees and overheads can do to prices when you sell via somebody else’s shop, I thought I’d see if she had her own website. Well, she does, and it had the goldwork design on it, but it looked slightly different from the one on the RSN website – fewer techniques, and not so solidly stitched. As there was a telephone number on the website I rang them and spoke to Helen Stevens’ husband, who assured me that she did both versions of the kit. I emailed for further information, found that ordering direct from her would save me £22 *shock* so without further ado I ordered it (who doesn’t like saving money smiley). It arrived in the post the very next day!

The 30s Revisited kit arrives

There isn’t a hope of my starting this kit any time soon – there’s the trade fair we’re getting ready for and a stitched model that needs preparing for publication, to name but a couple of things – and this is not the sort of design you stitch in little snatches; some nice long stretches of stitching time are called for. Even so, I couldn’t possibly just leave it in its box without having a look at it, now could I?

Thinking of the kit we were given at the Medieval Embroidery retreat, and my own little floral goldwork kit, I expected a box with a lid, but it was purely a postal box, not one you’d use to store the kit in while working on it. I’m not mentioning this as a drawback, by the way – it’s just something I happened to notice. Inside the box, the instructions and materials are contained in a plastic grip seal bag with a small bag taped to the front containing a rather pretty beeswax rose and some plunging thread. Turning it over shows the various materials, the fabric, and a first glimpse of the instructions: some very detailed photographs.

The front of the kit, with beeswax The back of the kit, with all the materials

Time to take everything out for a closer look. And “everything” is an impressive collection! Several more spangles than the design needs, what looks like generous amounts of the various metal threads and wires, a full spool of yellow sewing thread, kid leather & felt all with the patterns ready-transferred, and a very generous piece of fabric with the design printed on it. The instructions say it will fit a 10″ hoop, which will leave a pleasant amount of space around the design and plenty of needle-wielding room when fastening off and securing plunged threads. The instructions themselves are a model of clarity, with well over forty photographs illustrating the various stages of the project. I honestly think an enthusiastic beginner could do this kit, even though it has some relatively advanced techniques.

The materials The printed fabric The richly illustrated instructions

So when will I get round to stitching this? I don’t know, but I suspect it may elbow its way past a few of the other projects in the queue…