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…

Pretties in the post (I): Bling

Having stitched with pearls and gems at the Medieval Embroidery retreat I’ve developed a bit of a taste for them and yesterday the postman brought me some to have a play with when my Opus Anglicanum project is finished. The freshwater pearls on the string are like the ones in the medieval king, only ever so slightly larger; it’s very difficult to find them any smaller than this!

A string of small freshwater pearls The string of pearls with my medieval king

I’m keeping a look out for coloured glass gems – Sarah Homfray told me that the ones they used in the kits were from a discontinued line, and she’d bought them all. But when I saw this mix of white acrylic ones in a sale for a rather ridiculous price I thought they were worth a try, especially as I also found some genuine glass shisha mirrors and an interesting black version of my coloured floral gems in that same sale.

A bag of mixed sew-on gems Different sizes of gems Glass shisha mirrors Black floral gems

Then as I was putting away the gems and the flowers, and looking up some black beads which might go with them (not plain black, but sort of oil-on-water) I remembered a large black canvas shopping bag I got some time ago – surely the perfect combination!

Black and transparent gems on a black shopper Black and transparent gems against the black fabric

My first thought was to attach the flowers and gems in a random swirly pattern, but unfortunately I’m not very good at random. Could I perhaps arrange them in letters? I showed this (very provisional) arrangement to my husband, who felt the contrast between the two letters was too high. Yes, I can see what he means. Well, how about letters in black flowers attached with the oily beads, with swirls of gems around them? Watch this space – I may even go properly random after all!

Mabel's initials in gems

A stitch (back) in time

Remember I wrote about having lots of projects on the go last time? Even as I posted it it seemed to me that surely five projects couldn’t be the whole lot – and I was right. I’d forgotten a tiny flower started as a travel project (of which I have no picture as there is not much to see yet) and a Kelly Fletcher butterfly.

Progress on the Kelly Fletcher butterfly

And now there is one more as a medieval king joins the throng! This is the project Angela Bishop and Sarah Homfray used at the Coombe Abbey retreat to introduce a group of nine stitchers to the joys of Opus Anglicanum, or English medieval embroidery. It includes lots of split stitch in silk, gold couched using both the usual and the underside method, and some Serious Bling.

But before I say more about the stitching, a little about the venue. Coombe Abbey is an impressive building with lovely gardens, and makes a rather appropriate setting for embroidery of the type we were doing. Atmosphere in spades! Its only downside is unfortunately rather inherent in a medieval building, and that is gloom. Even though the room we were in had relatively large windows, we definitely needed the collection of daylight lamps that had been brought along. As for the hotel reception, anyone with less than perfect night vision would be advised to bring a torch. But it would be churlish to complain about such characterful surroundings – and I won’t. I thoroughly enjoyed my two days’ stitching there.

Coombe Abbey Coombe Abbey Coombe Abbey Coombe Abbey

Can something be both intense and relaxing? This retreat certainly did a good job at being both. There is nothing quite like a long period of stitching time when you don’t have to worry about the ironing or the groceries because they are Somewhere Else and you can’t do anything about them anyway. Very relaxing. But trying to learn a technique that originally involved a seven-year apprenticeship in two days? Very intense.

Of course the seven-year apprenticeship involved rather more than just learning the stitches, and Sarah and Angela warned us not to expect perfection quite yet, so we had to settle for getting a taste of this lovely embroidery. We did so by means of brief talks about the background of Opus Anglicanum and other types of medieval embroidery, live demonstrations (using a nifty camera-and-big-screen combination), and of course trying the techniques for ourselves using the kit provided.

Workshop set-up Talks Demonstrations The class kit

Day one had a lot of split stitch; it was interesting to look at pictures of medieval embroideries using this simple stitch so effectively, using changes in direction to create shading even when using only a single shade of silk. In our royal head this is especially noticeable in the way the spiralled cheeks, chin and forehead stand out against the rest of the face (or will do, when I get the rest of the face stitched…)

Day two had us tackling underside couching, a technique apparently almost unique to Opus Anglicanum; taking the couching thread down through the fabric creates lots of little “hinges” which keep the fabric flexible even when covered in large swathes of gold, as on ecclesiastical vestments. We were told to work a little of it in both silk and gold twist, and then to decide whether we wanted to fill in the entire collar and/or crown in this technique, or to go back to ordinary couching instead. This option was not unwelcome, as it is quite a time-consuming technique (the needle has to go up and down through the two fabric layers in exactly the same place, and must be pulled through just enough but not too much) which requires a lot of concentration, not to mention strong fingers. As I was still nursing an injured hand, I decided to stick to the mimimum – but I’m glad I gave it a go, as it’s an interesting technique.

Finally we got to add all manner of bling; beads, glass gems and tiny freshwater pearls fit for a king! In all it was an occasion which I’d be very happy to repeat – stitching with a group of like-minded people, in beautiful surroundings, with leisurely chats over lunch, and learning more about this wonderful hobby of ours. So here are the two things that made the retreat so special: the tutors and fellow-stitchers, and the project. The second picture shows what I managed in the two days, plus a little work on the crown at my library craft group yesterday. I hope to show you a finished king in the not too distant future!

Tutors and stitchers Progress on the Opus Anglicanum king

By the way, Sarah and Angela were kind enough to give me some feedback on Forever Frosty, and one suggestion which I may well follow up…

Variety is the spice of stitching

First let me play the sympathy card: I hurt my stitching hand in a fall, so for the past week I’ve done no stitching whatsoever. The last thing I did (and probably shouldn’t have) was finish Forever Frosty last Sunday; after that, nothing. How did I manage to restrain myself, I can hear you think. With difficulty, is the answer, and mostly because of the knowledge that this week I will be attending the 2-day Medieval Embroidery retreat at Coombe Abbey (thank you, oh husband-who-understands-the-desires-of-a-stitcher’s-heart) for which I want to be in good shape. Angela Bishop, one of the tutors, assured me that the retreat is “a combination of demos, talk, stitching (and eating!) so not all stitching”, so there should be plenty to enjoy even if I can’t quite keep up with the other embroiderers in the practical parts.

Of course this enforced stitch-less period comes just when I’ve got about five different projects either in progress or hooped up and ready to go! Some people like to stick to one project at a time, and they have the perseverance, concentration and self-control to stick with that one project until it’s finished (all the more astonishing when it’s one of those fully covered pictures consisting of half a million or so stitches). I, on the other hand, am fickle. I start a project, and half-way through I want to do something different. And that’s with designs which hardly ever exceed 10 inches, and generally aren’t solidly stitched. But in embroidery I will allow myself this fickleness – it is, after all, my hobby, which I’m meant to enjoy! And so I gather around me many different projects, preferably in different styles or techniques, and stitch whichever of them appeals to me at any given time. So what projects am I surrounded by at the moment? Here they are, in no particular order.

Line sampler project pouch. This was inspired by pictures posted on the Mary Corbet Facebook group by a lady who stitched line samplers in the shape of hearts and letters. I had just bought a couple of stitchable pouches meant for large tablets, which I think will work very well as travel cases for small-to-medium embroidery projects. Because I find it very difficult to be completely random in my stitching, and because I sometimes need a quick reminder of stitches that I don’t use very frequently, I’ve printed out a list of my stitch diagrams suitable for stitching lines. The letters will be worked in five different colour combinations, each based on and outlined in a shade of Anchor Multicolor.

Line sampler in letter shape on a project pouch

Carousel, a Hardanger design. After lots of freestyle and other embroidery I decided it was time to get back into Hardanger, and to ease myself into it I started with the non-cut designs of Veiled Delights. This was both a good idea (simple motifs) and a bad one (stitching through organza is predictably less easy and relaxed than stitching straight onto the evenweave), but on the whole I think it did re-ignite my enthusiasm for Hardanger, so I have hooped up a proper Hardanger design with cutting and filling stitches and everything. It’s called Carousel because many stitches in it have a “whirly” quality to them. I had various colour combinations in mind, and may well stitch it in other colours besides this one in the future, but for now it’s bright blues on bright white.

Carousel, a Hardanger project

Come Rain, a goldwork umbrella. And yes, there is a Come Shine as well – a parasol. Strictly speaking the umbrella is silverwork, on a teal ground, while the parasol will be done in gold on an orange fabric. Both will have some appliqué as well as a variety of metal threads. I’ve worked out which threads and wires and techniques I want to use where, but only while I’m stitching will I be able to decide which sizes will work best (it wasn’t until I was actually stitching Forever Frosty that I realised the pearl purl I’d chosen for outlining his body was far too thin). This is the one that’s really calling to me at the moment – perhaps I can make a start next weekend.

An umbrella in silverwork

Soli Deo Gloria, a silk & gold flower. I was so taken with the combination of colours and materials I used for my interpretation of a Kelly Fletcher freebie that I designed a flower of my own to work in those colours and techniques. As I was putting this together I decided on different silks, and possibly some of the gold threads will be slightly different too, but the look and feel of it will, I hope, be the same. I called it Soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”) because the colours of the petals and the use of goldwork threads were originally suggested by a Bible verse about furnishings made for the Tabernacle: “They hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut strands to be worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen – the work of skilled hands” (Exodus 39:3).

Soli Deo Gloria in silk and gold

And finally, a Kelly Fletcher design on a tea towel. You may remember the Classic Creations kit I got a while ago; it comes with fabric for two of the twelve designs, and as I was looking for a suitable fabric for the others I came across some tea towels and napkins I bought as “postage filler” when ordering shopping bags from the Clever Baggers. A tea cup seemed a suitable design for a tea towel, so I’ve ironed on the transfer, making sure it’s far enough from the corner for me to get a hoop around it (I cannot stitch comfortably without a hoop). I will have to remember to finish everything off very securely (not usually a priority when most of my projects end up in cards, coasters or boxes), and keep the back neat (likewise)!

A Kelly Fletcher design on a tea towel

And what about you? Are you strictly faithful to one project from start to finish? Or do you lavish your affections on many different designs? If so, do you work on them according to a strict rotation or do you stitch whatever takes your fancy? Whatever your ways and methods, enjoy your stitching. I hope to be enjoying mine again in a few days’ time!

Trying out a kit

After several evenings of putting kits together and tidying away new goldwork materials I finally got round to setting up some of the projects from Kelly Fletcher’s Classic Creations kit. Even when I don’t get any stitching done, I like setting up projects smiley; there is something very soothing about hooping up and looking at pretty colours.

This was made slightly less soothing by the fact that I was looking at fewer pretty colours than I should have done. As I went to pick the colours needed for my first project (that cheeky fox, of course!) I found that the yellow skein was missing. Had it been there when I opened the plastic envelope containing the threads, needles and fabric? Had it somehow got mislaid? Had the cat gone off with it? I haven’t been able to find it anywhere, and looking at a close-up of the picture I took of the kit with the materials still in their wrapping, I don’t think it was ever there.

Nine skeins instead of ten

For now I’ve grabbed a skein of yellow from my stash; it seems a little warmer than the yellow that was meant to be with the kit, but it’ll work just fine. Even so, although it’s not a problem for someone like me who’s got threads practically coming out of her ears, if you got this as a beginner’s project (which is what it is really aimed at) you’d have to go out and buy the skein. I’ve contacted the seller (not the one in the link above – I got mine off Amazon, which may prove a bad choice) to say that one skein is missing, and we’ll have to wait and see what they say.

Mind you, assuming that this was a one-off oversight and that all the other kits do come with their full complement of threads this is an impressive kit. One thing I really like is the size of the two pieces of fabric that are included: absolutely no problem fitting them in the provided hoop. They are very generously cut, with enough room for framing should you want to.

A good-sized piece of fabric

The pieces of fabric were quite creased from being folded up inside that plastic envelope, but fortunately some serious ironing got all but a ghost of a crease out.

Creased pieces of fabric The ghost of a crease

Then it was time to transfer my two chosen designs (the cheeky fox and a butterfly) to the fabric. As you can see I didn’t do too well ironing on the butterfly – it says not to make ironing movements but to press the iron down, carefully lift it off, then put it down on a different part of the design, until the whole thing is transferred; well, when I carefully lifted the iron the second time, the paper stuck to it and lifted off before I’d quite finished – and of course it is impossible to put it back in exactly the same spot, so I left it as it was. There should be enough to work from.

Transferred butterfly, a bit patchy

And here is the fox, with a little work done on him. As usual *sigh* I haven’t followed the instructions exactly; I should have done both sides of his body in a double line of stem stitch first, but I found I could minimise fastening off and on by going round the legs and part of the tail before doing the second line of stem stitch.

A start on the cheeky fox

So, first impressions. On the plus side, the designs are attractive and colourful, the instructions are generally very good (although with one or two of the stitches the instructions seem to assume some prior knowledge), and the iron-on transfers are clear when transferred correctly. The bamboo hoop works well, the fabrics are a generous size, and having a milliner’s needle included for the French knots is definitely a bonus. The threads have DMC labels on them (though they come with only one wrapper instead of two per skein) and I’m sure that’s what they are, but they feel softer than my standard skeins; whether this is because they’ve been rubbing together in the packaging, or whether DMC produce a separate stranded cotton for use in kits I don’t know, but whatever the reason I rather like it!

Are there any downsides? One or two, but in the grand scheme of things they amount to no more than niggles. Although the size of the fabric is generous, the size of some of the designs makes them only just small enough to fit inside the hoop (as you can see from the fox, which is not even the largest of the designs). The instructions say that you can move the hoop around, even on top of your stitching, and this may be a good lesson to learn (that stitching will stand up to quite a bit of squashing and handling), but I would have preferred them to be stitchable without moving the hoop. Actually you probably can just about do it without moving the hoop, but personally I’d have gone for slightly smaller designs.

The lines of the iron-on transfers are beautifully clear, but that does mean that you have to be reasonably accurate in your stitching to make sure that they are fully covered. The instructions are often for 3 or 4 strands, which helps especially in the stem stitch, but I definitely had to unpick and re-place a few of the backstitches in the legs. And although the booklet mentions that you might like to use a backing fabric, this is not included, so you can’t find out whether you would like using a backing fabric without buying some.

All in all, however, I’m really pleased with this kit and would definitely recommend it. With its bright, jolly designs it would make a great kit for teaching children to stitch (especially as it is so affordable), but it’s equally good for an experienced stitcher who wants some simple travel projects or something to stitch in between larger, more challenging designs.

PS As I was about to post this, a padded envelope came through the letterbox. It contained a packing slip from the Amazon Marketplace seller with “replacement skeins” scribbled on it, and a complete plastic-wrapped set of skeins like the one in the original box, including needles (but not fabric). I’d just suggested sending the yellow – not because I need it, but because other people might have the same problem and no stash to fall back on, and I thought it might concentrate the sellers’ minds.

A replacement set of skeins

Now the booklet mentions ten colours, not specifying the DMC numbers. They are: black, white, yellow, orange, salmon, light salmon, dark blue, light blue, dark green and light green. The original package had only nine skeins, and the colours were 310, B5200, [missing yellow – I supplied 743], 970, 350, 352, 517, 519, 704 and 905. The replacement set does have ten skeins, but there is NO BLACK. The colours are Blanc, 744, 741, [3777, 3831, 3833 – burgundy/pink rather than salmon], 825, 827, 704, 701.

The colours in the original box, plus the yellow I supplied myself The colours in the replacement package

Good try at customer service, but not very successful… I can understand not specifying DMC numbers in the booklet so that you can vary which dark and light green you send out, for example, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man to make sure that it includes one of every colour mentioned in the booklet, and none that aren’t. Kelly Fletcher isn’t well served by this as it’s her name on the box but she is, I assume, not responsible for these mix-ups. I’ll contact her and let you know what she says.

…and relax

What do you think of this cheeky chappie? He arrived at our house today, as an emergency stitching aid. Let me tell you why he is about to join my already impressive pile of WIPs.

A cheeky fox

Sometimes I simply don’t get round to stitching. At the moment I have about five different projects in various stages of completion (or rather incompletion), from just hooped up to fairly far advanced, and am I stitching? No I’m not. It’s not that I don’t like the projects I’ve got set up – my goldwork snowman especially is definitely calling to me – but somehow nothing’s happening. Looking at it objectively I can identify several reasons: the heat, family circumstances, workshop preparations. But even so, I want to stitch, yet I’m not stitching.

Perhaps it’s this: most of what I stitch will eventually become a chart pack, kit or workshop. And that means that I have to make notes, take pictures, consider the practicalities of using this stitch or that, wonder if it’s worth drawing a very complicated stitch diagram for a stitch I may never use in any other design, and so on and so forth. Usually this is a nice challenge, and an interesting addition to the stitching process. But at the moment I just want to do some mindless, uncomplicated stitching with absolutely no purpose other than to enjoy the act of embroidering.

For this sort of stitching I love using Kelly Fletcher’s designs. Now I realise that I may just have implied that Ms Fletcher’s designs are mindless, or appeal to the mindless, but I’m sure you will understand I mean no such thing. Her designs are clean-lined, modern, bright, and you can follow her instructions to the letter or play with them using pretty much any stitch you like. I have a folder full of them, and have used a fair few as travel projects.

But even that seemed like too much trouble at the moment. Having to pick fabric, and threads, and using the lightbox to transfer the outlines… And then I got her newsletter, and it mentioned a new kit that could be pre-ordered. It also mentioned previous, similar kits, all containing about a dozen designs, and one of them decorated with that Fox Full Of Character. I fell for his charms and bought the kit, and today it arrived!

Kelly Fletcher kit, outside

It’s a sturdy cardboard box shaped like a very fat book, with a lid that is held shut magnetically. When you open it there is a detachable booklet on one side, and all the materials in a secure compartment on the other side.

Kelly Fletcher kit, inside

The booklet contains coloured pictures of each of the twelve designs, instructions for stitching them, and photographs of all the stitches used. It also has information about the various materials, instructions on how to use the transfers, and a bit about Kelly Fletcher herself.

Design booklet

The compartment on the right contains two pieces of cotton fabric, twelve iron-on transfers (hurray! no lightbox! though having to use an iron in a heatwave may not be that much better…), ten full skeins of DMC stranded cotton, needles, and a 6″ hoop.

Hoop, threads, fabric and transfers

From the website that Kelly Fletcher links to in her newsletter you can get these kits for about £13, but shop around and you can find them for under a tenner. That’s twelve designs with instructions, ten skeins of floss, a hoop and two pieces of fabric – it really is excellent (not to say incomprehensible) value for money!

I’ll report back when I’ve done some stitching; at first glance I would say this is an excellent buy for anyone who wants a collection of attractive small projects with practically all the preparatory work done for you.

The woes of a multiple starter

Originally I was going to call this post “The woes of a serial starter”, but then I realised that if only my starts were serial, there wouldn’t be a problem. It’s because they are concurrent that I get into trouble, and that trouble is summed up in the question “which one do I work on this evening?”

From fairly early on in my embroidery life I found that one project at a time didn’t do it for me. All right, I get bored easily. I am not the work-on-the-same-enormous-project-for-three-years-running type. Quite a steady and patient sort of person in everyday life, I somehow seem to crave variation and instant gratification in my needlework. Oh well, one has to get one’s excitement somewhere smiley.

And on the whole, it works just fine. If I have two or three things on the go, and they are not too similar, I can pick up whichever I feel like at any given moment. I may work on the same project for several days (even weeks) on end, or I may change from one stitching session to the next. But don’t you find sometimes that too much choice can be paralysing? As with flavours of ice cream (so much easier to decide when vanilla, chocolate or strawberry were the only options), so with too wide a selection of available embroidery projects – if there are so many things I could do, I sometimes end up doing none of them and watching Countryfile or a murder mystery instead!

At the moment I find myself with two projects actually being stitched (a Kelly Fletcher design re-imagined in silk and gold and a silk sunflower), two hooped up with the materials chosen (a goldwork workshop model and another sunflower), two transferred with the details still to be decided on (a tiny sheep to be done in silverwork and a project pouch – really a tablet pouch – to be worked in plain DMC), one charted but not yet transferred (a six-petalled flower to be done in silk and gold), and one tantalising me with its possibilities but with no definite stitching plan as yet (a really useful canvas moon bag).

A Kelly Fletcher flower re-imagined in silk and gold The start of a sunflower A goldwork workshop model Two sunflowers
A tiny sheep to be worked in silverwork A project pouch with Mabel on it A six-petalled flower to be stitched in silk and gold A moon bag waiting to be stitched

So will I get any stitching done tonight? As Tommy Cooper said, “I used to think I was indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.” Is there a Midsomer Murders on anywhere?

Practicalities in designing

I am not always as organised as I would like to be. For example, it’s my favourite aunt’s birthday next Wednesday, but until yesterday I hadn’t really put any thought into her birthday card; and bearing in mind that she lives abroad, this made for a certain urgency in the matter. I definitely wanted to send her a stitched card, but it would have to be relatively simple. Not too simple, though – it must be festive! Because her birthday is on 21st March she used to be known as the Spring Baby or the Spring Child at home, so I decided on a daffodil, to be worked in silks and with some gold outlining.

There was a practical reason for this as well as the fact that it seemed very appropriate: I could nick it from the Spring Flowers design I did for my mother-in-law last year! I cropped the daffodil to an approximate square, printed it to the right size for one of my small aperture cards, transferred the design, got the silks and the right thickness of gold together, and I was set to go.

A birthday daffodil

And then I noticed the stem. In the original, the placement of the stem in front of one of the rear petals means the stitching is a bit fiddly, but that’s all. Here, however, I meant to outline the petals in smooth passing, and having to interrupt the outline for the stem would mean a lot of extra plunging and a lot of ends to secure at the back of the work. A slight adjustment was called for.

Two designs with different stems

There was now just one challenge left (well, besides the challenge of actually stitching the whole thing in time for her birthday) – re-drawing the outline on the fabric. It’s not a particularly expensive or special fabric, but even so I don’t like wasting it. Fortunately one of those plastic erasers turned out to do the trick, so all that remains is a very slight roughness where the original stem was; and I probably only notice that because I know it’s there. So on to the stitching!

The redrawn transfer

A gold leaf and a gold boot

Finishing the goldwork leaf I’d started at my RSN tutorial took a little longer than I had intended, but fortunately there was no deadline and I could just enjoy the process! The first step was to work an inner line along the Jap that was couched around the edge of the leaf. Heather had intended that to be another line of double Jap, with the couching “bricked”, that is to say with the couching stitches positioned in between the ones on the first line. However, having done quite a bit of bricking on earlier projects I wanted to try something different – something wavy, in fact. My first thought was milliary wire, but back home I realised there is actually quite a choice in wavy threads and wires, so I put three of them with the Jap outline to see which I preferred. They were check thread (tight wave), rococco (longer wave) and milliary (pointy wave attached to a straight wire).

Possible wavy threads for the leaf Check thread Rococco thread Milliary wire

And after all that I decided on … milliary wire. At least in part because, as a wire, it doesn’t need the dreaded plunging!

The leaf with its milliary wire inner edge

Then I got on with finishing the cutwork, and I am relatively pleased with what I produced. There are definite issues (I’ll come to those in a bit), but bearing in mind that this is the first cutwork I’ve done over soft string padding (much more raised than the few bits I’ve done over felt) it’s not too bad. In fact, some of the things I’m about to point out are not nearly so noticeable in real life as they are in a close-up photograph – fortunately!

The finished padded cutwork

Right, here we go. The blue arrow points to where the the tapering is not as even as I would have liked; the green arrow shows up a length of purl cut just too short; the purple arrow points to a length that is just too long and has therefore cracked; and the red and orange arrows highlight some of the places where I failed to line up the adjoining lengths correctly – some are pushed up by neighbouring lengths (red) while some get lost underneath others (orange).

Some issues

Having said all that, I am honestly pleased with what I learnt, and even with the slightly wonky finished article. It just shows there is room for improvement, and let’s face it, I would have been a miracle embroiderer if there hadn’t been. And now for a bit of advice (which I should start taking myself): unless there is a very good reason for it, Do Not Point Out Your Mistakes. When people are sincerely admiring your stitching, don’t tell them of that one stitch which should have been a millimeter to the left, or that other stitch which you accidentally worked in the wrong colour. For one thing, it may well embarrass them because it suggests they have been uncritical or ignorant in their comments. It also practically obliges them to repeat the compliment. So you see, it’s actually much more modest and humble NOT to point out your mistakes! smiley

So here, without any apologies for any of it, is the finished leaf, with some added spangles:

The finished leaf with extra spangles

Having had such fun with the leaf I decided to dig out the boot I started at the rather ill-fated RSN day class last April. During the class I managed to finish couching all the Jap, but not plunging all the ends, so that my boot looked rather like a helping of gold spaghetti. I took the boot and my lap frame to my Monday afternoon embroidery group and set about plunging. And for two hours, that’s all I did. Well, I had tea as well. And I may have chatted a bit. But embroidery-wise I plunged and secured and plunged and secured some more. My theory being that if I took the boot home with all the plunging done, I’d be much more likely to pick it up and continue with it; also, plunging doesn’t take as much concentration as some of the other aspects of goldwork, which is a definite plus as the embroidery group is not the most distraction-free environment. Well, the theory was correct, and that evening I added a double line of rococco, and immediately plunged those ends as well!

Work done on the goldwork boot during the class Plunging done, and rococco added

None of the remaining techniques – couched pearl purl, chipwork and spangles – require plunging, so I was expecting to finish quite quickly; I had a whole Saturday afternoon to myself, which would surely be enough. Well, it was, but only just – I keep forgetting how time-consuming chipwork is! What looks like a small enough area of felt to be covered begins to look huge when you put the first tiny chip on. So my optimistic hopes that I might even start a new project were dashed, but the boot was finished. It’s not easy to capture the sheer sumptuous sparkle, shine and glow of goldwork in a photograph (unless, presumably, you are a professional photographer) but I hope these give you some idea.

The finished boot The finished boot in bright sunlight

And here are a few close-ups, of the bricked Jap boot cuff (where I took one Jap thread around the front before plunging because the edge looked rather ragged and this seemed the easiest way of tidying it up) and the chipwork toe.

Close-up of the bricked Jap boot cuff Close-up of the chipwork toe

What next, goldwork-wise? Well, there is a certain balloon which has been languishing for far too long now, so I mounted it on the Millennium frame and I will try to make that my next finish. Unfortunately there is a rival on the horizon, or rather a pair of rivals. A lady on the Cross Stitch Forum, on seeing the boot, said wouldn’t it be lovely to work the rest of the outfit in goldwork as well – dress, gloves, hat etc. I can confidently tell you that that is not going to happen, but reading her comment I suddenly saw a goldwork parasol; well, the germ of one (if parasols germinate). And now I have a parasol/umbrella pair of possible projects. Never mind jewellery or scent or even stitchy presents, could someone give me a couple of extra months for Christmas? They don’t even have to be gift-wrapped!

Cats go freestyle

When we went down to Devon to visit the in-laws recently, I wanted to take something fairly simple as a project to work on in the evenings – preferably outlines in stem stitch or something like that. No counting, no complicated stitches. But apart from some Kelly Fletcher freebies I didn’t really have anything suitable. Or did I?

What about my Elegant Cats? Originally they were designed in cross stitch, for an exchange of ATCs (Artist Trading Cards) on the Cross Stitch Form (and stitched on 36ct evenweave to make them fit; as usual I’d tried to cram in far too much detail). But the cross stitch design was based on my original line drawing, and a couple of years ago I cleaned up the line drawing and digitised it for some future occasion. Perhaps that future occasion was now! Line drawings, after all, are almost by definition suitable for freestyle embroidery, especially for line stitches like stem stitch.

Elegant Cats in cross stitch

I transferred the drawing to a piece of linen twill, hooped up, picked the colours I wanted to use (mostly the ones used in the original cross stitch plus a few others in case I needed more shading), and packed it all into my stitching bag.

The Elegant Cats project set up

Before any stitch was put in, however, a lot of thinking was needed. In the cross stitch version the cats were both solidly stitched; something I definitely didn’t want in the freestyle version. But the “outlines only” approach threw up a number of obstacles, first and foremost among them the black cat’s white patch. This stands out very noticeably when the cat is otherwise solid black, but might get lost if it was white stitched on off-white inside an empty black outline. Another challenge was the ginger cat’s stripes. Stitched simply as the stripes on the line drawing they might look a bit sparse, but how to bulk them out? Could I work them in some sort of spiky stitch like Mountmellick or long-armed Palestrina?

In order to give myself a bit more time to think about these things I started with the bits I had already decided on: the main outlines, which would be stitched in stem stitch using three strands – nice and chunky. trying to visualise whether the black cat would look better in stark black or very dark grey I made a last-minute decision to blend, something which I hoped would give depth to the outlines, and which I subsequently also used on the ginger cat.

A stem stitched outline Blending

For the ginger cat’s stripes I decided against any of the more exotic stitches – I wanted to keep this design simple in both its outlines and its execution, and so sticking to the basic repertoire of stitches (as very scientifically defined by my mother-in-law, who after decades of very intricate stitching says that she will now use only “stem stitch, chain stitch, French knots and fly stitch”) seemed a good idea (although I retained the option of adding one or two basic stitches not on her list, such as ray stitch; it may sound exotic but is basically a group of straight stitches radiating from one point).

Chain stitch seemed to fit the bill as it is a line stitch with some width to it, unlike stem stitch. But one line of chain stitch, even with the added shading of blended threads, still looked too thin. How about building up the stripes to the sort of shape they had in the cross stitch version by adding lines of chain stitch on top of each other?

Stacking chain stitch for the ginger stripes

That worked. Next challenge, the black cat’s white patch. As I expected an outline-only version just looked insignificant and negligible, even using three strands. Well, how about filling it in with chain stitch, subtly echoing the chain stitch in the other cat’s stripes? In one strand, to keep an airy look – it wouldn’t do to have it too solid or I’d have to beef up the black as well! And yes, a round-and-round filling of light chain stitch gave me the effect I wanted.

A white patch in outline only A white patch filled in

Fairly last-minute, and for no particular reason other than that it suddenly struck me as a good idea, I gave both cats a white tail tip. This may have been partly a displacement strategy so I wouldn’t have to think about what was the final, and rather daunting, challenge in the design process, that of the black cat’s body colour. I delayed this decision even more by first finishing the paw print border, which was always going to be padded satin stitch with French knots and therefore didn’t present a problem.

But eventually everything had been stitched that could be stitched without coming to the black cat’s potential body filling or shading, and so it had to be faced. Because I definitely wanted to steer clear of solid filling, the best option seemed to be a sort of hatched shading, worked in one strand like the patch to keep it light. I picked the grey from the blend, feeling that the full black would probably make the hatching look too stark, and simply started stitching, hoping that I’d have the good sense to stop when enough was enough. I think I did smiley – and now the Elegant Cats exist in freestyle as well as in cross stitch. Which must be a good thing, as you can never have too many cats! (Well, not in stitch anyway.)

An unshaded black cat A shaded black cat