A revitalised bug and an impossible daffodil

Well, whether or not I finish the 90th birthday tulip in time, it has certainly re-ignited my stitching bug! I know, I know – mixed metaphor; only very nasty people ignite bugs smiley. But last night I definitely picked up my stitching with more enthusiasm than I have for some time.

The 90th birthday tulip in progress

I’m tackling this project in rather an ad hoc manner; mostly stem stitch, some straight stitch and seed stitch filling, probably something knotty for the mouth of the daffodil’s trumpet (is it called a trumpet in English or am I translating literally from Dutch?) – pretty much what feels right for whichever bit I’m doing at the time.

The “90” takes a bit more consideration, however. The numbers need to stand out, but I don’t want to fill them in completely (for example with satin stitch); that would be too solid. Stem stitch wouldn’t stand out enough what with all the other stem stitch used; even with twice the number of strands it would look too samey for my taste. I was tempted to use raised chain stitch, but that would work better for a number that consists of a single line. Simple chain stitch won’t make a solid enough line. Perhaps a chain stitch variation? So for now the choice is between heavy chain stitch (easy and solid but not very textural) or Hungarian braided chain stitch (lovely texture but more complicated to work, and slower – a definite drawback in this case!)

Incidentally, even as I was sketching the daffodil design I had a nagging feeling something wasn’t quite right about it, and as I tidied it up I realised what it was – the petal behind the stem is bisected in a way which makes it extremely fiddly to work in metal thread. The bit indicated by the pink arrow would have to be cut and couched separately; not absolutely impossible, but not something I would like to include in a design for other people to stitch. Fortunately it’s not a problem in the project I’m working on at the moment as it’s easy enough to do in stem stitch, but the goldwork version will need a little bit more work.

Fine in freestyle, but not in goldwork

Half a day class

We had a lovely weekend planned, my husband and I. Separately, it is true; he was to go on a vintage car trial in Scotland with a friend, I was to attend my RSN goldwork day class, a belated birthday present to myself. It didn’t quite go to plan. Stomach flu intervened, and if you’ve ever had it you will know that it is not an intervention you can easily ignore. Scotland had to be given a miss altogether, and although I did go to the class I had to hoist the white flag after a couple of hours. Oh well, it can’t be helped; at least I got a little bit done, and had the kit to take away with me to finish at home.

Work done on the goldwork boot during the class

As this was another beginners’ class (like the watering can I did some years back) there weren’t any techniques in the design which I hadn’t come across before, so I’m reasonably confident I’ll be able to produce a creditable Victorian ankle boot! I may add a few extra flourishes just to use some of my goldwork stash though…

The tutor for this workshop was Angela Bishop, who funnily enough recognised me from the previous day class when she assisted Sarah Homfray. The kit was very nicely presented in a neat little box, which held general notes on goldwork, instructions for this design, and of course all the threads and wires and bits and bobs. (The cat was not part of the kit. She’s just being nosy.) The third picture shows you most of the materials in close up: a pretty little heart-shaped bit of beeswax, a sparkly snaky length of bright check purl (sometimes known simply as bright check) to be used for chipwork, wavy Rococco thread, a piece of stiff-but-pliant pearl purl (great name), and three spangles (which can be told from sequins by the little indentations, caused by being made from a flattened coil). I’d already used most of the Jap thread, so that’s not shown, and you can see the remnant of a piece of yellow felt (used to pad the toe of the boot) in the box.

The workshop kit came in a neat box The contents of the box, with cat Goldwork threads, wires and spangles

I still haven’t finished the Jacobean flower, but I may try to complete the boot first, just so it doesn’t get put away in a drawer and forgotten for several years (it’s not been unknown…). Updates to follow, hopefully soon!

A crochet production line

Some more stitching deadlines have been met so there’s time for a bit of crochet again! I haven’t tried out the poppy yet in more appropriate colours although I do have them (Patons’s 4-ply in red & green & black, but also a lighter green & coral & dark brown for a more muted version) but those colours are also just right for some interesting Christmas wreath patterns I found online.

For some reason, however, I decided to first try out one of the patterns in peach and blue. I’m not absolutely sure why; it may have something to do with not wasting the “proper” colours on a trial piece. Whatever my reason, it gave me an idea of how the pattern worked, and also showed very clearly that peach and blue are not very good colours for a Christmas wreath.

Small crochet wreath in the wrong colours

Incidentally, there are also two other patterns which I would like to try but they require some plastic rings which I don’t have in my stash; they are now on their way here so you should see samples of those larger wreaths soon.

Back to the small wreath. The original pattern started the decorative running stitch from the front, then tied the ends in a bow. I tried this and it looked horrible, possibly because I was working with a double thread. I did find some patterns for small crocheted bows as well, but neither of them looked particularly good on the wreath, so I settled for plain running stitch and beads.

Small crochet wreath in the wrong colours with a horrible bow A small and a tiny crochet bow

Now every December our Embroidery Circle goes out for a Christmas lunch, and we usually exchange Christmas cards on that occasion. Wouldn’t it be nice for a change, I thought, to take a little ornament for everyone instead? And wouldn’t this little wreath be just the thing? After all, I’d only need eleven.

That was yesterday late afternoon. The Christmas lunch was today.

So last night after dinner (8pm) I set out to crochet eleven wreath bases, using the two greens I had recently obtained. Both colours looked good, and they actually stitched up (crocheted up?) very quickly – by 11pm they were all finished, in spite of some assistance from Lexi the Helpful Lap Cat.

The base wreaths in two shades of green

This morning I set out to decorate them. Because I’m not tying the running stitch into a bow, the ends need to be finished off in some other way; some instruction I’d seen with another pattern suggested knotting them together, then working them into the back of the crochet. This looked fine from the front, but left the back rather untidy, especially with the thread used for attaching the beads showing as well. So on the second wreath I didn’t knot but just worked the ends into the back, and also took the beading thread through the stitches when travelling from bead to bead, which led to a much more presentable backside – very important for an ornament!

A back that's not really showable A rather more acceptable back

I then had another go at the bow, and found that if I used a single thread and kept the loops relatively small, it did work *yay*. In fact, it worked with a double thread as well as long as I tied the bow using only one of them, and fed the ends of the other one to the back to be worked in. Not only that, but the bow ones turned out to have the tidiest backs of all. Progress indeed.

A bow that works A bow that works with running stitch in two colours The tidiest back of all

Trying to find ever better ways of finishing off, as well as the lunatic idea that it would be much nicer if they were all different, meant that this part of the process took rather longer than it need have if I’d picked one simple decoration and stuck with that for the entire batch. Even so, my production line was quite efficient on the whole (even though I did add two more types of beads after the picture below was taken).

A crochet production line

And so I did make the deadline, and had eleven different ornaments to take with me to the Christmas lunch.

11 different Christmas wreath ornaments

Which turned out to be one too few, as I’d forgotten to count a lady who no longer comes to our meetings but does still come to the Christmas lunch. Oops. But as a couple of members had had to cancel because of health issues, I could give her an ornament anyway, and now I just need to crochet an extra one to send to one of the absent members. Oh, and another one to give to a friend who is a keen needlewoman and whom we’re meeting for Christmas dinner tomorrow night. Then it’s back to a bit of embroidery, and if I survive two Christmas meals within 48 hours *groan* I hope to post a thread comparison report some time soon!

It’s a small world

It is! And to trot out another cliché, life is full of surprises, not to mention coincidences. Let me tell you the story.

Last week I received an email from a lady who wishes to start a cut flower business. Good luck to her, I say – being Dutch I thoroughly approve of anyone providing more flowers for the adornment of our homes – but you may wonder why she contacted me about this. Well, in her online search for images to use as a logo she came across an embroidery featuring a single flower and leaf (which would go well with the name she has chosen for her new business) in colours similar to the ones she was planning to use. It was this embroidery:

The SANQ goldwork design stitched using Pearsall's crewel wool

That’s right, it’s the little Jacobean goldwork design that I first used for two crewel wool experiments; this is the one using Pearsall’s wool. I was flattered, of course, and wrote to the lady saying so, but also noted that although the stitching and the interpretation were mine, the design was not; it doesn’t really look the way the designer originally intended, but even so I was of the opinion that the copyright of it probably still lay with him or her. Nevertheless, I promised I’d ask the opinion of the Cross Stitch Forum, whose members feel very strongly about copyright and some of whom have looked into the matter in some detail.

One person there sensibly suggested contacting the designer. An excellent suggestion, but I didn’t feel very hopeful about its success; I contacted the magazine last year when I was hoping to acquire this particular design (which I’d seen on a picture of the magazine’s cover on Mary Corbet’s blog), and apart from a fairly standard reply saying they’d forwarded my question to the editorial department (and pointing me to a book they had for sale on goldwork) I didn’t get any further replies, neither from their main email address nor the editorial department.

Samplers & Antique Needlework vol. 38

Then another member suggested looking at the original pattern to say if it said anything about “free use”. Now I hadn’t actually looked at either the pattern or the instructions since I printed off an enlarged version of it; I use that print to transfer the design whenever I want it, and I’m not actually following the instructions but going loosely (very loosely…) by the photograph of the finished pincushion. Moreover I only have the pages with this design on them, not the whole magazine, so any copyright rules covering the magazine generally would probably not be there anyway. Still, I unearthed the original pages and had a look. That’s when the coincidence/small world thing came in.

The designer turned out to be Barbara Jackson of Tristan Brooks Designs ; that sounded very familiar, but it took me a while to remember why. And then it came back to me – Barbara Jackson was the very helpful lady who sent me some twill samples all the way from America last year so I could try them before deciding which one to buy! We had quite an email conversation at the time and we spoke on the telephone as well. As the time difference meant that she was probably at work when I realised this, I rang and explained the situation to her.

It took her a while to remember the design, actually, and when she’d worked out which one it was and I told her my fairly convoluted reason for ringing her she said “I was afraid you were going to ask me for the instructions!” Anyway, she was perfectly happy for me to pass on her permission to use the design, or rather the picture of my rather different version of the design, and so I did. Don’t you just love happy endings smiley? If the flower lady does indeed decide to use the embroidered flower as her logo I’ll post a screen shot when the website goes live!

Slow progress is still progress

Remember the Craft Fair last Saturday? The organisers had asked people with stands if they could give demonstrations at various points throughout the day, and several did, among them a lady spinning wool, and a woodturner. I offered to demonstrate goldwork embroidery, which proved a good opportunity to finally get some work done on my SANQ/Jacobean flower project! I’d already been playing fast and loose with the design so I decided to leave the picture of the model, which is usually magneted to my frame, behind and just do whatever I liked. Ah, liberty! The two petals, originally intended to be done in paired gold Jap, I did in silver, and I intend to have some tiny silver spangles in there with the charted green silk. The cone, or whatever that other bit of the flower is called, was likewise charted in paired gold Jap with fairly chunky pearl purl on the outside; I swapped this for very fine pearl purl and some of the check thread I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show. I really like the effect of the wavy line bordering the delicate purl, and will definitely use it again.

To show the progress, here are some Before and After pics.

Gold and silk Silver and some wavy gold added

Some years ago I designed a series called Floral Lace; as my husband won’t let me forget, it started out as a small collection of three designs but kept growing until in the end there were 18. Some of these came out in late autumn and it gave me the idea of doing a Remembrance pair as well. I decided on Poppy and Rosemary, made some sketches none of which quite satisfied me, and so they disappeared into my When I Get Fresh Inspiration folder. Then one night last week I woke up with the design worked out in my head; the next morning I quickly got it charted up in my design program and so after well over two years “Floral Lace: Remembrance” is finally finished. I’ve even started stitching it, at my Embroidery Group yesterday afternoon with a bit more work done in the evening.

Floral Lace: Poppy - in progress

It seemed oddly appropriate to be stitching a remembrance-themed project at the group meeting yesterday, as we recently lost one of our long-standing members, and a number of us will be attending her funeral today. It’s a nice thought that this piece, as well as symbolising a more public remembrance, will also remind me of Jean.

A flutter of butterflies, and a fluffy failure

I’ve definitely got butterflies on the brain at the moment! It started out with this one, based on a tutorial posted on Sarah Jayne’s Bella Coco blog – worked in tapestry wool because I had been given some and thought I’d try it out (it’s OK but not particularly easy to work with, and it feels a bit stiff and rough). The second picture shows the two layers of the butterfly; it’s basically an octagon that won’t lie flat because it’s got too many stitches in it, folded double. A safety pin wiggled through the back makes it into a very wearable brooch, although unlike Sarah Jayne I don’t sew the safety pin down – this way it can easily be “un-brooched” and used in a different way if the owner wishes to (sewn on to a hair band, for example).

A mini butterfly Seen from the side the two layers show well A safety pin turns the butterfly into a brooch The butterfly worn as a brooch

After one more butterfly in tapestry wool I settled on the odds and ends of 4-ply I had found in a bag at the bottom of my chest of Stitchy Things That Might Come In Useful One Day, and that worked very well with a 4mm hook. Incidentally, let me digress for a moment on the subject of 4-ply and other terms. Having learnt my crochet in the Netherlands I occasionally get hopelessly entangled not only in stitch names, which can mean two different things depending on whether the pattern uses US or UK terms, but also in yarns (sounds rather fun actually, getting entangled in yarn smiley), trying to work out whether UK double knitting is US worsted or light worsted, and how either of these match up to the Dutch yarns I have which are graded by metres per 100 grams!

Anyway, let us return to butterflies. Because I like small things I started wondering whether this pattern would work in crochet cotton as well. Well, it does. It comes out a lot smaller, very dainty and lacy, and has already been much admired at my stitching group. It is also a lot fiddlier than the yarn version! I may make a few for special people who would really like them, but for the Craft Fair I will stick with the original version – which may look pretty gigantic side by side with the tiddly version, but is only about 2″ across the wing tips.

Two sizes of butterfly

Encouraged by this successful experiment I decided to try another one; in my bag of left-over baby wool there was a ball of bright yellow fluffy yarn, which consists of lots of short “hairs” on a thinnish thread and which I thought might look quite interesting if used for the outer row of the butterfly. After a bit of a fight trying to work six double/treble crochets into one stitch while the individual stitches and the hook are somewhat obscured by the yellow fluff (making it very difficult to see whether you’ve done five or six stitches) it became woefully clear that “interesting” was the best that could be said about it. There will be no further fluffy butterflies (though it would probably make very effective caterpillars…)

A misconceived fluffy butterfly

So back to the 4-ply (and a bit of DK), and here is the flutter of butterflies ready for Saturday’s Craft Fair (one or two others may join them if I have time):

A dozen butterflies winging their way to the Craft Fair

A belated start

Having made an enthusiastic start on getting my little goldwork project up and running, it all rather ground to a halt after the initial transferring. There were several reasons for this; for one thing I got terribly distracted by those pretty floral gems, and they in turn reminded me that I needed a good stock of cards and coasters to sell at the church Christmas Fair, and so far I didn’t have that many. There were also some occasions that warranted hand-stitched cards, and they naturally had priority.

And then there were a few things connected with the goldwork project itself. You may remember that the transferring process didn’t go altogether smoothly, and both the drawing pen transfer and the pencil one ended up with rather thicker lines than I’d aimed for. The pencil one being marginally the finer of the two I picked that one, but it wasn’t ideal. Next came the framing up. The piece of dupion isn’t large enough to be stretched on the Millennium frame and even if it were, it would still need a backing material. The usual procedure is to attach the dupion fabric to a larger piece of calico by means of herringbone stitch all around, and then to stretch the calico; the dupion will then automatically stretch with it.

In theory.

I’ve done it before, and it has worked just fine. But this time I just couldn’t get the top fabric smooth. However I attached it (and I tried at least three ways) the moment I got the calico taut the dupion started wrinkling. In the end I attached it top and bottom only, got it as smooth as I could, and decided to just ignore the slight wrinkles that were left and hope I’d be able to get rid of them after I’d completed the project.

Goldwork project finally set up

So I finally got to stitch *yay*! As this is meant to be a relaxing project where I can just go where the fancy leads me I’m completely ignoring the instructions – I’ve attached the colour picture from the original magazine article to my frame and will go roughly by that, but if I think a different thread or way of doing things will suit me better, that’s what I’ll do. And as I’d chosen to make it rather bigger than the original minuscule pincushion I’ll need different thicknesses of thread and wire anyway.

Working from the colour photograph

The first thing I did differently was the way of starting the Japanese threads for couching the leaf. I had cast a glance at the instructions before deciding not to use them, and it said to cut two 9″ lengths of Jap thread, couch them leaving an inch at the start, and then to plunge the two ends at the start and the two ends at the finish. Plunging means to take the ends to the back of the fabric and attach them there as a way of fastening off. The method employed in the magazine would mean four ends to plunge, and I dislike plunging – it’s necessary but cumbersome and involves fiddly stitching with a curved needle, and the more I can avoid it the better I like it. Why not cut a double-length piece of Jap and fold it in half, with as sharp a fold as possible, and attach the fold with a single stitch before couching the two halves together? To my delight this worked just fine, although I did have an uncomfortable moment when I realised that the 9″ length was calculated for the original pincushion size, not my double-sized version. Fortunately the magazine writer chose to err on the side of caution, and I found that my doubled-up 18″ piece was ample to do the entire leaf with.

Starting with a fold

The second bit I did differently was unintentional. I’d forgotten to transfer some of the little green leaves-inside-the-leaf, and the ones I did transfer had come out a bit on the small side. I’m really pleased with the way the Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk stitched up in the satin stitch leaves, but there is too much empty space within the left side of the leaf, so I will probably add a few spangles there. And finally I chose to use two different sizes of pearl purl for the main stem and the leaf stem; partly because I haven’t got that much of the #2 (the thicker of the two) but plenty of the Super (the finer one). Unfortunately the Super is too thin to use throughout, so I may have to get some more #2 at the K&S Show…

gold and silk

Having got this far I find that the wrinkles do annoy me too much to ignore, so I’m going to try and stretch the dupion sideways and get it smoothed out just a bit more. And then it’s on with the flower!

A birthday initial

Inspired by Mary Corbet’s blog about voided initials I decided that one of my oldest friends’ birthday coming up was a great occasion to try this for myself. I’d found a quirky little book that I thought she would like, but it needed something else, and a coaster with her initial would be just the thing. After some deliberation the colour scheme picked was blue, green and yellow – nice and cheerful and bright.

The first stage was outlining the initial in stem stitch, and I chose dark green and blue to do that, in a sort of shaded arrangement. You know how you can give a letter depth by doing one part in light and one in dark? Well, like that, only in two colours instead of two shades of the same colour. Then I filled in the area around it with seed stitches in yellow plus light and medium blue and green. Some stitching techniques almost automatically give you a neat back – Hardanger for example. Seed stitching does not. It does, however, make rather a nice modernist picture in its own right!

The M outlined in stem stitch in two colours The M surrounded by seed stitch The back of the M

The next step was ironing Vilene (iron-on interfacing) to the back; this stiffens it a bit, and also secures the edges when cutting the fabric. Cutting a fairly fray-prone fabric to the exact size it needs to be is quite scary! The thing is to get it into the coaster as quickly as possible once it’s been cut.

The M secured with Vilene The M cut to size The M in a coaster

Finally attach to a card and write the Dutch equivalent of Happy Birthday on it, and Instructions For Use. They translate as: 1) Remove coaster from card; 2) Place coaster on side table by favourite chair; 3) Place favourite drink on coaster; 4) Place self on favourite chair; 5) Enjoy drink and book.

The coaster card The coaster instructions

Seed stitch is relatively labour-intensive, especially in five colours (it takes a lot of organisation to make it look random…), but I think the effect is worth it.

A compact hobby

As I’ve probably mentioned before, once a month I go to a craft group at our local library. It’s enjoyable to meet up with others who appreciate making things with needle and thread or wool or bits of fabric, depending on whether they are stitchers, knitters/crocheters (how do you pronounce that?) or quilters, and there is always tea or coffee and cake as well. Usually my preparation for a meeting amounts to deciding what project to bring, but this time I was in charge of the eatables, as our usual baker was on holiday. A batch of cheese muffins and one of coconut bites later that part was taken care of. Now for the stitching project, which couldn’t be too big as most of the space in my bag would be taken up by the muffins/bites.

And this is the sort of situation where needlework turns out to be a most convenient hobby (unlike playing the double bass, or turning clay pots) – you need very little for it! One of the small Floral Gem projects seemed like a nice, compact idea, and although I could easily have taken one of my small project boxes, I rather liked the challenge of keeping everything to a minimum. So here it is, everything that is needed to complete the project, with all the threads, beads and embellishments fitting in a 1½” tin, and the whole lot fitting into a 5″ x 7½” seal bag.

All the materials for the project Everything needed in a compact bag

And did I complete the project? Well, no, not quite. Not in 90 minutes, and some of that time taken up with eating muffins and trying to keep the cream cheese off the fabric. smiley But I made a start, and now there’s only the outer wheatear stitch border to do.

A good start on the project

Star bright

Having completed the Kelly Fletcher Christmas tree freebie and not yet having enough time to make a solid start on the Jacobean goldwork flower I decided to have a go at one of the star designs I had transferred onto two shades of Normandie fabric. For no particular reason I picked the ivory one, and as there probably wouldn’t be time to do both (I’m proofreading a friend’s thesis at the moment, not to mention being up to my ears in bits of kits) the threads simply had to be the Threadworx Vineyard silks. They are gorgeous! Not only are the colours full and deep and rich, even in the pastel shades, but they are some of the most strokeable threads I have ever come across, soft and luxurious with a lovely bounce. Do you know that feeling when you walk barefoot on thick springy moss? You get the same spring when you gently squeeze a bobbin of Vineyard silk.

Yes, all right, I admit it – I’m the sort of stitcher who squeezes bobbins of silk. It’s soothing. It’s good for my blood pressure. Anyway, moving swiftly on, let’s discuss stitches!

I wanted to try a variety of stitches on the various concentric stars, in a sort of rainbow of colour, starting with a small yellow star in the middle. This started out as a French knot surrounded by stem stitch, but that looked a bit empty so I added the various straight stitches later. One of the stitches I particularly wanted to include was raised chain stitch, which is worked over a straight stitch foundation stitched between two lines; that meant I was one line short for the number of colours I wanted to use, so I inserted an uncharted dotted line of more French knots, in green this time. Blue for the raised chain, with a foundation of Caron Wildflowers. Raised chain stitch is not ideal for very sharp points, but it looks OK and the texture works beautifully in the Vineyard silk. Then a line of pinky-red Portuguese knotted stem stitch and finally the outer line in purple Mountmellick stitch. Again not an ideal stitch for sharp points and corners, but I actually rather like the look of the “teeth” in the peaks and troughs. I did briefly consider working 10 separate lines of Mountmellick from the tops to the troughs, but decided it would involve far too much fastening on and off – this was meant to be a relaxing stitch, after all!

And here is what it looks like, once photographed in bright sunshine – brilliant to show the colours, but lots of sharp shadows as well – and once in the shade, which is probably better to show the stitches.

The finished star photographed in full sunlight The finished star photographed in shade

Incidentally, it was quite interesting to have a look at the back and see how different the stitches look there; Mountmellick looks like a very elongated rake head, and stem stitch becomes back stitch!

The back of the MC star

And finally a close-up of the stitches, to show off the lovely sheen and texture of the threads.

Close-up of the stitches used in the MC star

Last of the three freestyle workshops for the Church’s building fund tomorrow; a full house with some children and young people as well! Not all of them will be stitching, but just in case they change their minds I’ve made sure I’ve got enough kits with me for everyone.