Further excursions into needlepoint

I blame Fiber Talk. There I was, perfectly content doing just Hardanger, freestyle embroidery, goldwork, Shisha, crewelwork, embellished embroidery and chunky stuff (not a technical term, but I don’t think the Christmas Wreath counts as stumpwork and I don’t know what else to call it), and they get me interested in canvaswork, or needlepoint as they call it. You may remember that I indulged in a little needlepoint recently, and I had rather hoped that had got it out of my system. And then, in my chronological trawl through the Fiber Talk archives, I came to this Midweek Chat. And I was lost. Because one of the pictures shown with the podcast was this:

Carole Lake's Bali Ha'i

It’s a Carole Lake freebie called Bali Ha’i. It uses Caron threads in the shade called Tahiti, which I’ve always loved. And in the middle of the design there is a double fan doubled, which I think is a perfectly irresistible name, like pearl purl. Until recently, I had never even heard of double fan doubleds, if that is the correct plural. But I love the name, I love the look, and here was one in one of my favourite Caron colours, in a project small enough to be doable in between all the other projects I should really be getting on with. What could I do? I downloaded it.

However, looking at the list of materials needed I realised two things: firstly, that even though the list was quite short, I had only one of the five required threads (and I wasn’t going to buy £15 worth of Caron threads just for this small project), and secondly, that the threads were chosen to work on 18ct canvas, and I had intended to do it on 24ct Congress cloth. And then there was a third consideration, which was that you can’t put Congress cloth in a hoop, and unlike my earlier small experiments this project couldn’t easily be worked in hand. It looked like the Figworthy Bali Ha’i was scuppered before it had even started. Or was it?

Looking at the picture of the design, it seemed fairly “open”, so working it on 24ct instead of 18ct would probably just result in a slightly denser look. I remembered once having bought some cheap stretcher bars, and after some rummaging found them in the back of my hoop drawer. And a quick trawl through my box of Caron threads yielded a rather pleasing green-and-yellow combination of Lemon & Lime Watercolours (3-ply cotton) and Waterlilies (variegated stranded silk), Jade Impressions (wool/silk mix) and an anonymous green Soie Cristale (solid stranded silk). Together with a not-quite-gold-not-quite-silver Kreinik #4 braid, which I decided would do as a stand-in for the required Kreinik #8 on my finer canvas, it made quite a pretty picture against the background of my black Congress cloth.

Black Congress cloth on 6 inch stretcher bars Green and yellow threads for Bali Ha'i

I was all set to go. But then I had a session of thread-rearranging, as some of my boxes were getting terribly crowded and threads don’t like to be cramped, and although the box of Caron variegated threads was one of the few that didn’t actually need rearranging, I did come across some orange Soie Cristale in one of my silk boxes which turned out to go very nicely with Caron Tequila, which I happened to have in both Watercolours and Waterlilies; I didn’t have an orange Impressions, but I did have a Wildflowers (an indivisible cotton about the weight of a perle #8). It’s not as matt or as soft as Impressions, but unless you knew the original design specified Impressions, you wouldn’t notice.

Orange/yellow/pink threads for Bali Ha'i

So now I had two possible colourways. It was beginning to look as if I’d have to do two versions!

Green or Orange?

After some consideration I decided to use the Tequila one first, on the grounds that it was brighter and therefore more like the original. I clamped the stretcher bars to my seat frame, and set about stitching my very first double fan doubled. It was a new thing for me to be allowed, nay told to work with a very long thread (72″ in fact) – I tend to use longish lengths of thread but every tutor at every workshop or day class or retreat always tells you to use short ones. Obviously needlepoint is different! I did figure, though, that 72″ on 18ct meant that 54″ should be ample on my 24ct. If not, I’d just have to start again smiley.

Now the instructions described the first few rounds of stitching in detail, noting exactly which previous stitches to weave over and under, but then it just said “continue to weave over and under”. Unfortunately it was clear from the first two rounds that it wasn’t a simple over-and-under, as you sometimes went over or under two previous stitches. I tried to work out the pattern, then decided to see if I could find a video. I found two, one without any comment or sound at all which was oddly disconcerting, and one by Debbie Rowley of Debbee’s Designs.

Now I know her from Fiber Talk (Gary must be her biggest fan) and I remember Christine mentioning in one of the podcasts that Debbie Rowley had said not to count but to feel the rhythm of the stitch. Hoping I’d be able to work out the rhythm from the video, I started watching. And right where my written instructions left off, she gave me the vital clue: over and under, yes, but over and under groups of threads, which (especially as she worked the stitch in two colours) were actually relatively easy to identify (even though she did work them opposite to my written instructions – over/under where mine said under/over). I watched the rest of the video, activated my sense of rhythm, and produced a… well, not perfect but perfectly acceptable double fan doubled. Yay me!

My first double fan doubled

The Kreinik #4 feels a little thin for the motif; I’m working at 3/4 scale (and yes, the 54″ length of Caron was plenty long enough), but Kreinik #4 is, as far as I know, half the thickness of #8, so the effect is understandably a little less pronounced. Still, it gives a nice bit of sparkle. At this point I wasn’t very happy with the threads showing through from the back – I worked them exactly as instructed, so the travelling threads are presumably where they are meant to be; perhaps it’s just that canvas is more open than the fabrics I’m used to. Fortunately most of the empty canvas around the central motif is actually covered as the project progresses, so I was hopeful it would turn out all right. But just to make sure the stranded threads filled as much space as possible, I even used my stiletto as a laying tool!

Using a laying tool

Then, as I’d done several bits of the Soie Cristale but had not yet used the Impressions (the two solid colours in the design) I realised that in the original these are a dark and a light red. In my green colour scheme the two solids did happen to be a dark and a light (albeit the other way around from the original) as those were the only greens I had in these threads, but for the bright colour scheme I had for some reason picked a dark orange silk that was very similar to the solid cotton Wildflowers thread I was using – and I did actually have two lighter oranges! However, there was no way I was going to unpick the silk stitches I had already done, so I looked for Wildflowers that might offer some contrast with the orange silk. In the end, I decided on the variegated yellow/orange; the variegation on it is gradual and mild enough to work as a replacement for the solid colour.

A change of colour

One of the things I really like about this design is that it looks complete at the various intermediate stages; the center with its mosaic stitch border works perfectly well on its own, and again when the Scottish stitch border is added, and again after the half Rhodes border (the outer one in the picture below). That one, by the way, was tricky to start and finish. On embroidery fabric like Lugana I would have used a waste knot running underneath the length of the border, but because of the open nature of canvas (even a 24ct canvas) that was simply not an option here. I’m getting quite creative in finding ways of fastening on and off! That did give me an idea, however. In time I want to work the green combination as well, so why not try that on 25ct Lugana or 22ct Hardanger fabric? It may turn out that fabric isn’t sturdy or stiff or solid enough to stand up to the needlepoint stitches, but then I’ll just find out, won’t I? And it will certainly make starting and finishing easier! I’ve even got ideas running through my head of a double fan doubled as the central motif in a Hardanger design…

Looking complete after the half Rhodes border

But let’s not get carried away, and get back to stitching on canvas. Two more borders to go, both very relaxing once I got into the rhythm (as were the half Rhodes and Scottish borders; it’s quite meditative, this needlepoint thing!) and Bali Ha’i was finished – my first proper needlepoint project (not counting the teeny weeny experiment). I’m quite proud! And I’ll let you know how the fabric version turns out.

Bali Ha'i finished

Incidentally, if you Google “Carole Lake Bali Ha’i” you’ll as likely as not find a link to the Caron site, where she was once a Featured Designer, and where you can also find the chart. This reminded me that once, at the dawn of Mabel’s career, I too featured on Caron’s website. I’ve not re-read it, so I can’t tell you whether it is by now horribly embarrassing, but it does have a link to a freebie design smiley.

Counting the uncountable

You may have noticed the linen I’m stitching Llandrindod on; it’s definitely a surface embroidery fabric, with its lovely dense weave which makes it really easy to put the needle exactly where you want it. On the other hand, it’s an evenweave. So, having the sort of mind I have, I wondered – could you use it for counted techniques, say, Hardanger? In fact Hardanger in particular, as the dense weave would contrast rather nicely with the cut areas. Worth a try, would’t you say?

There’s a simple little cross design I use for sympathy cards and which, unfortunately, I have stitched so often I can now do it from memory. Actually that’s rather nice when I stitch it for that purpose, as it means I can think of the person who passed away, and the people the card will be sent to, while stitching it. But it also made it an ideal project to try out this linen.

Now I usually stitch this on hand-dyed Hardanger fabric, which is 22ct; that makes the design a good size for putting into a card. This linen is 40ct. And did I mention the weave is dense? I decided this was definitely a take-off-my-glasses project, letting my short-sighted eyes do what they do best, which is look at things extremely close up. To give you an idea of the size, this is a 3″ hoop, and the needle resting on the fabric is a size 26 tapestry needle. The thread is a perle #8.

Starting Hardanger on surface linen

The surface stitching was fine. Even the touches of gold worked in blending filament were OK. But the cutting… oh my. I did it, without snipping any of the stitches, and I even managed to tuck in all the cut ends as I usually do; but I can tell you now that this is definitely a one-off! Here it is, all finished:

The finished Hardanger cross on surface linen

And here it is again, accompanied by a match (and no, it’s not one of those extra long ones smiley)

Hardanger on 40ct linen, with match

So I won’t be using this fabric for anything counted again, but it is lovely for surface embroidery, and I am seriously thinking of discarding the piece of Normandie with Soli Deo Gloria drawn on it and re-transferring the design onto this fabric. Well, I won’t discard the Normandie entirely; I could use it for a different version, perhaps in wool or stranded cotton, using different stitches. But the silk-and-gold version – yes, I do think this is just the fabric for it.

Welsh inspiration

Almost every year my husband and I travel to Wales for a weekend around the end of March, to participate in the rally organised by the Light Car & Edwardian Section of the Vintage Sports-Car Club (usually sensibly abbreviated to LC&ES). We all meet up on the Friday, do a navigation rally on the Saturday, and there is a trial (a type of competition) on the Sunday at which we generally marshal. It’s not like some events where people dress up in period clothing, but a few years ago I couldn’t resist smiley.

The Welsh rally in 2016

That’s our 1925 Austin 7 Chummy. Unfortunately it is in need of a lot of TLC at the moment, so our transport this year was a bit grander – here she is with Eldest and his bride last year (Lily the Lagonda does make a splendid wedding vehicle). My mother used to say the car made her feel like royalty, so that it felt almost compulsory to wave graciously as you pass people.

Our transport for this year (minus bride and groom)

We’re usually dressed up in waterproofs and/or thermals (it’s not exactly warm in an open car in Wales in March) so I’m afraid we don’t really live up to Lily’s glamour, but that doesn’t dampen our enjoyment! The rain sometimes does… this year, however, we were exceptionally lucky with the weather.

With Lily the Lagonda at Usk reservoir

You may wonder what any of this has to do with stitching. Well, the Welsh rally splendidly demonstrates how all sorts of things can inspire an embroidery design. Some years ago, for example, we passed several banks of blackthorn on our way there. They had only just come out, their blossom pristine and white, like a frothy wave or yards and yards of crumpled up lace. I sketched a few ideas, and the result was Blackthorn.

Blackthorn

The rally is based in Llandrindod Wells, and every year on the Sunday morning we go to early morning Communion at the local church before rejoining the vintage car gang to help at the trial. The vicar and several members of the congregation know us by now, and we joke that we’re regulars at Holy Trinity – we attend regularly once a year.

As is usual, we are always handed a service sheet, and last year I noticed for the first time a line drawing of a Celtic cross on the front. The shape appealed to me, and I took the sheet with me. Back home that evening I made some sketches and scribbled a few notes, and over the months various ideas were added. Possibly partly because of the rather rough lines of the drawing I got the impression it was based on a stone cross, but from the start I envisaged it with colour in it, and possibly goldwork. It wasn’t until a week or so ago that I took my drawing and tentatively put some facets into some of the shapes. I liked the effect, and a jewelled cross called “Llandrindod” was born! (This year the vicar explained to me that the cross is the logo of the Church in Wales in general, not of their parish in particular, but to me it will always be associated with Llandrindod Wells.)

The colour model for Llandrindod

Some of the colours I’d picked were similar to the ones in Soli Deo Gloria, so that was easy – I had the Soie d’Alger colours to hand! I didn’t really want to try and find the right shades for the emerald and the diamond, remembering the trouble I had just to get the right blue dye lot recently, so I had a rummage in my collection of Rainbow Gallery’s Splendor silk, and found some that would do very well. A few shades of Petite Treasure Braid will add a bit of sparkle.

Materials chosen and design transferred

And here is the project in progress! The centre of the gems will be done in padded satin stitch, and in the picture below the outlining and about half of the padding has been done but the top layers are as yet missing. That is because I wanted to take the cross to Llandrindod to show to the vicar, and I wanted it to have some more colour than just the light gold of the four quarter circles (which would normally be the first bits to be stitched). It also made for a good travel project that way – the split stitch outlines were done at home before we left, so I could fill in the padding without the need for magnification or special lighting, as it doesn’t have to be particularly precise (well, not as precise as the top stitching, anyway).

Llandrindod in progress

Often when I take a travel project (and I’m sure many of you will recognise this) I come home with it looking exactly as it did when we left, but this time I actually had time for some embroidery – while acting as Driving Standards Observers on the Saturday rally there were several lulls, during which I could put in a few quick padding stitches. And how is this for a stitching spot smiley?

An unusual stitching spot

RTFI – Read The Flipping Instructions

Some people will read the manual only as a last resort, when everything else has failed. You might think this doesn’t apply to embroidery, and I agree that the last resort mindset is probably not very prevalent among stitchers. But as for reading the instructions rather later than would have been wise – well, I will admit to having opened a kit and, entranced by the lovely fabric and the prospect of starting an exciting new project, said “let’s get you hooped up, you beauty!” only to find out subsequently that the instructions start “before you mount your fabric in the hoop…” Ah.

But you’d think, wouldn’t you, that that couldn’t possibly happen if the instructions were your own. Think again – it nearly did.

Remember this one? It’s Hengest with his wrongly-positioned pink spot. The second arrow in the picture points to where the pink should have been: two spots to the right. So when I had unpicked the spot, and quite some time afterwards (other things having got in the way for a few weeks) finally got round to re-stitching it in the right place, I knew exactly where it needed to be.

Hengest's spot in in The Wrong Place

In spite of my certainty, and my eagerness to finally get that spot done, some slight niggle deep down persuaded me to just cast a quick glance at the numbered diagram showing which spot is to be stitched in which colour.

The pink spot actually goes one spot to the right of the wrongly placed one.

It won’t surprise you that from now on I will compulsively read any instructions and notes that come with a project, whether someone else’s or my own. In this case it saved me from having to unpick all over again, muttering under my breath “out, damned spot”. It got me right back into Hengest, who now has not only his pink spots, but his orange ones as well!

Hengest with correctly placed blue, pink and orange spots

Incidentally, I’ve been playing with my new Silk Mill silks – how are these for Silk Hengest’s spots?

Silks for Hengest's spots

Blue silks dispel the silk blues – now for purples. And greens.

The post was exciting this week, with several blue silks dropping through the letterbox. These are the “why not as they are on offer and I’m bound to use them” Caron silks – aren’t they beautiful?

Soie Cristale blues

Colourwise, they would definitely be an option; but if at all possible my preference was still to do the whole project in Soie d’Alger, even though there’s nothing in priniciple against mixing silks. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I opened the envelope from West End Embroidery, with a single skein of Soie d’Alger 4913.

A single skein only, but the sheer relief when it turned out to fit in exactly with the rest of the series, without even a tingle of purple, made me positively giddy!

The new Soie d'Alger fits in!

So now I have my series of three blue silks. In fact, I have a series of four. And that is, of course, fatal, because it means choice. Do I use the three darkest and discard the lightest, or vice versa? How does this fit in with the two other colour runs in the project? Well, here are the four blues together with the three reds and purples which are my current selection. Do you see the problem?

The four blues, with three reds and purples

That’s right, when matching the colours by lightness/darkness the gaps don’t line up. My husband’s view was that it needed a lighter red. Well, I just happened to have one!

The missing purple

Much better, true. But what I really want now is a fourth purple to fill the gap, and use the three lighter shades of each colour. The trouble is that those three purples are the entire series of that particular colour. And by now I know from experience that trying to choose a similar series containing at least four shades from the digital Au Ver à Soie shade card is a mispurchase waiting to happen.

And then there are the greens. Not the ones in Soli Deo Gloria, they’re sorted. But I’m thinking of re-using the blues, reds and purples in a Celtic cross together with a series of greens. I’m going to try something facetted rather than the shaded look in the trial colour version below, but even so I’d need at least three and preferably four shades of a bright, warm green.

Colour idea for the Llandrindod cross

So back to Yvonne at West End Embroidery, who must be getting fed up with me by now but who is far too polite to show it smiley. I’ll keep you informed!

I’ve got the silk blues

I love silks, I do, really. But sometimes when working with them (or trying to work with them!) I hanker after the predictability of DMC stranded cotton. In my project box for Soli Deo Gloria there are some lovely Soie d’Alger silks in reds, purples, yellows, greens and, today’s topic, blues. Here are those blues on the Au Ver à Soie shade card:

The blues according to Au Ver a Soie's shade card

And here they are (four of them) in real life. DMC-wise they are similar to 791, 792, 340 and 809 – spot the odd one out.

The blues in real life

So I contacted Nelly at Hardanger Atelier and asked if she had a 4913 without the purple cast (and how Au Ver a Soie allowed that dye lot out I will never understand!) – she hadn’t, nor was there any other blue that would go with 4914 and 4916; but she promised to see if there was a series that was like DMC 797/798/799, which would work with my chosen reds and purples.

Meanwhile I considered that not all the silks in a project necessarily have to be the same brand. Rummaging through my collection of silk samples (well, they are full skeins but I mean where I have just a few of a particular brand) to see which were likely to have the same look as Soie d’Alger I realised most of them were hand-dyed and over-dyed silks, and therefore not the solid colours I was looking for. The only suitable solid silk was Caron’s Soie Cristale, which unfortunately I have only in an attractive but irrelevant series of five yellows and oranges. My digital Caron shade card did throw up a series of likely-looking blues, but at about £4.50 a skein it’s rather an expensive gamble.

A series of blues in Caron Soie Cristale

I went to Sew & So’s website to see whether their catalogue pictures were anything like the shade card I have (this sort of comparison can give valuable extra information about what colour the thread is likely to be when you actually get your hands on it) and would you believe it, they had a Soie Cristale sale on! Not quite half price but jolly nearly. Well, I couldn’t ignore a bit of luck like that could I? So four blue Caron silks (the series minus the lightest one on the shade card) should be on their way to me now. If they turn out not to be quite right for this particular project, they may well be perfect for a bird I have in mind. Or that modern floral design. Or the Celtic cross. Or something.

Soie Cristale blues on the Sew and So website

Trying to cover all my bases, I then remembered West End Embroidery. I’ve bought silks and other threads from them in the past and have always found them very helpful. An email, a very quick reply and a phone call later a non-purple 4913 has been ordered, and I am looking forward to seeing it snuggled up to 4914 and 4916 and hopefully looking like one of the family, as it should. In which case the Soie Cristale will have to be put to some other use. Oh dear smiley.

Incidentally, you may wonder why I didn’t just use the next lightest shade I already had, which as you can see from the picture above does fit in colour-wise with the two darker ones. Well, here’s why:

The Soie d'Alger blues stitched samples

The sample on the left is two rows each of 4916, 4914 and 4912; the middle sample is 4916, 4916/4914 blended and 4914; the final sample is 4914, 4914/4912 blended and 4912. As you can see, whenever it’s used the 4912 just stands out far too much – in the blended section on the right the two shades don’t really blend at all, they just happened to have been used in the same needle!

It’ll do at a pinch, but this project is rather close to my heart and I want it to be just right! Even if it means building up an impressive collection of blue silks (the sacrifices I make for my art…)

Binding a hoop – the finicky way

A little while ago I mentioned a tutor from the Royal School of Needlework demonstrating how to bind a hoop. It is a free video on their Online Classes page; you do need to “buy” it, but the price is £0, and once you’ve bought it you can then watch it for free.

In the video, Amy Burt uses very wide, fairly rough strips of calico, with a connecting seam right in the middle of the length, secures the beginning with double-sided sticky tape, and wraps the hoop at high speed without any apparent concerns about wrinkles. It takes about 5 seconds.

An RSN-bound hoop which undoubtedly works

I take a lot longer. And seeing that the RSN are happy for Amy Burt’s hoop-binding to be demonstrated under their aegis, I can only assume that my more time-consuming method is no more effective in keeping tension and protecting the fabric than her high-speed one.

And yet. And yet I stick with mine. Because I love the look of the regular wraps. Because it feels good when I run my fingers over the neat binding. Because it gives me a warm glow when I see it as I get ready to mount the fabric. Because in spite of everything it just feels more secure.

So for those of you who recognise themselves in the above description, here is how I bind my hoops. It is, as demonstrated by the RSN and countless other online videos, not the only way. It is not the quickest or easiest way. But, if I say so myself, boy does it produce neat hoops smiley!

What do you need? An unbound hoop, some tape (I use 20mm cotton twill/herringbone tape for anything over 8 inches, 14mm for smaller ones), two clothes pegs or other not-too-fierce, not-too-big clamping devices, some sewing thread and a short needle. Be aware that the method I’m showing here takes quite a lot of tape; the 14-inch hoop I showed in a previous post took well over 5 metres and I like to start out with at least a metre to spare, just in case.

Start by threading a short needle with sewing thread; knot it and put is aside for the moment. Folding over about half a centimetre of the tape, put it against the inside of the hoop and keep it in place with your thumb. Wrap the tape around the hoop, at a slight angle and overlapping the first bit by half. When you have room (it may take another wrap) replace your thumb with one of the clothes pegs. In the pictures below I have just completed the second complete wrap, and as both overlap by half this one is exactly one width on from the beginning of the tape.

Secure the first wrap with a clothes peg Secure the first wrap with a clothes peg

A quick word about overlapping. Some sources say that you should never overlap because it creates bulk and irregular thickness, others say you should overlap by anything up to half the width of the tape. I prefer overlapping, precisely because it creates bulk – that nice thick cushioning is what grips and protects the fabric – but if you do overlap, I would recommend you always do it by exactly half, so that the thickness of the binding is uniform along the entire hoop. In other words, either don’t overlap at all and abut your wraps exactly so that there is one layer of tape all the way around, or (my preferred method) overlap by half so that there is a double layer of tape all the way round.

By the way, the tape will twist while you’re wrapping. This means that, depending on the size of the hoop you’re binding and where you are in the process, you are trying to work with 6 or 7 metres of intractable twill spaghetti. I’ve not found an effective way to counteract this; I tried winding it beforehand, but it just uncoiled as I wrapped. So now I simply bunch up the remaining tape into a squashed handful, and manoeuvre it around the hoop that way.

Back to the binding. Keeping fairly strong tension on the tape, wrap on, overlapping by half the width of the tape both on the inside and on the outside of the ring. I like to give the tape an extra pull just before going over the top or turning under the bottom, to make sure there are no wrinkles. Because of the curve of the hoop, and winding the tape around it at a slight angle, you may find that sometimes a bit of tape simply will not lie flat, however much you pull. In that case, make sure the wrinkle is on the inside of the ring, and flatten it out as much as possible when you cover it with your next wrap. (If you bind the outer ring as well – which I don’t, because I bind for tension and grip rather than for fabric protection, and binding the inner ring only is sufficient for that – make sure any wrinkles are kept on the outside of the ring; in other words, you want wrinkles to be on the side where they don’t make contact with the fabric.)

Pull the tape just before going over the top Pull the tape again just before turning under the bottom

Incidentally, I am right-handed and therefore normally use my right hand for wrapping and pulling the tape; in the photographs above I am using my left hand only because my right hand was needed to operate the camera! If you are left-handed, you may find it more comfortable to wrap the hoop anti-clockwise.

If at any point you have to interrupt your binding (because you’ve got cramp in your fingers, or the phone rings, or the cat is trying to pounce on the remaining tape) secure the last wrap temporarily with the second clothes peg.

Use a second clothes peg if you have to interrupt your work

When you come to the end of your hoop (or rather, the beginning) and are either abutting or getting very close to your first wrap, cut the tape leaving a good-sized tail for the last wrap and securing. The one I left here was actually a little short; it’s better to cut it generously, as you will trim it more precisely before securing.

Getting back to the beginning Cutting a generous tail

When you have half-overlapped your first wrap, bring the tail to the inside of the hoop, trim so that you can fold over about half to three-quarters of a centimetre and end up well within the inside of the hoop. Hold it in place with your thumb, and pick up your needle with sewing thread. This is why you pre-threaded and pre-knotted it smiley.

Folding the end of the tape

Bring your needle up through the fold, so that the knot sits inside the fold, and secure the tape along the top with small stitches. Then go down the side, securing it for about 1 centimetre. Bring the needle back to the fold by going behind the fabric, go back along the top and secure the other side. Fasten off with a few knots, take the needle behind the tape for a few centimetres and pull taut, then cut.

Secure the fold of the tape with small stitches Work around the sides of the folded tape The secured end of the tape

And there is your bound inner ring, soon to be covered up by fabric and the outer ring and become invisible, but always there, neat and tidy and lovely.

The outside of the bound ring The inside of the bound ring The 12-inch and 14-inch hoops, bound

Perhaps a beautifully bound hoop is rather like the silk underwear worn by the actresses in Gone With the Wind. When one of them asked the costume mistress why they were wearing these expensive silk petticoats when no-one would ever see them, she replied “because you will know you are wearing them”.

Excursions into needlepoint

I’ve been binge listening to Fiber Talk podcasts recently, and one of the types of needlework that is often discussed (at least in part because both Gary and Christine are into it) is needlepoint. Now I understand from their discussions that American needlepoint is somewhat different from English/Continental needlepoint, and uses many more types of stitches and threads. As they were talking about Jessica stitches with Debbie Rowley I thought, “I’ve done Jessica stitches! I’ve been doing needlepoint and I didn’t know it!”

Of course many stitches are what you might call cross-over (I feel I ought to insert a cross stitch pun here) or multi-purpose, in that they can be used in several styles or techniques of needlework. French knots for example crop up in freestyle, ribbon and counted embroidery, and probably some other styles as well. And so with the Jessica, although I would say that you’re unlikely to see it outside counted work. Mine were used in the Hardanger piece Treasure Trove, framing padded circles of metallic kid leather.

Needlepoint, however, seems to be defined by its ground fabric, which is canvas. Years ago I inherited some 18 point canvas (i.e. 18 holes to the inch), and I must have intended to do something with it because one square piece has been cut from it and the edges bound (well, stuck) with masking tape. I have no idea what happened to the project I meant it for. At more or less the same time I bought some Congress cloth, which is a 24 count canvas; that’s the one I used for the Necessities Sampler which now adorns one of my stash boxes, and I also tried out some Hardanger on it.

Necessities Sampler on Congress cloth

Now as I was looking for something in the many needlework folders on my computer, I came across a small design I must have saved to my Inspirations/One-Day-I-Will-Get-Round-To-This folder years ago.

Now where did I find this design?

As you can see it is actually stitched on fabric, not canvas, but I thought it would be the perfect little thing to refresh my acquaintance with canvas work. I dug out the 18 point canvas and the Congress cloth (in cream and black) and picked some Appleton’s crewel wool for the former, and Carrie’s Creations overdyed stranded cotton for the latter.

Trying out threads and canvases

I decided to start with the canvas, as it would be a bit easier on the eyes and they are giving me a little trouble at the moment. Unfortunately I decided against starting in the middle with the Rhodes stitch, which would have “anchored” the various parts to each other, and having done one of the Amadeus stitches (the blue fan-like shape in the corner) I then got so carried away with the rhythm of the double herringbone that I took it too far. Equally unfortunately I carried the threads to continue from the left-hand row of herringbone to the right-hand one, which will therefore also have to be unpicked. I couldn’t quite face that, so switched to stranded cotton on black Congress cloth.

Appleton's crewel wool on 18-count canvas

Yes. Black. Which is not easy on the eyes. But it does make those bright colours pop smiley. And having learnt from my canvas experience and started with the central Rhodes stitch, I then managed a fair bit of work in the doctor’s waiting room!

Waiting room progress

It was finished at home, and inspected by the resident feline. I think she approved. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

The finished project inspected by a feline Lexi approves. I think.

The next day I finished the canvas version as well, and it’s interesting to see how different the two are, when (apart from a little variation in the herringbone stitch) they are identical and stitched in very similar colours. Perhaps it’s my preference for smaller things, perhaps it’s that striking contrast of the jewel colours on black, but I definitely like the Congress cloth one best.

On 18 point canvas On Congress cloth The same motif on 18 point canvas and Congress cloth

Even though I don’t think I’ll ever get into needlepoint to the extent of doing a large project, I enjoyed these small snippets; there is something almost mesmerising about the rhythm and repetition-with-variation of these stitches – quite meditative, really. Some of the needlepoint stitches I’m discovering may well find their way into future counted designs, but even if they don’t, I’m just having fun with these! Well, apart from unpicking several rows of double herringbone stitch with the Appleton’s getting thinner and flakier all the time… in fact in the end I cut my losses and started over again on a fresh bit of canvas (shh, don’t tell anyone).

A needling question

Last year I talked a little about needles, and whether the very expensive Tulip ones were worth the extra expense. I also mentioned some between/quilting needles by Clover which I’d picked up in the Netherlands and which I really enjoyed stitching with. In my quest to find some more, I came across Clover’s black-coated needles as well as their more economical gold-eye ones, and tried those too – but in the end I came to the conclusion that neither the Tulips nor the Clover blacks felt that much smoother or more accurate than the ones I’d picked up back in the old country.

But some mystery surrounded those Dutch-bought needles. For one thing, I’d bought them in sizes #7, #9 and #11 – but when trying to buy some spares I could not find Clover #7 needles anywhere. Unfortunately I’d decanted the needles into little lip seal bags (like the more recently bought #10s in the picture below, but marked with the size only) and got rid of the original packaging, so I had no information about the dimensions of each size or anything else.

Clover needles, decanted

Husband to the rescue: with his micrometer he measured all three sizes, I made a note of them and contacted Clover. Clover denied ever having made #7 needles of any kind. (Incidentally, I also asked them why their #12 needles are actually thicker than their #10s, when it is pretty universally true for all brands that higher numbers denote smaller – both thinner and shorter – needles; they replied, “Our Clover needles doesn’t match its rule. Basically we try to fit the rule but some item could not do so.” If this makes more sense to you than it did to me, do enlighten me!)

I settled for some #8 and #10 needles, which were the closest I could find to the ones I had. And then an additional mystery arose: nice though these new needles were, the ones I originally bought in the Netherlands seemed rather nicer. Was this the gloss of nostalgia that an ex-pat sometimes applies to anything connected with “home”? Surely Clover’s Japanese factories wouldn’t send different needles to different countries?

It took a while, and some serious Googling of needle sizes, but eventually I found the answer: the needles I bought in the Netherlands are actually the German brand Prym…

So now I can tell you definitely: my favourite, go-to needles are Prym gold-eye betweens, #7 for 2-3 strands, #9 for one strand, #11 for beading. I picked up some more from Minerva Crafts and am now probably all right for needles for the next five years or so. But I may get a few more packs just to be on the safe side.

Prym betweens in two sizes

After all, needles are the most frequently used tool or equipment in our stitching. And one of the nice things about these ones is that they are even more affordable than the ordinary (i.e. non-black-coated) Clovers; with postage they come in at about 10p a piece, and if you can pick them up at a show or a shop they come to less than 8p a needle. Which means that, unlike with £1 Tulip needles, you need have no scruples about using a new needle for every new project, or even several needles if the project is a large and long-term one. And the feeling of stitching with a fresh needle is so satisfying it is a treat in itself.

An 8p treat that enhances your stitching and puts a smile on your face. What’s not to like smiley?

Stitching setbacks – a spot and a SAL

In which one of Hengest’s pink spots is in The Wrong Place, and a SAL hits a snag.

They say we show our character by how we respond to adversity. Well, I didn’t throw either a tantrum or my embroidery, so I suppose I’m doing reasonably well. But I can’t say I enjoyed it when two of my pet projects suffered a setback this week.

At least one of them is going to be relatively simple to put right. Time-consuming and annoying, but simple. It involves unpicking the pink spot at Hengest’s bottom left, getting the skein of Tudor Rose 2 out again, and applying it two spots to the right.

Hengest's spot in in The Wrong Place

And I was so proud of that spot, too! The white surrounding it was a little irregular (a small portion of the outline was straight rather than curved) so I set out to correct that with the coloured spiral filling it in, and I was pleased to see that it worked quite well. Then, as I fastened off, put on my regular glasses, and prepared to contemplate my work with a happy and satisfied sigh, I noticed it was straight underneath the other pink spot. And it shouldn’t have been. Why I didn’t see this throughout the time it took me to stitch the second spot I will never know. I have said before that sometimes we are too close to our own work (literally) and need to step back to see the project as a whole, and I suppose that’s what was needed here. Oh well. Today I will take my nice sharp scissors to Hengest once again, and stitch the correct spot.

The other problem may take a bit longer to solve. It involves the mechanics of a mystery Stitch-A-Long, thwarted (for the time being) by the mechanics of using a backing fabric.

This was not the way I had hoped to announce this SAL. It will be my first since 2016, and it will be my first non-Hardanger one, and it will be my first non-year-long one, and all of that I felt deserved a bit of a fanfare when I was ready to spring it on the world, and the needleworking part of the world in particular.

Of course I could have waited for this issue to be solved (if it ever is) and then done the fanfare unveiling and not mention the rocky road that lead to it. But then I thought some of you might be interested in the process of developing a SAL, and all – or at least some of – the things that are involved.

So here is the snag I ran into. The SAL is going to be a Mystery SAL, which means you don’t know at the start what the finished article will look like. In a sense this was always somewhat compromised in my Hardanger SALs, in that they consisted of 12 individual little projects, so that each month you would see exactly what that small individual project would look like when finished – the remaining mystery being what the following months would be like and how they fitted in with the general theme. This one, being one big freestyle embroidery picture built up in the course of 10 instalments, is much more of a traditional Mystery.

And it is the combination of the phrases “one big picture” and “freestyle embroidery” that caused the problem. Freestyle designs are generally worked with the pattern transferred to the fabric; this can be done in more or less detail, but there is always some transferring to be done. And in a home environment that generally means drawing the pattern onto the fabric by means of a lightbox or a well-lit window. Then you add a backing fabric and hoop it up and start stitching.

So far so good. But for the Big Picture to remain a mystery, the various parts will have to be added after stitching has already commenced. My idea was that whenever a new instalment came out, people would take their project out of the hoop, add the new element, re-hoop and start stitching the new bit. What I hadn’t thought about was that what comes out of the hoop is not just the original fabric, but the fabric-and-backing-fabric sandwich. And they will be firmly attached to each other by means of the stitching done so far.

An embroidered project with backing fabric The backing fabric is attached by the embroidery The embroidery goes through the backing fabric

So how do you transfer the new bits? Transferring through one layer of fabric can be tricky enough – transferring through a double layer of fabric is challenging to say the least, and I feared it might prove to be downright impossible. Because of the way the design is laid out, you could just about cut out new bits of the design and carefully slip them between the layers where they are not attached, but that’s not ideal, especially when using a window rather than a lightbox.

My husband, who is an engineer and therefore wants to (and often does) solve things, suggested using the prick & pounce method. (Slight digression to include a “proud wife” moment – how many husbands of stitchers would suggest this, or even know what it is smiley?) But not everyone feels comfortable with this method of transferring, and moreover it needs additional equipment, which I’m trying to keep to a minimum.

But it did make me think of a possible variation on that method. What if you traced the new bit of the design onto tracing paper, then pricked holes in it as for prick & pounce, only a spaced a little wider apart, place it on the fabric and then go through each hole with a pencil to make a dot? Then after removing the tracing paper you could connect the dots for a complete transfer. Again, the nature of the design makes this feasible as there aren’t many very detailed parts to transfer. But would it work? Time to try Prick & Pencil!

On the matter of additional equipment, in the pictures I’m using a cheap children’s pricking mat and pen, but if that is difficult to get hold of or simply an expense you’re not willing to incur, then a folded-up towel and a pin with a reasonably large head will do just as well. The pencil I’m using is a propelling one so it stays sharp, and it’s fairly soft so it makes a good mark. As you can see on the right-hand petal I spaced the holes further apart to see if that would be enough of a guide for drawing the complete design.

Equipment used to try the prick and pencil method Pricking the transferred design The pricked design
Using a pencil to draw dots through the holes The design shown in dots Connecting the dots The finished transfer

And just because I happened to have them handy, I also tried the pricked transfer with some drawing pens, green and black; these are Sakura Micron pens (I transferred only the flower centre in black, not the petals).

Using a Sakura Micron pen A green and a black transfer

So does it work? On the whole, yes. I did find I needed the tracing there to refer to when connecting the dots, but that shouldn’t be a problem. It also takes a bit of experimenting with how close together you want the holes to be, and the light green pen wasn’t as easy to see as the black or the pencil (although it was clearer than it looks in the photograph) so you have to choose your writing implement wisely. But it’s definitely a viable alternative to transferring on a lightbox.

Is it a good enough alternative to SOS (Save Our SAL), though? I’m not sure yet. But it’s a glimmer of hope! And as I was playing with my lightbox, I found another – although transferring through two layers of fabric isn’t ideal, it’s not impossible as long as there isn’t a great amount of detail. The first picture shows a design seen through light blue cotton with no light behind it; the second shows it on the lightbox, and the third on the lightbox with backing fabric. Although the dots in the design aren’t easy to see, the simpler outlines are visible even in the third picture.

Design behind cotton fabric, no light Design behind cotton fabric, with light Design behind cotton fabric and backing, with light

Even when using cotton duck, a heavier fabric, the design lines show up both without and with backing fabric, though again details are lost. Unexpectedly, the most difficult fabric was a natural-coloured Normandie, a cotton/linen mix which is not particularly heavy. The picture shows it with backing fabric, and whether it is the texture or the not-quite-plain colour it would definitely be more of a challenge to transfer new parts to it.

Design behind cotton duck, with light Design behind cotton duck and backing, with light Design behind Normandie fabric and backing, with light

Still, there are possibilities, so for now the SAL is alive! But I’ll keep trying to find better and easier ways to deal with transferring parts 2 to 10 before the real fanfare announcement.