Very fine needlework, a fabric tree and a book of inspiration

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to you all – may 2017 bring only good things your way!

And with a bit of luck some of those good things will be enjoyable stitching projects. Not much stitching got done over the holiday period while visiting the in-laws; there was family to be chatted to, food to be cooked and eaten, walks in the crisp winter air to be enjoyed, and the Cotehele Garland to be admired (this year’s version was blue and white). And not much stitching is getting done in this post-festive period either, as I am contending with a cold and new glasses, which take a bit of getting used to. That is not to say there hasn’t been needlework in my life – just not mine smiley.

Some time ago my husband passed on to me some hand-embroidered handkerchiefs that had belonged to his grandmother, Susan. The initial isn’t right for me, but they are lovely dainty little things and I use them with a lot of pleasure. Not, I hasten to say, to minister to my cold; their daintiness is such that one good nose blow would probably render them ready for the laundry. But they are just the thing to have in my handbag for cleaning my glasses with.

The needlework on them – satin stitch, cutwork, needleweaving – is incredibly fine; sometimes the cutwork leaves a single thread of the ground fabric in between the needleweaving. The corner below is about 13cm square, which will give you some idea of the scale of the work. My mother-in-law tells me that the handkerchiefs were most likely embroidered and bought in China, where her aunt and uncle lived for some years, and either sent or brought back as a present for Susan. She didn’t give me a date but I’m guessing the second quarter of the 20th century.

My husband's grandmother's hand-embroidered handkerchief

This sort of embroidery could make the average stitcher weep with frustration and discourage us from ever picking up a needle again, but I’ve decided simply to admire and dismiss any thought of ever emulating work this fine. I’m quite happy to stick with fairly chunky Hardanger and do that as best I can!

Talking of chunkier needlework, my mother-in-law showed me a project she had done at her embroidery group for Christmas: a Suffolk puff Christmas tree. A Suffolk puff (I keep wanting to call it a Suffolk Punch, but that’s a horse!) is made by sewing running stitch around the edge of a circle and then gathering it so it doubles up into a puffy disc. I’d seen them before made into leggy clowns or animals, with lots of puffs strung onto a thread to make the limbs, but didn’t know what they were called. Here twelve graded puffs are pinned onto a wooden skewer set into a base, and topped with a wooden bead (a star or something similar would work as well). The idea was to sew beads on as baubles, and possibly other decorations as well, but my mother-in-law decided that the fabrics she had chosen were quite decorative enough in themselves, and I think she was absolutely right. I’m not much of a seamstress, but this is one project I might have a go at for next Christmas – I think it just about falls within my capabilities smiley.

a Suffolk puff Christmas tree

The other stitching in my life at the moment is as yet on paper rather than on fabric: Mildred Graves Ryan’s Complete Encyclopaedia of Stitchcraft. It covers knitting, crochet and other things besides embroidery, but for the moment it is the embroidery part that I’m concentrating on. The book is full of interesting stitches, all presented with lovely clear diagrams, and over the years I have already taken one or two ideas from it, for example the Portuguese band or border stitch used in Song of the Weather: April.

Mildred Graves Ryan's Complete Encyclopaedia of Stitchcraft A sample page

So laying aside my “proper” projects for the moment, I’ve got my doodle cloths at the ready to do some non-challenging stitching over the next few days; anything crooked or wrong doesn’t matter there, and if I can’t see well enough I can just make the stitches bigger!

Doodle cloths ready to use

Suspended animation

You may remember that some time ago I was finishing off some half-completed small projects, among them some Shisha tiles. They use sequins. I’d also been stocking up on sequins for kits (and being seduced by those floral gems). Consequently my mind was in sequin mode, and as it turned out my subconscious mind was as well, as I actually dreamt of sequins one night. Could you, I wondered as I woke up at 2am, suspend a sequin in the centre of a Hardanger cut area? I’ve done it with beads, both single and multiple, so why not sequins? I grabbed the little notebook that lives on my bedside table and scribbled down a few ideas. The following morning it still made sense (not all my night-time scribbles do) although I did realise I’d have to work it slightly differently from my first idea.

Off to my doodle cloth I went, with some floche which happened to be in the needle and a sequin. Here’s what I tried: fasten on and come up in a corner of a cut hole, then thread on a sequin. Down in the fabric at the opposite corner and up in the cut area in the same corner, then take the needle over the diagonal thread.

Come up in a corner of a cut hole Thread on a sequin Go down into the fabric at the opposite corner Come up in that same corner in the cut area

Go underneath the diagonal, then down through the sequin hole from above. Wrap around the diagonal towards the first corner and go down the fabric. My wrapping wasn’t very even so the sequin isn’t centred, but that’s a matter of practice, and anyway, we’re not done yet smiley. Stretch a thread across the other diagonal (up in the cut hole in one corner, through the sequin and down into the fabric in the opposite corner).

Go underneath the diagonal, then down through the sequin hole from above Wrap around the diagonal towards the first corner and go down the fabric The sequin isn't centred, but all is not lost Stretch a thread across the other diagonal

Back along the diagonal as before, wrapping around the thread and going through the sequin, then down into the fabric in the corner again. Voilà, a suspended sequin! And the second diagonal has helped to centre the sequin, even though it was quite a bit off on the first diagonal. (Apologies for the optional cat hair that has enveigled itself into the stitch; I didn’t notice it until I saw the photographs at full size…)

Wrap along the second diagonal, going through the sequin Suspended sequin Suspended sequin catching the light

Depending on the size of the sequin this would work on various counts of fabric, I expect. This is a 3mm sequin with 25ct Lugana – 22ct Hardanger would give it a bit more breathing space. With fine fabric you could use a 2mm sequin, I suppose, although I have some in my stash and there isn’t a lot of body to them, so they might get rather lost in the holding threads. 4mm would probably work with 22ct, but as I’ve only got cup sequins in that size I can’t try it out; you really need a flat sequin for this to work. But it needn’t be round, although I would expect it to look most effective with a regular shape. However, if you’d like to try it out with a heart or crescent-shaped sequin do send me a picture to show how it turned out!

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.

Ready for the Fair

In a frantic last-minute rush of finishing yesterday afternoon (thank you boss for giving me time off smiley) I managed to transform 5 projects into displayable items (including a very old bit of goldwork started at the Knitting & Stitching Show years ago). I didn’t find a design that would fit one of the jewellery boxes, unfortunately, but then I did buy those for future goldwork projects. I’ll add separate pictures of the Mabel designs to the Gallery later.

Four satin boxes and a frame ready for display

Then in the evening it was time to set up my stand – a good thing we got the opportunity to do this in advance as my husband is marshalling at a vintage car trial today, and walking to church with the stack of boxes I’d piled up in the kitchen didn’t bear thinking about! He was also a great help setting up, putting tables out, pinning bags in place and so on; I’m very lucky smiley. I much prefer the look of a stand with lots of people browsing, of course, but here is a (badly lit) picture of the stand all pristine and awaiting visitors.

The stand ready for action

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

Orpheus is finally boxed!

Less than a week to go until the Craft Fair and I haven’t really had a go at mounting anything much in any box whatsoever. True, I have crocheted about half a dozen little butterfly brooches, and jolly pretty they are too if I say so myself, but that doesn’t quite make up for the lack of display items.

Two little butterfly brooches

So yesterday I finally sat down with Orpheus and an as yet unadorned thread box. The reason I had been putting this off was that until I received the box I hadn’t realised that A) it had glass in the lid, and it was impossible to remove without damaging the box, and B) the construction of the box was such that I couldn’t lace or in any way stretch the embroidery around a board before inserting it. This meant that the fabric would have to be cut exactly to size – scary stuff!

Cutting the fabric very close - scary!

What you see above is the wooden backing covered in double-sided sticky plastic, then covered in dark brown felt leaving a sticky rim around the edge, covered with Orpheus, and Orpheus then cut as close to the sides of the panel as possible. This order of doing things at least kept the sticky stuff away from the embroidered part of the fabric! And although the sticky plastic was strong enough to mildly stretch the fabric, it did allow me to pull and reposition the edges just enough to get it all straight.

Orpheus safely mounted in its box

Now its outside was looking just fine, but no thread box is complete without threads. So here I present the Orpheus thread box complete Threadworx perles and silks; don’t you just love the colours?

And the box filled with pretty threads

Stumbling across a new old stitch

Do you know how sometimes things turn up in a book that weren’t there the last time you read it? (It works the other way round as well – things you are sure were there last time have suddenly disappeared.) Some time ago I was leafing through one of the embroidery books in my collection and came across Pueblo stitch, which I have no recollection of ever seeing there before. It’s also known as Pueblo backstitch, and gets its name because it is (was?) used by the Pueblo people. It looked interesting – it seemed to use two colours to create a twisted sort of look by bringing the needle up between the two working threads – so I got out the doodle cloth and two shades each of stranded cotton, floche and perle #8 and got to work. And I just couldn’t get it to look like the diagrams.

In fact, after a while I felt almost certain it would be impossible to make it look like the diagram because of where the threads were meant to go up and down into the fabric. Then I realised that I had completely misinterpreted the diagram and that the twisted look is actually achieved by, erm, twisting smiley. In between stitches, that is, not while making the stitch. So the two working threads are twisted at the front of the fabric and travel a long way, while at the back of the fabric there is very little thread indeed. This also explains why it was described as a good stitch to cover a lot of background quickly, which my first attempts would definitely not have done. I’m not very happy with the Pueblo stitch I eventually produced, but I daresay with more practice I’d get it to look more even.

The Pueblo stitch diagram My attempt at Pueblo stitch

Now as I was first trying this stitch in my misinterpreted way, I appear to have inadvertently discovered (or more probably rediscovered) a different stitch altogether (and what I should call it I do not know!) which is very decorative and capable of all sorts of variations. So what did I do differently from the proper Pueblo stitch? Well, I didn’t do the long twisted bit in between stitches. Here are the variations I came up with, on counted and non-counted fabric.

First I tried to recreate that twisted look by swapping over the two working threads every time I brought the needle up between them. That does result in an “alternating” line, but it looks rather bitty, the more so when using thinner threads.

Swapping over the working threads on counted fabric Swapping over the working threads on non-counted fabric

I then tried bringing the needle up between the two working threads as before, but without swapping them over; colour A was always above the needle, colour B always below. This works rather well in any thread (although again the thicker threads look better to my mind) and creates what looks almost like a line of chain stitch with the two halves of each link in different colours (unlike in chequered chain stitch, where the entire links alternate in colour).

Not swapping over the working threads on counted fabric Not swapping over the working threads on non-counted fabric

And finally I played with the stitch length at the back; in the original Pueblo stitch there is a lot at the front and very little at the back, and in first my two variations I likewise kept the thread at the back of the fabric to a minimum, even though my front stitches aren’t nearly so long as the original twisted ones. What would happen, I wondered, if I treated it a bit like stem stitch? Bring both threads up through the fabric, go down the desired stitch length further, then come up halfway along that first stitch, between the two threads. Again go down a stitch length further, half of which will cover half of the first stitch. Come up at the end of the first stitch (which should be halfway along the second stitch), and so on. In theory that should give a line of stem stitch and a line of outline stitch facing each other, in two different colours. To my delight it did just that in practice!

Pueblo stem stitch on counted fabric Pueblo stem stitch on non-counted fabric

You can even swap over the working threads in this stem stitch version for yet another effect.

Pueblo stem stitch swapping over the working threads

So now I’ve got three useful stitches in search of a name. Something with Pueblo in it to reflect their origin, I think, but then what? Well, the last one simply has to be called Pueblo stem stitch, and I think Pueblo split stitch would be quite good for the middle one (even though the thread isn’t really split, the effect is much the same); any suggestions for the first one will be gratefully received. But wasn’t it serendipitous, discovering a new stitch by misreading an old diagram?