Leafy experiments

No, not “Leaves”, which is still in my designs-in-progress folder, but the Tree of Life. I haven’t quite decided yet on the stitches to use for two of the leaves, as I can’t really visualise the ones I’ve picked as possibles. Added to that, I’d like to stitch the tree in both wool and silk, but I’m not sure I want to do the whole trunk twice as well (that’s the labour-intensive part). So I’ll work all the leaves separately as mini projects in their own right, in wool, working some of them in two different stitches to compare the effect in real life. Then when I’ve made a final decision on the stitches to use I’ll work the whole tree in silk.

Leaves Tree of Life

I’ve been doing a bit of stitch doodling in preparation. The two leaves which are still undecided are down provisionally as closed fly stitch and laid lattice work. I think the laid lattice will work quite well, so there’s not really a pressing need for an alternative there, except that I’ve been wanting to try detached buttonhole as a filling for some time. Some investigation was called for. After carefully studying several stitch books and watching a number of videos showing the stitch in action, I don’t think it’s the right one, but in one of the books I came across a related stitch called Ceylon stitch which looks promising! That’ll be my next doodle.

The fly stitch leaf is the one I’m really not sure about. Although it should do a good job representing the leaf veins, and it’s nice and easy to work it in graded colours, I’m afraid it might be a bit dull. Almost from the start Cretan stitch has been down on my list as an alternative, so here it is on my doodle cloth. It looks rather like fishbones! But then fishbones and leaf veins do look quite similar (if you half close your eyes and squint a bit). A later addition to the alternative list was burden stitch. I doodled this both straight (which would fill the leaf from top to bottom without trying to imitate the vein pattern) and angled. I like the stitch, but I don’t think I’ll use it for this particular project. It’s been filed away for future reference, with a mental note to self that in order to look good, it has to be stitched rather more neatly than my doodles smiley.

Cretan stitch Burden stitch

I’ve picked two sets of Pearsall’s Heathway Merino crewel wool for the tree, one for each of the colourways I had in mind, but as I will definitely do the silk version in blue/green/purple I’ll probably stick with the autumnal palette for the wool experiments.

Blue/green/purple Heathway wools for the Tree of Life Autumnal Heathway wools for the Tree of Life

Tree of knowledge

Well, it’s more a tree of learning, really, but that didn’t make such a good title smiley. Having decided to try a bit of Christmas-themed embroidered appliqué I couldn’t, of course, just kit up one project. Before I knew it there was enough material cut and thread chosen for four embroideries. Oh well, you can never have too many Christmas cards…

Appliqué embroidery projects The first two projects hooped up

First up was the Christmas tree. Step one is to attach the patterned fabric to the ground fabric with small stitches; I used a single strand of off-white for that, coming up in the ground fabric and going down into the patterned fabric. For the raised chain stitch edge I picked golden yellow perle #12 (for the foundation ladder stitches) and bright red perle #8 (for the chain stitches). As I worked the ladder stitches I realised that I was in effect doubling up stitches, with some of the ladder stitches actually covering the attaching stitches. So with an edging stitch like this, it may be possible to cut out the first step and use the ladder foundation to attach the fabric.

Attaching the fabric with stab stitches The perle threads for the embroidered edge Perle #12 for the raised chain stitch foundation

I started the raised chain using perle #8 as planned, but found it looked a little thin – I’d been looking for a denser coverage. Fortunately perle #5 was an easy solution to that problem!

Raised chain stitch in perle #8 Raised chain stitch in perle #5 Perle #8 and perle #5 compared

Raised chain takes corners remarkably well for such a chunky stitch; for the sharpest corners I made sure there were three stitches meeting at the point (forming a small fan, or bird’s foot) so the chain stitches were worked more closely together there. It’s a bit fiddly, but worth the effort. There are quicker stitches that would work (I’ll be trying some of them in future projects) but using a very textural stitch like raised chain does give a nice 3D effect when seen at an angle.

The finished tree The stitched edge seen at an angle

I was quite happy with my little holly-patterned tree, but then my husband remarked, “it hasn’t got any baubles or tinsel!” I explained that it didn’t need them, being made from patterned fabric and having a decorative edge, but then I thought I might as well see what the effect of embellishments would be – the whole thing is an experiment, after all. And I do like the way the sequins and beads add a bit of bling and extra colour, although I still feel it doesn’t absolutely need them.

The finished tree, embellished

Next step: a bauble. Here’s the fabric set-up with various blingy bits to decorate; because of that inviting open band in the middle, this one was actually planned with bling from the start. The other hoop shows two Christmassy squares overlapping. They’re too big for this ground fabric & hoop combination, so I’ll use this with a single square and set up a larger hoop and fabric for the overlapping version.

Bauble with bling Overlapping patchwork squares

Because they’re small and don’t need a chart or any counting, these make nice little quick-stitch projects; with a bit of luck I might manage a fair stack of Christmas cards in between larger embroideries!

A sudden urge

Talk of Christmas stitching on the Cross Stitch Forum; Kelly Fletcher’s newsletter with one of her embroidered appliqué designs; the lovely holly fabric I have in my stash, which I’ve been keeping for the Suffolk Puff tree but surely I could pinch a little bit to experiment with; lots of lovely line stitches I’ve been looking at lately; horrible rainy weather – never mind the spring flowers I’m stitching, it’s clearly time for an in-between Christmassy project!

A thread about when to start stitching for Christmas, combined with the rather un-June-like weather we’re having, had already put me in a Decemberish mood, and as I was reading about embroidered appliqué it struck me that stylised Christmas trees and baubles would be ideal shapes for that sort of thing. I scribbled some notes to self: a short description of the process (place patterned fabric shape on ground fabric; attach with small stitches; cover edges with decorative embroidery stitches) and some suitable line stitches.

Some quick notes about appliqué embroidery

The next day I typed these up, adding a few more stitch ideas as well as possible threads. In a burst of enthusiasm I even added a really luxury, sparkly version where the edges would be covered by couched goldwork threads (not feasible when doing several dozen Christmas cards, but lovely to try!) I also drew a simple Christmas tree and a bauble-in-three-parts. Then I went through my bag of patterned fabrics. Unlike my extensive stash of embroidery fabrics, this is not a very large collection; they are mainly smallish pieces of fabric I’ve bought over the years for finishing ornaments. But among them was the holly fabric that had fired my imagination, as well as a pretty variegated blue fabric.

Possible fabrics for appliqué embroidery

The blue fabric would work well for the bauble, I felt, especially if combined with some pretty silver threads. The holly would make a lovely Christmas tree, except… would it stand out enough against a neutral background? For the ground fabric I’d been thinking of heavy calico or possible a plain cotton, but apart from the pale blue I use for the shisha and Wildflower Garden kits they are all white or off-white or cream or beige. Not much contrast with the pale background of the holly leaves. Perhaps with a strong green perle cotton border? Or I could try and find a darker Christmassy fabric – like the cotton I got for the Suffolk Puff tree to complement the holly fabric. The squares are rather large, and I don’t know whether they will show up well when cut into a smallish shape, but they might just work as individual squares.

One more possible fabric

Anyway, plenty of ideas and possibilities – time to stop writing and start stitching!

Goldwork progress – eventually

Have you ever heard of the hopping procession of Echternach? Although throughout its history it has been danced in various forms, the one that has always stuck in my mind is the three-steps-forwards-two-steps-backwards version. It strikes me as being a very accurate description of many of life’s projects, including embroidery ones.

You may remember a small goldwork project I started last year, based on a design in Sampler and Antique Needlework. It’s a Jacobean-style flower and leaf, and I first used it as a sampler for trying out crewel wools from Renaissance Dyeing and Pearsall’s. But it was always intended to be a goldwork piece, and I thought it would make a nice project to get a bit of practice in with the various techniques. Although I roughly stuck to the design, from the start it was my intention to change whatever I felt like changing, and possibly to add a few things here and there. Some of the changes were planned, some weren’t.

This is where I’d got to last November. It shows both types of changes: the use of silver, two sizes of pearl purl, and check thread were definitely planned. The small beads inside the big leaf weren’t – they were a consequence of the small green silk leaves coming out too small and not filling the leaf outline satisfactorily.

Jacobean Flower in progress

6 months later I felt it was high time that this project got finished. There’s the RSN goldwork boot to complete as well (my stitching friend who came to the workshop too has already finished hers!) but as this one was all framed up, and pretty close to completion (much closer than the boot with all its plunging still to do…) it got priority.

The main part of the remaining work was the chip work that was to part-fill the flower cone. In the original design, this is done in gold chips of bright check. My plan was to stick with the bright check, but to shade it from copper through gold to silver. I couldn’t use the thread size guide of the original as I’d chosen to enlarge the design a bit, so I’d have to work out what looked best. As it’s still a fairly small project (a little over 3½” wide) a not-too-chunky #6 seemed the best choice.

I rummaged in my project box. Copper in the bigger #4. No gold or silver. Very odd. Have a look in my big goldwork box. Gold and silver in both #4 and #6, but no #6 copper. Bother. I could have sworn I had both thicknesses in all three metals. Obviously not. And as I definitely wanted to use copper, I started the chip work in #4 bright check. I did all the copper I wanted, and started filling in the gold. And I really, really disliked how it looked.

Cutwork with bright check #4

There was no help for it, it just had to come out. I’d have to do something in gold and silver only, or choose some other wire. Another rummage through my project box for inspiration… what was that bag of copper #6 doing there? Ah. At one point I had considered doing the chip work in coarse and fine copper, and so I’d put both thicknesses (but no gold or silver) in my project box, and somehow the #6 had hidden itself right at the bottom.

So I could do the chip work as planned – yay! And it did look so much more like I’d envisaged it.

Cutwork with bright check #6

Finish the gold chips, scatter some silver chips around, and then there were just a few more spangles to add for my Jacobean goldwork flower to be done.

Jacobean Flower finished

The last stage, the finishing finishing, will be to lace it very tightly as the fabric wrinkles rather when taken off the frame, and then possibly frame it; unless I can lace it around the insert of one of my satin boxes. I’ll keep you posted!

A mysterious scribble

In a folder with some old sketches (the same one in which I found the Beginner’s Butterfly, in fact) I came across a quarter of an old letter, on the back of which was an intriguing doodle and the words “shuttle stitch?”. It was obviously an idea for a stitch, but I had absolutely no recollection of drawing it and couldn’t make head or tail of it. Was it meant to be a needle book? It vaguely looked like two square pages with the shuttle stitch (whatever that was) as the hinge/spine. Then I thought the rectangles surrounding each of the squares on three sides looked like they might be Kloster blocks – but they were marked “g” or possible “9”, not “K”.

A mysterious scribble What is shuttle stitch?

I still can’t remember when or why I drew it, but after some more observation and interpretation I think it represents two cut areas surrounded by Kloster blocks consisting of 9 stitches each, with a woven bar in the middle and a buttonhole arch on either side, with letters to indicate starting points and how to get from one bit of the stitch combination to the next. It is still a mystery to me why I would want to call it shuttle stitch. If anything it looks rather more like a belt buckle. Or is shuttle stitch an existing stitch and did I copy it from somewhere? If you recognise it from a book or a project, I’d be delighted to know!

Change in progress (III) – Twin butterflies

While I was on a roll with the tulip-and-some-other-flower designs last month I took the opportunity to tidy up a drawing I did some time ago; it’s not dated but from the surrounding scribbles it seems to have been intended as a freestyle project for beginners.

Sketch for a butterfly project for beginners

But not just for beginners – there are stitch suggestions for what might be called an intermediate version as well. So when I edited the sketch on the computer I created two versions, one with basic stitches as a project for people with little embroidery experience, and one with slightly more advanced stitches for those who are familiar with the basics and would like to branch out.

Two butterfly variations

Having tidied up the two butterflies I was looking forward to trying them both, especially the second version which promised to be quite interesting texturally. But I decided to take them in order and begin with the basic butterfly. I’d printed both butterflies at a little under 9cm high, transferred them to Rowandean’s embroidery cotton and picked some lovely Splendor silk threads (the same ones I used for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday present). True, if this ever makes it into a workshop I won’t of course be using silk threads, but why not give myself a treat while model stitching? Well, the threads were indeed a treat but as I was stitching I soon found that even a basic butterfly may need to go through quite a few changes during the design process!

The first thing to become obvious was that the butterfly’s size meant I’d have to work with four strands to make the stitches stand out and fill the space sufficiently. This worked all right in most cases but combined with the very soft nature of Splendor silks it didn’t look very good in the chain stitch part; the stitches just blended into each other, the loops didn’t show their open centres, and the whole thing lacked definition. So my next version will smaller, worked in standard cottons, and use a maximum of three strands.

Silk chain stitch lacking definition

The buttonhole wheel I had planned for its head turned out lumpy and awkward. That will have to be changed in the new model, probably to backstitch with straight stitch “spokes” for the Beginner version, and whipped backstitch for the Intermediate one.

A lumpy buttonhole wheel

For the wings I’d chosen whipped running stitch, and I will keep that, but I will definitely have to make the stitches smaller – my rather hasty ¼” version doesn’t make for a nice smooth outline…

Spiky whipped running stitch

And finally there was the butterfly’s body. It was charted in both versions as buttonhole stitch with a line of backstitch to close the teeth end, and each of the sections adorned with a French knot. But then I though it would be nicer to have two different types of body for the two different butterflies, and I also decided to leave French knots for the Intermediate version. So the Beginner body got changed to two opposing lines of buttonhole stitch, with the teeth interlocking. I like the effect of it and will keep that in the final design, but I must remember that for the teeth on the second line to be centred between the teeth of the first line, it is important not to bring the needle up centrally – because of the way buttonhole stitch works, this actually pushes the teeth off-centre.

Spiky whipped running stitch

It sounds like not a lot is left of the original idea, doesn’t it? But I do like this butterfly, and most of it will actually be as originally planned. When I’ve stitched the revised version you’ll see it hasn’t changed that much from the first try – well, except for the difference between soft shiny silks and thinner, sharper cotton threads, of course!

The first butterfly

And talking of threads, as the butterfly is meant to be usable for a beginners’ workshop I felt it might better not to use a stranded thread at all, but something indivisible. Perle #8 is one option, and I’ve got quite a collection of it, so I will probably try it on one of the smaller butterflies. It can be quite twisty, however, which might be a problem. The other I will work in coton à broder #16 – a little thinner, but easy to work with. Unfortunately I only had two of those in my stash, so I treated myself to a small collection of useful colours. Don’t they look inviting?

Coton a broder no. 16 Coton a broder wound on bobbins in a project box

Change in progress (II) – beads

In the first part of Change In Progress showed you some changes that had been made to the three wooden pendant designs as I was stitching them; added stitches, added shading, changes in colour. But sometimes changes in a design are more in the nature of an extra, alternative design. The Old & New pair was designed to be stitched in double cross stitch using Petite Treasure Braid, but having stitched both designs I thought it might be fun to try the smaller of the two in beads as well. This was partly because some years ago I saw 18th-century bead work in an exhibition and I was blown away by how vibrant it looked compared to silk embroideries of the same period, which had faded to the beigey shades we’ve become used to in old embroidery. Well, it definitely worked smiley – the colours absolutely popped!

Old & New 1 worked in beads

If the Christmassy one on black worked so well, would the one on opalescent fabric work equally well? I simply had to find out. However, whereas finding suitable red, gold and green beads had been quite easy, finding usable silver, blue and purple beads turned out to be much harder! For one things there don’t seem to be quite so many shades of purple Mill Hill beads; a fair few lilac ones, and several bluey-purples and reddish-purples but not many “pure” purples. Then I wanted the beads to be shiny, not matt; and of course the blue and purple (and the silver) needed to go together. And silver! Mill Hill’s silver beads, though shiny, are actually rather dark and grey.

Perhaps some sort of white was the answer? I picked a shiny blue and a shimmery lilac, both rather lighter than I had originally envisaged, and combined them with an opalescent white. They looked good together! But white isn’t silver, and I did want to try and stay as close to the original as I could. What silver beads did I have? Well, there was Mill Hill silver, which as I said before is more gun metal than precious metal; some very silvery beads which unfortunately are unbranded, and therefore not suitable for a published design which needs “repeatable” materials; and Mill Hill’s Frosted Ice, somewhere between white and silver, a little subdued in its lustre but a definite possibility.

Blue, lilac and shimmery white beads for Old & New 2 Various silver beads

To make the final decision I compared the opalescent white and the frosted silver on the sparkly fabric I would be using, and although both worked quite well, I decided to go for the latter to keep that touch of silver in the design.

Opalescent white versus frosted silver

And here it is! Now all I need to do is write up the chart pack, and Old & New should be available on the website soon.

Old & New 2 worked in beads

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

Positive consequences of stomach flu

There aren’t many positive sides to gastric flu. For a moment it seemed to hold the promise of starting the Easter egg season with a few pounds to spare, but even that proved short-lived. However, it did mean that last weekend I had energy for very little more than sitting in the garden, reading a bit, absorbing the sunshine (and incidentally getting my calves sunburnt), observing the bumblebees and enjoying the colourful sight of the tulips and grape hyachinths and late daffodils, and I’m sure this was very good for my soul. It also gave me some ideas.

Having looked forward so much to my RSN day class I understandably had goldwork on my mind, and looking at the bold outlines and the variety of petal shapes of our red, yellow and pink tulips I was reminded of a vague intention some time ago to “do” something with tulips and goldwork. I exchanged my novel for a sketchbook and tried to capture the various tulip profiles, with some grape hyacinths thrown in for good measure.

Sketching the tulips More tulips!

After a few separate doodles I decided on a combination of a single tulip with a couple of grape hyacinths, and some random sprigs of flowering grass which no botanist could possibly put a name to. I also scribbled some notes as to possible threads and wires and techniques to be used; for the grape hyacinths I jotted down two options, one using purl chip work and one using spangles. I like both options so may try a separate grape hyacinth to see which looks best. As the design has two grape hyacinths I toyed for a moment with the idea of doing one in each style, but on second thoughts I discarded that idea – it would just look indecisive and confused. I do want spangles in there somewhere so I’ll probably use tiny ones for the flowering grass, and chips for the grape hyacinths.

Sketch for a goldwork design of tulip and grape hyacinths

The next day I tried incorporating some of my daffodil sketches into the mix, but I simply couldn’t get them all to work together; the result was a separate design of a single tulip and a single daffodil.

Sketch for a goldwork design of tulip and daffodil

Over the next week I tidied them up in my photo editing program, and in the process produced a second version of each design in which the tulip had been shortened a bit. For some reason I tend to create designs which are square or nearly square (or circular), and this one looked a bit elongated. I haven’t quite decided yet which I prefer.

Tidied-up sketches

As I was playing with the designs it occurred to me that they would also work quite well in coloured embroidery, whether using stem stitch throughout, or a variety of stitches (like short bullion knots for the grape hyacinths – nothing like setting yourself a bit of a challenge). In fact, I felt it would be just the thing for a little celebratory embroidery in honour of my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday if I added a “90” to it. So I did. Now I just need to stitch it. By Thursday evening at the very latest. So far, I’ve chosen the silks…

Tulip and daffodil for a 90th birthday

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!