An exciting plan

Over the years I’ve been to several Royal School of Needlework workshops and day classes; they are always well-taught, well-organised and very enjoyable, and the workshops especially have been a great way of finding out in a relatively economical way which types of embroidery are just not my cup of tea (I’m talking about you, stumpwork) and which are not just my cup of tea but a whole afternoon tea at the Ritz (hello goldwork!)

Whenever I’ve found something I enjoy doing (like calligraphy and various embroidery techniques), I tend to read as many books about it as I can and then just have a go (for example with the padded gold kid in Treasure Trove, and my present goldwork Work-In-Progress the Jacobean Flower).

Jacobean Flower in progress

But sometimes it’s helpful – not to mention a lot of fun – to get some formal instruction. After the first RSN goldwork taster workshop I did in 2012 (the dragonfly) there followed another one at the next Knitting & Stitching Show (the bee; which did end up looking a little different from the original design…); then I found the RSN occasionally did day classes in Rugby and treated myself to one as a St Nicholas present (the watering can). And this year they’re offering another one! I’d hoped they would do an Intermediate level this time, but oh well, I’m happy to take what I can get smiley so I am now booked in for April, where it looks like we’ll be stitching a goldwork ankle boot.

The goldwork dragonfly in all its glory The goldwork bee framed in a flexi-hoop The goldwork watering can finished

This is, you will agree, quite as much excitement as a stitcher can be expected to handle, but there is more! Following a link in the RSN’s recent newsletter I found that they offer private one-to-one tutorials.

I’ll allow some time to let that sink in a bit.

A private lesson, taught by one of the RSN tutors, at Hampton Court Palace *starry-eyed look* – what more could any stitcher wish for? Well, a bigger needlework budget would be nice. It would be lovely to book a whole day (10am till 4pm with an hour off for lunch) (who needs lunch?) (actually, I would; I like food quite as much as I like stitching) but a quick look at the latest bank statement suggests that a 3-hour class is probably more realistic. So I took the plunge and rang them, and I am now pencilled in for a goldwork tutorial on Wednesday 11th October, an extension to my usual Knitting & Stitching Show jaunt. It is as yet dependent on them finding a tutor available, so I’ll let you know when I hear more!

Colour squared


Two-tone square filets

doesn’t look much like this

The first scribble

does it? And yet that’s where it started, with a midnight idea and a scribble in thick and thin pencil lines. The idea was as follows: when working a square filet, unlike with a dove’s eye, the thread goes down into the fabric. And if one colour goes down into the fabric, a different colour may come up. Furthermore, unlike for example the spider’s web, the square filet is made up of equal “passes”, so that any colour changes will result in a regular, symmetrical pattern.

As the square filet consists of four passes, in theory it would be possible to work a single four-coloured one:

A four-tone square filet

That would take rather a lot of fastening off and on, however. Perfectly doable, but much easier and more efficient to get the effect when working a set of them. The scribble was based on a cross shape, simply because of the design I was working on at the time. The four passes in this case would be four V shapes of incomplete square filets. I was working in two shades of the same colour, and started with a dark pass.

First pass for two-tone square filets

Fasten off, then pick the sequence up with a light thread.

Second pass for two-tone square filets

Then another dark pass and finally a light one to complete the cross shown in the very first picture. I could have used four colours, in which case the central square filet would have shown all four and looked like the diagram above. To have four colours throughout would necessitate taking the needle through the intervening woven bar between every pair of square filets, and I’m not sure the effect would be worth the effort! However, it is possible to work sets of square filets in straight lines in four colours relatively easily.

Four-tone square filets in straight rows

I may try this out one day. If I do, FoF will have the pictures!

Ideas for a tree

Ever since I saw my mother-in-law’s Suffolk puff Christmas tree, I’ve been wanting to make one myself. I knew I had some cream fabric with holly leaves and berries left, but not enough for half a tree; so I would need another fabric, rather darker than this cream background, and some gold lamé. As it happens there is a fabric shop right next door to where my weekly embroidery group meets, and they had put all their Christmas fabrics on sale – 50% off! So I came away with a lovely red, green & gold fabric, but no gold; they were out of gold lamé. The proprietess said she would be ordering in some gold satin lining which might also work, so yesterday I went in again to see if it had arrived. It hadn’t, but in the section of satin dupions I suddenly spotted two golds which I hadn’t noticed the week before – then there had only been a rather pale champagne shade. The lady on duty said that she had rearranged that section only that morning, and they had probably been hidden at the back before. She gave me two swatches to take home and compare to my Christmassy fabrics.

Fabrics for a red, green and gold Christmas tree Possible golds for a red, green and gold Christmas tree

In my stash I also had some non-Christmassy fabrics scraps from previous projects (silver lamé and patterned white for the Frosty Pine ornament and a patterned blue/turquoise for our niece Isobel’s door hanger) which I thought might work rather well together for a less traditional Christmas tree; though that one will have to be smallish as all three fabrics are left-overs and I can’t remember where I originally got them.

Fabrics for a blue, white and silver Christmas tree

Now I just need to finish all my current projects and I can start on these – probably the very earliest I have ever started a Christmas project!

How a variation becomes a new design

The twelve parts of Round in Circles were designed in pairs; to be, so to speak, a positive and a negative of the same shape. If in one design a central horizontal band was cut, then in its counterpart that central band would be solid, and the half-moon shapes above and below it would be cut. One of these pairs (Rounds Six and Twelve) was designed around a diagonal cross, cut in Round Six and solid in Round Twelve.

Rounds Six and Twelve

When charting the diagonal cross, I had several options; two of them looked almost identical on paper, but because one of them used floating Kloster blocks (which are purely decorative and are not needed to keep the fabric from fraying) and double-sided Kloster blocks (cut on both sides) whereas the other used only standard Kloster blocks, they had a different distribution of cut holes (shown by the pink and blue dots in the diagrams below).

Two diagonal crosses

I stitched both of them, with their whipped backstitch circle but without any surface stitches or cutting, and eventually decided on the one which included non-standard Kloster blocks – both because that shape was the exact negative of its counterpart, unlike the one using standard Kloster blocks only, and because it meant an extra technique to include in the Stitch-Along. The unused model went to the bottom of the pile, to be used at some later date for something or other.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was looking for a small Hardanger project, and remembered the discarded diagonal cross. I didn’t want to use the same surface stitches, and the filling stitches used in the SAL version wouldn’t work because of the difference in cut holes, so I copied it into my charting program and played around a bit. Because of the triangular nature of the solid parts I thought of a heart-shaped stitch of some sort; after dismissing a few other possibilities I chose Rhodes hearts. I liked the French knots surrounding the spider’s web stitches in the SAL version (well, I wouldn’t have designed them like that if I didn’t smiley) but wanted to get that dotted effect in some other way. Sequins! and if I worked the hearts in one colour, and attached the sequins with another, I could then use both colours in the filling stitch.

But what filling stitch? Being rather fond of nutmeg and mace stitch at the moment, I charted the design with a two-coloured version of those for the time being. Then I started stitching the surface stitches, and doing the cutting.

As I was poking in the cut ends Lexi decided that my lap was the perfect place for a cat to be, and in such a position that going on to the bars wasn’t really an option. I did some sketching instead as I suddenly thought this might make rather a nice pair if I could come up with a matching design. Not the positive/negative match, I wanted to keep that as a Round In Circles thing, so what else? Well, a diagonal cross might be rather nicely matched with an upright cross. Both with hearts and sequins, fillings to be decided on later.

“Later” turned out to be around midnight as I was in bed, falling asleep. Fortunately there is always a notebook by my bed, and even more fortunately my scribbles still made sense to me the next morning! A bit more experimenting is needed, but suspended sequins are likely to feature, and a two-coloured version of square filets.

Sketches for new designs

As for the scribble at the top of the printed page, that was to remind me to check Shakespeare’s Richard III for the exact quotation which I seemed to remember included something like “even so thy breast encompasseth my poor heart”, in the hope that it might furnish me with a catchy name for the design. It didn’t. The two circles with Rhodes hearts and blingy sequins will instead be known as Heart’s Treasure.

A surprise in the post

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – stitchers are lovely people! On a damp, grey, rather dreary day the postman brought a parcel containing this:

A surprise book and card

A beautifully stitched card (now where have I seen that design before…) and a book on Hardanger, sent by a thoughtful fellow stitcher. She told me that the book had come to her via a charity shop to which it had been donated by a Dutchwoman! No, it wasn’t me smiley (that would really have been the coincidence to top all coincidences) so I will enjoy reading this new edition to my stitching library.

Squeezing Delft into a coaster

Recently several people have asked me about designs for coasters. More specifically, one lady asked whether the Round In Circles designs would work with the acrylic coasters, and if not, which designs would; another lady wanted to know whether the Floral Lace designs would fit. In case other FoF readers have been wondering about this too, I thought it would be useful to put the answers I’ve been giving together and share them here.

The Round In Circles designs are just about the right size for coasters when done on 25ct (and if you leave out the circular border they will fit very easily); the same goes for the Song of the Weather designs (the previous Stitch-Along), which are the same size. However, it’s because I try to include lots of texture and techniques in the SALs that they are not all suitable for use in coasters even when size-wise they would fit. The flatter the better, generally, when finishing something as a coaster; so try not to use very textural stitches; raised chain stitch, for example, would simply get squashed out of all recognition, and padded goldwork (if you could sqeeze it in at all) would lose the very reason why the padding was added in the first place! French knots may just fit if done in relatively thin thread – as such they might work as a substitute for beads, because being thread they are at least squashable, which beads aren’t.

Floral Lace is too large for coasters as it stands; the stitch count is 82 square, which even on 25ct would be too big to fit. Without the gold cross stitch border, the size would be ideal on 25ct and would probably also work stitched on 22ct. On 28ct fabric they would fit with the border, but the floral cross stitch motifs, which are worked over one fabric thread, might be a bit challenging. The biggest problem here, however, is the beads, which are a pretty integral part of the design in this series. Beads, as I mentioned before, will not be squeezed into coasters, so an alternative would have to be found. Very small gold French knots could work, or 2mm sequins attached with two stitches and with the central hole in the same place as where the bead is charted. See below for this idea in practice!

Is Hardanger on the whole a no-no for coasters then, unless you’re willing to do an awful lot of adapting and fiddling? Definitely not, I’ve done stacks of Hardanger coasters myself – but you need to bear all the above in mind when choosing your design.

Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design Some of the Round Dozen designs in coasters Kaleidoscope in coasters

Generally, any Hardanger without beads or particularly chunky stitches should be fine. The design in the Coaster kit works of course (I should jolly well hope so!) and all the Round Dozen designs fit (on 25ct), as do Kaleidoscope and Happy Hour (on 22ct). From the Small section, Jewel, Frozen Mist and Snowflake work when done on 25ct.

And finally, some designs will work if stitched on a finer fabric; the Afghan Squares, for example, although originally designed using chunky threads on 18ct afghan fabric, would fit perfectly into a coaster when using standard #5 and #8 perles on 28ct fabric – including the border! One of the designs which I actually stitched on 28ct Lugana to test my own advice is Delft. Here I could try out two aspects of all that I’ve written above: using a higher count fabric, and substituting 2mm sequins (which I happened to have in my stash – I knew when I bought them at the sale for no particular purpose that they’d come in handy one day smiley) for the beads.

It took a bit of squinting and some extra light – my own fault for choosing to try this on dark green fabric with some of it stitched in dark green – but it did work! The design fits, and the sequins stand in well for the beads, even though I had to lose one of them in each of the backstitch motifs; possibly I could have fitted in two, but I felt it would look too full and decided to go with a single sequin with room to breathe.

Delft in green on 28ct fabric 2mm sequins used instead of beads

There was a slightly tense moment when it came to ironing on the thin black interfacing. Would the sequins stand it? They are generally not happy about being subjected to intense heat, as I found out when ironing a shisha design some time ago… But fortunately they survived intact (probably because they were protected by the interfacing, be it ever so thin, and the extra layer of baking parchment needed to keep the interfacing from sticking to the iron), and during the final assembly they didn’t keep the coaster from snapping shut – victory!

Delft on 28ct mounted in a coaster

It’s not the quickest coaster to make; if speed is of the essence (a last-minute birthday present, for example) you are better off with a smaller design, especially one without the need for sequins, on 22ct Hardanger fabric. But as coasters are such useful items and ideal presents for anyone who drinks tea or coffee or hot chocolate or hot toddies (does that exclude anyone?) it’s good to know that many designs can, with a bit of thought, be used to make them.

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!