Life’s too short to work a moss stitch – or is it?

The craft room was never meant to be a room to spend a lot of time in, despite the desk – when putting it together I thought of it more as a handy way of storing all my stitching stuff in one place. But a few days ago I went in there and sat at the desk, with a lovely view of the snowdrops in the garden, bird song coming in through the open window and the early morning light streaming in, and as I set about putting a kit together and mounting a small goldwork project in a card I realised that everything I needed for these two tasks was in the same room as I, mostly within reach from where I was sitting. Bliss!

So I may be spending more time there than I thought, and one of the things to do there is try out stitches on my doodle cloths. When I went to my stitching group last Monday, we were told a lady had donated two boxes of stitching supplies to the Guildhouse (the local adult education centre where we meet), and would our group like to have a rummage; anything we didn’t want would then be offered to the beading class. Well! Who would say no to the chance of rummaging through two boxes of stitching books, fabrics, ribbons, beads, scissors and other bits and bobs? This is what I eventually went home with: beads, two pendants for mounting embroidery in, and The New Anchor Book of Crewel Stitches and Patterns.

My share of the Guildhouse booty

One of the stitches mentioned in the book is moss stitch, and from its diagram it looks very attractive, and very symmetrical. I should have been warned by the fact that the ones in the accompanying photograph of an actual embroidery were rather less clearly defined…

The diagram for moss stitch

After having produced a number of less than uniform moss stitches I tried to work out what the problem was. Well, one of them was the fact that as I pulled the working thread through on the last step, it invariably got itself knotted, and so it wouldn’t pull snugly around the base cross. Looking at the diagram again, I realised I was following it almost exactly, but not quite: I didn’t anchor the thread loop with my finger! Perhaps that was where I went wrong. Tried it again, with the loop duly anchored while pulling through. A bit better, but still nothing like as tidy as the diagram. Eventually I found that tightening the working thread around the needle while it was still inserted under the cross, and only then pulling the needle through, produced a reasonably neat result.

A row of uneven moss stitches Pulling the working thread tight against the needle A completed moss stitch

So is moss stitch like a stuffed mushroom – something that life is too short for? It rather depends on how attractive you think the stitch is, and how much effort you are willing to put into what will mostly be used as a scatter stitch. Once you get into a routine it should speed up the process, and having the hoop on a stand so that you can use both hands (which I didn’t) would certainly help. But whether I use it a lot or very rarely, it’s a new addition to my repertoire, which is always welcome.

The completion of a craft room, part 3

At the end of the last FoF we left the new craft room filled with all its components parts – desk, bookcases, storage towers, boxes, fabrics, threads, tools – and, frankly, in a mess. Time to get organised! One thing that got added which wasn’t absolutely necessary was a new lampshade; the old one didn’t fit the light fitting very well and wobbled precariously, but I suppose strictly speaking it was still serviceable. Nevertheless, a shiny new craft room deserves a bright new lampshade (with a daylight bulb), and I couldn’t resist this cheerful red one with poppies on the inside which shine through to the outside when the light is on – magic! The desk has a craft light, my lightbox, felt boards and other odds and ends; the album was a Christmas gift which I was about to fill with some small projects that had so far been languishing in a box. The cat was allowed in one last time to see what all the fuss was about, before being banished forever.

A bright new lampshade The poppy lamp illuminates the newly organised room, with desk and cat

Behind the desk and chair are the two rainbow storage towers, holding most of my fabrics, some finishing materials, and my stock of scissors, squissors and coasters. The coffee table has the Millennium frame and lapstand plus my doodle cloths and anything in the process of being kitted up, as well as a useful lap tray. Underneath are more storage boxes (large pieces of fabric plus wadding), and next to it a CD tower holding my audiobooks. Not really craft-related, but they used to live underneath that coffee table and I needed the space there, and the CD tower tucks in nicely behind the door when it opens. The bookcases hold all my thread boxes, embroidery books, and kits, and on top sit various decorative thread boxes, one with a tapestry cover, the others with some of my embroidery.

Storage towers, coffee table with boxes underneath, and CD tower Filled bookcases with decorative storage boxes on top

The left-hand bookcase holds threads which ideally should be shielded from the light, as the boxes in which they are stored are transparent or at least translucent. The few boxes in the right-hand bookcase hold mostly beads, gems and shisha materials which are not light-sensitive, so a solution was needed for the one bookcase only. “Needed” might be putting it rather strongly – when I’m not in there the curtains are kept closed, and the bookcases are on a north-facing wall, so the amount of light getting to the boxes is probably negligible; still, I knew I’d feel more at ease with some sort of curtain or cloth in place. Now I can’t really work a sewing machine, so a ready-hemmed piece of material would be ideal. Did we perhaps have some old curtains somewhere in the attic? Well, yes, but they were rather heavy and unlikely to be the right size. Then I remembered a couple of sarongs I had been given a few years back by a friend from Kenya. Could one of those… yes it could. A bit of engineering wizardry by Mr Mabel and my threads were protected!

The sarong in place The thread boxes accessible but protected

And so here, finally, is the craft room – complete, organised, and in use.

The craft room in action

Now all it needs is a small conservatory smiley.

The completion of a craft room, part 2

As I was cleaning the old bookcase ready to be propped up against the other wall and filled according to my “shelf document” my husband, who had kindly offered to repair various bits that had fallen off or got damaged, remarked that even with quite a lot of work it wasn’t going to be a very satisfactory bookcase. For one this, lacking a back it wasn’t particularly stable. “Why don’t we do this properly and look for a suitable bookcase at Ikea or something?” he said. So we did.

The old bookcase ready for some surgery Calculations

Now some time before I had drawn a floor plan for the craft room, and on it, as some of you may remember, there was a small Ikea filing cabinet. Desk height, six drawers, and just the thing for large bits of fabric or anything fairly bulky. Available, unfortunately, in black, white and bright green only. As we got ready to pick up the bookcases (two together would provide about the same amount of storage space as the old double one) I had another good look at the filing cabinet online and decided that really I didn’t need it. With the slightly larger bookcases, the three under-the-bed-boxes and the rainbow storage tower I had oodles of room already. So Helmer stayed at Ikea, and two Billies came home.

The Craft Room floor plan A possible filing cabinet

A scrub and a hoover (or rather a Henry) to clean the room while it was as empty as it was going to be, and then the next step was to build the bookcases. Not a problem, I’ve assembled flat packs in the past and none of them has collapsed yet, so armed with two screwdrivers, a hammer, a mug of tea and a speculaas sandwich (made with two slices of bread and some Dutch biscuits – and let no-one who comes from the nation that invented the chip butty cast any aspersions!) I set to. Oh, there was a helpful feline assistant as well.

Cleaning the room Assembling Billy the Bookcase A little help from Lexi

Ta-dah!

The two finished bookcases

Time to get the desk in (originally kept in the storage room, where it just got cluttered), put some pictures on the wall, place the rainbow tower in its permanent position and fill the bookcases.

A desk to work at The bookcases are filled

This was beginning to look very promising! Until the dining table was cleared…

The dining table is visible and usable again But the craft room floor isn't...

Back to square one? No, not quite. But there was clearly a lot more to do, and one important step was to realise that there was no way I was going to get all that into the available storage. Not even the originally-planned filing cabinet would do. A second rainbow storage tower was needed! And a sarong. Of course.

A second rainbow storage tower A sarong for the craft room

The completion of a craft room, part 1

Some time in February last year I FoFfed about the Craft Room To Be. Just to remind you, this is what it looked like shortly before that post – and that was after getting rid of the giant CRT telly!

The telly room, window side The telly room, door side

That post closed with the line “If everything goes to plan, I should have a fully furnished craft room some time this year!”

Ha. ha. ha.

Some progress had been made by the time I wrote that, in the sense that I had gained a rainbow storage tower and three storage boxes, but with The Den still filled almost to capacity it was all I could do to squeeze them in, inaccessible except by some serious mountaineering. After our trade fair in September at least the trays of Austin Seven spare parts went one by one, so I could see some floor space, but there still wasn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre. As Christmas came ever nearer, I decided Something Must Be Done. Stuff scattered along the window sill and other surfaces – much of it made or collected or won by the boys in days long gone – was boxed up ready to be handed over to the proud owners to display in their own homes (or not, as the case might be). I went through the boxes of documents and photos and keepsakes from Mum’s house, and (with my husband, as it was a combined collection) through the stacks of videos, CDs and DVDs in and on top of the bookcase. What we wanted to keep went in boxes to the storage room for the time being. There was a distinct sense of not-quite-so-cluttered-ness about the ex-telly room!

No more trays or videos

Except, of course, for that sofa bed. The biggest obstacle (in every sense) in the Craft Room project, it was inherited decades ago from my husband’s grandmother. No-one in the family wanted it, no-one else was willing to come and take it away for free (not even after we discovered that it was a Vono sofa and could be described as vintage/retro), and the charity shops wouldn’t touch it because it didn’t have the required fire safety labels. I suspect people weren’t that fussed about furniture fire safety when this was made. Finally, in desperation I asked Eldest and fiancée whether they really wouldn’t like a sofa bed for their spare bedroom. They came over to have a look at it, and decided that yes, they would like it after all. Victory! “When can you come and pick it up?” Not until 2018, as it happened, but on the first Saturday of the new year this was the state of play:

No more sofa bed

All it needed was some cleaning and a bit of work on the bookcase, which was already in the room when we bought the house nearly twelve years ago, and which was definitely showing signs of age. Don’t we all. A bit of TLC and I’d be able to start populating the shelves!

The old bookcase ready for some surgery

Or perhaps not…

Goldwork for all weathers

When I completed the RSN goldwork boot some time ago, and posted pictures of it on the Cross Stitch Forum (yes, I know, it isn’t cross stitch – but they humour me and allow me to stay a member even though I do mostly other needlework now smiley), one lady remarked that it would be fun to stitch the whole outfit to go with the boot in goldwork: gloves, hat, corset, dress… I agreed it would make a lovely series, but that it was very unlikely to happen, especially to scale! But suddenly a picture of a parasol entered my mind, and refused to budge.

When that happens, resistance is futile – and so I started looking for basic umbrella/parasol shapes. Although the original idea had been for a parasol as an accessory to the never-to-be-stitched Edwardian costume, at this point I wasn’t sure whether it might not become an umbrella, and anyway they are pretty much the same shape, aren’t they? A parasol just being a lighter, more elegant version of an umbrella. But I knew quite certainly the sort of outline I wanted: what you might call a child’s version of an umbrella, with four or five panels, and tilted about 45 degrees. After a few sketches I did a first line drawing on the computer.

The first line drawing

This captured the essence of umbrella-ness I was looking for, and I did some work on the fillings and materials, but something bothered me. When I had a closer look, I realised what it was – the drawing was wonky. The left-hand panels were longer than the ones on the right-hand side, making it impossible to place any decorative motifs satisfactorily, and the angle of the shaft was slightly off. Back to the drawing board.

Changes to the line drawing The new line drawing

Once the outline had been tweaked to my satisfaction, I could work on the decoration of the panels. After a while I found myself with two versions which I liked equally. OK, so why not have two projects, a parasol and an umbrella? And to make them look more balanced when stitched as a pair, I reversed one of them.

An umbrella and a parasol Mirror images

While all this was being done on the computer, I was also still scribbling notes on the first printout, jotting down ideas for materials and stitches.

Notes about stitches and threads

Deciding which of the various ideas to use is never easy, because inevitably some have to be discarded (unless you want to end up with a whole herd of umbrellas – and how many goldwork umbrellas am I likely to want to stitch?!?) Eventually I managed to work out which ones I liked best, and in which combinations, and I could add some indication of stitches to the bare transfer drawings.

Working charts incorporating ideas for stitches and threads

The fabrics for both projects had already practically picked themselves – two of the shades of Essex linen I bought last month, Teal for the umbrella (in silver), and Orange for the parasol (in gold). Both behaved beautifully on the lightbox, and I’ve got a beautiful deep 10" hoop that’s just the right size, large enough to give the design breathing space and small enough to be manageable. And here they are (only in unstitched outline as yet): Come Rain, Come Shine.

Come Rain on teal Essex linen Come Shine on orange Essex linen

Now for the fun part of picking the threads, wires, spangles and whatnots!

Big mugs, little mugs, glued mugs

Some time ago, I started experimenting with embroidered appliqué – first a Christmas tree, then a bauble with embellishments, and then, because I thought it would make a nice workshop and I happen to know the workshop co-ordinator at the Knitting & Stitching Show doesn’t like Christmas-themed projects in October, a mug. Of tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate, or whatever beverage you prefer. With the same embellished band (only slightly curved) as the bauble. Because of this, the size of the mug was pretty much decided for me; but this caused a bit of a problem. A mug large enough to contain the embellished band would be rather too large for the aperture cards I had in my stash. This would mean buying outsized cards, with matching envelopes, and that would drive the kit price up. Could I make the mug smaller while still having room for the gems and sequins in the decorative band? I printed the design in the original size and one slightly smaller, and played about with the gems. They would just about fit.

Two sizes of mug with gems

But would it look OK in fabric and thread? A stitched model was obviously called for. I didn’t add the steam this time as I just wanted to compare sizes, and anyway I hadn’t quite worked out yet how to combine the steam with framing the mug in an aperture card. I did use this project to try something else, however: Heather, my tutor at the RSN workshop, had used Bondaweb to stabilise the green silk from which the leaf was cut for the appliqué part of the goldwork project. You iron it onto the back of the fabric, draw the desired shape on the paper backing (in reverse), cut it out and remove the paper. At that point you can actually iron it onto your background fabric, should you wish to, but she just used it to give a bit of body to the silk and keep it from fraying; it was attached in the old-fashioned way with small stab stitches. As I’d had a little trouble with fraying on the larger mug, this seemed a good idea. The smaller mug was soon stitched, and the band, though a little more densely packed than on the larger mug, still worked.

The appliqué mug in two sizes

Time to get out my aperture cards, the ones I use for the Shisha flower and tile. The mug didn’t fit. I had reduced the size of the mug to the size of the aperture, but without any space around it, and with the chunky raised chain stitch outline it was now actually a little bigger than the drawing. Oh well, use the next size up – it would still be better than having to get the very large cards for the larger mug. I fitted the aperture over the smaller mug. It looked a bit spacious. Just out of curiosity I fitted it over the larger mug. That fitted too… So now I have a choice – using the same card I can use either the small or the large mug, according to preference. I try to think of this as A Good Outcome.

The small appliqué mug in a card

Having used Bondaweb to stabilise the fabric, and wondering whether this project could be fitted into a 90-minute workshop, I decided to try another small mug (any excuse to use another of those lovely Makower fabrics, not to mention the Anchor Multicolors) and this time to iron on the appliqué bits, and work the decorative stitches on top of the fabric edges without first stab-stitching them. This worked beautifully, and in fact kept the fabric flat better. For the workshop I may therefore iron on one of the bits, and have the students sew on only one. It’ll still teach them the technique, but won’t take quite so much time. The steamy ribbon will probably be part of the kit as an optional extra, which they can choose to add or not. It is a little fiddly, attaching the ribbons up to the point where they will exit the card, and requires a certain amount of measuring and trying with the aperture card which would probably be better done at home. I will of course show them how to do it – one of the comments people had left about some of the Knitting & Stitching workshops (not mine, fortunately!) was that the tutor just handed out the written instructions and expected people to get on with in on their own. Anyway, what do you think of this mug for a workshop – suitable? tempting? any other comments? They’ll be very welcome.

Another attempt, with ironed-on fabric A small mug with steam A small mug with steam, in a card

A garden on canvas and duck

A few weeks ago I got two new fabrics to play with: a medium weight cotton canvas in light blue, and a cotton duck in off-white. Both are non-count fabrics, although the cotton canvas looks as though you might count it – it has a much more noticeable weave than the cotton duck. Both are quite a bit heavier than any of the other fabrics I use; that was in fact why I got them, to see if they could be used without the need for a calico backing. They can, but the downside to that is that it is also difficult to transfer designs onto them by lightbox, especially when the design is fairly complex with a lot of detail in a small space, like the Wildflower Garden I had decided to use for my experiments. I just about managed to get a workable transfer drawn, but for future occasions I made a much darker transfer picture, and divided it into two parts, so that I can transfer all the grass and stalks first, then superimpose the flowers.

The Wildflower Garden pattern darkened and split

Having got the transferring out of the way, it was time to stitch. First up was the medium cotton canvas. It’s light blue, which is the colour I usually use as a background for the Wildflower Garden. Because of its very visible weave I was afraid it might be difficult to place the stitches accurately, but that turned out not to be as much of a problem as I had expected. The needle went through the fabric easily, and didn’t get “persuaded” into the holes when what was needed was to pierce the fabric threads. I like the colour, which I think sets the design off well, but on the whole I think the texture shows itself just a bit too much. The fabric is perfectly usable, especially for the little Shisha flower projects (which has a much simpler transfer), but I probably won’t get any more of it.

Little Wildflower Garden on medium cotton canvas

On to lightweight cotton duck. This is not at all lightweight compared to the quilting cottons I tend to use, but it is the lightest weight of cotton duck. I got it in off white because I thought it would work well as a neutral background for freestyle projects (I am trying it out with some leaf outlines at the moment). It’s not really a suitable background for the Wildflower Garden because the daisies don’t show up quite so well, and the little bee’s wings get rather lost. Still, in order to compare the fabrics I thought it best to work the same design on both, so the Garden it was.

I like this a lot. It’s got enough texture to be interesting, but not enough to distract from the embroidery. It’s heavy enough not to need backing, and provided the transfer design is printed in bold enough lines it can be used with the lightbox. I would imagine it takes an iron-on transfer quite well too. It would be interesting to try it with the prick and pounce method, but as yet I haven’t been brave enough to tackle that. As for stitching on it, that works well; it is dense enough to make accurate placement possible, and soft enough for the needle to go through quite easily. Yes, I may well get some more of this in a variety of colours.

Little Wildflower Garden on light cotton duck

This would also look quite good as a background for goldwork if you don’t want the sheen of dupion, I think. But for now I have other fabrics lined up for that…

Cats and elephants and what to do with them

Sometimes, usually much to my own surprise, I do manage to finish my finished projects. That is to say, rather than stuffing them into my “stitched models” folder I turn them into something useful or decorative (or, if I’m feeling particularly inspired, both). Over the past few weeks my small elephants (variations on the bigger Remember the Day elephant) were given the useful-and-hopefully-decorative treatment and turned into a gift tag (or place card, or favour tag) and a felt bookmark. The bookmark is on the large side, which is why I’m showing it off marking a large book smiley.

Bookend elephants made into a bookmark, and an elephant tag The elephant bookmark in action

The freestyle Elegant Cats couldn’t possibly be allowed to languish in a plastic folder; for one thing, Lexi wouldn’t allow it! Fortunately I bought a selection of satin-covered boxes from the wonderful Viking Loom a while back, and even as I was stitching the cats I had a vague idea in my mind that there was a rectangular box of that sort of size in my box of boxes – and that it might just be dark green. There was, and it was, and it was just the right size, and Lexi was deeply impressed with the result, as you can see…

Elegant Cats mounted in a jewellery box Elegant Cats with an elegant cat

PS When posting some of these pictures elsewhere people asked me about the artist whose book the elephants are marking. He is a Dutch artist called Rien Poortvliet who started out as mostly a wildlife painter, but who wrote and illustrated many books on a variety of subjects, including the history of his family inspired by a chest belonging to one of his ancestors, a life of Jesus, books about dogs and horses, a book about “whatever happened to come into his mind”, books about gnomes, and this one about Noah’s ark. I admire his art as much as I admire his simple but profound faith.