More workshops

When I had put together the two Church Building Fund workshops for last May and June, stitching the Floral Gems wreath, I decided that this was going to be the last for a while. Over the past three years I’ve taught five sets of workshops covering Hardanger, shisha, freestyle, tactile (the raised wreath) and embellished embroidery, and I felt I was running out of techniques. There is goldwork, of course, which would no doubt be very popular, but the cost of the materials makes it unsuitable for a charity workshop. So I mentioned this to the ladies attending, and was met with a wave of disappointment. And when I showed the appliqué Bauble to the participants at the second workshop as a possible project for some unspecified time in the future, they all agreed that a pre-Christmas workshop was called for. This year.

The appliqué bauble in a card

Incidentally, this is not the card I would choose for the workshop – it’s all a bit too circular – but it’s what I happened to have in my card stash. If the workshop does materialise (and it seems likely that it will, as somehow I seem to have mysteriously acquired some new fabrics that are just right for this project) I’ll probably go for a card with a square aperture of the same width. This would also accommodate… but wait, I am getting ahead of myself!

Considering this new workshop, I naturally thought of ways in which to use it again after the initial Building Fund run, and the obvious candidate for that is the Knitting & Stitching Show. Although four workshops is as much as I want to teach at any one show, I like to offer the organisers as wide a range as possible from which to pick what they feel will best fit into their programme. Unfortunately, as I found when I offered the chunky Christmas Wreath, the workshop organiser is not fond of Christmas projects in October. Personally I think October is just about the right time to start stitching for Christmas, but heigh-ho, if that’s the situation then offering another Christmas project is not going to be enthusiastically welcomed.

But I still thought the technique would make a great K&S workshop, and I particularly liked the band of gems and sequins edged with couched metallic ribbon. Could I incorporate this into a non-festive-seasonal design? Something that would appeal to a mostly British audience? Of course – a mug of tea!

Sketch for an appliqué mug

The steam rising from the mug (which could also contain coffee, of course, or hot chocolate – the beverage isn’t visible so whatever appeals to the stitcher!) could be worked in twisted couched organza ribbon extending beyond the aperture, or for a simpler project simply be left out. There was just one slight drawback. The mug as I drew it to incorporate a central band the same size as the bauble came out rather big; it would need a larger card with a special envelope which would make the kits more expensive. It’s easy enough to make the design smaller, but would it still be able to accommodate the gem/sequin band?

Two sizes of mug with gems

Well, it looks just about OK on paper. I will just have to try them both out on fabric to see whether it works in practice. And talking of fabric… (watch this space).

Applying appliqué lessons

You may remember that my first appliqué bauble suffered from a few flaws, most notably visible attaching stitches. A second bauble was called for, with two changes: the thread used to attach the patterned fabric would match that fabric, not the calico it was being attached to; and the embroidery stitch covering the edges (in this case heavy chain stitch) would be worked in perle #5, not perle #8. Together these measures should make the stitches pretty much invisible. So I set to work.

The patterned fabric attached with coordinating thread

So far so good; the thread I’m using is variegated so it doesn’t match the fabric everywhere, but as the fabric is patterned it doesn’t matter too much. Yes, definitely pleased with that.

The next bit is unchanged from the first bauble, because I quite liked it as it was – two lines of Kreinik 1/8″ silver ribbon couched with the same variegated stranded cotton I used to attach the coloured fabric.

The central band is bordered by silver ribbon

Now for the second change, working the border stitch in perle #5. Well, the stitched circle itself looked fine (it is my firm belief that very few things stitched in Anchor’s Blue Hawaii shade could ever look bad) but I noticed something that had occurred in the previous bauble as well: the appliquéd fabric seemed to pucker as I covered the edges.

I held it up to the light at different angles; I pulled the calico tighter in the hoop; I squinted at it. None of it was any good. There was no doubt about it, it puckered.

The fabric puckers after working the heavy chain stitch

So there we are. Using a matching thread to attach the coloured fabric and a thicker perle for the border did solve the problem I’d set out to solve, but the problem I hadn’t really thought much about was, if anything, worse. When I noticed it in the first bauble I rather thought it was just one of those inexplicable things that sometimes happen in embroidery and it would be fine in subsequent projects – after all, there had been no puckering in the appliqué Christmas tree. It now seems that it may be a direct consequence of the border stitch I chose. The Christmas tree was worked in raised chain stitch, most of which is on the surface; only the foundation stitches go through the fabrics, and there isn’t much strain on them, whereas the heavy chain stitch pulls quite strongly at the fabric.

The finished tree, embellished

So it seems there will have to be a third bauble, bordered in perle #5 raised chain stitch! One advantage of that stitch is that it takes corners better than heavy chain stitch; not crucial in the bauble design, which is perfectly circular (or as perfectly circular as I can make it), but I have other ideas…

Twin butterflies (continued)

A few months ago I wrote about a butterfly sketch which I intended to turn into two versions, Beginner and Intermediate, possibly to be used in workshops. My first stitched version showed up a few things that needed attention, and so I decided to stitch two models of each of the versions – one each at the original size I printed it at, using special threads (respectively silks and variegated perles), and one each at a slightly smaller size, using coton à broder #16 (slightly thicker than the more usual #25).

And here they are! The Beginner butterfly had its body stitch changed from the initial sketch, but as that was done before I stitched the first model they both use the interlocking buttonhole/blanket stitch. The stitch for the head was changed between models; the buttonhole stitches in the first model simply wouldn’t behave and make a nice, neat oval. I changed it to a “spoked” arrangement consisting of straight stitches only. The wings are whipped running stitch in both models, but in the second model the running stitches are shorter and closer together, to give a smoother line. I could have used whipped backstitch for an even smoother effect, but decided to keep that for the Intermediate butterfly.

The first version of the beginner's butterfly The second version of the beginner's butterfly

I really like the look of the interlocking buttonhole stitch, but I resisted the temptation to re-use it in the Intermediate butterfly and instead used what I had envisaged in my original sketch, buttonhole stitch closed into segments by straight stitches, each segment decorated with a French knot (there were one or two segments that had come out too small to accommodate a knot, so they were left empty; as they were fairly symmetrically spaced – at the ends of both models and in the middle of the second – it doesn’t look too odd). Incidentally, I did wonder whether to call it buttonhole stitch or blanket stitch as many books and other sources seem to use the terms interchangeably. My personal understanding is that it’s buttonhole stitch when it is very densely worked (as you would around a buttonhole), and blanket stitch when the teeth are more widely spaced as they are in these butterflies. But I must admit to being a bit slap-dash in deciding what I call it in any given design.

The two lines of Mountmellick stitch in the top wing were meant to have their pointy bits together at the body end, but in the first model I started from the wrong side. It looks fine that way too, it’s just not the effect I had in mind smiley. The second model shows the stitches worked the way I intended them to be. I like the look of the communal starting point, and am using something similar (but with the two lines back to back along their entire length) in some of the experimental leaves for the Tree of Life.

Finally a note about the antennae. They are couched pistil stitches, and I added the couching as an afterthought because I wanted a nice elegant curve to the antennae, and pistil stitches don’t curve. But I’m not sure I like the look of the couching. No, that’s not true. I’m sure I don’t like the look of the couching, it just looks clumsy. So the final version of the Intermediate butterfly will have straight antennae, unless I (or any of you) can think of a different way of introducing the desired elegant curve.

The first version of the intermediate butterfly The second version of the intermediate butterfly

And that’s it as far as the butterflies are concerned for the time being. I haven’t got any firm plans for Butterfly workshops at the moment, as there are four K&S ones plus probably some more Church Building Fund ones to prepare for first. The Beginner and Intermediate butterflies will hibernate in my project folder until the time is ripe for them to stretch their wings and become a stitch sampler for some Beginning and Intermediate stitchers!

A kind and generous artist

A few weeks ago Sew & So posted a new kit on their Facebook page – a rectangle completely filled with stylised cats and one dog, called The Imposter. It was quirky. It was fun. I liked the colours. The only problem is that I very rarely stitch other people’s designs now, having quite enough of my own to fill all my stitching time and then some. But I really, really liked this picture, so I messaged Sew & So to ask them if they knew whether the design was available as a print.

The Imposter cross stitch kit

They replied that they didn’t know, but suggested that I ask the artist, Pete Underhill. I found his FB page and sent off a message to explain where I’d seen The Interloper (yes, I know – I managed to get the name wrong…), and to ask about prints. I soon got a reply saying that he had no plans for prints of this particular design but that he’d be happy to send me a copy. And today it arrived, signed, and with a note apologising for the quality of the paper smiley. It is now waiting to be framed and will in time grace one of the walls of my new craft room.

The Imposter print

By the way, when I apologised for getting the design’s name wrong, Mr Underhill replied that he had originally given it that very title – how’s that for a coincidence?

Win a ticket to the London Knitting & Stitching Show or get a discount

A special offer for all who love needlework (and who will be reasonably near London in October): we have three complimentary tickets to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace to give away!

Each ticket admits one adult on one day, and they are valid on Wednesday 11th, Friday 13th or Sunday 15th October all day, or Thursday 12th October evening only.

To be in with a chance of winning one, please comment to say what you think you would enjoy most at the Knitting & Stitching Show. The competition closes at midnight on Wednesday 12th July, and I will announce the winners on Thursday.

And if you’re not one of the lucky winners? Well, this year the K&S organisers have kindly given the tutors a discount code to share with their customers. Instead of paying £14.50 for an advance adult ticket, you pay just £12.00 (excluding any booking fees).

So if you have ever, since the start of Mabel’s Fancies on Easter Monday 2011, been a customer (or would like to become one smiley) drop me an email and I will send you the discount code!

Special offers for the Knitting & Stitching Show

Alternative use for a sandwich box

Some time ago I bought some large storage boxes with clip fastenings; they are square and flattish and hold the finished projects that I haven’t quite got round to “finishing” – you know, as cushions or bags or box lids or framed pictures or baby blankets or whatever. I also got a rectangular box with compartments, rather deeper than my usual boxes, for my goldwork materials. That too has a clip fastening. They’re nice and secure, which is not so important in the case of the finished pieces of stitching, but essential when they are filled with beads or spangles or bits of gold wire. One drawback is that they are not the cheapest storage options around.

So when I needed a small project box for my Jacobean goldwork flower, and I found that my usual project boxes wouldn’t do because the compartments were too shallow for the envelopes holding the gold threads and wires, I was delighted to find that the smallest of a set of three clip boxes we’d bought for sandwiches and the like was actually just the right size for a smallish goldwork project!

But what about my Tree of Life? It will use some goldwork materials and, in one version, crewel wool. Which is not wound on bobbins and like the goldwork bits and bobs won’t fit into a standard project box. Could I perhaps find a slightly larger sandwich box? I could and I did, and it was even more useful than I had imagined because some genius had decided to fit it with two small compartments along one side, presumably for some cherry tomatoes or a small tub of salad dressing.

A supermarket sandwich box

I wonder if the designer ever envisaged his lunch box looking like this?

A sandwich box with crewel wools and gold

Goldwork hide-and-seek and picking threads

I keep most of my goldwork materials in small glassine envelopes – little greaseproof paper bags which are translucent so you get an inkling of what’s inside (and how pretty it looks). The envelopes are in turn kept in a storage box, where they are stacked in shallow rows: a stack of different pearl purls, a stack of spangles, a stack of milliary wires and so on.

Goldwork threads in their glassine envelopes

It works very well, and I can lay my hands on whatever I want with ease. Generally. Recently, however, I could not find an envelope of gold Elizabethan twist, and one of silver smooth passing. I knew I had them (I keep a record of all my stash), I could visualise them, but although I went through every compartment of the storage box half a dozen times, they would not turn up.

This puzzled me especially because I remembered quite clearly that the Elizabethan twist was a relatively large roll of metallic thread which had only just fitted inside the envelope. Surely that couldn’t hide anywhere so successfully? The solution to the mystery turned out to be twofold: a) bad memory – my stock of Elizabethan twist wasn’t nearly as big as I though, it was the gold smooth passing (which was not missing) that rather stretched its envelope, and b) an annoying tendency for glassine envelopes to form close bonds with each other, especially when not very full. The gold twist and the silver passing were both where they were meant to be, just hiding inside the flaps of their neighbours…

How glassine envelopes hide

So now that I had all threads and wires present and correct I could finally do what I had actually got the storage box out for: choosing the golds for the silk version of the Tree of Life. These will be used for the bird sitting on one of the leaves, for a small detail in the top leaf, and for or nué (a type of couching) on the final leaf. After some consideration I’ve chosen smooth passing, pearl purl and wire check, as well as some gold kid which isn’t shown here. I’m looking forward to showing you my golden bird and leaves!

Gold threads for the Tree of Life

Doodles and the start of a leaf project

In trying to decide which stitches I want to use for the Tree of Life my doodle cloths are invaluable. Not only are doodles great for showing the texture of stitches in a way diagrams never can, they also give me an idea of how easy or difficult it will be to adapt a stitch to the leaf shape. Accordingly I worked some doodles for Ceylon stitch, and to be complete I did some detached buttonhole stitch filling as well, even though I had pretty much dismissed that one from the possibles list already. And then it turned out that actually I liked the latter better after all! Ceylon stitch has quite an attractive knitted look, but unless I choose to stitch it quite densely it may be difficult to get it to look even. The buttonhole filling looks nice even when worked (as it is here) with quite an open texture.

Ceylon doodle detached buttonhole filling doodle The two doodles compared

While checking my stitch book for another stitch, I came across Vandyke stitch. I thought it might work as an edging stitch for one of my appliqué projects, but as I tried it on my doodle cloth it struck me that, if stitched a bit more neatly than I had here, it looked quite leaf-like! The loops form a nice central vein, and if the arms are angled they will work as the minor veins. In order to make neatness easier while experimenting with this stitch, I tried it on my counted doodle cloth as well, in both perle #8 and perle #5; with the latter I tried to get the arms to slant more, but it’s not easy – the stitch seems to have a tendency to straighten itself out. Still, there is a bit of a slant there.

Vandyke doodle Vandyke doodle on counted fabric Vandyke doodle with slanted arms

As I was on a roll with all these doodles, I thought I’d give loop stitch another go, if not for the Tree then it might do for one of the appliqué baubles. But I couldn’t quite remember how it went, and in fact on the internet you can find at least two different descriptions of this stitch – one where the working thread is simply hooked around the previous stitch, and one where it it looped around.

The needle hooks around the first stitch The stitch continues The completed line of simple loop stitches
The needle loops around the first stitch The stitch continues The completed line of loop stitches

What I eventually ended up with appears to be a cross between coral stitch and loop stitch which, for want of a better term, I’ll call knotted loop stitch. It looks quite effective and with shorter arms would make a good border stitch, while with longer arms it would fill a leaf and create a vein. Because of the way it is worked, however, it’s not possible to slant the arms. Be that as it may, it’s another possible filling to consider. I may have to work a veritable forest of leaves before I actually start on the tree proper!

The needle knots around the first stitch The stitch continues The completed line of knotted loop stitches in perle #5

And here is the first leaf project ready to go – the outline has been traced together with a very faint inner line (to indicate the length of the up-and-down buttonhole stitch), and the crewel wools have been chosen. Originally the leaves of the autumnal tree were designed to be yellow, orange and green, but as I’ll be using some yellow to stand in for gold on the green leaves, and I won’t be stitching the trunk and stems, I decided to use the warm browns originally intended for the trunk to work what would have been the two yellow leaves. After all, as long as it shows the effect and texture of the stitches, it doesn’t really matter what colour I use, and the browns are rather attractive.

A leaf project ready to go

Baubling with ideas

Experimenting is great – if a project is an experiment, it means that it doesn’t matter if anything goes wrong smiley. My second embroidered appliqué piece, a turquoise bauble, uses rather more stitches and materials than the original, unadorned tree, and so there was much more to go wrong: couching some silver ribbon, for example, or the placement of the floral gems and sequins in the unappliquéd central band. In the end what went wrong was much more basic – the attaching stitches. If you look closely, you can see them peeping from under the covering heavy chain stitch.

Appliqué bauble Up close the attaching stitches are visible

There are two ways of solving that problem, or perhaps even three. The easiest is to work the attaching stitches in the colour of the patterned fabric, so that even if they protrude they won’t be so noticeable. Another option is to make the attaching stitches smaller; that would probably be more difficult, as they’d have to be placed very carefully to attach the fabric without fraying the edge – in the worst case you end up with small stitches on the ground fabric, and the patterned fabric fraying itself loose. One of the things I like about these projects is that they are relatively informal, and not needing too much concentration. I want to be able to attach the top fabric without having to think about every stitch. The final option is to make the covering embroidery stitch wider. On the tree I used chunky raised chain, here I used slightly less chunky heavy chain, and I worked it in perle #8 rather than #5. Fortunately Anchor’s lovely variegated perles come in both weights, so all I have to do is stitch another bauble using perle #5!

I do like the effect of the band embellished with gems & sequins and bordered by couched metallic ribbon, so I will keep that in the design. Some of the ladies at my stitching group suggested this technique would make an excellent Christmas workshop, and although I wasn’t actually planning any, I can see their point. It would definitely be the bauble – the corners on the tree are a bit tricky, and there is more scope for embellishment on the bauble because of the empty band. It also uses an extra technique, couching. And I happen to have lots of floral gems in lots of pretty colours!

In fact, this was the perfect excuse to play with stash and look at the various colour combinations I could use for the baubles. With apologies for the sometimes inaccurate colours (shiny bits are apparently difficult for a camera to get right) here is my collection of Anchor Multicolor perle #5 with the eight different floral gem colours I’ve got (not including the clear one).

Anchor Multicolor perles with floral gems

Not all of the perle shades are usable with the gems, but even so they yield a pretty good range of combinations – ten to be precise, including the perle I used for the bauble (although I paired it with the light blue gems only, not the yellow).

perle and gem combinations

Now all I need is nine more matching fabrics…

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