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…

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…

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!