Taking a stand

How many stands does a stitcher need? If we define need in the strictest sense, the answer is of course “none”. Unlikely as it may seem when browsing manufacturers’ websites, a rich and fulfilling life is possible without any embroidery stands at all. But if we take the term fairly loosely and rephrase the question as “how many stands could a stitcher use?” then the answer is probably more like my husband’s on the subject of pre-war Austin Seven cars: “one for every purpose”. In the case of the cars that means one for pottering around the lanes and going to the pub in, one for long-distance touring, one for competitions… In the case of embroidery stands it likewise depends on the use you intend to make of it.

Until last week, I owned two embroidery stands: a Lowery floor stand, and an Aristo lap stand. The Lowery is a dependable workhorse that will deal with any hoop or frame you care to throw at it (or rather, clamp in it); true, with the heavy-ish Millennium frame it needs a bit of Meccano support, but that is a minor quibble.

Lowery stand The Meccano prop in place

“So why”, I hear you say, “do you need any other stand? If this Lowery will do it all, what else do you need?” Well, the Lowery will hold anything, but it will do so in one spot. Not that it is nailed into place or set into a concrete base, but it isn’t exactly portable.

Now most of my travel projects are smallish ones in hoops that are easily held in the hand. But if I want to take a project mounted on the Millennium frame (or any other scroll frame, for that matter) to my weekly stitching group I’m stuck. Enter the Aristo lap stand, which is portable, comfortable, surprisingly stable for something that’s perched on your lap, and roomy enough to accommodate a cat.

The Aristo lap stand, with cat

Right, so I’ve got one stand that will hold anything, in its own semi-permanent place, and one stand that will travel. Unfortunately, although it’s perfect for scroll frames, the Aristo isn’t particularly easy to use with a hoop. True, you can just about perch a hoop on the arms if you put them quite wide apart, but the hoop is then so low and so close to the stitcher that you have to put the stand on a table to have the embroidery in a workable position.

And it so happens that I will be taking an 8″ hoop to the Medieval Embroidery retreat at Coombe Abbey later this summer, and simply holding it (a bit of a challenge anyway with hoops that size) is not really an option as there will be rather a lot of two-handed stitching. Taking the Lowery is not practical either. Cue the seat stand.

I’ve come across these at RSN workshops and day classes, where you can usually borrow one for the duration of the class. They have a wooden paddle that you sit on, and from it a post sticks up to which the hoop is attached. There is only one problem with them. In order for the hoop to tilt towards you, you have to sit astride the paddle. Inelegant and a bit undignified at the best of times, I feel, but completely out of the question when you tend to wear longish skirts. Theoretically it is possible to insert the paddle underneath both legs from the side (as demonstrated in this Sew & So video), but the trouble is that the hoop then tilts away to the right rather than towards you. The only other option is to have the hoop completely level with the floor, not tilting in any direction at all, but I find that an uncomfortable way of working.

Some time ago I did find the Stitchmaster Seatstand (demonstrated in the video as well and looking quite good there), which has arms like the Aristo on which to rest your work, and yes, it does tilt towards you. So far so good. But when I tried it out, I found it to be unusably flimsy for anything with a bit of weight to it, and with an unadjustable tilt that was far too steep. It definitely didn’t work for me; more research was needed.

Cue the Sonata Seat Stand, which I found on Barnyarns’ website, and which looked as though it might tilt the way I wanted. I rang their customer service department and spoke to a very helpful gentleman who got one out of its box and tried to visualise the various directions of tilt I was describing over the phone, to see if their seat stand would fit the bill. He came to the conclusion that it almost certainly would, but said I was very welcome to order one and try it out, and they would pay the return postage if it didn’t do what I’d described. Now that’s what I call customer service!

Well, here it is in what I’d describe as its Ikea stage (lots of separate bits, nuts, bolts and an Allen key); and even unassembled, the various pieces looked promising – there were definitely several tilting bits there!

The Sonata Seat Frame, unassembled

It took a bit of doing (and my husband to get the last bit of Allen key bolt into the base of the frame; I simply could not get it to budge any further) but I got it together, and although the bolts still needed knocking into the wood (which sounded rather brutal and possibly damaging but which my husband assured me is perfectly normal procedure) I managed to clamp a hoop in it to Test For Tilt. Success!

The Sonata Seat Frame; bolts still sticking out, but the tilt test is successful

And now it is fully assembled, heads of bolts flush with the wood to prevent joints from drooping when tightened, and ready for use with whatever type of skirt I care to wear smiley.

The Sonata Seat Frame, fully assembled The Sonata Seat Frame with hoop The Sonata Seat Frame in action The Sonata Seat Frame in action

Roll on the Medieval Embroidery retreat – I’m all set!

I’ve got a lap cat!

One of the most important criteria for any needlework stand is, of course, whether it will accommodate a cat. I didn’t have our resident feline with me when trying out the Aristo, but fortunately it turns out that it is exactly the right height for Lexi to drape herself across the bottom part while leaving room for my hands to manoeuvre underneath my stitching. Just. Well, that’s a relief – I might have had to send it back!

The Aristo lap stand, with cat

I’ve got a lap stand!

Some weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to try out the Aristo lap stand at Needle Needs’ workshop. I liked the idea of the lap stand, but was worried about the wobble that was noticeable in the video demonstrating it. It’s quite an understandable wobble – a lap, after all, is not a flat and solid surface. But would it drive me up the wall when working with it, or would I hardly feel it was there after a while? Quite an important question when you’re considering a piece of equipment that isn’t exactly cheap. Don’t get me wrong, Needle Needs’ workmanship is worth every penny, but not if this extremely well-made stand would end up just, well, standing, somewhere in a dusty corner. (Yes, there are dusty corners in our house. Sorry. Housework just isn’t one of my hobbies.)

As we would be in the vicinity while travelling from an auction to my parents-in-law, I’d therefore arranged to drop in at the workshop and have a try. They promised they’d have one there for me, not to take away, unfortunately, as they were all spoken for, but I was welcome to have a careful go at using it with my own Millennium frame. So far, so good. Except for one slight snag – I have a sawdust allergy. A workshop full of wood-turning and wood-sanding and other woodworking activities is not the ideal place for me. Mr John Crane (I think it was he) very kindly brought the lap stand out to where I was, and having admired the beautiful smooth wood and lovely lines we looked about for a place to sit. There wasn’t one. So in the end I tried out the Aristo sitting sideways in our car, which actually worked out quite well – after all, if I could work with it comfortably in that position, my usual easy stitching chair should pose no problems whatsoever!

Trying out the Aristo lap stand

Well, what can I say? It worked. It worked very well. So I asked whether, if I ordered one now, I could come and pick it up early next year when we had another auction-plus-parent-visit. Of course, he said. Or you could have this one.

I think I may have looked practically half-witted as I stared at him in amazement. I’d been told very specifically that I would not be able to take one home. But he explained that they had discovered a knot in the wood of this one, and so they weren’t going to send it out. The knot, let me explain, is a purely cosmetic flaw, if you can even call it that. It has absolutely no effect whatsoever on how well the stand works, and personally I think it gives the whole thing a bit of extra character. So when he said I could take it with me, at a bit of a discount, what did I do?

Actually, I still hemmed and hawed a bit. Incredible, isn’t it? Then my husband decided to step in and buy the thing for me as a Christmas/birthday/anniversary present. And so five minutes later we drove off with an Aristo lap stand on the back seat, and a ridiculous grin on my face. And I used the stand while at my in-laws’, and I’ve used it at home, and it’s lovely, and I am terribly pleased with it.

But as I was using it the other day, I had a thought. The lap stand needs to be as level as possible, so that it doesn’t work very well when you’re sitting in very low or very high chairs. This obviously limits its use a little – what if your favourite chair happens to put your lap at an angle? Well, what about having a little bean bag attached to the bottom? You know the sort I mean, they come attached to lap trays so that your soup doesn’t slosh about when you’re having dinner in front of the telly. If the Aristo came with one of those, ideally as a detachable accessory, wouldn’t that just make it perfect? Perhaps I should suggest it to Needle Needs…

P.S. While we were at the workshop, I was also given an opportunity to see the prototype of the redesigned Necessaire floor stand. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, and he asked me not to mention particulars as it is not on their own website yet, but he showed us various improvements and further plans and all I could think was, “Great, now I’ll need to get one of those as well!” smiley. No, not really, as I have my Lowery and I Do Not Need two floor stands. If I keep telling myself that often enough, eventually I’ll believe it. Perhaps.