Buying threads online

Nowadays very few of us are lucky enough to have a needlework shop anywhere near us – let alone one that sells more than 14ct Aida and stranded cotton. For speciality threads or slightly more unusual fabrics you either have to travel a long way (there’s a lovely shop in Ilfracombe, for example …), bulk buy all your needlework supplies at a stitching show once a year, or buy online.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I can get pretty much any thread or fabric I could possibly need (and many, many that I will never need but am tempted by nonetheless) by going online. I can get supplies from the UK, from my native Holland, and (if I’m willing to pay import duty and Royal Mail’s extortionate handling fee) from as far afield as America, Australia and South Africa. It’s great!

But sometimes, it’s just not good enough.

When I was trying to get three shades of beads (some of them variegated) that would match three variegated shades of Caron threads for Very Berry, I realised I hadn’t a hope of doing so unless I could compare the beads and threads in the flesh (or should that be "in the fibre"?) My husband very kindly took me shopping at Burford Needlecraft and I managed to find the exact shades I wanted – but trying to match them up on a computer screen would have been utterly impossible.

Very Berry

We don’t always have that option, though. Usually, the images on the monitor are all we have, and they’ll have to do. And so, what with the unreliability of online images and the differences in dyelots, buying hand-dyed threads online can lead to surprises when unwrapping your purchases.

Some shops do their very best to minimise these surprises, and are willing to go the extra mile for their customers. Stitching Bits & Bobs (US) has more than once helped me find the right shades by going through their stocks and finding a silk "a little more DMC 3042 than 3743", or some such description of mine. Sew & So have likewise been very helpful.

So I turned to them again when getting the threads for the anniversary version of Lustrum. I had decided on Caron 038, a very pretty shade I already had in Impressions (silk/wool), so I knew what it looked like in real life. On their site, however, the picture of the Watercolours thread in that shade looked much darker than the others in Caron’s range (Wildflowers cotton, Impressions and Waterlilies silk). When I contacted them I was advised to add a note to my order explaining that I needed the Watercolours and Wildflowers thread to be quite close in shade, and so not to send them if the Watercolours thread was really as dark as the picture suggested.

I don’t know how many dyelots they had in stock, but they managed to find me a Watercolours thread which was the same lightness as the Wildflowers thread, which was great. Unfortunately there was another snag – the Wildflowers they sent and the Impressions I already had were much alike in colour, with lavendery blues, pinks and creams, but the Watercolours thread had no blue shades at all and hardly any pinks, but was mostly cream and a warm lilac. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

Caron 038

When I contacted them they very kindly had a look at the skeins of Watercolours 038 they had in stock, but they were all much the same, so we agreed I’d return the threads. I contacted a number of other shops carrying Caron threads, and several of them were extremely helpful. Burford Needlecraft sent a scan of the thread they had in stock, the London Bead Company looked at several dyelots for me and described them ("this one is more lavender blue, that one is more mauve, but the mauve one has more pink"). Both, unfortunately, were not blue enough. Finally I turned to Thread Bear, and after a few very helpful emails back and forth I picked one which I will now use with the thread I already have – Impressions is a little thicker than Wildflowers, but its matte appearance should make rather an interesting contrast.

Oh, and you’ll want to know what the new Watercolours looks like, of course! It is not easy to show the difference between two threads in photographs, but I think you’ll agree the new thread is definitely less mauve and more lavender than the original. So here it is, with the other threads and fabric that will make up the anniversary sampler.

Caron 038

Building a Hardanger house

What is the opposite of a housewarming party – a housecooling? I mean the occasion when people hold a party/open house/get-together in their old house before moving to the new. Whatever it’s called, we were at one last weekend, and as we were walking back home my husband said wouldn’t it be a nice idea to stitch them a Moving House card, and how long did the Moving House Turtle take to stitch?

Not very long, but of course I’ve stitched it once already, and wouldn’t it be much nicer to design a new card from scratch? So I set out to do just that.

Hardanger, probably. You should be able to do a Hardanger house. I’ve seen lovely designs where there is a cross stitched scene behind the Hardanger, visible through the cut windows. A wonderful concept, but I don’t want to pinch other designers’ ideas and besides, it would probably be too big for a card, and take too long to stitch. OK, no cross stitch behind it.

So I started with the outline of a house in Kloster blocks. Quite a simple outline, the sort that a child comes up with when you ask it to draw a house. Walls, sloping roof, door, window. It’s a bit bare, and there’s too little contrast between the roof and the wall. Obviously the window and door will be cut, but I can’t really cut the roof, it would look all wrong. As though I’m wishing them a new home with a leaky roof that lets in the draught.

Very well then, perhaps some sort of background stitch? I happen to have just the thing, a sort of basketweave pattern. Unfortunately it consists of bunches of three stitches and the Kloster blocks have 5 stitches, so a bit of fiddling is called for, but after a while the first draft of the Hardanger house is ready.

Home Sweet Home

The shape is all right, but it looks a bit dull, all those greys. I should use some colour. The roof might be thatched – I have a Caron thread with browns and mossy greens and straw shades that would be just right! A whitewashed cottage then, with white or off-white walls, and a variegated brown for the door and window frames. What about the filling stitches? They should suggest glass, so let’s use a pearl white metallic thread. It’s becoming much more colourful already!

Home Sweet Home

It needs a little more though. Shutters perhaps? I was thinking of Dutch houses with green, red and white shutters, and asked my husband what colour shutters like that would be in England, only to be told that English houses don’t have that sort of shutters on the outside. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Dutch shutters

Roses round the porch then? Using nice thick threads that make good, plump French knots. In red and yellow; or dark rose and dark gold, to fit in with the mossy greens and warm browns of the roof and walls.

Home Sweet Home

By now I’d decided to call the design "Home Sweet Home", and that made me think it would work as a sampler too. Something to hang in the porch or hall, to welcome you as you come in. But that would need words. In cross stitch over one, with lots of French knots scattered around it to echo the roses.

Home Sweet Home

And that is how you build a Hardanger house!

Stitching for an occasion

Remember Lustrum?


The poor thing was intended as a celebration of our fifth wedding anniversary, but having charted it in two versions I foolishly decided to stitch the "neutral" version (without dates and initials, and with the cut areas shaped like shields instead of hearts) first; and of course the second version never happened, even though I have the hand-dyed material which I specially picked for it (from Crafty Kitten, worth a look) and the Caron threads to go with it.

The trouble is that there are so many things to stitch – and of course the latest designs usually shout loudest, winking at me with their dove’s eyes and crying "Stitch me!", "No, stitch ME!".

But things are looking up for Lustrum, as I appear to have entered a period bursting at the seams with celebrations of one kind or another (all of which need to be stitched for, of course), and one of them happens to be an anniversary. So I have blown the dust off its chart, deleted our initials and date and replaced them with the appropriate ones for this occasion, got out the fabric and threads, and …

… decided that they were quite the wrong colour. Well, after all, I’d chosen them for us, and this is a different anniversary altogether. After some thought I decided on light blue fabric with white or pearl metallics and a pale blue/pink/peach Caron thread. I’ve got the fabric and the metallics, but that particular shade of Caron I only have in Impressions, their silk/wool thread, not in the Watercolours and Wildflowers which I use for Hardanger.

There’s no help for it, I’ll have to do some stash shopping. How terrible.

The temptation of pretty threads

When I started charting, I knew exactly what I wanted Flora to be (even though it didn’t have a name at that point): a simple design (or possible two variations) that would make a quick and attractive card for various occasions, floral in look, not too challenging in its bars and fillings, and using standard perles. The idea was that beginners would be able to tackle it and produce something pretty and useful relatively quickly, without the need to splash out on speciality threads they might not use again (although I’m always happy to encourage people to experiment with different threads, of course), while more experienced stitchers could use it as a relaxing little project between larger or more challenging ones, and would probably not need to buy anything but be able to stitch it from their existing stash.
I ended up with two variations, one in purples and one in pinks, though with a slightly more difficult filling stitch than I had originally intended (spider’s web rather than square filet). I defended this decision by telling myself I’d include instructions for the square filet as well, and leave the choice to the stitcher. Otherwise, it was still very much along the lines that I’d had in mind – nothing too fussy, quick to stitch, and using only standard DMC perle cottons.

Then I looked through my box of Caron threads for a completely unrelated project, and saw these:

Flora Threads

All right, so I cheated. But then people stitching this in future may want to use speciality threads as well, and surely it is my duty to try it out for them? Well, that’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m going to stick with it!

So that was the purple version taken care of. I decided to be a good girl when stitching the pink one and got the required DMC perles from my box for when I start Flora 2 tonight. But then, as I sat at my computer, I caught sight of a picture of Tulips. It uses beaded square filets. I’ve got some lovely yellow frosted beads that would go ever so well with the yellow perle used for Flora’s filling stitches …

So Flora’s chart pack will come with a variety of instructions – standard perles and hand-dyed threads; spider’s webs and square filets (beaded or plain). And plenty of choice for the individual stitcher. Let’s hope the individual stitcher likes choice!