Is it all right if I…?

Have you ever wondered/had a stitching friend ask you/asked a designer or tutor: “Is it all right if I…” (stitch this in green instead of yellow; use only part of the design; turn the dog into a rabbit; work it in wool on canvas, not in silk on linen; turn the design 90 degrees)? If so, you are not alone. It’s a question that often crops up on forums, and it’s a question that I, undoubtedly like many designers and tutors, have been asked more than once. The answer?


Yes, it’s fine. This is your project, and you decide what it’s going to look like. I feel quite strongly about this, and yet when I do it myself, I feel a little diffident. That doesn’t stop me from changing things, though smiley.

As an example let’s look at Oh Sew Bootiful’s “Splashing in the Waves”. I wrote a bit about this in an earlier FoF, but as the project is now finished I can show the effect of all the changes together. First, the original: two Japanese-looking waves with light blue foam and green fish.

The original design, with blue wave tips and green fish

Now not all of the changes I made were the same type of changes, and I’m fairly sure this holds for most stitchers who change designs – there is a variety of reasons. One reason is that a particular part of the design doesn’t appeal to you, or is not appropriate for the project’s purpose – substituting a stylised cat for a stylised dog in an old-style sampler because you prefer cats, for example, or changing the length of the bride’s dress in a piece to commemorate a wedding so that it matches that of the bride for whom it was stitched. Another reason might be that you only want to use one motif or section from a larger design, either because you don’t like the rest of the design, or because it needs to fit a pre-chosen framing option (card, box lid, footstool).

I’ve done both of these, but not in this Waves design, although I did shrink the design so that it would fit a satin-covered box I had in my stash.

Then there is the material. In a counted design, that could affect the size as well; in a freestyle design such as this, it affects mainly the look of the background and the stitching experience. Instead of a relatively thin cotton, which I would have had to back, I chose a sturdy cotton duck (a light canvas) that I could use on its own. I also like the rather solid look of it. My favourite fabric at the moment is a lovely densely-woven German linen, but I have a limited quantity of that so it gets used only for special projects, like the Llandrindod jewelled cross and one of the SAL versions. Some changes, in other words, may be motivated at least to some extent by what you happen to have in your stash (and what you are willing to use).

Stem stitch on cotton duck

The picture above also shows another change: the outlines of the waves were charted in backstitch, but I chose to do them in stem stitch, for no better reason than that I prefer stem stitch and find it relaxing. So there you have a fourth reason for change: personal stitching preference.

Two further changes which can occur separately but sometimes influence each other are colour and thread. For this particular project I wanted to use a hand-dyed, mildly variegated stranded cotton, because it was just the sort of project in which they work well – very few colours, and no need for three or four matching shades of any of them. The perfect opportunity to give them an airing, in fact. But my choice of thread then affected my choice of colour, as none of my chosen hand-dyed cottons exactly matched the colours of the original (nor would I expect them to). A separate colour decision was made because from the start I envisaged the green fish in orange, startling goldfish unexpectedly tumbling in the waves – a matter of personal taste (the green fish were a bit too “camouflaged” for my liking), and of personal observation (the incongruous goldfish I enjoy watching in a nearby wood pond).

Colour and thread changes

The shading of the foamy wave tips was given a whole FoF all to itself so I will just post the picture here side by side with the original to show the change.

The original wave A shaded wave

What else? Oh, a digression. I stitched the circle outline in split stitch as per the instructions (makes a nice change smiley) in three strands of cotton. Now I like split stitch; Ethelnute the Medieval King was practically nothing but split stitch, and so is Hengest the as yet unfinished woollen Medieval Unicorn. But until now I have always worked split stitch using a single thread, whether crewel wool or one strand of silk. This means that you know exactly what to split, because there is only one thread available. But what do you do with multiple strands? Split one of them? Go in between the strands, especially when working with an even number? I found the whole process rather confusing, and partly because I was working with an odd number of strands I ended up with something closer to the former method than the latter. But I don’t find it ideal, and another time I would probably choose a thicker single thread (for example a perle cotton) rather than using multiple strands, although that has unintended side effects as well – the look of the circle outline would be quite different from the rest of the project. Note to self: try split stitch with four strands, splitting them two and two, and see whether that looks better.

Messy split stitch

And finally, the fish. I kept them right till the end, as my reward for stitching three million colonial knots. The instructions in the chart pack did not mention outlining the fish before satin stitching, so I tried one that way, but I found it almost impossible to keep the outline neat – not for the fins and tail, they were fine, but for the body. I wanted my fish to be just right, so the body was soon unpicked (I’m afraid I forgot to take a picture of the first version), outlined in split stitch and re-satin-stitched. And I am so pleased with them! They pop just like I’d hoped they would, and the split stitch outline gives the satin stitch a bit more lift as well, making the fish more 3D.

Goldfish that pop

There was just one more thing to do, mount it in the box I’d set aside for it. And here it is, ready to be filled with stitching bits and bobs.

A wave on a box The box, open

PS I don’t know whether the designer minded my changes; I emailed her a picture of the finished project but didn’t get a reply. Nevertheless I hope she enjoyed seeing a different take on her design, and hearing how much enjoyment it gave me.

Spices crisis

Having stitched mostly smallish projects recently, I was looking forward to starting on something a bit larger, one of my planned-for-February designs, Spice Islands. With its clove-shaped cut areas and warm earthy colours it is my little ode to Dutch cooking, and the spices I love to use – cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, ketoembar (coriander), djinten (cumin), kurkuma (turmeric), djahé (ginger). You could make a song out of that!

Spice Islands

Some years ago I was putting the groceries away, and suddenly noticed three jars of spices I’d bought: paprika, ginger and turmeric. What lovely colours, I thought, and how well they go together! And because like most stitchers I’ve got That Sort Of Mind, I tried to work out which DMC shades would come closest. They turned out to be 919, 677 and 782, and together with a dark brown I used them for a salamander bookmark.

DMC spices

So when I started thinking about a spice-inspired piece of Hardanger, I naturally picked up on those colours. Looking through what I had in my stash, I picked five shades of perle #5. The lightest one, cream, would be used in the central motif, the other four would make up the Florentine sections and the Kloster blocks. Those four I would need in #8 as well, for the bars and filling stitches.

That’s where I ran into the first difficulty. DMC, in their wisdom, have decided that we really don’t need all that many shades of perle #8, and so two of the shades I’d chosen in #5 were actually non-existent in #8. Fine, we’ll use one shade lighter. And so that’s what I put into the Spice Islands "short pack" (which is what I call the documents which contain a chart and some basic notes for a design).

Fast forward 13 months or so, and I’m getting the materials together to start stitching. And suddenly I realise four things: that the brown perle #5 is too light; that one shade darker is better, but that both are really much too grey-brown; that the darkest perle #8 I have for this series of browns is a medium shade of stone; and that the paprika shade is far too orange.

After a short bout of panic, the inescapable fact that it was 8.30pm on a January night with a standard lamp as my only illumination made it quite clear that any colour changes were not going to be made that night. So I decided to start on Shades, a small, simple and soothing project to keep me occupied until I sort out the spice colours.

Later today, before dusk sets in, it’s off to my box of stranded cottons to choose the perfect shades, and then to the online shade card to see if the perfect shades exist in perle #5 and #8. Wish me luck!

Second thoughts on designs

Carousel got a rather more drastic make-over than most, but a little change here and there is not unusual. Quite often, these happen as I am stitching the designs for the first time. For example, it may suddenly become very clear that my original choice of colours looks washed out or faded, or on the contrary that it looks garish; in one case I realised as I was getting the threads together that I had charted the design using a non-existent shade of DMC perle #8! Often this can be resolved quite easily. Because I was aiming for a "medieval" sort of look Canterbury started out with a much darker blue and green, but as the golden yellow framework grew I realised that in their surroundings they would look almost black, rather than the jewel-like and bright shades I was looking for. So off to my thread box to see if there were any brighter shades that would fit in – and fortunately there were so that I didn’t have to order anything in but could continue stitching right away.


Sometimes changes are suggested by threads or fabrics I acquire after a design has already been charted for other materials. Frozen Flower was originally meant to be stitched on white using white and two shades of grey or blue – and I’ll probably still stitch one of them in that colour scheme. But then I got some lovely dark hand-dyed fabric from Sparklies (a shade called Ink) and realised it would look really interesting in white and ice blue on that dark, stormy background. In cases like these, both variations will be included in the chart pack, so that every stitcher can decide for herself which she would prefer.

Occasionally I will find as I am stitching that I have charted something on paper which is simply impossible to do on fabric. The central motif in Sunken Treasures originally had stitches in perle #5 over one fabric thread where purple, blue and green meet, and it simply became one blobby mess. Back to the drawing board, making sure the smallest stitches went over two fabric threads, and the crisis was resolved. A smaller crisis in the same design involved some multi-coloured squares I had originally placed in the corners of the central motif, at the base of the "seaweed" shapes. They were possible, but they looked wrong. Getting three colours into such a small square made it difficult to keep them neat, and in spite of the colours (the same as the seaweed) they simply didn’t gel with the rest of the design. So eventually they got transformed into an additional light green leaf for the seaweed, and all was well.

Sunken Treasures Sunken Treasures

And of course sometimes designs get changed simply because I can! The piece I’m stitching at the moment was designed while I was listening a lot to The Corries, and one song that really stuck in my mind begins "Green is Flodgarry, blue is the sea". The design was quite abstract so I decided that Flodgarry was as good a name as any, and that I’d keep it in shades of blue and green. Which was fortunate as I had just bought the most marvellous deep blue green fabric from Sparklies, which went perfectly with one of my favourite Caron shades. But Flodgarry consists of two designs, and I wanted to ring the changes, so for the other one I chose the very bright turquoise/navy/green Caron thread which I had used in one of my A-B-C models. It seemed a good choice. It would look nice and startling on bright white fabric. And so as I got the materials together to start stitching it, I picked antique white fabric, and the much more muted Caron shade I used in Percival.

Oh well. They do say woman is fickle …

Alphabet Percival

A revamp for Carousel

Some designs take a long time to get exactly right. Mind you, I sometimes doubt any design is ever "exactly right" – but most of them fortunately do get to a point where I can say "I’m happy with that" (or even, occasionally, "very happy"!)

How it works for other designers I don’t know, but I find that for me most budding ideas either work or not fairly quickly. In my mind I’ll have a shape, or a colour, or a theme, or even a particular stitch I want to use, and then I’ll sketch a bit, and try out some things on the computer, and generally it becomes clear pretty soon whether or not it’s going to come to anything. There are several files in my Mabel folder consisting of ideas which simply didn’t live up to what I saw in my mind. Being by nature a relatively optimistic soul I keep them in the hope that one day they’ll get transformed into something usable.

There are others which take shape, and almost from the start I feel that they do actually look the way I envisaged them (Frosty Pine and Very Berry spring to mind). It’s very exciting when that happens! Fortunately this is how most of the designs that eventually end up on the website are created.

And then there are the ones which get charted, and I’m happy with them, but in the back of my mind there is a small but unmistakable niggle that they are not quite what I had intended. It’s often hard to put my finger on it. It may be a feeling that the shape is not exactly right. Or that it ought to have a certain something more. Or less. Or different. In those cases, I tend to put them on the Planned page, but they get moved to the back of the queue; there are generally plenty of designs I can stitch before I get to the "might-be-room-for-improvement" ones, and it gives me a chance to have another look at them in a few months’ time.

This is what happened to Carousel. I designed it last September, and it started with a particular combination of stitches I wanted to use. In one of the Round Dozen designs there are four Y-bars (my own invention, as far as I know) around a central square, and they have a rather pleasing lop-sided look:

Y bars

I wanted to use that combination again, in a design which would be a bit swirly, and suggest circular movement. It was at that point that I came up with the name Carousel (it was a toss up between that and Merry-Go-Round). The starting point was easy – the Y-bars. Then I thought spider’s web fillings would add to the circular theme, and beads for the decorated fairground feeling. So far so good, and I put all these things together in a design charted in two colours (a greeny blue, though I wasn’t sure yet that those would be the eventual colours). It looked like this:

Y bars

I had some vague idea that the cross shape and the 8 diamonds around it would look a bit like a merry-go-round viewed from above, but it didn’t look quite right; so it got put towards the end of the Planned queue and I thought of it no more. Then I wrote about this earlier I found some interesting new stitches in a second-hand book; well, old stitches really, of course, but new to me. They were crying out for a design, but try as I might I couldn’t get them to work together – or even to work separately. Then one day I looked at Carousel and realised that the Maltese interlacing stitch was quite swirly, and might go well with it. And the satin stitch braid looked rather like the sort of decorative band you might find around the top of a carousel. And the third stitch I wanted to use (a variety of laced or threaded stitch) was again rather winding and would fit in well.

The time was right for a revamp. Carousel lost its central cross shape and its diamonds, and the spider’s webs were put in as surface stitches rather than filling stitches. The Maltese stitches were put in the four corners, and for the border I combined the braid stitch and the threaded stitch. It doesn’t look any more like a Carousel than the old version did, but suddenly it feels right. It may even get moved up the queue!

Y bars