Needlepoint coasters

When Mabel’s Fancies first branched out into selling what you might call physical items, I decided that I would only offer things which I enjoyed using myself. No wonder then that first on the list were my trusty titanium squissors, but they were soon followed by the acrylic coasters which I must by now have used to mount several hundred pieces of Hardanger and cross stitch (most of them for charity or as gifts, I hasten to add, just in case you are now picturing my house groaning under a load of embroidered coasters).

Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design Cross stitch kitten coasters Cross stitch initial coasters Hardanger coasters, variations on the kit design

Last week I was contacted by a lady who wanted to know whether they were suitable for needlepoint. Now Hardanger is relatively chunky, and although the coasters aren’t deep enough for anything with beads I have successfully mounted designs that use sequins – but I had to admit that I’d never actually tried them with needlepoint. However, you may remember that some time ago I stitched some small needlepoint experiments, so I promised her I’d try them out and let her know.

I unearthed the needlepoint pieces, and found a coaster which I’d set aside because it had a slight blemish so I couldn’t sell it. I was ready to go!

Two pieces of needlepoint and a coaster

I started with what was likely to be the less challenging one to fit into the coaster, stranded silk on Congress cloth. Because of the stiffness and openness of the canvas, I could trim it simply by cutting along the edges of the coaster’s backing plate.

Trimming the canvas to size

Having pulled the canvas a bit to get it properly square, I popped it into the coaster and snapped the backing in place without a problem. One down, one to go.

The finished coaster

The second piece was worked in crewel wool on 18 mesh canvas, and is much chunkier than the black version. In particular the Rhodes stitch in the centre looked like it might cause trouble, especially because it is almost as high on the back of the canvas as it is on the front. Double trouble! I wasn’t very hopeful, but I cut it to size and fitted it into the coaster recess.

A chunky Rhodes stitch may cause problems Rhodes stitches are chunky both sides

Now for the backing. I pushed in one end. I pushed in the other. The first end popped out again. I applied pressure to the whole back at the same time, spreading fingers to push in all four edges simultaneously. It stayed put. Hurray! Not a complete success, as the Rhodes stitch looks decidedly flattened (and that’s without any added backing fabric or Vilene), but it does fit.

A slightly squashed coaster

Much will depend on the type of needlepoint this lady does, so I sent her photographs of the two finished coasters plus information about the materials used in the stitching, to help her decide whether the coasters might work for her. But whether or not they will, it was an interesting exercise – and as I can’t sell the coaster or use it for kits anyway, I put the black canvas needlepoint back in so that I’ve got another decorative coaster to use.

An unexpected find, an enjoyable task and a sample of kindness

Surprises, as long as they are of the pleasant variety, are always welcome. Guess what I found as I was getting some things out of a bottom drawer in preparation for the Craft Fair. Coasters! Now I’ve been stitching away for the past month or so making coasters because they sold quite well last year and I ran out within an hour. So this year I wanted to make sure there would be a good stock of them:

The coaster sets made for the 2016 Craft Fair

But the more the merrier, and although the four I found were some experimental designs which I put into coasters and then forgot about, they are attractive enough to join the sale I think.

An unexpected extra set of coasters

Another thing I need for the Craft Fair is some new display items for the “For Show” part. You may remember that in anticipation and with a touching optimism I bought some lovely satin boxes from the Viking Loom some months ago.

Satin display and jewellery boxes from Viking Loom

As you probably expected, these are all still in their plastic wrapping, and no stitching has been anywhere near them. Time to change all that, and over the next two weeks, in between workshops, I’m hoping to mount some of my stack of finished project in at least some of the boxes. I’m aiming for three, although there are plenty of projects to cover all of them and have several left over!

Projects that might finish up on the boxes

Quite a few of those projects are too big for the satin boxes, but there is another box which has been waiting to be embellished for months now – a lovely wooden thread box which I’m hoping to fill with my collection of Threadworx perles and silks. Because of the shape of the box a rectangular design is called for, the options are a bit limited as most of my designs are square. Still, there are two which will fit very nicely; so now the only question is, Join the Band or Orpheus?

Orpheus or Join the Band for this box?

And finally another example of crafters being very kind people. I’ve been looking for a suitable fabric for some new kits, as the one I’m currently using for the stitches models is rather expensive. It’s a bit of a balancing act: I want my kits and workshop materials to be of good quality, but I also want to keep them affordable, and so sometimes I reluctantly decide that “good quality” does not necessarily have to mean “exceptional but expensive quality”. (For the same reason I occasionally use standard threads where a hand-dyed thread would be more attractive, but also much more costly.)

Well, I found a possible fabric online, but as you know it can be very difficult to get a good idea of fabrics (or threads for that matter) from a picture on a screen; the colour and texture looked right, but I couldn’t tell what sort of weight it was. However, there was a phone number so I rang it and spoke to a very nice lady called Val. We discussed what the fabric would be used for, and other fabrics that might be suitable, and in the end she said she’d send me a sample of the fabric so I could see whether it was right for my purpose – and she’d send it first class so I’d get it before the weekend! The envelope arrived this morning, and in it were three samples: the fabric I’d expressed an interest in and two others. (In the picture there’s only a strip of the off-white fabric as I’d already taken it away to transfer a design onto it.)

A semi-bleached calico and two cotton/linen mixes

When I’ve tried it I’ll let you know what I think!

A birthday initial

Inspired by Mary Corbet’s blog about voided initials I decided that one of my oldest friends’ birthday coming up was a great occasion to try this for myself. I’d found a quirky little book that I thought she would like, but it needed something else, and a coaster with her initial would be just the thing. After some deliberation the colour scheme picked was blue, green and yellow – nice and cheerful and bright.

The first stage was outlining the initial in stem stitch, and I chose dark green and blue to do that, in a sort of shaded arrangement. You know how you can give a letter depth by doing one part in light and one in dark? Well, like that, only in two colours instead of two shades of the same colour. Then I filled in the area around it with seed stitches in yellow plus light and medium blue and green. Some stitching techniques almost automatically give you a neat back – Hardanger for example. Seed stitching does not. It does, however, make rather a nice modernist picture in its own right!

The M outlined in stem stitch in two colours The M surrounded by seed stitch The back of the M

The next step was ironing Vilene (iron-on interfacing) to the back; this stiffens it a bit, and also secures the edges when cutting the fabric. Cutting a fairly fray-prone fabric to the exact size it needs to be is quite scary! The thing is to get it into the coaster as quickly as possible once it’s been cut.

The M secured with Vilene The M cut to size The M in a coaster

Finally attach to a card and write the Dutch equivalent of Happy Birthday on it, and Instructions For Use. They translate as: 1) Remove coaster from card; 2) Place coaster on side table by favourite chair; 3) Place favourite drink on coaster; 4) Place self on favourite chair; 5) Enjoy drink and book.

The coaster card The coaster instructions

Seed stitch is relatively labour-intensive, especially in five colours (it takes a lot of organisation to make it look random…), but I think the effect is worth it.

Backgrounds, sizes, coasters and finishings

FoFs have been few and far between recently, mainly because of serious illness in the family, and for that same reason they will, for the time being, continue to happen very much as and when. On the positive side, one of those as and whens is now!

I’ve been doing some experimenting with the various kits and workshops I’m putting together, trying things out, making changes and generally getting them just the way I want them. And one of the things I’ve been looking at is finishing items.

I’ve finished the Christmas Wreath in two ways so far – as a card, and as a Christmas Tree ornament. The card is not a problem, I’ve done plenty of those, but the ornament posed a dilemma: laborious & proper, or quick & easy. The first involves working running stitch all around the excess fabric, stitching a little way away from the hoop, gathering the fabric by pulling the sewing thread tight and knotting it, and then attaching a piece of matching felt with tiny stitches using a curved needle. I did this a while ago to finish a piece of goldwork, and it does look very neat, while being quite sturdy and durable at the same time.

The goldwork bee framed in a flexi-hoop The felt-covered back of the framed bee

It is also a lot of work. Could this be simplified in any way? Yes, I found some pretty cardstock with a holly pattern, cut a circle out of that and glued it to the back of the hoop after gathering the fabric. It worked, although it took a little adjusting to make sure it wasn’t too bulky around the edges. Edges. Hmmm. Flexi-hoops hold fabric quite tightly. And the stitching won’t be taken out of the hoop once it’s an ornament. So why not cut the excess fabric right down to where it emerges from the hoop at the back until it’s level with the hoop, then seal the fabric edge with a line of glue and cover with the cardstock disc? This turned out to keep the fabric at the front perfectly taut while also presenting a neat enough posterior which will stand up to a certain amount of wear and tear (and let’s face it, a Christmas tree ornament is unlikely to get a lot of wear and tear, unless you have an exceedingly playful cat; if it’s the children you’re worried about, simply hang it where they can’t reach it). Definitely worth offering as an alternative!

Christmas tree ornament Backing the ornament with card

Another thing I’ve been looking at a bit more is the reduced coasters suitable for use in a workshop. I wanted to offer another border besides the alternating-V one (left-hand picture), so tried two further likely candidates in one coaster – two alternating lines of running stitch, and the block border (middle picture). The running stitch border didn’t appeal to me (though funnily enough it was my husband’s favourite) and I unpicked it, completing the border in block stitch (right-hand picture).

Workshop coaster with alternating-V border Two more borders to try Workshop coaster with block border

The final change in this, the really-absolutely-finally-final workshop coaster design, is the corner motif, which is now three separate little leaves instead of one 3/4 clover motif; it may not seem much of a change,but it saves 16 stitches in total!

The original corner motif The simpler corner motif

Next on the list was the Little Wildflower Garden, which I wanted to try in different sizes and on different backgrounds to see which would be best for the kit and workshop. The smaller the design is stitched, the denser it will look if the same number of strands are used in all versions (which is what I did). Personally I like small, and the first version I stitched and from which the design was subsequently drawn is the smallest one at 5cm wide. It was stitched on hand-dyed wool felt, and I love it dearly, but it’s not very suitable for a kit because the felt is to thick for a light box and won’t take a transfer pen. When I stitched the same size on a felt purse later on, I had to transfer the design to tissue paper and stitch through that. Also, because the stitching is very dense, many of the design lines get covered up while stitching, which could be confusing. So no felt, and not the smallest size. Pity.

Little Wildflower Garden, small size, on felt

I then tried a larger size (6.5cm wide) on Rowandean’s embroidery fabric; it’s white, looks as though it might be countable but isn’t, and is slightly fuzzy on one side as though lightly brushed. It’s a lovely fabric to work on and doesn’t need backing, which is a plus, but the daisies and especially the bee’s wings got rather lost on the white background.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on Rowandean cotton

The stitching on the large version, which I had also tried on blue quilting cotton earlier, looked quite open and airy – perhaps a bit too much so. I decided to try two more things: the large size on brushed blue cotton (as the slightly fluffy fabric might counteract the openness of the stitches) and a medium size (5.75cm wide) on blue quilting cotton. I worked and photographed them in the same hoop for ease of comparison, but I needn’t have bothered. It’s not that one looked immediately and unmistakenly better than the other, but that the brushed cotton suffered from the same problem as the felt: too thick for the lightbox to penetrate and project a clear traceable image, and too fluffy to hold the ink in thin, crisp lines. So although I do like the look of the brushed cotton (which I’d rather hoped would be a good compromise between ordinary cotton and my preferred but unusable felt) the kit will use the medium-sized design on quilting cotton.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on brushed cotton Little Wildflower Garden, medium size, on quilting cotton Little Wildflower Garden kit

Incidentally, I’ve discovered one reason why it’s called freestyle embroidery: because it never turns out the same twice. Here’s a collection of slim, chubby, long, short, narrow-striped, broad-striped bees to prove it smiley.

A variety of Wildflower Garden bees

Reducing coasters

Some years ago I found that if you’re a small-project girl like me, coasters are a really good way of displaying your work; they are useful, they keep the embroidery clean, and they make great gifts into the bargain. I found some made of good durable plastic with elegant rounded corners and a display area of about 8cm, and soon worked out that this made them just the right size for any of the Round Dozen designs worked on 25ct fabric.

Round the Year in coasters

Then I was asked to supply some stitched items to a sale in aid of Elijah Gambia, a charity set up by friends of ours, and coasters and bookmarks seemed the most saleable. Now I did have a simple and quick design for felt bookmarks, but not for coasters – and Round Dozen, however attractive, was a bit too labour-intensive for mass production. So I set about simplifying the Round Dozen idea, with a little less cutting and worked on 22ct Hardanger instead of 25ct Lugana, so that a smaller design would still fill the coasters satisfactorily. In the end I came up with 3 or 4 variations on a theme (if you do have to stitch something over and over again it’s as well to have some variation to keep it interesting), one of which made it into a kit.

Coasters with a simplified variation on the Round Dozen

As you may know I’ve been teaching workshops at the London Knitting & Stitching Show for several years now, and as I was stitching these coasters I wondered whether they would make a good workshop project. Well, what are the criteria for a good workshop project? It’s actually quite difficult to give an unequivocal answer to that, as they can vary from one tutor to the next, so the question is really “what are my criteria?”

Ideally I want my workshops to be accessible for beginners, without being boring for those with a little (or a lot) more experience, so the design has to be suitable for a group with mixed abilities. I’ve stitched these coasters with beginners and didn’t run into any problems, while the use of colour and the choice of filling stitch can add interest for the experienced stitcher. So far so good. Then I like the project to be made into something usable and/or displayable. A coaster ticks that box. And finally it’s a definite plus if the project can be finished, or almost finished, during the workshop. Ah.

By the time I’d stitched 50 or so of these coasters I was getting pretty quick at it, but even then each one took me more than two hours. Obviously some further reduction was needed to make them suitable for a 90-minute or even a 2-hour workshop. So I fired up my designing software and started playing around with the designs as used for the charity coasters. I wanted it to be suitable for 22ct Hardanger fabric; there are 18ct-fabrics which could be used, but that would need perle #3 for Kloster blocks and satin stitch. Not only did I want to keep the materials as standard as possible, I had my doubts whether a design worked in perle #3 would fit inside the coaster without being squashed out of shape, if it would fit at all.

On 22ct fabric I wouldn’t be able to reduce the overal size too much, or the design would look marooned in the middle of the coaster with a sea of empty fabric around it. I definitely wanted to keep the central Hardanger motif and the chain stitch diamond surrounding it, so what if I went for slightly smaller corner motifs and a border that sat level with the tips of the diamond instead of outside it? and if I made the border a sort of dotted line of cross stitches over one, that would be quite quick and easy.

That was as much as I could do on paper (or rather, on screen) – the time had come to try it out in fabric and thread. I took a print of my experimental design and material for two coasters with me to my stitching group and got stitching. As we meet for two hours, that would give me some idea of timing as well. Some idea, as there is also a certain amount of chatting going on, as well as looking at other people’s work and drinking tea and so it’s not 2 solid hours of stitching time. Also, as I was stitching the cross stitch border I found that I didn’t like the look of it, so I worked each corner in a different pattern, and then asked others what they thought of them. I ended up with 1) cross stitch over one thread, 2) alternating V shapes, 3) half cross stitch and 4) a smaller version of the satin stitch block border used in the original coasters.

Experimental coaster - cross stitch border Experimental coaster - alternating V border Experimental coaster - half cross stitch border Experimental coaster - block border

The cross stitch border looks a bit too solid and blocky to go well with the chain stitch diamond; the V border is very pretty but relatively labour-intensive, and would probably look better in a darker thread; the half cross stitches are too insubstantial; the block border has quite an interesting texture. It was between numbers 2 and 4, and in the end I plumped for the alternate V border because I liked the shape best, but I think I will chart the final workshop version with both borders so people can choose the one they prefer (I may even include a very simple running stitch border for those wanting to save even more time). Worked in a darker shade – this is Caron’s Tanzanite – the V border stands out well, and although there is more fabric around the design than in the earlier coasters, I do think it fills the coaster well enough.

Workshop coaster with V border

By the way, I always check coasters (the ones people use to mount their own projects) before sending them out to customers and remove any with blemishes. These can be used later for demonstration models. But this time there was one with a narrow black dappled sort of smudge which looked like paint but appeared to be inside the plastic. I didn’t think I’d be able to use that and was about to write it off as a loss when I realised the smudge was running roughly diagonally. I tried it with the experimental workshop coaster in dark blue and would you believe it, with a bit of manipulation the smudge was all but lost in the chain stitch line! (Could you spot it in the picture above?)

The blemish on the coaster is hardly visible

Stitching while…

Do you “stitch while”? Stitch while waiting at the airport or the dentist, stitch while on holiday, stitch while manning a stand or shop when there aren’t that many customers – it’s remarkable how much stitching you can get done while doing other, relatively inactive things. Last week there was a Craft Fair at our church in aid of the building fund, and one of the stands there was mine. One half of the stand was covered in completed projects to demonstrate what you can do with needlework (Bible cover, lap tray, box tops, framed, ornament, cushion, etc.) while at the same time showing some of the designs available from the website, and the other half had items for sale, such as chart packs, kits, cards, bookmarks, coasters and shopping bags.

Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Sale part Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Show part

The Fair attracted a good number of visitors, but around lunch time the attractions of home-made soups, artisan bread and home-made cakes served in the rear hall proved to be a greater lure than the range of unique Christmas presents available in the front hall, and so there was time to do some stitching. In fact I’d been stitching off and on the whole morning, as it makes a nice talking point and offers an opportunity to demonstrate squissors or show a design in action.

Now some time ago I bought some felt “luggage labels” to make into bookmarks, and I got a little felt purse at the same time to experiment with, but I never could decide what to do with it. I’d been thinking of using tissue paper to stitch on felt, and the purse being black I thought it would look rather good with the Little Wildflower Garden on it. It was also a small enough project to do while keeping an eye of the stand – perfect! What I hadn’t considered was that it wasn’t just small, it was also very fiddly; stitching through tissue paper, and trying to manoeuvre needle and fingers inside the purse. Even with the shortest needle I could find fastening off was quite a challenge! But it worked, and here it is:

Little Wildflower Garden stitched on a black felt purse

A couple of days after the Fair I travelled to Holland to visit my mother for a few days, and as she sleeps a good deal because of her illness I knew I’d have a fair amount of time on my hands. Some of that would be taken up with doing the shopping and the washing up and so on, but there would be plenty of time left, and I’d been thinking of a suitable project to take with me, bearing in mind that I travel with hand luggage only so that the Millennium frame plus lap stand were out of the question. It needed to be something small and portable. At the Fair I’d quickly sold out of coasters, and two people had asked whether I could make some more to order in time for Christmas – just the thing to work on both at my mother’s and at the airport! The only problem was that although I bought some embroidery scissors last time I was in Holland, I didn’t have any squissors there, and I didn’t want to risk trying to take a pair through airport security. But then I remembered a fairly plain pair that I was sent as a sample some years ago; its action isn’t as smooth as the titanium-coated ones, but it is serviceable, and more importantly if it were confiscated at the airport I wouldn’t mind very much. Well, it wasn’t, so it now stays at my mother’s for future use, and I was able stitch (and more importantly, cut) my Hardanger projects. I returned last Thursday night with six of them complete and ready to be made into coasters, in time to deliver them at church tomorrow. Another brick for the new building smiley.

Six small Hardanger projects ready to be turned into coasters Six coasters ready to become Christmas presents

Finishing

Lynn, one of the members of the Embroidery Circle I go to, is of the opinion that anything worth stitching is worth displaying in some form or other, and she therefore heartily disapproves of my habit of consigning most of my completed projects to folders hidden away in dark drawers. In a way I agree with her – when I see some of the lovely projects completed by fellow stitchers I, too, think it’s a shame when I hear they will just be put away and forgotten about. And if I think that about other people’s projects, why not about my own? So I’ve decided to Do Something With Them. Well, some of them.

Obviously I can’t frame them all – there’s quite enough on our walls already. And only the smallest things can be made into coasters or bookmarks. But you can fit quite a variety of sizes on, say, shopping bags. Off I went, therefore, to the Clever Baggers, who as their name implies have lots of different types of bags as well as other items. I got a selection of bags-with-long-handles-and-gusset of the type I’ve used before, and a cushion cover, some tea towels and a napkin (not in the picture) to try out. The big canvas bag is for my own use – it’s roomier than the bag I usually take on my annual London visit so I hope it should be easier to take all the kits and materials, especially as I’m teaching two workshops this year. The next thing to do is go through my folders of stitched models to see what would look good on the various colours. My selfish side would prefer to keep all my stitched models as they are a record of what I’ve designed, but on the other hand there’s no point in them just lying in a drawer collecting dust. And bags were good sellers at the last charity Art & Craft Fair!

Cotton shopping bags in a selection of colours A big canvas bag and a cushion cover

Other good sellers were coasters and bookmarks, so I’ve been stitching up several as in-between projects to stock up for the Art & Craft Fair later this year. An additional set of six coasters was requested by my mother for her birthday, and being a good and dutiful daughter I of course complied smiley. The trouble with these coasters is that although they are quick and easy to stitch up, I am rather remiss when it comes to actually finishing them – ironing on black Vilene, cutting them to size, removing stray cat hairs, poking in any contrary cut ends and fitting them snugly into the acrylic coasters. Having finished the stitching on a dozen of them, it was time to get down to some assembling. The result: one birthday present, and another set of six for the building fund.

Coasters for Mam's birthday and the church building fund

By the way, if your appetite for small projects that make good presents has been whetted by my colourful dozen, I’ve got good news! Our new Coaster Kits are now available from Mabel’s Fancies. The design is similar to the one used in the picture above, and you can choose a single coaster or a pair, in ten different colours.

Notes on a simplified coaster

Right, so I’ve been doing some coaster stitching (it’s remarkable how much you can get done in a hospital waiting room, on the London Underground, or at an Austin Seven auction!) to try out my various ideas for quick-to-stitch coasters for charity. Definitely stick with the smaller central cut motif – it really is very versatile, and makes for a nice lacy, Hardanger-y look without too much cutting or bar wrapping.

First I tried the design without a coloured border (I also left out the four stitches in the corners of the Hardanger motif). It’s probably a matter of taste, but to me it just doesn’t look quite right; it’s not defined enough. It’s also a little on the small side. Both problems were addressed by adding a simple coloured cross stitch border, and I do think it looks more complete that way, but perhaps a little too big. Also the leaf stitch seems a bit too chunky for the smaller central motif, although their shape, as always, is very pleasing, and the whole thing did actually look OK once I put it in its coaster. I do like the effect of using Caron Wildflowers thread for the wrapped bars and picots; it adds a nice splash of colour to the centre. I’ll keep this design as a possible – not ideal, but definitely usable.

Simplified design without border

Simplified design with border

Keep those coloured picots, then, and back to the drawing board for the other bits. Using a smaller corner motif means we can move the border in by a few threads, bringing the whole design down to 60 stitches square while retaining that finished feel of a coloured frame holding the whole design together. But can I do something a bit different from simple crosses? How about a little “bird’s foot” of three stitches? I decided to try it out using some of that stunningly colourful Threadworx perle called Bradley’s Balloons. The chain stitch diamond and the border certainly looked very cheerful, and the smaller heart motifs in the corners worked well too, but I felt the thread was just a little too bright for wrapped bars and picots. Cheerful and bright is good, but we don’t want to produce coasters that are a health hazard to the eyes. So for this one I decided to go with white wrapped bars and coloured sunburst. Future coasters will use slightly more muted threads.

Simplified design with border and hearts

And another thing, not everyone likes hearts. Some people actively dislike hearts. (In designs, that is. I assume they have nothing against them biologically.) Coasters, like bookmarks, are useful presents to give to men, or so I’ve been told by several ladies who confessed it was almost impossible to buy presents for their menfolk; but people might feel coasters with hearts make less suitable man presents. An alternative design was therefore called for, about the size of the hearts but of a different shape. I decided on three small satin stitch leaves. While charting this variation I also lengthened the middle “toe” in the bird’s foot border, just to see what that would look like. Well, it looks like this smiley:

Simplified design with border and small leaves

I like both these designs, and will very likely use them alternately – hearts and small leaves, picots and sunbursts and spider’s webs. Of the borders I have a definite preference for the long-toed one. One day I will also try solid colours, to see if the coasters still look pretty and decorative when using standard, non-variegated threads (but with so many lovely variegated threads to choose from, it may be a while before I get round to the solids…). And, because recently I’ve got kits on the brain, I’m having a look at which design and which threads would work best for a coaster kit, and whether to include one or two coasters. Plus, of course, whether I can put them together for a price people are willing to pay while still making a bit of profit!

More charity stitching ideas

One thing you need to consider when stitching for charity is that the materials shouldn’t eat up all the profits. It’s all too easy to go on a stash-buying spree to make beautiful and desirable little items, only to work out afterwards that no one is going to pay what you would need to charge to cover your costs. Buying in bulk is useful in keeping costs down, whether it’s the felt tags I ordered last week or (my latest idea) coasters, so I splashed out and got 100. I’m sure they’ll get used, if not this decade, then the next; after all, it’s not as if they’ve got a best before date!

The next question is what to put in them. Round Dozen is great for coasters, but even though the designs are relatively quick to stitch, they’re still a bit too labour-intensive when trying to get a mini production line going. So let’s see if we can’t simplify the design a bit while keeping its decorative qualities.

First we’ll do it on Hardanger fabric instead of 25ct Lugana so that a smaller design will sufficiently fill the coaster. The originals are a fairly tight fit anyway, and a bit more breathing space may not be a bad thing. Make the central part smaller, keep the coloured diamond – chain stitch, I think, as it’s a bit quicker than double cable stitch – and leaf stitch in the corners for no other reason than that I particularly like leaf stitch. In the first draft I had some coloured surface stitches snugly fitted into the corners of the central motif, but perhaps they’d look better as a coloured border, although that is a bit more work and may make the thing too big. I will have to try out both designs and see which one works best.

Simplified Round Dozen design for charity coasters

Simplified Round Dozen design for charity coasters

Ah. I’ve just realised that the border consists of double cross stitches. I like double cross stitch – it’s a quick and easy way of adding some 3D texture to a project, and it looks great in cards. Unfortunately there is only so much 3D texture that a coaster can accommodate, so back to plain old single cross stitches. And now let’s get some models stitched up!

Note to self: get some more thin black Vilene.

A finish, a near miss and a new product

Father-in-law’s birthday weekend went very well, we had a wonderful time with all the family and everyone enjoyed themselves (even when several of us got up to sing an appropriately rewritten version of “Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines” in honour of FIL’s flying days). I managed to get the card finished before we set off, but forgot to photograph it. I did take a picture of the completed stitching, though, and here it is, with silver filling stitches:

90th birthday complete

Of course I couldn’t possibly go off for a long weekend without my stitching bag, but I wasn’t sure which project to take. Walled Garden was calling to me loudly – all those pretty colours in my project folder waiting to be used – but it’s a bit too big for a travel project, so I decided on a model stitch for the next Guildhouse course. It’s a variation on Round Dozen, using double wrapped bars and spider’s web filling stitches. A nice quick stitch, not too complicated and the perfect opportunity to try out a new Caron colour, Calabasa, a warm and sunny variegated orange. Like the Appalachia/Jade combination, this one is definitely going to get used more often! Perhaps with Daffodil, another cheerful, sunny colour.

Remember I called this little project “not too complicated”? Famous last words … I’d done all the surface stitching, Kloster blocks, brick stitch, satin stitch, Queen’s stitch, everything, and had started to cut. I’d completed about half the cutting when I came to a Kloster block that made me stop in my tracks. It took me a while to work out why it had set the alarm bells ringing, and then I realised – I’d stitched two of the block’s five satin stitches into one hole!

A mistake in my Kloster blocks

There was no way I could cut along the Kloster block like that; the fabric thread at the bottom of the block was unsecured and although it was unlikely to make the whole thing unravel, it would certainly be a weak spot. It also looked wrong, would forever annoy me, and set a very bad example for my students. At that point I could have decided to give up on it and restitch the whole thing, but that would have been rather a waste of time and material, so I attempted a rescue operation. I cut the perle #5 on the corner where the misshapen Kloster block met its neighbour, carefully unpicked both blocks and fastened off the two cut ends. I then restitched the two unpicked blocks, pulling less firmly than usual so I wouldn’t distort the fabric threads that had already been cut. It worked, and with a sigh of relief I resumed my cutting. Can you tell from the photograph which was the rogue Kloster block? I can’t. So if you ever find that you have misstitched a Kloster block, or accidentally cut your stitching while cutting the fabric, don’t be too down-hearted – you may very well be able to salvage it!

Hardanger with spider's webs and double wrapped bars for the 2013 Guildhouse course

During the courses I teach I like to suggest ways of finishing projects; this project and another Round Dozen variation which I haven’t stitched yet are just the right size to be made into coasters. You can see two sets in the Gallery, one using Round the Year, and the other using Kaleidoscope. As I was considering how many coasters I would need to get for the students, I thought I might as well order in some more and make them available on Mabel’s Fancies! They’re really nice ones with rounded corners, and quite hard-wearing – the one below has been in constant use on the little table by my stitching chair for the past eighteen months or so, and apart from a few very slight scratches it’s absolutely fine, and still shows the stitching off a treat.

Acrylic coasters to finish your stitching off in style

You can find the coasters on the Squissors & Kits page, per pair or in a set of 4.