Goldwork for all weathers

When I completed the RSN goldwork boot some time ago, and posted pictures of it on the Cross Stitch Forum (yes, I know, it isn’t cross stitch – but they humour me and allow me to stay a member even though I do mostly other needlework now smiley), one lady remarked that it would be fun to stitch the whole outfit to go with the boot in goldwork: gloves, hat, corset, dress… I agreed it would make a lovely series, but that it was very unlikely to happen, especially to scale! But suddenly a picture of a parasol entered my mind, and refused to budge.

When that happens, resistance is futile – and so I started looking for basic umbrella/parasol shapes. Although the original idea had been for a parasol as an accessory to the never-to-be-stitched Edwardian costume, at this point I wasn’t sure whether it might not become an umbrella, and anyway they are pretty much the same shape, aren’t they? A parasol just being a lighter, more elegant version of an umbrella. But I knew quite certainly the sort of outline I wanted: what you might call a child’s version of an umbrella, with four or five panels, and tilted about 45 degrees. After a few sketches I did a first line drawing on the computer.

The first line drawing

This captured the essence of umbrella-ness I was looking for, and I did some work on the fillings and materials, but something bothered me. When I had a closer look, I realised what it was – the drawing was wonky. The left-hand panels were longer than the ones on the right-hand side, making it impossible to place any decorative motifs satisfactorily, and the angle of the shaft was slightly off. Back to the drawing board.

Changes to the line drawing The new line drawing

Once the outline had been tweaked to my satisfaction, I could work on the decoration of the panels. After a while I found myself with two versions which I liked equally. OK, so why not have two projects, a parasol and an umbrella? And to make them look more balanced when stitched as a pair, I reversed one of them.

An umbrella and a parasol Mirror images

While all this was being done on the computer, I was also still scribbling notes on the first printout, jotting down ideas for materials and stitches.

Notes about stitches and threads

Deciding which of the various ideas to use is never easy, because inevitably some have to be discarded (unless you want to end up with a whole herd of umbrellas – and how many goldwork umbrellas am I likely to want to stitch?!?) Eventually I managed to work out which ones I liked best, and in which combinations, and I could add some indication of stitches to the bare transfer drawings.

Working charts incorporating ideas for stitches and threads

The fabrics for both projects had already practically picked themselves – two of the shades of Essex linen I bought last month, Teal for the umbrella (in silver), and Orange for the parasol (in gold). Both behaved beautifully on the lightbox, and I’ve got a beautiful deep 10" hoop that’s just the right size, large enough to give the design breathing space and small enough to be manageable. And here they are (only in unstitched outline as yet): Come Rain, Come Shine.

Come Rain on teal Essex linen Come Shine on orange Essex linen

Now for the fun part of picking the threads, wires, spangles and whatnots!

Remnants, ducks and Essex

Besides a splurge on hoops I’ve also been splashing out on fabrics. The immediate reason for this was my goldwork boot. This was stitched on a dusty pink fabric which was lovely and soft, quite densely woven but with a good drape. As my sketches for a goldwork parasol began to take shape, I started thinking of the sort of fabric I’d like to stitch it on; and I decided I’d like to stitch it on the sort of fabric that came in the boot kit.

With the kind help of the Royal School of Needlework I contacted Angela Bishop, who taught the boot day class. She replied very promptly but was unfortunately unable to help as it was a fabric from her stash, sourced from the remnants box at a fabric shop. She must have a lovely fabric shop!

Doing some research in my own local fabric shop and online, one of the things that became clear was that the fabric I was looking for was heavier than quilting/patchwork cotton. But what is the weight of quilting cotton? Most websites I looked at simply called it “medium weight”. Eventually I found that this apparently meant somewhere between 140 and 160gsm (grams per square metre), while a fabric described as “medium-to-heavy” was 200gsm, and I’d already found out earlier that my heavy-weight calico is 208gsm. On the whole it looked like I should aim for something between 200 and 240gsm, or described as either medium-to-heavy or heavy.

I found that in Essex linen. I’m not sure why it is called Essex linen as it doesn’t seem to have any clear connection with the county, and it is in fact not linen but a linen/cotton mix. Never mind, it’s 200gsm, comes in some very pretty colours (though not the dark dusty pink of the boot), and judging by the online pictures it looked not quite identical but definitely similar to the boot kit fabric, so I got a few colours to try out – including a bright but unusually cool shade of orange which I probably wouldn’t have bought if it hadn’t been half price, and just enough to push me over the free postage limit, which meant I effectively got the fat quarter for 30p.

Essex linens

So having seen and touched them in real life, are they like the boot fabric? Well, not quite. They don’t feel quite as soft, or as dense. But they will make a very nice background for goldwork projects, or other freestyle embroidery for that matter, so I’m pleased with my purchase.

Then there were two other fabrics which I’d bookmarked on eBay some time ago when I was looking for a heavier cotton fabric to use in the Shisha and freestyle workshops, hoping to do away with the need for backing fabric. One of these was confusingly called “cotton heavy canvas” in the title and “medium weight cotton canvas” in the description. I rang the company and asked whether they knew the weight of the fabric, but they said they didn’t class their fabrics by gsm weight; they assured me, however, that it was heavier than quilting cotton. On the grounds that I would be able to use it anyway, be it with or without backing fabric, I ordered a metre. It arrived yesterday, and it’s an interesting fabric – it’s a relatively coarse weave, quite dense, and up close it almost looks like a counted evenweave fabric with less noticeable holes. It’s definitely thick enough to use without backing, and as a result transferring designs of any complexity will need more than just window with good daylight, it’ll need the lightbox; I think I could just about transfer the Shisha Flower without it, but not something like the Little Wildflower Garden. The picture shows this cotton canvas side by side with my usual fabric for these designs, a pale blue quilting cotton – as you can see the latter is a much finer weave; it is also much thinner, but that may not be so obvious from the picture. As for the colour, the cotton canvas seems to have a definite hint of turquoise (again, not so noticeable in the picture) which is surprising considering that the shade I bought was called Pale Blue.

Cotton canvas and quilting cotton Cotton canvas and quilting cotton, close-up

The other fabric I looked at was cotton duck (irrelevant but interesting snippet of information: the “duck” in cotton duck apparently comes from the Dutch word “doek”, or “cloth”). According to Wikipedia, the lightest duck is no. 12, which weighs 7 oz per 36 by 22 inches – no doubt a useful way of measuring its weight when introduced by the Cotton Duck Association (I wonder if they are affiliated with the Rubber Duck Association), but not of any great help to me. Fortunately Wikipedia helpfully converts this into more modern terms, informing me that 7 oz per 36 by 22 inches equates to 390gsm. A slightly alarming result, as this is rather heavier than the piece I ordered from eBay was described to be: “approx. 7oz per square yard or 240 gsm”. I may just have to cut it down to a square yard or a square metre and weigh it! Anyway, it too arrived yesterday, and is equally interesting. A dense fabric with a slightly softer feel than the cotton canvas, it will likewise need the lightbox for any detailed transferring. The weave is not nearly so visible as on the cotton canvas, and I wonder whether that will make accurate placement of the stitches easier. It looks like a nice, neutral background for freestyle stitching, with just enough texture not to look bland or flat.

Cotton duck fabric Cotton canvas and cotton duck

Later today I’ll transfer the Little Wildflower Garden to both fabrics, and I’ll let you know how they stitch up!