Changing suppliers

I don’t like change. This may sound odd coming from someone who changed country, job and marital status in one fell swoop some 14 years ago, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Even the knowledge that quite a lot of change in my life has been for the better, and that I am fully enjoying the new (but by now familiar) situation, does not make me embrace change as it happens. And recently I’ve been faced with three disconcerting changes in suppliers. But is there a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel(s)?

Well, let’s start with the first tunnel: Sew & So. Anyone in this country (and many abroad) who does needlework will at least have heard of Sew & So, even if they’ve never bought anything from them. They are the go-to place for all basic supplies and quite a few not-so-basic ones; just to illustrate this, they stock both a wide range of standard Zweigart fabrics and a good selection of hand-dyed and silk threads. So to see the following notice after I’d just put some things in my shopping basket the day before (you can still see them there, but I can’t access them any more) came as rather a shock:

Sew and So has closed

In a way it was a shock-in-stages – last year they completely changed their website, making it much less user-friendly, and although there were plenty of comments and suggestions from customers on their Facebook page none of these seemed to be taken any notice of. Last month they suddenly closed temporarily for a “change of ownership”, opening again a few days later, so all seemed well. Then, looking for the RSN’s online courses (which they offer in partnership with Sew & So) after a conversation with a lady in America, I found they were no longer listed. I should perhaps have twigged it might be something to do with the Sew & So side of things, but I didn’t. Not until that notice! On their website and Facebook page they say that they are “securing a new home for you”, but no-one seems sure what that means. Tunnel #1 is very dark indeed.

Now for the second tunnel. In quite a few of the kits I offer, the projects are finished by mounting them in aperture cards. The freestyle Wildflower Garden, the two Shisha designs, the raised Christmas Wreath, the embellished Butterfly Wreath, the goldwork Flowers & Bee, plus a couple of workshop projects that aren’t for sale on the website yet – all made into cards. I like that way of finishing because it is relatively quick and you end up with something you can use.

As I have neither a suitable die-cutter nor the time or inclination to produce the cards myself, I buy them in. And for the past few years I’ve been getting all my cards from Craft Creations, who had an enormous range as well as the option to buy as few or as many as you needed of any size, cut and colour. Ideal.

Aperture cards from Craft Creations Craft Creations' value range

And then I got an email announcing that Craft Creations had been taken over by a new owner. With slight trepidation I checked the website. There was hardly anything there.

At this point I rushed into the craft room to check my stock of aperture cards, and found to my relief that there was a fairly good selection in my stash to tide me over, if the tiding-over period wasn’t going to be too long. I contacted the company and a kind lady told me that she was fairly sure all the card types I was looking for would be back in stock in time, as they would be adding more and more of the previous range to the website again, but that it might take time because they were trying to source materials themselves. Fair enough, I would exercise patience and have another look in a few months’ time. I did. Most of the cards I needed are still not there; the one cut and size that is there, is available in limited colours; and only in packs of twelve. Clearly it was time for another email.

This time I was told that they were still sourcing materials, but that in any case they would no longer be selling individual cards. That in itself need not be an insurmountable problem; it merely means that I will have to limit the number of colours I use for the various kits. Some come in a limited range already – the Wildflower Garden in red, blue and cream, the Christmas Wreath in red and green, the No Place Like Home workshop in red, green and blue. I’ll have to have a good look at the thread colours I use in the other kits and pick the two or three card colours that will work with most thread combinations.

Another possibility is to source the cards elsewhere, but unfortunately I have not found any other company with the range that Craft Creations used to do. There is a company who cut cards to order; they don’t offer all the exact sizes and colours I’m using now, they are more expensive, and they too require a minimum order, in their case at least nine of every different size/cut/colour combination. Still, they may be a useful option to fall back on if Craft Creations doesn’t come up with the goods.

So yes, there is a little light at the end of Tunnel #2, but I hope it grows brighter quickly as I’m beginning to run out of some of the cards!

As for the third tunnel, you may remember the picture below – Pearsall’s crewel wool starter pack. I found out about their lovely Heathway Milano crewel wool while trying to find the silks I used to buy from them, only to be told that they no longer did them (see what I mean? change everywhere! even though in this case it had a positive spin). Carol was absolutely lovely and looked through several available starter packs for me to see which would best suit my requirements, and I have bought a fair few skeins of wool from her since.

Wool from Pearsall's starter pack

Unfortunately my crewel Rabbit & Carnations piece showed that there were lamentable gaps in my collection of Heathway Milano crewel wool, so when a bit of website maintenance (I’m nothing if not versatile) brought in a little extra cash, I was off to the Pearsall’s website with whoops of delight before you could say HTML. Mabel may be pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to stash, but if any of my non-needlework activities can lend a helping hand, I’m all for it!

Once on the website I was so engrossed in the delightful problem of deciding which colours to pick as definites and which as possibles that I initially missed a narrow red banner at the top; it bore the ominous message “Pearsalls Embroidery is closing down. Purchase of goods is disabled. Click here for more information.” Clicking as instructed brought up a message to the effect that the business was being taken over by Catkin Crown Textile Studio, with an email address.

Now I knew that Carol was thinking of selling the business, but I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. And I was worried whether Catkin Crown would carry on with the lovely wools. Time for yet another email.

And hurray, light! Steve & Hazel, who are Catkin Crown, turned out to be extremely helpful people. They assured me that although they will be adding all sorts of exciting products to the shop’s range of supplies, they are very keen on keeping the Heathway line going, and in fact it (and twill fabric) will be their core product range to begin with. They also said that although the new website was taking a bit longer than expected, if I could send them a list of the colours I wanted they’d see which ones they had in stock, and they’d be happy to do a special order for me.

So I did, and they did, and look:

A parcel from Catkin Crown Twill and Heathway Milano wool The new wools sorted by colour

Tunnel #3 is going to be just fine smiley.

Choosing colours and accommodating different materials

Winter in England can mean beautiful snowy vistas under an icy blue sky, but more often it’s just rather grey and damp. Yesterday edged towards the former, although the snow was just a sprinkling. But icy it definitely was, and I managed to slip on a treacherous little patch just outside our church. The ladies preparing for the mother & toddler group immediately treated the patch with salt, and offered to treat me with tea, but I didn’t think it was too bad so I just went home. And it isn’t too bad – no broken bones or torn ligaments or anything – just aching muscles in my leg and a stiff arm, probably from trying to break my fall. Unfortunately it’s my right arm. The one I stitch with.

It’s a good thing that my order of Milano Heathway crewel wools from Pearsall’s had arrived the day before; sorting through threads distracts the mind very effectively from both the muscle ache and the inability to stitch. And I had quite some sorting to do! You see, some of the Milano wools already in my stash have been set aside (for quite some time now…) in a box with my Tree of Life project, to stitch experimental leaves. And some I had picked earlier in the week for a crewel project based on parts of two designs from the two crewel embroidery books I bought last week. The remainder of my existing collection was in a third box. And now these new shades had arrived. It was time to get organised.

The wools and other materials for the Tree of Life Two new crewel books Materials for the crewel Rabbit and Carnations The wools in my latest Pearsall's order

One thing I had to do was decide how to store skeins that have been used; so far I’d put them back on the cards in two different ways, and that just looked messy. As one method could fairly easily be transformed into the other but not vice versa, the choice was easy. That done, I got all the shades together and organised them on binder rings. The Tree of Life project is definitely on the back burner at the moment, so I will re-pick the shades for that as and when I get into my experimental leaves again. For now I needed the shades for my Rabbit & Carnations (above), and my wool version of Hengest the Medieval Unicorn. I deliberately do not call it a crewel version, as it will be in split stitch only and I have a feeling that doesn’t quite qualify!

Whatever it is called, the change from silk to wool brought with it the need for a little change to Hengest. A leopard may not be able to change its spots, but I would have to change Hengest’s – even in my original version they are already a little bigger than on the medieval cope by which he was inspired, but crewel wool being rather thicker than a strand of silk there would simply not be enough room (especially in the smaller spots) to comfortable work a dense spiral of stitches, and show off the texture and colour of the thread. Fewer, larger spots were what was needed.

Hengest for silk with small spots Hengest for wool with big spots

In addition, I printed him a bit larger than I would for the silk version, once at 9cm high and once at 10cm. The fabric I intended to use was Normandie, a cotton/linen mix, probably in the “natural” shade, which is a bit beige-y. I got out the fabric to see whether it would work with the white and greys I’d picked.

Will the fabric and threads go together?

I was happy with that combination, and cut the Normandie to sit comfortably in a 7″ hoop. I cut some calico backing and ironed both pieces of fabric. I then realised that if I wanted to use the 10cm version (and I did) it would really need an 8″ hoop. Fortunately I had cut rather generously, and found that it was just about big enough for the larger hoop. Phew. Now all I had to do was get an 8″ hoop. My deep hoop is already in use for Soli Deo Gloria, and it turns out I have no other wooden hoop (which I prefer for this sort of work) of that size. Fortunately Barnyarns stock them and so one is on its way to me as I write this; when it arrives I’ll bind it, and then Hengest is good to go!

Hengest transferred and the threads chosen

By the way, I love split stitch in wool – compared to a single strand of silk there is so much more thread to aim for!