Kits. Lots of kits.

When I started Mabel’s Fancies, it was because I found that other people liked the things I’d been designing for my own use, and as I had some experience in writing websites it seemed a good idea to set one up for myself and offer the designs for sale, thus to at least partly finance my hobby. My husband, ever ambitious, has long urged me to expand and go for world domination, but I’m perfectly happy for it to stay small-scale and bring in some stash money so I don’t have to worry about buying goldwork threads or hand-dyed fabrics.

To this end, I decided that digital chart packs were the way to go. There was a bit of a scare a while back when it looked like I would have to charge VAT for every digital sale abroad and make sure that it was the correct VAT for whatever country the buyer was from, which would have put a complete stop to that side of Mabel’s Fancies, but fortunately the law turned out not to apply to things sent out by email. Phew.

Quite early on in Mabel’s existence I did add one kit (or rather a set of three kits) to the range: the Mini Needlebook kits for people who wanted to try out Hardanger. Between them they cover the three most common bars and filling stitches, and you end up with one or more usable needlebooks. And that was it. A few tools were added, like squissors, but on the whole most of Mabel’s fancies were digital ones.

Set of Hardanger needle matchbooks

Then I started teaching classes and workshops. And for those classes and workshops I needed to provide material packs. And as I was putting those together I thought I might as well put together a few more and bung them on the website, and so the needlebook kits were joined by bookmarks and notebooks and coasters (all in Hardanger), as well as a number of cards in Shisha, freestyle, tactile and embellished embroidery. It was definitely expansion, though fortunately still a long way away from the world domination advocated by my husband.

On the whole, I can get away with making up a few kits at a time, or even just making them up as and when they are needed. I’ve got two boxes with kit materials, some of them pre-cut, and so putting a single kit together when it’s ordered is fairly quick, and it means I’m not taking up storage space which is rather at a premium in our house. Even when it’s a single workshop, which is usually for a maximum of twelve people, it’s all quite manageable. It’s when there are three or (as now) four workshops looming that the production line begins to get a bit overwhelming.

And so this is what our house has been looking like for the past week or so:

Preparing Shisha kits And more Shisha kits Preparing Wildflower kits Preparing Butterfly Wreath kits
And more butterfly kits Cutting the fabric Ironing the fabric Transferring the patterns

You may have noticed, by the way, the complete and slightly surprising absence of Cat in these pictures. Lexi took pity on me and decided not to spread her fur onto the fabric, tangle the threads in a play-fight or photobomb the FoF pics. She confined herself to attacking and killing a few off-cuts – I am much obliged to her.

Transferring again

Before our little family holiday to The Netherlands my evenings (and any other time off-duty) seemed to consist mostly of kits! Workshop kits, kits to be sold through the website or at fairs, the kitchen table was full of bits of kits. By the time we drove off to catch the ferry at Harwich the dining table was piled with 53 complete kits, 12 just waiting for my LNS to get some 2oz wadding in, and 30 ready to be assembled from my collection of parts.

Some of the kits being assembled

One of the things that needed doing for some of the kits – the Wildflower Garden and the two Shisha ones – was transferring designs onto the pieces of light blue or pale yellow cotton, so my trusty lightbox was taken out of the padded envelope in which it resides most of the time.

Getting ready to transfer All done!

As I was transferring the kit designs, I thought I’d try the lightbox on a piece of wine-red dupion fabric bought some time ago for a goldwork design I had in mind. Dark fabrics aren’t ideal for use with a lightbox – much better to use the prick & pounce method, but I’m still feeling a little apprehensive about that. So why not give the lightbox a go, with a white gel pen? I grabbed the Jacobean goldwork design from the pile of projects-in-some-sort-of-progress and set the lightbox to full strength.

Well, it worked. I wouldn’t want to use it for a very detailed design, but for this fairly simple flower, where it didn’t matter too much if a stem or leaf was copied slightly off the original lines it just was fine, and the white showed up better than I had expected, without any bleeding! (The lines don’t show up very well on the thumbnail, but they do on the full-sixed photograph; even then, unfortunately, the picture doesn’t really capture the lovely dark red colour.)

The Jacobean goldwork design in white pen on dark red dupion

But now I’m facing a dilemma: on which fabric am I going to do the Jacobean goldwork flower, my original cream dupion, or this lovely rich burgundy? Red is not such a good background when you’re including copper, and I have rather set my heart on doing the gold/silver/copper shading, so I think I’ll stick with the cream. Anyway, I promised to do a goldwork demonstration at the next Church Craft Fair in November, so perhaps the red dupion will be useful for that. It certainly looks rich and splendid enough to distract people’s attention from any mistakes I may be making in the goldwork smiley.

When the stitching bug deserts you

As I mentioned earlier this month, my urge to stitch is not particularly high at the moment. I’m keeping up with a few necessary projects (like a set of coasters ordered in aid of the Church Building Fund, and second versions of the SAL designs so I can take pictures for the blog), and I do enjoy those, but there isn’t really any project that’s making me eager to kit up and get started. And that is quite unusual, especially as there are several designs in my yet-to-be-stitched folder that a few months ago I was itching to start, like a goldwork daisy-and-bee, an autumn leaf arrangement and the Tree of Life in two versions.

I have done something about the Tree of Life. As playing with stash (sorry, I mean of course “studying the supplies I have in stock in order to find the best ones for the project under consideration”) is a lovely relaxing thing to do I got out my collection of Pearsall’s Heathway Merino crewel wool to see whether any of the shades I’d picked for Tree of Life from their starter pack would be better replaced by some of the shades I had added to the hoard later. Here are the shades I’d originally considered:

Heathway wools for Tree of Life

Very pretty, if a little muted. But a different set of greens and browns lifts it, I think, and makes the palette look more lively.

different Heathway wools for Tree of Life

Add to that some pretty goldwork materials (pearl purl, smooth passing, metallic kid leather) and you know what, I think that itch is faintly considering coming back! While I was at it, I also picked out some shades for a more autumnal version; originally I’d envisaged that in coton à broder, but if I do decide to do it in wools, these beautiful warm shades I feel would work very well.

autumnal Heathway wools for Tree of Life

When stitching is temporarily just not the thing, there are other things you can do besides petting, organising, admiring, and re-arranging stash – one of them is putting things together for other people to stitch! In the coming months I hope to introduce a selection of kits: a second Shisha card, the Little Wildflower Garden (at the moment only available as a chart pack), and the Christmas Wreath both as a card and as an ornament. Just so you can start your Christmas stitching in good time smiley.

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.

Thoughts on kits

When I started Mabel’s Fancies the plan was to sell only digital chart packs. No postage to calculate, nothing to pack up, no stock to store, people could print them out as often as they needed, and they were able to use whatever materials they liked. Then I found that my favourite titanium-coated squissors were getting unobtainable, so I set about obtaining them and they became part of Mabel’s range. Then, because of some classes and workshops I’d been teaching, an idea started to emerge about the need for small, inexpensive kits for beginners and people wanting to try out Hardanger to see if they liked it. And so the Needle book kits were added. Before I knew it some rather fun foam-covered notebooks and a trial order of colourful hand-made wool felt gift tags had led to two more kits, the Felt bookmark kit for beginners and the Notebook kit for slightly more advanced stitchers (whom we wouldn’t like to feel left out).

Kits, then, are obviously addictive, or I wouldn’t be considering adding yet another two to the range using the simplified coaster designs I’ve been playing around with (the picture below shows what they will probably look like), as well as the Shisha flower card I’ve been experimenting with for workshops. And as I was putting together a list of things that would have to be included I pondered what you might call the Generosity Principle of Kits. Grand name, I know – positively philosophical. But what I mean is that people who sell kits, however much they love stitchers and want to provide them with a wonderful experience, in the end have to make a profit. It’s not quite so pressing for people like me for whom it is not our main business, but even there the general idea is to cover costs and have a bit left over for our trouble. That margin basically depends on two things: the cost of putting the kit together, and the price that is charged for it. And that’s where the juggling starts.

Models for the new coaster kit

If the price is too high, no-one will buy the kits. If it’s too low, it’ll barely cover the costs unless… unless you start cutting into the materials. Not literally, of course. That would just be silly. But when you are an experienced stitcher (and I assume that most people who put kits together are experienced stitchers themselves) it can be tempting to stitch a model and see how little you can get away with. I can stitch the little bookmark motif on a 4″ square bit of fabric held in a 3″ hoop. It’s a bit cramped, and I may have to stitch “in the well” (holding the hoop back to front, see below), but I can do it. Likewise, I can stitch the Kloster blocks and satin stitch in the coaster design using two lengths of perle #5. Just. If I stitch as economically as possible and use the bit left over from the central motif to help out with the last corner motif. So when putting the kits together it could be argued that a 4″ square of fabric is all that is needed for the bookmark kit, and that 2 lengths of perle #5 will do just fine for the coaster kit. And it would be wrong.

Working in the well - front of the work at the back of the hoop

Working in the well - more room to finish off

Few things are more frustrating than opening a kit and finding that the fabric is barely big enough for the design, let alone for putting it into a hoop comfortably; or reaching for another thread as your project is nearing completion only to find that there isn’t any thread left in the kit. I know many kit manufacturers will send you extra thread if you run out, but the point is that you shouldn’t have to go through the hassle of contacting them and waiting for the extra thread just because you don’t stitch quite so thriftily as their model stitchers (if you ran out because the dog ate half a skein that’s another matter, of course).

So as I make up the list of kit ingredients I try to determine what would be a comfortable size of fabric rather than an adequate one, and what amount of thread would leave room for differences in individual stitching styles, in the hope that the people who use the kits will find them pleasant and enjoyable rather than annoying and infuriating.

But I’m sure there are more issues than just fabric size and thread allowance. What do you find particularly irritating in kits? No photograph? Creased fabric? Confusing charts? I’d really like to hear from you so I will know what to avoid when putting kits together!

Kit assembly line (and one more bookmark)

Yay! My bulk purchase of felt tags has arrived, and very colourful it looks too. I’ve checked them all and although there are a few thin bits here and there they’ll probably all be usable; two are a bit doubtful, but if I use them myself for producing bookmarks rather than making them part of a kit I think they’ll be all right.

My bulk purchase of felt tags

As you may have noticed from the picture above, there’s a new shade on the block. I included two Apple Green tags in my order, just to find out what colour it was in real life! It turns out to be a pleasantly bright shade, certainly not mossy like the photograph on Blooming Felt’s website but neither, fortunately, quite so lurid as the soft cotton picture that was said to match it. There is no suitable Anchor Multicolor shade for it though, so I won’t get any more but just stitch these two up for charity using Caron Wildflowers.

Apple Green felt tags with Caron thread

Putting kits together is a time-consuming activity, so the easier it can be made the better I like it. One effective time-saving strategy is to make lots rather than one at a time (“lots” in the context of Mabel’s Fancies meaning about two dozen). So I printed out 24 sets of instructions, attached 24 cover photographs, put 48 gold-plated needles into 24 pieces of felt, cut 24 squares of fabric and all the threads needed and here is my kit assembly line (well, assembly coffee table) before the felt tags had come in – doesn’t it look colourful? As you can see I had just started on cutting the threads for the bookmark tassels. Twelve of these kits are for next year’s Knitting & Stitching Show, the others will go on sale on the website after I’ve returned from this year’s show.

The bookmark kit assembly line

And finally one more felt tag bookmark – the first one with a cross instead of a square motif.

Felt tag bookmark with a cross motif

Mini kits

A small new venture on the website this week – I’ve added a set of mini kits to the Specials page. When setting up Mabel’s Fancies I decided against kits on the grounds that so many of my designs can be stitched on a variety of fabrics using a variety of threads and colours, and that chart packs give each stitcher the opportunity to pick and choose from the various suggestions, or even to go for something altogether different.

On the other hand, if you’re a beginner you might like to get a small, simple kit so that you can try and see if Hardanger is your cup of tea without having to buy all the materials.

So I got to thinking; what would my requirements for such a mini kit be?

  • The design should be small, simple and relatively quick to stitch
  • The instructions would have to be more detailed than for a regular chart pack, with notes on starting with a waste knot and so on
  • It should include the most common stitches in Hardanger
  • It must not look like a "practice piece" – it should be something that you’d want to stitch in its own right
  • It would be great if the project could be turned into something useful
  • It wouldn’t be practical to include scissors or a hoop, but apart from that it should contain everything needed both for stitching and for finishing
  • And it must come with a decent-sized piece of fabric! None of those little scraps you sometimes get which you can’t possibly get into a hoop
  • Ideally it would also appeal to experienced stitchers, for example as a "quick stitch" between larger projects

Well, one project that I’ve been using as part of my teaching fitted the bill beautifully – the needle matchbook!

Matchbook needle keeper

I charted three versions of the design, so that the three kits cover most of the basic stitches in Hardanger: Kloster blocks; woven, wrapped and double wrapped bars; dove’s eye, square filet and spider’s web. Then I adapted the stitch descriptions to be as explicit as possible about every step in the stitching process. I worked out how much perle cotton would be needed, and what size fabric would be comfortable to work with. And finally I wrote extra instructions for turning the three designs into a bookmark – no reason why you should stitch them only once!

So if you’ve never tried Hardanger before but would like to give it a go, here’s your chance – and remember, in the unlikely event that you get stuck, I’m only an email away.