Win a ticket to the London Knitting & Stitching Show or get a discount

A special offer for all who love needlework (and who will be reasonably near London in October): we have three complimentary tickets to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace to give away!

Each ticket admits one adult on one day, and they are valid on Wednesday 11th, Friday 13th or Sunday 15th October all day, or Thursday 12th October evening only.

To be in with a chance of winning one, please comment to say what you think you would enjoy most at the Knitting & Stitching Show. The competition closes at midnight on Wednesday 12th July, and I will announce the winners on Thursday.

And if you’re not one of the lucky winners? Well, this year the K&S organisers have kindly given the tutors a discount code to share with their customers. Instead of paying £14.50 for an advance adult ticket, you pay just £12.00 (excluding any booking fees).

So if you have ever, since the start of Mabel’s Fancies on Easter Monday 2011, been a customer (or would like to become one smiley) drop me an email and I will send you the discount code!

Special offers for the Knitting & Stitching Show

2016 Knitting and Stitching Show

My annual Knitting & Stitching outing was once again very enjoyable. I always combine it with some serious walking around London, taking in a good number of parks (and the odd cemetery) on the way, and this year there were the added pleasures of the Opus Anglicanum exhibition at the V&A, and meeting up for lunch with an old friend, the Salvation Army Major who married my husband and me 11 years ago.

If you have the opportunity, do go and see the exhibition; it runs until 5th February 2017 and shows an incredible collection of medieval English embroideries – mostly ecclesiastical, but some secular as well. And although many of the exhibits are showing their age, being rather faded and moth-eaten, quite a few are remarkably colourful and sparkly still, and the ones you can get really close to give you an opportunity to see in detail what stunning work the embroiderers produced (and with what minuscule stitches). After so many centuries, some of the symbolism is lost on us, and I was particularly grateful for the explanatory notice beside a depiction of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, which said, “The striped leggings of Christ’s attackers were a marker of their sinful pride and bad character.” I had some stripy tights years ago, and never knew they revealed my bad character!

At the Knitting & Stitching Show itself I really enjoyed the many exhibitions, both great and small, of various forms of needlework; I also took the opportunity of adding my bit, or my bunny, to the Embroiderers’ Guild’s World’s Longest Embroidery which is in the Guinness Book of Records. It is officially finished but wherever it is displayed they encourage people to put in a small bit of embroidery where they can find a space, whether a small motif or just a sample of stitches.

Mabel's contribution to the World's Longest Embroidery

Of course I bought one or two things as well… although a large part of the stash I brought home was actually stuff I had ordered a month earlier from the Golden Hinde and was picking up at the Show to save on postage, so there may be some justification in not counting it as a Show purchase. On the other hand, why would that make a difference smiley? It is new stash, and I’m going to enjoy it! Some of this is for my Jacobean goldwork – I found I didn’t have a lot of pearl purl #2 left after using it for the stem, and I also wanted to try some of the wavy check thread as a substitute for the prescribed thread on the flower. The two coloured purls are an impulse buy; I thought they would make rather nice forget-me-not flowers with a gold bead in the centre.

Purchases from the Golden Hinde

At another stand I was chuffed to find Sadi threads, used in Indian embroidery. As they are rather less expensive than goldwork threads they are great for practice pieces or beginners’ workshops. They don’t come in quite so many sizes and types, but are very useful nonetheless (you can read more about them on Mary Corbet’s blog). I got Sadi fine smooth purls in silver and pale gold. My final stash purchase was a skein of Chameleon hand-dyed #16 perle; I love the Chameleon overdyed silks and have been wanting to try out their perles, and a #16 is new to me so will make an interesting experiment, probably as part of a Floral Gem project. Oh, I also managed to get good quality petite tapestry needles (for the Floral Gem and Christmas Wreath kits) at 2/3 the usual price but had already put them away when I took the photograph and anyway they really aren’t that exciting to look at smiley.

Other show purchases

It was nice not to have to worry too much about the expense of these pretties as the two workshops I taught easily covered them and my travelling costs. But quite apart from that benefit, I just enjoy teaching workshops! This year it was the freestyle Wildflower Garden and the Shisha tile, and I got some lovely feedback from the participants which was very encouraging. Below is a collage of some of their work.

Some of the Freestyle participants' work Some of the Shisha participants' work

At the Royal School of Needlework’s stand I picked up a leaflet with a special Show offer of 10% off their day classes – and there is a goldwork class in Rugby next year… To make use of it I will have to decide by 31st October; I’ll let you know!

A belated Knitting and Stitching Show report

It’s been a while since my last FoF, but for very pleasant reasons – first there was the Knitting & Stitching Show and my usual two-night stay in London (thank you kind sister-in-law for putting up with me once again), then my mother came to visit for a week which was lovely after her long and difficult treatment, and she was hardly on the plane back to Holland when we were off on a visit to my husband’s parents (stopping on the way to attend an auction). Now we’re back to what passes for normal here and I’ve got a little breathing space to catch up with my posting.

K&S was very enjoyable as usual; the workshop was fully booked, and in fact one lady asked if she could attend as number 13, but unfortunately I’d only brought 12 kits. Also, 12 people is really the most I can do in a workshop – even then it can be a bit of a struggle to make sure everyone gets enough attention. However, one person who’d booked didn’t turn up so the lady was able to join in after all. My favourite bit of the workshop has to be when we do the cutting, and suddenly there are gasps of surprise as the lacy look of the Hardanger almost miraculously emerges when the cut threads are pulled out – it’s always a great moment.

I had time to look around the stands as well, and had an interesting chat with the lady demonstrating goldwork at Golden Hinde where I got the gold and silver kid for Treasure Trove some time ago. I also took the opportunity of trying to find replacement threads for the discontinued Dinky Dyes perles. Stef Francis and Oliver Twists both had lovely threads, but none that would match the three DD ones. The Threadworx perles at West End Embroidery showed some promise, but still weren’t quite the thing. The people there were terribly helpful, though, going through the Weeks Dye Works threads with me and making suggestions. I noticed this at many a stand – needleworkers are quite simply a lovely helpful bunch of people! Nowhere more so than at the Calico Cat, where Carol went through all the Gloriana threads with me, and eventually gave me a skein each of stranded silk and stranded wool in the shade Monet’s Pond! If ever you need Gloriana or Valdani threads, or advice about them, do remember the Calico Cat – they haven’t got a website, but you can email them or call them at 07779 103280.

Another find was a Dutch lady selling Wonderfil threads. Most of them aren’t really suitable for Hardanger, but there was one which drew my attention: a 12wt Egyptian cotton called Fruitti (and yes, there is also a thread called Tutti. And Razzle. And Dazzle. I don’t like the names but you can’t have everything) which is similar in thickness to a perle #12. They had large bobbins which worked out cheaper but I picked a set of five small bobbins so I’d have more colours to experiment with. I’ll let you know how they stitch up. Anything else? Ah yes, five tiny wooden buttons. Remarkably restrained, don’t you think? You can see my entire haul in the picture (except for the delicious Linden Lady chocolates which had mysteriously disappeared by the time I took the photograph). By the way, isn’t the colour difference between Gloriana’s wool and silk enormous? And yet they are both given the same shade name. It makes me wonder what the silk perles of that shade are like; I may have to try them…

My modest stash haul

Finishing things

It’s Sinterklaasavond tonight – St Nicholas Eve. When I was a child in The Netherlands, this was an exciting evening; at 7 o’ clock there would be a mysterious knock at the door (courtesy of a kind neighbour roped in by Mum) and when we opened it there would be no-one there, only a basket of presents in gaily-coloured wrapping paper. I would already have received a chocolate letter in my shoe that morning, swapped for the carrot that was in it. And this suddenly makes me realise how odd one person’s familiar customs must sound to those raised with different traditions! We put out our shoe (or clog, if your proper Dutch smiley) with a carrot for St Nicholas’ horse. The usual return is chocolate coins, marzipan shapes or a chocolate letter. But St Nicholas has not yet made it across the Channel, so here in England I have to make do with baking traditional almond cakes, and providing for myself what I’m sure the generous old gentleman would have sent me if he were a bit more international.

What St Nicholas would have brought if he ever came to England

Perhaps because of my lack of St Nicholas celebrations I got to thinking about things that finish, and finishing things, and I got quite melancholy as I put the final wrapped bars into the Song of the Weather SAL’s final month. It’s hard to believe that I started planning this well over a year ago, and that my aspiration was to get 20 people to sign up; in the end, 192 did. It’s been a great experience, and one that will definitely be repeated, but not immediately – quite apart from stitching all the models (one each in standard perles and speciality threads) I had seriously underestimated the time needed to write and illustrate the twice-monthly blog!

There is another type of finishing, and it’s one I tend to avoid if I can: finishing stitched items so that they can be used or displayed and enjoyed rather than languishing in a drawer. Some people have a knack for it, and they produce cushions, wall-hangings, tea cosies, bottle holders, cot blankets, fabric bonbon dishes, stitcher’s etuis, mobile phone cases, keyrings and useful-boxes-to-put-things-in at the drop of a hat. I struggle beyond cards and coasters. It’s true that I have produced a fair number of bookmarks, bags (both shopping and gift) and box tops and even the odd pen holder and tray, but my problem is always that finishing items takes a lot of time if you want to do it properly. Take bookmarks. Both four-sided edging and buttonhole edging produce a lovely finish, but boy they’re labour intensive! And sewing a patch securely onto a cotton bag is very fiddly as you have to have one hand inside the bag all the time and feel your way blindly – not exactly quick.

That in itself needn’t be a problem of course, but the truth is that I’d rather be stitching a new project than properly finishing an old one. This is partly because I honestly believe that the enjoyment I get from a project while stitching it is reason enough to stitch, whether or not the resulting piece of embroidery gets used for anything – much like a walk along the beach or a visit to a concert (Stuart Townend was fabulous last night!) it’s about the pleasure of the moment. Even so, it is of course even better if you can go on enjoying it afterwards and in stitching, that is where finishing comes in. Fortunately quite a lot of my designs are just the right size for cards…

One thing I did have to finish was the model I stitched for my workshop at the Spring Knitting & Stitching Show at Olympia. The organiser had asked for a picture of the patch attached to something vaguely home or clothing related, and as I didn’t think it would be practical to carry a cushion along to the show I decided on a cotton bag. No, I’m not sure how that relates to home or clothing either, but she accepted the suggestion so I wasn’t going to argue. The design is surrounded by a broken border of coloured cross stitches so I attached the patch with an additional broken border of white cross stitches – and here it is:

The K&S 2014 patch sewn on to a gift bag How the patch is attached

There is something else I need to finish, in yet another sense. Yes, I am finishing designing for the Floral Lace series. Really. Honest. 18 is enough, and I’m running out of filling stitches. Although the kind gift from a fellow Cross Stitch Forum member has given me some ideas for a different beaded filling stitch… perhaps for the 2015 SAL?

Preparations

Having finished all three stitched models for the Counted Wishes Festival (the two Windows on the World bookmarks, and – finally – Windmills) I decided to spend my spare time this weekend to do some teaching preparation. Not that I write step-by-step lesson plans or anything like that; I meant more down-to-earth preparations, in the form of kits and models. Putting kits together is a very relaxing occupation, I find, especially when it’s several identical ones. There is something oddly soothing about laying out 12 sets of instructions, and 12 pieces of card, and sticking 12 pairs of needles into 12 pieces of felt, and taking 12 lengths of perle #5 from the thread ring, and measuring out twice 12 lengths of perle #8, all accompanied by a mug of tea and Hugh Fraser reading a Hercule Poirot story on CD. And then there is the satisfying moment when there is a neat stack of 12 mini matchbook kits, ready for the Knitting & Stitching Show.

Kits for the Knitting & Stitching Show workshop

I’ve put them all in one of my 12″ square plastic project folders, together with my own supplies and squissors and needle threader and so on, and a tiny stapler to finish the matchbooks with. Mind you, together with the 12 pairs of squissors which the students can borrow for the workshop, and my overnight things, I’m going to be quite heavy-laden on my arrival in London! I usually have a nice walk round the various parks and perhaps a museum before heading for my sister-in-law’s who kindly puts me up for two nights every year, but I may have to cut down on my roaming a bit this time.

My other preparations are for this term’s Guildhouse course; when I was about to hand in my course overview I was told this term the short courses would be six weeks rather than five, so I needed an extra class. I’d worked out more or less what I wanted to do but hadn’t actually charted the project for it yet, so that was my first task. Then there is stitching the models. One has already been done: the mini kit bookmark, stitched on 28ct hand-dyed fabric using three thicknesses of perle.

Bookmark for the autumn 2013 Guildhouse course

That leaves another four (the last week I always leave for finishing off projects and asking questions), and the first thing to do was getting all the materials together. Two of them will be done on Lugana using standard perles, Caron threads and some beads, and the other two use standard perles and beads on some scrumptious Sparklies hand-dyed Hardanger fabric. Aren’t the colours just rich?

Materials for the Guildhouse models

In the evening I finally got down to some actual stitching, starting with the project for the first week. This is based on Flora, but has been adapted to include all the things I want to address in that class: a re-cap of the basic stitches we’ve tackled in the first course (Kloster blocks, woven bar, wrapped bar, dove’s eye and square filet) plus one new stitch/technique to keep things interesting, in this case the double-sided Kloster block. Like the other three that still need stitching, this project is suitable for making into a card, and as the last project is a bookmark, everything the students stitch can be used, not just completed and then put away.

First class for the autumn 2013 Guildhouse course

If you live near Rugby and you’d like to join, do contact the Guildhouse; enrolment has started, and there are 10 places available.

The Knitting & Stitching Show

Last week I went on my annual gallivant (as my husband calls it) to London to visit the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. Well, I did some other things as well – I attended an opera lecture about L’Elisir d’Amore with my sister-in-law (and managed not to embarrass her by singing along), went for a lovely contemplative walk in Brompton cemetery, saw beautiful jewellery (including some that is typical of regional Dutch costume) at the V&A, and had lunch at my favourite Lebanese restaurant Le Comptoir Libanais. But the main reason or excuse was the K&S show, and I had a wonderful time there.

Some of the things I did there were Mabel-related; distributing flyers about the forthcoming SAL, delivering a sample kit to the lady who organises their workshops, and scouting out new threads and other materials. I found some lovely shades of hand-dyed fabric at Sparklies, but as Kate usually doesn’t bring any 25ct I tend to just make notes and order later. This time she did have one new shade with her, though, so I snapped it up. It’s called Caribbean and is a lovely light purply turquoisy blue. I also couldn’t resist a pair of Oliver Twists silks, although they are really too thick to use on my usual fabric. I may try them on 18ct and see how that works. Then there were some Miyuki seed beads – I usually use Mill Hill, but for some time now I have wanted to try Miyuki beads to compare them, and I found a lovely shade which happened to tone beautifully with the silks. How is that for serendipity! Some gold and silver pearl purl (wonderful name), a Japanese braiding implement, two tiny scissor charms and two strong magnets completed my purchases. Quite restrained, I thought!

Bits and bobs bought at the Knitting & Stitching Show

You may have noticed that the magnets aren’t in the photograph. That’s because they were already in use when I took it, stuck to my Lowery workstand and holding on to my scissors and needles. They really are remarkably strong and keep everything quite secure. The only problem is that my scissors have gone slightly magnetic and keep picking up the needle I’m working with …

Magnets at work on my Lowery stand

I always try to do at least one workshop when visiting the show, and if I do more than one I like to have at least one which is completely new to me. This year I did two, one on goldwork and one on bobbin lace. I did a RSN goldwork workshop two years ago (and must shamefacedly admit that I still haven’t finished the bee project) and thought this might refresh my memory. The bobbin lace workshop was going to be my big challenge, as I have never done anything like it and the thought of all those pins and bobbins makes my head spin. As it was it turned out to be easier and much more enjoyable than I’d expected, at least in part because the tutors had come up with a simple project that was not too scary for a complete novice, and that could actually be finished within the 1-hour slot! With the rather thick threads and no added twists it looks remarkably like weaving, which I suppose it is in a way. We turned it into a sort of flower or rosette which could be stuck on a birthday card. The goldwork dragonfly, as you can see, did not get finished on the day.

Bobbin lace and half a goldwork dragonfly

However, I didn’t want the dragonfly to languish like the bee, so I took it to my stitching group and finished it there. I’m really quite pleased with it and am now determined to finish the RSN bee as well some time this year!

The goldwork dragonfly in all its glory