Taking a stand

How many stands does a stitcher need? If we define need in the strictest sense, the answer is of course “none”. Unlikely as it may seem when browsing manufacturers’ websites, a rich and fulfilling life is possible without any embroidery stands at all. But if we take the term fairly loosely and rephrase the question as “how many stands could a stitcher use?” then the answer is probably more like my husband’s on the subject of pre-war Austin Seven cars: “one for every purpose”. In the case of the cars that means one for pottering around the lanes and going to the pub in, one for long-distance touring, one for competitions… In the case of embroidery stands it likewise depends on the use you intend to make of it.

Until last week, I owned two embroidery stands: a Lowery floor stand, and an Aristo lap stand. The Lowery is a dependable workhorse that will deal with any hoop or frame you care to throw at it (or rather, clamp in it); true, with the heavy-ish Millennium frame it needs a bit of Meccano support, but that is a minor quibble.

Lowery stand The Meccano prop in place

“So why”, I hear you say, “do you need any other stand? If this Lowery will do it all, what else do you need?” Well, the Lowery will hold anything, but it will do so in one spot. Not that it is nailed into place or set into a concrete base, but it isn’t exactly portable.

Now most of my travel projects are smallish ones in hoops that are easily held in the hand. But if I want to take a project mounted on the Millennium frame (or any other scroll frame, for that matter) to my weekly stitching group I’m stuck. Enter the Aristo lap stand, which is portable, comfortable, surprisingly stable for something that’s perched on your lap, and roomy enough to accommodate a cat.

The Aristo lap stand, with cat

Right, so I’ve got one stand that will hold anything, in its own semi-permanent place, and one stand that will travel. Unfortunately, although it’s perfect for scroll frames, the Aristo isn’t particularly easy to use with a hoop. True, you can just about perch a hoop on the arms if you put them quite wide apart, but the hoop is then so low and so close to the stitcher that you have to put the stand on a table to have the embroidery in a workable position.

And it so happens that I will be taking an 8″ hoop to the Medieval Embroidery retreat at Coombe Abbey later this summer, and simply holding it (a bit of a challenge anyway with hoops that size) is not really an option as there will be rather a lot of two-handed stitching. Taking the Lowery is not practical either. Cue the seat stand.

I’ve come across these at RSN workshops and day classes, where you can usually borrow one for the duration of the class. They have a wooden paddle that you sit on, and from it a post sticks up to which the hoop is attached. There is only one problem with them. In order for the hoop to tilt towards you, you have to sit astride the paddle. Inelegant and a bit undignified at the best of times, I feel, but completely out of the question when you tend to wear longish skirts. Theoretically it is possible to insert the paddle underneath both legs from the side (as demonstrated in this Sew & So video), but the trouble is that the hoop then tilts away to the right rather than towards you. The only other option is to have the hoop completely level with the floor, not tilting in any direction at all, but I find that an uncomfortable way of working.

Some time ago I did find the Stitchmaster Seatstand (demonstrated in the video as well and looking quite good there), which has arms like the Aristo on which to rest your work, and yes, it does tilt towards you. So far so good. But when I tried it out, I found it to be unusably flimsy for anything with a bit of weight to it, and with an unadjustable tilt that was far too steep. It definitely didn’t work for me; more research was needed.

Cue the Sonata Seat Stand, which I found on Barnyarns’ website, and which looked as though it might tilt the way I wanted. I rang their customer service department and spoke to a very helpful gentleman who got one out of its box and tried to visualise the various directions of tilt I was describing over the phone, to see if their seat stand would fit the bill. He came to the conclusion that it almost certainly would, but said I was very welcome to order one and try it out, and they would pay the return postage if it didn’t do what I’d described. Now that’s what I call customer service!

Well, here it is in what I’d describe as its Ikea stage (lots of separate bits, nuts, bolts and an Allen key); and even unassembled, the various pieces looked promising – there were definitely several tilting bits there!

The Sonata Seat Frame, unassembled

It took a bit of doing (and my husband to get the last bit of Allen key bolt into the base of the frame; I simply could not get it to budge any further) but I got it together, and although the bolts still needed knocking into the wood (which sounded rather brutal and possibly damaging but which my husband assured me is perfectly normal procedure) I managed to clamp a hoop in it to Test For Tilt. Success!

The Sonata Seat Frame; bolts still sticking out, but the tilt test is successful

And now it is fully assembled, heads of bolts flush with the wood to prevent joints from drooping when tightened, and ready for use with whatever type of skirt I care to wear smiley.

The Sonata Seat Frame, fully assembled The Sonata Seat Frame with hoop The Sonata Seat Frame in action The Sonata Seat Frame in action

Roll on the Medieval Embroidery retreat – I’m all set!

A bad workman blames his tools…

… but a good needlewoman praises hers – credit where credit is due! Mind you, having seen some of the gorgeous work that 17th and 18th-century embroiderers produced with never a daylight lamp, bead nabber or magnetic chart holder in sight I suppose a really good needlewoman will produce beautiful results whatever her tools are like, but I certainly find that some tools make my stitching life a lot easier and more comfortable.

Those of you who keep an occasional eye on my page of Planned projects may have noticed that Fruit of the Spirit has disappeared from there, but has not yet appeared anywhere else on the site. This is because it was originally meant to come out in May, and I did in fact start working on it then. However, it is now past the middle of June and it is not yet finished. And why? Because of a scroll frame.

Well, that’s not really fair on the scroll frame, which is a perfectly good one. It’s just rather bigger than anything I usually work with. At 12" it may seem small enough to some of you, but it simply doesn’t work for me; I find it cumbersome and heavy and uncomfortable, and consequently I only really worked on Fruit at my weekly stitching group (where I can lean the frame against the table) or during rare daytime stitching moments at the weekend when I seat myself at the dining room table. But in the evening in my usual comfy armchair? No.

Perhaps a workstand might make a difference? I looked into what was available and of course also asked my fellow members at the Cross Stitch Forum. Many of them were full of enthusiasm for their Lowery workstands, and it did have one great advantage over most of the other stands I had seen: it grips the frame by the side bar rather than by the top scroll bar. With a top grip I’d always worry about damaging the fabric. Some of the other stands did have accessories to get round that, but why add an extra complication? I also liked the fact that it looks very simple and relatively unobtrusive, and that it stands by your side rather than in front of you.

But would it really make a difference? And would I be able to work with the frame floating, as it were, in front of me? My husband agreed to act as stand-in stand, holding my frame the way the workstand would, and I found that apart from a slight wobble which I attributed to the fact that my husband comes with hands rather than metal clamps it really seemed the ideal solution. So I decided to take the plunge and order it – only to be asked whether I would like it for an anniversary present! I’m sure you can guess my answer …

And so I am now the proud owner of a Lowery workstand, and I love it. It is stable, easily adjustable, simple to swing out of the way when I need to get up, and the frame just sits there in front of me without my having to support it in any way – brilliant! I also made as much progress on Fruit of the Spirit in one evening as I had in the previous two weeks, so expect it at Mabel’s Fancies very soon.

Lowery stand