All framed up

All right, I can’t resist. I’m so ridiculously pleased with the lacing I’ve done on the Millennium frame and the good tension I managed to get on my 14″ hoop that I just want to show them off! A bit of work in my photo editing programme to blur the transferred designs, and now I can share my framed and hooped SAL fabrics without spoiling the mystery smiley.

I photographed them both with the threads and other bits and bobs around them to give some sense of the size (the cat in the hoop picture is not there for scale, just for her decorative value). For a stitcher who until relatively recently thought of a 7″ hoop as quite large, this 14″ whopper comes as a bit of a shock whenever I see it. The bigger the hoop, the more difficult it is to get good tension on the fabric, but as I mentioned before the bound inner hoop helps, as does the fact that it is a 20mm deep quilting hoop; a few more judicious tugs at the fabric yesterday and some persuasive wingnut action and the tension is now equal to what I would expect from a much smaller hoop.

Hooped fabric and materials for the plain Tree of Life

The Millennium frame has superb tension when used as it comes, even side to side – in fact surprisingly so for a frame which (like pretty much all scroll frames) holds the fabric top and bottom only. The top-to-bottom tension is incredible, and must, I assume, be so much better than on any scroll frame I’ve tried because it is achieved by lengthening the side bars (they each have a thick wooden screw inside them which screws up and down), in effect pushing the roller bars apart, rather than by trying to roll the fabric tightly onto the bars. You can apply so much more force that way. The Millennium frame’s side-to-side tension is derived purely from the scroll bars – because the fabric is held firmly along its entire width by an ingenious groove-and-rod combination, it is almost as taut at the edges as it is in the centre, something that is practically unheard of with other scroll frames.

Orpheus mounted on the Millennium frame

So why lace the fabric? Two reasons. Firstly, I said “almost as taut”. You can bounce a penny off the centre of the fabric, but there is a little bit of give right at the edges. Secondly, because of the very strong top-to-bottom tension the fabric will stretch vertically, albeit only slightly; this will be more noticeable the longer the fabric is on the frame, and this project will likely be there some time. You can slacken off the tension between sessions, but I prefer to keep the fabric taut so the tension remains more or less the same throughout my work on the piece.

Neither of these is an insurmountable problem, and I have happily used the frame without any further fabric preparation, as you can see from the picture above. But because this time I’m working with two layers of fabric, and there are goldwork elements in the piece, I thought I’d apply some of my newly-gained knowledge of dressing a slate frame to this smaller frame for even better tension. Attaching the fabric to the top and bottom bar is done as usual – there is no canvas to sew it on it to, and I’m very pleased there isn’t as the rod-and-groove system is a lot quicker – and after that I extended the side bars enough to make the fabric sit flat, without sagging, but not so much that it was stretched.

Next, sew herringbone tape to the sides of the fabric, and use that lethal bracing needle I showed last time to lace them to the side bars. Slightly more fiddly than with a slate frame because the Millennium side bars are not uniformly shaped from top to bottom, and part of what I’m lacing around is the exposed wooden screw. But with a bit of string manipulation it works perfectly well, so on to the final stage of gradually increasing the tension in both directions by extending the side bars and tightening the lacing. At the end of all that I’ve got a piece of fabric you could play an impressive drum solo on, and it’s much more portable and manoeuvrable than the slate frame, sitting quite happily on my Aristo lapstand rather than needing trestles. Win!

Framed fabric and materials for the bling Tree of Life

I might sneak in a few SAL stitches later this week during my RSN Certificate Homework Time…

Stitching props

When you’re stitching or designing, it’s very important that your stitching nook is comfortable (so you can settle down for a good long time without getting cramped or stiff) and has all the necessary equipment right there (so you don’t have to keep getting up to find things). Some things are the same whether you stitch or design: comfy chair, cup of tea. Then for stitching add a stitching stand, a hoop or frame, scissors, needles, chart and all the necessary threads. For designing, substitute paper, pencils and graphic pens, rubber, lap tray, cat…

Cat?

Yup.

Lexi aids the designing process

Always helpful, our Lexi. She does assist me with my stitching too, patiently worming her way onto my lap and underneath the frame. It’s not too inconvenient except when I need to flip the frame to finish off at the back of the work.

And talking of frames, I’ve been using the Millenium frame a bit more, getting on with Orpheus *virtuous glow*. It is really good, keeping the tension beautifully when I pull for all I’m worth to open up the eyelets. There is really only one disadvantage: it wobbles. The Lowery stand clamps it on the left only, and the Millennium is a big and fairly heavy frame (relatively light for its size and solidity, but still quite a bit heavier than any other frame I’ve used), so it vibrates whenever I pull the thread through unless I steady it at the same time, which is not always possible. I did consider Needle Needs’ matching Aristo lap stand (check out the video review by Nicola Parkman) but although it does offer room for a cat (very important) I’m not sure a frame resting on my lap would be very steady. And even if the Aristo is absolutely ideal, it won’t be mine any time soon, being quite a major purchase. So what to do in the meantime? This is where it comes in very handy to have a husband who is an engineer. He likes solving problems. He thinks laterally. He came up with this:

An addition to the Lowery stand and Millennium frame

It worked, let’s be clear about that. No more wobble. But, well, it’s a tray shoved down the side of the chair. Surely we can do better! A bit of wooden shelf, nicely sanded and varnished, with the top carefully jigsawed into a series of sloping steps, would be lovely – but far too complicated to make. So we dug out two ancient tubs of Lego, and I set to building a narrow wall with a stepped top. It looked very colourful, and it didn’t work at all. It wasn’t flexible enough, so it just buckled and fell apart. What we needed was something you can build with which has a bit of give in it. Enter the old Meccano set. Some experimenting later we had an upright prop with a foot that slides under the chair cushion and a small ledge to balance the bottom right-hand corner of the Millennium frame on. It may not be the most elegant solution, but it works, it’s easy to use, it’s adjustable, it’s a lot cheaper than the Aristo, and it has the Lexi seal of approval. I’m happy.

A Meccano solution (with cat) The Meccano prop in place

The Millennium frame and a DIY lightbox

There hasn’t been a lot of stitching going on in the Figworthy household recently – instead, I’ve been drawing diagrams and writing instructions for some designs that will appear in Stitch magazine, as well as putting together what feels like innumerable shisha flower kits for the upcoming workshops, and trying to improve the design and choose the materials for the shisha day class. And all the while I am itching to try out some new stitches and start on Kelly Fletcher’s Cats on a Wall. Alas, not until I’ve sent instructions, diagrams and stitched models off to Stitch, which has to be done by Good Friday.

I did manage to frame up the fabric for Orpheus, and even do some stitching on it. I really like the set-up I’ve got with the bar covers I made some time ago for a clip-on scroll frame (they turned out to be just the right size for the Millennium frame) and my DIY needle minder stuck to the cover rather than to my stitching fabric. Usually when I am using a larger hoop or frame I clamp it to the Lowery stand and leave it there, but although the Millennium’s chunky stretcher fits quite snugly into the clamp, I get the impression that the weight of the frame puts a little more pressure on the clamping point than with other frames – which is odd because working with it the frame doesn’t feel particularly heavy. Even so, I will put it in the clamp only when I am actually going to work on it, and take it out when I’m done for the day (or week. or month.)

Orpheus mounted on the Millennium frame

It’s not had a lot of use yet, but it has had a significant use: the pulled eyelets. Would that lovely fabric tension stand up to being pulled about quite severely? Yes, it did. The fabric was taut when I started, and it was taut when I finished. I love my Millennium frame! What a shame it’s rather too expensive to have a spare… because you see, there is another project that I would very much like to work on it. Oh well, I’ll just have to swap projects – after all, one of the nice things about this frame is how quick it is to mount the fabric!

A week or so back I was in The Netherlands, and in a shop selling art materials I asked whether they had any small lightboxes. (Rather embarrassingly, I couldn’t remember the Dutch word for lightbox. *sigh* That’s what comes from having been an ex-pat for nearly 10 years now.) The very helpful girl I spoke to said they didn’t have any, but why didn’t I just make one with a box, a light and a transparent top? Brilliant. I am already using several bits of glass from photo frames to trace the designs for the shisha kits, but so far I’m holding them up to a light source which means I have to do my tracing vertically – not ideal. Once back home I quickly found a Chinese takeaway container, my husband supplied me with a nifty LED torch which shines from its side as well as its front, and with my bits of glass I had all the elements for a DIY lightbox.

The ingredients for a DIY lightbox

Unfortunately it didn’t work. The light was too bright and the individual LEDs were visible, even with a tissue on the top as a diffuser. But as I was experimenting with the various bits I realised that putting the torch in my lap, shining up and with a tissue over it, and then holding the glass with the design and fabric a little way away from it, does work! So that’s what I will be doing.

A frame, a bee, and another flower

Yes, I have finally taken the plunge – I have ordered a Millennium frame from Needle Needs. Have you heard of these frames? They are beautiful, hand-crafted examples of the tool maker’s art. But more importantly, they are said to keep the fabric taut from side to side, unlike any other scroll frame I know of. Now it’s easy to be cynical about claims made for any product, especially if they are made by the manufacturers, but several people have very convincingly reviewed these frames (most notably Mary Corbett and Nicola Parkman), and so I am convinced. Especially now that I want to get into a goldwork a bit (or perhaps a lot…) more, a frame that keeps the fabric good an tight will be a real treat!

Because they are hand-made to order the frames can take a while to arrive (several months, in some cases), but when I phoned to ask whether it would be possible for us to pick mine up as we would be practically passing their workshop on our way to the in-laws at the end of February, the kind and helpful gentleman told me it was almost certain to be ready then, and yes, as long as we reminded them by phone the day before, it would be fine to come and pick it up. Hurrah! If it all works out as planned, that means I save the postage and I get to show the frame to my mother-in-law, who has been a keen needlewoman all her life.

Knowing that I will be the proud owner of this beautiful frame within a relatively short time, I have put Orpheus II on hold for the moment; it will be my inaugural project.

Which means that my stitching time for this month (which is fairly busy, so there won’t be that much of it anyway) will probably be taken up with finishing goldwork projects, experimenting with shisha flowers, and some more charity stitching. And the first in line was, of course, The Bee. I managed to do a fair bit of chipwork at my weekly stitching group last Monday, and encouraged by this I finished it on Tuesday. Then it was time for some experimenting, as well as some very fiddly unpicking – the tarnished gold on the bee’s body was carefully removed and put to one side on my velvet board, then I started cutting the silver bright check purl I got particularly for this purpose. Fortunately the gold that was already there turned out to be the same thickness – a sigh of relief there.

There wasn’t enough of the gold to do the whole bee in alternate stripes, so I decided to give him a silver head and backside. I cut one bit of silver too long and the two tiny bits I cut off to make it fit struck me as being just the right size to go on the end of his antennae. He doesn’t have any in the original design, but that’s neither here nor there. He does now. I found some very thin gold-and-red thread I had left over from a Japanese embroidery workshop which I used for the antennae themselves. And here he is!

The 2009 RSN workshop bee, finished at last

It turned out to be very difficult to get an accurate picture – the fabric shows up in the various photographs as tinged with red, yellow and green, but it is just an ordinary natural-coloured fabric, sort of off-white/creamy. Another thing that was difficult to capture was the shine of the gold threads and wires. In the end I held the un-hooped fabric in direct sunlight and, with the camera pointed at it, moved it about until both leaf and bee sparkled. So here is an attempt at showing him in his full sparkly glory.

Showing the sparkle

With the bee finished more or less to my satisfaction I found myself with some stitching time left before going to bed, so I had a go at another shisha flower card. As I’ve decided to use the small flower motif for a workshop my plan is to stitch it in several versions to see which one will work best, producing a number of useful cards in the process. This one uses the fly stitch variation which looks rather like a daisy; I used my 12-dot pattern in order to end up with 24 petals, as my shisha mirror stand-in (a disc of shell dyed a cheerful yellow) was smaller than the one in my experimental daisy, which could easily accommodate 32 petals. The scrolled stem is worked in chain stitch using DMC floche, the leaf is done in fly stitch using two strands of Carrie’s Creations stranded silk, and outlined in stem stitch using one strand. I like the effect of the fly stitch leaf, and together with chain stitch it will offer the learners some nice traditional stitches for this type of work.

A small shisha flower using fly stitch

Now it’s a pretty motif all on its own, but you can never have too much bling in a shisha piece and I felt perhaps there wasn’t quite enough of it here, especially as I won’t be using blending filament in the workshop. Perhaps some sequins? I didn’t have any metallic sequins to hand (though I have ordered some in gold, silver and copper) so I dotted around some gilt spangles. I started out with them in little triangular groups of three but ended up with a sort of “halo” around the flower, which seems to work quite well. The spangles are not actually attached, just put on the fabric for the photograph, as they are proper gilt ones which came with the goldwork watering can kit and I am not sewing nearly a pound’s worth of spangles to a small card! When the sequins arrive, I’ll sew some of those on, either gold only or perhaps (as there are nine of them) three of each colour. We’ll see!

Adding spangles to a shisha flower

Note to self: must remember to add the sequin dots to the shisha flower patterns.