Backgrounds, sizes, coasters and finishings

FoFs have been few and far between recently, mainly because of serious illness in the family, and for that same reason they will, for the time being, continue to happen very much as and when. On the positive side, one of those as and whens is now!

I’ve been doing some experimenting with the various kits and workshops I’m putting together, trying things out, making changes and generally getting them just the way I want them. And one of the things I’ve been looking at is finishing items.

I’ve finished the Christmas Wreath in two ways so far – as a card, and as a Christmas Tree ornament. The card is not a problem, I’ve done plenty of those, but the ornament posed a dilemma: laborious & proper, or quick & easy. The first involves working running stitch all around the excess fabric, stitching a little way away from the hoop, gathering the fabric by pulling the sewing thread tight and knotting it, and then attaching a piece of matching felt with tiny stitches using a curved needle. I did this a while ago to finish a piece of goldwork, and it does look very neat, while being quite sturdy and durable at the same time.

The goldwork bee framed in a flexi-hoop The felt-covered back of the framed bee

It is also a lot of work. Could this be simplified in any way? Yes, I found some pretty cardstock with a holly pattern, cut a circle out of that and glued it to the back of the hoop after gathering the fabric. It worked, although it took a little adjusting to make sure it wasn’t too bulky around the edges. Edges. Hmmm. Flexi-hoops hold fabric quite tightly. And the stitching won’t be taken out of the hoop once it’s an ornament. So why not cut the excess fabric right down to where it emerges from the hoop at the back until it’s level with the hoop, then seal the fabric edge with a line of glue and cover with the cardstock disc? This turned out to keep the fabric at the front perfectly taut while also presenting a neat enough posterior which will stand up to a certain amount of wear and tear (and let’s face it, a Christmas tree ornament is unlikely to get a lot of wear and tear, unless you have an exceedingly playful cat; if it’s the children you’re worried about, simply hang it where they can’t reach it). Definitely worth offering as an alternative!

Christmas tree ornament Backing the ornament with card

Another thing I’ve been looking at a bit more is the reduced coasters suitable for use in a workshop. I wanted to offer another border besides the alternating-V one (left-hand picture), so tried two further likely candidates in one coaster – two alternating lines of running stitch, and the block border (middle picture). The running stitch border didn’t appeal to me (though funnily enough it was my husband’s favourite) and I unpicked it, completing the border in block stitch (right-hand picture).

Workshop coaster with alternating-V border Two more borders to try Workshop coaster with block border

The final change in this, the really-absolutely-finally-final workshop coaster design, is the corner motif, which is now three separate little leaves instead of one 3/4 clover motif; it may not seem much of a change,but it saves 16 stitches in total!

The original corner motif The simpler corner motif

Next on the list was the Little Wildflower Garden, which I wanted to try in different sizes and on different backgrounds to see which would be best for the kit and workshop. The smaller the design is stitched, the denser it will look if the same number of strands are used in all versions (which is what I did). Personally I like small, and the first version I stitched and from which the design was subsequently drawn is the smallest one at 5cm wide. It was stitched on hand-dyed wool felt, and I love it dearly, but it’s not very suitable for a kit because the felt is to thick for a light box and won’t take a transfer pen. When I stitched the same size on a felt purse later on, I had to transfer the design to tissue paper and stitch through that. Also, because the stitching is very dense, many of the design lines get covered up while stitching, which could be confusing. So no felt, and not the smallest size. Pity.

Little Wildflower Garden, small size, on felt

I then tried a larger size (6.5cm wide) on Rowandean’s embroidery fabric; it’s white, looks as though it might be countable but isn’t, and is slightly fuzzy on one side as though lightly brushed. It’s a lovely fabric to work on and doesn’t need backing, which is a plus, but the daisies and especially the bee’s wings got rather lost on the white background.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on Rowandean cotton

The stitching on the large version, which I had also tried on blue quilting cotton earlier, looked quite open and airy – perhaps a bit too much so. I decided to try two more things: the large size on brushed blue cotton (as the slightly fluffy fabric might counteract the openness of the stitches) and a medium size (5.75cm wide) on blue quilting cotton. I worked and photographed them in the same hoop for ease of comparison, but I needn’t have bothered. It’s not that one looked immediately and unmistakenly better than the other, but that the brushed cotton suffered from the same problem as the felt: too thick for the lightbox to penetrate and project a clear traceable image, and too fluffy to hold the ink in thin, crisp lines. So although I do like the look of the brushed cotton (which I’d rather hoped would be a good compromise between ordinary cotton and my preferred but unusable felt) the kit will use the medium-sized design on quilting cotton.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on brushed cotton Little Wildflower Garden, medium size, on quilting cotton Little Wildflower Garden kit

Incidentally, I’ve discovered one reason why it’s called freestyle embroidery: because it never turns out the same twice. Here’s a collection of slim, chubby, long, short, narrow-striped, broad-striped bees to prove it smiley.

A variety of Wildflower Garden bees

Hoop sizes, wreaths, and a lack of stitching

First of all a belated “Happy New Year” to you and yours! May it bring you all many good things, and may any challenges be pleasant ones.

Various family visits meant that we’ve been away from home more than we’ve been at home in 2016, but in the coming weeks I hope to make up for that with a prolonged period of domesticity – a period which will, with any luck, include rather more stitching than I’ve managed so far, which is two small Christmas wreaths. In fact, while several stitchers were sending in pictures of their completed January SAL projects (some as early as Friday 1st) I didn’t put in my first stitch of the new year until Saturday 9th.

For some reason I just couldn’t get myself to pick up any of my current projects. It doesn’t particularly worry me; most stitchers, I would guess, have periods in which stitching simply doesn’t happen. Perhaps life is particularly busy; perhaps the concentration needed for stitching is just not there because other matters clamour for attention. When the latter is the case I find that a few relaxing sessions organising threads and beads and ribbons (or “playing with stash”, as my husband calls it) work very therapeutically, as does a small, simple project that requires very little close attention.

Like the wreaths. Once you’ve got the foundation stitches in place, there’s no more counting; you start the raised chain stitch and keep going until you come to the beginning again; and all the beads are placed at random, in whichever way pleases the eye. Ideal.

I’ve already stitched this seasonal little design several times as it continues to develop. The original was in one shade of green, but you may have noticed that the one in my “Christmas card” was in two – light on the inside, darker on the outside. The greens I used were fairly bright, and the bow put together separately and sewn on.

Two-coloured wreath in bright greens

As I looked through my collection of aperture cards for one that would be a comfortable fit for a 4cm wreath, the idea struck me that it would make rather a nice Christmas tree ornament as well – it looked very jolly in its red flexi-hoop! the only problem was that the hoop, a 3″ one, was really a little too big. But I once got a smaller one in a job lot of hoops, which I assumed must be 2½”; it was light blue, so the effect would be rather different, but I decided to stitch another wreath in the smaller hoop to check it for size. Also a good opportunity to try out different greens, a pair of slightly more bluey, piney greens.

Two-coloured wreath in pine greens

The smaller hoop definitely looked better as a frame than the larger, so I started looking for places selling 2½” red flexi-hoops. There were fewer than I expected, but I found one and ordered a few to experiment with. Slightly to my surprise, they were more expensive than 3″ hoops, but still just about feasible for possible inclusion in kits.

The hoops arrived. I unpacked one. It was small. Very small. Smaller, surely, than my blue hoop. I measured it. 2½” exactly. What was the matter?

The matter was that assumption on my part. I had one 3″ hoop, and one hoop that was a bit smaller. Bear in mind that I didn’t grow up with inches, and that they still don’t come quite naturally to my mind. Centimetres I can visualise. Inches I have to think about carefully. I simply assumed that the size below 3″ would be 2½”.

A 3-inch hoop on the left, but what size is the other?

It wasn’t. It was 2¾.

3-inch, 2.75-inch and 2.5-inch hoop

So here I was, with five very small red hoops, and no idea whether you’d actually be able to wield a needle in something that size. Fortunately most of the stitching, apart from fastening off, is done at the front of the fabric, but the perle #3 used for the raised chain stitch needs a size 22 tapestry needle, which doesn’t come in the dainty category. There was only one thing for it – I’d have to stitch another wreath.

And it worked. A petite needle might be a tad more comfortable, but is not essential. I had used a scrap of left-over fabric that was just a little too small to finish off easily with the usual line of running stitch around the hoop to gather the fabric together at the back of the hoop, but for a kit I’d cut the fabric quite a bit larger anyway. In the end the wreath turned out to work in several different ways – in brighter or more muted green; with a tied bow or a pre-assembled one; in a card or as an ornament. Expect to see more of it!

Two wreaths mounted in aperture cards Two wreaths mounted in aperture cards

DBC Christmas Craft Event

Every November our church (Dunchurch Baptist Church, or DBC) organises a Christmas Craft Event for the children from the local villages. Entry is £2 (adults free if accompanied by a responsible child) and then they can do as many of the crafts on offer as they like and can fit into two hours. There are usually about ten different crafts to do, ranging from Christmas cards and decorated biscuits to Father Christmas doorhangers and snowflake ornaments. It won’t surprise you that I generally do something stitchy, aimed at the slightly older children. Some of the younger ones do come and have a try though, assisted by Mum or Grandma (and in one case, Dad); and I always seem to get as least as many boys as girls. One year the boys doing stitching actually outnumbered the girls!

For the past few weeks I’ve been collecting the various materials needed for this year’s craft, and yesterday and this morning I’ve been putting everything together ready for this afternoon. The result: 30 pieces of black felt with a star drawn on them in silver, and 30 kits containing (with minor variations) a piece of sticky-back foam, red ribbon, gold cord, red coton à broder, eight gold and eight silver star sequins, and 16 beads.

Black felt with pre-drawn stars Christmas Craft kits

And what is it going to be? Well, hopefully they will end up with something like this:

Sparkly star Christmas tree ornament

Wish me luck!

An ornament saga

Remember the Hardanger fireworks idea? Well, it didn’t work. It all looked terribly clunky and not nearly fine and spidery and elegant enough for fireworks. So I now have a name hanging around with nothing to do … Watch this space, I may think of something yet!

On to what is occupying my mind at the moment, which is ornaments. I have once or twice hand-sewn ornaments. The Autumn Wreath tuck cushion is an example. But it is far from ideal, and so I felt I really ought to get, and learn how to use, a sewing machine.

Autumn Wreath Tuck Cushion

The first bit turned out to be easier than expected. Looking into simple sewing machines that would do straight stitch, zigzag, and reverse, and not much more, I found that in spite of their simplicity they would make a sizeable dent in the budget. But then the sewing machine which had resided for years in the attic (given to my husband years ago by, he thinks, a sister) and which I vaguely remembered as fiercely complex turned out to be a very nice Singer with exactly the stitch options I wanted and no more.

From then on it should have been simple. Set up the machine, do a bit of practising on scraps of fabric, sew a practice ornament using a finished piece that won’t be too difficult to stitch again should things go terribly wrong (I chose the red Frills) and then get on with creating an attractive door hanger as a Christmas present for our niece, using an initial I, a bit of ribbon and some lovely turquoise patchwork fabric. And I had well over a month to do it in. What could possibly go wrong?

Isobel

What went wrong was the sewing machine. We set it up on the kitchen table, I read the manual for a bit, then tried a few stitches on some fabric scraps, and all was tickety-boo. I turned aside to look up a particular stitch in the manual (keeping my foot well away from the pedal), and all of a sudden the machine started sewing like a thing possessed, and would not stop! In the end I had to use the on/off switch it to make it stop, and whenever we tried turning it on again, with no-one so much as breathing on the pedal, off it went again.

A manic sewing machine is a frightening thing for an absolute sewing novice, and might have been enough to put me off for life if it hadn’t been for this ornament that needed finishing. My husband managed to find a replacement pedal, so I resolved to have another go as soon as it arrived. Unfortunately it took rather longer than expected, and by the time it arrived I was in the throes of Christmas preparations and a rather nasty cold, and in no fit state to tackle learning a new skill.

So niece got a solemn promise for Christmas, and I will make use of the fact that my mother-in-law is with us for a week as she is a whizz with a sewing machine and will be able to show me the ins and outs of this one. We may even finish the door hanger before the year is out! However well I get on though, Frosty Pine will probably not be gracing our Christmas tree until next year.

Frosty Pine