Leafy experiments

No, not “Leaves”, which is still in my designs-in-progress folder, but the Tree of Life. I haven’t quite decided yet on the stitches to use for two of the leaves, as I can’t really visualise the ones I’ve picked as possibles. Added to that, I’d like to stitch the tree in both wool and silk, but I’m not sure I want to do the whole trunk twice as well (that’s the labour-intensive part). So I’ll work all the leaves separately as mini projects in their own right, in wool, working some of them in two different stitches to compare the effect in real life. Then when I’ve made a final decision on the stitches to use I’ll work the whole tree in silk.

Leaves Tree of Life

I’ve been doing a bit of stitch doodling in preparation. The two leaves which are still undecided are down provisionally as closed fly stitch and laid lattice work. I think the laid lattice will work quite well, so there’s not really a pressing need for an alternative there, except that I’ve been wanting to try detached buttonhole as a filling for some time. Some investigation was called for. After carefully studying several stitch books and watching a number of videos showing the stitch in action, I don’t think it’s the right one, but in one of the books I came across a related stitch called Ceylon stitch which looks promising! That’ll be my next doodle.

The fly stitch leaf is the one I’m really not sure about. Although it should do a good job representing the leaf veins, and it’s nice and easy to work it in graded colours, I’m afraid it might be a bit dull. Almost from the start Cretan stitch has been down on my list as an alternative, so here it is on my doodle cloth. It looks rather like fishbones! But then fishbones and leaf veins do look quite similar (if you half close your eyes and squint a bit). A later addition to the alternative list was burden stitch. I doodled this both straight (which would fill the leaf from top to bottom without trying to imitate the vein pattern) and angled. I like the stitch, but I don’t think I’ll use it for this particular project. It’s been filed away for future reference, with a mental note to self that in order to look good, it has to be stitched rather more neatly than my doodles smiley.

Cretan stitch Burden stitch

I’ve picked two sets of Pearsall’s Heathway Merino crewel wool for the tree, one for each of the colourways I had in mind, but as I will definitely do the silk version in blue/green/purple I’ll probably stick with the autumnal palette for the wool experiments.

Blue/green/purple Heathway wools for the Tree of Life Autumnal Heathway wools for the Tree of Life

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.

Wool again – back to Pearsall’s

Some time ago I treated myself to Pearsall’s starter pack, 30 skeins of their Heathway Merino crewel wool plus two pieces of twill.

Wool from Pearsall's starter pack

Of course they needed to be tried out, and for ease of comparison I used the same design as for the Renaissance Dyeing experiment. Originally I intended to use the same stitches as well, but then I came across the raised chain stitch band which, having worked it in perle cotton and loved the result, I simply had to try out in wool. As it happens, it’s not quite so successful in wool as in perle, although it still has an interesting look. The two wide pink/red bands on the flower cone (what do you call that thing?) are raised chain stitch band, with intentionally varied spacing (just so you don’t think it looks sloppy by accident…).

Starting on the SANQ pattern in Pearsall's wool

The main thing I noticed about Pearsall’s is that it feels and looks a little heavier than the Renaissance Dyeing wool. It’s not a big difference, in fact I sometimes wondered whether I was imagining it, but on the whole I do think there is a difference. It’s most noticeable on the three lines of stem stitch in the stem, and the little lines of stem stitch around the tiny satin stitch leaves. Talking of which, they are very irregular. I know. I was getting a little impatient to finish this because I really want to work on the Shisha Mini and the SAL, and so I wasn’t as careful over my stitching as I would have been if this had been a proper project. (That’s not to say these two Jacobean flowers are improper projects – just that they are more in the nature of samplers, or to hark back to the previous FoF, doodle cloths. Pictorial doodle cloths. I might do more of those, actually! Perhaps I could use some of those leaf outlines I’ve been drawing for one.)

The finished Jacobean flower

Apart from the slight difference in thickness, Pearsall’s crewel wool is really very much like Renaissance Dyeing’s. They work up very nicely, they don’t pill, and they are both so much better than Appleton’s! I like the feel of the Pearsall’s a little better, but on the other hand the RD makes really nice fine lines in stem stitch. Mind you, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t mix them.

Finally, just a few close-ups to show the various stitches used in this project. In the flower cone: raised chain stitch band, seed stitch, French knots (using two different colours in the needle which unfortunately doesn’t show up at all) and long-and-short stitch worked over a split stitch border which is now invisible. In the bluey-green petals: stem stitch (the vein), Portuguese knotted stem stitch (the outline) and bullion knots. In the stem: stem stitch in three shades of green, and French knots with two shades in the needle – here the colours were sufficiently different to show up. In the leaf: stem stitch, Palestrina stitch (the outline) and satin stitch (the little leaves-within-a-leaf).

raised chain stitch band, seed stitch, French knots and long-and-short stitch stem stitch, knotted stem stitch and bullion knots stem stitch shading and French knots stem stitch, Palestrina stitch and satin stitch

And now I can go and play with Shisha minis and SAL doodle cloths – yay!

Threads for a tree

Recently I’ve been playing around with different thread ideas for the Tree of Life. The first colour scheme I picked was a selection of Rainbow Gallery Splendor silks in blue, green & purple for the leaves and brown for the stem, all in three shades, with some yellow touches thrown in. Quite a nice combination, although the blue is a bit more blue-grey than I would have liked.

Splendor silks for the Tree of Life in blue, green and purple

Then Serinde pointed me in the direction of Pearsall’s Heathway wool, and, well, you know what came of that. The blue in the starter collection I got isn’t any brighter than the Splendor blue, and the purple (“Aubergine” the shade is called) is rather subdued too, but even so it would work quite well for a traditional tree on twill fabric, especially if I switch to a slightly brighter blue (Lapis, perhaps) and a more muted green (I’m thinking Willow Green instead of this Laurel). At first I intended to use it for the version of the tree with the bird and lettering. However, will wool go well with small letters? Or would I need to switch to silk for that?

Possible combination of Pearsall's wool for the Tree of Life

And there’s the matter of the other colourway. I had an idea of doing one in autumnal colours. A bit inappropriate, come to think of it, as these colours are caused by the leaves dying, which is not quite the message you want a Tree of Life to give. On the other hand, autumnal colours are very, very beautiful, and as the dying of the leaves preserves the tree’s energy to grow new leaves when spring comes again, perhaps I can just about pull that idea off. But autumnal colours and caterpillars don’t go together very well either. Will the caterpillar, who strictly speaking shouldn’t be around in autumn, enjoy his hypothetical bite of leaf if the leaf in question has turned orange, however vibrant and lovely? Or am I being too literal-minded about what is rather a symbolic and stylised design anyway?

Very well then, let’s use the blue-purple-green colour scheme for the caterpillar tree, whether in Splendor silk of Pearsall’s wool, and keep the autumnal colours for the bird-and-lettering tree. There are birds in autumn, so that’s OK, and going with silks for this version also gets around the problem of having to use wool for the lettering. But. As with the other version I would really like to use at least three shades of every colour, and I don’t have them in Splendor silk. I have some lovely radiant yellows, vibrant oranges, mossy greens and warm browns, but not three shades of each. Nor do I have them in any other silk. I could buy some, of course (Soie d’Alger comes in a wide range of colours and is lovely to work with), but having splashed out only very recently on the Heathway wool I feel I can’t really justify any further speciality thread purchases for a while. And the Splendor shades do look the part – there would just be rather less shading. One way around that would be to have a dark yellow and a light yellow leaf, a dark orange and a light orange one, and so on. I’ll have to think about that one.

Splendor silks for an autumnal version of the Tree of Life

Or I could ditch the idea of silk altogether, and go with DMC Coton à Broder. Size 25 is about the thickness of two strands of stranded cotton, or perle #12, and although it wouldn’t be quite so plump as the Splendor silk (which is absolutely gorgeous to work with) it would show the texture of the various stitches rather nicely. And it comes in quite a lot of colours, some of which would make a lovely autumn tree.

DMC Coton a Broder for an autumnal version of the Tree of Life

Then there is the question of what to use in the couched leaf. Something gold, but of course that could be either a colour or a metal. In at least one of them I would like to use a pair of gold passing threads, probably on a tree that’s worked in silk. A more economical version could use one of the many Kreinik metallic threads – I’ve got their 1/16″ ribbon and #16 braid to try out. Still less of a strain on the budget, but not quite so shiny, is a golden yellow perle #3.

Various options for the Tree of Life's gold couching

Besides these versions I have a few other ideas as well, although I’m not sure if they will ever happen; how many Trees of Life do I want to stitch? (I suppose I could stitch as many variations as I want to try out and donate one to each of the churches in our village. Or parish. Or county.) But I can envisage a goldwork tree, for example – the outlines of the stem worked in overstretched pearl purl with a core of dark brown silk on the left and light brown silk on the right; and two curved lines of couched passing thread down the middle, worked in or nué with medium brown silk. As for the leaves, well, where do I start…

Pearsall’s, and disappearing silks

Some years ago I picked up a small collection of vintage silks made by Pearsall’s Embroidery, called Filofloss. They were stranded, flattish silks with a lovely sheen, made during the 1920s and 30s as far as I can remember. Lovely, and unfortunately discontinued. But Pearsall’s continued with a different stranded silk, Filoselle, which I used for the stems and the blue flower in Mary Corbett’s small cross design. It has more twist than Filofloss, and is a little more springy, but it has the same lovely sheen. Unfortunately, despite the label shown on Pearsall’s home page, Filoselle is no more. When I spoke to Carol at Pearsall’s to ask whether they would be at the Knitting & Stitching Show she explained that the silks had been very much the domain of her business partner John, who sadly died in 2012. Since then, all their silks apart from surgical silks have been phased out.

What they do still do is crewel wool. After my recent re-acquaintance with Appleton’s (about which more when I post about my twill experiments) I felt I would really like to try a crewel wool that doesn’t have thin bits which make one’s stitching look more irregular than it needs to, that doesn’t pill, or fluff, or untwist. Serinde over at the Cross Stitch Forum suggested either Renaissance Dyeing or Pearsall’s Heathway Milano crewel wool.

There is a lot to be said for Renaissance Dyeing’s wool. For one thing, it’s a lot cheaper than Pearsall’s. But Pearsall’s has a wider range of colours, and these are much more conveniently laid out on their website. I’m finding it almost impossible to work out from RD’s page of wools how to put together a set of three or four matching shades of any one colour. For example, presumably Light Orange #0302 goes with Pale Orange #0301, but they are several rows apart, their pictures separated by seven completely unrelated colours; in some cases shades that are probably related are so far apart that you need to scroll from one to the other so you can’t see them together. Another thing, do you go by name or by proximity of number? Does Dark Apricot #1205 go with Light Peach #1203? I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and this confuses me. I will try and work it out because anything Serinde recommends is likely to be lovely to work with, but for now I decided to concentrate on Pearsall’s.

Because Pearsall’s have a Crewel Starter Pack – 30 skeins of wool plus two good-sized pieces of twill at a considerable discount to what it would cost to buy all the bits separately. True, you don’t get to choose the colours, but the picture seemed to indicate that there would be four shades of seven different colour families, plus black and white, which is a useful start to a collection but also varied enough to be useful without having to add to it. I decided to ring them and spoke to Carol, who was incredibly helpful. She actually went through several of the packs she had in stock to tell me what combinations they contained! Determined not to impulse-buy I said I’d go away and think about it. I did. For at least 10 minutes. Then I called back and ordered one of the starter packs. This was about three o’ clock on Friday afternoon; on Saturday the postwoman delivered this:

Wool from Pearsall's starter pack

Aren’t they gorgeous? And the picture can’t tell you how beautifully soft they are – I was fondling them for at least five minutes before putting them away for the moment. When the Wedding Elephant is done, I’ll do a Kelly Fletcher flower with some of them to see how they are to work with.

Talking of KF, I finished Bloomin’ Marvellous 7 (yes, it was on hold; but for various reasons I didn’t get round to setting up the Elephant on Saturday, so I finished this while watching the VE Day concert). Besides some Chameleon Shades of Africa silks (the two yellows) it uses some of Vikki Clayton’s Hand-Dyed Fibers premium stranded silk. A little chunkier than standard strands, and lovely to work with, but it seems Hand-Dyed Fibers is yet another brand that has ceased to exist – the website is down and although I can find references to Vikki Clayton online, I can’t find anything to indicate that she is still producing these silks. I hope not too many silks go the same route or we won’t have anything to stitch with but DMC and Anchor! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen beautiful projects created with stranded cotton, but there is just something about working with silks that is a little bit special, not to mention their place in the long history of embroidery – it would be a shame if they all went.

Bloomin' Marvellous 7 finished