Star bright

Having completed the Kelly Fletcher Christmas tree freebie and not yet having enough time to make a solid start on the Jacobean goldwork flower I decided to have a go at one of the star designs I had transferred onto two shades of Normandie fabric. For no particular reason I picked the ivory one, and as there probably wouldn’t be time to do both (I’m proofreading a friend’s thesis at the moment, not to mention being up to my ears in bits of kits) the threads simply had to be the Threadworx Vineyard silks. They are gorgeous! Not only are the colours full and deep and rich, even in the pastel shades, but they are some of the most strokeable threads I have ever come across, soft and luxurious with a lovely bounce. Do you know that feeling when you walk barefoot on thick springy moss? You get the same spring when you gently squeeze a bobbin of Vineyard silk.

Yes, all right, I admit it – I’m the sort of stitcher who squeezes bobbins of silk. It’s soothing. It’s good for my blood pressure. Anyway, moving swiftly on, let’s discuss stitches!

I wanted to try a variety of stitches on the various concentric stars, in a sort of rainbow of colour, starting with a small yellow star in the middle. This started out as a French knot surrounded by stem stitch, but that looked a bit empty so I added the various straight stitches later. One of the stitches I particularly wanted to include was raised chain stitch, which is worked over a straight stitch foundation stitched between two lines; that meant I was one line short for the number of colours I wanted to use, so I inserted an uncharted dotted line of more French knots, in green this time. Blue for the raised chain, with a foundation of Caron Wildflowers. Raised chain stitch is not ideal for very sharp points, but it looks OK and the texture works beautifully in the Vineyard silk. Then a line of pinky-red Portuguese knotted stem stitch and finally the outer line in purple Mountmellick stitch. Again not an ideal stitch for sharp points and corners, but I actually rather like the look of the “teeth” in the peaks and troughs. I did briefly consider working 10 separate lines of Mountmellick from the tops to the troughs, but decided it would involve far too much fastening on and off – this was meant to be a relaxing stitch, after all!

And here is what it looks like, once photographed in bright sunshine – brilliant to show the colours, but lots of sharp shadows as well – and once in the shade, which is probably better to show the stitches.

The finished star photographed in full sunlight The finished star photographed in shade

Incidentally, it was quite interesting to have a look at the back and see how different the stitches look there; Mountmellick looks like a very elongated rake head, and stem stitch becomes back stitch!

The back of the MC star

And finally a close-up of the stitches, to show off the lovely sheen and texture of the threads.

Close-up of the stitches used in the MC star

Last of the three freestyle workshops for the Church’s building fund tomorrow; a full house with some children and young people as well! Not all of them will be stitching, but just in case they change their minds I’ve made sure I’ve got enough kits with me for everyone.

Same stitch, different looks

You can create variety within a design by using different stitches, but sometimes a different effect can be created simply by using a different weight of thread, or by changing the size of the stitch.

Take the French knot, for example. This can be a tiny little fly-speck, or a chunky sphere the size of a hailstone (not a very big hailstone, perhaps, but still). The difference in size and look can be achieved by several different means, such as the thickness of the thread, the type of thread, and the number of wraps. The thinner the thread, the smaller the knot. The smoother the thread, the smoother the knot. And the more wraps, the bigger the knot. In theory, there are no limits to the degree of variation in any of these, and you could, I suppose, work a French knot using a telegraph pole for a needle and heavy-duty steel cable for thread. It’s not something I’d like to try, but you could. There is, however, a limit to the number of wraps – too many and you end up with something more like a bullion knot than a French knot. Personally I find that three wraps is as much as a French knot will comfortably take, although I have known stitchers who could create beautiful four-wrap knots. Still, you get the idea: unlike chocolate, when it comes to wraps on a French knot there is such a thing as too much.

In the Little Wildflower Garden you can see the French knot thing in action, from tiny ones made with two wraps in one strand of cotton in the centre of the poppy, to big burly knots made with three wraps in three strands for the yellow daisy centres and some of the lavender. But what if you use a different thread altogether, like perle cotton? I grabbed a doodle cloth and some perles and here are the resulting six knots: one, two and three wraps in #8 and #5. Not my tidiest knots, I’m afraid, but they’ll give you an idea of the difference a wrap can make!

Six French knot variations

When I was designing the Round In Circles SAL, one of the things that I had to decide on was how big to make stitches. Much depends on the effect you’re after. Take the lazy daisy, for example: if you make it very long – that is to say, your anchoring stitch is a long way away from the hole where you take the needle up and down to form the loop – it will also be thin. It is almost impossible to make a long, plump lazy daisy. But keep them short and they will almost automatically form into nice wide petals, as here in Gingham Gems.

Plump lazy daisies

One of the stitches it took me quite some time to decide about was the Portuguese knotted stem stitch (yes, another spoiler alert – this is one of the stitches still to come smiley). Like normal stem stitch you can vary the length of the individual stitches making up the line; the shorter the individual stitches, the chubbier the line. This particular variation on stem stitch wraps around the stitches as they are made, giving extra texture, but the same principle applies: short constituent stitches, chunky line. And of course the thicker the thread, the thicker the line.

I didn’t really have a particular effect in mind when I started the design, so I tried four different stitch lengths in perle #5 and perle #8 simply to see which one I liked best, and also to see whether any of them were more awkward to work than others. As you can see here there is not quite such a spectacular difference in look, but enough to be worth considering what thread and stitch size give you the effect you want, especially when you look at the shortest and longest stitch sizes together.

Eight Portuguese stem stitch variations Portuguese stem stitch variations, shortest and longest

It’s a useful thing to remember that changing the look of a stitch sometimes takes no more than a change of thread, or of stitch length – so if in a particular design you’re not altogether pleased with the look of a stitch, why not do a bit of experimenting? That’s one of the wonderful things about embroidery: you can do whatever you like with your projects!