A kit(ty) production line

For some time now I’d been running low on kits and making them up as people ordered them, which is really not a good idea. So now that I no longer have the Certificate deadline looming over me (although there are still a few things to finish on the SAL) it was time to get a bit of a production line going once again.

If possible I like to do some of the sorting and assembling in the garden, and as the weather looked set to change after the weekend I had a good incentive to get them done quickly. On Friday all the instructions were printed, and Saturday’s task was folding them, sticking the covers on and inserting them into plastic grip seal bags – just the thing you can do outside!

The lawn was dotted with violets (soon to be decapitated by Mr Figworthy with the lawnmower), an orange tip butterfly landed on the purple lilac bush (fellow to the white lilac bush blooming its head off in the picture), a robin vociferously defended his territory on the fence behind the variegated holly, and Lexi decided that snuggled half underneath my lap tray was just the place for a cat to be.

Putting the paper part of the kits together A feline helper

Unfortunately cutting fabric would be difficult in the garden, so it was back indoors for the next part, taking over the kitchen table to produce a pile of squares of various sizes in blue cotton, Hardanger fabric, muslin backing and wadding. And as it’s impossible to store fabric in such a way that it stays perfectly flat and uncreased, the Hardanger and cotton then had to be ironed. Well, I suppose they don’t have to be, but when you buy a kit the last thing you want to have to do is iron your fabric – you want to start stitching, right? So I do the ironing for you – and as I had the iron out I thought I might as well get the “household ironing” out of the way too!

Cutting squares of fabric And then there's the ironing

On Sunday, after our online church service and the after-service Zoom fellowship chat, I got to the colourful part of the kit production process: threads, cards, beads and various kinds of bling had to be sorted and where necessary put into little bags.

Colourful kit components

First up were the Hardanger needle books. Two needles per piece of felt, match it up with a suitable piece of pre-scored patterned card, fabric, two weights of perle cotton and of course the printed instructions and hey presto, we have a kit.

Materials for a needle book Putting the needle book kits together

Next up was the Little Wildflower Garden. This is generally quite a quick one to put together, provided I have the threads pre-cut and sorted. Which I did, for two of the kits… so first I had to prep some more stranded cotton. Now I’ve devised a cunning method for this which is nice and fast, when it works. That is to say, when all twelve skeins of cotton pull without tangling and I can cut twelve colours into 65cm lengths in one go. Anyone who has worked with stranded cotton more than a few times will now emit a peal of hollow laughter and say “good luck with that!” and it’s true that by the time I’m three-quarters through the skeins there tends to be some unknotting going on as well as straightforward pulling and cutting, but on the whole it’s still a lot quicker than measuring and cutting all twelve colours separately.

Preparing the threads The components of the kit ready for assembling

And finally the two types of Shisha card, Flower and Tile. These were by far the fiddliest to put together with their mirrors, beads, sequins and bits of sewing thread as well as the embroidery threads. It’s fun to choose nice colour combinations though!

Shisha kits in bits

As well as putting together kits that have long been in our range, I also had a go at a design that until now has only been available as a workshop. Yes, it is The Mug That Cheers! Whether your tipple of choice is tea, coffee or hot chocolate, this is the perfect mug of comfort in these challenging times. I first meant to put it on the website as a chart pack only, but I couldn’t resist putting together a few boxed kits as well – don’t they look cheerful?

The Mug That Cheers comes as a chart pack... ...and as a kit... ...in different colours

Incidentally, it is not unusual when providing kits to try and buy a couple of years’ worth of supplies at a time. This has the obvious advantage of not having to go through the whole ordering process very often, but when the last time you ordered stuff was spring 2018, reordering two years later throws up a variety of problems. Shops you used to order from have closed (Sew & So), kit components you used to buy have been discontinued (Craft Creations’ coloured aperture cards), and supplies that are still available have gone up in price alarmingly (Hardanger fabric). That last problem, together with Royal Mail’s annual increase in postal rates, has unfortunately made it necessary to adjust the prices of Mabel’s range of kits. Please rest assured that I will continue to do my best to keep them as affordable as possible, keeping the threshold low for anyone who would like to have a go at a new technique, or while away a few enjoyable evenings stitching up a present or a card for a special occasion.

Nine variations on a shisha tile

The first shisha kit I produced used a floral design; after some deliberation, I decided that my second shisha kit was to be a square tile with scrolls. OK so far. Draw the design, choose a background fabric. The fabric in the first kit is blue, so let’s have something else for this one. A visit to the local fabric shop yielded a nice yellowy cream (or is it creamy yellow?) cotton. Well, that’s practically it, isn’t it? Now all I have to do is decide on the threads and stitches!

This turned out to take a while… There were the scrolls. Stem stitch, yes, but what thread? So I stitched up models using Tamar Embroideries Brodery Cotton, 1 strand of TE stranded cotton, and DMC coton à broder. Then the corner motif – either pistil stitches or French daisies in Brodery cotton, DMC coton à broder, or 1 or 2 strands of TE stranded cotton. And finally I tried different stitches for attaching the mirrors (or sequins or coins), varying the number of petals as well:

  • Plaited fly stitch with 12 petals (in perle #5), 16 petals (#5) and 24 petals (#8)
  • Cretan stitch with 16 petals (#5) and 24 petals (#8)
  • Herringbone stitch with 16 petals (#5) and 24 petals (#8)
  • Long-armed fly stitch with 24 petals (#5)
  • Crossed long-armed fly stitch with 32 petals (#8)

And so before you know it you’ve got nine variations on a shisha tile!

Nine shisha tiles

I think the final version will use one of the long-armed fly stitch variations, simply because it seems most different from the petals in the first kit. As for the scrolls, DMC coton à broder. TE’s Brodery cotton is lovely, but it’s simply too heavy for this purpose, and it’s also very, very twisty – this can make it rather awkward to work with, which you definitely don’t want in a kit aimed at relative beginners. But I love the TE threads so I will use the stranded cotton for the corner motifs; I just haven’t decided yet whether to use one or two strands, and which stitch. On the whole I think if pistil stitch, then two strands – if French daisy, then 1 strand. But I may change my mind smiley.

One nice thing in my search for materials for these tiles is that I found a source of “mirrors”. Well, they’re acrylic really, and very light; I’d had some before but couldn’t remember where I bought them. This shop has them in colours as well, so I got some yellow and green ones to try out. You can see them in the two long-armed fly variations.

On the website their size was given as 18mm (just what I wanted!), but when they arrived I measured some and they were 17mm. Not really a problem, but not accurate either. I was about to write to the shop to let them know so they could change their description when I decided to measure one by putting it on top of the ruler instead of the ruler on top of the mirror, and it was 18mm after all. Turns out the sides are slightly sloping, and the mirrors are 18mm at the bottom and 17mm at the top!

Acrylic shisha mirrors in various colours

Leaf motifs and shisha variations

Having tried four different corner leaf motifs for my new Shisha Mini I didn’t really think any of them was going to work; but as I’m still trying to decide which shisha stitch variation to use as well, I decided to work another one with four different corners to try out. First one up (using the original dots on the pattern): a sort of fan of five lazy daisy stitches. This looks quite good, though perhaps a bit large. Keep it in mind and on to the next two options, for which I drew a leaf outline around the pattern dots.

Alternatively arranged lazy daisies, and new pencil marks

The mirror, by the way, is attached using a herringbone variation in #5 perle cotton. The first one I did, last month, was Cretan stitch (also in #5). As for the two leaf shapes, one was outlined using buttonhole stitch (top right) and one filled with fishbone stitch (bottom right). Neither of them looked right. The buttonhole leaf, though I like it in itself, is too clunky (and wonky) for this design. The fishbone leaf I found too solid. Then as I was reading Mary Corbet’s blog I came across a project of hers using pistil stitch (a French knot with a tail). Another useful stitch, not too solid and easy to get into the right shape.

Four more corner variations

Looking at the two varied-corner projects, I wanted to try two of the corner variations on “proper” projects – the fan-style motifs using lazy daisy and pistil stitch. And although with hindsight it would have made more sense to vary only one thing in these two projects (namely the corner motifs) I decided to try out various other things at the same time. First of all the centre shisha bit. And then the threads. I’d ordered three different threads from Tamar Embroideries, all in shade 243 – stranded cotton, brodery or mercerized cotton, and matt cotton. The second one is described on the TE website as “similar to cotton a broder”, the third as “similar in weight to our mercerized cotton but with a softer feel and a matt finish”. From threads I bought from them earlier it seemed to me that the matt cotton is actually a bit heavier than the mercerized cotton, and that both are heavier than the coton à broder I have, which is mostly #25, but they would be interesting to try. What wasn’t noticeable until I stitched with it: the stranded cotton is a bit heavier than the ordinary DMC variety too.

So here is the third attempt, with herringbone variation in #8 perle cotton, two strands of Tamar stranded cotton for the curls and matt cotton for the lazy daisies. I like the central motif, it reminds me of a sunflower; it works better in #8 than in #5, I think. Two strands of stranded cotton makes quite a heavy stem stitch line, and although the lazy daisy fan is a pretty motif the matt cotton is far, far too thick for it.

stranded and matt cotton, and lazy daisies

The fourth version uses a crossed long-armed fly stitch variation in #8 to attach the shisha, one strand of stranded cotton for the curls and mercerized/brodery cotton for the pistil stitches. The mercerized cotton works OK for the pistil stitches, although it is still a little more solid than I had in mind, and the curls are more light-weight but perfectly visible in one strand.

stranded and mercerized cotton, and pistil stitch

So what am I going to use? For attaching the mirror, either Cretan stitch (if I want it to be suitable for beginners) or crossed long-armed fly stitch (for a slightly more challenging version). Although I really like the look of the herringbone version in perle #8, its petal shape is a bit too much like the plaited fly stitch of the Shisha flower I use for workshops. As for the corner motifs, pistil stitch would make sense as I want to use different stitches from the Shisha flower which uses chain stitch for its scrolled stem, and a lazy daisy is in effect a single chain stitch. Unfortunately, I like the look of the lazy daisy fan slightly better than the pistil stitch fan. One option would be to go for French daisies – lazy daisies secured with a French knot.

Now I want to stitch a series of Shisha Minis with all the different shisha variations, at the same time trying out different combinations of threads for the corner curls-and-fans. For example brodery cotton for the curls, and two strands of stranded cotton for the fans (in pistil stitch, lazy daisy or French daisy), or the other way around, or one strand for the curls and two for the fans, or perhaps go back to standard DMC threads after all. I’ll keep the updates coming!

Designing a mini shisha project

Designs start and grow in very different ways, and I thought you might like to see one in action. This is a mini shisha project which I’d been doing some sketches for over the past weeks, and which got itself to the top of my list when a lady who attended the shisha mini workshop asked whether I did any other similar workshops. I told her I did a Hardanger one as well, but she said no, she meant another 2-hour shisha one. Now as I’d been thinking of putting together a second shisha mini kit anyway, I thought I might as well get it done so I could tell her and the other ladies in her craft group that yes, I did do another shisha workshop.

From the start, the two important things about this second design were a) to make use of at least one of the other shisha variations I’d already drawn and diagrammed and b) to use it in a non-floral way. Another consideration was using different stitches for the non-shisha elements. The existing workshop uses chain stitch and fly stitch, as well as sequins and beads. I was happy to use the latter again – you can’t beat a bit of extra bling in this sort of project – but I didn’t want to repeat the others. Probably stem stitch instead of chain stitch for any line elements, then, and one other stitch.

Size-wise, I wanted the new design to fit in the same aperture cards as the first one, and possibly have a leafy element so that the two could be worked as a pair; not identical, not even very alike perhaps, but with enough elements echoing each other for them to go together. In order to get away from the floral theme (which wasn’t easy as the shisha variations remind me so much of flowers) I decided on a scroll-type border. After some very sketchy sketches it was time to work things out a bit more precisely. I wasn’t too bothered about getting repeated elements exactly the same as I like the informality of much shisha embroidery, but placement is something I did get a little fussy about; I’m a bit of a symmetry nut and I felt that if things were too wonky it would probably keep irritating me. So roll on tracing paper, compasses and what back home we called a “geodriehoek” (geo-triangle), a sort of triangular ruler with angle markings on it. I’m sure it has a proper English name.

Sketches, tracing paper, compasses and so on

By the way, the robin is another mini design I’m working on, inspired by a 1920s starch advert. Who’d have thought starch could be inspiring?

But on with the shisha. When I’d got all the detail I wanted in pencil, I scanned it and continued work in my photo editing program, where I produced three variations, with 16, 24 and 32 dots around the central circle, to accommodate herringbone, Cretan and crossed long-armed fly stitch shishas, as well as the plaited fly stitch version of the first kit. I like to keep my options open.

From the start, this design had bits I was certain of, and bits that I wasn’t. Or more precisely, one bit. The definitely-here-to-stay bits are the shisha placed centrally, the four scrolly bits surrounding it, and the sequins; although I hadn’t quite decided whether to use cup sequins (shinier, but possibly a little too big and noticeable) or flat 3mm ones. The not-quite-sure-if-this-will-work bit was the leaf shape sitting in the “valley” of each of the four scrolls. They might or might not look right with the rest of the design, but to find that out I needed to stitch the certain bits first. Here they are, minus sequins for now.

The bits I'm certain of

Then I added cup sequins, and I do like the look of them. They are sequins, which links this design with the other shisha mini, but they are cup sequins, which makes them different from the other shisha mini (which uses flat sequins). I think I’ll stick with the cup sequins, but I will try one or two with the flat ones as well, just to see the difference. Finally, I worked the little leaf shapes. That is to say, I worked one. And it didn’t work. I’d opted for triple chain stitch (used in one of the Happy Hour designs), which is three reverse chain stitches emerging from three spots along a line, but anchored by the same stitch. In Happy Hour it is a nice, plump stitch. Here it just looked very thin and elongated. The problem was the size – I was trying to make it too big. Some stitches obviously only work small.

So what to put in its place? The triple chain stitches were indicated in the pattern by a small dash and three dots, all in a line, and I had already made four transfers onto some Normandie fabric, so if I could work something that used the same placement dots that would save me from having to scrap four pieces of perfectly good fabric (that’ll teach me not too get ahead of myself). I started with an asymmetric arrangement of three lazy daisies (bottom right), but neither I nor my husband, whom I bounced this idea off, liked it. All the other elements are symmetrical, and this just doesn’t fit in comfortably. Usable if absolutely necessary, but not ideal. Next up was a symmetrical arrangement of three lazy daisies (bottom left). Better. Definitely. But not as pointed as I had in mind – my original drawing shows something that is longer on the diagonal of the design, pointing to the corner, than it is wide. Still, keep that one as a possible. My third trial stitch (top left) was what I called Chinese lantern when I first drew it for Round the World: East and what I’ve since learned other people know as tulip stitch. OK, but a bit small, and just not what I wanted. Finally I tried a single lazy daisy (top right) with what would have been French knots if I hadn’t run out of thread; if you could imagine those tiny straight stitches as little round knots you’ll get an idea of what I intended.

Four options - and counting

I like the look of that final one, but it’s on the small side. And if you make a lazy daisy bigger/longer, it does what my triple chain stitch did in the first place, it goes narrow and elongated (I wish I’d remembered to take a picture of it but I stitched and unpicked it at my stitching group and I didn’t have my camera with me). So it looks like a few more experiments are called for; perhaps a more solid leaf using fishbone stitch, perhaps a leaf outline in buttonhole stitch or something knotted like Palestrina stitch. I’ll remember to take pictures and will report back soon!

Incidentally, the little robin I mentioned earlier gave me an opportunity to try out a new purchase – to transfer it I used an iron-on transfer pen from Sublime Stitching. It works really well! I was in a bit of a hurry so my tracing wasn’t the most accurate and some of the lines were definitely wonky or even double in places, but the ironing process was quick and easy (just remember to iron the fabric first so it’s warm) and the two transfers I got from this tracing were both good and clear; I could probably get at least one and very likely two more transfers from it, judging by how little difference there is between the first transfer and the second (in fact the second one, on Normandie, looks if anything a bit clearer than the first one, on twill). I’ll certainly be using this again.

Two transfers made from one iron-on pen tracing

Silks, shisha and a SAL

In preparation for a holiday (and because I simply want to do some more surface or free style embroidery) I’ve been putting together a project folder. Five Kelly Fletcher flowers transferred to 55ct Kingston linen, and this: a box of silks from my stash – Chameleon Shades of Africa, various Gumnut silks and a wool/silk, Kreinik Silk Mori, Caron’s wool/silk Impressions, Au Ver à Soie Soie d’Alger, and Vicki Clayton’s Hand-Dyed Fibers.

Silks for Kelly Fletcher designs

There is another small project I set up over the Easter weekend; it’s a floral cross, one of Mary Corbet’s designs (from which I have omitted the crown). It seemed just perfect to stitch at Easter, but my husband cruelly but rightly reminded me that I was trying to finish Orpheus, so back to the eyelets it was. This will be added to the holiday project folder (although I do not for one moment believe that I’ll have time to finish a cross and five flowers!) The threads here are Alyce Schroth‘s fine silk, very matt and dyed with natural dyes; Pearsall’s Filoselle, which seems to have been discontinued while I wasn’t looking, and Au Ver à Soie Soie de Paris. I’ve only got two shades of green and blue so my shading won’t be as delicate as in the original (and not just because of the limited number of colours – I’m still finding my feet with needle painting), but I hope it will look all right anyway. From the pictures it seems Mary used stem stitch for the cross; I may go for long and short stitch. We’ll see.

Materials for a small cross with flowers (minus crown) by Mary Corbet

Fun though it is to put together quite unnecessary projects, other things were getting a little urgent – coming up with a shisha design for the Percival Guildhouse day class, for example (not to mention having to produce a stitched model of it). Going with variations on the shisha-mirror-in-a-paisley-motif theme, the first one was too simple (can’t have students finishing before lunch!), the second one too big (I want it to fit in a 6″ hoop as I have lots of them so I can lend them to students), but the third one turned out to be my Goldilocks design, just right smiley.

A simple shisha design - too small A more complex shisha design - too big Enough detail, and fits a 6-inch hoop - just right

Someone wrote to me recently to ask whether there would be another SAL. Well, I’m certainly working on it, and the aim is January 2016 – but I’ve run into a problem. Planning the SAL (if planning isn’t too grand a word; “thinking it would be a jolly nice idea” is probably more accurate most of the time), I doodle shapes and make lists of possible filling stitches, bars and surface stitches whenever they happen to occur to me (a notebook by the bed is essential). It soon became clear that I wanted a circular theme; unfortunately a large proportion of the surface stitches I’d like to include are linear. The solution?

Christmas. (To be continued…)

More flowers!

This morning I bobbinated the Colour Stream silks that arrived earlier this week, and it struck me again how beautifully tactile these threads are. The thicker of the two especially, Exotic Lights (which is very like Kacoonda’s Thick Silk and Treenways’ 8/2 silk), is incredibly soft and smooth – fluffy angora bunny rabbit soft and I-wish-my-legs-felt-like-this smooth, and I had a lovely time just feeling the threads pass through my fingers as I wound them on the bobbins. You don’t need to stitch with threads to enjoy them smiley!

Some lovely Colour Streams silks

But I was going to write about flowers; the first being Bloomin’ Marvellous (so there is a bit of a silk connection there), which is finished. The double row of up & down blanket/buttonhole stitch worked well, with but one mistake, and that not made with the needle: because the transfer line for the petal had faded rather I went round it with a pencil to make sure I’d be able to see it, and added a fairly strong line down the centre. That line wasn’t the problem, as it got covered up, but because the stitching has gaps in it on the outside edge the outline, of course, didn’t. It showed. Not, perhaps, very noticeably to anyone who didn’t know it was there, but it was very visible to me. Nevertheless, it’s only pencil, so with a bit of luck you should be able to erase it, even on fabric. I took a rubber to it, a new one which still had sharp corners, to get at the lines between the stitches, and fortunately most of it came off – there are still traces there if you look closely, but I’ve decided simply not to look closely. Among my (rapidly dwindling) stash of little frames I found one that was just the right size, and Bloomin’ Marvellous now adorns our mantelpiece.

Bloomin' Marvellous finished Bloomin' Marvellous framed

And then there’s a few more shisha flowers. yes, I know, I’ve stitched quite enough already, but these are different variations; and variations on variations. The first one is worked in long-armed fly stitch, with 24 petals in perle #5 or 32 petals in perle #8. In the latter version the stitches overlap, which gives rather a nice cross stitch effect around the edge of the flower.

Long-armed fly stitch shisha variation, 24 petals in #5 perle Long-armed fly stitch shisha variation, 32 petals in #8 perle

And possibly my favourite (as well as being very easy), a herringbone variation: 24 petals in perle #5, 24 petals in perle #8, and 16 petals in perle #5. I’m thinking of turning this one into a kit, probably using the middle version, but with a sort of scrolly frame around it rather than a leaf and stem. I’ll do some sketching over the weekend!

Herringbone shisha variation, 24 petals in #5 perle Herringbone shisha variation, 24 petals in #8 perle Herringbone shisha variation, 16 petals in #5 perle

More shisha flowers, a doodle and a frame

All right, all right, so I’m getting a bit carried away. But they are quick, they are easy, they are pretty – I love my little shisha flowers! However, all this experimenting has made me re-think my decisions about the workshop kit. The Cretan stitch version is nice, but it’s less floral-looking than the fly stitch version. Can we do something about that? How about changing the shape of the ‘petals’ by changing the place where you bring up the needle to catch the loop of the thread? When I first tried this stitch, I took the needle down on one of the dots, left a loop, then brought the needle up half-way between the dot and the mirror – you can see this in the first picture. I then tried varying this, bringing the needle up nearer the dot, or nearer the mirror, to see if this would produce a more natural, floral look (second picture; the back is shown in the third picture). The effect I was aiming for was sort of chrysanthemummy; I don’t think I got it. Still, it looks interesting. Finally I came up as near as I could to the dot every time, making the petals a bit wider (fourth picture). That’s the version I like best. But it’s still not as floral as the fly stitch version.

Standard Cretan shisha Cretan shisha with varied petal tip length Cretan shisha with varied petal tip length, back Cretan shisha with short petal tips

Unfortunately the fly stitch version, which does produce nice daisy-like flowers, takes rather longer to do. It is also quite dense when using the smaller version of the design. The first picture shows a 24-petal fly stitch shisha using perle #5. The second uses perle #8 and look less dense, but of course takes just as long to stitch as the first version, as they are identical apart from the thread. Both of these were stitched using my 12-dot design, with petals stitched on and between the dots. So what if I used the 16-dot version, and stitched only on the dots? I tried this with my re-drawn design, and liked the shape it produced, although the petals were a bit short and stumpy. Back to the drawing board, and push the dots outward a bit. I stitched it and yes, that’s my flower!

Fly stitch shisha with 24 petals, using perle #5 Fly stitch shisha with 24 petals, using perle #8 Fly stitch shisha with 16 short petals, using perle #5 Fly stitch shisha with 16 long petals, using perle #5

So now, finally final – I’ve redone the design again to incorporate an 18mm mirror/sequin/whatever, 16 longer petals, the slightly larger leaf and the overall size to fit in the small card. It’s been stitched and photographed, the kit fronts have been printed, and I can start putting together the leaflets and the kits (once I’ve written and drawn the instructions). Progress!

The final Shisha flower

I have been doing other things as well – my goldwork watering can is nearly finished, and I did some doodling in floche on felt. Floche isn’t very easy to get hold of, and I can’t think where I got mine from, but it’s a soft, indivisible thread which is quite nice to use. I wanted to stitch something simple on felt, found that the felt I had was so fuzzy that it wouldn’t take a mark from any pen, pencil or felt-tip I could find, so in the end I just started somewhere and went with the flow. Very relaxing. It may eventually become a bookmark, or it may just stay a doodle.

Doodling with floche on felt

And finally, the Millennium frame. We picked it up from Needle Needs on our way to my in-laws last Thursday and it’s beautiful – the wood is so smooth and it all looks wonderfully solid and dependable. But here’s the shocking thing: I haven’t had a play with it yet! Somehow all sorts of other things got in the way, but I’m hoping to have a try tonight, and will of course let you know how it went.

The bits that will make up my Millennium frame

Workshop kits

Our dining room table is strewn with flowers. Shisha flowers, that is, as I’ve been experimenting with fabrics, threads, and stitches, not to mention mirrors, sequins, shells and silver card. Yes, I am trying to decide what to put in the workshop kit, and what exactly to stitch with those materials.

The threads are a fairly easy decision – I’ve been stitching most of my models in Anchor Multicolor perle #5, but for the kits I’ll probably use some skeins of DMC Variations that I’ve got in my stash and don’t use very often because there is no matching #8. The fabric is the next thing; blue cotton, lime green linen/cotton blend, or off-white silk dupion? Having just almost ruined a flower on dupion by ironing it too hot I am inclined to play it safe and go with one of the coloured fabrics; they are also less expensive (not unimportant when putting together kits for a charity workshop).

And which flower? The Cretan version uses less thread, looks nice and is quick to do, but the fly stitch version looks more floral. However, it might take too much time, especially as I will be using this design for a 90-minute workshop later this year, and I do think it’s important that the project can be finished or at least nearly finished within the time of the workshop – so much more encouraging than taking home something that’s barely been started. The yellow shell discs I got some weeks ago look nice, but some people might feel they are not really doing shisha embroidery unless it’s got a mirror. I could bring both and offer the option; the shell discs are a little bigger than the mirrors, but both just about work with the same size transfer.

Small shisha flower using Cretan stitch, on green fabric Small shisha flower using fly stitch, on blue fabric

Which brings me to size. And budget. I printed my little flower design in three sizes, to go with a 15mm, 18mm or 20mm mirror/sequin/shell. The smallest of the three fits snugly into Craft Creation’s small square aperture cards. The medium one, which I would need to use with the mirrors I’ve got, requires the card one size up. Which, unfortunately, is 50% more expensive. So ideally the design would use an 18mm mirror but be no bigger overall than the 15mm one. Using my photo editing program and the scanned design I enlarged and shrunk various bits and I think I’ve got a version that will work, although it may look too cramped with the shell discs. Watch this space!

Now, sequins – yes, I will definitely include the sequins. Options here are to attach them with holding stitches using stranded cotton, securing them with metallic petite beads, French knots, or standard seed beads in a contrasting colour. One thing to bear in mind is that my size 9 needle would only pass through about one in every three petite beads, so the size 7s definitely won’t stand a chance with them (I decided on 7s for the workshop as being a little less challenging to thread). I do like the look of those tiny beads, though, so perhaps I’ll just bring a few size 10s or beading needles to pass round the class (must remember needle threaders too).

Sequins attached with stranded cotton Sequins attached with metallic petite beads Sequins attached with French knots Sequins attached with contrasting beads

So far I’ve tried three different stitches for the scrolled stem: stem stitch, chain stitch (apologies for the example below, it’s not the most even chain stitch I’ve ever produced) and heavy chain stitch. I really like the look of the last one, but it’s probably a little too complicated for a two-hour workshop. Stem stitch may make an appearance in the leaf, so I think plain chain stitch will be the best choice.

The scrolled stem worked in stem stitch The scrolled stem worked in chain stitch The scrolled stem worked in heavy chain stitch

The leaf has been a great place to experiment, and I tried five different styles before finding the look I was after. Four of them I outlined, mostly in stem stitch, but one in backstitch. The necessity for this no doubt arose at least in part because my stitching wasn’t neat enough to produce tidy looking edges, so the outline made up for that. The first I tried was fishbone stitch, and I do like the look of it, but it does require more precise stitch placement than some of the others and takes a bit of time. Next I tried feather stitch, but that just looked rather haphazard. Fly stitch looked better, and I liked the line that formed down the centre of the leaf. Satin stitch can look great, but it needs to be done very accurately to get it to look its best, and I didn’t really take enough time over it. Finally I returned to fly stitch, but I worked it less densely, which had the advantage of being less time-consuming as well as producing a nice light look. It was also the only one that could stand on its own without outlining, even when worked rather quickly.

The leaf worked in fishbone stitch and stem stitch The leaf worked in feather stitch and backstitch The leaf worked in fly stitch and stem stitch The leaf worked in satin stitch and stem stitch The leaf worked in open fly stitch

So what’s it going to be? Blue cotton fabric (although I may use up the bit of lime green I’ve got left as well), Cretan stitch for the flower, chain stitch for the stem, open fly stitch for the leaf, and metallic petite beads to secure the sequins. And if I can get all these things to work with an 18mm mirror and the smallest design size, I’ll be well pleased!

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.

Shisha sampler finished!

After the two experiments on my pre-sampler sampler I decided that the condemned blue & white daisy would be replaced by the more open version of the Cretan shisha variation. A closer look at the sampler confirmed something I had vaguely suspected before, namely that the 24mm sequin was too big for where it was. A rummage through my modest stash of shisha materials produced a bag of 18mm mirrors, which I bought for a class I taught some time ago. Just the size Mary Corbet was working with in her instruction pictures, so that would work very well – I could now be fairly sure that the 16-dots-only version of the Cretan stitch would come out all right. I picked a rather chipped mirror as I wouldn’t be able to use that in a class and it would do perfectly well for a sampler. (Do you find yourself doing that, when teaching someone to stitch, or passing on some threads or materials? Saying “well, it would be all right for me but I couldn’t possible give it to someone else”?)

The daisy has been unpicked, and a new mirror chosen

As I had feared, the holes from unpicking the daisy were quite visible, and using a smaller mirror meant I wouldn’t be covering them with the shisha, so I mulled over various options in the back of my mind while working the Cretan stitch; I could go over the holes in French knots, or beads, or small sequins, or perhaps chain stitch. Oh well, let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

16 dots have been drawn, and the foundation stitches laid

In the end, I decided not to do any of these things. I did add sequins and beads, but only to balance the overall look of the sampler, giving it a vaguely circular outline and filling in a few obvious gaps. The unpicking holes will be part of the sampler, a reminder that you don’t always get things right first time round. As for the Cretan stitch, I definitely like the way it turned out and will be using it again; probably only with the smaller mirrors, though, which I think look a bit daintier than the big sequins (unless you’re doing a really chunky piece that will be seen from some distance away, like a wall hanging).

The finished shisha sampler The finished shisha sampler

In fact, as I was considering using this stitch again, I thought it would make rather a pretty floral design with some stems and leaves added. So back into the hoop went my shisha experiment, and out came some DMC floche, variegated stranded cotton and blending filament. Some stem stitch and fishbone stitch later the two shishas had become part of a flowery whole.

Stems and leaves added to the Shisha experiment Fishbone stitch leaf in stranded cotton and blending filament

After that, it was a small step to cards. Using the less dense Cretan variation with a smaller sequin or mirror, with a scroll and a leaf to complete it, makes a quick and very attractive card for birthdays or other celebrations – and of course the colour of the flower can be adapted to the receiver’s preference. Tucked away in a drawer somewhere were some pretty aperture cards that were just the right size for this project, and, well, I’ll be making a few more of these in the near future! Not only that, but the design struck me as just the right project for the 2-hour workshop I’m planning in aid of our church’s building fund. Slightly different stitches, probably, like chain stitch and fly stitch; a blue background; cheerful yellow shell discs instead of sequins; some spangles…

Small shisha card

But first it’s back to the golden bee and watering can, and, at some point, Orpheus!