The woes of a multiple starter

Originally I was going to call this post “The woes of a serial starter”, but then I realised that if only my starts were serial, there wouldn’t be a problem. It’s because they are concurrent that I get into trouble, and that trouble is summed up in the question “which one do I work on this evening?”

From fairly early on in my embroidery life I found that one project at a time didn’t do it for me. All right, I get bored easily. I am not the work-on-the-same-enormous-project-for-three-years-running type. Quite a steady and patient sort of person in everyday life, I somehow seem to crave variation and instant gratification in my needlework. Oh well, one has to get one’s excitement somewhere smiley.

And on the whole, it works just fine. If I have two or three things on the go, and they are not too similar, I can pick up whichever I feel like at any given moment. I may work on the same project for several days (even weeks) on end, or I may change from one stitching session to the next. But don’t you find sometimes that too much choice can be paralysing? As with flavours of ice cream (so much easier to decide when vanilla, chocolate or strawberry were the only options), so with too wide a selection of available embroidery projects – if there are so many things I could do, I sometimes end up doing none of them and watching Countryfile or a murder mystery instead!

At the moment I find myself with two projects actually being stitched (a Kelly Fletcher design re-imagined in silk and gold and a silk sunflower), two hooped up with the materials chosen (a goldwork workshop model and another sunflower), two transferred with the details still to be decided on (a tiny sheep to be done in silverwork and a project pouch – really a tablet pouch – to be worked in plain DMC), one charted but not yet transferred (a six-petalled flower to be done in silk and gold), and one tantalising me with its possibilities but with no definite stitching plan as yet (a really useful canvas moon bag).

A Kelly Fletcher flower re-imagined in silk and gold The start of a sunflower A goldwork workshop model Two sunflowers
A tiny sheep to be worked in silverwork A project pouch with Mabel on it A six-petalled flower to be stitched in silk and gold A moon bag waiting to be stitched

So will I get any stitching done tonight? As Tommy Cooper said, “I used to think I was indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.” Is there a Midsomer Murders on anywhere?

Unknown silks and a Mexican bird

Recently we were staying with my in-laws where one of the challenges was finding a way for my mother-in-law, a keen needlewoman, to embroider with one hand as her left arm has been fitted with some impressive looking metal scaffolding following a fall. We took my Lowery stand to see whether that would work. Unfortunately it didn’t, or at least not with the embroidery she was working on before the fall. If anyone has any ideas, or experience with this sort of problem, I’d be grateful for your suggestions.

There were some more successful stitch-related moments during our stay, however (quite apart from a good bit of work on the Shisha Mini) – my MIL had been given a box of cones of silk which she said I could have if they were of any use to me. She hadn’t been told what brand the silks were, or what type, or what they had originally been used for. They certainly have a lovely sheen, and the blue-purple-green end of the box immediately made me think of peacocks. I haven’t had a close look at them yet so don’t know whether they are all the same weight/thickness, or even if they are all silk (I have my suspicions about the light blue, which looks like cotton), but aren’t they a pretty collection?

A box of unknown silks

Whether it was thinking of peacocks, or whether I was just looking at their kitchen in more detail now that I was doing the cooking, I suddenly noticed a print that has been there for as long as I’ve visited the house, but which so far had been no more than rather colourful background noise. MIL told me that it came from Mexico and had been a present to herself. With its bold lines and colours it struck me as particularly suitable for embroidery, so I asked if I could copy it. We couldn’t find any tracing paper, but some grease-proof baking parchment did the trick. It’s rather thicker than tracing paper so I couldn’t go for absolute accuracy, but then that didn’t matter particularly as I don’t intend to create an exact copy. When we got home I scanned the drawing and started cleaning it up; it’ll need quite a lot of work, so it won’t be stitched any time soon, but when it does perhaps the silk cones could be incorporated into it – that would be rather appropriate.

A Mexican bird print The Mexican bird tidied up

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…)

Model stitching for the Guildhouse course (II)

Two more models for the course have been completed, and neither of them changed very much! But before I tell you a bit more about one of them, here is some work the students did in the first week:

Student blackwork Student blackwork Student blackwork

On to week 2, when they were going to get to grips with silks. I love silks, and I’m always happy to point people in the direction of stash they didn’t know they needed. So the project was a proper, old-fashioned sampler – a piece of stitching that shows samples of threads or stitches or patterns that the stitchers wants to keep for future reference. Six different stitches (Rhodes heart, leaf stitch, colonial knot, satin stitch motif, chain stitch and cross stitch in two sizes) and six different silks, yielding 36 possible combinations. And having all those combinations in one piece will show very effectively which silks look best in which type of stitch.

The silks used are Carrie’s Creation stranded silk (red), Vinyard Silk Classic (blue), Caron Soie Cristale (yellow), Eterna stranded silk (green), Thredfairy silk cord (cream) and Midori Matsushima Japanese flat silk, 10 suga (purple). I thought all these threads were still available but have just found out that Eterna silk, that affordable flat stranded silk which came in about 500 colours, is no longer available. A sad day for silk lovers. Here, however, it is "in action" with its five fellow-silks.

Silk project for 2012 course

It was lovely to stitch this sampler and feel all the different textures; Carrie’s is a twisted silk, Vineyard consists of two flat and slightly fuzzy plies, Caron is very lightly twisted and has a bit more body than Carrie’s, Eterna is a 12-stranded silk whose strands are practically flat, Thredfairy is a tightly twisted perle thread, and the Japanese silk is so soft and flat and beautiful that just stroking it is a pleasure! It snags on absolutely everything, but a few gentle strokes with finger or needle and it’s ready to go again. The difference between the six silks show up more clearly in real life, I’m afraid, but photographing the sampler with flash helps a bit to show the different textures and the way they catch the light.

Silk project for 2012 course, flash

So were there no changes at all to this design before it got used in class? No, but there are two things I will probably change if I ever use it again. First of all I would probably use a soft silk like Crescent Colour Belle Soie or Gloriana Silk Floss instead of the Caron thread, which doesn’t contrast enough with Carrie’s silk. Secondly I would replace the chain stitch diamond with a flower made up of lazy daisy stitches, as I found that this section was very challenging for a number of the students. And there will have to be a third change as well – I’ll need to find a good substitute for Eterna!

Three more new silks – Treenway

Some years ago I bought a grab bag of odds and ends from Treenway Silks, a Canadian company selling hand-dyed silks. They have since changed owners and moved to America, but the silks are still gorgeous, and the people are very helpful.

In their range of silks there are three which are of interest to any Hardangerers out there (a lovely term coined by Midge of the Cross Stitch Forum) – from thin to thick they are Fine Cord Reeled Silk, 20/2 Spun Silk and 8/2 Reeled Silk. Should you wonder, reeled or filament silk is taken from the cocoon in one unbroken thread, which can be combined and twisted to make a thicker thread; spun silk is made from shorter fibres, for example the ones from cocoons from which the moth has emerged, or from the leftovers of reeled silk. Reeled silk is stronger, less prone to fuzziness and fraying (so longer threads can be used), and generally shinier (although that depends also on whether it is flat or twisted).

Treenway describe these three types of thread as being equivalent to a buttonhole twist, #8 perle and #3 perle. I’ve not yet worked out what exactly a buttonhole twist is, but the few threads I’ve seen which go by that name seem to be tightly twisted perle threads somewhere between #8 and #12. Treenway’s #3 thread is interesting in that at first glance it is not very perle-like as it doesn’t have a very strong twist, and it doesn’t look nearly as thick as a #3; in fact, it looks more like a very slightly more chunky #5. So I decided to try it for Kloster blocks, with the 20/2 silk for the other stitches.

Treenway

Like some other thick silks and also Caron Watercolours, the effect of the Kloster blocks is less textural than with a perle cotton, or a tightly twisted silk perle like Gloriana, but I rather like the look of these blocks with their five stitches almost blending into each other. Coverage is great, as you would expect from a thicker-than-#5 thread, and not too bulky. The 20/2 works well as a #8 substitute, but feels a little thicker. I didn’t stitch the little backstitch motifs in this experiment, but I think the thread would have been a little too thick for them to be well-defined.

Would the Fine Cord perhaps work better? At this point I only had the grab-bag threads, so it wasn’t easy to find pairs of threads that would go together, but I managed to find a green 20/2 and a variegated green Fine Cord which made a usable combination. Having to use the thinner of the "perles" for the Kloster blocks meant using a finer fabric, so I tried this combination on 28ct.

Treenway

As you can see, the 20/2 is not quite thick enough to give good coverage in the Kloster blocks, even on 28ct. It’s just about acceptable, but cut ends keep poking out. The Fine Cord is gorgeous – easy to work with and what a lovely shine!

Ideally, then, I’d use the 8/2 silk and the Fine Cord together on 25ct (and they’d probably work fine on 22ct as well). There was one problem: the grab bag had not contained any of these that would go together. Oh dear. It looked like I’d have to buy a few colours just to experiment with …

I did (bet that didn’t surprise you). I got two sets of 8/2 and Fine Cord, plus a single Fine Cord in their delectable shade Tangiers to use on one of the Round Dozen. And here is the result (this shade is St Thomas):

Treenway

Like most silks, especially hand-dyed ones, these threads aren’t cheap. But for a special project, or as a treat to yourself, they are just perfect.

More Mulberry silk

Last week I tried out some Mulberry silks which I’d had in my stash for some time, to see how well they were suited to Hardanger. The Thick and Medium silks I tried first were both a little on the chunky side compared to #5 and #8 perle cottons. I don’t mind that so much for the Kloster blocks, where good solid coverage is a bit of a bonus to my mind, but if you’re going to use the thinner thread for backstitch as well as worked bars and filling stitches it can look better when it’s a bit thinner than a #8. On the other hand, too thin and you end up having to work an endless amount of weaves or wraps to give your worked bars decent coverage.

I intended to try out Mulberry’s Thin silk as a substitute for Medium, but just looking at it on the bobbin made it quite clear that it was going to be far too thin. Mulberry give the thickness of their threads in the x/y format which I’m still trying to get my head round. It means, as far as I’ve been able to work out, that the thread consists of y number of plies, and each ply has the thickness x, where a higher x means a thinner thread. Apparently it’s all based on the number of 840-yard hanks you get from a pound of thread. I assume that’s an imperial rather than a metric pound, but whichever it is, after about ten seconds of trying to work this out my eyes start to glaze over and I decide that I can spend the time much more enjoyably stitching.

It boils down to this – as with perle cottons, the higher the number the thinner the thread. And a 30/3 thread is equivalent in thickness to a 20/2 thread, although I’m sure it makes a difference whether it is, for example, very tightly twisted. Anyway, Mulberry Silks’ Thick silk is a 10/3, Medium is a 30/3 and Fine a 100/3. So the trick would be to find something between 30 and 100. Enter their Quilting silk, which is a 70/3.

The Quilting silk is lovely for the little backstitch motifs, with a very nice shine and crisp detail,and it makes a beautifully lacy square filet, but it is quite thin for the woven bars and takes a lot of weaving to get good coverage. Probably the best solution would be to use Thick for Kloster blocks, Medium for bars, and Quilting for filling stitches and backstitch.

Mulberry silks

Yesterday the postman brought me some lovely Treenway silks to add to my collection – watch this space for a further silk Hardanger experiment!

Enabling and two new threads

There are words which mean something completely different depending on the context. On my favourite stitching forum we often use the term "enabler". It means someone who tells you about a new supplier, designer, fabric, thread, embellishment, piece of equipment, anything stitch-related, really – and thereby enables you to add many lovely things to your stitching stash. Although this may lead to a severe strain on the budget, it is generally seen as A Good Thing. Imagine my surprise when I found out today that out there in the non-stitching world "enabling" may also refer to "unhelpful help", for example by making it possible for an alcoholic to keep feeding his addiction. This "enabling prevents psychological growth in the person being enabled". Oh dear. Well, I think I can safely say that stitch-enabling has no such negative effects; provided you handle your stash budget sensibly, there are few things as pleasant as finding new materials, browsing a site, deciding which colours to get and what you’ll use them for.

My unconditional thanks, therefore, to that kind fellow-member of the Cross Stitch Forum who pointed me to an eBay seller called michigandoctor; she has the most amazing collection of hand-dyed threads including some beautiful silk perles, and is extremely helpful and quick to reply to emails. I should have some Gloriana and Thread Gatherer silk perles coming my way soon …

Meanwhile I decided to alleviate the waiting period by playing with some more of the silk threads already in my stash. I like buying one or two skeins of silks (and other speciality threads) that I don’t know, to see what they might be used for. You may remember the Gumnut silk Hardanger experiment on 36ct linen I did a while back. Well, there were some other threads which might be good for Hardanger but which I hadn’t tried yet.

The first two of these are Mulberry Silks’ Thick and Medium Silk Twist. Mulberry Silks come in lots of different weights or thicknesses, and most of the sets they sell are Medium and Fine weight. For Hardanger on 25ct these are too thin a combination – Fine looks rather thinner than a #12 perle, and Medium is about the thickness of a #8. Their Thick silk twist feels a bit heavier than a #5. But enough of the numbers, how do they stitch up and are they nice to work with?

Well, the Thick silk gives great coverage on 25ct Lugana – perhaps a little too much even, as it can be tricky to get the satin stitches in a Kloster block to lie neatly parallel. They do look lovely and plump, though, and getting rid of those pesky cut ends is no trouble at all with such a lot of Kloster block to hide them in. The Medium silk has a lovely sheen and produces a well-defined dove’s eye, but if you like a lacier effect the Fine silk may be the better choice. I did not stitch the little backstitch corner motifs I usually include in my Hardanger experiments, but I feel that the Medium silk may be just a little too chunky for that.

Mulberry silks

All in all lovely threads to work with, the only drawback being the limited number of shades in which the Thick silk is available. As for the Fine silk, I may need to stitch another experiment to see how that one looks "in action" …

Gumnut Hardanger – a fiddly business

Having decided to use the Gumnut stranded silk for cross stitch designs, I found I kept thinking of using it for Hardanger too, if only as an experiment. Gumnut used to do variegated shades as well (they are still on their site, but not made at the moment, I believe) and in my stash I have a perle in Dark Garnet and a stranded silk in Medium Garnet. I decided on a 36ct Edinburgh linen to get enough coverage in the Kloster blocks, and set out to stitch my small experiment motif.

It was certainly interesting to try – the unevenness of the linen made the coverage a bit uneven as well, and this was not helped by the fact that I only noticed some of the perle thread had stripped (and so I was stitching with a thinner thread) when I was half-way through. Even so, coverage looked OK when all the Kloster blocks had been stitched. But then came the time to cut.

Cutting 36ct linen, even using squissors, is a daunting task, and poking the cut ends in proved to be quite tricky too, but eventually I got it done (though they kept poking back out again). I then decided to duplicate the experiment on 36ct Fabric Flair evenweave, a cotton/modal mix and much more regular; also a bit more open, so it was just that little bit easier to cut. I might use this combination, of #8 perle and stranded silk or cotton on 36ct fabric, again some time, but I must remember to do the cutting by daylight! (You can click on the thumbnails for more detailed pictures.)

Gumnut on linen Gumnut on cotton/modal

To give you an idea of the size, here is a picture of one of the 36ct experiments side by side with the same motif on my usual 25ct:

Gumnut on linen

Three Gumnut silks in search of a design

Remember "Old & New", the fireworks design that didn’t happen? I had another try, using backstitch, but somehow that didn’t work either. Then I tried something in cross stitch, but not solid cross stitch – more like a mosaic, with a thin open space between the stitches. And then I thought it might look rather nice with Rhodes stitches instead of cross stitches; it did, but they were too big, as I wanted the final design to be card-sized. So I changed them to double cross stitches (that is to say, an ordinary cross stitch over two, and then an upright cross on top of it). It should look quite attractive either in blue and purple on white opalescent fabric, or in red, green and gold on black.

Old & New

So what does this have to do with the three Gumnut silks of the title? Well, uhm, nothing really. I was just tying up loose ends, to use a stitching term (of sorts).

On to the silks, then. Gumnut Yarns are yet another Australian company producing scrumptious hand-dyed embroidery threads. (What is it with Australians and hand-dyed threads? I can think of at least three companies without even trying! I hope any Australian stitchers reading this are suitably grateful for so much lovely stash produced in their very own country.) I bought some of their silks at the wonderful London Bead Company some time ago; mostly Stars, which are stranded silks, but also one shade of Buds, which are like a soft version of perle #8, and one of their silk/wool threads. Recently I was looking through my silks for some reason (probably just because I enjoy looking at them so much) and realised that the three shades of stranded silk which I chose rather randomly at the time actually looked quite good together. So much so, in fact, that they were simply crying out for a design. The Gumnut colours come in sets of five, and these are the fourth shades of Hyacinth, Daffodil and Apple Green:

Gumnut silks

I thought of getting the perles to go with them, but they are, unfortunately, rather expensive. Moreover, they come only in the equivalent of #8, which would mean that for Hardanger I would either have to use the Gumnut threads for bars and filling stitches, and use a neutral shade of ordinary #5 to go with them; or I’d have to use a much finer fabric, and use the Gumnut perle for the Kloster blocks and the stranded silk for the bars and fillings. I might just do that, if I ever feel flush enough to get the three required perles. But for now, I thought I’d go for one of those nice geometric designs in cross stitch. Well, a set of small designs, anyway. As for naming them, well, I suppose the combination of purple, gold and green rather suggests Mardi Gras, but Mardi Gras isn’t really me. But the colours also reminded me of one of Cicely Mary Barker’s flower fairies, Nightshade, whose other name is Bittersweet, and as some of the shapes in the designs are vaguely floral, that seemed quite appropriate. So here is one of the three designs that make up Bittersweet:

Bittersweet

Stranded silks in Hardanger

Having come to the conclusion that yes, you can use silks in Hardanger (hurray!) because there are such lovely silk perles and other silk threads of the right thickness out there, I rather glossed over the question whether any of those other lovely silks could be used as well – not for surface stitching (almost any thread can be used for that, with your imagination being practically the only limit) but for Kloster blocks, bars and fillings.

There was a good reason why I didn’t go into that side of things. I’d never tried it.

But recently I was looking into my collection of silks because someone asked about them on the Cross Stitch Forum I am a member of, and as I was petting all the pretty threads (silks are just so tactile!) I took out a bobbin of Silk Mill stranded silk. It has quite a strong twist, an amazing sheen, and the strands (a little thicker than strands of DMC) looked as though they might do very well as a substitute for #12 perle. Probably OK for bars and fillings, then. But might they also work, 3 or 4 strands together, for the Kloster blocks?

I was trying to finish Patches, I had 9 blackwork Christmas cards to stitch by Tuesday for the ladies in my stitching group, and have been trying to get to grips with our ancient sewing machine to finish a project as a tuck cushion ornament before the big family pre-Christmas get-together next weekend. I did not need Another Project. But be honest, once an idea like that had entered your mind, would you be able to resist?

I’ve got a small chart that I use for any Hardanger thread experiment, the same that I used for the Gloriana threads. So here is the result of using Silk Mill stranded silk on 25ct Lugana, one strand for backstitch, woven bars and dove’s eye and four strands for Kloster blocks.

Silk Mill Hardanger

So did it work? Well, yes and no. It obviously worked to some extent in that you can see a finished piece of Hardanger stitched with Silk Mill silks, and it certainly has a lovely shine in real life. But click on it for a larger version and you will notice a few problems (especially when I point them out to you – something that a stitcher should never, under normal circumstances, do!)

I had expected the problem of keeping four strands of fairly springy and boingy silk together so that they would behave as one thick thread. This was not easy (I hadn’t expected it to be) but on the whole it was reasonably successful, although I did occasionally have to stroke the threads into place with my needle. The bigger problem came when cutting. Because each stitch consists of four separate strands, it is extremely easy to nick one of them. Now I occasionally nick my threads even when using perle cotton or Caron Watercolours, but because that is one thread it is much more forgiving, and any small fraying bits can be "swept under the carpet" as it were, by pushing them gently into the Kloster block. Not so here – when you nick the thread it is likely to sever one of the strands completely, and that is much more difficult to hide!

You can also see that although the woven bars look fine from a distance, in close up they show gaps. This could be remedied by more weaves, of course, but it’s not ideal. So on the whole I’d say that although Silk Mill stranded silk can be used for Hardanger, I wouldn’t advise it; it’s a lot of hassle for a slightly shinier result.

The silk backstitch looks great though, so I may well get it in black and golden yellow for some luxurious blackwork! (Surely you didn’t think I’d end on a negative note about silk?)