A snowman goes public, and a silk gets overlooked

The latest issue of Stitch, the Embroiderers’ Guild’s magazine, hit the shops last weekend, and you may recognise a certain snowman in one of the small cover pictures – yes, Forever Frosty has made his first public appearance! It’s always great fun seeing your own project in print, and this time they gave me a full double spread especially for the goldwork diagrams as well as the main article with the usual photographs and instructions. I’m really pleased with it, but I can’t help wondering why colours never seem to come out quite right in photographs, even professional ones; the fabric is definitely blue-er in real life.

Stitch magazine, issue 127 Forever Frosty

Sending the stitched models to the magazine for photographing is always a bit fraught – the Stitch people are really careful with them, that’s not the problem, but their postal journey there and back is a time of nervous anticipation: will they make it, or will they become a Lost Item? So it was with a sigh of relief that I welcomed Frosty and the little willow that made it into issue 125 safely back home last week, in time for us to take them on our visit to my mother-in-law, who is a keen needlewoman and who I knew would like to see them.

So now I can concentrate on other things. The RSN Certificate, for one thing – but more about that in a later FoF. The other thing is Hope, my new rainbow design, which I’m currently working on in two different versions. I’m planning a third before putting the chart pack together, by which time the design should offer any stitcher a variation that suits her.

Remember the blues I was having a bit of a ponder about? Well, based on various digital shade cards I decided that Splendor 966 was probably the blue I really wanted: a little darker than the Splendor blue I already had, with the added bonus of being the same brand as all the other silks in that particular version of the rainbow.

Splendor 966, a slightly darker blue

I’ve been meaning to expand my collection of Splendor silks but unfortunately no shop in the UK has the entire range, and so for some shades I will have to resort to US sellers (I prefer Stitching Bits & Bobs who have been very helpful in the past) and just take the import duties and postage on the chin. But West End Embroidery, who are equally helpful and in the UK, have a fair few shades so I decided to start there – get as many of the shades on my list as they have from them, then go to SB&B for the others. Fortunately, Splendor 966 was one of the shades in their collection.

I went through my list, and their catalogue, and may have added a shade or two that wasn’t on my list, and finally hit the Check Out button to place the order. The order confirmation email duly arrived, and as I glanced through it I realised one shade was missing. Yes, I’d forgotten to order 966…

A quick phone call to Yvonne remedied that, so that when the order arrived, the blue which was the initial reason for the order was there among all the pretty colours which were not strictly necessary. It would have been terribly embarrassing having to place a second order for one single colour – I might have had to add a few extras smiley !

The whole Splendor order

Rainbow choices and a mystery

My rainbow is growing apace! Apart from a couple of evenings this week when we have other things on, I’ve been stitching a band a night, and I like how it’s developing. There have been a few decisions to take along the way, though – not quite the relaxed just-get-on-and-stitch project I first had in mind – but that is part of any project that will eventually become a chart pack or kit. And in a way it makes me concentrate more on the design and how I want it to look.

I wrote earlier about backstitch versus cable stitch in the red band; and for the orange band I had to choose between plain and reverse chain stitch (I went for the latter – easier to start a new thread mid-line). The yellow band threw up another decision; in my provisional notes I’d put it down as diagonal satin stitch, which would mean gradually changing the stitch direction to compensate for the curve. Not impossible of course, but not very relaxed either, and I did want to try and keep it relatively simple. Straight satin stitch then? You’d still need to adjust the stitch direction, but it’s definitely easier than in the diagonal version. Unfortunately that wasn’t the effect I wanted, and anyway I suspected that both diagonal and straight satin stitch throughout would look too solid, with too little texture. In the end I went for blocks of diagonal satin stitch alternating in direction. But would it need a split stitch outline? I started one just in case.

A provisional split stitch edge

The split stitch looked rather messy – I don’t really like doing split stitch in more than a single strand – so I started from the other end of the band without split stitch, tucking the ends under the previous band on one side, and knowing they’d be covered on the other side by the next band. And it looked just fine. Good, I’m all for simplifying things! The incipient line of split stitch was unpicked and the whole band worked without it; split stitch may make an appearance as a proper filling stitch in the smaller version worked in an indivisible thread, but here it isn’t needed.

Alternating satin stitch without a split stitch edge The yellow band finished

The green band, in stem stitch, posed no problem. The blue band, to compensate for this, threw up two.

First dilemma: fly stitch or Cretan? To begin with I was almost certain I’d go for fly stitch, then I doodled both and suddenly I wasn’t so sure. They both looked rather fun!

Fly stitch versus Cretan stitch

After discussing both options with my husband I decided to stick with fly stitch after all; much though I like Cretan stitch, I felt that (in contrast to the original satin stitch band idea) it has too much texture – a bit too fussy for this project. OK, fly stitch. But…

… in which blue? From a practical point of view it makes sense to stick with one brand of silk throughout, but the Splendor blue was a bit lighter than I’d like and the only darker blue of the right sort came from my collection of Caron Soie Cristale.

Which blue to choose

Rainbow Gallery’s Splendor silk is a 12-stranded silk in a slightly unusual distribution: it consists of three “bundles” of four strands. There are other silks on the market which use the same distribution (Crescent Colours Belle Soie, Gloriana Silk Floss and Thread Gatherer Silk ‘n Colors) and their weight too is pretty much identical, so I’ve long suspected they are really exactly the same silk marketed by four different companies. Ideally, then, I’d find a darker blue in my stash of these brands, but I have a fairly limited selection and moreover they are all overdyed or variegated threads rather than the solid blue I was looking for.

Caron Soie Cristale seemed a good alternative as it is also a 12-stranded thread, although not of the 3×4 type, and the individual strands are of a similar weight to Splendor and its doppelgangers. I cut a length of the darker blue, stripped four strands from it, got ready to thread them, and realised that the four strands together were noticeably thinner then the four strands of Splendor I’d been using. On closer inspection, the thread turned out to consist of 16 thinner strands. Had I misremembered the strand count and weight of Soie Cristale? I checked four or five other bobbins and this is the only Soie Cristale I have which has 16 thinner strands. I am puzzled.

The rogue thread, standard Soie Cristale and Splendor

Oh well, we work with what we have. Six strands of this rogue blue looked to have about the same bulk as four strands of the Splendor, so I got to work with that. Having struggled with six rather wayward strands for several hours I am happy with the look of the stitch, but the colour seems rather dark. Perhaps with hindsight my original Splendor blue would have been better. Unpick it all? That’s a bit drastic. I’ll see if it’s grown on me by the time my next stitching session comes around…

The blue band finished

By the way, exciting news – I’ve got a Certificate class booked at Rugby! Next Wednesday I hope to make a start on mounting the Jacobean tree, and going over my paperwork with Angela.

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…