Spice threads have arrived!

… but there has been a worrying development. A few days ago, I realised that I needed two perle cottons: one each of #5 and #8 in the new brown for Spices. I went to Sew & So, had a nice browse, and then came away having bought TWO PERLE COTTONS. That’s it. Nothing else. And they had several silk threads in their 50% Off sale. My husband, needless to say, thought this was definitely A Good Thing and commended me highly for my restraint. I must be getting better at the virtue of Prudence than I thought!
When the threads arrived today they looked just right as they tumbled out of the envelope – but of course you can’t really tell until you’ve got all the colours together. I first compared them with the brown I had originally meant to use, and was encouraged to see that it was definitely a much warmer colour:
Browns for Spices
Then I unearthed the project wallet that holds all the threads for Spice Islands and lined them all up; and don’t they look rich together! I’ll be starting this the moment I’ve finished the second Shades.
Browns for Spices

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:

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?)

Silk perle in Hardanger

If I’ve managed to convince you that silks are A Good Thing and should be used as often as is possible in today’s economic crisis, what’s the next step for a stitcher who wants to use silks in Hardanger? The easy option is to go for silk perles. They work pretty much the same way as perle cottons, generally come in much the same thicknesses, and so if you can stitch a design with perle cottons you can stitch it with silk perles. My absolute favourites are Gloriana’s Princess Perle (similar to a #5) and Princess Perle Petite (between #8 and #12). Their shine is unbelievable, they are a joy to work with, and the fact that the Petite thread is just that little bit thinner than a #8 makes it great for very delicate filling stitches. They also come in the most glorious colours. Did I mention I love these threads?
I used the Petite thread in the model for Harlequin, but first tried them out in a little experiment. In spite of the fact that photographs never show a piece of needlework as it looks in real life, the picture does show some of the shininess of the thread.
Gloriana perles
Others to consider are Pearsall’s silk perle (although it only comes in neutral shades, white and off-white, and the thickest available is #6), Dinky Dyes silk perles (in thicknesses pretty much equivalent to #5, #8 and #12) and Thread Gatherer Silken Pearl (which I have not tried myself but looks good). Other silks come in thicker versions which are not exactly perles, but are the right thickness – treat yourself to a browse of Treenway’s website, or Colour Streams.

Silks in Hardanger

Can you use silk threads for Hardanger embroidery? It is certainly possible to use "unoriginal" threads – after all, hardly anyone still uses linen threads, as far as I know. Most Hardanger nowadays is stitched using perle cottons, and jolly useful they are, too, with their twisted texture and lovely shine. So why not silks?
I realise that some people will turn the question around. Seeing that perle cottons do the job so well, they ask "Why silks?" To a thorough-going silk nut like myself this hardly qualifies as a valid question. Silks don’t need a reason. Like Mount Everest, you use silks Because They Are There. Not, perhaps, for each and every project, but when you feel like a bit of luxury.
There are a few things to consider before deciding on silks. First of all, they can be quite expensive, and although some aren’t too bad, others can easily go up to £6.50 a skein. It all adds up, as they say! Still, as an occasional treat that can probably be got over, especially when you choose a design that won’t use more than a skein of only a few colours.
But there are other factors that will influence your decision, mainly the question which bits of the design you want to use the silks for. Several Mabel’s Fancies designs use stranded silk for adding a little touch of luxury (the Floral Tiles, for example), but that is usually confined to surface stitching – Rhodes stitches, satin stitches and so on. Very pretty, of course, and very satisfying to do, but would it be possible to use silk for the actual Hardanger bits, the Kloster blocks and bars and fillings?
The trouble with Kloster blocks especially is that they work best when stitched with single-strand, relatively thick threads. When stitched with multiple strands of stranded cotton, for example, they tend to look a bit messy and a lot flatter than those nice plump perle Kloster blocks we’ve come to know and love. Bars (be they woven or wrapped) are difficult to get even and smooth using stranded threads. Unfortunately, most silks on the market are stranded silks, or if they are indivisible, they tend to be too thin to be of any practical use in Hardanger (unless you opt for a 40ct linen or finer to work on – not for the faint-hearted, that).
So all is lost, then? Don’t you believe it. Having whetted your appetite, next time I will be telling you about … *drumroll* … Silk Perles!