A flower garden grows and toadstools get freckles

The Little Wildflower Garden was originally designed to be stitched on a small square of hand-dyed felt that I happened to have in my stash. The felt just fitted a 3″ hoop, so I scaled the design to fit comfortably within a 3″ circle. But the nice thing about freestyle embroidery is that you can easily make a design larger or smaller if you want. Yes, I know you can do so with counted embroidery as well, but there it depends on the count of the fabric; as freestyle embroidery doesn’t depend on holes in the fabric, it can be any size you like (within reason, of course). And so the chart pack shows two sizes of garden – one where I printed the design to be 5cm wide, and one where the width is 6.5cm.

When you enlarge a design there is a decision to make about the threads – do you use the same as for the smaller version, or do you scale the thread thickness up as well? When doing Hardanger, I’d definitely change the threads to suit the size, as you wouldn’t get the right coverage otherwise; although even there some stitchers might prefer using perle #5 and #8 on 28 count, giving a plump, well-covered look, while others choose perle #8 and #12 for a lighter feel. Here I decided to use the same number of strands for the larger transfer as for the smaller one, and see what the effect is. It turns out to be the same sort of effect as the Hardanger one I mentioned just now – the larger garden is lighter and airier, the flowers and the grass less dense. Is that a good thing? It largely depends on your tastes and preferences. Personally I like the well-filled effect of the smaller one where everything blends into a densely stitched patch, but some friends said they’d prefer the larger one where the various parts have a bit more breathing space and room to themselves. What do you think?

A little wildflower garden in two sizes

Another design that saw some changes is the Toadstools. As you know I found the outline-only version a bit flat, so I got to work with seed stitches to create a bit of shading. In hindsight, it might have been helpful to have done some pencil shading on my paper design first to decide where to put the seed stitches, but the “let’s get stitching and see what we end up with” approach seems to have worked all right – I’m happy with my freckled toadstools!

Toadstools in outline only Toadstools with seed stitch shading

Bits and pieces (II)

Once a month there is a craft group at our village library; everyone brings whatever they are working on and we have tea or coffee and cake and a chat. This time I decided to bring the Toadstools. In a sense they are finished – all the outlines have been worked in different “thicknesses” of stem stitch, and although I want to make a few changes to some of the colours, otherwise I could just leave it as it is. But it looks a bit flat, and I decided it could do with a little shading in the form of seed stitch. Having decided this, I then proceeded to ignore the project entirely for several months. But I needed something smallish to take to the library, and Toadstools fitted the bill. In the end (and I will explain why a bit later) only a little bit of seed stitching got done, but I am rather pleased with its effect and will definitely do some more of it; with no chart to follow and only some standard DMC stranded cottons needed this may be just the right project to take when we visit my husband’s parents later this month.

Some shading is added to a toadstool Seed stitch shading

So why did I get so little seed stitching done? Because at the very last minute before leaving the house I popped a piece of hand-dyed felt in a 3″ hoop – just to see if it would fit, you understand – and when it did I thought I might as well take it and do some flower embroidery on it using the colours in my Toadstool project box. And that’s what I did; with a little sketch I’d scribbled on a bedside notepad the night before as a rough guide, but otherwise just seeing where it would go. Unfortunately the Toadstool box is not very well-stocked with blues and purples which meant I couldn’t work a planned cornflower and sprig of lavender, so I then did some seed stitching, taking the flowered felt home in its incomplete grass, daisies and one poppy stage.

Freestyle flowers on felt - the beginning

In the evening I got out my thread boxes and chose two blues for the cornflower, but for the sprig of lavender I decided to blend 2 strands of lilac with one strand of light green, and I’m rather pleased with the look of the resulting French knots.

blended threads used for the lavender

Finally, having stitched everything that was in my sketch, I added an ear of wheat. I felt the design could do with something yellowy, and something tall. I had to cheat a bit by taking the stem behind stitches I’d done before; when I stitch this design again I’ll start with the wheat. Writing a list of colours and stitches used (as much as an aide-memoire for myself as for possible future use in a chart pack) another thing I changed is the way the cornflower is worked. Here it is a small circle of dark blue fly stitch, with a large circle of medium blue fly stitch on top. The effect of the fly stitches on top is fine, but underneath simple straight stitches radiating from the centre will do just as well and be less bulky. And finally the middle daisy – that needed to come down a bit. So based on the finished stitching I cleaned up the drawing and made it into a proper line transfer, with all the parts in the right place and order.

The finished flowers

And then I added a bee.

The finished flowers, with bee

Well, what can I say – I like little creatures in my embroideries. (Stitched ones, that is; let no real-life moth dare come near them!) And I’ve been wanting to try out a bi-coloured bullion knot for ages. Anyway, I’m happy with how this came out, and in its cleaned-up form (with or without the rather challenging bee) it might work rather well as a beginners’ workshop; perhaps another one for the Church Building Fund? All I need now is a good method for transferring a design on to felt…

Notes on toadstools and a robin

I’m having great fun with my toadstools! Of my several plans I decided to start with the medium-sized, insectless version, simply outlined in stem stitch throughout. At this point I had ideas as to what I wanted the fungi to look like, but nothing set in stone – probably golden yellow for the right-hand toadstool, cream with blue or purple spots for the left-hand one, and the middle one the traditional red-with-white-spots (the only thing that is non-negotiable!). An enjoyable hour or so with my boxes of DMC and an LED light (invaluable when selecting and matching colours in the evening) produced a nice collection of bobbins, but as any stitcher knows, colours on bobbins don’t necessarily look like those same colours stitched onto fabric!

Toadstools ironed on, and colours chosen

By the way, I used the black iron-on pen to do the transferring. It worked beautifully, but there are a few things to keep in mind for future transfers; not criticisms exactly, just notes-to-self. First, although the line drawn with the pen is quite fine, the ironed-on line on the fabric is a little thicker. On small designs where a single strand is used this may cause the line to remain visible. Second, the ironed-on line is much lighter than the pen line looks on the transfer paper. On the fabric, the “black” pen looks a pale blue-grey. This is not a problem in itself – the lines are perfectly visible as they are and it might even be a drawback if they were any darker, as it would be more difficult to cover them up. Finally, I have the feeling that the lines fade a little over time. I transferred two copies of the robin (more of him below), and the second one, which hasn’t been stitched yet, is a very pale blue now – still visible, still workable, but paler than it was when I’d just ironed it on. I think. It’s very difficult to remember accurately the exact darkness or lightness of a line two weeks later!

Back to the toadstools. They were worked in standard DMC stranded cotton, using two strands for the two outer toadstools, and three strands for the middle one and the grass. The grass is worked in two strands of dark green and one of light green.

Toadstools outlined in stem stitch

I quite like the look of it as it is, but I feel it needs a few tweaks. My ideas so far:

  • I like the contrast between the slightly heavier middle toadstool and the lighter outside ones. However, the outlines of the outer two toadstools aren’t as clear as I’d like, and the spots are a bit too heavy. Next time try 4 strands and 3 strands respectively for the outlines, 3 and 2 for the spots. The grass is OK at 3 strands (2 dark, 1 light).
  • The red is too orange and too bright; try tweeding a darker red into it. The line forming the underside of the cap is a bit dark; would it look better in a very dark red? Then fill in the under-cap area with gills in brown – either straight stitch, or stem stitch in one strand.
  • The ecru toadstool is rather light, probably even with an extra strand. Think of a different colour. Spots in blue rather than purple?
  • The outline-only version looks a bit empty (as does the no-insect bit). Try seed stitch (in 3 strands for the middle one, 2 for the outer two) of diminishing density top down (start at the top of the cap with dense stitching and become more scattered downwards, stopping at about the half-way point). Same principle for the stems, and the frill on the middle one.
  • Is there a blueish fungus of the left-hand shape? If so this might look better than the yellow. (Then the insect can be done in a warm shade.)

So there’s my homework for the coming time: experiment a bit more with the toadstools, both as regards colours and stitches. Incidentally, did you spot the addition to the design? Serinde suggested in a comment that a snail would be a good alternative to an insect, and I thought that was a spiffing idea, so I drew a snail version and also added it to the project in progress, as you can see above. It took me a while to decide on colours and number of strands for him, but eventually I settled on the dark brown used in the middle toadstool, and the purple used in the right-hand one, both in one strand. As this is a trial piece I’m afraid he wasn’t stitched as carefully as he should have been (the shape of his body is too much of a smooth arc, it should have some bends in it) but it gives an idea.

The toadstools with a little snail added The snail has been stitched

The little stylised robin inspired by a 1920s starch advert has been played about with as well. As with the toadstools, I decided to do one simply outlined in stem stitch to begin with. Well, apart from its eye, which is a black, round Rhodes stitch, to make it nice and beady (using that word makes me think I could just have used a bead; still, I like this look and a bead might have been a bit too shiny compared to the rest). For this one I used Rainbow Gallery Splendor silk, which is lovely and soft to work with. Just so that it wouldn’t look too “flat”, I tweeded quite a few of the colours, using one strand each of a darker and a lighter shade – it’s a simple way of adding a bit of instant shading.

On the whole I’m quite happy with this little chap, although I will do the legs differently next time – either outlined in one strand, or in two or three strands but as single lines. As they are here (outlined in two strands) they look too heavy compared to the rest of the bird. I was also thinking of stitching one filled in with long & short stitch, but on second thoughts I’m not sure that naturalistic shading won’t look out of place on such a stylised design. Perhaps using tweeded stem stitch as a relatively blocky filling would suit his look better.

The starchy robin outlined in stem stitch

Toadstools and a daisy

Last Thursday we had a church meeting. And a very interesting meeting it was, too, with lots about the proposed new building. Throughout the meeting I paid close enough attention to be able to give a fairly detailed summary to my husband afterwards. I only mention this because I also doodled throughout the meeting, and I wouldn’t like you to get the wrong idea smiley.

Do you do that? Doodle during meetings, or in waiting rooms, or while on the phone? I do – I’m an inveterate doodler. Somehow it seems to help me concentrate better. Sometimes it also produces something usable, as it did in this case. I’d been thinking of toadstool designs for a while; in fact I’ve got a sketch and notes for a goldwork toadstool. And talking of buildings at the meeting brought them to mind (I used to love the toadstool houses that gnomes live in in fairytales). So I sketched a few toadstool shapes on the agenda. (Apologies for the slightly crumpled pictures – I had to retrieve this invaluable record of my designing process from the recycling bin…)

Toadstools initial sketch Separate toadstools Overlapping toadstools

As you can see I drew some separate toadstool shapes first, then decided they’d look better overlapping slightly. When I got home I drew a larger sketch based on the overlapping version. This was then scanned, to be tidied up in my photo editing program.

Larger sketch

While tidying up I decided that the left-hand side looked a bit empty, and as I love little creepy crawly critters as long as they are in needlework rather than in the flesh (or whatever real insects are made from) I added first a caterpillar (my favourite creepy crawly) and then an alternative beetle.

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I’m planning to stitch three versions of this, in three sizes, one outlined in stem stitch only, one mostly outlined and partly filled in using a variety of stitches, and one filled in entirely using long-and-short stitch and ste stitch filling.

As I was getting the toadstools ready to print, I thought I might as well tidy up a sketch I did some time ago of a simple daisy and bumblebee intended for teaching. I haven’t decided how to stitch that one yet; it could work in goldwork, or perhaps in freestyle outlines it would be a good one for another workshop in aid of the building fund!

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