Goldwork hide-and-seek and picking threads

I keep most of my goldwork materials in small glassine envelopes – little greaseproof paper bags which are translucent so you get an inkling of what’s inside (and how pretty it looks). The envelopes are in turn kept in a storage box, where they are stacked in shallow rows: a stack of different pearl purls, a stack of spangles, a stack of milliary wires and so on.

Goldwork threads in their glassine envelopes

It works very well, and I can lay my hands on whatever I want with ease. Generally. Recently, however, I could not find an envelope of gold Elizabethan twist, and one of silver smooth passing. I knew I had them (I keep a record of all my stash), I could visualise them, but although I went through every compartment of the storage box half a dozen times, they would not turn up.

This puzzled me especially because I remembered quite clearly that the Elizabethan twist was a relatively large roll of metallic thread which had only just fitted inside the envelope. Surely that couldn’t hide anywhere so successfully? The solution to the mystery turned out to be twofold: a) bad memory – my stock of Elizabethan twist wasn’t nearly as big as I though, it was the gold smooth passing (which was not missing) that rather stretched its envelope, and b) an annoying tendency for glassine envelopes to form close bonds with each other, especially when not very full. The gold twist and the silver passing were both where they were meant to be, just hiding inside the flaps of their neighbours…

How glassine envelopes hide

So now that I had all threads and wires present and correct I could finally do what I had actually got the storage box out for: choosing the golds for the silk version of the Tree of Life. These will be used for the bird sitting on one of the leaves, for a small detail in the top leaf, and for or nué (a type of couching) on the final leaf. After some consideration I’ve chosen smooth passing, pearl purl and wire check, as well as some gold kid which isn’t shown here. I’m looking forward to showing you my golden bird and leaves!

Gold threads for the Tree of Life

Doodles and the start of a leaf project

In trying to decide which stitches I want to use for the Tree of Life my doodle cloths are invaluable. Not only are doodles great for showing the texture of stitches in a way diagrams never can, they also give me an idea of how easy or difficult it will be to adapt a stitch to the leaf shape. Accordingly I worked some doodles for Ceylon stitch, and to be complete I did some detached buttonhole stitch filling as well, even though I had pretty much dismissed that one from the possibles list already. And then it turned out that actually I liked the latter better after all! Ceylon stitch has quite an attractive knitted look, but unless I choose to stitch it quite densely it may be difficult to get it to look even. The buttonhole filling looks nice even when worked (as it is here) with quite an open texture.

Ceylon doodle detached buttonhole filling doodle The two doodles compared

While checking my stitch book for another stitch, I came across Vandyke stitch. I thought it might work as an edging stitch for one of my appliqué projects, but as I tried it on my doodle cloth it struck me that, if stitched a bit more neatly than I had here, it looked quite leaf-like! The loops form a nice central vein, and if the arms are angled they will work as the minor veins. In order to make neatness easier while experimenting with this stitch, I tried it on my counted doodle cloth as well, in both perle #8 and perle #5; with the latter I tried to get the arms to slant more, but it’s not easy – the stitch seems to have a tendency to straighten itself out. Still, there is a bit of a slant there.

Vandyke doodle Vandyke doodle on counted fabric Vandyke doodle with slanted arms

As I was on a roll with all these doodles, I thought I’d give loop stitch another go, if not for the Tree then it might do for one of the appliqué baubles. But I couldn’t quite remember how it went, and in fact on the internet you can find at least two different descriptions of this stitch – one where the working thread is simply hooked around the previous stitch, and one where it it looped around.

The needle hooks around the first stitch The stitch continues The completed line of simple loop stitches
The needle loops around the first stitch The stitch continues The completed line of loop stitches

What I eventually ended up with appears to be a cross between coral stitch and loop stitch which, for want of a better term, I’ll call knotted loop stitch. It looks quite effective and with shorter arms would make a good border stitch, while with longer arms it would fill a leaf and create a vein. Because of the way it is worked, however, it’s not possible to slant the arms. Be that as it may, it’s another possible filling to consider. I may have to work a veritable forest of leaves before I actually start on the tree proper!

The needle knots around the first stitch The stitch continues The completed line of knotted loop stitches in perle #5

And here is the first leaf project ready to go – the outline has been traced together with a very faint inner line (to indicate the length of the up-and-down buttonhole stitch), and the crewel wools have been chosen. Originally the leaves of the autumnal tree were designed to be yellow, orange and green, but as I’ll be using some yellow to stand in for gold on the green leaves, and I won’t be stitching the trunk and stems, I decided to use the warm browns originally intended for the trunk to work what would have been the two yellow leaves. After all, as long as it shows the effect and texture of the stitches, it doesn’t really matter what colour I use, and the browns are rather attractive.

A leaf project ready to go

Leafy experiments

No, not “Leaves”, which is still in my designs-in-progress folder, but the Tree of Life. I haven’t quite decided yet on the stitches to use for two of the leaves, as I can’t really visualise the ones I’ve picked as possibles. Added to that, I’d like to stitch the tree in both wool and silk, but I’m not sure I want to do the whole trunk twice as well (that’s the labour-intensive part). So I’ll work all the leaves separately as mini projects in their own right, in wool, working some of them in two different stitches to compare the effect in real life. Then when I’ve made a final decision on the stitches to use I’ll work the whole tree in silk.

Leaves Tree of Life

I’ve been doing a bit of stitch doodling in preparation. The two leaves which are still undecided are down provisionally as closed fly stitch and laid lattice work. I think the laid lattice will work quite well, so there’s not really a pressing need for an alternative there, except that I’ve been wanting to try detached buttonhole as a filling for some time. Some investigation was called for. After carefully studying several stitch books and watching a number of videos showing the stitch in action, I don’t think it’s the right one, but in one of the books I came across a related stitch called Ceylon stitch which looks promising! That’ll be my next doodle.

The fly stitch leaf is the one I’m really not sure about. Although it should do a good job representing the leaf veins, and it’s nice and easy to work it in graded colours, I’m afraid it might be a bit dull. Almost from the start Cretan stitch has been down on my list as an alternative, so here it is on my doodle cloth. It looks rather like fishbones! But then fishbones and leaf veins do look quite similar (if you half close your eyes and squint a bit). A later addition to the alternative list was burden stitch. I doodled this both straight (which would fill the leaf from top to bottom without trying to imitate the vein pattern) and angled. I like the stitch, but I don’t think I’ll use it for this particular project. It’s been filed away for future reference, with a mental note to self that in order to look good, it has to be stitched rather more neatly than my doodles smiley.

Cretan stitch Burden stitch

I’ve picked two sets of Pearsall’s Heathway Merino crewel wool for the tree, one for each of the colourways I had in mind, but as I will definitely do the silk version in blue/green/purple I’ll probably stick with the autumnal palette for the wool experiments.

Blue/green/purple Heathway wools for the Tree of Life Autumnal Heathway wools for the Tree of Life

When the stitching bug deserts you

As I mentioned earlier this month, my urge to stitch is not particularly high at the moment. I’m keeping up with a few necessary projects (like a set of coasters ordered in aid of the Church Building Fund, and second versions of the SAL designs so I can take pictures for the blog), and I do enjoy those, but there isn’t really any project that’s making me eager to kit up and get started. And that is quite unusual, especially as there are several designs in my yet-to-be-stitched folder that a few months ago I was itching to start, like a goldwork daisy-and-bee, an autumn leaf arrangement and the Tree of Life in two versions.

I have done something about the Tree of Life. As playing with stash (sorry, I mean of course “studying the supplies I have in stock in order to find the best ones for the project under consideration”) is a lovely relaxing thing to do I got out my collection of Pearsall’s Heathway Merino crewel wool to see whether any of the shades I’d picked for Tree of Life from their starter pack would be better replaced by some of the shades I had added to the hoard later. Here are the shades I’d originally considered:

Heathway wools for Tree of Life

Very pretty, if a little muted. But a different set of greens and browns lifts it, I think, and makes the palette look more lively.

different Heathway wools for Tree of Life

Add to that some pretty goldwork materials (pearl purl, smooth passing, metallic kid leather) and you know what, I think that itch is faintly considering coming back! While I was at it, I also picked out some shades for a more autumnal version; originally I’d envisaged that in coton à broder, but if I do decide to do it in wools, these beautiful warm shades I feel would work very well.

autumnal Heathway wools for Tree of Life

When stitching is temporarily just not the thing, there are other things you can do besides petting, organising, admiring, and re-arranging stash – one of them is putting things together for other people to stitch! In the coming months I hope to introduce a selection of kits: a second Shisha card, the Little Wildflower Garden (at the moment only available as a chart pack), and the Christmas Wreath both as a card and as an ornament. Just so you can start your Christmas stitching in good time smiley.

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…

Indian inspiration

No, not more shisha flowers, promise! And actually I’m not sure I’m altogether accurate in calling it “Indian”, but it alliterates so nicely with “inspiration”. A few weeks ago a kind lady from our church lent me a book about Bengali Kantha embroidery, which I’m enjoying very much. Although I am unlikely ever to stitch a Kantha quilt, I was intrigued by one of the motifs that kept recurring, the Tree of Life. I say “one of the motifs”, but from the pictures there doesn’t seem to be one standard tree of life – the only thing most of them have in common is that they consist of a stem, often quite straight, with a leaf at the top, and then more or less symmetrically placed leaves-on-stalks down both sides; some were pointy, some round, some had three or five leaves to every stalk, and some were more like flowers. In all the pictures I saw, the leaves were disproportionately large, and there were usually less than a dozen in total.

The various shapes appealed to me, especially since the large leaves would lend themselves so beautifully to being outlined and filled with all manner of different stitches. You could have a Tree of Life sampler, a bit like the differently worked petals on the Bloomin’ Marvellous flower I stitched recently. And then there was its name. I understand that the concept is well-known in all sorts of religions, mythologies and belief systems, but as a Christian I was immediately reminded of the description of the new Jerusalem in the book of Revelation. “On each side of the river [of life] stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” What with all the terrible news we’ve been hearing these past few months, that last phrase was the one that really struck a chord – “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”.

Such a wonderful vision that it seems almost frivolous to make an embroidery design and call it Tree of Life. I am under no illusion that needlework can repair all that has gone wrong in the world, or that stitched leaves will ever heal the nations (although needlework can be a great comfort to people in difficult circumstances, provided they can get some materials and a reasonably quiet spot to stitch in). But I would very much like to create something that, whenever I look at it, reminds me that one day the healing of the nations will be a reality.

First doodlings for a Tree Of Life design Final design with stitch instructions Cleaned-up transfer chart, with caterpillar Tree of life with verse from Revelation