Cats and elephants and what to do with them

Sometimes, usually much to my own surprise, I do manage to finish my finished projects. That is to say, rather than stuffing them into my “stitched models” folder I turn them into something useful or decorative (or, if I’m feeling particularly inspired, both). Over the past few weeks my small elephants (variations on the bigger Remember the Day elephant) were given the useful-and-hopefully-decorative treatment and turned into a gift tag (or place card, or favour tag) and a felt bookmark. The bookmark is on the large side, which is why I’m showing it off marking a large book smiley.

Bookend elephants made into a bookmark, and an elephant tag The elephant bookmark in action

The freestyle Elegant Cats couldn’t possibly be allowed to languish in a plastic folder; for one thing, Lexi wouldn’t allow it! Fortunately I bought a selection of satin-covered boxes from the wonderful Viking Loom a while back, and even as I was stitching the cats I had a vague idea in my mind that there was a rectangular box of that sort of size in my box of boxes – and that it might just be dark green. There was, and it was, and it was just the right size, and Lexi was deeply impressed with the result, as you can see…

Elegant Cats mounted in a jewellery box Elegant Cats with an elegant cat

PS When posting some of these pictures elsewhere people asked me about the artist whose book the elephants are marking. He is a Dutch artist called Rien Poortvliet who started out as mostly a wildlife painter, but who wrote and illustrated many books on a variety of subjects, including the history of his family inspired by a chest belonging to one of his ancestors, a life of Jesus, books about dogs and horses, a book about “whatever happened to come into his mind”, books about gnomes, and this one about Noah’s ark. I admire his art as much as I admire his simple but profound faith.

An elephantine fillip

As all stitchers know – as anybody with a hobby or favourite pastime knows – life can get rather in the way sometimes. Not necessarily in very dramatic or tragic ways (although that, too, happens) but just by the demands of work, other obligations, and the odd spell of under-the-weather-ness. It is this that explains why throughout September no Fancies took Flight and it is also the reason why very little stitching got done in the Figworthy household during that time; I simply did not have the inclination, apart from some experimental leaves for the Tree of Life (more about which hopefully later this month).

Sometimes the projects that we have lined up simply fail to inspire, however enthusiastic we may have been about them at the outset. Although I enjoy stitching the various leaves once I get into them, often I simply don’t feel like picking them up and getting started on them; and even when I do I can get stuck half-way through – quite an achievement when the whole project is one small leaf! Fortunately I had other things to occupy me, such as putting together 48 workshop kits (more about that later as well…), but it feels odd not to have something stitchy on the go that I want to get on with.

And then, as I was thinking about an email I need to write concerning some designs, I was reminded of this elephant:

A Wedding Elephant

Some time ago, well over a year in fact, I was asked whether I would consider doing a smaller version of the elephant (known as The Wedding Elephant as well as by its official title “Remember the Day”) which would work on favour cards or place cards. At the time I just stored that idea away in the back of my mind, as it would require a fair bit of fiddling with the design – how small does an elephant need to get if it is to fit onto a favour card? Surely too small to accommodate both the lattice work and the flowers? And an empty elephant would look a bit minimalist, besides not tying in with the original elephant (whether the person who asked me was thinking of the original elephant as a wedding invitation I don’t know, but she definitely meant the small one to complement the full-sized one).

But as the elephant was brought to my mind again by that email (which, incidentally, is still unwritten…), I could suddenly envisage what the mini elephant might look like. Could there be a pair of elephants, facing each other, one with the lattice and one with the flowers? Or if you couldn’t fit two of them on one favour card, perhaps half the cards could have the lattice one facing one way, and the other half the floral one facing the other way. Diversity in symmetry, or something like that.

So I got to work drawing and redrawing and mirroring and resizing, and getting my boxes of hand-dyed stranded cottons and silks out, and now I can’t wait for my stitching time after dinner to get to work on a baby elephant or two. Hurray for a stimulating pachyderm!

Mini variations on an elephant

Finishing an elephant, 2nd attempt

The Wedding Elephant. It got finished in time. Just. And not quite the way I wanted. But I liked the stitching, and the card looked fine in spite of its rocky history, so I wanted one for myself as well – and as a model for Mabel’s Fancies in case anyone else thinks an elephant with a date is rather a nice way of commemorating a special occasion. As with the first Wedding Elephant, the stitching went well. I used Chameleon’s Shades of Africa silks this time, in rather pleasing apple green, coral pink and buttery yellow shades, and being overdyed Soie d’Alger, they are extremely nice to stitch with. But now for the finishing.

I’m going for a slightly different approach this time: I’ve sandwiched together the Normandie-fabric-with-elephant and a green felt backing in a nice roomy hoop, and will work a rectangle of stitches around the elephant. The next step is to add buttons. Unfortunately I have only one of those nice wooden flower buttons left, and I can’t remember where I bought them (well, at the K&S show, but I can’t remember the company), so I had a rummage through my stash and through the button collection of our local fabric shop. I came up with three possibles, all floral: shiny green sequins, largish light yellow pearlescent buttons, and small and fairly plain yellow-shading-into-a-white-centre buttons. Trying them all out with the stitching the sequins were rather too blingy and overpowering, and the pearlescent buttons just that bit too large and noticeable, so I’ll be using the self-effacing little flowers on the right.

The second Wedding Elephant with its felt backing A choice of buttons and sequins

Having attached the buttons I will then take the sandwich out of the hoop, cut the Normandie about ¼” outside the stitched border, and fray it. Unlike the first elephant it should not fall apart whatever stitch I use, as it will be attached to the felt. I like that sort of safety net! Then cut the felt with pinking shears about ½” outside the edge of the fabric, and we should have a Presentable Elephant. Fingers crossed…

An elephant unravels – almost

Well, the wedding was festive, the bride lovely, the bridegroom handsome, the weather wet but nobody let that get them down, and the Wedding Elephant was finished in time – though not quite as originally intended.

All went well initially. The elephant itself, including the wording, the date and the decorative lattice, was finished on Tuesday, and apart from the placement of one of the flowers I was quite happy with the result.

The Wedding Elephant finished

On Wednesday evening I wouldn’t have any time to stitch, so I had to snatch some time during the day to do the finishing. A line of pale yellow stem stitch as a border, then cut 3-4mm around that and unravel to make a fringe, then sew onto a card using four wooden floral buttons. That way, no glue or other adhesive would be needed, which might be better if the happy couple decided to keep the card for any length of time. I know that stem stitch (or back stitch, which is what it looks like on the back) isn’t the most obvious stitch to keep fabric from fraying, but as it wouldn’t be handled much I figured it would be secure enough. That was the plan.

A stem stitch border Cutting around the border

And then it all went horribly wrong…

Unravelling stitches

There was no way of saving the stem stitch border, so it had to come out, in the process unravelling the fabric a bit more. A new border was out of the question – not only was there no time, but the fabric was not stable enough to stand stitching so close to the edge. It would have to be double-sided sticky tape after all. This was duly applied to the fabric, right against the fringe, but as so often happens when one thing goes wrong, it now seemed impossible to get anything right. The sticky tape stuck to bits of the card that it shouldn’t stick to, and unpeeling the fabric, however carefully done, only served to curl up the fringed edges and destabilise it even further, until I was a tearful soggy mess trying to think of a place to buy a last-minute wedding card.

Did I tell you that my husband is an engineer and likes solving problems? (He is also very good at comforting hugs and cups of tea.) He suggested Vilene, or iron-on interfacing. So I carefully ironed the elephant flat (sounds like quite an undertaking, doesn’t it?) and applied the Vilene to the back. The rectangle of fabric was by now not at all rectangular anymore, and no amount of ironing could restore its 90 degree angles, so the fringe got snipped off and the fabric trimmed without taking too much notice of the grain. I sewed on the buttons (niece’s stuffed elephant business is called Nelly Buttons, so I felt buttons were practically obligatory) with one of the greens used in the embroidery, then stuck the whole thing to the front of a bright yellow card using double-sided tape, and here it is:

The finished wedding card

If you didn’t know what it was originally meant to look like, you probably wouldn’t notice that this was a last-minute panic alternative finish smiley. And now I’m working on a second, initial-less elephant for my own archives; I was going to do this one outline-first, but in the end decided to do it lattice-first after all, as it does seem to work better in spite of the away-knot spaghetti. The elephant turns out to be quite a relaxing project when there isn’t a wedding looming!

How to unwonk calico and tackle an elephant

Last weekend, apart from setting up the Wedding Elephant, I also tried out my idea for straightening out the wonky calico backing for the Benton & Johnson goldwork balloon. First I sprayed the fabric with water from the dehumidifier (which I understand is like distilled water), then I drew two pencil lines along the grain a little way in from the short sides, and used these as guide lines to attach it to the rollers of the Millennium frame. As I started tightening the frame, you could clearly see how warped the fabric was. I tightened it as much as I could, and left it to dry overnight with the tension on. The next day I loosened the tension abit, and I was very pleased to see how much it had straightened out! When fully stretched the sides of the calico go a bit concave, but a little in from the sides it is really quite straight; I pinned the silk to the not-quite-taut calico with short pins put in perpendicularly so as not to distort the fabric, and will sew it on next weekend. I haven’t quite decided yet whether to attach only the top and bottom, or all four sides; will have a think about that.

The calico has been mounted, and is clearly warped Straightened out The silk pinned onto the now much straighter calico

My other project for the weekend was the Wedding Elephant. In fact I set up two elephants – one with and one without initials. I’m thinking of offering the elephant as a chart pack some time, and it would of course be easier to have it without initials so anyone could use it; I might offer the option of having one or two initials designed especially. Do you think stitchers would appreciate the option, or would they rather do their own thing with the initials?

The non-initial elephant will have my own wedding date on it, and be worked in apple green, yellow and a corally pink, all from Chameleon’s Shades of Africa range (rather appropriate for an elephant, come to think of it smiley). But priority must of course go to Susie & James’ wedding elephant, to be finished by Thursday (and no opportunity to stitch tomorrow evening as it is our Small Group meeting). This one is done in Rainbow Gallery Splendor silks, and I must say they are lovely to work with on this sort of embroidery! By the way, the card and the wooden flower buttons are my finishing idea; I wanted something that would look decorative should they wish to frame and display it, without presenting them with a framed fait accompli.

The Wedding Elephant set up, with Splendor silks An alternative elephant, with Chameleon silks

It’s a bit scary to try things out for the first time on a wedding project – in this case having lattice work surrounded by stem stitch outlines. I decided to do the lattice first, and with hindsight this was not good idea; with no other stitching in place there was nowhere to fasten on and off, so I had to use away knots, which produced quite a spaghetti of unsecured threads at the back, waiting for some stem stitch to be woven into. On the other hand, having done the lattice first it is easier to go over bits of it where they cross the curly bits of the letters or the outline of the ear; it would be a pain to have to stop and start a laid thread for such a tiny break. Perhaps I could take the laid thread underneath the stem-stitched outline when it crosses a single line rather than a voided shape. The second elephant hasn’t got initials but I could try it where the lattice crosses the ear.

The lattice has been laid ...but not yet secured!

On the whole I’m happy with how it’s shaping up. The purple outline is a bit dark, but at least it stands out well. My only niggle so far is that somehow the lettering has turned out a bit more uneven in stitch than it was in pencil…

Getting on with the outlines and the lettering

Threads, satin stitch and a Wedding Elephant

The other night I had some stitching time in the evening. But *gasp* I did not stitch. Or not all the time, anyway. Instead I indulged in one of my other favourite needlework pastimes: playing with stash! Well, not playing really – re-arranging so that they are logically distributed among the various storage boxes. Useful, and very enjoyable at the same time. Not only that, but handling the threads and looking at them is a great way of getting ideas for their use.

A lot of threads and a lot of boxes

I did get some stitching done, starting on another Kelly Fletcher flower. Bloomin’ Marvellous #7 this time. For the centre I wanted padded satin stitch, but with something else added. Having considered a few options I decided not to do a split stitch outline first, but work the satin stitch by eye, staying inside the pencil line of the central circle, and then outline it afterwards in stem stitch in a lighter colour using four strands. On the whole, I’m pleased with the effect, although I think I’ll have to fit in a retrospective satin stitch where the orange arrow is in the second picture.

Kelly Fletcher's BM7, a start Satin and stem stitch flower centre

But for now, this project is on hold. It seems a bit silly to put something this small on hold – after all, how long can it take to finish? But something else came up: a wedding! Next Thursday! Well, yes, I’ll admit I knew about it a while ago, but I hadn’t really thought of anything to stitch. Until last night. The bride is my husband’s niece, and she is a wiz with fabrics and interior decorating and all that. She also makes adorable cuddly elephants, all sewn by hand and each one unique. Elephants. Now, there is something about elephants not forgetting, or in other words, remembering… Some furious scribbling later I had a small elephant with initials, a date, a motto or saying, colour suggestions (purple, green and yellow) and ideas for a filling pattern (lattice work with lazy daisy flowers). I like my Wedding Elephant!

First sketch for a Wedding Elephant The Wedding Elephant with the appropriate date and initials The Wedding Elephant, ready for any occasion

Now all I need to do is stitch it smiley.