Tree of Life SAL

A freestyle Stitch-Along

What is a SAL or Stitch-Along (or Stitch-A-Long)? Well, it's basically a group of stitchers deciding that they will all work on the same design at roughly the same time, keeping each other updated about their progress by means of pictures, reports or both. Generally each stitcher chooses their own materials, and depending on the sort of design they've picked this may mean that some work in standard stranded cotton on a cotton ground, while others work in hand-dyed threads or silks on linen, and yet others work in crewel wool on twill.

Mabel's Tree of Life freestyle SAL will be a Not-Quite-A-Mystery SAL: You will have most of the design in outline from the start, but there are some elements which will be added in the course of the SAL, and it is only as every part of the design is released (two per month) that you will find out what stitches we will be using. The ten instalments together will form one complete image.

To cater for all budgets and tastes there will be two versions, a "plain" one which can be stitched with nothing but widely available standard threads, and a "bling" one which includes goldwork elements. Both versions will come with quite a number of alternatives (e.g. instalments which can be stitched using two or three different stitches). We're aiming at a design that is attainable for beginners, yet also interesting for experienced stitchers.

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How does this SAL work?

If you like the idea of stitching a 10-part project together with other stitchers around the world, from December 2019 you can join by subscribing to the SAL. There will be a one-off fee of £5.00 when you join; after that all remaining parts are free. You will be sent a username and SAL blog password in your confirmation email.

When a new part of the SAL is available (which is on the 1st and 15th of the month from January to May 2020 inclusive), you will be notified by email, after which you can download the chart pack for that part using your username and the Part Code from the email. Like all Mabel's chart packs they are in PDF format, and each includes a photograph of the stitched element, a chart, stitch diagrams and detailed instructions.

When you have finished a section, you can send us a picture which we will add to a dedicated SAL Gallery. It would be great if you could also tell us what materials you're using.

In a special section of Flights of Fancy only accessible to SAL participants, Mabel will be stitching along every month, with extra tips and added visual instructions. You will also be able to ask any questions you have by leaving a comment.

This SAL can be stitched in various thread-and-fabric combinations, and Mabel will be stitching several (though not necessarily all 10 parts in all versions). Suggestions for materials will be given, but the options are practically infinite, and you can really make this project your own by your choices of colours, threads and background.

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Is the SAL suitable for beginners?

Can you do this SAL if you've never done any freestyle embroidery before? Well, it helps if you've got a little stitching experience, for example in cross stitch, but the instructions are specifically written with people in mind who have not tried (or even seen) these particular stitches and techniques before. If you do run into problems or have any questions, you can always ask on the SAL blog or by emailing me.

Will it be at all like the 2013 and 2016 SALs?

To some extent, in that there is a hint of Mystery in the SAL, and it comes with explanatory blog posts. But the main differences are that both those SALs were made up of individual Hardanger projects, whereas this one is a single freestyle embroidery design. I hope and trust that it will be equally enjoyable, though!

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What happens when?

Until the end of October, Mabel will be busy charting and model stitching to get each part just right, and writing instructions, drawing diagrams and taking stitch photographs.

On 1st November 2019 the list of materials will be posted. This shows the quantities for the whole SAL (e.g. "1 skein of stranded cotton in shade A", or "10 4mm sequins")

On 2nd December 2019 the "Join the SAL" button will appear at the bottom of this page so that you can sign up. When payment has been received, you'll be sent a confirmation email with a username and SAL blog password. Don't worry if you don't get round to signing up until after the SAL has started, you'll be able to download the parts you've missed and then join in with the rest of us.

On 1st January 2020 the Part One page on the Tree of Life Blog will go live. The blog is where you go to download new instalments, and where Mabel will post twice a month about her version of the SAL, discussing materials and answering questions.

After that, a new part of the SAL will be available on the 15th of January, then the 1st and 15th of every month (or the 2nd/16th if the 1st/15th is a Sunday) until the end of May, and the SAL Gallery will be updated whenever participants send in pictures.

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Design information

As the SAL is called Tree of Life it won't surprise you to learn that the design is a tree! It is a very stylised tree, with large, stylised leaves, each of which will contain two or more types of stitch. It will have some optional words around it, in two versions; if neither text appeals to you, just leave it out – the design will work perfectly well without the words – or write your own! There will also be a few critters populating the tree…

The design will be offered in two sizes, 20½cm x 20cm (8.1" x 7.9") and 18cm x 17½cm (7.1" x 6.9"). Both can be worked in 2 strands of stranded cotton or silk, but the larger one is more suitable if you want to work in crewel wool or in 3 or 4 strands of a stranded thread, and the smaller one if you want to work in one strand or a fine coton à broder.

I would recommend the smaller size if you choose to do the goldwork ("Bling") version. The larger size will work as well, of course, but you may want to choose slightly larger sizes of metal threads for it.

Your ground fabric can be any non-count embroidery fabric: cotton, linen or a mix of the two like Zweigart's Normandie, twill (especially if you choose to work in crewel wool), even denim if you want to go mad (although transferring the design may be a bit more challenging…). Do make sure, however, that you suit your fabric to your threads – don't use a thin cotton background with heavy perle cottons, for example.

Several parts will come in two or three alternative versions. If you can't decide which one to use, stitch them both/all on a doodle cloth to see which one you like best before incorporating your final choice into your project.

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How long will each part take?

Some of you may worry whether there will be enough time to finish each part before the next one comes out, even if you are a beginner or a slow stitcher. Although a lot depends on how much stitching time you get, I'd say an experienced stitcher would need no more than one or two evenings for each one except the first part, so there should be plenty of time to stitch along whatever your speed and level of expertise. And remember, it's not a contest – if you want to start every part when it comes out but finish them all at your leisure, that's fine; or if you prefer you can finish each one before you start on the next. You can take breaks from the project if that feels right for you even if that means starting part 8 some time in September, or finishing the design in 2023! Stitch it as and when you like, at your own pace. The blog will remain accessible for as long as I keep Mabel's Fancies going, which I hope will be a good long time yet smiley.

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Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is a recurring motif in many different cultures; for me it has always been connected with the description of the new Jerusalem in the book of Revelation (the very last bit of the Bible). It is why I originally chose to surround the design with words from that book, "And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations". The alternative text, "Wisdom is a tree of life to those who take hold of her", comes from the book of Proverbs. Whatever tradition you feel part of, I hope the idea of a tree representing life, growth, health and wisdom will appeal to you.

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