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The blog post for Part Ten is now up!
The Tree is now complete – but if you didn't want to decide until you could see the whole thing smiley you can still sign up for the SAL until the end of May.

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 was busy charting and model stitching to get each part just right, and writing instructions, drawing diagrams and taking stitch photographs (she may still be doing some of that now…)

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

On 29th November 2019 the "Join the SAL" button appeared at the bottom of this page so that people 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.

When you've siged up you will also be able to join the Tree of Life SAL Facebook Group, where you can post about your progress and ask questions.

On 1st January 2020 the Part One page on the Tree of Life Blog went 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"). Without the words they are 18cm x 15½cm (7.1" x 6.1") and 16cm x 13½cm (6.3" x 5.3").

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 threads like coton à broder #25 or perle #12. You can choose to print the design smaller still if you prefer to work in one strand or very fine silk.

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.

A note of caution smiley: The fact that I am also doing a Tree of Life as the crewel embroidery project for my RSN Certificate is purely coincidental – you can work the SAL in crewel embroidery but please be aware it is not a full-blown RSN Certificate piece (nor is it meant to be)! There's a bit more about what to expect and what not to expect in this FoF post.

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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 of the leaf parts, and perhaps another evening or so for the non-leaf parts, 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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The SAL can be stitched on many different fabrics using many different threads. The materials given here are suggestions for two versions: the Plain (which can be stitched in any standard embroidery thread throughout, although you could also use hand-dyed threads), and the Bling (which incorporates goldwork elements). On the blog, Mabel will be showing both versions, though not in all possible materials!

You will need one skein of each of the colours; this should be plenty whatever thread you choose. Beads and sequins are given in precise numbers, and the amounts for goldwork materials are also given more precisely, although I have chosen to err on the side of caution – you are likely to have some left over. If you need to buy the goldwork threads and wires from scratch, you are likely to have to buy them in larger lengths than you will actually need; most suppliers start at 45 or 50cm.

The individual large leaves are designed to be stitched in three different colours, called A B and C in the list below; colour B will be used in combination with yellow (in the Plain version) or gold/silver (in the Bling version).
Of course there is nothing to stop you from doing all the leaves in the same colour if you prefer! If you like using hand-dyed threads, you could use a shaded version of each of the three colours instead of a light, medium and dark; highly variegated threads that have several colours within the one thread may not be very effective in this design.

You will need for both the Plain and the Bling versions:

You will need only for the Plain version:

You will need only for the Bling version:

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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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Join the SAL

There is a one-off fee of £5.00 to join the SAL; this covers all ten parts of the design. (I'm afraid it's not possible to pay in 50p instalments smiley). When you sign up you will be sent a username, and a password which gives you access to the Tree of Life Blog which will go live on 1st January; this is also where you will download the monthly chart packs.
If you're joining after the SAL has started, don't worry – you will be given immediate access to all the parts that have already been published, and you can then download the others as they come out.

I hope you're all as excited about this SAL as I am but please bear in mind that I am a one-woman band, and that the SAL-joining process is not automated – I send out every welcome email individually as and when I get a notification that someone has signed up; so if I happen to be out doing the weekly grocery shop when you sign up (or asleep, if we're in different time zones), it may be a few hours before you get a reply. But rest assured I'll send you your username and password as soon as possible.

A few people have reported problems when trying to sign up or log in on an Apple mobile device; unfortunately I have been unable to replicate the problem so I can't tell what causes this. If it happens to you, if possible please try on a laptop or desktop computer, or contact us about alternative ways of signing up.

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