What are these flights of fancy that Mabel has? Well, they are short snippets about anything that I've been doing, stitching, designing, thinking about, experimenting with, and so on, which I think you may be interested in. They'll tell you about new designs, how I come up with names, changes I'm making in designs I'm working on and so on. I can't promise posts will be regular or terribly frequent, but I'll do my best not to neglect this page for long periods of time! By the way, some of the pictures are thumbnails, so you can click on them for a larger version; if you hover over one and a little magnifying glass with a + appears, it's clickable.

Blue silks dispel the silk blues – now for purples. And greens.

The post was exciting this week, with several blue silks dropping through the letterbox. These are the “why not as they are on offer and I’m bound to use them” Caron silks – aren’t they beautiful?

Soie Cristale blues

Colourwise, they would definitely be an option; but if at all possible my preference was still to do the whole project in Soie d’Alger, even though there’s nothing in priniciple against mixing silks. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I opened the envelope from West End Embroidery, with a single skein of Soie d’Alger 4913.

A single skein only, but the sheer relief when it turned out to fit in exactly with the rest of the series, without even a tingle of purple, made me positively giddy!

The new Soie d'Alger fits in!

So now I have my series of three blue silks. In fact, I have a series of four. And that is, of course, fatal, because it means choice. Do I use the three darkest and discard the lightest, or vice versa? How does this fit in with the two other colour runs in the project? Well, here are the four blues together with the three reds and purples which are my current selection. Do you see the problem?

The four blues, with three reds and purples

That’s right, when matching the colours by lightness/darkness the gaps don’t line up. My husband’s view was that it needed a lighter red. Well, I just happened to have one!

The missing purple

Much better, true. But what I really want now is a fourth purple to fill the gap, and use the three lighter shades of each colour. The trouble is that those three purples are the entire series of that particular colour. And by now I know from experience that trying to choose a similar series containing at least four shades from the digital Au Ver à Soie shade card is a mispurchase waiting to happen.

And then there are the greens. Not the ones in Soli Deo Gloria, they’re sorted. But I’m thinking of re-using the blues, reds and purples in a Celtic cross together with a series of greens. I’m going to try something facetted rather than the shaded look in the trial colour version below, but even so I’d need at least three and preferably four shades of a bright, warm green.

Colour idea for the Llandrindod cross

So back to Yvonne at West End Embroidery, who must be getting fed up with me by now but who is far too polite to show it smiley. I’ll keep you informed!

I’ve got the silk blues

I love silks, I do, really. But sometimes when working with them (or trying to work with them!) I hanker after the predictability of DMC stranded cotton. In my project box for Soli Deo Gloria there are some lovely Soie d’Alger silks in reds, purples, yellows, greens and, today’s topic, blues. Here are those blues on the Au Ver à Soie shade card:

The blues according to Au Ver a Soie's shade card

And here they are (four of them) in real life. DMC-wise they are similar to 791, 792, 340 and 809 – spot the odd one out.

The blues in real life

So I contacted Nelly at Hardanger Atelier and asked if she had a 4913 without the purple cast (and how Au Ver a Soie allowed that dye lot out I will never understand!) – she hadn’t, nor was there any other blue that would go with 4914 and 4916; but she promised to see if there was a series that was like DMC 797/798/799, which would work with my chosen reds and purples.

Meanwhile I considered that not all the silks in a project necessarily have to be the same brand. Rummaging through my collection of silk samples (well, they are full skeins but I mean where I have just a few of a particular brand) to see which were likely to have the same look as Soie d’Alger I realised most of them were hand-dyed and over-dyed silks, and therefore not the solid colours I was looking for. The only suitable solid silk was Caron’s Soie Cristale, which unfortunately I have only in an attractive but irrelevant series of five yellows and oranges. My digital Caron shade card did throw up a series of likely-looking blues, but at about £4.50 a skein it’s rather an expensive gamble.

A series of blues in Caron Soie Cristale

I went to Sew & So’s website to see whether their catalogue pictures were anything like the shade card I have (this sort of comparison can give valuable extra information about what colour the thread is likely to be when you actually get your hands on it) and would you believe it, they had a Soie Cristale sale on! Not quite half price but jolly nearly. Well, I couldn’t ignore a bit of luck like that could I? So four blue Caron silks (the series minus the lightest one on the shade card) should be on their way to me now. If they turn out not to be quite right for this particular project, they may well be perfect for a bird I have in mind. Or that modern floral design. Or the Celtic cross. Or something.

Soie Cristale blues on the Sew and So website

Trying to cover all my bases, I then remembered West End Embroidery. I’ve bought silks and other threads from them in the past and have always found them very helpful. An email, a very quick reply and a phone call later a non-purple 4913 has been ordered, and I am looking forward to seeing it snuggled up to 4914 and 4916 and hopefully looking like one of the family, as it should. In which case the Soie Cristale will have to be put to some other use. Oh dear smiley.

Incidentally, you may wonder why I didn’t just use the next lightest shade I already had, which as you can see from the picture above does fit in colour-wise with the two darker ones. Well, here’s why:

The Soie d'Alger blues stitched samples

The sample on the left is two rows each of 4916, 4914 and 4912; the middle sample is 4916, 4916/4914 blended and 4914; the final sample is 4914, 4914/4912 blended and 4912. As you can see, whenever it’s used the 4912 just stands out far too much – in the blended section on the right the two shades don’t really blend at all, they just happened to have been used in the same needle!

It’ll do at a pinch, but this project is rather close to my heart and I want it to be just right! Even if it means building up an impressive collection of blue silks (the sacrifices I make for my art…)

Binding a hoop – the finicky way

A little while ago I mentioned a tutor from the Royal School of Needlework demonstrating how to bind a hoop. It is a free video on their Online Classes page; you do need to “buy” it, but the price is £0, and once you’ve bought it you can then watch it for free.

In the video, Amy Burt uses very wide, fairly rough strips of calico, with a connecting seam right in the middle of the length, secures the beginning with double-sided sticky tape, and wraps the hoop at high speed without any apparent concerns about wrinkles. It takes about 5 seconds.

An RSN-bound hoop which undoubtedly works

I take a lot longer. And seeing that the RSN are happy for Amy Burt’s hoop-binding to be demonstrated under their aegis, I can only assume that my more time-consuming method is no more effective in keeping tension and protecting the fabric than her high-speed one.

And yet. And yet I stick with mine. Because I love the look of the regular wraps. Because it feels good when I run my fingers over the neat binding. Because it gives me a warm glow when I see it as I get ready to mount the fabric. Because in spite of everything it just feels more secure.

So for those of you who recognise themselves in the above description, here is how I bind my hoops. It is, as demonstrated by the RSN and countless other online videos, not the only way. It is not the quickest or easiest way. But, if I say so myself, boy does it produce neat hoops smiley!

What do you need? An unbound hoop, some tape (I use 20mm cotton twill/herringbone tape for anything over 8 inches, 14mm for smaller ones), two clothes pegs or other not-too-fierce, not-too-big clamping devices, some sewing thread and a short needle. Be aware that the method I’m showing here takes quite a lot of tape; the 14-inch hoop I showed in a previous post took well over 5 metres and I like to start out with at least a metre to spare, just in case.

Start by threading a short needle with sewing thread; knot it and put is aside for the moment. Folding over about half a centimetre of the tape, put it against the inside of the hoop and keep it in place with your thumb. Wrap the tape around the hoop, at a slight angle and overlapping the first bit by half. When you have room (it may take another wrap) replace your thumb with one of the clothes pegs. In the pictures below I have just completed the second complete wrap, and as both overlap by half this one is exactly one width on from the beginning of the tape.

Secure the first wrap with a clothes peg Secure the first wrap with a clothes peg

A quick word about overlapping. Some sources say that you should never overlap because it creates bulk and irregular thickness, others say you should overlap by anything up to half the width of the tape. I prefer overlapping, precisely because it creates bulk – that nice thick cushioning is what grips and protects the fabric – but if you do overlap, I would recommend you always do it by exactly half, so that the thickness of the binding is uniform along the entire hoop. In other words, either don’t overlap at all and abut your wraps exactly so that there is one layer of tape all the way around, or (my preferred method) overlap by half so that there is a double layer of tape all the way round.

By the way, the tape will twist while you’re wrapping. This means that, depending on the size of the hoop you’re binding and where you are in the process, you are trying to work with 6 or 7 metres of intractable twill spaghetti. I’ve not found an effective way to counteract this; I tried winding it beforehand, but it just uncoiled as I wrapped. So now I simply bunch up the remaining tape into a squashed handful, and manoeuvre it around the hoop that way.

Back to the binding. Keeping fairly strong tension on the tape, wrap on, overlapping by half the width of the tape both on the inside and on the outside of the ring. I like to give the tape an extra pull just before going over the top or turning under the bottom, to make sure there are no wrinkles. Because of the curve of the hoop, and winding the tape around it at a slight angle, you may find that sometimes a bit of tape simply will not lie flat, however much you pull. In that case, make sure the wrinkle is on the inside of the ring, and flatten it out as much as possible when you cover it with your next wrap. (If you bind the outer ring as well – which I don’t, because I bind for tension and grip rather than for fabric protection, and binding the inner ring only is sufficient for that – make sure any wrinkles are kept on the outside of the ring; in other words, you want wrinkles to be on the side where they don’t make contact with the fabric.)

Pull the tape just before going over the top Pull the tape again just before turning under the bottom

Incidentally, I am right-handed and therefore normally use my right hand for wrapping and pulling the tape; in the photographs above I am using my left hand only because my right hand was needed to operate the camera! If you are left-handed, you may find it more comfortable to wrap the hoop anti-clockwise.

If at any point you have to interrupt your binding (because you’ve got cramp in your fingers, or the phone rings, or the cat is trying to pounce on the remaining tape) secure the last wrap temporarily with the second clothes peg.

Use a second clothes peg if you have to interrupt your work

When you come to the end of your hoop (or rather, the beginning) and are either abutting or getting very close to your first wrap, cut the tape leaving a good-sized tail for the last wrap and securing. The one I left here was actually a little short; it’s better to cut it generously, as you will trim it more precisely before securing.

Getting back to the beginning Cutting a generous tail

When you have half-overlapped your first wrap, bring the tail to the inside of the hoop, trim so that you can fold over about half to three-quarters of a centimetre and end up well within the inside of the hoop. Hold it in place with your thumb, and pick up your needle with sewing thread. This is why you pre-threaded and pre-knotted it smiley.

Folding the end of the tape

Bring your needle up through the fold, so that the knot sits inside the fold, and secure the tape along the top with small stitches. Then go down the side, securing it for about 1 centimetre. Bring the needle back to the fold by going behind the fabric, go back along the top and secure the other side. Fasten off with a few knots, take the needle behind the tape for a few centimetres and pull taut, then cut.

Secure the fold of the tape with small stitches Work around the sides of the folded tape The secured end of the tape

And there is your bound inner ring, soon to be covered up by fabric and the outer ring and become invisible, but always there, neat and tidy and lovely.

The outside of the bound ring The inside of the bound ring The 12-inch and 14-inch hoops, bound

Perhaps a beautifully bound hoop is rather like the silk underwear worn by the actresses in Gone With the Wind. When one of them asked the costume mistress why they were wearing these expensive silk petticoats when no-one would ever see them, she replied “because you will know you are wearing them”.

Excursions into needlepoint

I’ve been binge listening to Fiber Talk podcasts recently, and one of the types of needlework that is often discussed (at least in part because both Gary and Christine are into it) is needlepoint. Now I understand from their discussions that American needlepoint is somewhat different from English/Continental needlepoint, and uses many more types of stitches and threads. As they were talking about Jessica stitches with Debbie Rowley I thought, “I’ve done Jessica stitches! I’ve been doing needlepoint and I didn’t know it!”

Of course many stitches are what you might call cross-over (I feel I ought to insert a cross stitch pun here) or multi-purpose, in that they can be used in several styles or techniques of needlework. French knots for example crop up in freestyle, ribbon and counted embroidery, and probably some other styles as well. And so with the Jessica, although I would say that you’re unlikely to see it outside counted work. Mine were used in the Hardanger piece Treasure Trove, framing padded circles of metallic kid leather.

Needlepoint, however, seems to be defined by its ground fabric, which is canvas. Years ago I inherited some 18 point canvas (i.e. 18 holes to the inch), and I must have intended to do something with it because one square piece has been cut from it and the edges bound (well, stuck) with masking tape. I have no idea what happened to the project I meant it for. At more or less the same time I bought some Congress cloth, which is a 24 count canvas; that’s the one I used for the Necessities Sampler which now adorns one of my stash boxes, and I also tried out some Hardanger on it.

Necessities Sampler on Congress cloth

Now as I was looking for something in the many needlework folders on my computer, I came across a small design I must have saved to my Inspirations/One-Day-I-Will-Get-Round-To-This folder years ago.

Now where did I find this design?

As you can see it is actually stitched on fabric, not canvas, but I thought it would be the perfect little thing to refresh my acquaintance with canvas work. I dug out the 18 point canvas and the Congress cloth (in cream and black) and picked some Appleton’s crewel wool for the former, and Carrie’s Creations overdyed stranded cotton for the latter.

Trying out threads and canvases

I decided to start with the canvas, as it would be a bit easier on the eyes and they are giving me a little trouble at the moment. Unfortunately I decided against starting in the middle with the Rhodes stitch, which would have “anchored” the various parts to each other, and having done one of the Amadeus stitches (the blue fan-like shape in the corner) I then got so carried away with the rhythm of the double herringbone that I took it too far. Equally unfortunately I carried the threads to continue from the left-hand row of herringbone to the right-hand one, which will therefore also have to be unpicked. I couldn’t quite face that, so switched to stranded cotton on black Congress cloth.

Appleton's crewel wool on 18-count canvas

Yes. Black. Which is not easy on the eyes. But it does make those bright colours pop smiley. And having learnt from my canvas experience and started with the central Rhodes stitch, I then managed a fair bit of work in the doctor’s waiting room!

Waiting room progress

It was finished at home, and inspected by the resident feline. I think she approved. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

The finished project inspected by a feline Lexi approves. I think.

The next day I finished the canvas version as well, and it’s interesting to see how different the two are, when (apart from a little variation in the herringbone stitch) they are identical and stitched in very similar colours. Perhaps it’s my preference for smaller things, perhaps it’s that striking contrast of the jewel colours on black, but I definitely like the Congress cloth one best.

On 18 point canvas On Congress cloth The same motif on 18 point canvas and Congress cloth

Even though I don’t think I’ll ever get into needlepoint to the extent of doing a large project, I enjoyed these small snippets; there is something almost mesmerising about the rhythm and repetition-with-variation of these stitches – quite meditative, really. Some of the needlepoint stitches I’m discovering may well find their way into future counted designs, but even if they don’t, I’m just having fun with these! Well, apart from unpicking several rows of double herringbone stitch with the Appleton’s getting thinner and flakier all the time… in fact in the end I cut my losses and started over again on a fresh bit of canvas (shh, don’t tell anyone).

A needling question

Last year I talked a little about needles, and whether the very expensive Tulip ones were worth the extra expense. I also mentioned some between/quilting needles by Clover which I’d picked up in the Netherlands and which I really enjoyed stitching with. In my quest to find some more, I came across Clover’s black-coated needles as well as their more economical gold-eye ones, and tried those too – but in the end I came to the conclusion that neither the Tulips nor the Clover blacks felt that much smoother or more accurate than the ones I’d picked up back in the old country.

But some mystery surrounded those Dutch-bought needles. For one thing, I’d bought them in sizes #7, #9 and #11 – but when trying to buy some spares I could not find Clover #7 needles anywhere. Unfortunately I’d decanted the needles into little lip seal bags (like the more recently bought #10s in the picture below, but marked with the size only) and got rid of the original packaging, so I had no information about the dimensions of each size or anything else.

Clover needles, decanted

Husband to the rescue: with his micrometer he measured all three sizes, I made a note of them and contacted Clover. Clover denied ever having made #7 needles of any kind. (Incidentally, I also asked them why their #12 needles are actually thicker than their #10s, when it is pretty universally true for all brands that higher numbers denote smaller – both thinner and shorter – needles; they replied, “Our Clover needles doesn’t match its rule. Basically we try to fit the rule but some item could not do so.” If this makes more sense to you than it did to me, do enlighten me!)

I settled for some #8 and #10 needles, which were the closest I could find to the ones I had. And then an additional mystery arose: nice though these new needles were, the ones I originally bought in the Netherlands seemed rather nicer. Was this the gloss of nostalgia that an ex-pat sometimes applies to anything connected with “home”? Surely Clover’s Japanese factories wouldn’t send different needles to different countries?

It took a while, and some serious Googling of needle sizes, but eventually I found the answer: the needles I bought in the Netherlands are actually the German brand Prym…

So now I can tell you definitely: my favourite, go-to needles are Prym gold-eye betweens, #7 for 2-3 strands, #9 for one strand, #11 for beading. I picked up some more from Minerva Crafts and am now probably all right for needles for the next five years or so. But I may get a few more packs just to be on the safe side.

Prym betweens in two sizes

After all, needles are the most frequently used tool or equipment in our stitching. And one of the nice things about these ones is that they are even more affordable than the ordinary (i.e. non-black-coated) Clovers; with postage they come in at about 10p a piece, and if you can pick them up at a show or a shop they come to less than 8p a needle. Which means that, unlike with £1 Tulip needles, you need have no scruples about using a new needle for every new project, or even several needles if the project is a large and long-term one. And the feeling of stitching with a fresh needle is so satisfying it is a treat in itself.

An 8p treat that enhances your stitching and puts a smile on your face. What’s not to like smiley?

Stitching setbacks – a spot and a SAL

In which one of Hengest’s pink spots is in The Wrong Place, and a SAL hits a snag.

They say we show our character by how we respond to adversity. Well, I didn’t throw either a tantrum or my embroidery, so I suppose I’m doing reasonably well. But I can’t say I enjoyed it when two of my pet projects suffered a setback this week.

At least one of them is going to be relatively simple to put right. Time-consuming and annoying, but simple. It involves unpicking the pink spot at Hengest’s bottom left, getting the skein of Tudor Rose 2 out again, and applying it two spots to the right.

Hengest's spot in in The Wrong Place

And I was so proud of that spot, too! The white surrounding it was a little irregular (a small portion of the outline was straight rather than curved) so I set out to correct that with the coloured spiral filling it in, and I was pleased to see that it worked quite well. Then, as I fastened off, put on my regular glasses, and prepared to contemplate my work with a happy and satisfied sigh, I noticed it was straight underneath the other pink spot. And it shouldn’t have been. Why I didn’t see this throughout the time it took me to stitch the second spot I will never know. I have said before that sometimes we are too close to our own work (literally) and need to step back to see the project as a whole, and I suppose that’s what was needed here. Oh well. Today I will take my nice sharp scissors to Hengest once again, and stitch the correct spot.

The other problem may take a bit longer to solve. It involves the mechanics of a mystery Stitch-A-Long, thwarted (for the time being) by the mechanics of using a backing fabric.

This was not the way I had hoped to announce this SAL. It will be my first since 2016, and it will be my first non-Hardanger one, and it will be my first non-year-long one, and all of that I felt deserved a bit of a fanfare when I was ready to spring it on the world, and the needleworking part of the world in particular.

Of course I could have waited for this issue to be solved (if it ever is) and then done the fanfare unveiling and not mention the rocky road that lead to it. But then I thought some of you might be interested in the process of developing a SAL, and all – or at least some of – the things that are involved.

So here is the snag I ran into. The SAL is going to be a Mystery SAL, which means you don’t know at the start what the finished article will look like. In a sense this was always somewhat compromised in my Hardanger SALs, in that they consisted of 12 individual little projects, so that each month you would see exactly what that small individual project would look like when finished – the remaining mystery being what the following months would be like and how they fitted in with the general theme. This one, being one big freestyle embroidery picture built up in the course of 10 instalments, is much more of a traditional Mystery.

And it is the combination of the phrases “one big picture” and “freestyle embroidery” that caused the problem. Freestyle designs are generally worked with the pattern transferred to the fabric; this can be done in more or less detail, but there is always some transferring to be done. And in a home environment that generally means drawing the pattern onto the fabric by means of a lightbox or a well-lit window. Then you add a backing fabric and hoop it up and start stitching.

So far so good. But for the Big Picture to remain a mystery, the various parts will have to be added after stitching has already commenced. My idea was that whenever a new instalment came out, people would take their project out of the hoop, add the new element, re-hoop and start stitching the new bit. What I hadn’t thought about was that what comes out of the hoop is not just the original fabric, but the fabric-and-backing-fabric sandwich. And they will be firmly attached to each other by means of the stitching done so far.

An embroidered project with backing fabric The backing fabric is attached by the embroidery The embroidery goes through the backing fabric

So how do you transfer the new bits? Transferring through one layer of fabric can be tricky enough – transferring through a double layer of fabric is challenging to say the least, and I feared it might prove to be downright impossible. Because of the way the design is laid out, you could just about cut out new bits of the design and carefully slip them between the layers where they are not attached, but that’s not ideal, especially when using a window rather than a lightbox.

My husband, who is an engineer and therefore wants to (and often does) solve things, suggested using the prick & pounce method. (Slight digression to include a “proud wife” moment – how many husbands of stitchers would suggest this, or even know what it is smiley?) But not everyone feels comfortable with this method of transferring, and moreover it needs additional equipment, which I’m trying to keep to a minimum.

But it did make me think of a possible variation on that method. What if you traced the new bit of the design onto tracing paper, then pricked holes in it as for prick & pounce, only a spaced a little wider apart, place it on the fabric and then go through each hole with a pencil to make a dot? Then after removing the tracing paper you could connect the dots for a complete transfer. Again, the nature of the design makes this feasible as there aren’t many very detailed parts to transfer. But would it work? Time to try Prick & Pencil!

On the matter of additional equipment, in the pictures I’m using a cheap children’s pricking mat and pen, but if that is difficult to get hold of or simply an expense you’re not willing to incur, then a folded-up towel and a pin with a reasonably large head will do just as well. The pencil I’m using is a propelling one so it stays sharp, and it’s fairly soft so it makes a good mark. As you can see on the right-hand petal I spaced the holes further apart to see if that would be enough of a guide for drawing the complete design.

Equipment used to try the prick and pencil method Pricking the transferred design The pricked design
Using a pencil to draw dots through the holes The design shown in dots Connecting the dots The finished transfer

And just because I happened to have them handy, I also tried the pricked transfer with some drawing pens, green and black; these are Sakura Micron pens (I transferred only the flower centre in black, not the petals).

Using a Sakura Micron pen A green and a black transfer

So does it work? On the whole, yes. I did find I needed the tracing there to refer to when connecting the dots, but that shouldn’t be a problem. It also takes a bit of experimenting with how close together you want the holes to be, and the light green pen wasn’t as easy to see as the black or the pencil (although it was clearer than it looks in the photograph) so you have to choose your writing implement wisely. But it’s definitely a viable alternative to transferring on a lightbox.

Is it a good enough alternative to SOS (Save Our SAL), though? I’m not sure yet. But it’s a glimmer of hope! And as I was playing with my lightbox, I found another – although transferring through two layers of fabric isn’t ideal, it’s not impossible as long as there isn’t a great amount of detail. The first picture shows a design seen through light blue cotton with no light behind it; the second shows it on the lightbox, and the third on the lightbox with backing fabric. Although the dots in the design aren’t easy to see, the simpler outlines are visible even in the third picture.

Design behind cotton fabric, no light Design behind cotton fabric, with light Design behind cotton fabric and backing, with light

Even when using cotton duck, a heavier fabric, the design lines show up both without and with backing fabric, though again details are lost. Unexpectedly, the most difficult fabric was a natural-coloured Normandie, a cotton/linen mix which is not particularly heavy. The picture shows it with backing fabric, and whether it is the texture or the not-quite-plain colour it would definitely be more of a challenge to transfer new parts to it.

Design behind cotton duck, with light Design behind cotton duck and backing, with light Design behind Normandie fabric and backing, with light

Still, there are possibilities, so for now the SAL is alive! But I’ll keep trying to find better and easier ways to deal with transferring parts 2 to 10 before the real fanfare announcement.

The right hoop for the right project, and more binding

My RSN hoops arrived this week. I splashed out on three of them, to make the most of the flat rate postage (that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it). To put the sizes in perspective, that tiddly one in the centre is actually 8 inches. As my husband remarked, “I thought you were a small project girl. What happened?!?”

Large, deep hoops

Well, what happened was the Tree of Life. Generally speaking it’s true: I’m a Small Project Girl. In Hardanger this means on the whole nothing larger than 220 stitches square (less than 9 inches on 25 count fabric) and usually much smaller; in freestyle embroidery this translates into a feeling of mild panic if the transfer pattern can’t be printed on a sheet of A4.

And just as I want my printed designs on a single A4, so I prefer my stitched designs to fit well within the boundaries of whatever hoop or frame I’m using (this also means I don’t feel guilty about leaving projects in the hoop for months on end, as any hoop marks will disappear in the framing/finishing anyway). The revamped Tree of Life, although it will just fit inside a 10-inch hoop, really needs at least a 12-inch and preferably a 14-inch hoop to meet that requirement. Either that, or it will have to go on the Millennium frame, where I may *gasp* need to scroll to reach every part. I know that’s what it’s designed for, but it feels uncomfortable. That’s purely my little idiosyncrasy, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t give in to it smiley.

Then I had a sudden flash of insight: I want to do two versions (because it is likely to become a SAL), one in crewel wool and one in silk & gold. Well, the silk one can be done smaller than the crewel one – so I could use a 14-inch hoop for the crewel version, and put the smaller silk one on the Millennium frame!

Now I have hoops in all… well, not all shapes obviously, as most of them are round (barring a couple of vaguely squarish ones), but certainly all sorts of sizes. But my largest wooden hoop pre-RSN-order was 12 inches – and it’s an ordinary, shallow wooden hoop. And having worked with the RSN’s 8-inch and 10-inch quilting hoops, I’ve come to prefer those deeper hoops (20mm wide) for the larger sizes anyway. So off I went to the RSN shop, to order a deep 14-inch hoop. Somehow the deep 12-inch and the standard 8-inch joined it, on the grounds that they were bound to Come In Handy some day, and, as I said before, to make the most of the postage.

So all that that remained was to bind them. And large hoops take large amounts of tape, so that to begin with the set-up looked rather like a pile of pasta or a tangle of tapeworms. It was up to me to transform this unpromising-looking collection into beautiful bound hoops.

Large hoops ready to be bound

Based on the carefully measured tape requirements for an 8-inch standard hoop, I had calculated that a deep 12-inch hoop would take about 6½ metres. Oddly enough, at the end of the process I had a little over 7 metres left, and I’d bought two 10-metre lengths of tape. Measuring the other 10-metre length showed it to be nearly 11½ metres, so I have no idea how much tape it took to bind the 12-inch hoop. But having pre-measured the second length I can tell you that the 14-inch deep hoop took 5¼ metres – rather less than I had expected.

Large hoops with their binding complete

In some ways, binding a larger hoop is easier than binding a smaller one, even though it takes longer – you’ve got more room to work in, and the curve of the hoop is more gradual, so getting the tape to lie flat is much less of a struggle. And when it comes to securely finishing off the end of the tape, a large hoop gives this near-sighted stitcher a much more convenient way of getting close to the sewing!

Finishing off a hoop if you're near-sighted

Incidentally, I’ve discovered why I find binding hoops such a hassle. Because I make things difficult for myself, that’s why! While having a look at some RSN online classes, I noticed a freebie video about binding hoops. And the stills illustrating it showed a bound hoop that took me rather aback – the tape looked positively wrinkled! Now I will admit that even in my own estimation I am a bit obsessive when binding a hoop; I want every wrap to overlap by exactly the same amount, and I want everything to lie absolutely flat, even though I realise neither of these things is essential. So has this made me think differently? Well, my mind did say “if the RSN is happy with a hoop like that, it’s bound to work” (ha ha). But I simply can’t get myself to do it like that. When I look at my very tidily bound hoops, I get a happy feeling, and I just know that a wrinkly hoop would annoy me whenever I look at it. So, as binding is a one-off process for each hoop anyway, I will stick with my time-consuming, finger-cramp-inducing method, and smile at the finished product.

An RSN-bound hoop which undoubtedly works Tidy hoop-binding

And now I’m off to stitch that tree!

The effect of “more” on a design

We’ve probably all had moments when we were presented with too wide a choice and just ended up saying “I don’t know” and not picking anything. Too much choice can be paralysing. And even if you are usually an extremely adventurous stitcher, there may be times when you don’t want to hear “you can do this design in 5 different colourways, would you like the blue, red, purple, green or neutral, and with or without speciality stitches?” – you just want to pick up a kit or chart that tells you exactly what to do in exactly what spot with exactly what thread in exactly what colour.

On the other hand, it is equally true to say that choice is liberating! Now that I have more shades or Pearsall’s crewel wool to choose from, I can decide whether I want Hengest’s spots to be muted pastels (which is all I had until my most recent purchase) or bright pastels, if the latter isn’t a contradiction in terms. And I’ve chosen the bright pastels (my husband says they remind him of Edinburgh rock). They’re so cheerful that I find myself smiling just looking at them, and I’m looking forward to seeing Hengest in all his unnaturalistic, brightly pastel-spotted glory.

New colours for Hengest's spots

By the way, I managed to fit in irises! (And incidentally also found that surrounding the eyes with a single line of white before working the vertical lines of the face sets them off beautifully while also reducing the dark grey outlines to something a little more subtle.)

Hengest has blue eyes

As I was using that light blue anyway, I treated myself to a few spots smiley. Just the one colour, the rest of the sweet shop will have to wait until I’ve finished his face!

A first few spots

The lure of more

“Once I’ve got my own craft room everything will be lovely and I won’t need any extra storage ever again!” Ha.

Don’t get me wrong, everything is lovely in my still relatively new craft room. It’s my optimistic ideas about storage which have turned out to be less than accurate. So something needed to be done. And before you ask, no, I didn’t start breeding my tall rainbow storage towers. But isn’t this dinky little matching set of drawers just the perfect find?

A little tower of drawers joins the large ones

As for the reason behind this purchase, let’s go to another I-spoke-too-soon remark I made to myself not so long ago.

“Now that I’ve got at least four shades of pretty much every colour of crewel wool on Pearsall’s website, I’m sorted and won’t need any other crewel wools ever again!” Ha.

Listening to Jessica Grimm on Fiber Talk (incidentally, if you missed Mabel’s last month it’s here) I was reminded that I bought loads of spangles from her last year, and paid another visit to her website. And there I found Heathway Milano wools in more colours than on the Pearsall’s website!

Surely this couldn’t be right – Pearsall’s are the original producers of this wool. So I contacted Carol (the helpful lady who went through the available starter packs with me over the phone when I first dipped my toes into the crewel waters) and she confirmed that these colours (including a true orange, a gorgeous turquoise and some beautifully bright purples) were indeed available, they just hadn’t made it onto the Pearsall’s website yet. “Just order as many blacks as you want colours and then let me know which ones you really want.” Well, how could I resist? And so a true orange, a gorgeous turquoise and some beautifully bright purples, as well as some daffodil yellows and various pinks, have been added to my ever-growing collection.

The latest additions to my crewel wool collection

And this is why the little storage tower joined the two big ones – I now have colour-coordinated crewel wool drawers! (Which are already beginning to feel a bit crowded. Oh dear…)

Colour-coordinated drawers with wool The Teal drawer

The eyes have it

Last week, Hengest gained a face. And what a face it was. Let’s just say that someone compared him to Claudia Winkleman.

Is it Hengest, or is it Claudia?

When stitching Ethelnute at the medieval embroidery retreat I found that the dark lines we put in for the nose and eyes looked much less prominent once the other stitching had been done around it (the later stitching part-covered it, pushing up against it) so that’s what I expected would happen here as well. But even so, the eyes were very black. Very very black. And I remembered that Ethelnute’s facial features had actually been done in a dark brown. And that, in the past, I had read or heard that pure black is often a no-no.

So I surveyed my collection of crewel wools and pulled out the darkest grey and the darkest brown I could find; because of all the other greys in Hengest, I picked the brown from the more muted, cooler range, rather than one of the warm browns.

Hengest with black, grey and brown for the eyes

Lots of people have come up with comments and suggestions about how to make this change, and mulling them over for a bit I decided to cut out the black, then stitch the outline only in a quick running stitch in brown for one eye and grey for the other. Some people suggested stitching the eyes last, when I have a better overview of what Hengest’s colours look like together, but as I said above, I think the eyes (and the nostrils) will actually blend in better if the other stitching is done around them.

Did you notice I said “cut out the black”? Having read what I wrote about unpicking split stitch when Hengest acquired his unplanned blue spot, a fellow-stitcher asked why I didn’t just cut the stitching out. Well, there I was taking out part of a thread, and I needed to retain enough of the unpicked bit to be able to fasten off again, so the other part of the thread, which was clean and OK to stay put, wouldn’t get undone. The eyes and nostrils, on the other hand, are isolated elements, so here I was definitely happy to take the short cut and use my nice small pointy scissors. And tweezers as well, because black leaves quite a residue!

Unpicking Hengest's eyes Black residue

Then it was a matter of trying with the two dark-not-blacks, in simple running stitch so it’ll be easy to take out before the official restitch.

A brown eye and a grey one

So now I’ve got a brown and a grey eye. And I don’t know which one I like best. I still think the grey would fit in better with the rest of the palette, but in isolation I rather like the look of the brown. Perhaps I could give him grey eyes and brown nostrils! That way I can use the brown, but not in such a prominent position. But no, that’s just chickening out from taking a decision. So my decisive decision is that I’ll mull it over for a bit, perhaps stitch some other wool project, or something different altogether, and then have another look at it and make a real firm decisive decision.

By the way, someone on an embroidery FB group posted a close-up picture of the original Steeple Aston Cope horse, and oh my goodness me, it’s got irises! I hadn’t noticed that in the pictures I used, which were all rather smaller. However, I don’t think I’ll manage to get in an iris in Hengest’s eyes, as he is much more diminutive than his cope cousin. Not in the wool version anyway – it should be possible in the silk though… *scuttles off to find the coloured pattern and add a line of blue*

The original eyes have an iris!

PS concerning my earlier remarks about not posting embroidery photographs which are not your own even if the embroidery itself is in the public domain – they still hold, but I decided that showing the eyes only would probably be all right. If you know otherwise, please let me know so I can rectify it.