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, most 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.

Turning back time

Unpicking is sometimes known, more optimistically, as reverse stitching. Fine if you discover your mistake fairly quickly and it’s a manageable number of stitches; but occasionally it’s easier to just cut everything out and start again. Here’s what happened when, having completed the whipped backstitch outline of the glass on my hourglass design, I ignored the project for a few days.

The glass outlined

Picking it up again to work on the stem stitch posts I took the threaded needle that had been left in a corner of the fabric and started stitching, while watching The Repair Shop in the background. The lines of stem stitch looked a bit thin, and I was grumbling to myself that it would take rather more lines to fill the post than I’d expected, but I was more than half concentrating on the restoration of a chess set on the television and just kept going. After three lines I came to the end of the thread, fastened off, fastened on a new thread from my ring of pre-cut cream pearl cotton, worked a few stitches and realised that these stitches were much chunkier, and a much lighter cream, than the ones that were altready there. You guessed it – the threaded needle stuck in the fabric had been threaded with the stranded cotton I’d used for attaching the spangles… There was no help for it, it all had to come out.

Unpicking the wrong threads

Undaunted, I re-started the post in the correct thread, and having finished the bottom half of the post I was about to move on to the top half, when I thought about the intervening space. Should I indicate in some way the outline of the post in the gaps between the spangles? I added single lines, but then realised I had intended the spangles to be like carved balls in the wooden posts, so the outlines of the post would have been “carved away”. Feeling rather like Oscar Wilde in reverse, I removed them. Still, it was useful to see the effect and know for certain that I didn’t like it!

Lines that aren't needed

Not time-related except that chipping is a very time-consuming technique, but I wanted to mention the use of close-up photographs when working stitched models. They are particularly useful when doing chipping because they show up any gaps that you may not notice when looking at the work in the ordinary way. In this case, I’m quite puite pleased with the coverage – it looks good and dense! Unfortunately close-ups also show other details, like those invaders that look like hairs. I can’t think what they are (unusually for the Figworthy household I don’t think they are cat fur) but at least they are pretty much invisible when you look at it with the naked eye. To give you an idea of scale, the photograph covers an area a little less than a square centimetre. I’ll probably get away with it smiley.

A close-up of chipping

Time flies and memory lies

Because I have been working mostly on The Project That Must Not Be Talked About, and haven’t been adding anything interesting to my stash lately, it’s been a bit quiet on the FoF front. But here is a design that I can tell you about! It’s still in progress, but I thought you might like to see one of the many different ways in which a design comes about and develops.

It all started with a Christmas present, an Inspiration Pack from Paint Box Threads (I’m afraid they don’t appear to have any for sale at the moment, but their threads and fabrics are available separately). By the way, you may recognise one of the threads from Septimus the Septopus – it was used for some of his tentacles. Because I wanted to use the various fabrics and threads in the box for some small projects, I decanted the entire contents into a project box that was parked in a hopeful fashion on the shelf underneath the table by my comfy chair. And there it remained.

Paint Box Thread's inspiration pack, decanted

But lately I wanted a project to work on in the evenings, and it seemed a good idea to use the bits in the box. My plan was to start with the dark brown mottled fabric, and do something simple and outline-y in the cream thread. And a week or so ago, something in a sermon made me think of time and then of hourglasses. I did a quick sketch, just to get the idea down on paper.

The first sketch

I photographed the sketch and transferred it to my editing program to produce a usable design. First of all, as I wrote on the sketch, I wanted it “lengthened” or rather, made higher and therefore relatively thinner. Then, looking at some pictures of hourglasses online, I decided I wanted some decoration on the uprights (posts?), as though they were carved. I put in lighter lines to indicate things that could only be seen through the glass, and three small circles (well, ellipses because of perspective) on the top to show where the posts are attached. This was the first digital version I saved as a chart.

Version 1

But the posts looked spindly compared to the rest. So I widened them. Just before saving this as a separate version I remembered to widen the little ellipses on the top to match the new posts. Version 2.

Thicker posts

Then I felt the top and bottom looked rather flat compared to the rest, as though they were just circles cut out of paper. So the next change was to add a bit of a 3D effect to show that they were actually circles of wood (probably) with some depth to them. Version 3.

A bit more depth

There was still something odd-looking about the design. I printed out the first three versions and realised that another lighter see-through-the-glass line was needed, namely the one at the back of the bottom of the glass itself. I had also failed to notice that the top and bottom parts of the hourglass had lines separating them from the little funnel bit in the middle, so those sections of their outlines were removed. Version 4.

Lines added and removed

My original idea had been to add some words in a curve on either side of the hourglass, so I added a temporary circle to help with placement of the lettering. I’d been looking through the Bible for a quotation about using time wisely, but couldn’t find anything expressing that sentiment in a single pithy verse. Some verses from Ecclesiastes (“He has made everything beautiful in its time” and “He has planted eternity in the human heart”) were lovely but wouldn’t fit in the limited space. In the end I went for Psalm 31, with an alternative using the expression “time flies” in English and Latin in case someone preferred a secular version.

Preparing for the words Psalm 31 Time flies

All this had got me rather a long way away from the simple outline I had originally envisaged. So I returned to Version 2 and simplified it a bit further. I printed it out at 10cm high and 12cm high and then realised neither would fit the brown fabric I wanted to use, or rather, they wouldn’t fit comfortably inside the 13cm hoop which was the biggest I could use with that cut of fabric. Fortunately I’d printed all versions on a sort of contact sheet at 9cm high, so I used that.

A simplified version

All this activity, and not a stitch put in! But now it was time to transfer the design to the fabric, and decide what stitches to use. For this, the “contact sheet” came in handy again as I could scribble on it and sketch out different stitch directions for the sand and so on.

Stitch directions

But as I got the cream perle thread from my project box I got a bit of a shock. It wasn’t cream! It was more like a very pale shell pink. Very pretty, and it would still work, but quite different from what I’d remembered. By then I had also found out that none of the three speciality threads in the box were anything like the string-of-beads look which I remembered very clearly. That was a bit of a shame because I’d intended to use that as the sand pouring through the hourglass gap. Still, if I didn’t have a speciality thread that looked like a string of beads, I did have some very pretty petite beads in a colour called Champagne, which has just enough of a hint of pink in its gold to be a good match for the perle cotton.

An unexpected pink and some champagne beads

Now Mr Figworthy had been suggesting a goldwork version, but I’ve been doing quite a lot of that recently and I wanted this to be a project I could easily pick up of an evening to do a few stitches while watching the telly – not something you do with goldwork. But those decorations on the posts… well, they were rather crying out for spangles. Remember this version of the design had to be relatively small because of the size of the fabric? Because of that the 5mm and 4mm spangles which are the biggest in my stash, although not quite big enough to cover the bulbous decorations on the drawing, would just about work onthe embroidery itself if I only indicated their position with a dot, rather than drawing the outline. The final bit of material was a stranded cotton to match the perle thread; DMC 950 turned out to be quite close. I was finally ready to go!

All the materials together

I will work this mostly from back to front, that is to say start with the lines and shapes that are behind everything else and work my way forward. But I just couldn’t resist putting the spangles in first; I needed that little sense of achievement! Then the back of the bottom of the frame, in backstitch outline to represent a not-very-visible line; by contrast the visible parts of the frame will be solidly filled, and the outline of the glass will done in whipped backstitch, which will make a smooth, unbroken line. But that is for another evening. Watch this space (and ignore the cat hair…)

Finally some stitching!

Exciting parcels

That feeling of expectation when you know there is something nice on its way to you and then one day the postman hands you the day’s post and among it is a parcel which is obviously That Parcel and you are about to unwrap it – don’t you just love it? I’ve had several such parcels recently, and as they were all stitch-related I thought you might like to see them.

Remember the Filoselle silks I inherited from my mother-in-law? Three shades of rose, a golden yellow and a lot of green. Well, some time ago I was contacted by Sara, who had acquired a selection of Filoselle silks herself and, doing some research, came across my 2015 post in which Pearsall’s unfortunately discontinued silks are mentioned. After a few emails back and forth we agreed a swap, and a little later the pastel beauties on the right arrived. As I said to Sara, because they are discontinued I won’t be able to use them in any designs that will be published, and so I have no idea yet what I’ll do with them, but they are lovely colours to have.

Vintage Filoselle silks (and a darning egg) Swapped Filoselle silks

Around about the same time I spotted a day class at Hampton Court Palace in my RSN e-newsletter: a stumpwork bumblebee. Yes, I know, stumpwork isn’t really my thing; but since the two butterflies I did (one a Sarah Homfray kit, the other off my own bat for a friend) I’ve rather taken a liking to stumpwork insects. And I happen to have a friend who is a beekeeper. Perfect. Well, almost perfect, as beekeepers don’t actually keep bumblebees, but close enough.

Stumpwork butterfly from a Sarah Homfray kit Stumpwork butterfly made for a friend

Unfortunately the class was on a day that I couldn’t do; and even if the date had been convenient, travelling to Hampton Court Palace for the day is quite an undertaking, as well as adding to the strain on the budget. I reluctantly decided it was not to be. But when I mentioned this on the RSN Certificate & Diploma Facebook group, someone who had taken the class in the past suggested I contact the tutor, Rachel Doyle, to see if she had any surplus kits which she might be willing to sell separately. I did, and she had, and here it is!

Rachel Doyle's Bumble Bee kit Rachel Doyle's Bumble Bee kit

And my final treat (final for the moment anyway) – a new slate frame bag. I had one made for my original, humongous slate frame but then I was allowed to use a 12″ frame instead and the bag was ridiculously oversized for that (as you can tell from the picture below it was on the large side even for the original frame). Fortunately it has now found a new home with my middle sister-in-law who uses it to transport her paintings, but it did mean I was left without a bag. Well, not literally, I have plenty of cotton and canvas bags of various sizes, some of them embellished with embroidery, but nothing padded and none that accomodated the frame comfortably. Enter Liz at LoobysBayBags.

The original quilted bag for my large slate frame

Liz was brilliant. The bags she usually makes were not quite the right size for my slate frame (which in spite of being called a 12″ frame is actually a little over 17″ square) so she agreed to make a bespoke one. She found all sorts of fabrics for me to have a look at and hunted out a new fabric for the lining which would go with the patterned ones I picked; she was great at going by what I wanted, not what she thought I should have (she was a little worried that I picked very light colours for what she called “a working bag”). When I explained what it would be used for she reinforced the handles and padded the bottom. And it came out just perfect – it looks beautiful (those ducks are adorable), it’s comfortable to carry, and it is a comfortably snug fit for the frame. As you can tell from the last picture, I’m really pleased with it!

The new slate frame bag A snug fit Modelling the bag

An old Dutch saying and a framed tree

The Dutch have a saying: “uithuilen en opnieuw beginnen”, which roughly translates as “have a good cry and start afresh”. Don’t worry, no actual tears were shed, but over the weekend it became clear that a fresh start was indeed called for.

I’d been working on my pair of designs and the stitching was all fine, but some of the design lines were not quite as balanced as I would ideally like, in spite of some early-stage tweaking to correct the worst of it. I thought I could ignore it, and then my husband commented on it as well. It was obviously noticeable to other eyes than just mine! Add to that that I was getting increasingly dissatisfied with the fabric I was working on (which I’d chosen three or four years ago when the designs were first taking shape) and it was time to bite the bullet and cut my losses (to add a couple of English sayings). The die was cast! (Latin saying.) The two fortunately only very partially stitched models were taken out of the hoops, folded up and put in my goldwork drawer as a record of how the design process doesn’t always run smooth, and then I cut and ironed two new pieces of calico backing, ready for the new fabric and the new design lines.

Empty hoops and new calico

Now deciding on new materials and browsing the various fabric shops is, of course, a very pleasant way to while away the odd Saturday afternoon, but I was determined to be disciplined and first get those design lines right! I rotated and flipped and erased and re-drew and found, oddly enough, that perfect symmetry in the parts I was tweaking looked wrong. Eventually I ended up with a slightly asymmetrical but much better balanced pair of designs, which I will be happy to transfer to the new fabrics when they arrive.

And what are the new fabrics? Well, colour-wise they are similar to the original ones. I like the slightly unusual combination and so does the editor, whom I bounced my design and fabric dilemmas off before doing anything too drastic. But instead of a cotton-linen mix I’ve decided to go with silk dupion – the same type of fabric that Bruce was stitched on. The only difference is that for Bruce I used handwoven silk dupion, which is quite textured and slubby, whereas for this pair I’m going with the smoother powerwoven version. You can see the difference between the Bruce fabric on the left, and my new doodle cloth (a piece of powerwoven silk I happened to have in my stash) on the right. Just hooping up that sampling piece of silk convinced me I’d made the right decision. Remember my mentioning that it was very difficult to get the Essex linen taut in the hoop? Well, this could do duty as a tambourine at a revival meeting – brilliant!

Handwoven, textured silk dupion The new powerwoven doodle cloth

Incidentally, just as the original soft pink doodle cloth bore no colour resemblance to the project fabrics, neither does this rather startlingly bright blue. I’m not quite sure why I got it in the first place; it’s a gorgeous colour, but I can’t imagine what I thought I’d use it for! Still, it comes in very handy now – even if the new colours I ordered take a while to arrive, I can sample some elements while I wait.

The other excitement this weekend was picking up my Jacobean Certificate piece from our local framer’s. It had taken me a while to decide how I wanted to have it framed, and in the end I went for a simple frame with no mount, with the dark brown picking up the darkest of the brown wool shades. I’m really pleased with it, and it is now adorning my craft room.

The Jacobean tree finally framed The framed Jacobean hanging in the craft room

One problem about framing more of my needlework (which I used to do quite rarely in the past) is that we’re running out of wall space (there are a fair number of paintings dotted around the house as well). I’ll have to impose a sort of seasonal rotation on what goes on the walls – oh well, at least I won’t get bored looking at the same embroideries year after year smiley.

Stabling a horse and keeping a secret

Since Queen’s Silks was finished, people have been asking me The Question That Must Not Be Asked But Always Is: “What are you going to do with it?” Well, I was going to stable it in my goldwork folder, safely encased in tissue paper. But the general outcry at what was perceived as dire neglect, worthy of a letter to the RSPCA or the British Horse Society, made me think again. Perhaps I ought to frame it after all. Much would depend on what happened when it was taken out of the hoop – fabric with dense or heavy embroidery on it (and it doesn’t get much denser and heavier than goldwork) can pucker up alarmingly when the tension is taken off. If the puckering is too serious, even severe lacing may not get rid of it altogether, in which case there was no way I was going to be looking at it day after day. This morning I slackened the hoop and placed the fabric on a flat surface. No puckering, not even in harsh direct sunlight. It’s crumpled where the hoop was, of course, but we can work around that. So it looks like the racehorse will grace our walls after all!

A non-puckered horse

Remember I told you my next project is one I can’t write about for now? I’m finding that really hard, because writing FoFs about how designs develop really helps me, well, develop them! So I’ll have to just keep a design development diary and bounce things off Mr Figworthy (ouch). I can tell you (because it doesn’t really give anything away smiley) that one of the pair looks set to have some plastic surgery done in the rib area…

And there are other things about starting a project that I can share with you. Like my as yet unused doodle cloth; it’s the same type of fabric as the main pair, though a different colour.

Doodle cloth ready to try out some stitches

I can also show you the surprising cat hair which turned up on the back of my otherwise pristine, newly-hooped fabric. How do they do it?!?

Cat hair on a newly hooped up project

Talking of hooping up, the first thing I found is that the linen/cotton mix I am using is difficult to get as taut as the silk dupion used for the racehorse, or the densely woven linen I’ve used for other projects. I may have to do some tweaking before starting the serious stitching. But as I’m working this pair of designs simultaneously it’s also a great opportunity to see whether there will be a noticeable difference over time between Nurge’s 16mm and 24mm hoops. Does size matter? I’ll let you know!

Comparing hoops of different depths

Finally there is something which I’m sure we’ve all encountered when embarking on a new project: the absolutely essential items which are missing from your stash. I was certain I had silver pearl purl and wire check of the right size in my goldwork box. I didn’t. Laurelin to the rescue! The copper wire check just happened to make its way into my shopping basket at the same time. Very persuasive stuff, copper wire check.

Stash that was absolutely necessary. Most of it.

Surplus weight(s) and ceramics

I’d been using my Aristo lapstand for most of the work on Queen’s Silks; the stand is better suited to rectangular frames like the Millennium and my small slate frame, but it works with the 14″ hoop I used for the Tree of Life SAL and it just about works with the 12″ hoop which I’d mounted the racehorse in. But my next project will be in a not-quite-10″ hoop (Nurge’s 25cm one), and when trying it out that just didn’t sit well. I’d need to use my Sonata seat stand. Now I love the Sonata, and I’ve used it with hoops up to 8″, but I feared that 10″, especially with the added strain of plunging, would be rather too much for it. Ideally I’d use the Lowery stand, which for some years has been firmly lodged by my armchair. Would it work in my dining room set-up, which is where I like to work on larger or more complicated projects? With no armchair to hold it down, I thought I’d need the old-fashioned scale weights which live in the garage and which Mr Figworthy has been saying for years “will come in handy one day” to keep it stable (they go up to 14 lbs), but it turns out a fairly thin chair leg works, as long as there is a substantial amount of stitcher on top. (Note to self: good excuse for extra pudding.)

Superfluous weights The Lowery in my dining room stitching spot

You may remember last year I bought a small dish and a fridge magnet from Wilton Road Ceramics. Having decided that I needed more needle minders, I thought some of Sue’s ceramic bits and bobs would be just the ticket. At the moment my two main ones are home-made affairs using ceramic buttons – fine for larger tapestry needles, but the itsy bitsy needles I use for goldwork and some other types of embroidery have a disconcerting tendency to get themselves lodged in one of the holes and stand upright, business end up. Something without holes was called for.

Now I’ve been using the large fridge magnet on my Lowery stand, holding a selection of needles ready to use whenever I need them without having to rummage through sewing boxes and needle books, and it works very well. But is is on the large side for keeping on an embroidery, unless the hoop or frame is on the large side too and there is plenty of room around the design.

The first large needle minder on my Lowery

After a few measurements I worked out I wanted something about an inch square, and flat. Sue doesn’t do magnets that size, but she does do what she calls card toppers, small square tiles that decorate cards. She was happy to send me some of those without the cards, and even offered to attach some smaller magnets to them so that they would be ready for use. Not only that, she sent me a little freebie pink heart – I’d looked at some hearts she does for bookmarks, but they were too big. But she found this one-off smaller one in a drawer somewhere and just sent it with the others, wasn’t that kind?

A selection of ceramic needle minders

Unfortunately the small magnets, though admirably effective in sticking to fridges, were not quite up to the task of attracting needles through a layer of ceramics. I asked Sue what they were attached with, hoping it would be possible to perhaps heat them up a little to melt the glue, but it turned out to be E6000, which can only be dislodged with acetone and patience. Patience I have (to some extent), but as I never use nail polish, acetone is not something I have around the house. However, our kind neighbour had a big bottle which she was happy for me to use as much of as I needed. After that it was just a matter of replacing the weak magnets with the small but fierce neodymium ones which Mr Figworthy uses to make magnetic sump drain plugs (what else…)

You may have noticed that among the purchased selection there is also a larger magnet. I fell for the fish, which reminds me of the Ichthus symbol (also known as the Jesus fish because the letters stand for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”). I knew from the beach hut magnet that that one is strong enough to attract the needles and indeed, it did solid duty on the racehorse – it even successfully holds the large plunging needle!

The new large needle minder in action

Did I mention I was having a bit of a needle minder spree? This one isn’t ceramic, but the moment I saw it I knew it was perfect for my sheep-mad friend who has recently taken to stitching. And to make the most of the postage it made sense to get one for myself as well! Even if it never actively holds a needle at all (it is on the big side) it makes me smile. Isn’t that quite a good reason in itself?

A perfect lamb of a needle minder

The final furlong

Last Wednesday I should have had my first official Canvaswork class. Unfortunately I have a chronic tum condition and it decided to flare up; not the best conditions for concentrating on what is essentially a new technique to me. But the RSN were very understanding and helpful (“oh you poor thing, just drop us a line and we’ll arrange something”) and cancelled it for me even though I let them know only a day in advance, with the money credited to my account for a future class. With the summer recess coming up that won’t be until September at the earliest, however, so I decided that my stitching time would be dedicated to getting the racehorse out of the way before moving on to the commissioned project.

The racehorse (or Queen’s Silks as it’s officially called) has had a few adaptations and alterations already, most notably the eye, and I’ve also substituted my own check thread for some of the rococco parts. But in one place I stuck with the rococco: the lower part of the gold hind leg. As the shading or detailing in the other, copper hind leg had already been done in rococco I decided it would look better to echo that in this leg.

Rococco detailing in the hind legs

My next stitching session was in bright sunshine, and you’d think that would make everything easier to see. Well, it did help with the stitching part, but it made the black design lines (never particularly clear on the dark green fabric) practically invisible – the thing that may look like a design line is actually the shadow of my couching thread! I resorted to working without my glasses with my nose all but touching the silk as I worked on the pearl purl outlines of the neck and front leg. I’m using the pearl purl that came with the kit, even though the gold is a bit yellow for my taste. On the other hand, it does provide extra contrast (you’ll see later just how much contrast with some of the other gold).

Invisible design lines Pearl purl outlining the neck and leg

That last picture also shows the swirly couching around the shoulder, which took quite a while to get right. The copper part going up to the neck had to be completely unpicked when I realised I’d once again entirely missed the outline. The second version came out much better – just as well, as I wasn’t going to unpick it again! While doing that part of the horse I’d forgotten to fill in the couching in the bottom of the swirl, so that was next. By the way, can you see the mellow gold pearl purl in the top right-hand corner? That came from my stash because I didn’t like using the yellow one for the head. Quite a colour difference.

The shoulder swirl finished

For the detailing in the front legs I ignored the stitched model; it used the large rococco in the gold leg and S-ing in the copper leg, but I didn’t think that worked very well going round the rather tight curves of the leg, so I opted for check thread in both. In bright light the gold check thread looks almost silver against the yellow pearl purl!

Check thread in the copper leg Check thread in the gold leg

Finally it was time for the last bit of the neck and the head. I took a bit of a shortcut in the copper cheek detailing by using a doubled thread starting with a loop; this meant the top lacked the subtle curve, but it did save on plunging and securing (easier with check thread than with rococco, but still to be avoided whenever possible, to my mind). The other parts were done pretty much as they were in the stitched model. And there he is, racing ahead in all his metallic glory, and I’m jolly pleased with how he’s turned out.

The neck and head The finished horse

Horsing around

Although I really need to get on with that secret goldwork project, I’m having such fun spending a bit more time with Helen McCook’s racehorse that I keep coming up with excuses – the latest one is that the hoop needed for the new project is currently in use holding my Canvaswork sample cloth, and I have to wait for the arrival of two 25cm Nurge hoops (my favourite brand), one 16mm and one 24mm deep. And then of course there will be a further delay until I’ve got round to binding it. So apart from doing some preparatory work for my first proper Canvas class next week, I’m enjoying an equine binge.

The first thing to do since the last update was to get rid of those pesky black outlines which I failed to cover when plunging the couching on the horse’s flank (feel free to let me know if that’s not the right term, I’m not a horse expert). There were a few options including a Jap outline, but in the end I decided to go for a solid filling of chips – for one thing that meant no plunging and oversewing! I chose the thinnest bright check, no.8, and tried to follow the lines as well as possible while still placing the chips in random directions. Chips are never going to make a truly sharp point, and in close-up you can see that the outlines are not smooth (you wouldn’t expect them to be), but when taking in the whole horse from a normal viewing distance I think it blends in well enough.

Visible lines The missed bit filled in with chipping The chipping in the context of the whole horse

On to the remaining bits of the back legs, worked (apart from a small length of pearl purl) in gold and copper rococco. Now the rococco that came with the class kit is big. I mean, really big. I have Very Fine, Fine and Medium rococco in my stash and Medium is as chunky as I would choose to go in any of my own projects. This looks a definite Large. It is an absolute pig to plunge, and I don’t even like the look of it very much because it is very difficult to “synchronise” the waves (the first picture shows it in the horse’s tail). I could have used a smaller size from my stash, but instead I went for check thread, rococco’s modest little sister. Much in the way that I prefer passing to Jap, I prefer check thread to rococco. It gives the same sort of effect, but it’s a lot easier to work with!

Large rococco in the tail Couched check thread The whole horse showing large rococco and check thread

The overview picture also shows my start on the grass. The kit came with bright green 471 thread, which is a bit like a fine passing thread available in lots of colours. Compared to the bottle green fabric that seemed rather too bright and too much towards the yellow end of green. In my stash I found a no. 1½ twist in Opal Green which is a lovely shade, but that was a bit too much towards teal/turquoise. Then, playing with them both at my Embroidery Group meeting (last one before the summer holiday, alas), I had a flash of inspiration: why not combine them? So I did, and I really like the effect of the blended colours and contrasting textures! When I started the second line of grass my first stitch happened to be exactly in line with the couching on the first line of grass, which looked odd, so I took it out and “bricked” it, even though the lines of couching are not directly next to each other, which I felt made for a more pleasing effect.

Two greens Combining two threads and bricking the stitches

By the way, finishing off the grass in the evening was possibly not the best decision. In spite of the floor to ceiling window in our dining room (where I like to stitch on larger and more complicated projects) the gloomy evening sky did nothing to help while couching two shades of green on dark green fabric using a green couching thread… Still, I managed, even if I did almost pull one bright green thread out completely when plunging its second end. Fortunately the unravelled first end consented to be gently persuaded back down the fabric, leaving the thread at the front acceptable if not pristine.

Working in the gloom The horse so far

So what’s left? I’d like to leave the head and neck till last, so the front legs first; they have a fair bit of work in them. I have quite a lot of copper passing left from the kit so I may put that in instead of the copper S-ing along the knee and foot. The angles of the leg are such that the S-ing looks a bit awkward there in the model photograph we were given, and rather loses its stem stitch look. We’ll see what suggests itself once I get to that point!

The model's front leg

A book, a horse, and a lobster’s claw

Although my summer stitching will be more goldwork (I’d tell you more but it’s a secret for now…), for the Certificate I’ve moved on to Canvaswork, and before we break up for the summer I have one class to get it all set up. Last time Angela advised me to get Jo Christensen’s Needlepoint Book and being a dutiful student of course I did smiley. It arrived just before we went away for a short break (by the sea, lovely!) so I’ve only read a little of it so far, but it looks a very informative book.

Jo Christensen's Needlepoint Book

I’ve also been doing some sampling, on a piece of 18TPI canvas I found in my stash. I have no idea why I had it, and I have no recollection of buying it – it may well have come from one of those occasions where someone hands me several bags of odds and ends because they want their mother’s/aunt’s/grandmother’s/great-aunt’s embroidery things to go to a Good Home. However I got it, it’s coming in useful now! Among the things I inherited from my mother-in-law there is a stitch guide with some very useful pictures of canvaswork stitches, and in fact it showed a better way of “slotting together” Dutch stitch (which for obvious reasons appeals to me and which I hope to be able to use in my Certificate piece) to cover the canvas more completely – the importance of which is strongly stressed in the Brief. It also reminded me of Victorian tufted stitch. I doubt I’ll have opportunity to use it, but it was fun to have a go.

Canvaswork sample cloth Dutch stitch in my mother-in-law's book Two ways of slotting Dutch stitch together Victorian tufted stitch

At my weekly Embroidery Group, which is finally meeting again (though with sadly reduced numbers, and for a very short term only) I’ve taken to working on the goldwork racehorse I started two years ago at a 3-day RSN class. You wouldn’t think goldwork would be ideal for a group where chatting and drinking tea is as much part of the fun as embroidery, but oddly enough it works – well, mostly… I want to finish this, but I want it to be fairly relaxed as well, so I decided I wouldn’t worry too much if my couching stitches were not all exactly 3mm apart, or if my S-ing chips were of slightly different lengths. But because the light at our venue is not the best (especially since one of the strip lights conked out and won’t be replaced until the summer holidays) and the design is drawn on dark green fabric in fine black pen, I managed to overlook the fact that my quite nicely plunged bit of couching completely failed to cover the far end of the outline. Oops. I tried to remedy this by extending one of the lines of couching but that just looked silly, so I unpicked it. For now I’m leaving it as it is and I’ll try and think of something to cover it up in an acceptable way.

The flank couched The flank plunged - with visible lines... Essing along the back completed The horse so far

And finally, the lobster’s claw. I know that sounds a bit mysterious, but it is apparently what the shape of an aficot is based on. And if you have no idea what an aficot is, I sympathise – when I first saw the name and a picture of it (in this article by Mary Corbet) I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what it had to do with embroidery. Well, it’s used for polishing satin stitches. It is also, when well-made in lovely wood, a thing of beauty in its own right, almost like an extremely tactile abstract sculpture. I’d been eyeing these (especially the set which includes a matching laying tool) for months, and finally decided that it was worth getting just for the sheer pleasure I’d get out of seeing and touching it, let alone using it in my needlework! After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the various woods available I eventually went for ebony, and here they are: my very own aficot and laying tool. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Safely packaged in tube and velvet bag An ebony laying tool and aficot The aficot fits beautifully in the hand

Drawing the line

That’s what I do for workshops – drawing the line drawing. On the kit fabric. The kits I sell online come with blank fabric and instructions on how to transfer the design yourself, but this would take too long in a 90-minute or 2-hour workshop, so I do them beforehand, with the aid of my trusty lightbox and some fine drawing pens.

Drawing the designs on by hand

But wouldn’t it be nice to get them screen-printed, both for workshops and for general kits? It can look really professional, like King Ethelnute of the Coombe Abbey retreat.

Stylish printing on Ethelnute

There are a few hurdles, however. First of all, people who have found good screen printers for their kits turn out to want to keep this information to themselves. Fair enough, I’ll just have to do my own research. But what about the quality of the screenprinting itself? Ethelnute looked very stylish in his gold outline, and as he was solidly stitched there was no problem about lines showing. But not all embroidery is solid, and in some kits I have bought in recent years this could be a real problem. There were kits with uniformly thick lines which were sometimes difficult to cover completely, like this one from Melbury Hill.

Thick grey lines on a Melbury Hill kit

Its saving grace was that the lines were printed in grey, so that any line showing was not overly noticeable. That couldn’t be said for some of the Sarah Homfray designs, which were printed in quite a bright green. Now let me begin by saying that Sarah’s kits are very well put together and generally a joy to stitch. But the green printing was a bit of a problem especially where lines ran into each other, becoming rather blobby – on the Turaco bird I had to add an extra line of stitching along the leaf edge to make sure everything was covered. In most of the design the printing was nice and crisp and distinct, but it was still quite bold, and working on the fruit trees I found that line stitches like Palestrina stitch did not always cover the whole width of the design line, even with a “spreading” thread like crewel wool.

Some blobby lines on a Sarah Homfray kit The lines are very very green Palestrina stitch does not fully cover

So there were three things I’d have to consider if I wanted to get my kit fabrics printed: I’d have to find a good screen-printer, the colour of the lines would have to be neutral and not too dark, and the lines themselves would have to be quite delicate, especially on designs that are not solidly embroidered or that use fine threads.

The first consideration seemed likely to scupper the process before it properly started as I found it difficult to work out who would be a suitable printer among the bewildering variety of available ones. Another thing was that most of the companies I found would only print on fabrics from their own collection. You can get screen-printing done on linen twill (see the Melbury Hill kit) but I haven’t been able to find out by whom. And then I came across a different process altogether, digital fabric printing. This seems to be used mostly for printing patterned fabric or logos, but surely you could print line drawings? I picked a company that would print samples and uploaded some designs: Whoo Me, the Wildflower Garden, and Forever Frosty.

Whoo Me Little Wildflower Garden Forever Frosty

Now this came with a few complications of its own; like so many printing companies, they would only print on their own fabrics. And they do not print on coloured fabrics – instead, the background colour is printed as well. Not quite as stylish and professional-looking as printing on a separately dyed fabric, but I was willing to see what it looked like. I picked a simple calico for Whoo Me, a plain cotton for the Wildflower Garden (to be printed light blue) and a duchesse satin for Forever Frosty, on the grounds that goldwork deserves something a bit more upmarket and glossy.

Here’s how they turned out:

Digitally printed kit fabric swatches

And I’m quite pleased with them! You may notice that I didn’t take my own advice about using a neutral, not too dark colour for the lines – they are, in fact, black – but this is because I had these printed before I had fully grasped the advantages of the Melbury Hill grey design lines. Anyway, that can easily be remedied if I decide to get them printed in larger numbers. The lines on Whoo Me and Forever Frosty are fairly bold because I forgot to adjust my line drawings – I usually print them quite bold because it makes it easier to trace them through the fabric, so all I need to do is provide the printers with a finer line drawing: they’ll print exactly what I provide.

Especially in the case of quite detailed designs like the Wildflower Garden, the extra cost that printing adds to the workshop kits is at least to some extent off-set by the amount of time I don’t have to spend on hand-drawing them. For the regular kits it is an extra cost on top of the usual materials as they do not usually come with the design pre-transferred; but I think it would definitely add to the user-friendliness of the kits. Let me know what you think – would you be happy to pay a little more for a kit that had the design ready printed on the fabric so you could just pick it up and get started?