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.

Buds and pieces

All right, it’s still not stitching on the actual canvas, but at least I have sampled the large green bud as it will eventually look. I changed the single strand of red from a burgundy cotton to a slightly more orangy silk, threaded five needles with various combinations of green perles, and Had A Go. And I must say I like the effect! The only slightly mysterious thing is that my charted version, whose shape was taken from an earlier sample which used the proper design outline, now doesn’t seem to completely fill the design outline (blue arrow). Still, inexplicable though it is, if it turns out to show this behaviour on the real project as well I can easily fill in the missing bit with the darkest shade. I will find this out at my fourth class tomorrow, where I hope to put in this bud and perhaps the pink tulip. Even so, I fear this module may take rather more than the usual eight classes…

Getting ready to sample the bud Lots of needles at the ready The finished bud may need a few more stitches

By the way, earlier this month we finally made it to the Netherlands for the first time in two and a half years and saw lots of family and friends, and slightly more relevant to this blog, the Keukenhof – that incredible garden where growers show off their flower bulbs for two months every year, and which was the inspiration for my Canvaswork design. The flowers change every year, I mean they don’t plant the same ones in the same places, and the photograph I’m working from must have been taken while the park was closed as there are no people in it, but I managed to find pretty nearly the right spot!

My canvaswork spot

In my usual spirit of optimism I took three embroidery projects with me, but only one of them was ever taken out of my stitching bag, and even then I didn’t do an awful lot. Still, Do-Pea now has the stem stitch part of his wing done, plus all the laid-and-couched work in his tail circle.

Progress on Do-Pea

The blue I needed to outline his tail and fill in the rest of the wing was waiting for me when I got home, together with some other shades. I’m beginning to get quite a collection of Renaissance Dyeing wool! And today a parcel arrived from America with some lovely Splendor silks, some to add to my collection and some (the ones at the bottom) specifically for the Quatrefoil kit. The beads were on offer so I stocked up on some of my favourite shades to make the most of the postage smiley.

The new wools My Renaissance Dyeing collection Splendid Splendor silks Bonus beads

Going back to the blue wool needed for outlining, on the Bayeux tapestry this is done using outline stitch rather than its mirror twin stem stitch (it is also done before the laid work, which has the advantage of not covering up internal design lines but which does add a degree of fiddliness I am not prepared to subject myself to). As the wool they used was a normal S-twist, this means the stitches blend into each other more and the resulting line has a less rope-like look than with stem stitch.

Outlines in outline stitch

Having read about this while I was on holiday the outline/stem issue was obviously still lingering in my mind when I was deciding on stitches for a small project earlier this week. I wanted to stitch the small Hope rainbow but didn’t want to use the three different textures of stem stitch, chain stitch and French knots. On the other hand, stem stitch only seemed a little dull. So I opted for alternating stem and outline stitch, with their subtly different looks, and I’m quite pleased with how that turned out.

Hope using stem stitch and outline stitch

Small embroidery projects like these are great for making cards and ornaments for special occasions. Any embroidery project is also a guaranteed method for Finding A Cat. Just place the embroidery in the brightest spot of the house to photograph it, and a cat will magically appear…

Embroidery, with cat.

A colourful dodo

The peacock I picked from the Bayeux tapestry as inspiration for a crewel project that will be part of a course later this year has been dignified, or rather undignified, with various monikers. Tanya Bentham refers to him in her latest book as an oven-ready chicken, and in a recent talk as a bit of a turkey. Mr Figworthy thinks he looks more like a dodo than a peacock. Now I’m rather partial to dodos – I love Dick King-Smith’s delightful book Dodos Are Forever, there is a Dutch series of comic books in which a resourceful dodo accompanies the hero, and Jasper Fforde, in his Tuesday Next series, created the unforgettable Pickwick (catchword: “Plock”). So I have decided to consider my Bayeux creature a dodo-peacock hybrid, who will henceforth be known as Do-Pea.

The Bayeux tapestry is about 50cm high, from which I calculated that the original peacock stands at a little under 8cm tall. Helpfully having worked this out after picking two sizes in which to transfer my modified outline, I was rather pleased that they happen to be about half a centimetre either side of the original size.

Do-Pea in two sizes

After getting Do-Pea transformed into a usable outline, the next thing was to decide on where to use what stitch (the original uses stem stitch filling as well as the more predictable Bayeux stitch) and in what direction; and the tail needed some work as even with the Bayeux Museum’s excellent high-resolution photographs it wasn’t very clear what the original treatment was – the stitching looks a little the worse for wear, and as I’m not trying to create a perfect copy I thought I might as well do whatever I liked the look of. I went for stripes inside a circle of dots. As I was undecided about whether to use circular stem stitch or satin stitch/Bayeux stitch on those dots and his head feathers I’m trying both (one of the reasons for stitching two models).

Stitch type and direction

Incidentally, I picked two different fabrics for these two dodos: for the larger one a soft woollen fabric (the same that I used for Bartram the Rainbow Ram) and for the smaller some of the vintage Irish linen I inherited from my mother-in-law. It is the latter I’ve started with, in a rather pastel palette (bigger Do-Pea will be much brighter). Unfortunately the blue in this selection is rather too light for the outlining I had in mind, and the next blue I’ve got is the much darker one used on the other version, so I’ve ordered the shade in between (and one or two other colours, just to make the most of the postage you understand).

A pastel palette The brighter larger version

Until that turns up I’m working on the tail, which doesn’t use blue for any of the filling in. So far I’ve done the pale turquoise and the mid violet parts. What I particularly like about the Renaissance Dyeing wools for this sort of project is that they are not completely uniform in colour – there is some subtle shading along the skein, which which makes for a pleasantly medieval look. No purple or lilac is used in the Bayeux tapestry, but I think it works rather well; perhaps the Bayeux stitchers’ local needlework shop had run out smiley.

Starting on a tail A close-up of the wool

By the way, I know some of the dots aren’t particularly regular, but outlining hides a multitude of sins and I want this to be a fairly relaxed project so I’m not trying to be super precise. And wonky dots may make him live up to his name more…

Not quite stitching

While chatting with Gary and Beth for Fiber Talk a couple of weeks ago, it came up that in spite of having had three of the eight classes allotted to my RSN Canvaswork module, I had yet to put a single stitch onto the actual canvas. I can now tell you… that this is still the case. But I did do some work on the project, which considering my complete lack of ease and familiarity with this technique I am happy to call progress even though it was mostly on paper. Especially as the work got the Lexi seal of approval smiley.

Some paper prep with cat

Once again I’ve been doing very little in the way of homework, and I am still extremely reluctant to do anything on the “real” piece. But then an idea struck me. Unlike Jacobean and goldwork, canvaswork is a counted technique; this means it can be put into a chart, which in turn means I can basically work out what to stitch before stitching it, which feels very reassuring! So I set to work by my usual method of starting with pencil and squared paper and then transferring it into my stitching program. First up was the big bud which is mostly green but with some very faint red shading. First I charted the diagonal-ish columns of stitches without any reference to colour, then roughly drew in dark and light areas, and finally computer-charted it in five greens (to be made up from four shades of perle #8 in different blends) and some red. I also decided on one mostly red stitch at the top, as the photograph shows a distinct touch of colour there.

Charting a bud

Next was the big pink tulip. That is going to have much more blending and shading in it, which I find quite challenging to get my head around. Again I started by charting the stitches (which in this case go in three different directions to visually separate the petals) without any reference to the colour, then worked out the dark and light areas and allotted colours to them in the stitching program. Because the mid to darker pinks in the program were very similar, I had to make some of the lines thinner to distinguish them from the nearest shade. It looks a bit odd but does show up where there is a change of colour (or more likely colour blend).

Charting a tulip

I did manage a little bit of actual thread-related work too: I wasn’t happy with the five shades of pink I had chosen for the tulip, which were all Carrie’s Creations overdyed stranded cotton. Lovely threads, but one of them was too variegated and the lightest shade wasn’t light enough. After a lot of rummaging through thread boxes (what a lovely relaxing activity that is!) I ditched most of my original selection, picked a new darkest shade, kept the second darkest one, and added four pinks from Chameleon Threads’ Shades of Africa range of stranded silks, from the Fynbos set (that means I now have six shades, but two of them are quite similar and I want to see which one works best on the canvas). I also tested how many strands were needed for good coverage on the diagonal stitches, and worked out that whereas the vertical ones take six strands (blue arrow), for the diagonal ones four strands will suffice (orange arrow) – five starts to be difficult to lay flat, and six definitely looks crowded.

A range of pinks Sampling for coverage

And finally I sampled Angela’s suggestion of mixed upright double cross, with my sky thread underneath and a green over the top. For the green I used a new acquisition, a variegated sashiko thread, which is a matt cotton used in Japanese embroidery. The sky takes nine strands of silk for good coverage (canvaswork eats thread, it really does) but as this stitch has several layers crossing over each other I tried it with six, and the sashiko thread as it comes (it’s about the thickness of a full thread of stranded cotton). I like the look of it but want to try it again with just the horizontal stitch in blue, to echo the horizontal direction of the sky, and probably with more strands of silk and perhaps a double sashiko thread as there are some visible bits of canvas (orange arrows, among others).

Sampling two-tone upright double cross

My next class is on 20th April so I’m hoping to use the Easter weekend to get some serious sampling done – and who knows, perhaps even put in that scary first stitch…

James goes bling

Some time ago someone suggested that James, the snail from my RSN Jacobean module, would make quite a nice little crewel kit. That is now on my To Do list, but as I was looking at his outline, I suddenly thought, “wouldn’t he look good in gold?” And because there’s always room for another project, I thought I’d have a go. First of all, bits of him needed padding. I wanted the shell raised in the centre, which was done with a rather pleasant-looking little comma of felt with two more layers over the top, and extra stitching to emphasise the spiral. The brick/stone he is sitting on got a single layer of felt as it would be filled in, although I didn’t yet know what with.

Several outlines, and some felt cut out A little felt comma A raised shell All the padding done

My idea was to stick as much as possible to the “layout” of the crewel version, which meant an open body with some dotted shading and a filled-in shell and brick. The best way to represent the shaded satin stitch on the original brick would be vertical cutwork, and I wanted that outlined first. Then there was a line indicating the curved ground the brick rests on, plus the outlining of James’ body. As I wanted to keep them all distinct I went with pearl purl for the sides of the brick, twist for the ground and double passing for the body. The twist was attached with stitches snuggling in between the plies so the couching is invisible.

All the outlining done

Time for the shell. I couldn’t see a way of reproducing the “spoke” effect of James’ raised backstitch crewel shell, so I chose to couch along the spiral instead. In order not to lose the spiral in one homogenous mass of circling couching I started with a double line of check thread, with the rest of the shell done in pairs of passing again. A lot more plunging than I’d like, but heigh-ho, it was needed to get the effect I wanted. (Oh, I also added a spangle eye and metallic thread feelers with little beads on the end. I know a snail doesn’t have an eye as such, but I prefer him with one.)

The spiral outlined in check thread A lot of plunging The shell complete

A few dotted bits of bright check in the body to represent the seed stitching in the crewel original, and then on to the brick! Vertical cutwork in one of the cylindrical purls and one of the angular ones, and because it seemed a good idea to have the brick relatively matte compared to James’ shiny shell I picked rough purl and wire check. As always, cutting the chips to exactly the right length was a, uhm, lengthy process – a chip is too long, so you take off a fraction of a smidgen and suddenly it’s too short. I have a fair few spare chips in a separate little bag now…

Cutting the chips

I decided to shade the chips a bit like the satin stitch in the original to add texture. And when, several hours later, I had covered about half of the brick, I realised I wasn’t sure I liked the look of it. Bother. I’m not even sure why I have second thoughts about it. I like the shading. I even like the look of that row of companionably snug vertical chips in itself. I’m just not sure it makes the brick look the way I want it.

Half a brick

So that’s where I am with Blingy James – he has been temporarily put away while I think about his brick and decide what I want to do with it. I’ll let you know when I know!

Fortunately there are two pieces of goldwork (or more accurately one piece of goldwork and one piece of silverwork) which did get finished, and indeed were finished some time ago. They were the Secret Project which can finally be revealed because the edition of Stitch magazine in which they appear is now in the shops. I present to you: Come Rain, Come Shine – two metalwork samplers in the shape of, respectively, an umbrella and a parasol. If you choose to stitch it, I’d love to see pictures of your finished projects! And as always, if you have any questions about the instructions, the materials or anything else, just drop me a line.

The two projects with the magazine they appear in Come Rain Come Shine

To Bayeux or not to Bayeux, that is the question

There is a lot of Bayeux stitch in my life at the moment, which is at least partly because my enthusiasm for different techniques tends to come in waves. I usually have quite a few projects on the go of various types, but every now and then one technique captures my imagination and I’ll want to stitch lots of designs in that technique, whether other people’s or my own. In the past year I’ve read a lot about the Bayeux tapestry which piqued my interest in the style, and so when Bartram the Bayeux Ram came along he was a great way of having a play with the stitch. Being able to do so with a friend was even better, and we have now both finished him – we’re very pleased with our flock of two!

My Bartram Trina's Bartram (with beady eye!)

When we next get together we’ll lace the two Bartrams over foam board ready for display. By the way, I finished mine at the very first Cake & Craft held in our new church building. As the name implies it’s just people getting together to do some craft and eat cake, and we had a lovely time. One lady had brought her sugar work, another a small weaving project, and there was also plenty of knitting, crochet and stitching. As the one organising it (and therefore in charge of making the teas and coffees and cutting and handing round the cake) I didn’t get a lot done myself, but I did manage Bartram’s final curl.

Another Bayeux presence in the Figworthy household came about because of my intention to rectify the inexplicable absence of Austin Sevens on the tapestry, in honour of the little car’s centenary this year. For the first model, a Chummy like the one Mr F and I went on our honeymoon in, I chose the wrong fabric. It was a lovely linen but the weave was too open, and although it looked just about OK it was difficult to stitch accurately. Not one to persist with non-enjoyable stitching I abandoned it.

An abandoned Chummy

Quite apart from the bad choice of fabric, it also took too long – remember, this was meant to be a quick stitch project to offer as an activity for the non-car-enthusiast partners during the week of Centenary celebrations. So I tried one of the other models in a smaller size, and for the moment without the accompanying text (as it takes a lot of time, and is probably only funny to those who know a bit about the tapestry anyway). At my first go I managed to misread my own colour plan and made the blue stitches too short. Sigh. Unpick, restitch. For the wheels I studied the tapestry again. Surprisingly, I could only find one cart, but that did show me that the wheels were worked in eight parts of straight stitches. They look suitably wonky for a hundred-year-old car, but the whole thing still takes too long.

A Bayeux Box Saloon

Even so, I was not yet ready to give up on some Austin-Seven-themed stitching at the Centenary. Outline only then? In that case the wording would definitely have to go, as it wouldn’t be in the style of the Bayeux tapestry any more. A shame, but heigh ho, if that’s what it takes to make it doable, that’s what I’ll do. And it turns out that an outlined Austin Seven (a 1937 Ruby, in this case) looks quite attractive! But it still takes too long…

An outlined Ruby

I had to admit defeat. Still, I was enjoying these little projects, and as I had already transferred both the sporting Nippy and another Chummy, I thought I might as well stitch them – the Nippy in a primrose yellow typical for that model, and the Chummy in turqoise, the closest I could get from stash to the colour of our honeymoon car. The latter is still in progress, and I had to decide what to do with the lettering as the black Appleton’s I have is so thick and rough (see the roof of the Box Saloon – and I actually went over that with fine scissors to remove the worst of the sticky-out fluff) that I haven’t a hope of producing legible writing in it. Stranded cotton would work, but has too much shine compared to the wool. However, you may remember that I acquired a whole set of unmercerised, matt flower threads recently, and among them there is a black which looks just about the right thickness; I’ll let you know how I get on!

A primrose Nippy A Chummy in progress

So is the Chummy the end of my Bayeux binge? You won’t be surprised to hear that it isn’t, but my next project could have been a bit embarrassing if I’d been any slower in designing it. You see, I’m working on some projects for a 6-week course I’m planning, the first three weeks of which will revolve around crewel embroidery. In those three classes I want to introduce Bayeux-style embroidery, Jacobean, and modern crewel, and for the Bayeux class my inspiration came from some of the intriguing creatures in the margins of the tapestry. There are dogs, birds, fish, mythical creatures, and what must be a camel designed by someone who’d heard about camels but had never actually seen one.

Bayeux creatures A Bayeux camel

After some deliberation, and briefly considering some smiling horses’ heads sticking out of the boats in one of the scenes, I settled on a pair of peacocks, and of the pair particularly on the rather chunky one with the circular tail (who Mr F says looks like a dodo).

A pair of Bayeux peacocks

You will understand my dismay when, on a visit to Tanya Bentham’s blog, I found a video of her stitching the other peacock, with a comment that it was a companion to the circular peacock which was in her latest book – the book I actually had on pre-order! Fortunately I hadn’t received it yet, and therefore hadn’t seen what her treatment of the peacock was; I decided not to read the book until I had completely decided what my peacock would look like, and I heaved a sigh of relief when I did read the book and saw that our interpretation of his tail in particular and of some other parts as well was quite different. Phew. Now I just need to stitch mine smiley, and to do it I’ve ordered some Renaissance Dyeing crewel wool. You see, I would like the students to be able to work with some nicer wool than Appleton’s on at least one project, but my favourite Heathway Milano is rather too expensive if I want to keep the course kits a reasonable price; the Renaissance Dyeing wool works out at about a third of the price per metre. I haven’t quite decided which of these colours I’m going to use – I want to keep the palette fairly limited, as in the original – but I’ll have fun experimenting on the two sizes of peacock I’ve transferred!

The start of some Bayeux peacocks

Encouraging Canvaswork classes

It’s been a while since I last wrote about my Canvaswork module for the RSN Certificate, and that is partly because I am still finding my feet, even after three classes. I think my comfort zone isn’t even dimly visible on the horizon most of the time. Still, the two classes I’ve had since that previous FoF have been encouraging – the tutors appear to have faith in me even if I haven’t smiley, which makes me feel a bit better about the whole enterprise. So what have I been doing since that frantic surge of last-minute sampling back in January?

Well, I attended a class with Helen McCook, who okayed several of my samples, such as the roof and the Turkey rug bushes; she advised stitching several samples and cutting them to different pile heights to see what would work best, keeping the bushy look but without them becoming too prominent, as they are meant to be on the horizon and should therefore recede into the background rather than push themselves forward. I did this at the next class, where Angela Bishop suggested I blend other threads besides wool into the mix, so I tried it with an anonymous green thread from my stash (blue arrow) as well as some of the vintage green silk I inherited from my mother-in-law (orange arrow); neither were very noticeable once trimmed, so I will have to try another one with more strands of silk mixed in.

Sampling various bushes The trimmed bushes don't show the non-wool threads well

The main point I took away from Helen McCook’s class was the fact that my idea of what the sky’s stitch blending should be was incorrect. I’d started sampling the stitch blending going horizontally, but it should in fact be done vertically. As Helen pointed out, in canvaswork the smallest stitches should be at the vanishing point – in my case the horizon. From there they go larger the closer you get but (and it took me a while to get my head around this) this goes not just for the foreground, it also applies to the sky! So the stitch blending in the sky should be larger stitches at the top merging into smaller at the bottom. She also felt that although the Parisian (small) and Hungarian Grounding (medium) in my sample worked well together, Victorian Step (large) had too much of a diagonal component to blend in. So I started looking for suitable large stitches with a more horizontal look, and found one called Water, which is basically random-length satin stitches. Because I wasn’t sure that that would provide enough contrast (they have to blend, but I don’t want them to be too similar) I found some others and stitched a sample of each, which I could later use to blend into the other two stitches.

Possible large sky stitches

The stitches were, from left to right, horizontal Milanese, Willow, Pavilion and Water. Willow immediately revealed itself as a non-starter – too blocky – but I continued with the other three to see how they would blend into Hungarian Grounding (and that in turn into Parisian), trying to make the transitions gradual so that there wasn’t a clear horizontal break between one and the other. I showed these to Angela at my third class and we agreed that the pattern in Pavilion was too strong. Water blends in beautifully and looks least stylised, but I thought it was all a bit samey, and Angela worried that it would also echo the stitches in the paving too much (of which more later), so I will most likely go with the Milanese version. It has some patterning but the lines move forward (albeit in a zigzag) rather than turning back on themselves (like the diamonds in Pavilion).

Sampling the sky transitions

One thing I found in my two classes was that different tutors have different approaches and ideas. Helen advocated creating different “stitch languages” (so that, say, flowers are done in one set of thread types and stitches while leaves are done in other threads and stitches, which don’t overlap) while Angela at one point suggested that when using vertical Parisian for the smaller tulips near the paved area I could keep the same stitch but change to green to just make a colourful jumble of tulips and leaves. It’s a bit confusing when they do that…

Talking of tulips, I got on with those as well, the two big ones that stand out in the foreground. The pink tulip has so far been sampled in soft cotton but in the near future I must try blending the various shades of pink Carrie’s Creation overdyed stranded cotton which I’ve picked for that (so far I’ve only worked out how many strands are needed for full coverage – six, separated and recombined and used with a laying tool). I started out on the red tulip using soft cotton as well, but have since tried out threads that would work on the actual piece, and the main colour is going to be a lovely orangy red Caron Watercolours called Bittersweet. The pink tulip is going to be done in modified Florentine/Bargello, so I had to sample some standard Florentine as the assessors need to see you can do that too; and Helen suggested doing some of the petals in angled Florentine to make them more distinct from each other. When doing similar length stitches at an angle you can use whatever slant you like, but I found that with stitches of different lengths it’s easier to stick with 45 degrees, so that’s what will happen in the final version.

Sampling the red tulip Standard Florentine stitch Sampling the pink tulip Six strands of cotton give good coverage

Another prominent shape in the foreground is a large bud on the left, which is mostly green but with a hint of red in it. I sampled this before my third class in Cashmere stitch using blended perle #8, and I really liked the look of it. The shading isn’t in the right place yet, as I had only two shades of the yellowy green (I have since bought two more…), and the single strand of red applied over the top (which Angela suggested I try, to see if it would work) looks a bit messy so I will try and blend that in while stitching the greens, but on the whole it’s probably the part I’m happiest with so far!

Sampling a Cashmere bud Adding a hint of red

Then there was the paved area. One of the things the brief requires is at least two each (and Helen suggested picking three to be on the safe side) of four stitch types: horizontal, vertical, diagonal and crossed/textured. I’d intended the paving to be horizontal, but as I didn’t have many diagonal stitches yet Helen suggested using one there – she pointed out that “diagonal” includes anything slanted, so it could be as near horizontal as possible and still count as diagonal. I sampled various slants in Oblique Slav, settled on a 1 in 5 incline, then tried it in a linen thread I had lying around and didn’t like it. I then sampled it in flower thread or blomstergarn, coton à broder, and floche. Flower thread, with its unmercerised matte appearance, was the clear winner, and led to my acquiring the Danish Handcraft Guild‘s complete set. I have picked six shades that should work together well, covering the paved area’s brick-like colour as well as the rather surprising grey and almost-white in some areas.

Sampling oblique Slave Oblique Slav in linen Oblique Slav in different threads

Which bring me to one of my main stumbling blocks in this module – colour blending. In other people’s projects I noticed that in some areas the blend of, say, six threads might change composition (e.g. from 3 dark, 2 medium, 1 light to 2 dark, 2 medium, 2 light) every three or four stitches. I asked Angela how on earth you got into a stitch rhythm changing blends so often. “You don’t,” came the reply. Her tip was to load up ten or twelve needles with the various blends so at least you didn’t have to keep stopping and re-threading all the time, as there is the additional snag of incredibly high thread usage in this technique. Oh joy. So far I haven’t dared to think in any detail of the blended sky yet, but I have sampled some fuzzy threads (Madeiral Lana and Rainbow Gallery Wisper) to represent the white haze near the horizon, in one case blended with the silk used for the sky. I need to play a bit more with the proportions to get it looking quite right.

Madeira Lana and Wisper for the sky Blended haze

Otherwise, I have been sampling, sampling, and then sampling some more. Angela has told me to bite the bullet and actually put some stitches onto my proper canvas, but so far it hasn’t happened. The sampling has given me lots of ideas for things to use though (and some for things definitely not to use). Here are a few that made the Useful list: woven plait, fern stitch, slanted gobelin (encroaching, plain and split), brick stitch (and the decorative but less useful herringbone snowflake), upright cross & alternating continental (with a rather messy vault stitch), raised spot (three ways) & vertical Parisian, upright double cross & spot stitch (with some other odds and ends), kalem & lazy kalem (with another fern stitch).

Woven plait Fern stitch Slanted gobelin (encroaching, plain and split) Brick stitch
Upright cross and alternating continental Raised spot and vertical Parisian Upright double cross and spot stitch Kalem and lazy kalem

One idea of Angela’s that I haven’t sampled yet is to use Upright Double Cross for the complex areas where the blue sky shines through the leaves on the tree – work the upright cross underneath in blue silk like the sky with the diagonal cross in green wool (or whatever I will be using for the tree) over the top. I really like that idea, and it is yet another example of the way colours can change even within stitches. One day that idea may become a natural one, for now it definitely has to be suggested to me before I see it.

Where tree and sky mingle

Since the third class I’ve done only two more bits of sampling, a fringed pale lilac and yellow tulip for which I want to use some ribbon inherited from my mother-in-law (I haven’t quite got the look I want yet), and the wooden parts of the windmill’s sails, worked in ribbon over tent stitch. I like the way that’s come out, especially in the loose-lying version (on the right), but the one held on with stab stitches would be more secure. Still, no rush for that decision. I’m taking this module at a very sedate pace.

Using a variegated ribbon for a fringed tulip Two possible tulips Tent stitch base for the sail Ribbon windmill sails

And finally a little update on Bruce – in response to my questions Anne Butcher, Head of Teaching, wrote a detailed reply with helpful comments, and although I specifically did not ask for a reassessment she said I should not have lost points for using S-ing, so my final score is 89% (tantalisingly and ever so slightly annoyingly 1% short of a Distinction). Upgraded Bruce & Haasje have since been framed and are waiting to be put on the wall, so I can be proud of them every day smiley.

Bruce and Haasje framed

A Bayeux Box

2022 is the 150th anniversary of the Royal School of Needlework, but much more importantly (as Mr F would say) it is also the Centenary of the Austin Seven, one of which you can see in the picture below, taken on the Figworthy honeymoon. There will be a whole week of festivities in the summer, with runs through beautiful countryside and so on, but a lot of it will also involve owners of Austin Sevens admiring each other’s Austin Sevens and talking about, er, Austin Sevens. What, I wanted to know, is planned for the non-Austin-Seven-mad spouse/significant other (who is usually, though by no means always, the wife/girlfriend) and any offspring?

An Austin Seven honeymoon

As just one possible activity, could I perhaps set up a little stitching corner? A table with some chairs, a pile of fabrics and threads and hoops and they could come and sit down for a bit and stitch. Ah, he said, but they’re trying to keep everything on site Austin Seven related. And then inspiration struck. I’m hoping to teach another course at Rugby’s Percival Guildhouse later this year, which would include a few classes on crewel or wool embroidery. And as I worked with great enjoyment on Bartram the Bayeux Ram, I’d been thinking of including one class on a Bayeux-themed project. For that reason I’d been studying the excellent online version of the tapestry made available by the Bayeux Museum, looking among other things at some of the horses. And what is a car, after all, but a mechanised horse? The Bayeux Austin Seven was born.

A quick Austin sketch

Well, conceived anyway. What I needed was a simplified outline that could be filled in with fairly large chunks of Bayeux stitch (which is a lot quicker than, say, cross stitch – a good thing as people are unlikely to want to sit and stitch for hours). And although I mentioned “Box” in the title because I like a bit of alliteration, actually my first idea was for a Chummy, like the 1925 one we went on our honeymoon in. I drew one with the hood down, and one with the hood up.

Two Chummy outlines

However, in order to cater for all (or nearly all) comers, I did indeed include our Box Saloon (1933), and as for a short while we looked after a 1936 Ruby, that too went in the line-up. Then I didn’t want the sporting owners (or rather, their stitching partners) to feel left out, so a Nippy completed the collection.

Three additional Austin Sevens

As usual when designing I got a bit carried away at this point, and decided that what it really needed was lettering like on the Bayeux tapestry. The captions there tend to say things like “hic Harold mare navigavit” (which roughly translates as “here Harold sailed the sea”), so what I wanted was something in this vein, but Austin Seven themed. I thought of “here Sir Herbert / wrought the Seven”, then decided it would look more authentic (in as far as a Bayeux Austin Seven can be said to be authentic in any way) in Latin, and eventually settled on “hic Herbert Dom. / Austin 7 fingit”. “Dom” is short for Dominus, which is Lord rather than Sir but is the closest I could get, and at the last moment I changed the figure 7 to Roman numerals. I like the look of it, but it’s probably a good idea to make the lettering optional…

Cod Latin in Bayeux tapestry lettering The lettering tidied up

Finally it was time to add some digital colour, to give me an idea of what I was aiming for. I went for fairly authentic colours, but the actual stitched versions will depend on a) whatever I’ve got in my stash of non-Milano crewel wools and b) what people want their embroidered Austin to look like; after all, if their spouse’s Austin is a non-authentic shocking pink, who am I to object to them recreating it in wool?

A bit of colour

After all, how accurate do these needlework cars need to be? In order to emulate the Bayeux tapestry, not very (judging by that ram I showed you a while ago). As long as they are recognisable by the afficionados I’m happy. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – I need to get stitching!

Stitching a Bayeux Austin

Bartram is de-horned

A couple of weeks ago at Embroidery Group I got on with Bartram the Bayeux Ram’s horn. This is quite a tricky part, because it involves long straight stitches somehow going round a very curved horn. I’d drawn some guidelines on the transfer to have by me when stitching, as well as the photograph of the designer’s stitched model, but when I got home I wasn’t happy with it. Because there will be long couching stitches over these yellow stitches, they need to be at an angle to the ones that will overlay them, and I just wasn’t changing the angle quickly enough.

Bartram's horn doesn't curve enough

In Tanya Bentham’s model the stitches from the forehead into the first part of the horn don’t change direction, so mine could stay as well. But there was no saving the rest of it – the curved part of the horn would have to go. So out came the scissors once more, and a few snips and tugs later I had a clean playing field again. (By the way, as you can see from the pictures I decided to keep his bright red chest after all; I rather like the startling effect of it.)

Bartram gets de-horned A fresh start

When I photographed the re-stitched version and compared it to the old one, I realised it wasn’t nearly so different as I thought it was while stitching, but there is a slight improvement in the angle. It will have to do as I’m not unpicking it again!

The new horn

Before moving on to couching and outlining the horn, it was time to couch his fleece. This is done in woolly white (ivory in my case, brighter white for my friend), and the couching stitches are long – they cover the full length of his body. Normally when doing Bayeux stitch I would work all the long couching stitches first and then go back and do all the tiny couching stitches that hold down the long couching stitches. Here, however, I felt they would be rather too vulnerable to being pulled and moved, so I decided to couch each long stitch down before moving to the next one. That might also make it easier to keep the long lines parallel to each other.

Couching down the long stitches as I go Trying to get the lines parallel

That was tricky enough with them being much longer than anything I’d tried before, but then there is the spacing of the small couching stitches. I try to keep them equidistant, and brick them from one line to the next. On my Jacobean certificate piece I actually measured the distance between each pair of stitches, but I felt that would be overkill on what is meant to be just a fun piece, so I eyeballed it. There was a certain amount of unpicking and restitching even so… Still, looking at the back I think I got them fairly equally spaced! (It also shows how little thread is at the back of the work when using Bayeux stitch.)

Judging the distance between stitches from the back

Mind you, judging by this ram (if it is a ram – I think so, judging by his curly horn) on the Bayeux Tapestry, perhaps I’m being a leetle but too fussy about the spacing of the lines and the placement of my couching stitches…

An uneven ram

Meanwhile Sheep-Mad Friend has also been powering ahead, ably supported by her new table clamp (all right, I talked her into one of those smiley). Bartram the Bright is coming on beautifully, and at our next stitchy get-together we hope to give him his horizontal stripes!

The bright version of Bartram

Stash dull, delightful and decadent

Quite a lot of new stash has been making its way through the Figworthy letterbox lately, of various kinds. For the purposes of this FoF I’ve divided these new acquisitions into the three categories mentioned in the title, and I’ll start with the Dull. Now you may well disagree with my classification; and it is true that although this particular parcel wasn’t very exciting to unwrap, any parcel containing some new thread or other essentials is cause for a modest squeal of pleasure at least. Still, let’s just say that soft cotton in neutral shades isn’t the most Instagrammable stash.

Soft cotton in neutral shades

But though it may be a little dull, it is destined to become an essential part of my Canvaswork project, which came about in a rather serendipitous way. You see, when doing my sampling I looked for some threads that I could use which I had a lot of, which didn’t have an immediate purpose, and which would be relatively cheap and easy to replace should I need to. Rummaging through the various boxes of threads I found a bag of brightly coloured DMC Soft Cotton which I bought years ago for making finger-woven friendship bracelets with our church’s Youth Group. There was quite a lot left over, and it’s a nice chunky thread which would cover the canvas well. Ideal! But as I was sampling with this thread, it occurred to me that its texture would also be perfect for the tower and brick base of the windmill which stands right in the centre of the design – and as purple or bright red wouldn’t do for those, I had to get these more muted, subdued colours.

Soft cotton for friendship bracelets Bracelet made from soft cotton

Unfortunately I fell victim to false economy while ordering. For the windmill’s tower I will need four shades of grey, so four shades of grey is what I put in the shopping basket. I did wonder just a moment whether to pop in a fifth, darker shade just to be on the safe side, but then decided against it on the grounds that the darkest shade in my shopping basket looked quite dark enough on the screen. Alas, it didn’t in real life. Which meant I had to order a single skein, with postage that would be more than the skein itself. So I added a metre of Normandie fabric to qualify for free shipping. In my defence, it will come in handy for kits and workshops…

An extra soft cotton and some Normandie

The next bit of embroidery-related post was definitely Delightful: Hazel Everett’s book Goldwork and Silk Shading Inspired by Nature. Another of Mary Corbet’s dangerous reviews. I already have Hazel’s earlier book Goldwork: Techniques, Projects and Pure Inspiration which is an absolute gem, so I didn’t need a lot of convincing. As with many of these embroidery books, although I would love to do all sorts of projects from them it doesn’t really matter if that never happens – they are a joy to read and study, and are always an education and an inspiration. But if there is one project from this book which stands a very good chance of one day being stitched, it is the 3D butterfly, which is just incredibly lovely. Well, Hazel’s version is, and if mine turns out half as beautiful I’ll be quite content.

Hazel Everett's Goldwork and Silk Shading book A section about goldwork techniques A project using both goldwork and silk shading A gorgeous 3D butterfly

And finally the Decadent. Like the soft cottons this came about because of my Canvaswork sampling. You see, for the paving by the windmill I wanted something matt to contrast with the silk sky and the tulips and greenery which will probably be done in shiny perle cottons and the like. And as I tried out the most likely stitch for that paving in four different types of thread (more about that in a future FoF) the one that stood out was Danish flower thread, also known as Blomstergarn. Unlike stranded cotton, cotton floche, coton à broder and most other embroidery cottons it is unmercerised, so it lacks the sheen which that process imparts. Now the flower threads I used for sampling came from a small collection of five skeins that I was given many years ago, and which live in a box with my floche threads because there aren’t enough to warrant their own box. And none of the five were the right shade for the paving. Off I went in search of a supplier.

I found this in the shape of the Danish Handcraft Guild; and having learnt from my trying-to-judge-colours-on-the-screen failure with the soft cottons I emailed them with the photograph that is the basis of my design to ask whether they could advise which of their colours were likely to be most suitable. Quite understandably they declined to make the decision for me (why should I expect them to judge colours on screen when I am not prepared to), and advised me to get the shade card (which contains samples of the actual threads). But by then I had found out that they do a complete set of flower threads at what amounts to about a 25% discount compared to buying them all individually. And as the shade card would be £9 on its own, well… not too decadent after all, perhaps.

Flower thread or Blomstergarn from the Danish Handcraft Guild The complete collection of flower threads

Aren’t they beautiful? I think I’m looking forward to finding the right storage for them and arranging them by colour as much as I am to actually stitching with them smiley