Scissors and Tamar threads

Did you get any stitchy presents this year? I got these – two pairs of very sharp, very pointy scissors. I saw them at a goldwork workshop I did at the Knitting & Stitching show, and was rather taken with them. One pair I will keep for goldwork (of which I hope to do more in future); I haven’t quite decided what the other pair will be used for, but they are a lovely bit of kit, aren’t they? Incidentally, the fact that I specifically asked for one blue and one purple pair puzzled my husband no end. When they arrived, and before they got wrapped, he studied them closely, trying to work out what the difference between them was. Both pointy, both sharp, one a fraction of an inch longer than the other but otherwise identical. My explanation was less than sensational: I simply wanted different colours so it would be easier to remember which were the goldwork ones …

<em>very</em> sharp scissors!” /></a>
I managed to play with my Tamar Embroideries threads quite a bit, which was fun and in some ways surprising. From the descriptions on their website I had expected the four types of thread I ordered to be one equivalent to perle #5, two equivalents to perle #8, and one equivalent to perle #12. (I’m leaving out the ribbon for the moment, as it is a completely different thing and not suitable for Hardanger, but I will come back to it at a later date.) When the threads arrived and I compared them with DMC perles, one of the #8 equivalents seemed a lot closer to a #5.
<a class=Tamar threads and DMC perles

But however informative the look and feel of a thread can be, there’s really only one way to find out how they behave in action, and that is to stitch with them! So I stitched 5 of my little Hardanger trial motifs in different combinations on 25ct Lugana. The blur in the bottom right-hand corner is a little experiment I am keeping secret for the moment smiley.

Tamar thread experiments

The first combination is Combed Cotton for the Kloster blocks and Matt cotton for everything else. The Combed Cotton works well, it gives good coverage and has a perle-like texture. It is quite twisty, however – if you don’t dangle your needle frequently the thread is likely to curl up and work itself into a tight spiral as you try to pull it through the fabric. Nevertheless, I like it; with a bit of care it stitches up well and the look is good. As you can see the Matt is almost the same thickness as the Combed, but with less texture. It is just about all right for the woven bars, although they are quite thick, but the backstitch and especially the dove’s eye lose all definition.

Tamar Combed Cotton and Matt Cotton

Here Combed Cotton is combined with Brodery Cotton. This is much more perle-like, and it works well for the woven bars. It’s still a little thick for backstitch (it definitely feels a little heavier than a standard perle #8) but the dove’s eye looks fine. This pair seems closest in look and feel to a standard perle #5 / perle #8 combination.

Tamar Combed Cotton and Brodery Cotton

Combed Cotton paired with Fine Cotton Perle gives an airier look. The backstitch and dove’s eye are well-defined and delicate, and the Fine Cotton Perle handles much like a standard #12 perle. It takes about 9 weaves to cover a bar; in comparison, the Brodery Cotton takes 6, and when I use a standard perle #8 I tend to do 7 weaves.

Tamar Combed Cotton and Fine Cotton Perle

Because the Matt Cotton was so much heavier than I expected I tried using it for Kloster blocks. Coverage was unexpectedly good (it is not quite as thick as a standard #5) although occasionally it was difficult to poke in the cut ends so that they stayed put. The texture is much smoother than that of the Combed Cotton. Used with the Brodery Cotton I found there wasn’t enough contrast between the two threads.

Tamar Matt Cotton and Brodery Cotton

Matt Cotton combined with Fine Cotton Perle has more contrast, and I like the additional contrast between the matt Kloster blocks and the shiny bars and dove’s eye. This combination of threads may work rather well on a 28ct fabric.

Tamar Matt Cotton and Fine Cotton Perle

So will I be buying more of these threads? Definitely! Which ones? That’s a bit more difficult. I like the look of the Fine Cotton Perle but I don’t like having to do lots of weaves or wraps for the bars. For the Kloster blocks I am almost sure I’ll go for the Combed Cotton rather than the Matt, simply because the Combed Cotton gives slightly better coverage and has more texture to it; it also works better with the Brodery Cotton which would be my choice for a #8 substitute. What will probably happen is that I’ll get the Combed, Brodery and Fine Perle in most colours, so I can vary the thickness of the bars and filling stitches. I may even use three threads per project: Combed Cotton for the Kloster blocks, Brodery Cotton for the bars, and Fine Cotton Perle for the filling stitches and any backstitch. Now how many shades can I afford to get …

Threads, SAL message, Christmas

In between finally decorating the tree and some last-minute gift wrapping I found some time to try out those pretty Tamar threads. I’m stitching four versions of my usual “thread trial motif”, and so far I have finished the Kloster blocks on all of them. Tonight I hope to be able to do some cutting and perhaps a few bars. If you’re looking for a small motif to use when you want to try out some new threads, feel free to use the one below – it has Kloster blocks, bars, a filling stitch (use whichever one you like) and some backstitch, which should suffice to test most thread combinations!

Thread trial motif

Now for the SAL message. No, not the fact that it’s only a week until January (exciting though that is) – but the rather worrying circumstance that some of the welcome emails have not got through to people joining the SAL. When you sign up, you should receive a welcome email with your username and the password for the SAL blog very soon afterwards; usually the same day. If you’ve signed up but haven’t received the email, please check that it hasn’t ended up in your spam folder; if it is nowhere to be found, contact us and we’ll re-send it.

And finally a very happy Christmas to everyone – with many stitchy presents under the tree, and the greatest present of all lying in the manger.

Happy Christmas!

New threads to play with

For the past week I’ve been lying in wait for the postwoman, eagerly snatching the bundle of letter and parcels from her hand (not forgetting to say “thank you”, of course) only to find lots of Christmas cards, the odd bill, and parcels that turned out to be for my husband and contain bits of vintage car. Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas cards and I have nothing against bits of vintage car, but I was waiting for my parcel from Tamar Embroideries! Today it finally arrived, and even unwrapping it was a pleasure, because out of the outer envelope fell this:

My parcel from Tamar Embroideries

The thread holding the parcel together appears to be chenille, a lovely tactile thread which I can’t find on their site. I will email them about it as I think it may have possibilities …

Having carefully undone the knot (you don’t want to rush these things – pretty parcels with the promise of even prettier contents are to be savoured) I got my first look and possibly even more important, my first feel of these new threads. First impression: they are beautiful! Gorgeous colours, and very interesting to see how differently the various threads have taken the dye. And a great variety of textures and thicknesses, including an intriguing-looking “ribbon”; I’m going to enjoy playing with these!

a selection of Tamar Embroideries threads

Brand new threads, good old squissors

It’s a shame I didn’t manage to post yesterday – such an unusual date that it seems a waste not to use it! Alas, we arrived back from the Netherlands only that morning so writing FoFs was not the first thing on my mind. There were new SAL subscribers to welcome, and of course our main business (unfortunately Mabel doesn’t quite cover the mortgage yet, not to mention pensions …) had more than its fair share of backlog. But today I just wanted to scribble a short post because I’ve made two exciting purchases!

The first is from Tamar Embroideries. It is really very kind of them to provide most of their colours in two shades, one light and one dark, perfect for the SAL smiley. In order to find out whether their threads are suitable for Hardanger (most of them are not actually perles) I have splashed out on four different types of thread, all in the same colour: Fine Cotton Perle (“stitches as perle #12”), Mercerized Cotton (“similar to cotton a broder”, so should work instead of a #8), Matt Cotton (a similar weight but “with a softer feel and a matt finish”) and Combed Cotton (“similar in weight to a perle 5 but with a tighter twist and a matt finish”). Just as an experiment and because it sounded interesting I’ve also ordered one skein of their tubular Cotton Ribbon; it sounds round rather than flat, so will it work instead of silk ribbon?

My second purchase is something that I have long been looking for – yes, I have found a source for my favourite rainbow titanium squissors! I am expecting their arrival any day now, so they should appear on Mabel’s Fancies soon; could this be the perfect Christmas present for all you SAL subscribers and other Hardangerers out there?

Stef Francis and the Song of the Weather SAL

Why this combination? Has Stef Francis decided to sponsor the SAL, showering all subscribers with their splendid hand-dyed threads? Alas, no. (You didn’t really expect that, did you?)

The only thing they have in common, so far, is that both of them “happened” today. Yesterday, as I was writing about independent needlework suppliers, I went through my list of shops and companies that supply speciality threads. Of course I had the Stitch-Along in mind while doing so, as I want to incorporate lots of different threads in the version I’ll be stitching over the coming year! Anyway, I ordered two thicknesses of thread in two shades, and today the post brought me a parcel filled with purple and mauve loveliness – a pleasure not expected so soon.

Stef Francis hand-dyed perles

The SAL didn’t “happen” today in the same sense; after all, it doesn’t start until January 1st (plenty of time to get all your bits and bobs together). But from today you can sign up, joining other stitchers from around the world and becoming an official Song of the Weather SAL participant!

One more stitchy thing happened today – a Cross Stitch Forum friend (you know who you are, Mrs MBK!) mentioned a Cornish supplier of hand-dyed threads, Tamar Embroideries. Their colours are gorgeous, they do a #12 perle cotton and some of their other threads look as though they could well work in Hardanger. I fear for my budget …

Support your independent needlework suppliers

If you’re not one of those lucky stitchers who has a local needlework shop to supply their stitching needs, don’t immediately head for the nearest Hobbycraft! For one thing, they won’t have any speciality threads or fabrics anyway so it would be a waste of time – time that would be much better spent studying the covetousness-inducing price list of Margaret Roberts’ Little Thread Shop or browsing the delectable Sparklies website for Kate Burgess’ vibrant hand-dyed fabrics. The Little Thread Shop was a great find, and I am grateful to a friend from the Cross Stitch Forum for recommending it. You can email Margaret direct if you want a different combination of threads, her shipping costs are very reasonable indeed and she is most helpful in working out how much you can have sent to the UK without incurring import duties! So now if I want a few Caron threads, or decide to treat myself to Gloriana silk perles or Thread Gatherer hand-dyed silk ribbon that’s where I go – and just have a look at some of the lovely things I got from her this year …

Caron threads from Margaret Roberts Thread Gatherer silk ribbons from Margaret Roberts

Sparklies is more local to me (in the UK instead of in the US!) and so I occasionally get the chance to see her fabrics in real life at the Knitting & Stitching Show (although I’ve just heard she won’t be doing Alexandra Palace next year, which is a shame as that’s the one I go to). What I like about Kate’s fabrics is that besides the pastel, subtle shades that you often get in hand-dyeds, she does some extremely bold and vibrant colours which definitely make a statement! For most colours you can choose aida, evenweave or linen (with pictures that show the difference in colour between the various fabrics) and a good number of thread counts. I tend to go for my favourite 25ct Lugana, of course, but Kate has promised to dye me some Hardanger fabric for a course I hope to be teaching next year. And if you can’t decide what shades would be right for your project, you can order some samples – an economical way of making sure you go for just the right colour, and great to use in their own right for mini projects.

Sparklies samples

And sometimes when you buy things from different shops it’s not until you see your purchases together before putting them away that you realise you’ve just bought a magical combination that cries out for a new design. Here is Sparklies’ Fire combined with Caron Bittersweet and Flamingo. Doesn’t it just zing?

Caron and Sparklies

DBC Christmas Craft Event

Every November our church (Dunchurch Baptist Church, or DBC) organises a Christmas Craft Event for the children from the local villages. Entry is £2 (adults free if accompanied by a responsible child) and then they can do as many of the crafts on offer as they like and can fit into two hours. There are usually about ten different crafts to do, ranging from Christmas cards and decorated biscuits to Father Christmas doorhangers and snowflake ornaments. It won’t surprise you that I generally do something stitchy, aimed at the slightly older children. Some of the younger ones do come and have a try though, assisted by Mum or Grandma (and in one case, Dad); and I always seem to get as least as many boys as girls. One year the boys doing stitching actually outnumbered the girls!

For the past few weeks I’ve been collecting the various materials needed for this year’s craft, and yesterday and this morning I’ve been putting everything together ready for this afternoon. The result: 30 pieces of black felt with a star drawn on them in silver, and 30 kits containing (with minor variations) a piece of sticky-back foam, red ribbon, gold cord, red coton à broder, eight gold and eight silver star sequins, and 16 beads.

Black felt with pre-drawn stars Christmas Craft kits

And what is it going to be? Well, hopefully they will end up with something like this:

Sparkly star Christmas tree ornament

Wish me luck!

Support your LNS

I haven’t written in absolute ages, for which my apologies. In my defence I will say that we’ve been away for a week, visiting the Lake District, and that the time before and after a week away tends to be taken up with "getting everything done before we leave" and "dealing with the backlog".

We made the most of the beautiful scenery by going for plenty of walks (the friends we were with have a dog, which makes walkies even more of a joy), and we joined the local church for a very moving Remembrance Day service. We also found the most gorgeous pub which did very good food indeed (check out the Kirkstile Inn when you’re next in Loweswater), and if it wasn’t for the many walks we’d have gained at least a stone. Each.

You may wonder what all this has to do with the topic of this post; you may even wonder what an LNS is (it took me some time to find out when I first saw it mentioned on stitching forums!) Well, LNS stands for Local Needlework Shop, and there are precious few of them left, so if you’re lucky enough to have one, please use it! I realise that the prices of these independent shops may be a bit higher than those of online shops, and that if you want something special they may have to order it in and you won’t be able to HAVE IT NOW! but there is something about being able to see threads and fabrics in the flesh (or should that be "in the fibre"?), chatting about your next project while choosing materials, and asking advice from a fellow enthusiast which you just don’t get online.

Unfortunately there is no LNS where I live (although there is a fabric shop which does stranded cotton and the like) so I am reduced to supporting other people’s LNS. Smuggler’s Needlecraft in Ilfracombe springs to mind, and Stitches Coven in Shanklin, Isle of Wight. This time it was The Silver Beaded Needle in Cockermouth.

The Silver Beaded Needle, Cockermouth

My husband will tell you that whenever I spot an as yet unknown needlework shop my eyes start to sparkle and there is a distinct spring in my step as I walk to look at the shop window before going in. Often it turns out to be mostly sewing machines or knitting wool or quilting fabrics. Occasionally it surpasses my wildest expectations. As it did here.

Stranded cotton, yes. Aida, yes. But also beads, sparkly fabrics, Caron threads, Thread Gatherer threads, Sweetheart Tree kits, Pearsall’s silks! I was beginning to feel quite giddy, and then the lady behind the counter, who saw me looking at the Pearsall’s silk perles, said "the Pearsall’s stranded silk is on offer, there’s a whole basket of it over there". You will not be surprised to know that it took me about a second and a half to get "over there", where a treasure trove of pretty silks at a 40% discount was waiting for me. In the end I got six (3 pairs of shades), which I hope to use for Hardanger on 28ct or 32ct fabric.

Pearsall's silks

What better souvenir of your holiday than threads you will be using later? You can enjoy the threads and remember the holiday at the same time! But I did get another souvenir as well. I have two (three if you count a broken one) Victorian stereoscopes, with which you view stereoscopic photos; these consist of two photos next to each other, and seen through the viewer they become three-dimensional. I had hoped for a local view – the Lakes must surely have attracted many stereo-photographers over the years – but unfortunately I didn’t find any. I did find a souvenir, though; of my own country. It shows the Dutch fishing village of Marken, showing people in traditional costume. Who would have thought I’d find that in the Lake District!

Stereoscopic photograph of Marken

Model stitching and students’ work

The Guildhouse course has ended by now, but there is one project I haven’t shown you yet. Unlike the others, this was not a counted technique. The students were given a piece of satin dupion with a few outlines on it, and a diagram showing the outline and the various stitches worked on and around them. It included shisha stitch and some paisley and peacock feather motifs, and the idea was to produce some fairly free-hand Indian-style embroidery. I’d managed to get some very reasonably priced little round mirrors for the shisha stitches, but I decided to work mine using two fivepences – just to show that you can, really! The other stitches included French knots, chain stitch, couching and buttonhole stitch.

Shisha stitch using a five pence coin The whole Shisha project

When I teach a course I like to give suggestions for finishing the projects we stitch. Some methods only require a bit of sewing, for example a humbug scissor fob or biscornu. If the budget allows I include some finishing materials in the course material pack, such as cards, coasters, sticky-back magnets (for fridge magnets), felt (for needle cases) or in one case a silicone cupcake mould to make a cupcake pin cushion.

A cupcake pin cushion

Sometimes, however, the finishing item would be too expensive to include, or too much a matter of personal taste. I mounted the silk gauze miniature peacock in a silver locket I happened to have, but I didn’t think I could include one in every material pack! It works well as a suggestion, though, and it helps if I can point students to shops which supply finishing items such as pendants and brooches.

Miniature peacock mounted in a locket

It also helps if the shops in question don’t suddenly stop stocking things *exasperated sigh*. I’d mounted the Shisha model in a satin-covered box by Rajmahal which used to be available in a range of sizes and colours from Debbie Cripps. But as I tried to find the right web page so I could put it in the handout for that class it turned out that since I last looked the boxes have disappeared – and the people from Debbie Cripps haven’t replied to my email about them. They are still available from some Australian sites, but unfortunately with the postage that may not be worth it.

The Shisha project mounted in a Rajmahal box

But some students show great initiative, and are not to be discouraged by retailers dropping things from their catalogues. One lady simply made a fabric-covered box herself!

Margaret's hand-made box

I’ll finish by showing you three more projects. One student decided that she wanted her Silk Sampler to be useful as well as pretty, and remembering some of the finishing items from previous courses mounted it in a coaster.

Heather's silk coaster

And probably my star pupil was a lady who had only recently taken up stitching, and so far had stuck to cross stitch on aida. I’m not sure she quite realised what she was letting herself in for when she joined the course, but she took to it all with relish, from blackwork to Shisha to Hardanger with ribbon work – and she produced some of the most regular buttonhole wheels I have ever seen! Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of that, but here are her blackwork card, and her Hardanger.

Janice's blackwork Janice's Hardanger