Size, inspiration and originality

Several things have come together over the past few weeks to make me think about what makes an original design: three requests to use the Star freebies in stitching groups; my own playing with Round Dozen variations; and a Cross Stitch Forum friend doing some Sweetheart Tree designs.

I love small designs. It may be a lack of patience or a short attention span; the fact that I find large pieces of fabric cumbersome to work with certainly has something to do with it; but the plain fact is that large designs (such as the Ink Circles BoINK project and the Papillon Around the World in 80 Stitches SAL) tend to get neglected and end up in a drawer. The only reason why I haven’t abandoned a large project recently is that I don’t start them. My own Stitch-Along was deliberately designed as 12 small projects rather than 12 parts of a large design. I very rarely design charts larger than 200 stitches. And I have a particular weak spot for anything card-sized.

But there is a problem with small designs, especially what you might call mini designs: whose are they? Let me explain. Suppose you want to design a cross stitch ladybird, which has to fit in a pendant and is therefore limited to 10×10 stitches. Chances are that within that limited space you will choose to stitch the ladybird in red and black only. Now suppose someone else also decides to chart a small ladybird. The two designs are likely to be very similar. Has either of you copied the other? No, because they were arrived at independently. Has either of you infringed the other person’s copyright? I wouldn’t have thought so. So whose is the ladybird design?

This may sound like a bit of an artificial problem, but there is a practical side to it. Let’s have a look at small Hardanger or satin stitch designs. You may remember the freebie stars (which, incidentally, I have now adapted to become this year’s Christmas Craft Event project, of which more in a later FoF) and that I could easily stitch them without the chart because the design is very simple. Are they “mine”? They are, in that I charted them and didn’t copy them from anyone else. But could I honestly claim that no-one else could possibly come up with them without copying me? Of course not.

If you want to design a Hardanger mini involving some cutting, and you want some bars in there as well, you are limited to four or so shapes, and what makes your little design unique is the combination of bars and filling stitches you choose (but there are only a limited number of those, too), any colours you choose to incorporate and any other elements you add (like the backstitch motifs surrounding the Mini Kit designs). There isn’t an awful lot of room for variation.

Hardanger mini shapes

The larger the design gets, the more variation is possible and the less likely you are to come up with an identical design to someone else. But how much variation makes a new design? Take the basic shape of the Round Dozen – as my Systematic Round Dozen chart shows you can vary endlessly with it. I added new stitches to it myself, and you could add whatever you like, even borders from Song of the Weather if you’ve joined the SAL. If someone comes up with a variation I hadn’t thought of, is it theirs or mine? Here I think a case could be made for saying that if it has the combination of a hardanger diamond, surrounded by a diamond in chain or double cable stitch, with a square surface stitch border and four satin stitch corner motifs, and measuring 72×72 stitches, it is a variation on Mabel’s Fancies Round Dozen design – but some people might disagree.

What does this mean for me as a designer? For one thing it means that I have to be careful when I admire and am inspired by another designer’s work. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not if it leads to infringement of copyright. The Forum friend who got some Sweetheart Tree kits recently sent me pictures of them, and this reminded me how much I like their designs. They also gave me an idea for a set of small floral squares which combined elements of the Round Dozen, the border of a needlebook I designed for a previous Guildhouse course (see below), and Sweetheart Tree’s use of floral cross stitch motifs. Fortunately the little floral emblems I designed turned out quite different from theirs – stitched over one fabric thread instead of over two, and without their elegant backstitch swirls. So it was with a clear conscience that I went about the ever-pleasant task of picking out the colours and materials to use; and I hope to present Floral Lace to you in the near future!

A small needlebook Materials for Floral Lace

The Knitting & Stitching Show at Ally Pally

Last week was my annual jaunt to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace – with a slight difference this year in that I was teaching for the first time! It was great fun to do, quite a few people finished or near-finished the needlebook, and two ladies stayed behind and told me how much they’d appreciated the workshop, which was such a relief to hear smiley. One lady who said she hadn’t done much stitching before did find it a bit of a challenge, though, and I’m wondering whether next time I ought to say something like “suitable for beginners at Hardanger with some general stitching experience”. I haven’t quite worked out the right wording, and any suggestions will be gratefully received.

Besides the workshop there was lots of time to look round all the stands. I love looking at the Guild ones, like the Spinners, Weavers & Dyers (did you know that buddleia flowers produce a vivid yellow dye?) and the Braiders and Embroiderers and Lacemakers and all the other techniques. Most of them I will never do myself, but it is very interesting to see. As was Jean Littlejohn’s exhibition A Timeline of Crewel Work; it was great to see a project that I had just read about in Stitch magazine in real life, and study the stitches in close-up.

Of course the things I am most on the lookout for are threads and fabrics, with a sprinkling of beads and other embellishments. This time, in fact, I took two bobbins of DMC to the show to find the right colour beads for Treasure Trove – and did I find any? No. three, four, lots of bead stands, and I still couldn’t find the right shade. I wonder whether it was partly because actually the light in there isn’t very good for comparing colours. Oh well, I’ll just have to keep looking! Fortunately there were plenty of stands with with lovely threads, variegated, hand-dyed, cotton, silk, the lot! I did get several but as they are for an exchange I won’t show them here, in case the intended recipient reads this blog…

I did notice that there was rather more wool and fabric around this year – a definite emphasis on knitting/crochet and sewing/quilting/patchwork, plus a surprising number of stands with felt and felting kits. There was really only one seller of counted fabrics, and I sorely missed Kate from Sparklies who wasn’t at the show this year. It makes such a difference when you can see hand-dyed fabrics in real life (even under the far-from-ideal lighting at Alexandra Palace).

And did I end up buying anything? Well, yes, I did, and I managed to stay well within my budget while getting some really exciting materials! Below are my purchases of the day (including some useful beads for the next Christmas Craft Event).

Purchases at the 2013 Knitting & Stitching Show

One of the stands sold lovely ceramic buttons, and although they were rather expensive I couldn’t resist getting two of them; I think they’ll make a lovely focal point in the centre of a small Hardanger design. Unfortunately I can’t remember who I got them from, so I will have to use them for private projects rather than Mabel’s Fancies designs which need to be replicable.

Ceramic buttons

This year I was especially inspired by 21st Century Yarnswith their hand-dyed silks, felt and silk organza. The felt squares may be used as backing, or I may just do some free embroidery on them and use them as patches on a bag. The silk organza squares are dyed in gloriously rich jewel colours, and have led to a set of new designs which I’ve decided to call Extravorganza. I’ll admit it – I like puns, and I’m not afraid to use them smiley.

21st Century Yarns felt 21st Century Yarns silk organza

Unexpected inspiration came from the two small projects I had taken with me to stitch on the train and in the evenings. Combine the Systematic Round Dozen chart, two pieces of coloured 28ct Jobelan, some cream and white perle cotton and hey presto, two rather elegant little squares. They gave me an idea for another pair of designs, to be named Wedgwood – can you guess why?

Wedgwood variations Wedgwood variations

PS My husband calculated that the Systematic Round Dozen chart will, in theory, yield several hundred thousand variations. Don’t worry; I don’t intend to try them all.

Choices, choices

Last Monday I went to my weekly Embroidery Circle (although Stitch & Chat would probably be more accurate), and I’d taken October to finish. That wasn’t going to take the full two hours, however, in spite of the usual amount of chatting, so I also took a couple of bits of fabric and a selection of threads to do a few freebie stars in different colours. But when I got round to them, could I find my chart? No, I couldn’t. (The mysterious thing is that it wasn’t in my chart folder at home either; did my husband go off with it for a bit of stitch therapy in the garage?) Never mind, they are quite simple designs after all so surely I could do them without a chart. Well, I could – but I couldn’t quite remember how the pointed bits went. There were two obvious ways, and as it turned out I picked the one I hadn’t originally charted. It also turned out I actually prefer the way I did them at the stitching group! So I re-charted them, and here are the new-look stars. Don’t worry if you downloaded the original charts and can’t see the difference, it’s really very small smiley.

Freebie Star 1 Freebie Star 2

That choice was hardly a choice at all seeing that the two alternatives were so alike; merely a vague preference for one pointed shape over another. But I am still working my way through a more difficult choice: which variation of Treasure Trove to do. I’ve been doing lots of small designs recently, so I thought it was time for a slightly larger one, and Treasure Trove has been calling me for a while because it contains a few firsts for me – my first use of Jessica stitch (which I work a little differently from most people), and my first use of metallic kid. That’s leather, not spray-painted off-spring, by the way. In fact, the Jessica stitch will be used to frame the padded leather.

I charted the design in two colourways: red/gold and blue/silver. And as I was getting the materials together, I realised I liked them both equally! The pictures below aren’t quite accurate, by the way – I charted the light blue as DMC 799 only to find that I don’t actually have that in my stash… Also, I am not entirely happy with the red and blue beads; they need to match the dark shade in the design, and it’s very difficult to work out from online pictures which beads do. I have a conversion list which gives DMC equivalents for Mill Hill beads, but it isn’t always as accurate as I would like. So I’ve packed two bobbins of DMC stranded cotton to take to London later this week, when I’ll be able to see various brands of beads at the Knitting & Stitching Show and compare them with the the DMC colours side by side. Choice postponed.

Materials for the red/gold version Materials for the blue/silver version

Remember the Round Dozen Hybrid charts? Purely for my own amusement (don’t expect them for sale on the website) I’ve charted the Systematic Mix & Match Round Dozen. It consists of a basic chart with four “sub-charts” that you use to fill in the gaps in the basic chart, if that makes sense. So the basic chart has four empty triangles – go to the corner motif sub-chart and choose one; the basic chart has a border of empty squares – go to the border sub-chart and pick a border stitch. And so on. How’s that for choices!

Round Dozen Mix & Match basic outline Round Dozen Mix & Match borders and uncut fillings Round Dozen Mix & Match corner motifs Round Dozen Mix & Match cut area Round Dozen Mix & Match bars and filling stitches

Incidentally if you don’t like cutting you could leave some of the variations uncut – you might want to add a little embellishment to what would otherwise be cut, but I think it looks quite effective as it is. As a matter of fact I did eventually do the cutting on this one, but it took some time to decide what the filling stitch was going to be…

An uncut Round Dozen variation

Rubber ducks, hybrids and GBBO

Last Saturday was the Aunt-of-Character’s birthday party, and a very good party it was too! Not only did we manage to catch up with lots of relatives, but it must be the only party I have ever been to where the 80-year-old birthday girl enthusiastically and expertly played her new bongos during a jazz jam session.

The birthday girl

As the festivities didn’t start until 4pm, my husband realised that he could, after all, participate in the Light Car & Edwardian Section Driving Test & Gymkhana at Prescott. For those of you to whom this is complete gibberish, it involves a whole host of car enthusiasts doing precision and timed driving in cars dating from the first three decades of the 20th century. I would have to come, of course, as it was en route to the party, but my husband told me it was actually rather dull to watch, so I could bring some stitching and sit in the warm club house with views of the hills and a nice cup of tea while he was driving around. That sounded good to me, so I put together a project folder with a small and not too challenging design, and off we went.

As he signed on the organiser handed me a form and a pen and said, “and of course your passenger needs to sign on too!” Passenger? What, me? Yes, apparently. It wasn’t particularly clear from the entry form, but several of the tests involved a passenger – and when I say “involved”, I mean it. Over the next 5 hours I picked up eight rubber ducks from a radiator, depositing three of them inside rubber tyres; shouted instructions to my husband so that the passenger-side wheels drove along a plank, while he tried not to squash some brave cuddly toys; and attempted to guide him around a slalom course of tyre stacks while he was driving with a bucket on his head. A bucket with a smiley face painted on it. I am proud to say that in spite of my complete lack of preparation, we managed to finish 4th in our class of 30.

I even managed to do some stitching in between tests! In my impromptu project folder was yet another Round Dozen variation – they are useful, as they make lovely cards, and very suitable as a travelling project because they use only white and one colour. In fact, I’ve found them so useful over the past few years, that I have now created two “pick & mix” Round Dozen charts; one uses the chain stitch diamond, the other uses the double cable stitch diamond, several filling stitches and bars are incorporated and in each of them all four corners (both satin stitch motif and border) are charted differently, so that from those two hybrid charts I can create dozens of different version. You do have to remember which bit of the chart you picked to begin with, but with a bit of concentration that’s not a problem.

Round Dozen hybrid 1 Round Dozen hybrid 2

Without a bit of concentration, however… The project that I started during the driving tests was finished last Tuesday evening. That’s right, Great British Bake-Off night! And as I groaned at an underbaked tea loaf or gasped at a particularly spectacular show-stopper display of sweet buns, I miscounted *hangs head in shame*. I didn’t actually follow my hybrid chart and stitch different corners – nothing quite that bad – but once again I have not succeeded in producing a flawless piece. Oh well. “One thread out” on 25ct means that a bit of the design is 1/25th of an inch out of place. I decided I can live with that. Can you spot what went wrong?

Can you spot the error?

Cadbury’s Hardanger and other matters of colour

I know they say chocolate and stitching don’t mix, but I’m not so sure. Last week a friend gave us a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray (and no, he didn’t scale our walls action-hero style to deliver it), and it just happened to sit on the coffee table when I put down the last Guildhouse model that I was stitching. Don’t they make a pretty picture together?

Milk Tray and Hardanger

I have sinced finished the model (and the Milk Tray, but let’s not dwell on that), and although the course unfortunately will not run this term I’m very pleased with how the design came out; the solid off-white thread works well with that deep purple hand-dyed fabric, I think. I had to play around a bit with the beads to find the right number per square filet – 12 seems to fit best on Hardanger fabric.

The last Guildhouse course model

My week has been rather colourful in other ways as well. For one thing I was trying to find a combination of Caron Wildflowers and beads that I could use for Double Cross 1 (previously known as Guildhouse course 2b). I used fairly bright green for Double Cross 2, and wanted something a bit more pastel for its counterpart. Eventually I settled on Caron Orchid with Mill Hill Shimmering Lilac.

Wildflowers and beads

And then there was the decision about a card for an aunt (not the one who irons, this one is my husband’s) whose 80th birthday we will be celebrating tomorrow. She is a lady of character and does not do old-lady beige or wishy-washy pastels (although let me hasten to add that I actually like both beige and pastels; they’re just not something I’d choose for her!), so I picked a Round Dozen variation I stitched some time ago in a variegated thread that combined mauves and purples with small splashes of bright fuchsia pink. But what colour card would go with that? I toyed for a moment with silver, but that made it look rather washed out; and then I tried one in Cross Stitch Heaven’s Raspberry shade which picked up the bright pink in the thread.

Unfortunately it didn’t look very good behind the cut areas, where it seemed to clash with the filling stitches. Now if you ever run into a similar problem, there are several options. One is to place a square of paper or felt behind your stitching in a colour which shows off the cut areas better than the colour of the card you are mounting it in. This has the advantage that paper and felt come in lots of colours, so plenty of choice. But if you want either white or black behind the cut areas, I’d recommend Vilene (or iron-on interfacing, or whatever it is called generically). Some time ago I got a large piece of very thin black Vilene to use with coasters, and I’ve found it invaluable in cases like these. Here is the result with the Raspberry card:

The 80th birthday card for my husband's aunt

The last colour issue to crop up this week was what colour Soft Cotton to get for friendship bracelets. Somehow I seem to have volunteered for tonight’s Youth Group, because “you do things with threads and would you know an easy way for them to make friendship bracelets?” I carelessly let it slip that I knew how to do (make? work?) a finger cord, which needs no equipment apart from, well, fingers, and was asked to come and demonstrate this to the young people rather than simply teach it beforehand to the people who normally lead Youth Group. How did I get myself into this?

Anyway, I decided on half pastel and half bold shades so that the young people can all choose colours that suit them. Unfortunately I didn’t get any yellow, which with hindsight I think would have been a good idea, but these eight colours should give them a fair range of choice. The second picture shows “one I made earlier” to time the process (about 15 minutes for a 20cm length of braid). I’ll try and get some pictures tonight of the bracelets they make for themselves!

Soft cotton for friendship bracelets Bracelet made from soft cotton

Ironing and a couple of freebies

I have an aunt who enjoys ironing. No, really. She and my mother have a pact – Mum does the all washing for the two of them, and Aunt does all the ironing. Having worked my way through a pile of hankies, shirts and summer dresses (why oh why do I keep wearing long flowing skirts?) I can say without a hint of doubt that I do not take after my aunt. But there was more to be ironed: 56 squares of Hardanger fabric for the Mini Kits.

Ironed fabric squares, and one in a hoop

Sometimes I feel tempted not to bother, but then I remember opening kits myself and finding a piece of fabric with sharp creases right across the bit where I will be stitching, and having to get it ironed first when what I really want to do is get it into a hoop and start stitching! Which brings me to another thing – why are the pieces of fabric provided in kits (especially for small projects) often only just big enough for the project? I know that not everyone uses a hoop, but many people do, and it would be nice if the fabric were big enough to get it into a hoop that in turn is big enough to contain the whole design. True, adding an extra inch or so adds to the cost, but I think it is probably worth it in customer satisfaction. Being what they are, the Mini Kits are likely to be the stitcher’s first piece of hardanger, and I want to make it an experience they’d like to repeat, not put them off for life!

Having “hooped up” one of the pieces of fabric to try it out for size I didn’t really want to take it out and iron it again, so I’ll use it for a small project. Sally, a dear friend from the Cross Stitch Forum, asked me something about small designs for Christmas cards and I suddenly remembered two tiny stars I did a few years ago, so I charted them and made them available as freebies. When I first stitched them I used very light blue and lilac to go with two blue and purple metallic cards I had (you can’t see the metallic-ness very well in the picture, but it looked quite striking in real life!), but writing to Sally I suggested they would look rather nice in Anchor metallic perle (which has a gold or silver strand running through it) or Caron Snow with its lovely sparkle, and of course because of their small size they’re ideal for using up odds and ends of hand-dyed and variegated threads. Thinking of that, and having a small piece of fabric sitting there ready-hooped, I decided to stitch them again myself; I’ve picked the materials and beads, and as soon as Double Cross is finished I’ll give these a go.

The original stars on their metallic cards Materials for re-stitching the freebies

A show and a change of plan

I’ve not been a very regular poster over the past couple of weeks! This was at least partly because we were attending a trade show last weekend, and what with preparations beforehand and backlog afterwards, writing Flights of Fancies was rather low on the list of priorities. “A trade show?” I hear you say. “Was there a stitching show on somewhere?” Well, no. Not exactly. This was for the day job, and involved gaskets, crankshafts, hose clips, trafficator knobs and oodles of other bits for pre-war Austin Sevens – the International Autojumble at Beaulieu. It doesn’t look quite like, say, the Treenway Silks show booth

Our stand at the Beaulieu Autojumble

It’s a lovely part of the country to go to, even though we see very little of it; but on the way there we drive through the New Forest, and every year I try to manage at least one walk into Beaulieu village. It is very picturesque, has a chocolate studio, and at any time you might bump into a New forest pony, donkey or cow. The first time we went I couldn’t get into the village shop because a donkey was standing in the doorway, completely at ease and with no intention of moving smiley. This time I came across a pony on my way back to the Autojumble field; isn’t it a lovely sight?

A New Forest pony at Beaulieu

As we were staying with a very kind and hospitable cousin this year instead of camping, I even got some stitching done! And here I have a confession to make. You may remember I mentioned some Victoria Sampler kits I had lying around, and my intention to stitch one of them. After a bit of digging I did find the kits, and I picked one to do, and then I got a little distracted (nothing new there). Remember the Guildhouse design which I was hoping to pair off with a companion piece? Well, while charting the companion piece I realised that it wasn’t quite the right size; but I did think of another way of using this particular shape by cutting different parts, and so before I knew it I had a pair of Kloster block shapes, neither of which was the right size to go with the first design. So I had to think of a fourth design – and while I was doing that, and experimenting with different bars (of the Hardanger variety, I hasten to say; don’t picture me on a pub crawl!) suddenly I had a set of three bookmarks all ready-charted.

I did then finally chart a design to go with the Guildhouse one, and I liked it so much that that was what I took with me on our Beaulieu travels. Because of the bead crosses and the double cross stitches and the fact that it is a pair of designs, I decided to call them Double Cross, and when I have stitched number one again (I picked some lovely shimmery lavender beads with a matching shade of Wildflowers) I’ll make them available on the site. For now, I give you a sneak preview of Double Cross 2, and of its new speciality stitch – remember those fuzzed out bars in the picture showing my unsuccessful bead experiments? The time has come to reveal them. I give you *drum roll* the corded bar:

Double Cross 2 Corded bar

And here is a good example of how designs influence each other: stitching Double Cross with its corded bars and beaded woven bars gave me a rather spiffing idea for two-coloured corded bars, so I re-charted the bookmarks (now called Ex Libris) to incorporate them. I have a feeling it may be a while before I get round to that Victoria Sampler kit…

A new pair of designs?

The Guildhouse course is definitely taking shape! Last Saturday I was at the Open Day, and although there weren’t that many people (it didn’t help that I started out upstairs) I did get a few who were interested to know what the course was about, and whether they’d be able to do it. I’ve heard it so often even from people who have actually enrolled for a course, “I’ll never be able to make something like that!” The great thing about teaching is the moment one of those people looks at what she has just created and realises that she is able to make something like that – and more.

But whether or not enough people sign up for the course to run, the models need to be stitched; if not for this term, then for a future one. In spite of being a bit more challenging than the models for the first course, I find them quite relaxing to stitch in the evenings, and over the past week I finished another two. One of them is based on Frills (as is the one remaining model I haven’t stitched yet) with a few changes to include the stitches I want to teach, such as double woven bars. This model is stitched on Sparklies hand-dyed Hardanger in a shade called Ocean Depths.

Based on Frills and stitched on Sparklies fabric

Most designs I use in my courses are adapted from existing designs – I’m a great believer in recycling! But occasionally none of the existing ones are quite what I want, so I have to come up with something new. This one is used to teach several beaded stitches as well as the X-bar (and no, that’s not the X-Men’s favourite pub…). I like it’s not-quite-symmetrical shape, although when I stitch it again I’ll probably use a rather brighter colour for the beads and double cross stitches.

An original design for the 2013 Guildhouse course

When I stitch it again? Yes – it seems a shame to let it be seen by only 8 or 10 people, so I’m thinking of pairing it up with another design and putting it in the shop. Sometimes, instead of sketching a complete design I just draw pleasant or unexpected shapes, then see if they’ll work in Kloster blocks or other stitches, and I have a shape in my doodle file that I think would go quite well with this one. Now all it needs is a catchy name (and a finished chart, of course. And a stitched model. But that’s OK.)

And talking of stitching models, a friend from the Cross Stitch Forum recently sent me pictures of some Sweetheart Tree designs that she has her eye on, and they are really elegant and dainty. They reminded me of a couple of Victoria Sampler kits I have in my stash, bought before Mabel’s Fancies took off and subsequently relegated to a neglected existence in one of my stash drawers because I didn’t have the time to stitch them. But why not? Yes, models need to be stitched if designs are to make it on to the website, but that doesn’t mean that models (and the odd card for special occasions) are the only things I can stitch! So when the Guildhouse models have been completed (and I am half-way on the last one) I’ll take a short break from Mabel and stitch someone else’s design for a change – it’ll be relaxing not to have to worry about possible changes or chart packs, and hopefully give me a fresh look at my own designs.

Theory and practice

It was a Bank Holiday weekend and so I decided to do some much-needed maintenance in our much-neglected (but much-loved) garden. We’d bought some bedding plants (marigolds and violets, I think, but I’m still not very well up on English plant names) at the local car boot sale, and the idea was to plant half of them in a bare patch of back garden, and half in a bed in the front garden where there is also a cotoneaster that needed a haircut. Of course it’s never that simple. Sunday afternoon saw several hours of all-out war on ground elder before we could even think of planting anything, and on Monday the cotoneaster’s short back and sides turned out to need a machete rather than dainty seccateurs. Still, we won! Two small patches of our garden are now fit to be seen by other people besides ourselves. It’s not exactly Chelsea Flower Show material, but it’s a lot better than it was.

The back garden after a LOT of weeding and a little planting a shrub with a haircut, and some new plants

Fortunately the gardening did leave some time for experimental needlework. Unfortunately, both the experiments were unsuccessful. Occasionally you come up with this great idea, and in your head it works absolutely beautifully, and on paper it looks perfectly feasible, and then you get the fabric and needle and thread out and it simply will not work. I’m afraid this was the case with my ideas for beaded picots and buttonhole bar fillings.

Ordinary buttonhole bars are worked on one or more foundation stitches (see below), and apart from the ends of those foundation stitches the bars are unattached to the fabric; it is sometimes known as detached buttonhole stitch, and you can fill whole shapes with it. One day, as I was trying out some new Hardanger bars, I looked at the four fabric threads that make up a bar, and thought, “what if I used two of those as the foundation threads for a buttonhole bar?” It’s a simple enough idea – come up in the cut hole beside the bar, then take the needle over two threads (so going down the centre of the bar) leaving a loop, and come back up in the cut hole, catching that loop. Continue in the same way until the end of the bar, and hey presto, buttonhole bar filling.

If it works like this...

The beaded picot also seemed uncomplicated both in my mind and on paper (see below): weave half a bar, then instead of making a little knot or loop to form the picot, knot your thread around a bead, then continue weaving. The bead will sit snugly against the bar, making a novel, colourful and slightly chunky picot replacement.

A promising sketch

The theory looked promising – so I got out my “experiment hoop” to try them out in practice. Alas. I tried several ways of attaching the bead picots, and none of them would stay where it was put; the ones that did stick in roughly the right place had a lot of thread showing. You will note that in my sketch I’d drawn the bead with its hole running away from the bar, whereas what happened in practice (and what I should have forseen) was that the hole ran from the front of the work to the back. The buttonhole bars were, if possible, worse. They twisted. It turned out to be absolutely impossible to keep them flat with a pretty buttonhole edge on the outside of the bar. I tried them over two threads (red arrows), over two with the buttonhole edge on the inside (green arrow, the edge has completely disappeared), and covering the whole width of the bar (blue arrow). None of them worked.

Unsuccessful experiments

I would have said “back to the drawing board”, if the drawing board hadn’t turned out to be so unreliable! It just goes to show there’s nothing like actually stitching something to see if it will work. Oh, and those two fuzzy, blurred bars in the top right of the picture? They were experiments that did work which I’m not revealing just yet smiley.


Having finished all three stitched models for the Counted Wishes Festival (the two Windows on the World bookmarks, and – finally – Windmills) I decided to spend my spare time this weekend to do some teaching preparation. Not that I write step-by-step lesson plans or anything like that; I meant more down-to-earth preparations, in the form of kits and models. Putting kits together is a very relaxing occupation, I find, especially when it’s several identical ones. There is something oddly soothing about laying out 12 sets of instructions, and 12 pieces of card, and sticking 12 pairs of needles into 12 pieces of felt, and taking 12 lengths of perle #5 from the thread ring, and measuring out twice 12 lengths of perle #8, all accompanied by a mug of tea and Hugh Fraser reading a Hercule Poirot story on CD. And then there is the satisfying moment when there is a neat stack of 12 mini matchbook kits, ready for the Knitting & Stitching Show.

Kits for the Knitting & Stitching Show workshop

I’ve put them all in one of my 12″ square plastic project folders, together with my own supplies and squissors and needle threader and so on, and a tiny stapler to finish the matchbooks with. Mind you, together with the 12 pairs of squissors which the students can borrow for the workshop, and my overnight things, I’m going to be quite heavy-laden on my arrival in London! I usually have a nice walk round the various parks and perhaps a museum before heading for my sister-in-law’s who kindly puts me up for two nights every year, but I may have to cut down on my roaming a bit this time.

My other preparations are for this term’s Guildhouse course; when I was about to hand in my course overview I was told this term the short courses would be six weeks rather than five, so I needed an extra class. I’d worked out more or less what I wanted to do but hadn’t actually charted the project for it yet, so that was my first task. Then there is stitching the models. One has already been done: the mini kit bookmark, stitched on 28ct hand-dyed fabric using three thicknesses of perle.

Bookmark for the autumn 2013 Guildhouse course

That leaves another four (the last week I always leave for finishing off projects and asking questions), and the first thing to do was getting all the materials together. Two of them will be done on Lugana using standard perles, Caron threads and some beads, and the other two use standard perles and beads on some scrumptious Sparklies hand-dyed Hardanger fabric. Aren’t the colours just rich?

Materials for the Guildhouse models

In the evening I finally got down to some actual stitching, starting with the project for the first week. This is based on Flora, but has been adapted to include all the things I want to address in that class: a re-cap of the basic stitches we’ve tackled in the first course (Kloster blocks, woven bar, wrapped bar, dove’s eye and square filet) plus one new stitch/technique to keep things interesting, in this case the double-sided Kloster block. Like the other three that still need stitching, this project is suitable for making into a card, and as the last project is a bookmark, everything the students stitch can be used, not just completed and then put away.

First class for the autumn 2013 Guildhouse course

If you live near Rugby and you’d like to join, do contact the Guildhouse; enrolment has started, and there are 10 places available.