Windmills of my mind

Do you know the song? I first heard it in French, but the version that will forever stick in my mind is the English one sung by Hannah Gordon on the Morecambe & Wise show. Today, however, I thought of it partly because of the word Windmills (I am still hoping to get it ready for the Counted Wishes Festival) and partly because that design is making me feel remarkably like the first few lines of the song: “Round / Like a circle in a spiral / Like a wheel within a wheel” (which actually makes me think of hamsters rather than windmills, but that just shows you the way my mind works).

I like the design. I think that it is essentially a good design. But it is taking its time getting just right. Remember I changed the centre to white-and-probably-dark-grey because doing the whole think in Bradley’s Balloons looked a bit, uhm, much? Well, I think I may need to change a bit more than just the centre. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bradley’s Balloons, I think the dyer who came up with it deserves a prize for the sheer cheerfulness it radiates, but there is no getting away from the fact that it is quite … exuberant.

Below is the redraft I did a while back to get the centre right. Having worked the curvy lines that lead to the small windmills I feel that they might look better either in white, or in the same colour as the centre; as they stand they blend too much with the satin stitch, and so the whole design rather runs together. I will unpick one of them and re-stitch to see the effect.

The redrafted Windmills

Then there is the beading. My husband, having been shown the project and asked for his opinion (I used to ask him for advice, but he pointed out to me that I quite often didn’t take it, so now I ask for his opinion smiley) said that he wasn’t sure it needed beads at all. I’d like to keep some beads, but as I said in my previous post what there is now is simply too much. Which is a shame, because I like the arrangement. (*Note to self* store it somewhere and use in a future design.)

The original Windmill beading

So here is the simplified version – I feel it is definitely an improvement, so now all that’s left to decide is whether to keep the blue beads or to go for all white. The blue beads are quite striking, and they go well with the fabric, but I’m not sure they go equally well with the thread.

The new Windmill beading

The good thing is that at least I can now get on with working on Windmills! I finished Windows on the World last night and have sent my booth set-up form with all the pictures needed to Deena at the Counted Wishes Festival, and the missing ball of dark grey perle arrived from Sew & So.

Ball of perle #8 to the rescue

By the way, about Windows on the World – when I’d worked the variegated buttonhole border of the second bookmark, it turned out that the perle #8 which I’d bought for it but rejected as being too bright was actually just right after all! But you’ll have to wait until the Festival to see it…

The best laid plans…

… of mice and men gang oft agley, and you can add stitchers’ plans to that. Two of mine did this week (plans go agley, that is), although fortunately I also got some useful work done.

My first plan concerned Windmills, which is fast beginning to get identified with Blake’s dark satanic mills in my mind. Well, it’s not that bad really. But having started on the beading I found that it was far too dense and heavy, and almost overpowered the stitching (which in itself is quite a feat with stitching this bright!). I’m trying a different pattern in the second sail before unpicking the first one, so I’ll be able to compare them.

Then there was the question of the central filling stitches. I charted them in black but Serinde, neatly voicing a silent niggle in my own mind, commented that it might be too stark. From my stash I gathered a navy blue and a dark brown perle #8 to see which would go best with Bradley’s Balloons; I felt a dark grey would probably be better (as it is meant to represent the nail that holds the windmill to its stick), but I didn’t have one dark enough. When I mentioned this on the Cross Stitch Forum I was soon convinced that this was not a problem, but a great opportunity to acquire some more thread! As I was actually in the process of placing an order with Sew & So anyway, I succumbed and added a ball of perle #8 413.

Sew & So lived up to their usual standard, and the next day I had my parcel. Below is a photograph of its contents. Spot the snag.

Pink and coral and rose and white - but no grey

That’s right. No grey. The invoice came with a polite note saying the perle #8 413 was out of stock and would follow shortly. Usually that wouldn’t really be a problem, but I’d been hoping to get Windmills ready for the Counted Wishes Festival, which is now unlikely (unless “shortly” means “today”). Oh well, no worries – it simply means I’ll only have one new design there, the two bookmarks of Windows on the World. The larger of the two is now finished (though I haven’t cut around the buttonhole edge yet), and I’m making good progress on the smaller one. This uses one of DMC’s Variations for the perle #5 buttonhole edge, and I needed a coloured perle #8 to go with it. Some time ago a fellow stitcher sent me a useful list which shows the DMC shades that make up the Variations, so I thought if I used one of the component shades I couldn’t go wrong. Unfortunately the shade I wanted doesn’t actually exist in perle #8, so I ordered the nearest one, which was two shades darker.

Two choices to go with a variegated thread

The one I ordered especially for this project is on the left in the picture above, and although it’s not quite so noticeable in the photograph, it really is quite bright, and quite a lot darker than the perle #5. On the other hand one of the other perle #8 in the order does seem to tone quite well with the orange in the perle #5. So of my two plans with perle #8, one is on hold because the colour is out of stock, and the other probably won’t use the colour I specifically got for it!

Quite a tale of adversity, but actually I had a very good weekend otherwise. There was time to sit on the lawn with a magazine, and watch our marigolds and dwarf dahlias buzzing with insects. Ably assisted by my husband I managed to take all the photographs for the second August SAL blog and for the first September blog. And at our local fabric shop I found just the right colours of felt for a new batch of Mini Kits.

I don’t make up the kits until they are ordered, but I do a lot of preparatory work so that the final process is quite quick. I’ve got a box which contains the photographs that go on the front of the kits, pre-cut lengths of perle #5 and #8, two sizes of gold-plated needles, pieces of felt cut to size, and pre-cut and pre-scored pieces of patterned card. I was about to run out of the last two, but with the purchase of some new double-sided card and various colours of felt I am now well stocked again. The satisfaction of a job done, and (incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t have a colourful hobby, I suppose) of simply seeing all those pretty colours together. I seriously believe playing with stash should be considered a hobby in its own right!

New materials for more mini kits The patterned card is double-sided All the felt cut to size

A very helpful guinea pig

When I offered to do a workshop at the Knitting & Stitching Show I was fairly certain what I would do with the unsuspecting stitchers signing up for it: the dove’s eye matchbook. It’s aimed at beginners, it doesn’t take too long so in the 90 minutes the workshop takes they should be able to achieve quite a lot, and they end up with something to take home that they can use in their future stitching.

So far so good. But then came the question, “Is the workshop suitable for children?” Rashly I said that yes, it would be fine for children aged 12 and over. There was just one snag. I’d never actually tried it out on a 12-year-old.

Enter my guinea pig Katie, the most suitable 12-year-old you could imagine for this sort of experiment. We’ve done stitching together before (starting when she was about 8), she produced an impressive gym-bag-with-stitched-initial at last year’s Holiday Club, her stitching at the annual Christmas Craft Event is invariably splendid, and she enjoys a needlework challenge. She crochets, too.

So I gave her a Matchbook kit to have a look at, and yesterday afternoon we held a private workshop. A little different from trying to show twelve people what to do, but it would give an idea of whether the kit works for young stitchers. Even if we did interrupt proceedings several times to make the dough for the evening’s pizzas. I decided to work the project at the same time, so I could show her the various stitches, but not to do a single thing for her – getting the fabric into the flexihoop, using a waste knot, counting from the centre to the starting point, working out the direction of the stitches, cutting, it was all her own responsibility. She set to it with enthusiasm and determination.

My Guinea Pig starts her project Concentration while counting

And here is what she produced, in not much more than the 90 minutes allotted to it: the surface stitching complete and the cutting done; the woven bar and dove’s eye; and the finished matchbook.

First ever cutwork First ever bars & dove's eye A perfect matchbook

What do you think, did Katie prove me right smiley?

A loss, a change of plan and a future project

The past few days have been sad ones for us; after several days of uncertainty, we found out last Tuesday that our lovely ginger cat Alfie had died. The kind gardener who found him had given him a decent burial, which we really appreciate although it meant that we could not say goodbye to him. We’ll miss our Alfie.


As I get used to being able to stitch without an affectionate but very heavy feline presence leaning on my arm, I find myself fighting an ever so slight panic. The Counted Wishes Festival is nearly upon us – the deadline for submitting my “booth” of designs is in less than two weeks’ time – and the design I had intended for it is nowhere near completion; it’s not merely that the stitched model isn’t finished, it hasn’t even been started! Beadazzled, a sampler of beaded stitches, has been charted but I’m not happy with some of the stitches, and have since thought of some others which I would like to include. So for the time being, Beadazzled will remain a DIP (Design In Progress), and I’ve picked another design from the Planned page to take its place at the Festival. There will be a lot of frantic stitching over the next week or so.

Yesterday I received another stash parcel, this time from Cross Stitch Heaven. I rely on them for cards with larger than usual apertures – their 6″ cards are just right for my small designs like Round Dozen and the Song of the Weather SAL. The cards in this parcel, however, are not just for the odd project here and there, they have a particular purpose! Yes, the decision has been made: I will do another Stich-Along in 2015. Here my grandfather would have said “zo de Here wil en wij leven” – “if the Lord wishes it and we live”; and I quite agree with him that of course I have no idea what will happen between now and then. But all things being well, on 1st January 2015 you should be able to start on the Round in Circles SAL! There will be a dedicated 2015 SAL page nearer the time.

Cards for the 2015 SAL

Shops, ducks and snow

Do you recognise the feeling that a day after returning from holiday it is hard to remember that you were on holiday? Fortunately I took plenty of pictures to remind me of all the lovely things we’ve seen and done over the past week while we were in the Scottish Borders.

From a stitcher’s point of view, some of the most memorable things were the pieces of needlework that we found scattered around various museums and stately homes – including a beautifully embroidered waistcoat that was never put together, some lovely colourful beadwork, a multiplication table sampler worked by a six-year-old girl in mind-bogglingly small cross stitches, and the tiniest cutwork baby’s cap that I have ever seen. It’s a shame (though understandable) that I couldn’t take photographs of those items.

Before going I’d also done my homework and had pinned down two shops I wanted to visit. One was The Grassmarket Embroidery Shop in Edinburgh, which according to its website carries a good selection of speciality threads and other delectable goodies; the other was The Haberdashery & Craft Shop, which calls itself the smallest shop in Alnwick. Edinburgh came first, so after a lovely walk through Princes Gardens and around the town I dragged – I mean, gently led – my husband to the Grassmarket, and started looking for number 19. I found number 19. This is what it looked like.

No needlework shop where one should have been

We asked in the Milk Bar, and they told us that the lady running the shop retired last April. Oh well. There were plenty of other things to see in Edinburgh …

In Alnwick I did find the shop in question, and yes, it was tiny! Lots of Texere threads with interesting colours and textures, but not really suitable for my sort of needlework. Lovely to see them, though! My husband then found out from the wool shop next door that in a nearby street there was a needlework shop having a closing down sale. Aren’t husbands wonderful? It is always sad to see a LNS closing down, but as there was very little I could do about that I thought I might as well see if there was anything interesting in the sale. Some useful fabric was, alas, not included, but I did find Mill Hill beads at 60p, Kreinik braid at 60p, Au Ver a Soie metallic at 60p, perle cotton at 61p, and some Caron threads at 75p – I was very pleased with my bargain!

Result of a closing down sale in Alnwick

While in Alnwick we visited the Garden, too. We gave the Castle a miss, having heard from several people that it was rather overpriced, and definitely the lesser option of the two. Anyway, the weather was lovely and so being outside in a garden with lots of water features sounded very attractive. We’d bought some lunch at the farmers’ market, and after a while decided to sit down in the shade of some trees overlooking a rather magnificent duck pond (with an oriental pagoda duck pavillion) to have a bite to eat. The ducks thought this was a marvellous idea, and before we knew it we were practically trampled underfoot by various assorted waterfowl including some impossibly cute and fluffy ducklings. One kept running under my skirt and out between my feet. Fluffy ducklings tickle terribly when they do that. Trust me.

Coming for lunch Is there anything under that skirt? Ducklings tickle the toes

When we got home, I had another stitching treat – my order from Margaret at the Little Thread Shop had arrived, without my having to pay import duties or Royal Mail’s extortionate handling fee this time! 11 skeins of Caron Snow for about 2/3 the English price; and don’t they add a bit of sparkle to the day!

Caron Snow from Margaret's Little Thread Shop

And now it’s back to work, the day job as well as Mabel’s Fancies; I did hardly any stitching while on holiday, so I’ve got to finish a few projects before the next Counted Wishes Festival, and of course it’s nearly August, and time for another instalment of the Song of the Weather SAL; some stitch photographs still needed for the SAL blog. Isn’t it good to know that I won’t be bored this summer?

Trouble at ‘t Windmill

That pesky Windmill keeps throwing up problems! Remember I decided to have a black centre with white surround to represent the bit that fastens the windmill to its stick? Well, I still think that on the whole that was a Good Idea. To do the whole thing in Bradley’s Balloon throughout is a bit of an assault on the eyeballs, and it gives a bit of focus to the design. However, when I’d stitched the white central bit and the four Kloster block “sails” of the large windmill it didn’t look right. It made the bottom end of the sails look chopped off – I needed more of a diagonal line through to the centre. So I’ve been doing a bit of re-charting (again!) to do the circle (well, square really) around the central black filling stitches partly in white and partly in colour; it’ll mean some unpicking, but I hope the effect will be better. It’s a bit difficult to show here without giving too much of the chart away, but I hope the two small pictures below will give you an idea of what I’ve been doing. (And if you feel that the left-hand one is actually better, do let me know – I might very well change my mind again …)

Windmills with the all-white centre circle Windmills with less white

Stitcher’s annoyance and stitcher’s delight

Well! I mean, well!

Last night we were watching an Antiques Roadshow we’d recorded some time ago, and it featured not one but two very interesting pieces of embroidery – a pleasant surprise to any avid needleworker as our hobby doesn’t feature that frequently. One was a stunning piece of 3D whitework (the ears of corn have to be seen to be believed, and I would love to see it in real life and, if at all possible, to touch it and study the texture), the other a centuries-old WIP (Work In Progress), although time and circumstances had turned it into a UFO (UnFinished Object). It was still stretched on its frame, half completed, and with what looked like water damage. Did the unfortunate needlewoman spill her dainty cup of China tea all down one side of her work, and give it up as a lost cause? It was intriguing.

So why the indignation at the start of this post? Because when the expert had explained to the owner who might have done this type of embroidery and when and how fine it was and so on, the owner asked The Question That Must Not Be Asked: “So what was it for?” The lady who worked this particular piece of embroidery is long beyond being irritated by such insensitive enquiries, but I uttered a sharp “tut” on her behalf, much to my husband’s amusement.

My stitcher’s delight came (besides from seeing these two beautiful projects) from working with Bradley’s Balloons. What I love about it is that its variegation is very sudden – no long stretches of a single colour, but quick changes, so that practically no two consecutive Kloster blocks are the same. Perhaps I am to easily pleased, but I really find it very cheering smiley. Be honest, what stitcher could fail to smile at this:

Coloured Kloster blocks in Windmills

The development of a windmill

Earlier this week I finally decided which Sparklies fabric to use for Windmills – the lighter of the two, called Summer Skies. I’d also finished work on the Stitcher’s Set, and had got as far as I could on the speciality version of the August SAL before I need to take stitch progress pictures for the blog. As several of the stitches in it require two hands to demonstrate, it’ll have to wait until my husband has the time to exercise his photographic skills, probably this weekend. So until then I am free to finally have a go at Windmills, which meant getting out the chart from my design folder. As I looked at it, with my original specifications, I noticed three things: Windmills has been through quite a few changes; it needs a few more; and it uses beads, which I’d forgotten to consider when picking Threadworx Bradley’s Balloons for my thread.

For one thing, Windmills actually started out much squarer than it is now; in fact it consisted of four squares off-set with triangular cut areas on both sides. At that stage I don’t think it was called Windmills yet. I can’t quite remember why I removed one of the cut areas in each square, but when I did it definitely looked like a toy windmill. It was then that I added the small windmills and the streamers.

First version of Windmills Second version of Windmills

According to my notes I originally thought of stitching the whole design in Caron Moonglow, an extremely pale blue, on Sparklies Ink (the fabric that I used for the smaller Frozen Flower). I then changed to Caron Firecracker on some sort of sky blue fabric. It wasn’t until a kind lady at West End Embroidery got me really interested in Threadworx perles that I finally decided on the very bright and cheerful Bradley’s Balloons.

But one thing I hadn’t considered was the beads. Originally (at the pale-blue-on-dark-fabric stage) I’d specified bright white beads. Would that still work? Perhaps it needed something that reflected the highly variegated and multicoloured thread. For a brief moment I toyed with Mill Hill’s Rainbow beads, black with shimmering oil-on-water colours. But it might be too much of a good thing – probably better to have a fairly neutral bead with all those dazzling colours already going on. So back to bright white. Then, as I was going through my watchmaker’s tins of beads, I came across a shade called Crystal Blue. It turned out to be a sparkly, slightly darker version of the blue in my fabric. All right then, a combination of white and blue beads to pick up on the fluffy-clouds-against-a-summer-sky background.

There was one more thing. It was all very colourful, but I felt it needed at least one part that was a bit less exuberant. What about the central bit of the design? Why not turn that into the tack or screw that attaches the toy windmill to its stick? If I used white for the outline and black or dark brown for the inner bit, that would give the design a clearer centre, somewhere for the eye to focus. I redrew the chart, hopefully for the last time.

Final version of Windmills

And now I’m ready to stitch!

Materials for Windmills

More fun with foam

Today I finished Snippets, the last of the three sets of smalls and minis that make up the Stitcher’s Set of 10 decorative little projects. And to pre-empt the usual question from non-stitchers, “what are you going to do with them?”, here are three things that you could do with them, using foam items like the ones I got from Yellow Moon – a notebook, a keyring (unless you laminate it probably for symbolic use only, like ceremonially handing a teenager his own key to the house) and a name plate for a girl’s bedroom door. Another “foam finish”, a flower frame, can be seen in the Gallery.

Snippets 2 mounted on a foam notebook A foam keyring embellished with Snippets 3 A butterfly name plate decorated with beads and Snippets 2

A different cutting pattern

When you’ve done a bit of Hardanger you soon get used to the standard pattern of cutting – five stitches and four cuts to every Kloster block, and never, ever cut a fabric thread unless both tips of your scissors share a hole with a stitch. And when you’ve removed the cut fabric threads, it looks something like this:

Normal cutting pattern

Of course there are variations on this. Sometimes a design will use double-sided Kloster blocks, that is to say cut on both sides. It is sometimes used to create a heavier line than is possible with woven or wrapped bars, sometimes to delineate different parts in a design (like the dragonfly’s wings in Resurrection). Even so, the pattern of the holes is the same as usual.

Double-sided cutting pattern

Sometimes the cutting pattern, the distribution of the holes, is the standard one, but the Kloster blocks aren’t; they may be a different shape, with longer or shorter stitches, or they may be wider than usual (some of the Kloster blocks in Frills are 7 stitches wide instead of 5). Or they may not be blocks at all but a continuous line of satin stitch, so that you have to be very careful which fabric threads to cut and which to leave, as in this blossom motif from Blackthorn.

Continuous satin stitch, normal cutting pattern

But a year or so ago I came across a different cutting pattern; it took me a while to realise why it looked odd, and then I twigged – the holes were in a different and rather unexpected place! It made for a very attractive pattern, though, and when I saw it again in a Hardanger Atelier leaflet I felt it would be a waste to learn about something new and nice and then not use it! Badges, a set of tiny projects designed for ornaments or quick invitations or place cards, seemed just the right opportunity. So here is the alternative cutting pattern, once with one hole, once with four; they’ll be finished with a variety of bars, fillings and extra surface stitches once my right middle finger recovers from a slight mishap while chopping chorizo last night …

An alternative cutting pattern - 1 hole

An alternative cutting pattern - 4 holes