A pre-sampler sampler

OK, I’m a wimp. My shisha piece is meant to be a proper sampler, which strictly speaking should include false starts and unsuccessful experiments. But I would also like it to look nice smiley. So out comes the shisha daisy, and because it is so densely stitched it will leave an awful lot of little holes in the fabric. Fine if I were certain which stitch I was going to use in its stead, but I’m not – I’m havering between re-doing the daisy version in perle #5, and using the Cretan version. Better try them both out first before putting whichever one I decide to go for on the sampler. And so was born the pre-sampler sampler! From the sewing basket I got some green fabric left over from a cushion project, and some non-descript cream fabric left over from who knows what, and mounted them in a hoop together. Add two shades of Anchor Multicolor perle #5 and two 24mm sequins (one silver, one blue) and you’ve got a mini project.

The pre-sampler set up

In her shisha instructions, Mary Corbet uses perle #5 both for the foundation and for the surface stitches, but I decided to use a matching perle #8. It would have made sense to try out both thicknesses for the foundation, seeing that I was about to try out two shisha variations, but I thought of that too late; I’ll probably try the #5 foundation on the proper sampler. So here are the two sequins secured with a perle #8 grid. You can make the grid more secure by weaving the threads over and under, or looping them round each other, but here I just worked them in straight stitches without any complications.

The sequins have been secured

By the way, my apologies for the atrocious colours in most of today’s photographs; I wanted to take progress pictures but was hampered by the fact that it was evening and the work is lit only by a standard lamp. This meant the camera insisted on flashing (as in the picture above) unless I specifically told it not to (as in the following pictures). Disabling the flash, however, not only made it necessary to keep the camera steady for a long time, the low light also seems to play havoc with colour accuracy. Even so, I hope the pictures will give you some idea of the how the stitches work.

For those of you who looked up the stitches that I’m trying out here on Mary Corbet’s blog, you will notice that I’m doing one or two things a little differently. (Isn’t it wonderful how needlework can be adapted to any stitcher’s requirements, skills and preferences?) Firstly, she uses ¾” card circles in her demonstrations, which equates to about 18mm, whereas my sequins are almost 1″ in diameter. This has an effect on the number of stitches worked around the sequins. Secondly, on the fly stitch variation (the one that looks like a daisy) she draws a full circle around the sequin for stitch placement; I’ve chosen to use dots, so that the line doesn’t show up among the petals, and also to help me place the stitches at regular intervals.

The dots were placed as regularly as I could make them by eye – that is to say, I didn’t get out the compasses and ruler, but used a sort of “points of the compass” division method: first mark dots to the North, East, South and West of the sequin, then equally divide the quarters and place dots NE, SE, SW and NW, then divide again and place dots NNE, ENE, ESE, SSE etc. For deciding how far from the sequin to place them I used a pinkie’s width to begin with, then judged it by eye (not completely accurately in some cases). This gave me 16 dots, which I thought might be enough for the Cretan version (which is very widely spaced and open in Mary Corbet’s version), while for the daisy I could use 16 more virtual dots by going between the marked ones. Both stitches start in the same way, by coming up on the outside of the sequin and looping the thread around the foundation stitches. Here is the start of the daisy/fly stitch version, with the petals anchored on and between the dots.

The start of the fly stitch shisha variation

The next picture shows where a new stitch starts, and also illustrates quite nicely how to start a new thread if you run out before you’ve completed the circle. When you come to the end of your thread, complete a petal by anchoring it. The needle is now at the back of the fabric with nothing to do but start a new stitch, so fasten off and start the new stitch with the new thread (where I’ve just brought the needle up in the picture).

Starting a new thread

Changing threads isn’t nearly so easy in the Cretan shisha variation, because there you keep having to catch the loop of the working thread, so when the needle is at the back of the work the stitch hasn’t actually been finished yet. More of that a bit later; first let me point out another difference with Mary Corbet’s version. When I first learnt shisha stitch, from a book of stitches, I learnt to work it clockwise. Both Mary Corbet and RSN tutor Sarah Homfray work theirs anti-clockwise. Both methods work just fine, they are simply mirror images of each other, but I thought I might as well go with them and go anti-clockwise, especially since the variations they show and/or teach go anti-clockwise too. Except, for reasons I can’t quite work out, for Mary’s Cretan variation, which goes clockwise. Being now firmly in anti-clockwise mode I decided to mirror it, which is what I’m doing here, and why it looks different from the tutorial on her blog.

Working the Cretan shisha variation

As you can see I use the virtual in-between dots for this variation as well; I really like the open look of Mary’s version but didn’t have the courage of my convictions – if I’m brave enough I’ll try the less dense way of stitching it on the real sampler. Even my denser version of the Cretan shisha stitch uses less thread than the fly-stitch variation, so the lighter version would probably only take one length of perle. Here, however, I did need to change threads, and because of the point made above this needed some preparatory thinking. In the end I decided it would have to be done in two stages. First, take the needle down and leave a loop at the front, as usual.

Leaving a loop before changing threads

Next, fasten on the new thread by means of a waste knot and a few tiny stitches near the sequin, then bring it up in the right place to catch the loop (making sure that you don’t get entangled with the end of the old thread at the back of the work). Pull through and work the next loop around the foundation threads. Before taking the needle down the next dot on your guide circle, fasten off the old thread, then continue to work with the new thread. Simples!

Catching the loop of the old thread with the new thread

So here are the two shisha variations side by side, both with 32 petals. I was surprised how easy both stitches were once I got into the rhythm of them, and both are very decorative, though I have a distinct preference for the Cretan one. That variation also uses less thread – a look at the back of the work explains why.

The two variations, finished A look at the back

And finally, two close-ups. These show quite clearly that the foundation threads are visible between the surface stitches in places, but I’m not too bothered about that, bearing in mind that the original Indian pieces Sarah showed us last week didn’t always have complete coverage either. All in all I’m pleased with my pre-sampler sampler – a successful experiment; and now it’s back to the real sampler to try the ligher version of the Cretan stitch.

Fly stitch shisha variation Cretan stitch shisha variation

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