A willowy tale

Have you ever taken a close look at cotton shopping bags? I must say I haven’t much – there’s a Christmas At Kew Gardens one my mother-in-law gave me which is very pretty, and I do like the ones I make myself by attaching bits of Hardanger to plain bags smiley, but otherwise they don’t generally attract my attention.

Christmas At Kew shopping bag Mabel's Stitching Bug shopping bag

Except once. It was last December on a train in The Netherlands, where I was visiting family. I’d been to see a friend in The Hague and was on my way back to my aunt, when I noticed a young woman sitting across the gangway with a cotton shopping bag hanging from her shoulder and lying, slightly crumpled, in her lap. There was a logo on it of a roughly drawn willow tree above a sun, all surrounded by an irregular rounded rectangle and looking a bit like an Egyptian cartouche.

I really liked the shape of the tree, which was rather bent; as it was a line drawing without a lot of detail I thought I’d be able to capture it relatively easily, so I made some surreptitious sketches in a small notebook. Then, as she got up to get off the train, I noticed a name on the bag: Paco Ciao. I didn’t have a computer with me and I haven’t got a smart phone, so I had to wait until I was back in England to look up that name. It turned out to be a pop-up café in Leiden.

It wasn’t difficult to find their website; I wrote to them to ask permission, and unlike another shop I contacted recently (watch this space), the person replying on behalf of the company that had designed the café’s logo was extremely relaxed about the whole thing – slightly amused, even. He said that as long as the design was not identical to the logo, it was fine for me to do whatever I wanted with it. This made me think he was not an embroiderer or particularly familiar with embroidery, because unless I did the whole thing in black outlines it would automatically look quite different from their drawing!

Pretty much from the start I knew I wanted to do the tree only, not the border and the sun; and that I would like the water to be fairly prominent. I decided on not-too-bright colours, three shades each of blue, green and brown.

The start of Ciao Willow - choosing colours

Then came choosing stitches. Stem stitch for the trunk and long and short shading for the grass were quickly decided on. The hanging branches I wanted to do in double seed stitch, so I started (at the bottom left) with a single thread, and two little stitches for each leaf. But to get the effect I wanted, I found I was working the two halves of the double seed stitch in the same holes, so that I really might as well use two strands and get on a whole lot quicker!

Working out how to stitch the hanging branches

But in that case, hmm, I could use blending so instead of three shades of green I had five to play with. I did the first branch in light/light-medium/medium and then realised that if I had thought it out beforehand I would have stitched the lower branches darker and the upper branches lighter. But actually it worked out well to have the darker branch in the middle! Just as well, as I wasn’t going to unpick a whole branch worth of tiny straight stitches…

Colour distribution within the hanging branches

I was particularly pleased with how the water turned out. I felt a little bit nervous about using chain stitch because I thought it might be too chunky compared to the rest, but it worked. The three shades worked in randomly wavy lines gave a nice impression of flowing water.

Water flows at the foot of the tree

So the project was finished; but I wasn’t completely happy with the bottom right-hand branch – it had too much light brown in it. So a day or two later I put the fabric back in the hoop, added a few little medium brown lines, and liked the result much better!

The original branch A few extra stitches

As you know I am not much of a finisher, so the completed embroidery was just going to be stored in my folder of stitched models. But it seemed a shame not to have this little tree on show, so I decided to mount it in a woodgrain flexi-hoop with a card backing, as I had done with Sarah Homfray’s crewel bird. First up: choose a hoop size. 5″ to give the tree a bit of breathing space, or 4″ for a cosier, more bijoux finish? I decided on the latter.

Materials for finishing the tree

I didn’t take pictures of the back of this particular finish, but the idea is that rather than gathering the surplus fabric and backing it with felt, painstakingly attached with tiny stitches (like the one below left), you tuck in the trimmed fabric and hold it in place with a disc of stiff card (middle and right).

A felt-backed finish A card-backed finish - materials A card-backed finish

And that is how Ciao Willow was finished, so it can now sit in my craft room for me to look at and enjoy!

Ciao Willow finished in its hoop

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