I have been known to say that embroidery is one of the most affordable hobbies known to woman. At the most basic level of supplies, all you need is an old pillowcase, some thread and a needle and you’re good to go. But, as we all know, you can spend a lot more…
When I wrote about signing up for parts of the Royal School of Needlework’s Certificate course, did I by any chance mention that they use slate frames? Now if you’ve never seen one you may wonder why that was even a consideration when coming to a decision about whether or not to sign up. Well, for one thing (as you may have gathered from the first paragraph), there is the price. Even the smallest frame costs more than a third as much again as my Millennium frame – quite an expense for something you may not use again when the course has finished. But although I didn’t actually ask, I sensed that the slate frame is non-negotiable. And I suppose that seen as a proportion of the cost of the whole Certificate (or even half a certificate) it’s not too frightening. So that cleared the price hurdle.
Then there is the size. I know I said “smallest frame” just now, but in spite of the innocuous-looking picture in the RSN’s web shop, all the slate frames I had ever seen (in pictures, documentaries etc.) were huge. I do not do huge.
Fortunately I was informed by Hari, the RSN’s extremely helpful Education Manager, that there were two sizes of frame to choose from, and I could go for the small frame, which measures a mere 18″ square. Oh well, my Millennium frame is 20″ wide (although it is only about a foot high when extended) so I dare say I’ll be able to handle that. That cleared the size hurdle. But have you ever seen what goes into dressing a slate frame?
Dressing a slate frame is putting your embroidery fabric on it and getting it ready to start stitching. As some of it seems rather reminiscent of lacing somebody into a corset, “dressing” is quite a good term, although I suspect linguistically/etymologically it is more closely related to dressing a chicken or a cooked crab. But unlike this culinary dressing, a slate frame can take many hours to set up properly. Here is Mary Corbet’s very informative if slightly off-putting picture tutorial. Off-putting because to anyone whose preparation, like mine, is to whack a piece of fabric in a hoop, give it a few good tugs and tighten the hoop’s screw, it looks like far too much of an undertaking, however good the result.
Sarah Homfray uses a scroll frame, not a slate frame, in her video demonstration, but the procedure is apparently identical apart from the fact that a slate frame is tightened vertically with pins in holes instead of wing nuts on roller bars. Her frame is smaller than Mary’s, and the video takes only 15 minutes, but that does include some time leaps following instructions like “now pin the other side in the same way”. This means that even for a small slate frame, setting-up time is going to be substantially longer than anything I’ve done before. On the other hand, I’m likely to be working on each project for quite some time, and once it’s set up that’s it, apart from occasional tightening of the side strings. Another hurdle that is not insurmountable.
In fact I’m clearing hurdles like an Olympic athlete! But never mind hurdles, what about trestles?
“Where do trestles come in?” I hear you ask. Well, they are what the slate frame rests on. Yes, I have a Lowery floor stand and an Aristo lap stand but I don’t think either of those is really going to cut the mustard with a frame of this size and weight. The RSN sells custom-made beechwood ones which are beautiful, but at £550 a pair they really make sense only if embroidery is going to be your full-time career and you’ll be using them all the time. Jo, my Certificate-encourager, sent me a link to instructions for a DIY version, but as unlike her I do not happen to have a clever wood-working father I don’t think that’s going to happen. And then there is Ikea.
Ikea? Yes, Ikea, as suggested by Hari in our extensive correspondence. Some of their trestles are even height-adjustable!
These were very tempting – a tenth of the price, sturdy-looking and adjustable. Looking at the measurements, my husband and I could detect just one possible problem: as I said I’m going for the smallest available slate frame, which is 18″ wide. The base of the Ikea trestles is also about 18″ wide, which means that in order for the supporting tops to be no more than 18″ apart, the bases will have to meet; and that in turn means I won’t be able to get my legs between the trestles. There is obviously a good reason why both the RSN trestles and the DIY ones have straight legs!
There is, however, another option to explore before either emptying the bank account or finding a good handyman.
I can take up my husband’s suggestion and appropriate two of the trestles we use for our annual car trade show.
They are a little bit rough and ready, but as you can see in the pictures the width of their base is adjustable, so there is enough of a gap for me to wiggle my legs through and sit stitching quite confortably. Surprisingly comfortably, in fact – I hadn’t expected to like the flat position of the frame, as I like mine tilted towards me, but this didn’t feel bad at all. Obviously this was just a 30-second trial, and we’ll have to see how I like it after a few hours of serious stitching, but this may well be our budget-saving solution to the trestle problem. Clever husband!
Incidentally, Rugby RSN had some earlier places available, so my slate frame adventure will start rather sooner than expected – this coming Saturday, in fact! If my first taste of the Certificate course is as good as previous Certificaters generally report, expect an exuberant post and lots of pictures. If, on the other hand, I come back as a tearful wreck, deciding that this is far too much of a challenge for me – erm, would anyone be interested in a second-hand slate frame…?