Special birthday offer

Tomorrow is April Fools’ Day, which also happens to be Mabel’s birthday (I’m sure this is not at all significant…) – her 50th, in this case. And Mabel’s Fancies has an anniversary coming up: on Easter Monday it’s nine years ago that she first opened her virtual doors. (I tend to remember it by the occasion rather than the actual date; Easter is a time of new beginnings, and Mabel’s Fancies was definitely a new beginning for me!)

What better way to celebrate birthdays and anniversary than by stitching something? So with any order placed between 1st and 13th April, we’ll throw in 1-2-3, our Hardanger set of numbers.

90 18

But what, you might say, if you don’t do Hardanger? Or if you do, but you’ve already got this design in your stash? Well, if you’re not a Hardanger stitcher, and have no desire to try it (this could be a great opportunity, you know smiley), you can contact us to request Spring Flowers (anniversary version) instead; and if we see from our records that you have already bought 1-2-3, we’ll send you A-B-C (our Hardanger alphabet) instead.

Enjoy your birthday or anniversary stitching!

A manageable frame

If you’ve been following my RSN Certificate progress you may have picked up a hint or two (or three, or four…) that I do not like working with the slate frame. Well, that’s not absolutely true, I do greatly appreciate the excellent tension you get on a slate frame, and I rather enjoy doing embroidery in a way that connects me with stitchers from many centuries ago; what I do not like was its size, which means you have to use it with trestles, which in turn means that even with considerable added tilt, the work is still at a near-horizontal angle.

A near-horizontal slate frame

This seems to work for some, maybe even most people (although I have heard from at least one RSN graduate that she hardly ever uses a slate frame anymore because it “did her back in”) but I am hampered by my eyesight. Not only am I very short-sighted, I have protein deposits in one eye which cause blurring. Together they make it impossible for me to see the whole slate frame in focus when it is positioned on the trestles. I could reasonably comfortable work on the bottom third of the design, and also on the top third by the simple expedient of turning the frame round. It was when working on a particularly challenging part right in the middle of the design that I found the only way I could see well enough to do the stitching with the required level of accuracy was to stand up and bend over the frame. Doing my back in? I’ll say!

Back-breaking work at the slate frame Back-breaking work at the slate frame

It was very clear to me that I needed a smaller slate frame. The RSN don’t do anything smaller than my present 18″ one, but several other people do, among them Jenny Adin-Christie, a former tutor and studio embroiderer at the RSN and therefore well-acquainted with what is required of a slate frame. It just remained to convince the RSN that I could, in fact, do the next three modules on a 12″ slate frame as the size requirements were so much smaller than for the Jacobean module (A5 max instead of A4). Initially they were not happy with the idea; it took a fair few emails (including mentioning that I would not be able to continue with the Certificate in the present set-up) and a promise that I would discuss it with my tutors, but in the end they did agree and the very next day I ordered my smaller frame.

A smaller slate frame

It’s difficult to tell the size when seeing it in isolation, so here it is (with pinned lengths of herringbone band to help it keep its shape) on top of the old one – once on top of the covers and once showing my Jacobean piece, which actually very nearly fits!

The new slate frame on top of the old The smaller frame would almost accommodate the Tree!

The main thing about getting this smaller slate frame was that I could dispense with the trestle set-up. But it’s obviously too big to hold – it needs a stand of some sort. On her site, Jenny Adin-Christie says this size can be used with a Lowery, although it will need support on the unclamped side. Well, that’s not going to be a problem – remember this?

A Meccano solution (with cat) The Meccano prop in place

But the Lowery is not ideal from a portability perspective. To use this frame at my classes it would be really helpful if it worked with the Aristo lap stand, the arms of which in their natural state are not quite long enough to support the slate frame at full stretch.

The arms of the Aristo lap stand are not quite long enough

Once again, Meccano and Mr Mabel’s engineering expertise to the rescue! (He has modestly requested I show only his hands, not his face.)

Picking useful bits of Meccano Putting things together

And here it is, ready for use when I start my Canvaswork module (whenever that may be…)

The finished extension in place The finished extension in use

PS By the way, the conversations with my tutors about the slate frame were interesting. One said that it was unusual but she had no doubt I’d manage as long as I could find a stand to use it with in class (sorted, see above); with the other, the conversation went as follows: “I’ve been allowed to work on a smaller frame.” “Yeah, that’s fine.” “No, but a much smaller frame.” “Yes, OK.” “I mean, 12-inch small”. “Yes, fine.” Well, that was obviously a big problem smiley.

Some small projects

It has been a shamefully long time since I’ve written anything here – this was partly because of trying to get things done (particularly all the SAL blog posts) before going away for a weekend (in Wales) and a week (in the Netherlands), and partly because even since those trips were cancelled due to Coronavirus I’ve been working on other websites that I look after (such as our Church’s) to keep them up to date with the latest advice. I also seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time foraging; all of a sudden I feel great sympathy for our grandmothers’ generation who had to spend a considerable part of their day shopping for food.

Meanwhile, the Figworthy household is keeping well, and in line with government advice both the main family business and Mabel’s Fancies remain open as they are online only. So work as usual, and stitching mostly in the evenings as usual, but although in some ways things haven’t changed too dramatically for us, I do find it difficult to concentrate on anything large and/or complicated. It was time for a few more small projects. And the perfect occasions were two birthdays: my aunt, whose 80th birthday I was meant to be celebrating with her in the Netherlands, and my sister-in-law.

For my aunt I turned to a set of number outlines I keep by for this sort of card, Anchor’s perle-with-metallic, some Petite Treasure Braid and petite seed beeds for added bling, and a spare piece of material left over from some old cushions.

Setting up aunt Juliette's 80

It stitched up quite quickly but still looks suitably festive – not quite the same thing as celebrating her birthday with her (we were going to have a combined party for her 80th and my 50th) but I hope it will make her smile.

Aunt Juliette's 80 mounted in a card

For the other birthday card, which had to be stitched in a single evening because I started rather late, I chose a Sarah Homfray freebie – a small butterfly. I changed the shape of the lower wings a little, and got out my box of coton à broder #16; a slightly chunkier thread so that even with mostly outline stitches it wouldn’t look too empty.

Preparing Sarah Homfray's butterfly

The bullion knots were a last-minute addition because the wings looked a bit bare without them. I did think of adding some detached buttonhole frills here and there, but as it was past 11pm by then I decided against it; they would have made an interesting addition but they weren’t absolutely necessary to make the butterfly look pretty. And in fact it was rather nice to know that a very decorative butterfly could be produced in a little under two and a half hours!

The finished butterfly

The next morning, Saturday, I had to make up the card in time to catch the 11am post – and preferably in time for me to still be able to go for my usual Saturday walk with a group of friends (observing proper social distancing). In my stash of cards I found a wine-red one with an oval aperture which would have been ideal if it hadn’t been just too small – I should have measured it first and adjusted the design size to it! Fortunately a dark blue card with a circular aperture made quite a good alternative.

Making up the card

Finally, before sending it off, it had to be inspected by the Quality Control Feline. She approved.

The card is inspected by Lexi

So what next? Well, there are a few things still to do on the SAL, and of course there is the Certificate Tree of Life – although what with classes having been suspended because of Covid-19 who knows when I’ll be able to hand it in for assessment. Not to mention that mounting it the proper way is not something to be undertaken lightly, as I have been told by other students, and really should be done with a tutor present. So for now my plan is to finish the stitching by 22nd April as I originally intended, and then to decide how to proceed. I may just take it off the frame and store it flat until I can go to a class to mount it, and in the meantime prepare as much as possible for my Canvaswork module. We’ll see.

I’d also like to get back to Hengest the Medieval Unicorn, who has lain neglected for far too long, and to start on Soli Deo Gloria – a good reminder in these uncertain times. But I will also start a few projects that are not my design, and which I can just have fun with. A smaller version of Percy the Parrot worked in coton à broder #25, a Sarah Homfray freebie flower (not sure yet what stitches I’ll use for that, but I’m thinking of using Palestrina stitch as a filling for the stem, with the knots offset in consecutive lines) and some designs from one of the small Anchor embroidery books, including a teddy bear for our grandson Teddy, and some aeroplanes for his room to tell him about his late great-grandfather who flew planes in the war. That should keep me busy for a bit!

Possible future projects

Proud Percy

Percy the parrot turned out to be the perfect travelling project, as well as the perfect relaxing project – no planning, no thinking, no note-taking, just stitching. Bliss.

He came out looking rather different from his inspiration, although in one respect he resembles the original more than I thought he would. You may remember I described the Anchor version as being worked in “colours (purples and blues and pinks on a blue background) that were not what I would have chosen” and yet here he is with blue and purple plumage and accompanied by a pink flower!

The original parrot in the Anchor book Percy the Parrot, finished

Some people have asked about the stitches I used, and also whether they can use them in projects of their own. The answer to the latter part of the question is that it’s not up to me to say yes or no to that! Embroidery stitches belong to no-one, so you can use any and every stitch you like. As for the former part, the picture below shows what I used where; the order in which I worked the various bits, as far as I can remember, was branch/feet & beak/leaves & flower/tail/chest/wing/crest/head/eye.

Stitches used for Percy

I pretty much used whatever stitch happened to pop into my mind when looking at the design; I decided on whipping the tail feathers each in a blue that was one shade lighter than the chain stitch, partly to create texture but mostly to make sure they weren’t just three separate feathers – the colours link them together. For his chest feathers I was originally going to use Mountmellick stitch, but I felt that was more spiky than feathery, and so I went for the more frilly look of detached buttonhole stitch.

Incidentally, for something that was meant to be relaxing and non-challenging I did occasionally make things unnecessarily complicated; at one point I was trying to get the shading I wanted in the branch by having three threads on the go at once, threading and re-threading because I’d only brought one needle. Sigh. Note to self: try and keep travel projects straightforward.

Juggling three shades of brown and one needle

And after all that, am I pleased with him? On the whole, yes. There are a few things which I would probably do differently if I stitched him again (not an unlikely event – I’ve already printed out my pared-down version of the design in several sizes, the smallest to be used for cards) but I like his look, and I am partcularly pleased with his eye. It’s got character, that eye smiley.

Percy printed out in several sizes Percy the Parrot, a close-up

So what would I have changed? And am I being too fussy and self-critical, as so many stitchers are? To answer that last question first, I tend to look at anything I stitch with a critical eye, but with different aims in mind. I look at the RSN Certificate piece to find anything that isn’t as near-perfect as I can make it, and improve it if I feel that I can. I look at something like Percy with a critical eye in order to store up ideas for future projects. I’m definitely not unpicking and re-doing him – he is fine as he is!

But for future reference, I would divide the second-lightest bit of the wing into two parts like the part underneath it (in the middle shade of blue) – I think that would look more balanced. I would not use the rather bright shade of orange that is on the outside of the flower centre (the colour is shown more accurately in the close-up). And I would probably keep only his chest in purple, and use blues for his crest – although I must admit the purple crest is growing on me.

Things I would do differently Rather too orange

One thing which niggles me but which I won’t change because I think the alternative would look less effective is the placing of his tail in front of the branch he is sitting on. In the original, the branch is (correctly, from a perspective point of view) stitched over the tail feathers. But in the original the branch is a single line of chain stitch, whereas mine is a rather more elaborate affair. I feel it would break up the flow of the tail feathers too much (quite apart from making those feathers more awkward to stitch). And let’s face it, he’s not exactly a naturalistic parrot anyway! So in future versions as here I will allow Percy to show off his tail in all its glory.