A kit(ty) production line

For some time now I’d been running low on kits and making them up as people ordered them, which is really not a good idea. So now that I no longer have the Certificate deadline looming over me (although there are still a few things to finish on the SAL) it was time to get a bit of a production line going once again.

If possible I like to do some of the sorting and assembling in the garden, and as the weather looked set to change after the weekend I had a good incentive to get them done quickly. On Friday all the instructions were printed, and Saturday’s task was folding them, sticking the covers on and inserting them into plastic grip seal bags – just the thing you can do outside!

The lawn was dotted with violets (soon to be decapitated by Mr Figworthy with the lawnmower), an orange tip butterfly landed on the purple lilac bush (fellow to the white lilac bush blooming its head off in the picture), a robin vociferously defended his territory on the fence behind the variegated holly, and Lexi decided that snuggled half underneath my lap tray was just the place for a cat to be.

Putting the paper part of the kits together A feline helper

Unfortunately cutting fabric would be difficult in the garden, so it was back indoors for the next part, taking over the kitchen table to produce a pile of squares of various sizes in blue cotton, Hardanger fabric, muslin backing and wadding. And as it’s impossible to store fabric in such a way that it stays perfectly flat and uncreased, the Hardanger and cotton then had to be ironed. Well, I suppose they don’t have to be, but when you buy a kit the last thing you want to have to do is iron your fabric – you want to start stitching, right? So I do the ironing for you – and as I had the iron out I thought I might as well get the “household ironing” out of the way too!

Cutting squares of fabric And then there's the ironing

On Sunday, after our online church service and the after-service Zoom fellowship chat, I got to the colourful part of the kit production process: threads, cards, beads and various kinds of bling had to be sorted and where necessary put into little bags.

Colourful kit components

First up were the Hardanger needle books. Two needles per piece of felt, match it up with a suitable piece of pre-scored patterned card, fabric, two weights of perle cotton and of course the printed instructions and hey presto, we have a kit.

Materials for a needle book Putting the needle book kits together

Next up was the Little Wildflower Garden. This is generally quite a quick one to put together, provided I have the threads pre-cut and sorted. Which I did, for two of the kits… so first I had to prep some more stranded cotton. Now I’ve devised a cunning method for this which is nice and fast, when it works. That is to say, when all twelve skeins of cotton pull without tangling and I can cut twelve colours into 65cm lengths in one go. Anyone who has worked with stranded cotton more than a few times will now emit a peal of hollow laughter and say “good luck with that!” and it’s true that by the time I’m three-quarters through the skeins there tends to be some unknotting going on as well as straightforward pulling and cutting, but on the whole it’s still a lot quicker than measuring and cutting all twelve colours separately.

Preparing the threads The components of the kit ready for assembling

And finally the two types of Shisha card, Flower and Tile. These were by far the fiddliest to put together with their mirrors, beads, sequins and bits of sewing thread as well as the embroidery threads. It’s fun to choose nice colour combinations though!

Shisha kits in bits

As well as putting together kits that have long been in our range, I also had a go at a design that until now has only been available as a workshop. Yes, it is The Mug That Cheers! Whether your tipple of choice is tea, coffee or hot chocolate, this is the perfect mug of comfort in these challenging times. I first meant to put it on the website as a chart pack only, but I couldn’t resist putting together a few boxed kits as well – don’t they look cheerful?

The Mug That Cheers comes as a chart pack... ...and as a kit... ...in different colours

Incidentally, it is not unusual when providing kits to try and buy a couple of years’ worth of supplies at a time. This has the obvious advantage of not having to go through the whole ordering process very often, but when the last time you ordered stuff was spring 2018, reordering two years later throws up a variety of problems. Shops you used to order from have closed (Sew & So), kit components you used to buy have been discontinued (Craft Creations’ coloured aperture cards), and supplies that are still available have gone up in price alarmingly (Hardanger fabric). That last problem, together with Royal Mail’s annual increase in postal rates, has unfortunately made it necessary to adjust the prices of Mabel’s range of kits. Please rest assured that I will continue to do my best to keep them as affordable as possible, keeping the threshold low for anyone who would like to have a go at a new technique, or while away a few enjoyable evenings stitching up a present or a card for a special occasion.

A significant finish – or is it?

If you follow Mabel on Facebook you will have noticed (it would have been hard to miss…) that I have finished the stitching on my crewel piece for the RSN Certificate Jacobean module. And by the original deadline, too – a very significant finish, you’ll agree.

The finished tree

So why the doubt in the title? Because although the stitching is finished, the piece is not yet ready for assessment; for that it needs to be mounted, and the requirements are very specific and very demanding. The RSN offers one-on-one online tutorials for Certificate & Diploma students during the lockdown but even one-on-one I am not going to attempt mounting for the very first time unless I have the tutor right there with me in the room. You can lose plenty of points on your mounting!

So for now my Tree of Life is in limbo, which in practice means the large quilted bag I use to transport the work to classes, where it will sit, still stretched on its slate frame, until the next proper class.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate! I didn’t quite break open the prosecco, but I have been eyeing a few silk shading kits (purely to get some practice for future modules, of course) which would make a suitable reward. And part of the celebration is to show you the final stages of the stitching – embroidery is so much more enjoyable when we can share it with like-minded people.

All that was left, you may remember, was the cat. How much work can that possibly be? As it turned out, quite a lot! I started with what I will call the background legs, that is to say the ones furthest towards the back. Originally I thought satin stitch would be best for that, to contrast with the long & short stitch in the rest of the cat, but a trial run on the doodle cat showed that to be almost impossible to keep neat, so they were done in long & short as well.

A satin-stitched leg Background legs finished

At this point the background legs looked alarmingly prominent, but I hoped that would change when the foreground legs went in.

That would come later, though – first the tummy: lines of split stitch in the lightest brown. I’d have liked it to be lighter still, and with hindsight I should probably have gone one lighter for my fifth shade of brown as there isn’t that much difference between “lightest” and “light” (noticeable in the tree trunk), but the tutors were concerned that it might blend in with the background too much. Heigh-ho, I wasn’t going to start all over again at this point smiley so wool-Lexi’s tummy is beige.

Tummy finished

On to the outline, worked in the usual single-thread split stitch for most of the cat, but using a double thread where the foreground legs touch the background legs, plus what I tend to think of as the cat’s hip but which anatomically may well be her knee.

An outlined cat

Next were the foreground legs, and the tricky bit was going to be blending the back leg into the rest of the body towards where her backside sticks up. I’d studied Lexi’s stripe pattern which turned out to be surprisingly different from what I’d always thought.

A sketch of Lexi's stripe pattern

I decided that wasn’t going to be easy to replicate in long & short stitch, and as Jacobean Lexi isn’t meant to be particularly naturalistic I decided I’d make up my own pattern to suit the stitching.

The foreground legs

The one thing I was certain of was that I would use the hip/knee outline to create a clear dividing line by stitching closely over the split stitch. But that would have to wait until I’d stitched the body right up to that line, so it was time to start on the head. I’d studied the direction of Lexi’s fur quite closely for my doodle cat so I could work without the model this time. The model turned up anyway, but because she is a cat she chose to pose the wrong way round.

Starting on the head The model, facing the wrong way

After the head came stripes and more stripes, until I reached the hip/knee line. Then it was time to take up the back leg again and join the bits, moving on to the tail. There I diverged from reality even more by giving wool-Lexi a light tip of the tail. I haven’t dared show this to real Lexi yet…

Stripes on the body The tail gets a light tip

I am quite pleased with how she’s turned out: the line between her stripes and the beige tummy isn’t too stark, and the raised line of her hip/knee stands out quite well. Her outlines are nice and smooth, which wasn’t easy to get right with all those curves. There is (did you notice?) a little fluff on her bottom (the brown shades of Appletons seemed to produce more of it than the other colours), but I got rid of that later.

Was that it then? No, there was one last element to do: the wool wrapped around her body, one couched thread of turquoise linking the cat to the ball of wool. The first challenge was to find a nice, even length of wool which was roughly the same thickness all along. Even with the best of the bunch it took a few goes but at last all the paint lines were covered and there was a pleasing sweep of the thread towards the ball. By the way, the middle picture shows how I angled the needle to make it look as though the thread appears from behind the cat.

Choosing an even thread Angling the needle The finished couching

And that was it! As I photographed the tree at various angles and in different light conditions, I also took a few close-ups which I’d like to share with you; they are parts that you’ve seen before, but even so I thought it might be nice to show them again now that you’ve seen them in the completed design.

The flower on the left The leaf on the right The big tulip James the snail

And to end the story, here’s the finished tree once more. The next time you see it it will be mounted and off to its assessment!

The finished tree

Enjoying new stitching goodies

I’ve had an embarrassing number of lovely parcels arrive on my doorstep in the course of March and April – another book from the same series as the Lizzy Pye goldwork one, Crewelwork Embroidery by Becky Quine; floche from Needle in a Haystack in the US (a special treat as you can’t easily get it here in the UK, but unfortunately paid for just when the pound was at its weakest); coton à broder from Spinning Jenny; doodle canvas and some Splendor silks from West End Embroidery (who got it to me the very next day, with second class postage!); Heathway Milano crewel wool from Catkin Crown Textile Studio, whose dangerous website went live two weeks ago today; a lovely goldwork monogram kit (now discontinued, I bagged one of the last two) by Lizzy Pye of Laurelin; and (courtesy of my mother-in-law’s birthday present) two crewel kits from Melbury Hill. Now these are things to keep your spirits up!

A crewelwork book and stocking up on floche Coton a broder in two sizes Canvas and Splendor silk
Stocking up on Heathway Milano crewel wool A goldwork monogram from Laurelin Embroidery Two Melbury Hill kits

I spent some happy hours bobbinating my new threads and rearranging some of my storage boxes to take the new acquisistions – aren’t they like beautiful jewel caskets?

Floche thread box and stock A box of coton a broder A box of Splendor silks

As for the kits, taking a peek inside the plain, unmarked box from Laurelin Embroidery was a treat in itself. A beautifully presented instruction booklet, full skeins of DMC and bobbins of sewing thread as well as plenty of goldwork materials, and the fabric with its calico backing neatly wrapped in tissue paper. As for the colours, Lizzy had very kindly substituted a turquoise for the usual green to match the colours of the Mabel’s Fancies logo; and would you believe it, in my stash I happened to have a wire check in a light turquoise that goes with it perfectly! I’ll enjoy working out where to incorporate it into that gloriously blingy and colourful M.

The instruction booklet and the transfer pattern Threads and goldwork materials Wire check in two colours to go with the DMC threads

The Melbury Hill kits, though understandably a bit short on the sparkly wow-factor by comparison and with a little less in the way of instructions, are nevertheless very enjoyable to open and explore. The first is Strawberry Fair – the picture on their website shows it with the strawberry sticking up, but I think it looks more natural (in as far as Jacobean-style crewelwork ever does) with the fruit hanging down. By the way, I love the way they use the Bayeux couching stitches to represent the strawberry pips – I wish I’d thought of that!

Melbury Hill's Strawberry Fair kit

The second kit is the Heritage Cat & Tulip Tile. Now I would not normally have bought this – for one thing it includes a hoop I don’t need, but more importantly it uses a single stitch throughout in a monochrome design and is therefore unlikely to “stretch” me. However, a few things made me reconsider. To start with the most altruistic of my reasons, in this time of lockdown I try to support independent businesses and designers. The second reason is that with the present situation being so unpredictable, unsettling and worrying I really like the thought of a relaxing project; sometimes you don’t need stretching, you need soothing! Thirdly, my mother-in-law had given me a birthday present and it felt right to spend this on something that was not necessarily useful to Mabel’s Fancies but just fun. And finally, I am a Dutch ex-pat who loves cats. How could I not buy a blue & white tile with a cat and a tulip on it? The perfect project for Koningsdag (the Dutch King’s birthday, on 27th April)!

Melbury Hill's Heritage Tile kit

And I haven’t finished last year’s Queen’s Silks yet, or even started on 30s Revisited

The RSN metalwork course project Helen Stevens' 30s Revisited kit

Playing with stitches

After overcoming a certain amount of mental resistance, last weekend I finally put the first stitches into the very last part of my Jacobean Certificate piece: Lexi. I don’t know why I was so reluctant to start on her – perhaps because she is a fairly complex piece of stitching in that she is much less formal (and therefore less predictable and rule-based) than the rest of the design. Whatever the reason, I’d been putting it off but with my (admittedly self-imposed) deadline of 22nd April looming, I really needed to get on with it.

Well, she is far from being a complete cat yet, but the two furthest legs are done as is her tummy, and she has an outline – some of it in two strands, as advised by Helen McCook, to make the legs that are to the front of the image stand out more from the two dark legs in the background. With a bit of luck she will get her stripes (and I must not forget the light beige tip of the tail!) next weekend, after which all that remains is the wool wound around her.

An empty cat An partially filled cat

In between trying to get the Certificate finished I’ve been having fun with other people’s designs, like this Sarah Homfray freebie (do have a look at her kits and supplies as well – now is a good time to support our independent designers!)

Someone on the Mary Corbet Facebook group asked me about the stitches I’d used, so I made a diagram like I did for Percy the Parrot (remember him?). The thread I used is Threadworx overdyed Vineyard silk and it’s really a bit too heavy for this size project, which is partly why my original plan for the stem didn’t work. Vineyard silk is two-ply, and the individual plies look rather like a very nice flat silk, so I started by separating the plies and working Palestrina stitch on the left-hand side of the stem, meaning to fill the whole stem with Palestrina, off-setting the knots in consecutive rows. Unfortunately the untwisted plies were not very stable and they kept fraying and breaking, so I had to go back to using the full two-ply silk, which was too thick for my Palestrina plan. Never mind, stem stitch to the rescue!

A silk flower

The other stitches were not planned in any way, I partly followed Sarah’s crewel version (especially in determining open and solid areas) and partly did my own thing, and I used stem stitch far too much smiley – it’s such a versatile and easy stitch that in several places I decided I couldn’t be bothered trying something more decorative but also more complicated! In fact I’ve been playing with a fruit bowl design which I want to do in Bayeux stitch but which I think would also look quite good just outlined in stem stitch, perhaps as a Get Well card; what do you think?

A fruit bowl to play with

Happy Easter

This Easter I would like to share with you the story behind my Hardanger dragonfly, and why it is called Resurrection:

In a pond there live little underwater creatures who are very sad whenever one of them climbs a stalk up to the surface, because they know it is the end and they will never see him again. One little creature decides to climb up himself, look around, and come back to tell everyone what happens when you get there. But when he gets to the surface he falls asleep, and wakes up to find himself the beautiful dragonfly he was always meant to be. Full of joy he wants to rush back to tell his friends not to fear or grieve about the journey to the surface, but his new dragonfly body can’t go down into the water. One day, though, they will join him and know for themselves the joy of this new life.

An Easter blessing

A cat-shaped outline

As you may imagine, the Coronavirus lockdown is playing havoc with my RSN Certificate since all classes have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. (Having said that, I’ve just received the workshop schedule for the October Knitting & Stitching Show – stitchers are obviously an optimistic breed!)

The RSN are offering one-on-one online classes with some tutors, but I’ve thought it over and I feel that at the moment it wouldn’t benefit me enough to warrant the fairly high cost. Both mounting the finished Jacobean piece (when it is finished…) and framing up for Canvaswork are things I really do not want to tackle virtually, as it were, even if I could get the right materials.

Fortunately all C&D students have been offered extensions to the time we have in which to complete the courses, so there is no extra pressure. Even so I’ve decided to try and finish the stitching for my Jacobean module according to my original schedule, that is to say by 22nd April. To that end I’ve been doing some work on it over the past few weekends, but my goodness it’s been slow. Still, I think it’s been worth it!

The first bit of work I did was actually some doodling – I wanted to see whether the cat would look better with whiskers. On the whole, I don’t think so; because of the thickness of the wool they are rather too prominent, and I somehow don’t think they’d allow me to use some of Lexi’s real slimline whiskers smiley.

The original cat doodle without whiskers The alternative cat doodle with whiskers

Then it was time to put some stitching into the actual project, and I decided to start with something not too challenging: random French knots underneath the block shading. I temporarily toyed with the idea of doing a pattern, but various trial runs on paper didn’t produce anything pleasing so I abandoned that idea. Back to random. Next thing on the list was the water, and I got as far as putting in the first line of couching before I ran out of time and daylight.

A little bit of work on the Certificate

By the way, although I’m looking forward to not needing the trestles with my new small slate frame, I do enjoy working with a view of our increasingly colourful garden. I will admit that I sometimes get distracted by the view – it’s a good thing my stitching glasses reduce it to a green-and-flower-coloured blur or I’d get more distracted than I do already. But one distraction last weekend was a bit different: a tiny insect had taken up residence in my Cretan stitch, and it proved exceedingly difficult to remove it without hurting it. Eventually I managed to get it to climb onto my needle, and then took it outside before finally getting down to some stitching.

Homework with garden view Homework with garden view An interloper

Although I had started on the water, I decided to work on the ball of wool first. I discussed this with Helen at my last class and based on her comments I put in two layers of full satin stitch padding (instead of the more usual surface satin padding) within the split stitch outline, followed by the full top layer (going over the outline), and finally the partial very top layer. There are one or two minimal irregularities in the outline but I’m happy with the look of the finished ball.

First layer of padding Second layer of padding Full top layer Partial very top layer

Finally it was time to finish the water. In order to determine the waviness of the couched lines I used short pins to try out various possible positions, and when I was happy with them I lightly drew them in. I then started the fly stitch couching, at which point Lexi decided to pose for her portrait, unaware that it wasn’t her turn yet.

Pinning out the lines The lines drawn in Starting the fly stitch couching Lexi poses for her portrait

There was a slight hold-up when I had to remove some black fibre from the Appleton’s wool *sigh*, but I managed to finish the water before the light became too dim.

Black inclusions in Appletons wool The finished water

And so the one thing left that is outline-only is Lexi. I will make a start on her this weekend if all goes well, and finish her next weekend. Surely two weekends should be enough for any cat! After that the project will be stored, still stretched on the slate frame (on the advice of a former RSN tutor and some of the Diploma students), until such time as we can attend classes again. Meanwhile I will be able to put the finishing touches to the SAL stitched models, and then hopefully get back to some of my abandoned projects. Hengest is calling, er, neighing me!

The Tree with only a cat left to stitch

Free download during the Coronavirus lockdown

We all know that stitching is very therapeutic – so obviously we can never have too many patterns, especially now that many needlework fans have a little bit of extra stitching time!

So for as long as the UK is in lockdown for the Coronavirus, Mabel’s Hardanger design Home Sweet Home will be a free download (everywhere, not just the UK). It’s the full chart pack with diagrams and instructions, and it comes with a little extra chart for the alternative wording Stay At Home.

Home Sweet Home - stay at home!

Enjoy – and do send us pictures of your completed Home Sweet Home!