Another book and some deepish hoops

My embroidery library is growing apace (there’s another book in the post as we speak) and this week a very exciting addition arrived: Alison Cole’s Goldwork Masterclass. I’ve not had a chance to read it in great detail, but even a quick leaf-through is enough to show me this was a Good Buy!

Alison Cole's Goldwork Masterclass Alison Cole's Goldwork Masterclass Alison Cole's Goldwork Masterclass

Mind you, I was pretty sure it would be. I was seduced into buying it by the very thorough and richly-illustrated review on Mary Corbet’s blog. She has the book in her shop, so if you’re in North America that’s you sorted; stitchers in Australia and New Zealand can buy it straight from the author. However, if like me you’re in the UK I highly recommend getting it from Sarah at Golden Hinde, who is Alison Cole’s official UK distributor – it saves on postage, and it supports a local business that always gives great customer service.

Another exciting parcel contained not one but four additions to my collection of hoops. Yes, I managed to find a UK source of deep Nurge/Prym hoops! Well, sort of.

I was really hoping to try Nurge’s 24mm deep hoops, and so I emailed the company in Turkey, asking whether they sold direct to customers or preferably whether they had a UK distributor. They very promptly replied with the name and email address of their UK wholesaler. I’d found them on the internet before, but didn’t think I’d qualify for a wholesale account; still, I wrote to them and asked whether they knew of anyone selling the deep hoops retail. They did, and referred me to Katie Symonds at Crafty Imaginations. I had a very informative email conversation with her, in which she explained that she didn’t stock the 24mm hoops because postage was so expensive that no-one would buy them, but that she did have the whole range of 16mm hoops. I’m sure you’re not surprised that I bought several to try them out smiley.

16mm deep Nurge hoops A 16mm hoop and an 8mm hoop side by side

Like the shallow hoops they feel smooth and sturdy, and for these relatively small sizes (I got the four from 13cm to 22cm) 16mm is actually quite deep enough. The larger quilting hoops I have are 20mm deep, so 24mm may well be too much of a good thing; also, although the Lowery’s clamp could accommodate them, I’m not sure either of my other clamps (table and seat) could take something that deep.

Anyway, for now I have the medium-deep ones to try, and of course they will need binding. Unfortunately I only had about two-and-a-half metres of my usual 20mm herringbone tape left, so I ordered some more, and in the meantime decided to bind at least one of them. I picked up the 16cm one first, then for no reason whatsoever switched to the 19cm one. Bad move. I didn’t take a photograph, but suffice it to say that I came to the end of the tape with about 2cm of bare hoop still showing. Sigh. Still, that meant it would amply cover the 16cm hoop, which indeed it did.

16mm hoops ready for binding One hoop down, three to go

And now that it’s bound I want to use it! So I’ve hooped up a card project I need for tomorrow (yes, it’s a bit last-minute…) for the 50th anniversary of a lovely couple of friends. Excuse me if I rush off, won’t you – I need to get stitching!

Card for a golden wedding anniversary

Next day PS: Got the stitching done in time – three cheers for embroidery which allows us to create something simple yet festive in an evening!

The finished stitching Made up into a card

A horse of a different colour

My embroidery has been distinctly equine recently, and I’d like to show you some of my progress (and regress; that is to say, unpicking…) on two horsey creatures.

The first is the goldwork racehorse I started at Helen McCook’s three-day class last year. I’d been doing some couching and plunging but a week or so ago I decided that before I did anything more, something needed seeing to first – his eye. The centre of the eye is a gem, and in the stitched model it is round and makes a good iris. But the gem that was in the kit, although a round cut as well, was set in such a way that it looked quite square. It was also rather larger than in the model (at least partly because of the setting), and quite apart from the fact that it just didn’t look right, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to work the surrounding couching properly with the setting extending beyond the design line in places.

Two different eyes

Time to rummage through my stash and see if I could find an alternative. I remembered some tiny oval flat-backed gems I bought last year – might they work? But alas, even the tiniest was too large. How about a sequin? The 3mm flat ones I have would be too small, but what about a facetted cup sequin held on with a black bead? Would that look like an iris with a pupil? And it would still have some of the facetted look of the original gem.

A slightly too large oval gem A cup sequin-and-bead combination that looks promising

I unpicked the original eye, attached the sequin and bead, and gave a sigh of relief. The eye operation was a success!

A much better-looking eye

Next was a decision about the pearl purl curving around the eye and down the horse’s neck. This was a very fine pearl purl which had also been used in the tail, and I’d noticed there that the gold was very yellow. I didn’t think this would work very well against the copper that outlines the eye, and another rummage produced a much mellower-coloured pearl purl of roughly the same thickness. None of the photographs I took quite picked up on how different the colours were, but it should give you an idea.

Very yellow pearl purl

Since last time I also completed both the colour-graded couching and the plunging on the horse’s backside, and here it is as it looks at the moment (you can see the very yellow purl outlining the chipped section at the top of the tail).

The racehorse as it looks at the moment

On to a horse of a different colour, or rather of many different colours – although the bits I’ve been working on have been mostly grey smiley. For some time now I’d been itching to get back to Hengest the Medieval Unicorn; I hadn’t worked on him since June last year! To ease myself back into it I started with his nose band. Once I’d stitched it I realised that if I stitched the rest of the bridle (if that’s the correct term) in the same light golden yellow (Old Gold #4) as I had planned, it wouldn’t look quite right next to the light yellow spot high up his neck. But I didn’t want to use the darker #6 because that was going to be used in his horn (together with darkest #8) and I needed the contrast. Fortunately I remembered that I also had shade #7 in my stash, so the rest of the bridle will be done in #6, and the horn in #7 and #8. One problem sorted, although putting the solution into practice would have to wait as I wanted to get on with his mane first.

And as I stitched the first two locks, another problem emerged. They were far too dark.

Hengest's mane is too dark

I’d worked it out so carefully, too. Because Hengest is quite cartoonish in look, I didn’t want the shading in the mane to be too subtle. All the rest of him is areas of flat colour, with the only “shading” coming from the direction of the split stitch. The mane would have dark locks and light locks, and each would be done in two shades which I wanted to be visibly different, with the light and dark locks also having to be different enough from each other. The design drawing has black outlines, but the stitched version doesn’t, so the locks had to be delineated by colour difference.

I had therefore decided to have no colour overlap between light and dark locks: for the light locks I chose Silver Grey #1 and #3, and for the dark locks #5 and #6 (the difference between two consecutive shades is not always equally large). But #6 was very obviously too dark compared to the pastel tints of the rest of Hengest. And so I ended up doing something I had strenuously resisted for this project so far – I started a doodle cloth. Five combinations of two greys would be tried out, and I started with the darker one in each of the combinations, then added the lighter shade. #5 plus #3, #4 plus #3 and #4 plus #2 were all options for the darker locks, while #3 plus #1 and #2 plus #1 were possible pairs for the lighter ones. Having studied all the combinations I opted for an overlap after all: #5 with #3 and #3 with #1.

Different shades of grey A doodle cloth with five combinations Starting with the darker shades The lighter shades have been added

Hurray! As tress after tress was added the new shades turned out to work very well together, the individual locks perfectly distinct in spite of the fact that they share shade #3. I’d completely forgotten that the direction of the split stitch would set them apart even if the colour didn’t.

The old mane is unpicked Starting the first locks The new mane is growing The locks are perfectly distinct

And that’s the state of the Figworthy stable to date. I love both its occupants, but I will admit to a soft spot for Hengest. He will never be a racing champion (his inspiration on the Steeple Aston cope is decidedly duck-footed) and he will never be decked out in the Queen’s colours, but I think he holds his own against any racehorse in his polka-dotted eccentricity smiley.

Prym and proper

Do you have any favourite brands? I love Dutch apple butter (we call it “appelstroop”, literally apple syrup), which comes in quite a few brands, but Timson is the one for me. Is it really better than the others? Perhaps, although it would be difficult to prove – but it’s the brand I grew up with, and to me the others are just not quite the right thing.

In the same way I have favourite brands in stitching equipment, and more particularly a favourite brand of needles and hoops. As with apple butter, it’s terribly difficult to prove that they are better than other brands – so much is a matter of personal taste and preference. But as you will know if you are a regular FoF reader, I could actually tell the difference between my favourite needles and other brands in what was in effect a blind test (long story, but it revolved around discarded packaging, and thinking I was using one brand while actually using another – and not liking it). My favourites, in case you didn’t read about that particular comparison, are Prym’s between needles (or “halblang”, “half long”, as they call them).

Prym betweens in two sizes

My only gripe (and it is a minor one) with Prym’s between needles is that the no. 5 and no. 3 sizes, which I find just right for crewel embroidery and which I’ve been using on my RSN Jacobean piece instead of the John James chenille and embroidery needles they put in the starter pack, are not available separately – you can only get them in a mixed pack with no. 7s, of which I have a lot already. Still, the surplus no. 7s can be used up in kits, so not a major problem.

Sometimes you might like to try a brand, only to run into unexpected difficulties. One of these difficulties is what I would like to call the American conundrum. There are certain things which are for sale in America, such as a particular brand of lovely dense linens and extra deep Hardwicke Manor hoops, recommended as the ultimate in hoops by many a respected source. These linens and hoops are imported from Europe. “Oh goody,” you think as a European embroiderer, “I’ll get them from Europe and save on the postage”. And then you find that they are actually extremely difficult if not impossible to find in any European shop. The only Hardwicke Manor hoops I managed to find in the UK were standard depth square ones (rounded squares, really), which I didn’t want.

I did have some larger deep hoops from the RSN’s shop, and they are perfectly good – I’d just heard so much about the Hardwicke Manor hoops I really wanted to try one. Oh well. However, what I did discover while trying to find these particular hoops was that Prym, my favourite needle brand, did hoops too!

A Prym hoop

Interestingly, their sizes don’t go up in inches. As Prym is a German brand it wasn’t too surprising to find that they are metric rather than imperial, increasing by 3cm at a time – at Jaycott’s, where I got mine, they come in 13cm, 16cm, 19cm, 22cm and 25cm. I tried out two of the smaller ones first, and I was impressed: the hoops come with reassuringly solid brass fittings, the beech wood is beautifully smooth and they are quite sturdy compared to other hoops I had in my stash. In the picture below the orange arrows point to the Prym hoops, the blue arrow to an unbranded hoop from my stash (outer hoops only). I soon got all the other sizes Jaycott’s offered as well.

Reassuringly solid metal fittings Two Prym hoops and an unbranded one

When I got the hoops, I noticed that the metal fittings all carried a number, from no. 2 on the smallest hoop to no. 6 on the largest. This suggested there was at least one other size, a no. 1, probably 10cm in diameter. Then, although the tags on the hoops carried the name Prym and had a lot of German on them, a different name was branded into the wood: Nurge. More research was obviously called for.

The no. 1 hypothesis was soon confirmed when I found the 10cm hoop on Sarah Homfray’s website. Some further Googling revealed Nurge to be a Turkish brand, and excitingly their hoops come in three different depths (8mm, 16mm and 24mm) as well as eight different diameters (up to 31cm). They only problem is that so far I haven’t been able to find the deeper ones for sale anywhere. But the search continues!

For now I enjoy using the hoops I’ve got, whether Prym or Nurge or both. As Shakespeare would have said if he’d been a stitcher, what’s in a name? That which we call a Prym hoop by any other name would work as well. They may not strictly speaking be Prym, but they are certainly proper smiley

Prym (or Nurge) hoops, and definitely Prym needles

Goodbye, Ally Pally

Do you remember early March? When the news from abroad was worrying but the UK seemed to be carrying on much as usual for the time being? On 10th March, four months ago today, I got the usual email from the organisers of the Knitting & Stitching Show to submit workshop proposals for the October show at Alexandra Palace (they have to start planning in good time). I sent them a selection of seven or eight workshops four days later, and on 8th April I was sent the workshop schedule with the request to proofread my four entries.

I can’t tell you how odd it felt. Only the week before I had celebrated my 50th birthday in strict lockdown with my husband and the cat instead of looking forward to a big family party in the Netherlands, and proofreading workshops seemed strangely incongruous. Still, the show was six months away and it’s good to be optimistic, so I looked through the text and corrected or amended a few things. I was quite pleased with the workshops they’d chosen: it was a nice combination of the familiar (the Hardanger needle book has been a stalwart in the programme ever since my first workshop in 2013) and the new (this would be the first time the Christmas Wreath was included), and of counted (all of the Hardanger, and the foundation of the Christmas Wreath) and freestyle (No Place Like Home and the Butterfly Wreath).

The four workshops that are not to be

And then I rather forgot about the whole thing as lockdown really took hold, and it didn’t seem likely anything like the Knitting & Stitching Show would be allowed to go on. But a week or so ago I got an email from Wendy, who organises the workshop programme, to say they were planning a show with a difference. Booked tickets only, fewer stands, fewer but longer workshops to minimise traffic from one to the next, sanitising everything that doesn’t move and asking everything that does move (like tutors) to sanitise themselves… I don’t envy them the task because it will be a Herculean effort. And as she pointed out when I wrote back with some questions, they don’t even know yet whether come October they will be allowed to go ahead, but if they don’t start planning now they won’t have a show even if they were allowed to!

Unfortunately that meant that tutors like myself had to decide this week whether we would teach or not. It took a lot of thought and talking it over with my husband and close friends, but in the end I came to the conclusion that I would opt not to teach this year.

For those of you who love the workshops at the Knitting & Stitching Show, especially those of you who have attended one or more of my workshops in the past and perhaps were planning to come to another one this year, I’d like to explain why I made that choice. There is the obvious fact that none of us knows what the situation will be like in October, and making a decision now which involves a fair amount of travel on public transport to attend a show with people coming from all over the country in three months’ time was, I felt, too much of a risk. Although neither myself nor my husband is in a vulnerable or extremely vulnerable (shielding) group, several people I come into contact with are, and I want to be careful.

The other major consideration is the way I teach. As most of my workshops are aimed at beginners, if not of needlework in general then at least of whatever technique I’m teaching there, a lot of my time is spent showing students (either individually or in little clusters) how to work a particular stitch, what the next stage of the design is, or where to bring the needle up to make the next stitch easier; and of course helping them if something has gone wrong. All this would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, while maintaining social distancing, even if the distance has been reduced somewhat by then. I would in effect be offering them a kit with some extra verbal explanation, and that is not the workshop experience I want to give students.

It was a difficult decision, because I will miss teaching and meeting the stitchers there very much. But in the end I think it was the right thing to do this year, and I will just have to look forward to being back next year. And who knows, perhaps we can think of an alternative! If you would normally have come to a workshop but for whatever reason decide not to visit the show in person this year, would a one-on-one kit-and-Zoom-workshop be something you’d consider as an option? Let me know whether the idea appeals to you, and if enough people like it I’ll get my thinking cap on…