Ally Pally, Bruce, cards and a new book

Well, I’m back after four days away, and more or less organised again after four days back home. London was lovely, especially as I tend to wander from park to river to green space to cemetery and avoid the busy shopping streets as much as possible, and I was lucky with the weather. It was wonderful to be back at the Knitting & Stitching Show again, too, even though it was very much a scaled-down affair. In fact I was having such a good time that I didn’t think to take very many pictures! Here are two things I did remember to photograph, the big Stitch A Tree project and one of the winning quilts which depicts a “missing” panel of the Bayeux Tapestry: the one with the people who actually produced it (that sewing machine in the border is just hilarious smiley!)

Stitch A Tree Project The Bayeux quilt

Shopping-wise I’ve been remarkably abstemious, helped (or hindered) by the fact that two of the shops I really wanted to see, Barnyarns and West End Embroidery, weren’t there. But I got this lovely hand-dyed fabric from Paint-Box Threads, and some green-and-red beetle wings from Golden Hinde.

Paint-Box fabric and beetle wings

One highlight of the Show was meeting up with fellow Dutch C&D student Marlous (of the Stitching Sheep fame) at the RSN stand and then sitting down to have a good chat.

Meeting Marlous, the Stitching Sheep

Marlous was also kind enough to take a few pictures of me with Bruce on the RSN display wall (well, I wasn’t on the wall – you know what I mean); the second one shows a bit more of the rest of the display. I was rather chuffed to hear from the lady on the stand that Bruce had garnered quite a bit of interest! Later that day when I returned for a last peek I was asked to talk to a couple of ladies thinking of starting the Certificate, to give them the student’s point of view. I also asked about adopting a stitch (you can see the Stitch Bank poster behind Marlous and me), and I’ll let you know how I get on with that.

Bruce and Mabel The RSN display

The workshops went well, but teaching with a visor did present some challenges, especially as I tend to look at any problems the students have by taking off my glasses and bringing the work practically up to my nose – you can imagine how that went! Below is the only picture I thought to take of one of the works in progress, a great effort by a lady who had done no embroidery before.

A Butterfly Wreath in progress

I always take three stitched models to any class or workshop I teach so that students can see several versions of the project in real life, instead of just the one picture on the kit cover, and it was a bit annoying to find after the second workshop that one of them had gone missing. Fortunately I had an unmounted Butterfly Wreath in a folder at home, so I could make a new one. At the same time I made up a stitched model for one of the classes in the Freestyle Embroidery course I’ll be teaching next month, the little silk and gold Quatrefoil.

Stitched models for workshops and classes

Craft Creations having been taken over by a new management who even after several years haven’t got back the same range of aperture cards, the Quatrefoil card comes from a new supplier, PDA Card & Craft. My first order from them arrived while I was away, so I had the pleasure of having an interesting parcel waiting for me when I came back. Well, the cardstock is of good quality but I wasn’t happy to notice that on the blue cards the aperture was clearly off-centre. However, an email I sent on Monday explaining the situation brought an almost instant reply with an apology and a promise to send out a new set with the correct aperture – very good customer service.

New aperture cards from PDA An off-centre aperture

Another interesting parcel arrived earlier this week: Tanya Bentham’s Opus Anglicanum, which is both an in-depth look at this style of embroidery and a project book. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet but it looks very interesting, and I am reassured by Mary Corbet’s detailed review that it’s bound to have been a good buy! Some of the Opus Anglicanum-inspired kits and projects on Tanya’s site are not my cup of tea but the ones in the book seem to be mostly traditional in style with the occasional funny twist (Medieval Selfie Girl, for example).

Tanya Bentham's Opus Anglicanum

Unfortunately I won’t be stitching designs from this book any time soon, but I have been getting quite a lot of split stitch practice, having picked up Llandrindod as my Embroidery Group project. I’m looking forward to adding the little touches of sparkle soon!

Steady progress on Llandrindod

Kits galore and fame for Bruce

Keeping on top of kit production in dribs and drabs is one thing, but with the Rugby 6-week course starting within a month from the Knitting & Stitching Show the process definitely needs ramping up – there are 70-odd kits to be made up! Fortunately it makes the whole production line so much easier when observed and supervised by a cat…

Cat observing the results of printing, cutting and ironing

That was cutting-and-ironing-fabric day, having printed the instructions and cover pictures the day before. Now I’m on to transferring. The Knitting & Stitching Show people choose from a selection of workshops I offer, and beyond the original proposal I have no say in what gets picked; this year one of them was Hardanger, which is worked from a chart, so those kits could be made up without any further work. However, for reasons unclear even to me I decided to make the Rugby course a freestyle one, which means all five projects need the design transferred to the kit fabric for each of the ten participants. Plus twelve for the other K&S workshop. That lightbox is going to get a lot of use in the next few days!

Getting ready to transfer designs

Meanwhile, as I was starting to stick the needles for the various designs into bits of calico, I thought it would be much more convenient for the course students to have one simple needle book in which to keep their needles throughout the course. They are quite quick to put together, and don’t they look nice and colourful? I just have to add the size 22 petite tapestry needles to complete the collection.

Needle books for the Rugby course All the needles needed (except one)

Change of subject although it is still show-related – the RSN always have a stand at the Knitting & Stitching Show and this year *modest cough* Bruce will be one of the exhibits at the London and Harrogate Shows! It was actually a very funny exchange of emails because the first one I received asked for my permission to display my stumpwork piece; flattering but surprising as I have done no RSN stumpwork at all as yet. But it turned out to be an error in terminology, and they did in fact mean my goldwork piece. Go Bruce!

Gold, gold, gold

When you get into goldwork you soon realise that it has a vocabulary all of its own – and I’m not just talking of waxing and plunging. There is pearl purl, which sounds like a superflous repetition but does actually mean something; there is the mysterious milliary wire which looks like a misspelling of military wire but isn’t, and which sometimes occurs without its second “i”; there is rococco which seems to be spelled with any combination of “c”s available. Then there are names which suggest non-existent similarities: check thread and wire check have absolutely nothing in common; wire check has much more in common with smooth purl. And why do only two of the flexible hollow purls (the cylindrical ones, shiny “smooth” and matt “rough”) have “purl” in their names, while the two corresponding facetted ones are called “check” and are designated “bright” (shiny) and “wire” (matt)?

Milliary and rococco Check thread and wire check A selection of purls, not all called purl

But some of the names you come across are not just obscure or mildly amusing, they are downright odd. Flatworm, anyone?

Flatworm. Really.

Flatworm starts its life as a rather thick passing thread, which is a metal wire or a thin strip of metal wrapped around a silk or cotton core. Then it gets bashed (not the correct technical term…) so that it ends up as an irregularly flattened, rather chunky ribbon. I describe it as “irregularly flattened” because when you try and lay it down flat, you’ll notice it twists here and there, unpredictably and to varying degrees. Not-so-flatworm, you might say.

Not-so-flatworm

If you use it as an outline, or a thin curve consisting of one thread only, you could couch it down as it comes, twists and all – I’ve not tried it but I think it would create rather a pleasing effect. But I want to use it to fill a shape, and for that it needs to be laid flat. Not that difficult, it just takes a little untwisting, so that’s not really the problem with this thread; what I found more challenging was managing the turns.

This refers only to filling a shape in back-and-forth rows, by the way; for a spiral filling I think getting it to lie flat around the curves would actually be the difficult bit (imagine doing that with a ribbon). But in my case the first thing I had to decide was how to make the turn. With passing or any of the other goldwork threads you would simply bend the thread around the needle at the end of a row, possibly pinching the fold with tweezers or small pliers for a nice sharp look, and go on couching in the opposite direction. But that doesn’t really work with this flattened shape. So I looked to another goldwork material, plate. It is basically a metal ribbon – flattened metal without a thead core – and it comes in Broad no.6 and Narrow no.11 (not shown in the picture) with the broad version also available Whipped (with a metal thread wound around it).

Broad plate and whipped plate

This metal ribbon is attached only on the turns where it is sharply folded over, and it zigzags rather than lying in parallel rows. As it can’t be couched along the rows because of the overlaps it tends to be used for relatively small, or at least narrow, shapes. Online you can find many beautiful examples of acorns and other shapes filled with this material, but for copyright reasons I will show you an unfortunately rather messy bit of my own sampling.

Plate attached in the characteristic zigzag pattern

I did actually try turning the flatworm as you would any other metal thread (orange arrow), just to see what the effect would be, but as the picture shows it isn’t very good. Even after pinching the ends together there is a noticeable gap which shows the underlying felt padding. As this is an extreme close-up it is not quite so visible in real life, but still far too much to be acceptable. The other turns have all been done by securing the flatworm on the edge of the padding with a stitch parallel to the edge, and then folding it over with another couching stitch close to the fold (yellow arrow). Although there are still slight gaps, these are so small that they don’t offend the eye when seen at a normal viewing distance, so this is obviously the way to go. Watch this space for pictures of the flatworm used in a proper project!

Turning the flatworm

As those of you who take the occasional look at my Facebook page will know, another golden moment during the past week was the arrival in my Inbox of the assessment for the RSN Certificate Goldwork module, a.k.a. Bruce. I will write more about the various scores and comments later, but for now I will just reveal with a grin on my face that I passed with a Merit and an 88% overall score. Haasje was speechless smiley.

Haasje was quite astonished when told the result

Turning back time

Unpicking is sometimes known, more optimistically, as reverse stitching. Fine if you discover your mistake fairly quickly and it’s a manageable number of stitches; but occasionally it’s easier to just cut everything out and start again. Here’s what happened when, having completed the whipped backstitch outline of the glass on my hourglass design, I ignored the project for a few days.

The glass outlined

Picking it up again to work on the stem stitch posts I took the threaded needle that had been left in a corner of the fabric and started stitching, while watching The Repair Shop in the background. The lines of stem stitch looked a bit thin, and I was grumbling to myself that it would take rather more lines to fill the post than I’d expected, but I was more than half concentrating on the restoration of a chess set on the television and just kept going. After three lines I came to the end of the thread, fastened off, fastened on a new thread from my ring of pre-cut cream pearl cotton, worked a few stitches and realised that these stitches were much chunkier, and a much lighter cream, than the ones that were altready there. You guessed it – the threaded needle stuck in the fabric had been threaded with the stranded cotton I’d used for attaching the spangles… There was no help for it, it all had to come out.

Unpicking the wrong threads

Undaunted, I re-started the post in the correct thread, and having finished the bottom half of the post I was about to move on to the top half, when I thought about the intervening space. Should I indicate in some way the outline of the post in the gaps between the spangles? I added single lines, but then realised I had intended the spangles to be like carved balls in the wooden posts, so the outlines of the post would have been “carved away”. Feeling rather like Oscar Wilde in reverse, I removed them. Still, it was useful to see the effect and know for certain that I didn’t like it!

Lines that aren't needed

Not time-related except that chipping is a very time-consuming technique, but I wanted to mention the use of close-up photographs when working stitched models. They are particularly useful when doing chipping because they show up any gaps that you may not notice when looking at the work in the ordinary way. In this case, I’m quite puite pleased with the coverage – it looks good and dense! Unfortunately close-ups also show other details, like those invaders that look like hairs. I can’t think what they are (unusually for the Figworthy household I don’t think they are cat fur) but at least they are pretty much invisible when you look at it with the naked eye. To give you an idea of scale, the photograph covers an area a little less than a square centimetre. I’ll probably get away with it smiley.

A close-up of chipping

Time flies and memory lies

Because I have been working mostly on The Project That Must Not Be Talked About, and haven’t been adding anything interesting to my stash lately, it’s been a bit quiet on the FoF front. But here is a design that I can tell you about! It’s still in progress, but I thought you might like to see one of the many different ways in which a design comes about and develops.

It all started with a Christmas present, an Inspiration Pack from Paint Box Threads (I’m afraid they don’t appear to have any for sale at the moment, but their threads and fabrics are available separately). By the way, you may recognise one of the threads from Septimus the Septopus – it was used for some of his tentacles. Because I wanted to use the various fabrics and threads in the box for some small projects, I decanted the entire contents into a project box that was parked in a hopeful fashion on the shelf underneath the table by my comfy chair. And there it remained.

Paint Box Thread's inspiration pack, decanted

But lately I wanted a project to work on in the evenings, and it seemed a good idea to use the bits in the box. My plan was to start with the dark brown mottled fabric, and do something simple and outline-y in the cream thread. And a week or so ago, something in a sermon made me think of time and then of hourglasses. I did a quick sketch, just to get the idea down on paper.

The first sketch

I photographed the sketch and transferred it to my editing program to produce a usable design. First of all, as I wrote on the sketch, I wanted it “lengthened” or rather, made higher and therefore relatively thinner. Then, looking at some pictures of hourglasses online, I decided I wanted some decoration on the uprights (posts?), as though they were carved. I put in lighter lines to indicate things that could only be seen through the glass, and three small circles (well, ellipses because of perspective) on the top to show where the posts are attached. This was the first digital version I saved as a chart.

Version 1

But the posts looked spindly compared to the rest. So I widened them. Just before saving this as a separate version I remembered to widen the little ellipses on the top to match the new posts. Version 2.

Thicker posts

Then I felt the top and bottom looked rather flat compared to the rest, as though they were just circles cut out of paper. So the next change was to add a bit of a 3D effect to show that they were actually circles of wood (probably) with some depth to them. Version 3.

A bit more depth

There was still something odd-looking about the design. I printed out the first three versions and realised that another lighter see-through-the-glass line was needed, namely the one at the back of the bottom of the glass itself. I had also failed to notice that the top and bottom parts of the hourglass had lines separating them from the little funnel bit in the middle, so those sections of their outlines were removed. Version 4.

Lines added and removed

My original idea had been to add some words in a curve on either side of the hourglass, so I added a temporary circle to help with placement of the lettering. I’d been looking through the Bible for a quotation about using time wisely, but couldn’t find anything expressing that sentiment in a single pithy verse. Some verses from Ecclesiastes (“He has made everything beautiful in its time” and “He has planted eternity in the human heart”) were lovely but wouldn’t fit in the limited space. In the end I went for Psalm 31, with an alternative using the expression “time flies” in English and Latin in case someone preferred a secular version.

Preparing for the words Psalm 31 Time flies

All this had got me rather a long way away from the simple outline I had originally envisaged. So I returned to Version 2 and simplified it a bit further. I printed it out at 10cm high and 12cm high and then realised neither would fit the brown fabric I wanted to use, or rather, they wouldn’t fit comfortably inside the 13cm hoop which was the biggest I could use with that cut of fabric. Fortunately I’d printed all versions on a sort of contact sheet at 9cm high, so I used that.

A simplified version

All this activity, and not a stitch put in! But now it was time to transfer the design to the fabric, and decide what stitches to use. For this, the “contact sheet” came in handy again as I could scribble on it and sketch out different stitch directions for the sand and so on.

Stitch directions

But as I got the cream perle thread from my project box I got a bit of a shock. It wasn’t cream! It was more like a very pale shell pink. Very pretty, and it would still work, but quite different from what I’d remembered. By then I had also found out that none of the three speciality threads in the box were anything like the string-of-beads look which I remembered very clearly. That was a bit of a shame because I’d intended to use that as the sand pouring through the hourglass gap. Still, if I didn’t have a speciality thread that looked like a string of beads, I did have some very pretty petite beads in a colour called Champagne, which has just enough of a hint of pink in its gold to be a good match for the perle cotton.

An unexpected pink and some champagne beads

Now Mr Figworthy had been suggesting a goldwork version, but I’ve been doing quite a lot of that recently and I wanted this to be a project I could easily pick up of an evening to do a few stitches while watching the telly – not something you do with goldwork. But those decorations on the posts… well, they were rather crying out for spangles. Remember this version of the design had to be relatively small because of the size of the fabric? Because of that the 5mm and 4mm spangles which are the biggest in my stash, although not quite big enough to cover the bulbous decorations on the drawing, would just about work onthe embroidery itself if I only indicated their position with a dot, rather than drawing the outline. The final bit of material was a stranded cotton to match the perle thread; DMC 950 turned out to be quite close. I was finally ready to go!

All the materials together

I will work this mostly from back to front, that is to say start with the lines and shapes that are behind everything else and work my way forward. But I just couldn’t resist putting the spangles in first; I needed that little sense of achievement! Then the back of the bottom of the frame, in backstitch outline to represent a not-very-visible line; by contrast the visible parts of the frame will be solidly filled, and the outline of the glass will done in whipped backstitch, which will make a smooth, unbroken line. But that is for another evening. Watch this space (and ignore the cat hair…)

Finally some stitching!

Exciting parcels

That feeling of expectation when you know there is something nice on its way to you and then one day the postman hands you the day’s post and among it is a parcel which is obviously That Parcel and you are about to unwrap it – don’t you just love it? I’ve had several such parcels recently, and as they were all stitch-related I thought you might like to see them.

Remember the Filoselle silks I inherited from my mother-in-law? Three shades of rose, a golden yellow and a lot of green. Well, some time ago I was contacted by Sara, who had acquired a selection of Filoselle silks herself and, doing some research, came across my 2015 post in which Pearsall’s unfortunately discontinued silks are mentioned. After a few emails back and forth we agreed a swap, and a little later the pastel beauties on the right arrived. As I said to Sara, because they are discontinued I won’t be able to use them in any designs that will be published, and so I have no idea yet what I’ll do with them, but they are lovely colours to have.

Vintage Filoselle silks (and a darning egg) Swapped Filoselle silks

Around about the same time I spotted a day class at Hampton Court Palace in my RSN e-newsletter: a stumpwork bumblebee. Yes, I know, stumpwork isn’t really my thing; but since the two butterflies I did (one a Sarah Homfray kit, the other off my own bat for a friend) I’ve rather taken a liking to stumpwork insects. And I happen to have a friend who is a beekeeper. Perfect. Well, almost perfect, as beekeepers don’t actually keep bumblebees, but close enough.

Stumpwork butterfly from a Sarah Homfray kit Stumpwork butterfly made for a friend

Unfortunately the class was on a day that I couldn’t do; and even if the date had been convenient, travelling to Hampton Court Palace for the day is quite an undertaking, as well as adding to the strain on the budget. I reluctantly decided it was not to be. But when I mentioned this on the RSN Certificate & Diploma Facebook group, someone who had taken the class in the past suggested I contact the tutor, Rachel Doyle, to see if she had any surplus kits which she might be willing to sell separately. I did, and she had, and here it is!

Rachel Doyle's Bumble Bee kit Rachel Doyle's Bumble Bee kit

And my final treat (final for the moment anyway) – a new slate frame bag. I had one made for my original, humongous slate frame but then I was allowed to use a 12″ frame instead and the bag was ridiculously oversized for that (as you can tell from the picture below it was on the large side even for the original frame). Fortunately it has now found a new home with my middle sister-in-law who uses it to transport her paintings, but it did mean I was left without a bag. Well, not literally, I have plenty of cotton and canvas bags of various sizes, some of them embellished with embroidery, but nothing padded and none that accomodated the frame comfortably. Enter Liz at LoobysBayBags.

The original quilted bag for my large slate frame

Liz was brilliant. The bags she usually makes were not quite the right size for my slate frame (which in spite of being called a 12″ frame is actually a little over 17″ square) so she agreed to make a bespoke one. She found all sorts of fabrics for me to have a look at and hunted out a new fabric for the lining which would go with the patterned ones I picked; she was great at going by what I wanted, not what she thought I should have (she was a little worried that I picked very light colours for what she called “a working bag”). When I explained what it would be used for she reinforced the handles and padded the bottom. And it came out just perfect – it looks beautiful (those ducks are adorable), it’s comfortable to carry, and it is a comfortably snug fit for the frame. As you can tell from the last picture, I’m really pleased with it!

The new slate frame bag A snug fit Modelling the bag

An old Dutch saying and a framed tree

The Dutch have a saying: “uithuilen en opnieuw beginnen”, which roughly translates as “have a good cry and start afresh”. Don’t worry, no actual tears were shed, but over the weekend it became clear that a fresh start was indeed called for.

I’d been working on my pair of designs and the stitching was all fine, but some of the design lines were not quite as balanced as I would ideally like, in spite of some early-stage tweaking to correct the worst of it. I thought I could ignore it, and then my husband commented on it as well. It was obviously noticeable to other eyes than just mine! Add to that that I was getting increasingly dissatisfied with the fabric I was working on (which I’d chosen three or four years ago when the designs were first taking shape) and it was time to bite the bullet and cut my losses (to add a couple of English sayings). The die was cast! (Latin saying.) The two fortunately only very partially stitched models were taken out of the hoops, folded up and put in my goldwork drawer as a record of how the design process doesn’t always run smooth, and then I cut and ironed two new pieces of calico backing, ready for the new fabric and the new design lines.

Empty hoops and new calico

Now deciding on new materials and browsing the various fabric shops is, of course, a very pleasant way to while away the odd Saturday afternoon, but I was determined to be disciplined and first get those design lines right! I rotated and flipped and erased and re-drew and found, oddly enough, that perfect symmetry in the parts I was tweaking looked wrong. Eventually I ended up with a slightly asymmetrical but much better balanced pair of designs, which I will be happy to transfer to the new fabrics when they arrive.

And what are the new fabrics? Well, colour-wise they are similar to the original ones. I like the slightly unusual combination and so does the editor, whom I bounced my design and fabric dilemmas off before doing anything too drastic. But instead of a cotton-linen mix I’ve decided to go with silk dupion – the same type of fabric that Bruce was stitched on. The only difference is that for Bruce I used handwoven silk dupion, which is quite textured and slubby, whereas for this pair I’m going with the smoother powerwoven version. You can see the difference between the Bruce fabric on the left, and my new doodle cloth (a piece of powerwoven silk I happened to have in my stash) on the right. Just hooping up that sampling piece of silk convinced me I’d made the right decision. Remember my mentioning that it was very difficult to get the Essex linen taut in the hoop? Well, this could do duty as a tambourine at a revival meeting – brilliant!

Handwoven, textured silk dupion The new powerwoven doodle cloth

Incidentally, just as the original soft pink doodle cloth bore no colour resemblance to the project fabrics, neither does this rather startlingly bright blue. I’m not quite sure why I got it in the first place; it’s a gorgeous colour, but I can’t imagine what I thought I’d use it for! Still, it comes in very handy now – even if the new colours I ordered take a while to arrive, I can sample some elements while I wait.

The other excitement this weekend was picking up my Jacobean Certificate piece from our local framer’s. It had taken me a while to decide how I wanted to have it framed, and in the end I went for a simple frame with no mount, with the dark brown picking up the darkest of the brown wool shades. I’m really pleased with it, and it is now adorning my craft room.

The Jacobean tree finally framed The framed Jacobean hanging in the craft room

One problem about framing more of my needlework (which I used to do quite rarely in the past) is that we’re running out of wall space (there are a fair number of paintings dotted around the house as well). I’ll have to impose a sort of seasonal rotation on what goes on the walls – oh well, at least I won’t get bored looking at the same embroideries year after year smiley.

Stabling a horse and keeping a secret

Since Queen’s Silks was finished, people have been asking me The Question That Must Not Be Asked But Always Is: “What are you going to do with it?” Well, I was going to stable it in my goldwork folder, safely encased in tissue paper. But the general outcry at what was perceived as dire neglect, worthy of a letter to the RSPCA or the British Horse Society, made me think again. Perhaps I ought to frame it after all. Much would depend on what happened when it was taken out of the hoop – fabric with dense or heavy embroidery on it (and it doesn’t get much denser and heavier than goldwork) can pucker up alarmingly when the tension is taken off. If the puckering is too serious, even severe lacing may not get rid of it altogether, in which case there was no way I was going to be looking at it day after day. This morning I slackened the hoop and placed the fabric on a flat surface. No puckering, not even in harsh direct sunlight. It’s crumpled where the hoop was, of course, but we can work around that. So it looks like the racehorse will grace our walls after all!

A non-puckered horse

Remember I told you my next project is one I can’t write about for now? I’m finding that really hard, because writing FoFs about how designs develop really helps me, well, develop them! So I’ll have to just keep a design development diary and bounce things off Mr Figworthy (ouch). I can tell you (because it doesn’t really give anything away smiley) that one of the pair looks set to have some plastic surgery done in the rib area…

And there are other things about starting a project that I can share with you. Like my as yet unused doodle cloth; it’s the same type of fabric as the main pair, though a different colour.

Doodle cloth ready to try out some stitches

I can also show you the surprising cat hair which turned up on the back of my otherwise pristine, newly-hooped fabric. How do they do it?!?

Cat hair on a newly hooped up project

Talking of hooping up, the first thing I found is that the linen/cotton mix I am using is difficult to get as taut as the silk dupion used for the racehorse, or the densely woven linen I’ve used for other projects. I may have to do some tweaking before starting the serious stitching. But as I’m working this pair of designs simultaneously it’s also a great opportunity to see whether there will be a noticeable difference over time between Nurge’s 16mm and 24mm hoops. Does size matter? I’ll let you know!

Comparing hoops of different depths

Finally there is something which I’m sure we’ve all encountered when embarking on a new project: the absolutely essential items which are missing from your stash. I was certain I had silver pearl purl and wire check of the right size in my goldwork box. I didn’t. Laurelin to the rescue! The copper wire check just happened to make its way into my shopping basket at the same time. Very persuasive stuff, copper wire check.

Stash that was absolutely necessary. Most of it.

Surplus weight(s) and ceramics

I’d been using my Aristo lapstand for most of the work on Queen’s Silks; the stand is better suited to rectangular frames like the Millennium and my small slate frame, but it works with the 14″ hoop I used for the Tree of Life SAL and it just about works with the 12″ hoop which I’d mounted the racehorse in. But my next project will be in a not-quite-10″ hoop (Nurge’s 25cm one), and when trying it out that just didn’t sit well. I’d need to use my Sonata seat stand. Now I love the Sonata, and I’ve used it with hoops up to 8″, but I feared that 10″, especially with the added strain of plunging, would be rather too much for it. Ideally I’d use the Lowery stand, which for some years has been firmly lodged by my armchair. Would it work in my dining room set-up, which is where I like to work on larger or more complicated projects? With no armchair to hold it down, I thought I’d need the old-fashioned scale weights which live in the garage and which Mr Figworthy has been saying for years “will come in handy one day” to keep it stable (they go up to 14 lbs), but it turns out a fairly thin chair leg works, as long as there is a substantial amount of stitcher on top. (Note to self: good excuse for extra pudding.)

Superfluous weights The Lowery in my dining room stitching spot

You may remember last year I bought a small dish and a fridge magnet from Wilton Road Ceramics. Having decided that I needed more needle minders, I thought some of Sue’s ceramic bits and bobs would be just the ticket. At the moment my two main ones are home-made affairs using ceramic buttons – fine for larger tapestry needles, but the itsy bitsy needles I use for goldwork and some other types of embroidery have a disconcerting tendency to get themselves lodged in one of the holes and stand upright, business end up. Something without holes was called for.

Now I’ve been using the large fridge magnet on my Lowery stand, holding a selection of needles ready to use whenever I need them without having to rummage through sewing boxes and needle books, and it works very well. But is is on the large side for keeping on an embroidery, unless the hoop or frame is on the large side too and there is plenty of room around the design.

The first large needle minder on my Lowery

After a few measurements I worked out I wanted something about an inch square, and flat. Sue doesn’t do magnets that size, but she does do what she calls card toppers, small square tiles that decorate cards. She was happy to send me some of those without the cards, and even offered to attach some smaller magnets to them so that they would be ready for use. Not only that, she sent me a little freebie pink heart – I’d looked at some hearts she does for bookmarks, but they were too big. But she found this one-off smaller one in a drawer somewhere and just sent it with the others, wasn’t that kind?

A selection of ceramic needle minders

Unfortunately the small magnets, though admirably effective in sticking to fridges, were not quite up to the task of attracting needles through a layer of ceramics. I asked Sue what they were attached with, hoping it would be possible to perhaps heat them up a little to melt the glue, but it turned out to be E6000, which can only be dislodged with acetone and patience. Patience I have (to some extent), but as I never use nail polish, acetone is not something I have around the house. However, our kind neighbour had a big bottle which she was happy for me to use as much of as I needed. After that it was just a matter of replacing the weak magnets with the small but fierce neodymium ones which Mr Figworthy uses to make magnetic sump drain plugs (what else…)

You may have noticed that among the purchased selection there is also a larger magnet. I fell for the fish, which reminds me of the Ichthus symbol (also known as the Jesus fish because the letters stand for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”). I knew from the beach hut magnet that that one is strong enough to attract the needles and indeed, it did solid duty on the racehorse – it even successfully holds the large plunging needle!

The new large needle minder in action

Did I mention I was having a bit of a needle minder spree? This one isn’t ceramic, but the moment I saw it I knew it was perfect for my sheep-mad friend who has recently taken to stitching. And to make the most of the postage it made sense to get one for myself as well! Even if it never actively holds a needle at all (it is on the big side) it makes me smile. Isn’t that quite a good reason in itself?

A perfect lamb of a needle minder

The final furlong

Last Wednesday I should have had my first official Canvaswork class. Unfortunately I have a chronic tum condition and it decided to flare up; not the best conditions for concentrating on what is essentially a new technique to me. But the RSN were very understanding and helpful (“oh you poor thing, just drop us a line and we’ll arrange something”) and cancelled it for me even though I let them know only a day in advance, with the money credited to my account for a future class. With the summer recess coming up that won’t be until September at the earliest, however, so I decided that my stitching time would be dedicated to getting the racehorse out of the way before moving on to the commissioned project.

The racehorse (or Queen’s Silks as it’s officially called) has had a few adaptations and alterations already, most notably the eye, and I’ve also substituted my own check thread for some of the rococco parts. But in one place I stuck with the rococco: the lower part of the gold hind leg. As the shading or detailing in the other, copper hind leg had already been done in rococco I decided it would look better to echo that in this leg.

Rococco detailing in the hind legs

My next stitching session was in bright sunshine, and you’d think that would make everything easier to see. Well, it did help with the stitching part, but it made the black design lines (never particularly clear on the dark green fabric) practically invisible – the thing that may look like a design line is actually the shadow of my couching thread! I resorted to working without my glasses with my nose all but touching the silk as I worked on the pearl purl outlines of the neck and front leg. I’m using the pearl purl that came with the kit, even though the gold is a bit yellow for my taste. On the other hand, it does provide extra contrast (you’ll see later just how much contrast with some of the other gold).

Invisible design lines Pearl purl outlining the neck and leg

That last picture also shows the swirly couching around the shoulder, which took quite a while to get right. The copper part going up to the neck had to be completely unpicked when I realised I’d once again entirely missed the outline. The second version came out much better – just as well, as I wasn’t going to unpick it again! While doing that part of the horse I’d forgotten to fill in the couching in the bottom of the swirl, so that was next. By the way, can you see the mellow gold pearl purl in the top right-hand corner? That came from my stash because I didn’t like using the yellow one for the head. Quite a colour difference.

The shoulder swirl finished

For the detailing in the front legs I ignored the stitched model; it used the large rococco in the gold leg and S-ing in the copper leg, but I didn’t think that worked very well going round the rather tight curves of the leg, so I opted for check thread in both. In bright light the gold check thread looks almost silver against the yellow pearl purl!

Check thread in the copper leg Check thread in the gold leg

Finally it was time for the last bit of the neck and the head. I took a bit of a shortcut in the copper cheek detailing by using a doubled thread starting with a loop; this meant the top lacked the subtle curve, but it did save on plunging and securing (easier with check thread than with rococco, but still to be avoided whenever possible, to my mind). The other parts were done pretty much as they were in the stitched model. And there he is, racing ahead in all his metallic glory, and I’m jolly pleased with how he’s turned out.

The neck and head The finished horse