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