Grooming a horse

I’m practically neighing with excitement: after well over three years (I first mentioned him on FoF in November 2018) Hengest the Medieval Unicorn is finally nearing completion!

Hengest is getting there!

But there are, to employ a horsy metaphor, a few hurdles to overcome before we get to the finishing line, and I’m hoping they don’t turn into a full-blown steeple chase. One of these things is his horn. Since his conception Hengest has diverged fairly dramatically from the horse on the Steeple Aston cope which inspired him, not least by becoming a unicorn. The original, therefore, has no horn which I could use as a model. Now I had envisaged stitching the horn in two shades of dark golden yellow, in short lines curving around the horn; probably two or three lines of the lighter shade, then one of the darker shade, and so on.

The plan for Hengest's horn

When I got to the point of actually stitching the horn, however, I started to have my doubts. These would be very short lines, especially towards the tip. And would I be able to keep the curve even along the length of the horn? Wouldn’t it be very difficult to keep the edges neat? And wouldn’t it be better to have long lines along the horn to contrast with the stitch direction in the surrounding mane? I decided to do some sampling. One horn with the lighter shade stitched in long lines and the darker shade over the top, and one with both shades worked in curved lines across the horn, three light to one dark.

Two types of horn

What did I learn from this sampling? Well, the first thing was that unless I have very good light, I don’t see pencil outlines. One thing I liked about the right-hand horn is that it kept its pointy tip better. Closer inspection shows that this is because I didn’t fill the whole shape (purple arrow). So we’ll ignore the relative pointiness and concentrate on other things. In the left-hand horn, with dark stitches worked across the long lines of lighter ones, the first cross lines I did were too straight (blue arrow). I like the effect better when they are more diagonal (red arrow). In the right-hand horn, with both colours worked across, I found at first that my stitches were different lengths from one shade to the next (yellow arrow). That can be sorted with proper attention – I was stitching these samples while chatting and having tea at my embroidery group – and so is not a deal breaker. More difficult was to keep the edges straight (green arrows). And the colour difference between the two shades is not as clear as in the other one. On the other hand, I think it looks more natural when the stitch direction follows the spiralling pattern of the horn.

I’m undecided.

So shelving the dilemma of the horn for the time being, I concentrated on the eyes. You might wonder what the problem is there, as they have already been stitched. Well, the trouble is that they don’t look the way I meant them to. They evolved quite a bit from the first sketches: from big black eyes looking sideways, to smaller ones looking slightly up, to ones with blue irises (added when I noticed that the Steeple Aston horse had them) still with that slightly-up orientation.

The evolution of Hengest's eyes

But what I had actually stitched was this:

Hengest's eyes in wool

There are a couple of things there that I am not altogether happy with, neither of which is easy to change. His eyes are quite boldly outlined in dark grey (in my first attempt they were even more boldly outlined in black, but that was quickly knocked on the head). This is at least in part because the Steeple Aston horse has boldly outlined eyes – but quite a lot of the rest of him is too, whereas I opted to stitch Hengest without any outlines, so the eyes stand out more than I really intended. Stitching them in a grey one shade lighter would make a difference, but unfortunately the dark grey is so completely embedded in and connected with other stitches that unpicking it is a complete no-no. The other issue is the direction of his gaze: straight upwards, which I think makes him look rather goofy. Mind you, not as goofy as the original horse, whose uncoordinated eyes appear to be in some disagreement about direction.

The uncoordinated gaze of the original horse What direction am I looking in?

Still, goofy. Could this perhaps be changed with a few extra grey stitches? I tried to position a tiny bit of dark grey wool over some of the iris to see if that would look any better. It was very fiddly, but it was also immediately clear that trying to show the effect on one eye only wasn’t going to help!

Trying the effect on one eye only is no help

I tried it with bits of wool on both eyes – better, in the sense that he looked a little more sane, but I wasn’t sure I liked the effect. It makes the pupils an odd shape, and loses part of the irises.

Even with two eyes, the effect is not what I'm after

So what to do? Well, both before and after I expressed doubts about the eyes, stitching friends have described Hengest’s gaze as “expressive”, “regal”, “heavenward”, “noble” and “magic”, so I’m beginning to think I should accept that I am in a minority of one describing them as goofy, and leave well alone smiley.

Just so I didn’t feel all this had been a futile exercise, I added a little white to his eyes where I had previously left the fabric uncovered:

I can see the whites of his eyes!

And while I had the white in my needle, I also added two stitches to his body to improve the outline.

A slightly uneven outline A couple of remedial stitches

Now for a decision on that horn…

Finishing off a robin

I am itching to start on the rainbow sheep, but the robin was to be completed first, for no other reason than that I had told myself it should and it would feel rather weak-willed to give in to ovine temptation, however colourful. So over the weekend I got to work, completed the shaded herringbone wing (also good practice for my Canvaswork module, as I hope to use the stitch there), and outlined the breast in medium red (left/top) and dark red (right/bottom) stem stitch.

The wing filled in, and the breast outlined

But what to do about the wing outline? I was hoping to find something feathery but inspiration failed to strike so in the end I just went with shaded stem stitch. Then on to the head. There I did want something feathery, and I decided to use fly stitch in one strand.

The wing outlined and the head feathers started

Now in my original version of the robin the head is entirely worked in brown. This works fine as a stylised outline, even though in real life the red of a robin’s breast extends into its head. But as this version is “coloured in” (even though it is still very stylised), I felt I ought to have some red going up the throat, which is why the light brown fly stitches only surround about two thirds of the eye. However, before thinking about how to get the red to flow reasonably naturally from the battlement couching, first I had to do the feathers. It wasn’t easy to get them to lie in the right direction, and in fact I ended up with a rather ruffled robin, but on the whole I was happy with the effect.

Working on the head feathers

Especially when I added in the other two shades of brown, and got the one-strand fly stitch head to blend into the two-strand herringbone wing. For the throat I went with straight stitches in blended light and medum red, with tiny seed stitches in one strand of dark red on top. The legs were done in black stem stitch, the beak in black straight stitch, and the eye in black Rhodes stitch. Finished, right?

Finished?

But the eye didn’t look quite right. Nice and beady, and the Rhodes stitch gives it a bit of extra beadiness by being domed, but even so it needed a little something extra.

A beady eye that needs a a little something extra

That little something extra was a stem stitch outline in one strand of light beige (fortunately I decided against my first choice of bright white), and now he is finished. On to the sheep! (among one or two other things…)

The beady eye outlined

Finishing up, and a festive robin

In previous FoFs I have showcased some of my students’ work as they progressed through the course, but before showing you their last project here’s what I’ve been stitching all those weeks – not nearly so nice as theirs, but I like keeping these demonstration/doodle cloths as a record of classes and workshops. They are actually quite decorative in their own messy way!

Demonstration cloth

But how did the students do? Well, I got to see some impressive Quatrefoils – here are two of them:

Quatrefoil stitched by one of the students Quatrefoil stitched by one of the students

And quite a few projects already made up into cards!

Finished student project - Shisha flower Finished student projects - Quatrefoil and Shisha flower Finished student projects - Butterfly Wreath, Quatrefoil, No Place Like Home and Wildflower Garden

The 6th session had no project of its own planned; it was meant for the students to work on anything they hadn’t finished and ask questions about whatever they’d like to know about embroidery (I didn’t promise I’d be able to answer everything…). But as some of the students had got on so well, to the point of having already mounted some of their finished work, I thought it would be nice to have a bonus project. For each of them I put together a square of cotton sateen with the rather seasonable Robin freebie transferred onto it, and a bundle of stranded cottons consisting of black, two shades of red, and three shades each of green and brown, which I gave to them at the end of the fifth session. And then I encouraged them to just have a go using their newly acquired skills, stitch it any which way they like and have fun!

Materials for a Robin The Robin freebie mounted in a box

As I had a spare transfer (I drew one of the legs too long, so I kept that one back) I decided to follow my own advice, going for the naturalistic look by giving him a battlement couching chest – not such an inappropriate choice perhaps, seeing that they are fiercely territorial little birds smiley.

A battlement-chested robin

That encouraged a few of the students to have a go at that stitch as well, and although they found it tricky to get the spacing right, a little more practice should easily sort that (the student whose robin is shown below has also taken to blending with enthusiasm). Other students asked for some help with kits they had bought, and after getting into the rhythm of the raised stem stitch one practically finished her Christmas Wreath.

One student started her robin in class Another worked on her Christmas Wreath kit

I’ve really enjoyed teaching this course. Encouraged by the positive feedback from my students, and having been asked about a follow-up course, I’m busily thinking up class ideas for next year. Keep an eye on the Workshop page to find out when this materialises!

A matter of perspective

Remember the hourglass I started some time ago? I drew it in various ways, some with more perspective than others, and I chose to stitch the “flattest” version first. But even a relatively flat hourglass needs some perspective. As this is just a project for my own enjoyment I could simply wing it and see what happens, but that is not how I like working. So out come the paper and pencil to try different alternatives before committing one of them to the fabric.

Two things in particular needed sorting out: the sand in the top half of the glass, and the round top of the frame. I drew the sand in two ways, going round in circles or with straight lines going down the sides of the upside-down empty cone that is created by the sand running out through the central hole. The circle version would be easier, but I felt the lines-down-to-the-centre approach would give more of a sense of the sand running down.

Working out the direction of the sand

For the round top of the frame I drew a rough circle with concentric circles inside it, then held the paper up to my eyes horizontally, that is to say level with the floor. It turned out that when the circle looked like the oval in the design, the centre of the circle seemed to be about two-fifths from the back, three-fifths from the front.

Working out the perspective of the top

Then it was a case of strategically placing dots on the fabric to create a number of ovals inside the shape. At first I thought just indicating how far they were from the front and the back would do (the white dots), but just so I wouldn’t have to think too hard and calculate while stitching, I indicated how far they were from the sides as well (black dots).

Black and white guiding dots

My very first idea had been to fill in the shape entirely with chain stitch, but in the end I decided to work as many ovals as could be fitted into the back half of the shape, and let them space out to the sides and the front. And I’m pleased with how it worked out!

It worked!

On to the sand in the top half of the glass. I’ve started by working these long stitches over an edge of split stitch; when the far side of the sand has been stitched, the near side will be stitched in lines of longish split stitch following the curve of the glass. The sand in the bottom will be long & short over split stitch with a ragged lower edge, and then comes the fun part of adding tiny shiny beads over the top as cascading grains of sand.

Working the top sand

And once that is finished, I will allow myself to start work on a new project. Well, it’s started already in that I’ve got the fabric hooped up with the design transferred and all the threads picked – but no stitch will be put in until the hourglass is complete! Probably…

…and more silk.

Did you know that so far none of Mabel’s kits use silk? I know, it’s shocking! Time to do something about it, using that pretty little flower, the Quatrefoil. Putting together a new kit means sourcing supplies, which in this case means more silk. Ah, the sacrifices I make for my customers…

To begin with the fabric, I decided on a dark red silk dupion. The obvious place to go for that was The Silk Route, who were so helpful in finding just the right silk for Bruce. Unfortunately (it is a recurring theme, I know) it is very difficult to accurately judge colours on screen, so I rang them and they very kindly sent me two dark red samples to choose from. I then wondered whether dark blue wouldn’t work as well, rang again, and even though they had already sent off the first two samples, they popped another one in the post to me!

Silk Route samples

The blue turned out to be rather too dark, and of the two reds the lighter one was definitely the one to go for. They agreed to cut my half metre lengthwise, which means less waste and a few more kit-sized squares than if it was cut widthwise. It’s a power-woven silk dupion, which is smoother and more even in texture than the hand-woven type (this difference will come up in my Goldwork assessment FoF too). I like my kits to be accessible for stitchers who have no experience with a particular technique, so not putting too many slubs in their way seemed like a good plan.

Silk Route burgundy dupion

To do the silk fabric justice, the design is stitched using silk threads. I chose Rainbow Gallery Splendor silk because, well, really just because it is one of my favourite silks smiley with its subtle sheen and lovely soft feel, but also because it is, in my experience, one of the easier silks to work with. To complement the silk, and because a bit of bling always adds a certain je ne sais quoi (not to mention joie de vivre), the petals are outlined in gold Jap with a choice of couching thread: easier but more visible sewing thread, or bouncier and more slippery but practically invisible translucent couching thread. Add needles, an aperture card and some wadding and you’ve got the components of a new kit.

Making up the Quatrefoil kits

And after a fair bit of measuring, cutting, tying, winding, folding and packaging… *fanfare and drumroll* you’ve got our new Silk & Gold Quatrefoil kit!

One of the kits ready to be sent out

PS – Just to reassure anyone interested in the Quatrefoil kit in the light of my previous PS about filament silks, Splendor is a spun silk so hopefully no moths were harmed in the making of it.

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!

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.

A Welsh gem and two of my Five-a-Day

For various reasons I haven’t done a lot of stitching lately, although I have made some progress on Bruce which I hope to report on soon (probably after this weekend when I intend to complete the section I’m currently working on – sneak peek below). As you know I am never short of a project or two (or three, or twelve), but none of them particularly appealed to me even when I had the opportunity. So I’ve tried to re-ignite my enthusiasm by planning some sampling, and kitting up a couple of uncomplicated projects.

A sneak peek at Bruce's leg

Two of my long-term projects (and I do mean long-term; we’re talking several years here) which have not had the attention they deserve are Hengest and Llandrindod. In both projects I’m at a stage where there are decisions to be made, and that is always a dangerous point for me. So much easier to just start something new! Hengest has been languishing in his stable because after his mane I need to decide how to stitch his bridle and especially the jewels on it; but as there is still some mane to stitch first I’m hoping to return to him when I’ve reached the point with Bruce where I can’t do anything more until I see a tutor. Llandrindod is a bit more problematic, but I’ve decided that now is the time to tackle it. The challenge is the direction in which the facets of the central diamond are stitched.

The central diamond in Llandrindod

Originally I intended to stitch these facets so that the lines of stitches go around the central part, much like the outer facets on the coloured stones. For some reason I changed my mind a little over a year ago and started working them from the outside edge towards the centre. Unfortunately I failed to make a note anywhere documenting this change – or if I did, I can’t find it – so I have no idea why I discarded the around-the-centre approach in favour if the into-the-centre one. Equally unfortunately I don’t particularly like what I’ve done so far. But I don’t want to unpick it, start again with the other method, find out that there was in fact a fatal flaw in it, and have to unpick again. The solution: a sample cloth! In spite of what the outlines may suggest that doesn’t mean I have to stitch the diamond three times in total, as I won’t have to stitch all the facets to get an idea of what the effect of each method is; at least I fervently hope a few facets on each will do the trick!

A sample cloth set up to try two ways of stitching the facets

With Llandrindod and Bruce both what you might call “concentration projects”, as I really want to get them right and there’s a lot of note-taking going on (although in the case of Llandrindod obviously not quite enough…), it’s nice to have some relaxed projects on the go as well. On rare occasions these can be my own designs when they aren’t intended to become chart packs or kits, like Septimus the Septopus, but generally it’s someone else’s design, whether as a kit (I’ve got a good few waiting in the wings, from wonderful designers like Lizzie Pye of Laurelin, Helen Richman of Bluebird Embroidery and Alison Cole) or as a design only where I get to play with my stash and pick everything myself.

The projects I set up the other day are somewhere in between – a couple of little fruit trees by Sarah Homfray which used to come as a set of four kits but two of which I found last January as printed fabric only. So the fabric has been decided for me, and I don’t have to transfer the designs, but I do get to rummage through my thread boxes and play with colours. The originals were stitched using Madeira Lana, of which I have a respectable collection, but I decided to go with my favourite Heathway Milano crewel wool, which is a little thicker but not so much as to be a problem. And this is what I ended up with:

Two Sarah Homfray trees with Heathway Milano crewel wool

They were meant to be my relaxing bits of stitching while we were away on family care duty, but I didn’t actually get any stitching done during that week. Never mind, they make lovely little fillers for when I haven’t got the clear mind (and the time) I need for Bruce or when I can’t face anything that involves making decisions. I can just pick them up and stitch. Perfect.