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

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!

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

A book, a horse, and a lobster’s claw

Although my summer stitching will be more goldwork (I’d tell you more but it’s a secret for now…), for the Certificate I’ve moved on to Canvaswork, and before we break up for the summer I have one class to get it all set up. Last time Angela advised me to get Jo Christensen’s Needlepoint Book and being a dutiful student of course I did smiley. It arrived just before we went away for a short break (by the sea, lovely!) so I’ve only read a little of it so far, but it looks a very informative book.

Jo Christensen's Needlepoint Book

I’ve also been doing some sampling, on a piece of 18TPI canvas I found in my stash. I have no idea why I had it, and I have no recollection of buying it – it may well have come from one of those occasions where someone hands me several bags of odds and ends because they want their mother’s/aunt’s/grandmother’s/great-aunt’s embroidery things to go to a Good Home. However I got it, it’s coming in useful now! Among the things I inherited from my mother-in-law there is a stitch guide with some very useful pictures of canvaswork stitches, and in fact it showed a better way of “slotting together” Dutch stitch (which for obvious reasons appeals to me and which I hope to be able to use in my Certificate piece) to cover the canvas more completely – the importance of which is strongly stressed in the Brief. It also reminded me of Victorian tufted stitch. I doubt I’ll have opportunity to use it, but it was fun to have a go.

Canvaswork sample cloth Dutch stitch in my mother-in-law's book Two ways of slotting Dutch stitch together Victorian tufted stitch

At my weekly Embroidery Group, which is finally meeting again (though with sadly reduced numbers, and for a very short term only) I’ve taken to working on the goldwork racehorse I started two years ago at a 3-day RSN class. You wouldn’t think goldwork would be ideal for a group where chatting and drinking tea is as much part of the fun as embroidery, but oddly enough it works – well, mostly… I want to finish this, but I want it to be fairly relaxed as well, so I decided I wouldn’t worry too much if my couching stitches were not all exactly 3mm apart, or if my S-ing chips were of slightly different lengths. But because the light at our venue is not the best (especially since one of the strip lights conked out and won’t be replaced until the summer holidays) and the design is drawn on dark green fabric in fine black pen, I managed to overlook the fact that my quite nicely plunged bit of couching completely failed to cover the far end of the outline. Oops. I tried to remedy this by extending one of the lines of couching but that just looked silly, so I unpicked it. For now I’m leaving it as it is and I’ll try and think of something to cover it up in an acceptable way.

The flank couched The flank plunged - with visible lines... Essing along the back completed The horse so far

And finally, the lobster’s claw. I know that sounds a bit mysterious, but it is apparently what the shape of an aficot is based on. And if you have no idea what an aficot is, I sympathise – when I first saw the name and a picture of it (in this article by Mary Corbet) I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what it had to do with embroidery. Well, it’s used for polishing satin stitches. It is also, when well-made in lovely wood, a thing of beauty in its own right, almost like an extremely tactile abstract sculpture. I’d been eyeing these (especially the set which includes a matching laying tool) for months, and finally decided that it was worth getting just for the sheer pleasure I’d get out of seeing and touching it, let alone using it in my needlework! After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the various woods available I eventually went for ebony, and here they are: my very own aficot and laying tool. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Safely packaged in tube and velvet bag An ebony laying tool and aficot The aficot fits beautifully in the hand

Drawing the line

That’s what I do for workshops – drawing the line drawing. On the kit fabric. The kits I sell online come with blank fabric and instructions on how to transfer the design yourself, but this would take too long in a 90-minute or 2-hour workshop, so I do them beforehand, with the aid of my trusty lightbox and some fine drawing pens.

Drawing the designs on by hand

But wouldn’t it be nice to get them screen-printed, both for workshops and for general kits? It can look really professional, like King Ethelnute of the Coombe Abbey retreat.

Stylish printing on Ethelnute

There are a few hurdles, however. First of all, people who have found good screen printers for their kits turn out to want to keep this information to themselves. Fair enough, I’ll just have to do my own research. But what about the quality of the screenprinting itself? Ethelnute looked very stylish in his gold outline, and as he was solidly stitched there was no problem about lines showing. But not all embroidery is solid, and in some kits I have bought in recent years this could be a real problem. There were kits with uniformly thick lines which were sometimes difficult to cover completely, like this one from Melbury Hill.

Thick grey lines on a Melbury Hill kit

Its saving grace was that the lines were printed in grey, so that any line showing was not overly noticeable. That couldn’t be said for some of the Sarah Homfray designs, which were printed in quite a bright green. Now let me begin by saying that Sarah’s kits are very well put together and generally a joy to stitch. But the green printing was a bit of a problem especially where lines ran into each other, becoming rather blobby – on the Turaco bird I had to add an extra line of stitching along the leaf edge to make sure everything was covered. In most of the design the printing was nice and crisp and distinct, but it was still quite bold, and working on the fruit trees I found that line stitches like Palestrina stitch did not always cover the whole width of the design line, even with a “spreading” thread like crewel wool.

Some blobby lines on a Sarah Homfray kit The lines are very very green Palestrina stitch does not fully cover

So there were three things I’d have to consider if I wanted to get my kit fabrics printed: I’d have to find a good screen-printer, the colour of the lines would have to be neutral and not too dark, and the lines themselves would have to be quite delicate, especially on designs that are not solidly embroidered or that use fine threads.

The first consideration seemed likely to scupper the process before it properly started as I found it difficult to work out who would be a suitable printer among the bewildering variety of available ones. Another thing was that most of the companies I found would only print on fabrics from their own collection. You can get screen-printing done on linen twill (see the Melbury Hill kit) but I haven’t been able to find out by whom. And then I came across a different process altogether, digital fabric printing. This seems to be used mostly for printing patterned fabric or logos, but surely you could print line drawings? I picked a company that would print samples and uploaded some designs: Whoo Me, the Wildflower Garden, and Forever Frosty.

Whoo Me Little Wildflower Garden Forever Frosty

Now this came with a few complications of its own; like so many printing companies, they would only print on their own fabrics. And they do not print on coloured fabrics – instead, the background colour is printed as well. Not quite as stylish and professional-looking as printing on a separately dyed fabric, but I was willing to see what it looked like. I picked a simple calico for Whoo Me, a plain cotton for the Wildflower Garden (to be printed light blue) and a duchesse satin for Forever Frosty, on the grounds that goldwork deserves something a bit more upmarket and glossy.

Here’s how they turned out:

Digitally printed kit fabric swatches

And I’m quite pleased with them! You may notice that I didn’t take my own advice about using a neutral, not too dark colour for the lines – they are, in fact, black – but this is because I had these printed before I had fully grasped the advantages of the Melbury Hill grey design lines. Anyway, that can easily be remedied if I decide to get them printed in larger numbers. The lines on Whoo Me and Forever Frosty are fairly bold because I forgot to adjust my line drawings – I usually print them quite bold because it makes it easier to trace them through the fabric, so all I need to do is provide the printers with a finer line drawing: they’ll print exactly what I provide.

Especially in the case of quite detailed designs like the Wildflower Garden, the extra cost that printing adds to the workshop kits is at least to some extent off-set by the amount of time I don’t have to spend on hand-drawing them. For the regular kits it is an extra cost on top of the usual materials as they do not usually come with the design pre-transferred; but I think it would definitely add to the user-friendliness of the kits. Let me know what you think – would you be happy to pay a little more for a kit that had the design ready printed on the fabric so you could just pick it up and get started?

Vintage stash and shop sadness

My mother-in-law Elizabeth, who has been a keen needlewoman all her life, has asked me over the past few years to go through some of the embroidery stash she had no further use for (you may remember some interesting goldwork threads she bestowed on me some years ago). Recently, in view of her failing health, she asked me to sift through the remainder and divide it into things I could use, and things to be passed on to her embroidery group once they are allowed to meet again.

In the drawers of her needlework chest I found a wealth of lovely textured threads and ribbons, some of which I hope to use in my Canvaswork module (the next one after Bruce is finished), as well as a variety of metal threads, something that looks like coloured pipe cleaner (the blue a bit mottled with age), and miscellaneous bits and bobs including some pretty mother of pearl thread winders.

Textured threads and other bits and bobs Silk ribbons Miscellaneous metal threads Coloured metal passing Chenille wire, also known as pipe cleaner

But the biggest haul, going by quantity, was an enormous bundle of vintage Filoselle silks. My guess is that they were originally intended for a tablecloth or a project of similar scope, presumably with a pattern of leaves and flowers – mostly leaves, if the amount of green is anything to go by!

Vintage Filoselle silks (and a darning egg)

Pearsall’s Filoselle silk, which has sadly been discontinued, was produced until relatively recently (I bought some in a sale in Cumbria back in 2012). Judging by the paper wrappers, however, these skeins are likely to be a lot older than that. They may well be the same age as the “Journal of the Embroiderers’ Guild” which I found on one of the bookshelves – Spring 1956, when Elizabeth was four years married and a young mother. Perhaps they were bought for the transfer illustrated on the back cover?

An old issue of Embroidery magazine

One of the things that struck me in the magazine was the names, or rather the titles, of the various “Officers of the Guild” and the Presidents, Chairmen (mostly women, actually), Secretaries and Treasurers. Her Grace the Duchess (two, plus a Baroness, if we count vice-patrons as well); a Countess and a Viscountess; numerous Honourables, Ladies, and Honourable Ladies; a Captain and a Major. I fear the Guild has come down in the world somewhat since then… Still, a more egalitarian Guild may well be a reason for rejoicing; but what saddened me when flicking through the magazine was the advertisements. Such an abundance of shops to buy your needlework materials from! And what has happened to them all?

Francis of Bath Street in Leamington Spa is long gone; Celic in Bedford who advertise as Mail Order Stores are now a “catalogue shop”, but what they offer and whether they in fact still do so is anybody’s guess, as Google declines to throw up any further information. The name of Boynton & Turner, “Designers and Makers of Transfers for Every Kind of Embroidery since 1906”, turns up only on Etsy and eBay and the like where people offer their “vintage transfers”. Art Needlework Industries of Oxford is no more either; one of the few mentions I found was about an old shade card for their wool. Harrods – well, Harrods still exists of course, but I had no idea whether nowadays it has “everything for the needlewoman”, let alone whether “demonstrators” are still “at hand from time to time”. A bit of search engine activity brings up a promising page called “Needle & Thread” on the Harrods website, but this turns out to be a clothing brand. The only remotely crafty things seem to be in the Children’s/Toys section…

Adverts in Embroidery magazine

Art Needlework Industries or A.N.I. must have been quite an influential shop – they appear in several more adverts dotted throughout the magazine. As for the other advertisers on the page shown below, the Dundee Heritage Trust has some swatch cards and sample booklets which seem to be the only remnants of Richmond Brothes and their Glenshee Embroidery Fabrics. Like Boynton & Turner, Peri-Lusta turns up only on sites like eBay as vintage materials. Briggs & Co. of Manchester and their “Waffle-Weave Embroidery by Penelope” have been through some changes too – James Briggs & Sons are stil trading, but have nothing to do with needlework now; Penelope seems to be still going although I’m not sure what they stand for now besides the name of a type of canvas. Searching for Aero hoops leads to bicycle parts rather than embroidery, and “Flora Macdonald embroidery needles” once again turn up only in “vintage” sales.

Adverts in Embroidery magazine

Elsewhere in the magazine, Deighton Brothers advertised transfers, “art needlework and needlework accessories” and a book on smocking; they still exist, but only for “on-demand tapestry printing”. Knox of Kilbirnie stopped making their linen embroidery threads (some of which – see below – I found in a charity shop in The Netherlands!) in the 1990s and now produce “industrial and military nets”. The Needlewoman Shop in Regent Street closed in 1985. The Old Glamis Factory in Dundee which produced embroidery fabrics closed in 1984.

Knox linen floss

We still have many amazing manufacturers of threads and fabrics, and we’re not likely to run out of resources any time soon, but it is sad to think of those many, many shops selling beautiful materials which for whatever reason were no longer viable. Fortunately we can still use and enjoy their products, now with the label “vintage”; here is one of each of the Filoselle colours from my mother-in-law’s collection with a square of linen from another of her needlework drawers for a project. A rose, perhaps? Or an E decorated with flowers? Whatever it is going to be, it will be a lovely reminder both of my mother-in-law and of all those wonderful needlework manufacturers.

One of each colour and some vintage linen for a project

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.

A novel use for ice lolly sticks

As the new ickle slate frame doesn’t fit on trestles (just as well, as that was rather the point smiley) I use it with my trusty Aristo lap stand; but you may remember that the Aristo’s arms were just a little bit too short to accommodate the slate frame reliably – and you don’t want the frame to slip off right in the middle of a tricky bit of goldwork! So Mr Figworthy and I teamed up to create a Meccano solution.

Meccano Aristo arm extender

This worked well, but when I first took it to a class it managed to lose a nut in transit. Another slight drawback is the fixed width; surely there must be a more flexible way of doing this? Enter the ice lolly stick (or rather, four of them), courtesy of a friend from church who teaches Sunday School and therefore has a craft stash you wouldn’t believe. Two glued pairs of sticks and four rubber bands later, hey presto!

Ice lolly stick Aristo arm extenders

And does it work? It does. It won’t win any design awards with its Make Do And Mend look, but after several months of use without any problems I’m happy to make do with it!

The ice lolly sticks in action