A two-stage transfer

Last Monday at our weekly embroidery group a friend brought a kit which she’d been given for Christmas; it was a Quaker Tapestry kit. She’d got everything hooped up and was about to start, and she explained the first thing was to do stem stitch on the back of the work so that there would be backstitch on the front. We were all a bit puzzled about this, and I asked why she didn’t simply work backstitch on the front of the work. She wasn’t absolutely sure herself but said she was just following the Quaker Tapestry Stitch Guide which came with the kit. Several of us had a look at it and after a while we worked out why this was the first step: it was part of the Quaker Tapestry transfer method. I was intrigued and that afternoon bought a copy of the Stitch Guide myself (which fortunately could be obtained without having to buy a kit).

The Quaker Tapestry Stitch Guide

The trouble with the Quaker Tapestry and its kit offspring from a transfer point of view is that pretty much none of the usual methods work on the specially-woven woollen fabric they use. It’s too thick for a lightbox transfer, too textured for prick & pounce (even if the variegated colour didn’t make it difficult to work out what shade of pounce to use in the first place) – tacking the design on through a layer of tissue paper would probably work, but pulling every last bit of tissue paper out from under the tacking without damaging or at least fluffing the fabric would be challenging. So the Quaker Tapestry people came up with a method that as far as I know is unique to them. And it so happens that it looks to me like a jolly good method for transferring designs onto other “difficult” fabrics – dark, thick, textured or a combination of the three. I decided to have a go myself to see whether I liked it.

I didn’t want to use anything too big, so I fell back on my trusted little Quatrefoil. Wouldn’t it look rather rich and luxurious done on burgundy dupion? As this fabric is both dark and textured, it would make the perfect trial piece for this transfer method.

The not-easy-to-transfer-on fabric

The first step is to transfer the design to your backing fabric, which you then hoop up with your main fabric. A few things things to bear in mind: firstly, as you’re working on the back of the fabric the transfer needs to be a mirror image of the design. Not a problem here as the Quatrefoil is pretty much symmetrical, but especially important to remember if there is any lettering in the design! Secondly, when you hoop up do so with the backing fabric facing you, to make sure you get the transferred design centred in the hoop. And thirdly, make sure the backing fabric is relatively densely woven, for example a medium-weight calico. I used a very open Egyptian muslin and regretted it because it makes it difficult to place your stitches accurately. (By the way, I am using these terms in the British sense; British calico is American muslin, and British muslin I think is American mousseline.)

The design transferred to the backing Mounting the two pieces of fabric, centring the back The front of the fabric, without transfer

The Stitch Guide tells you to fasten on with a knot at the front of the work (that is to say, the side you are working on as you transfer the design, which is actually the back), taking the needle down right at the beginning of a design line. You then come up a stitch length further along the line – this in effect makes your first backstitch on the right side of the fabric. You then go down a stitch length further, and come up again where you came up the first time. This makes the second backstitch on the right side of the fabric, but also sets you up for your line of stem stitch on the backing side.

You need to remember this “extra” stitch at the beginning of every new line, but you soon get used to that. I found it helpful to think not of how neat (or not) my stem stitch was looking, but of what the backstitch on the other side of the fabric was doing. Sometimes, especially on corners, the stem stitch will look quite ragged, and the thing is not to get hung up on that as long as the backstitch on the other side is correct. Keeping your mind on the unseen backstitch (quite apart from providing some good mental exercise) helps when you need to move from one design line to another, to make sure the whole line is covered on the right side of the fabric.

Work stem stitch on the back The backstitch outline on the front

As I was going to stitch this little flower in Splendor silks, I used a single strand of the lightest colour for this transfer. The Quaker Tapestry Stitch Guide says you should use whatever colour will be used on the front, so that the transferred design shows the correct colours; mainly, I assume, so that the design lines are more easily hidden in the finished embroidery – if a little does peep through it won’t be so noticeable – but as an added bonus it would help the stitcher pick the right colour for the various parts without having to refer to the instructions every time. Still, I felt that would be overkill in a design as small and simple as this, and anyway as I was just quickly trying out the method I wanted to keep it as simple as possible.

The silks I picked for the design; the lightest colour only would be used for the outline An outline in the correct colours

Looking at the emerging design lines, however, I wondered what would happen on the parts that were going to be outlined in split stitch. It might be rather difficult to work a nice even line of split stitch on top of the backstitch. Ideally what my transfer produced would be as close to paint or ink lines as possible, and as unintrusive to the stitching. An unattainable ideal from the very nature of things – thread is never going to be as flat as paint – but would a finer thread be the answer? I switched to Gütermann sewing thread and it definitely does make a difference: the teal arrow shows the outline done in one strand of silk, the orange arrow points to a part done in sewing thread. (The lilac arrow points to one of a couple of places where there is room for improvement in my stitch placement; a denser backing fabric – see above – would help.)

Gütermann sewing thread for thinner lines Thinner and thicker lines, and a few irregularities

I can see myself using this method for goldwork on a silk dupion background, using the sewing threads normally used for couching the metal threads and wires: dark yellow where there is going to be gold, light grey for silver, dark orange for copper. Or perhaps for stitching on velvet or other difficult-to-transfer-onto fabrics. A useful addition to my stitching arsenal!

Another book, and being a proud satsuma

A few days ago a lovely surprise came in the post – I’d pre-ordered Lizzy Pye’s Goldwork Embroidery: Techniques and Projects and although we had been warned on her FB page to expect some delay, that delay turned out to be shorter than expected! So here it is, signed and all.

Lizzy Pye's goldwork book Signed by the author

And a first perusal shows it to be a wonderful addition to my stitching library – good photographs, clear explanations, and some interesting facts I didn’t know. And as an unexpected bonus, two of the projects in the book turn out to be designs I had been eyeing up on the Laurelin website: The Holly and the Ivy and the Silk and Goldwork Butterfly. Both very pretty designs, but until now only available as kits, and I could see that I already had all the materials in my stash. So now I can have a go at them whenever I like! (Well, after the SAL, the Certificate, the goldwork race horse, Hengest, Mechthild, the Llandrindod cross, the silk and gold flower, the silverwork umbrella…)

The Holly & Ivy project The Butterfly project

I also received some cotton sateen fabrics, about which I will write more in the near future. These are Empress Mills’ heavyweight Mountmellick fabric (the white) and cotton sateen (the cream). A friend of mine will be using the Mountmellick for her Tree of Life, so I’ll be sure to ask her opinion of it as well.

Two Empress Mills fabrics

And finally, something only tangentially (or tangerine-ly?) stitch-related. I love embroidery and (very un-British of me to say this, but then I’m not British smiley) I’m quite good at it. But I have long since realised and accepted that there are extremely talented people out there who produce work of a kind and standard that I will never produce (take a bow Mary Corbet, among others). And you know what? It doesn’t matter! I do the best that I can, and – very important, this – I enjoy it. And for all of us who are never going to be the absolute best at something, I’ve found an encouraging quotation. Commenting on the fact that small can be beautiful (and I will stretch this to mean that small achievements can be beautiful) the Rev Canon Dr Rob Kelsey remarked “A satsuma is not a failed orange”. It can be inspirational to look at the oranges of this world and admire them, but for those of us who are not, let’s take pride in being jolly good satsumas!

A satsuma is not a failed orange

I must not stitch and chat

Write 100 times: I must not stitch and chat.

Well, actually, I must – after all, why else do you go to meet other stitchers? Even at classes, where everyone is concentrating on the learning process, there’s usually some chatting going on, let alone at a meeting like our weekly Embroidery Circle where we each bring whatever we’re working on and have a bit of a stitchers’ social.

On the other hand, it is a good idea to choose your project wisely; I wouldn’t work on my Certificate piece (even if I could get it there, trestles and all) because I really cannot chat and do anything meaningful on that at the same time. I did bring my doodle cloths a few times, and that worked well: interesting, but not essential to get it absolutely right as it’s just trying out things.

Last Monday I brought Llandrindod, my little Celtic Cross. I didn’t want to work on the SAL, having done rather a lot of that over the Christmas period. I didn’t feel like working on the Ottoman Tulip, and I’ve rather missed Llandrindod. And (very important) the part of the design that I’m working on at the moment is just filling in facets with split stitch. What could possiby go wrong?

This.

Too much stitching

Doesn’t look too bad, does it? There’s a slight issue with the red slanted satin stitch which I need to do something about, but the split stitch facets are OK, aren’t they?

Yes. Except that the teeny-weeny medium blue facet towards the centre should have been light blue.

That in itself isn’t too much of a problem; after all, I worked the corresponding facet on the red gem in the wrong direction first, and had to unpick and redo it. Unfortunately with this gem I thought it would be easier and save fastening on and off if I did all the medium blue facets in one go, rather than one by one. Which means that every line of split stitch in that small facet is connected to the facet next to it, and (by running behind the satin stitch at the back of the work) with the large facet on the far right. I stopped filling in the small facet the moment I noticed, and as I started at the narrow, pointy end I may be able to just stitch over it in light blue, but it will need a bit of thinking.

Next Monday I will take the Ottoman Tulip. Two large areas left to fill in and both the same colour!

An interesting find and a WINP

Last week I spent a few days back in my native Holland, and of course I took a little travel project, in spite of travelling with hand luggage only. I packed a pair of squissors – my favourite little pointy scissors do fall into the category of “Small scissors (with blades no longer than 6cm)” that are allowed in hand luggage according to the Government’s website, but I didn’t want to take the risk. Once when flying some years ago (admittedly not very long after 9/11) the teeny-weeny nail file was wrenched off my nail clippers, presumably because I might stab the pilot with it and force the plane to land in the Outer Hebrides or Inner Mongolia.

The project I picked was the Ottoman Tulip; having finished the blues in the tulip itself it needed only two colours to complete, black and a mid-blue, and not too much of either of those so I could just cut a few lengths and leave the bobbins at home. The design itself is definitely handbag-sized, even in its hoop. Perfect.

When I left home it looked like this:

Progress on the Ottoman tulip

And, erm, when I returned it looked like this…

Lack of progress on the Ottoman tulip

Yes, my tulip is officially a WINP, a work-in-no-progress. Still, something embroidery-related happened while I was in the Netherlands! I generally go and have a browse around my favourite second-hand shop; being large and well-stocked it used to provide the majority of my wardrobe when I still lived in the Old Country, and although it has changed premises since then to me it will always be known as the Pelgrimshoeve (“Pilgrims’ Farmhouse”), the building they started out in. It’s a big place, and they sell everything from clothes to books and from electrical equipment to furniture – and they have a haberdashery department. Among the beads, knitting needles, zips and bobbins I found some wooden buttons and a box of linen embroidery threads at 50 cents a skein. In hindsight I should have bought the whole box, but for some reason I contented myself with two pinks and six blues.

Linen threads bought at the Pelgrimshoeve

All the threads are a no. 16 weight, but the pinks are by a UK company called Knox (apparently Knox’s of Kilbirnie were big in linen threads) whereas the blues are Anchor and were, according to the label, produced in Belgium. It was only when I got them home and looked at them in natural light that I realised one of the light blues is actually different from the other two; never mind, the combination of the three blues is pleasing enough for me to be able to use them all together. Perhaps in another Ottoman Tulip?

By the way, is it just me or do the buttons remind anyone else of a caterpillar smiley?

A button caterpillar

The Tree of Life SAL sign-up is open!

If you’re on Facebook at all you may have seen a quick message I posted about a last-minute changes to a one of the leaves on the SAL Tree of Life. It’s a shame I can’t show you how it turned out (that would rather spoil the Mystery bit of the SAL…) but I’m really excited about it!

Oh well, all right then, a teeny weeny sneak peek – can you guess which version it is smiley?

Sneak peek

If that has whetted your appetite you’ll be pleased to hear that sign up for the SAL is now open. And it looks like it’s going to be quite an international gathering – already there are subscribers from seven different countries!

Mabel's 2020 Freestyle SAL

PS For various reasons (most of them to do with the fact that I am a one-woman band, albeit with a very supportive husband) the SAL-joining process is not automated – I send out every welcome email individually as and when I get a notification that someone has signed up. So if I happen to be out doing the weekly grocery shop when you sign up (or asleep, if we’re in different time zones), it may be a few hours before you get a reply; but I’ll do my best to send out all welcome emails as soon as possible.

The pros and cons of versatility

A friend just posted something on Facebook about Constance Howard, who set up a Department of Embroidery at the Goldsmiths College of Art. The video picked up on her opinion that “you don’t need to know hundreds of stitches. But you need to use the ones you do know well!”

There is a lot of sense in that. My mother-in-law, who does probably know hundreds of stitches, in recent years has said that she prefers to embroider using only about a handful of them – stem stitch, fly stitch, chain stitch, buttonhole, French knot – because with them she can make whatever she wants. As this pretty-much-exclusively-chain-stitched tea cosy demonstrates.

Tea cosy embroidered in chain stitch

On the other hand, I do think that my willingness to try all sorts of techniques has been helpful to my development as an embroiderer, if only because it showed me which things I liked and wanted to learn more about (hello goldwork!) and which things were just not for me (I’m looking at you, stumpwork). If I’d never ventured beyond my first steps in stitching I would be doing only cross stitch. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m glad I did try other things! So I’m not sure I agree with her belief that “a desire to try everything can actually have a detrimental effect on your work as a textile artist”.

When I mentioned this to a friend who knew Constance Howard (through his grandmother, an accomplished needle artist), he said “‘Know (about) and have decided not to use’ is a perfectly valid state for any stitch – if you don’t learn/try them you don’t know whether you want to use them.” And I would agree with that. I get what CH says about versatility being a possible enemy of artistic development, because you can get bogged down in adding lots of variety for the sake of it, or feel unable to decide which of the umpteen techniques and stitches in your repertoire to use (although I have found that often a design suggests its own technique); and there is always the danger of being a Jack (or Jill) of all trades, and master (or mistress) of none. Still, on the whole I feel you need to know things in order to make an informed decision as to whether they are appropriate for the design you’re working on.

Of course the easiest way of avoiding that decision is to get a kit and follow the instructions, and sometimes it’s really enjoyable to do just that. Did I mention that stumpwork was just not my thing? I wonder how that little stumpwork butterfly made its way into my Sarah Homfray shopping basket a while ago… I’ve even made a start on it! It’s challenging because I’m trying things I haven’t done before, reassuring because it also includes stitches and techniques I’m already familiar with, and relaxing because someone else has made all the decisions for me smiley.

Sarah Homfray stumpwork butterfly kit The butterfly attached and wire couched

PS With regards to the Jack-of-all-trades thing – is it really such a bad thing to be moderately good at lots of things? I will never be as good at goldwork or crewel embroidery as some of the frighteningly talented stitchers out there; but I enjoy my projects, I produce quite decorative results, and I am creating something that is as good as I am capable of creating. You don’t have to achieve Grade 8 in order to enjoy playing the piano, after all!

The show is over

The Knitting & Stitching Show, that is. There was a lot to see, but in between workshops I managed to get round most of it (and quite a bit of London as well – I can recommend Golders Hill Park and the London Wetland Centre!)

There was a wide variety of exhibitions this year, and it was interesting to see the different things people create; some of it I really liked, some of it was not my cup of tea, and some of it I liked in spite of not expecting to, but all of it served to show that there is no “typical embroiderer/knitter/crocheter/quilter”. The pictures below show Toft Alpacas’ crochet display, a beautiful pictorial quilt, a box with a goldwork lid and pompom sushi made by a RSN (Royal School of Needlework) Future Tutor, one from a series of embroideries recording the artist’s mother’s life, including her last years with dementia, and a circular piece of knitting.

Toft's crochet display A pictorial quilt An embroidered sushi box Circular knitting

This year I taught three workshops: Hardanger, Shisha and freestyle. I got some good and helpful feedback, and pictures of finished projects from several participants. Two ladies actually completed their Shisha flower duing the class, including mounting it into a card, and a Dutch lady doing the RSN certificate (or diploma, I’m not sure which) and taking in the K&S Show as an extra stitch-related activity soon posted pictures of her Hardanger needle book.

A Shisha card finished at the workshop A Shisha card finished at the workshop Marlous C's Hardanger needle book

Another lady who came to the Shisha workshop bought the companion kit (the Shisha Tile), finished both at home and then used the techniques she’d learnt to embellish a Christmas quilt, creating a diamond-shaped variation of the stitch used in the Tile kit.

Barbara E's Shisha flower card Barbara E's Shisha tile Barbara E's Shisha tile variation Barbara E's Shisha tile variation on a quilt

And finally, did I buy any new and interesting fabrics, threads, designs? With so many stands selling all manner of goodies, could I possibly resist? Well, not entirely. After enjoying a walk-in demonstration by Sarah from Golden Hinde I bought some of the translucent couching thread she recommended, at a grand total of £2.20 smiley

Translucent couching thread