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

The final furlong

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

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

Rococco detailing in the hind legs

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

Invisible design lines Pearl purl outlining the neck and leg

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

The shoulder swirl finished

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

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

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

The neck and head The finished horse

Horsing around

Although I really need to get on with that secret goldwork project, I’m having such fun spending a bit more time with Helen McCook’s racehorse that I keep coming up with excuses – the latest one is that the hoop needed for the new project is currently in use holding my Canvaswork sample cloth, and I have to wait for the arrival of two 25cm Nurge hoops (my favourite brand), one 16mm and one 24mm deep. And then of course there will be a further delay until I’ve got round to binding it. So apart from doing some preparatory work for my first proper Canvas class next week, I’m enjoying an equine binge.

The first thing to do since the last update was to get rid of those pesky black outlines which I failed to cover when plunging the couching on the horse’s flank (feel free to let me know if that’s not the right term, I’m not a horse expert). There were a few options including a Jap outline, but in the end I decided to go for a solid filling of chips – for one thing that meant no plunging and oversewing! I chose the thinnest bright check, no.8, and tried to follow the lines as well as possible while still placing the chips in random directions. Chips are never going to make a truly sharp point, and in close-up you can see that the outlines are not smooth (you wouldn’t expect them to be), but when taking in the whole horse from a normal viewing distance I think it blends in well enough.

Visible lines The missed bit filled in with chipping The chipping in the context of the whole horse

On to the remaining bits of the back legs, worked (apart from a small length of pearl purl) in gold and copper rococco. Now the rococco that came with the class kit is big. I mean, really big. I have Very Fine, Fine and Medium rococco in my stash and Medium is as chunky as I would choose to go in any of my own projects. This looks a definite Large. It is an absolute pig to plunge, and I don’t even like the look of it very much because it is very difficult to “synchronise” the waves (the first picture shows it in the horse’s tail). I could have used a smaller size from my stash, but instead I went for check thread, rococco’s modest little sister. Much in the way that I prefer passing to Jap, I prefer check thread to rococco. It gives the same sort of effect, but it’s a lot easier to work with!

Large rococco in the tail Couched check thread The whole horse showing large rococco and check thread

The overview picture also shows my start on the grass. The kit came with bright green 471 thread, which is a bit like a fine passing thread available in lots of colours. Compared to the bottle green fabric that seemed rather too bright and too much towards the yellow end of green. In my stash I found a no. 1½ twist in Opal Green which is a lovely shade, but that was a bit too much towards teal/turquoise. Then, playing with them both at my Embroidery Group meeting (last one before the summer holiday, alas), I had a flash of inspiration: why not combine them? So I did, and I really like the effect of the blended colours and contrasting textures! When I started the second line of grass my first stitch happened to be exactly in line with the couching on the first line of grass, which looked odd, so I took it out and “bricked” it, even though the lines of couching are not directly next to each other, which I felt made for a more pleasing effect.

Two greens Combining two threads and bricking the stitches

By the way, finishing off the grass in the evening was possibly not the best decision. In spite of the floor to ceiling window in our dining room (where I like to stitch on larger and more complicated projects) the gloomy evening sky did nothing to help while couching two shades of green on dark green fabric using a green couching thread… Still, I managed, even if I did almost pull one bright green thread out completely when plunging its second end. Fortunately the unravelled first end consented to be gently persuaded back down the fabric, leaving the thread at the front acceptable if not pristine.

Working in the gloom The horse so far

So what’s left? I’d like to leave the head and neck till last, so the front legs first; they have a fair bit of work in them. I have quite a lot of copper passing left from the kit so I may put that in instead of the copper S-ing along the knee and foot. The angles of the leg are such that the S-ing looks a bit awkward there in the model photograph we were given, and rather loses its stem stitch look. We’ll see what suggests itself once I get to that point!

The model's front leg

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

A freebie, some sampling and a variety of oranges

Recently we’ve been having a bit of Bruce overload, I’m afraid. Time for a break from Bruce – only a short one, what with the finishing line so close, but a break nonetheless. Time for daisies, gemstones and oranges!

A little over a week ago I mentioned a birthday card I’d stitched for a friend, and said it might become a freebie. If you occasionally glance at Mabel’s Facebook page you may already have seen this, but indeed, Daisy & Ladybird can now be downloaded from the Freebies page. Enjoy having a play with it, and do send us pictures of your handiwork – remember, just because I chose to use crewel wool and filled in the whole thing doesn’t mean you have to do the same. You could stitch only the outline of the flower in perle cotton stem stitch and solidly fill the ladybird for contrast; you could work the petals in silk and the flower centre in bright gold chipping; you could use ribbons; it’s completely up to you.

A daisy-and-ladybird card

Last Monday was an exciting day – with the easing of lockdown restrictions the weekly Embroidery Circle I’ve been attending for years was allowed to meet again! There were only six of us rather than the usual twelve, but it was lovely to sit there and chat and stitch together. As I rather expected there would be a fair amount of chatting, I needed a project that didn’t take too much concentration. I took two, just to have a bit of choice, but stitched just the one: a sample cloth for Llandrindod. You may remember I couldn’t quite make up my mind about the stitch direction in the facets of the central gem, and I couldn’t remember why I had rejected the option which initially looked the most obvious. Time to try both.

Sampling some facets

Now my first idea had been the one on the left, with the stitches in the facets going around the centre. Then for some reason I decided it would be better to use satin stitch at right angles to the central facet, radiating outwards, as in the sample on the right. But as you can see, this makes the individual facets indistinguishable. This is not quite as much of a problem as it seems, as I will be outlining the facets in very fine metallic thread anyway, but even so it looked rather too homogenous. The final verdict: temporary brain fog when deciding to switch. Back to the original plan.

The other project I took to Embroidery Group (but neglected) was Sarah Homfray’s orange tree, a companion to the apple tree I did a while ago. All the browns and greens are done, and I’m down to the oranges, in both senses of the word. As these are circles, I thought I’d go with split stitch filling – after all, I’ve had lots of practice doing split stitch circles with Hengest.

Lots of spots

The only difference with these circles was the shading. I worked two of them from the outside in, and then one from the inside out (not quite finished, as you can see). And they look nice. But there are nine oranges in total, and even the excitement of working one of these three in the opposite direction couldn’t disguise the fact that doing nine of them in circular split stitch was going to be rather samey for a project that is meant to be a bit of fun. A little more variety is needed to spice things up.

Shading oranges using split stitch A lot more oranges

Conveniently, the oranges are arranged in three clusters of three, so it’s easy enough to simply switch to a different stitch when moving to the next cluster. For now I’m thinking of woven wheels with the centre off-centre (I hope that makes sense) and long & short stitch working from the perimeter inwards; with the latter it may be a bit tricky getting three shades into these small shapes, but it will definitely keep stitching them interesting. I’ll let you know how these other oranges work out (remind me if I forget)!

Projects portable, impromptu and irresistible

When we travelled to Devon for a week to provide care for my mother-in-law Elizabeth in March, I took five projects with me (two of them far too complicated; I don’t know what I was thinking). I managed about three stitches. When we went for another week in early April I wondered whether to bother bringing any embroidery at all – but like most stitchers I get twitchy if I haven’t got a single project with me Just In Case, so I packed the three simple ones, only one of which I had done any work on yet: a Jacobean-style leaf.

Caroline's leaf design

There is a Facebook group for RSN Certificate & Diploma students, with members from all over the world. One of them is Caroline from Australia, and some time ago she posted a picture of a leaf she had designed to do some experimenting with; the picture above is of her original leaf. I really liked it and asked whether she’d be happy for me to stitch a version of it; she very kindly said yes. In an attempt at stash-busting I picked some lovely House of Embroidery hand-dyed perles to work it in, and as for the stitches, I just did whatever felt right at the time – these projects were very much meant to be an easy thing to pick up for a few stitches at a time without having to hunt around for a stitch plan or a diagram. In that nice and relaxing way I managed to complete the leaf to my more-or-less satisfaction by the middle of the week. It also had some unexpected consequences, of which more later!

About halfway, with light pink whipped backstitch on the left The finished leaf, with an extra bit of dark pink

The other two projects I had with me were the printed fabrics of two of Sarah Homfray’s fruit trees; I’d picked some of my lovely Heathway Milano wools and decided to start on the apple tree. Initially I thought I’d just do everything in stem stitch that could be worked in stem stitch, but in practice that felt a bit too relaxing. Bearing in mind my mother-in-law’s axiom in her later life that she could stitch whatever she liked using just the basic stitches, I thought I’d add some variety but without going for anything too fancy. During our stay there I got almost as far as the third picture (I finished about half the leaves at home), with stem stitch for the trunk and branches, reverse chain stitch for the grass, and fishbone stitch for the leaves. Back home I had a think about the apples, and plunged for padded satin stitch – I did consider long & short for a more naturalistic, rounded look, but as the tree is quite stylised anyway, I rather liked this stripy approach! The middle apple isn’t quite finished because (typical, isn’t it…) my medium red thread ran out about 2 stitches short. Oh, the outer green bits are whipped backstitch.

Two Sarah Homfray trees with Heathway Milano crewel wool The first stitches Three different stitches so far One and three quarter apples

I’m really enjoying this little tree; my only quibble with the printed design is that the screen-printed lines are a bit thick so my crewel wool doesn’t always quite cover them, and as the printing is done in rather a strong bright colour it is a little noticeable here and there. But as this is not going to be a display piece I’m not too worried about that.

Now for the unexpected consequences of the Jacobean leaf: a new convert and an impromptu project smiley! One of the carers who came in to stay with my mother-in-law overnight is a crafter, and when she saw the leaf in its embroidery hoop lying on the coffee table she said, slightly wistfully, “I’ve always wanted to try that but I can’t draw and I wouldn’t know where to start.” Well, I did! On our previous visit I had been sorting through Elizabeth’s threads, fabrics, beads and so on and bagged up whatever I couldn’t use to go to her Embroidery Group. But surely they wouldn’t begrudge a new stitcher a few bits and bobs? So I quickly designed a V for her (the first letter of her name) and put a project together from the bagged up resources. She had a go the very first night after I gave it to her, and a pretty good go too, I’d say!

Sketching a V Transferred design, sample cloth and a selection of threads Vickey's first stitches

And the irresistible part of the title? That came when RSN tutor Heather Lewis (with whom I was fairly certain I did a class some years back) posted on Facebook that her Etsy shop was now open, with her very first kit in it: Elizabethan Beauty. I have too many kits already. They take me forever because I have to fit them in between developing my own designs and working on the RSN Certificate. But it was the stem that did it. It uses a braided stitch which I have attempted once or twice using perle or other relatively easy threads, but never in gold. My dear husband, instead of helping me resist the temptation, told me to get on with it and order the kit. I did (and asked whether it was indeed her who did a one-to-one goldwork class with me). It arrived yesterday in a dinky fabric bag, with a hand-written message to say yes, she did teach me in 2017! One of these days (months? years?) I’ll get around to stitching it. For now I am greatly enjoying looking at it smiley.

Heather Lewis' Elizabethan Beauty kit and its bag Kit content, from Heather's website The design The braided stem

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.

Babies galore

Another baby! Unlike baby Evelyn, baby Noah is known to us only through his paternal grandparents, who are members of our Small Group (groups within our church that meet for Bible study, chat, support, prayer, encouragement and so on, all by Zoom at the moment) so just one card needed this time. But not simply a repeat of Evelyn’s motif; that would just feel like a production line!

What then? Well, with a baby called Noah what could it be but an ark? I grabbed a scrap of paper to sketch a quick idea (and only afterwards noticed it had some scribbles on it for last week’s group meeting – how appropriate). The smudgy lines at the top are a rainbow, the circle outline is the size of the aperture of the card I want to use.

Sketch for Baby Noah's card

Then it was a matter of tidying it up in my image editing program, where I also added a cloud and some words. I didn’t draw in the individual rainbow lines; instead, I intended to do the top line in red, the bottom line in purple, and then work inwards from both ends spacing the colours out more or less (as it turned out definitely less) evenly. At this point I didn’t decide whether to go for a solidly filled rainbow or just thin lines of colour, but thought it would probaby be the latter as the rest was going to be outline-only as well. The cloud would have a detached buttonhole frilly edge, possibly in a fluffy thread like the clouds in the Hope designs.

The tidied-up design

Just because I could I printed the design out in three sizes, and found aperture cards to go with the two larger sizes. And then I decided that although the smallest size would probably look really nice done in one strand of cotton, the detail would be easier to show in the largest size, stitched using two strands. I would keep the smallest one to stitch in one strand at some later time, but for now go with the version I could be reasonably sure would work.

Which size to pick?

Time to start stitching! Cotton sateen again, as it doesn’t need a backing fabric, and this time simply good old DMC stranded cotton; it has so many colours to choose from, which makes a nice change from some of the speciality threads.

Picking the colours The transferred design and the colours

As you can see I pre-wrote “BOY” in silver gel pen, intending to stitch “it’s a” on top of the rainbow; I mean, on top of the stitching. That was clearly not going to work but I pushed that problem away for the moment and got on with the rest of the design. I do like this non-solid way of stitching the rainbow, though!

First progress shows the rainbow lettering won't work

Eventually I wrote the additional words in a very fine blue drawing pen, and outlined the silver letters. Then I added a frilly edge to the cloud. I caught the thread once or twice so it’s not as neat as I would have liked it to be, but then clouds aren’t regular, are they? Inside the card I quoted a children’s song that was part of our online Sunday service only a few days before he was born: “The Lord was good, the Lord was strong / And Noah lived his life for Him”.

The main stitching finished with the writing in the cloud With the fluffy cloud edge Made into a card

By now the card has been delivered, but I’m still playing with the design and tweaking it here and there. The boat definitely needs some colour besides the three browns, but the ones I used were a bit too different from the rest of the design. I will try using colours from the rainbow, or slightly lighter shades from the same series. I also picked a slightly lighter green for the rainbow and lowered the windows a bit. The fluffy cloud detached buttonhole edge works OK in the larger version but for the smaller version I’ll go with stem stitch in fluffy thread, and I may also try simply stem stitching the outline without any fluff at all. And when I’m happy with them I’ll write the instructions and pop it on the website for you to create your own celebratory ark!

Trying out the tweaked design in two sizes

A different focus (or two)

Last Saturday, when I was in Rugby anyway for my Certificate class, I killed two birds with one stone and picked up my new glasses. Not the everyday ones, I got those a few weeks ago – these are bi-focals. When stitching in the evening (my usual time for non-Certificate stitching) my usual stitching glasses have a disadvantage: I can see my embroidery, but very little else. Which means that when I look up to say something to my husband, or to watch something on the telly, both husband and telly are so blurred I might as well not look up. This is not very sociable.

Cue bi-focals – one bit for stitching, one bit for being sociable. I looked into getting extra-wide inserts (the bit for embroidery) but they turned out to be so eye-wateringly expensive that I went for the standard width. The lady at the optician’s very helpfully drew an outline of the inserts on the plain lenses in the frame I’d chosen, so I could see where they were in relation to my eyes, and I felt that would very likely work. Well, it does – they do! They take some getting used to (you have to learn to ignore the blurry line between to two bits of lens) and they need a little tweaking still (one lens needs to be higher, so a bit of frame-bending is required), but otherwise they are a great success.

New bifocals

In the picture you see them with a project I’ve just started, which is a Melbury Hill kit. After all those rainbows I wanted something less (excuse the pun) focused, with no need for taking notes, writing instructions or keeping track of how much thread I use. Just plain, straightforward stitching. As I’m working this upside down (I think it looks much better that way) interpreting the instructions involves a little mental gymnastics, but not too much. Even so, I found myself very carefully measuring the placement of stitches on the strawberry’s laid work (remember the Dutch “geometry triangle” I used for the battlement couching in my RSN Jacobean piece?); however, as soon as I realised what I was doing I chucked the triangle and went for a more rustic approach with slightly irregular pips; relax, woman smiley!

A relaxing kit Rustic pips

Rainbow choices and a mystery

My rainbow is growing apace! Apart from a couple of evenings this week when we have other things on, I’ve been stitching a band a night, and I like how it’s developing. There have been a few decisions to take along the way, though – not quite the relaxed just-get-on-and-stitch project I first had in mind – but that is part of any project that will eventually become a chart pack or kit. And in a way it makes me concentrate more on the design and how I want it to look.

I wrote earlier about backstitch versus cable stitch in the red band; and for the orange band I had to choose between plain and reverse chain stitch (I went for the latter – easier to start a new thread mid-line). The yellow band threw up another decision; in my provisional notes I’d put it down as diagonal satin stitch, which would mean gradually changing the stitch direction to compensate for the curve. Not impossible of course, but not very relaxed either, and I did want to try and keep it relatively simple. Straight satin stitch then? You’d still need to adjust the stitch direction, but it’s definitely easier than in the diagonal version. Unfortunately that wasn’t the effect I wanted, and anyway I suspected that both diagonal and straight satin stitch throughout would look too solid, with too little texture. In the end I went for blocks of diagonal satin stitch alternating in direction. But would it need a split stitch outline? I started one just in case.

A provisional split stitch edge

The split stitch looked rather messy – I don’t really like doing split stitch in more than a single strand – so I started from the other end of the band without split stitch, tucking the ends under the previous band on one side, and knowing they’d be covered on the other side by the next band. And it looked just fine. Good, I’m all for simplifying things! The incipient line of split stitch was unpicked and the whole band worked without it; split stitch may make an appearance as a proper filling stitch in the smaller version worked in an indivisible thread, but here it isn’t needed.

Alternating satin stitch without a split stitch edge The yellow band finished

The green band, in stem stitch, posed no problem. The blue band, to compensate for this, threw up two.

First dilemma: fly stitch or Cretan? To begin with I was almost certain I’d go for fly stitch, then I doodled both and suddenly I wasn’t so sure. They both looked rather fun!

Fly stitch versus Cretan stitch

After discussing both options with my husband I decided to stick with fly stitch after all; much though I like Cretan stitch, I felt that (in contrast to the original satin stitch band idea) it has too much texture – a bit too fussy for this project. OK, fly stitch. But…

… in which blue? From a practical point of view it makes sense to stick with one brand of silk throughout, but the Splendor blue was a bit lighter than I’d like and the only darker blue of the right sort came from my collection of Caron Soie Cristale.

Which blue to choose

Rainbow Gallery’s Splendor silk is a 12-stranded silk in a slightly unusual distribution: it consists of three “bundles” of four strands. There are other silks on the market which use the same distribution (Crescent Colours Belle Soie, Gloriana Silk Floss and Thread Gatherer Silk ‘n Colors) and their weight too is pretty much identical, so I’ve long suspected they are really exactly the same silk marketed by four different companies. Ideally, then, I’d find a darker blue in my stash of these brands, but I have a fairly limited selection and moreover they are all overdyed or variegated threads rather than the solid blue I was looking for.

Caron Soie Cristale seemed a good alternative as it is also a 12-stranded thread, although not of the 3×4 type, and the individual strands are of a similar weight to Splendor and its doppelgangers. I cut a length of the darker blue, stripped four strands from it, got ready to thread them, and realised that the four strands together were noticeably thinner then the four strands of Splendor I’d been using. On closer inspection, the thread turned out to consist of 16 thinner strands. Had I misremembered the strand count and weight of Soie Cristale? I checked four or five other bobbins and this is the only Soie Cristale I have which has 16 thinner strands. I am puzzled.

The rogue thread, standard Soie Cristale and Splendor

Oh well, we work with what we have. Six strands of this rogue blue looked to have about the same bulk as four strands of the Splendor, so I got to work with that. Having struggled with six rather wayward strands for several hours I am happy with the look of the stitch, but the colour seems rather dark. Perhaps with hindsight my original Splendor blue would have been better. Unpick it all? That’s a bit drastic. I’ll see if it’s grown on me by the time my next stitching session comes around…

The blue band finished

By the way, exciting news – I’ve got a Certificate class booked at Rugby! Next Wednesday I hope to make a start on mounting the Jacobean tree, and going over my paperwork with Angela.