Pretties in the post (I): Bling

Having stitched with pearls and gems at the Medieval Embroidery retreat I’ve developed a bit of a taste for them and yesterday the postman brought me some to have a play with when my Opus Anglicanum project is finished. The freshwater pearls on the string are like the ones in the medieval king, only ever so slightly larger; it’s very difficult to find them any smaller than this!

A string of small freshwater pearls The string of pearls with my medieval king

I’m keeping a look out for coloured glass gems – Sarah Homfray told me that the ones they used in the kits were from a discontinued line, and she’d bought them all. But when I saw this mix of white acrylic ones in a sale for a rather ridiculous price I thought they were worth a try, especially as I also found some genuine glass shisha mirrors and an interesting black version of my coloured floral gems in that same sale.

A bag of mixed sew-on gems Different sizes of gems Glass shisha mirrors Black floral gems

Then as I was putting away the gems and the flowers, and looking up some black beads which might go with them (not plain black, but sort of oil-on-water) I remembered a large black canvas shopping bag I got some time ago – surely the perfect combination!

Black and transparent gems on a black shopper Black and transparent gems against the black fabric

My first thought was to attach the flowers and gems in a random swirly pattern, but unfortunately I’m not very good at random. Could I perhaps arrange them in letters? I showed this (very provisional) arrangement to my husband, who felt the contrast between the two letters was too high. Yes, I can see what he means. Well, how about letters in black flowers attached with the oily beads, with swirls of gems around them? Watch this space – I may even go properly random after all!

Mabel's initials in gems

The woes of a multiple starter

Originally I was going to call this post “The woes of a serial starter”, but then I realised that if only my starts were serial, there wouldn’t be a problem. It’s because they are concurrent that I get into trouble, and that trouble is summed up in the question “which one do I work on this evening?”

From fairly early on in my embroidery life I found that one project at a time didn’t do it for me. All right, I get bored easily. I am not the work-on-the-same-enormous-project-for-three-years-running type. Quite a steady and patient sort of person in everyday life, I somehow seem to crave variation and instant gratification in my needlework. Oh well, one has to get one’s excitement somewhere smiley.

And on the whole, it works just fine. If I have two or three things on the go, and they are not too similar, I can pick up whichever I feel like at any given moment. I may work on the same project for several days (even weeks) on end, or I may change from one stitching session to the next. But don’t you find sometimes that too much choice can be paralysing? As with flavours of ice cream (so much easier to decide when vanilla, chocolate or strawberry were the only options), so with too wide a selection of available embroidery projects – if there are so many things I could do, I sometimes end up doing none of them and watching Countryfile or a murder mystery instead!

At the moment I find myself with two projects actually being stitched (a Kelly Fletcher design re-imagined in silk and gold and a silk sunflower), two hooped up with the materials chosen (a goldwork workshop model and another sunflower), two transferred with the details still to be decided on (a tiny sheep to be done in silverwork and a project pouch – really a tablet pouch – to be worked in plain DMC), one charted but not yet transferred (a six-petalled flower to be done in silk and gold), and one tantalising me with its possibilities but with no definite stitching plan as yet (a really useful canvas moon bag).

A Kelly Fletcher flower re-imagined in silk and gold The start of a sunflower A goldwork workshop model Two sunflowers
A tiny sheep to be worked in silverwork A project pouch with Mabel on it A six-petalled flower to be stitched in silk and gold A moon bag waiting to be stitched

So will I get any stitching done tonight? As Tommy Cooper said, “I used to think I was indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.” Is there a Midsomer Murders on anywhere?

One finished bag

After all that hemming I still haven’t got much to show for it. Last weekend I got myself settled at the kitchen table with the hemmed projects, bags, ruler, sharp needle, perle cottons, a Poirot audio book and lots of good intentions, and several hours later I had 1 finished bag, 4 projects each assigned to a suitably coloured bag, 1 bag for which it turns out I didn’t have a suitable project, and 4 projects for which I did not yet have suitable bags. I also had a confirmation email from Clever Baggers about an order for more bags, including some chocolate brown ones which they are apparently discontinuing but which would be perfect for Moss Agate, Reindeer Moss and the Coral Cross.

So not a particularly productive afternoon, but then there is no great hurry to get these bags finished, so I can do them at a rate of one a weekend if I like. The only one that did have a deadline of sorts was the one I got finished – a large canvas bag now decorated with Spring Romance, and to be used on my October visit to the London Knitting & Stitching Show. This should be just about big enough to hold two workshops’ worth of kits and squissors as well as my overnight stuff! (It’s a good thing I’m happy to travel light…)

Spring Romance canvas bag

So what do you DO with it? (revisited)

I stitch all my designs (*). That may sound rather obvious at first, but for various reasons not everyone does. Some designers use model stitchers. Some offer a computer-generated picture of what the stitched piece will look like. Some offer a picture of the artwork the design is based on. In many cases the problem must be one of time – if you are a prolific designer of rather large and complex pieces, you’d need several lifetimes to stitch them all, and you might manage to offer one to the public every six to twelve months or so – not ideal.

Fortunately Hardanger is a relatively quick needlework technique, and my designs are never on the "tablecloth for a dining table that seats 24" sort of scale, so I have the luxury of choosing to stitch them all myself. Which is just as well, because as I’ve mentioned before I do tend to change things about my designs. Sometimes because it doesn’t look the way I intended; sometimes because it needs such fiddly and convoluted stitching that I couldn’t possibly inflict it on anyone but myself; and sometimes because what worked on paper turns out to be simply impossible with needle and thread. Whatever the reason, stitching the designs brings it out and allows me to change it.

It does mean, however, that I end up with an awful lot of stitched pieces, most of which just lie around not doing anything useful. Some of them get turned into cards, coasters, pen holders, Bible covers, bookmarks and bags (you can see them in the Gallery), but not everything fits into cards and coasters, after a while the supply of Bibles in the house runs out, and there’s only so many pen holders you can use.

Of course you can make them into pen holders, cushions, bags etc. for other people. Hand-stitched items make great gifts. The trouble is that I’m rather attached to all those stitched models – they are the first time each of these designs got stitched. Some of them have as yet been stitched by no-one but me. I feel quite maternal towards them.

But I came to the conclusion that I was just being silly, and so I’m turning some of them into "Mabel Originals" – items which have been hand-finished using an original piece of stitching, designed and worked by Mabel. Because they are useful and relatively easy to post, I’ve chosen to finish most of them as shopping bags, but there will be some other items as well. You can see them on the new Specials page.

Except for one which I’m going to keep for myself. I think it will be the perfect bag for some serious stash shopping at this year’s Knitting & Stitching show!

Stitching Bug Bag

(*) Apart from the Rage Sampler. I admit it. But as it consists solely of words and uses only three shades (dark brown for the small letters and two reds for the big ones) I don’t think stitching it would have made a great difference to the design.