“It is not good that the man should be alone”

Remember Ethelnute on his box?

Ethelnute mounted on his satin box

Well, look what I found in my drawer of boxes smiley:

A companion box to Ethelnute's

A second box, the same size but emerald green – Ethelnute obviously needs a wife! But what is she to be called? Æthelflæd? Gunhild? Alfgifu? Hadewich?

We have a little 1930s car called Hilda (which is a good medieval name) so my husband suggested combining it with Mabel (also medieval, although it tended to be spelled Amabel) and making Mabelhild. Nope. I know Ethelnute’s name was a bit of a hybrid as well, but this just sounds silly. But it did remind me of the name Mechthild (the Germanic version of Mathilda), which retains the M and the Hild(a) and is a proper medieval name, so that’s who she’ll be!

Having decided on the important matter of her name, she needed to be designed. I collected various images of ladies and queens from medieval manuscripts and embroideries (which, being many centuries old, have long since entered the public domain) and combined several of them into a sort of amalgam queen – although I hope Mechthild shows plenty of individuality in spite of that! The colours in the image below are by no means definitive (I’ll decide on that when I start putting the materials together) and it doesn’t show which bits will be gold or gems or beads rather than embroidery, but it should give you an impression of what she’ll look like.

Queen Mechthild

She will be stitched using pretty much the same materials as Ethelnute (Silk Mill silks, pearls, beads, gold twist) but there is one element in the King that won’t be used in the Queen, and that’s the glass gems; I haven’t been able to find any in the right size, colour and type. However, I did find some glass beads in interesting shapes which I think may work: Miyuki drop beads (like seed beads only drop shaped) and Czech pip beads (which look squashed, as though someone has sat on them, and are rather larger). I got some in a selection of suitably “medieval” shades and look forward to using them.

Queen Mechthild with beads

And then there was that medieval unicorn I wanted to design, based on the quirky horse on the Steeple Aston cope. The main changes were easy enough – he needed a horn and a goatee beard. I also enlarged his spots to show off the “coloured whites” I’m hoping to use for them. And as with the medieval queen, I found him a name: meet Hengest (Old English for horse).

Hengest the Medieval Unicorn

I was slightly worried about the horse’s bridle and various leather bits, because I rather wanted to keep them (they offer a great opportunity for the use of bling, whether gold or beads or any other type) but they didn’t strike me as proper unicorn accessories. However, a bit of quick online research showed that fortunately there are medieval tapestries showing unicorns with chest bands. My bling was saved! I repositioned and redrew the original chest band to make room for dangly pip beads, and moved his eyes so there was room for bling on the bridle as well. Hengest is ready to roll! Er, gallop.

Hengest with experimental beads

P.S. An important thing about using images in the public domain: even when the original image/embroidery/manuscript is in the public domain, photographs of it are not (or not necessarily). So although you can use the original (in my case medieval) image to base your artwork on, you are not allowed to reproduce modern photographs of it without permission of the copyright holder (which is why I removed the image from my Silk Mill Sale post and gave a link to the V&A’s image of the Steeple Aston cope instead).

Change in progress (II) – beads

In the first part of Change In Progress showed you some changes that had been made to the three wooden pendant designs as I was stitching them; added stitches, added shading, changes in colour. But sometimes changes in a design are more in the nature of an extra, alternative design. The Old & New pair was designed to be stitched in double cross stitch using Petite Treasure Braid, but having stitched both designs I thought it might be fun to try the smaller of the two in beads as well. This was partly because some years ago I saw 18th-century bead work in an exhibition and I was blown away by how vibrant it looked compared to silk embroideries of the same period, which had faded to the beigey shades we’ve become used to in old embroidery. Well, it definitely worked smiley – the colours absolutely popped!

Old & New 1 worked in beads

If the Christmassy one on black worked so well, would the one on opalescent fabric work equally well? I simply had to find out. However, whereas finding suitable red, gold and green beads had been quite easy, finding usable silver, blue and purple beads turned out to be much harder! For one things there don’t seem to be quite so many shades of purple Mill Hill beads; a fair few lilac ones, and several bluey-purples and reddish-purples but not many “pure” purples. Then I wanted the beads to be shiny, not matt; and of course the blue and purple (and the silver) needed to go together. And silver! Mill Hill’s silver beads, though shiny, are actually rather dark and grey.

Perhaps some sort of white was the answer? I picked a shiny blue and a shimmery lilac, both rather lighter than I had originally envisaged, and combined them with an opalescent white. They looked good together! But white isn’t silver, and I did want to try and stay as close to the original as I could. What silver beads did I have? Well, there was Mill Hill silver, which as I said before is more gun metal than precious metal; some very silvery beads which unfortunately are unbranded, and therefore not suitable for a published design which needs “repeatable” materials; and Mill Hill’s Frosted Ice, somewhere between white and silver, a little subdued in its lustre but a definite possibility.

Blue, lilac and shimmery white beads for Old & New 2 Various silver beads

To make the final decision I compared the opalescent white and the frosted silver on the sparkly fabric I would be using, and although both worked quite well, I decided to go for the latter to keep that touch of silver in the design.

Opalescent white versus frosted silver

And here it is! Now all I need to do is write up the chart pack, and Old & New should be available on the website soon.

Old & New 2 worked in beads

Colours, beads and bead pots

Sometimes colours work just fine when you look at them on the skein or ball, but when they’re actually on the fabric, in stitches, they’re just not quite right. This happened on Join The Band as I was working the perle #8 stitches in the uncut purple Kloster block bands. Far too little contrast between light and dark – the dark will have to be a LOT darker! For this band, in fact, I’ll go for DMC 550, a lovely rich purple; the blue and green bands will likewise get more of a contrast.

Too little contrast between the shades

Incidentally, I’ve been having some ideas about the blue and green bands. The idea was that the purple bands would be uncut, with some surface stitching as a filling, while the blue and green bands would be cut and filled in the usual Hardanger manner (except that the cut squares are not separated by worked bars but by double-sided Kloster blocks). But while picking the new, darker filling colours I thought it would be interesting to have three different approaches: the purple ones uncut with surface decorative stitching, the green one uncut with a Hardanger filling, and the blue ones cut with a Hardanger filling. Some traditional filling stitches can be worked equally well on uncut fabric as in a cut area, as long as the square it is filling is surrounded by four Kloster blocks (I used this in the four Kaleidoscope designs, which can be worked cut or uncut according to the stitcher’s preference).

But first things first – as I was working the surface stitching in dark purple I suddenly realised that what I had taken to be French knots were actually beads. Well, I did design this a long time ago, and I’d forgotten… So off to my bead tins to find some purple beads. Ah. There weren’t any, or at least none that were dark enough to go with DMC 550. Off, then, to Sew & So, my first port of call for most supplies. As it is difficult to know what a colour really looks like from just seeing it on screen, I got two shades, one a standard-sized seed bead and one a petite. The petite bead won the colour competition hands down, and turned out to fit the design rather better size-wise as well!

Choosing beads to go with the dark purple in Join The Band

However, these new beads created a new problem: I need more bead tins! Unfortuately I can’t get those useful watchmaker’s tins any more; there is a company in America that sells them with slightly larger pots, but I prefer the smaller ones, and anyway it comes out far too expensive with postage and import duty. eBay has lots of gem pots and what have you on offer, but the containers for the pots are generally too large. Then I found 60 pots in two reasonable-sized containers at Stitch Craft Create (well, those three words anyway, although they may be in a different order). The pots are 25mm like my old ones, only a little taller; the two containers are a little bigger than my watchmaker’s tins but not too bad. And having transferred my beads to the pots and seeing the colourful picture they make, I’m happy with my new storage!

My new bead pots The bead pots, filled

The temptation of pretty threads

When I started charting, I knew exactly what I wanted Flora to be (even though it didn’t have a name at that point): a simple design (or possible two variations) that would make a quick and attractive card for various occasions, floral in look, not too challenging in its bars and fillings, and using standard perles. The idea was that beginners would be able to tackle it and produce something pretty and useful relatively quickly, without the need to splash out on speciality threads they might not use again (although I’m always happy to encourage people to experiment with different threads, of course), while more experienced stitchers could use it as a relaxing little project between larger or more challenging ones, and would probably not need to buy anything but be able to stitch it from their existing stash.
I ended up with two variations, one in purples and one in pinks, though with a slightly more difficult filling stitch than I had originally intended (spider’s web rather than square filet). I defended this decision by telling myself I’d include instructions for the square filet as well, and leave the choice to the stitcher. Otherwise, it was still very much along the lines that I’d had in mind – nothing too fussy, quick to stitch, and using only standard DMC perle cottons.
Then I looked through my box of Caron threads for a completely unrelated project, and saw these:
Flora Threads
All right, so I cheated. But then people stitching this in future may want to use speciality threads as well, and surely it is my duty to try it out for them? Well, that’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m going to stick with it!
So that was the purple version taken care of. I decided to be a good girl when stitching the pink one and got the required DMC perles from my box for when I start Flora 2 tonight. But then, as I sat at my computer, I caught sight of a picture of Tulips. It uses beaded square filets. I’ve got some lovely yellow frosted beads that would go ever so well with the yellow perle used for Flora’s filling stitches …
So Flora’s chart pack will come with a variety of instructions – standard perles and hand-dyed threads; spider’s webs and square filets (beaded or plain). And plenty of choice for the individual stitcher. Let’s hope the individual stitcher likes choice!