Goldwork balloon – felt padding

After a long interval, a small update on the Benton & Johnson goldwork balloon. Let me start with a bit about the instruction booklet. Besides list of what’s in the kit, there is a very comprehensive list of what else you need, in great detail.

Slightly puzzling from reading just the list: there is a gold thread in the kit marked “for couching”, but the list of “Additional Requirements” also lists “Yellow couching thread which matches the gold”, with suggestions for suitable threads. Will some things be couched using the gold thread that comes with the kit, and others using a yellow sewing thread? The answer to that turns out to be “yes” – the gold thread will be used to attach the metallic leather. Not quite couching, but close enough.

This shows that it can be very helpful and illuminating to read through the whole instruction booklet in a kit before starting (as they advise at the beginning of the instructions). From long experience I’d say it is hardly ever disastrous if you don’t, but it can save a lot of trouble and confusion and running out of threads, so it’s time well spent (even though what you really want to do is get stitching!).

The booklet also contains very detailed preparation instructions, about ironing and framing the fabric. Several methods of transferring the design are mentioned, with one (tacking stitches worked through tracing paper) described in more detail. The instructions also state explicitly that the balloon outline is all that needs to be transferred. Beginning stitchers who feel that surely there ought to be more on the fabric before they start stitching will be reassured by this, and hopefully deterred from adding additional lines that might remain visible when the project is completed.

The next section gives tips for starting and finishing, and then it’s on to instructions about attaching the various bits of felt. It was nice to get some actual needlework done on this project at last smiley!

The first layer of felt padding attached to the silk The second layer of felt padding The second layer of felt padding attached

Things I noticed about this part of the project:

  • The instructions are very detailed and helpful. It’s difficult for me to read them as though I’d never done any goldwork at all, but I think someone new to goldwork but with a bit of other needlework experience shouldn’t have any problems.
  • the felt shapes don’t appear to fit quite accurately inside the design transfer, and I can’t get the whole balloon to line up with the two half balloons. The first mismatch may be because I stretched the silk fabric after transferring the design, so the outline is probably a bit bigger than it should be. As for the second, could it be because I ironed the tracings on? That could have pulled the felt slightly out of shape, I suppose. I must check the drawings in the instruction booklet; perhaps photocopy them and then cut them out to see whether everything lines up.

When I next get round to this project, I’ll be attaching some of the gold bits – the gold kid leather, to be exact. Shiny…

Finally getting started on the goldwork balloon

It’s a good thing the kind gentleman at Benton & Johnson didn’t give me a deadline to work to – in fact, I may come to regret my tongue-in-cheek remark, when he said there wasn’t a deadline because this design had been on the backburner for two years, that at least I’d make sure it wouldn’t take another two years. At the rate I’m going, two years is beginning to look distinctly optimistic. I was sent the kit at the end of March, and nearly two months later where are we? Well, the silk fabric is on the Millennium frame…

In my defence, getting it mounted was a bit of a saga on account of the calico backing which turned out to be anything but rectangular. But with the help of the Millennium frame and a spray bottle of water, I got that sorted out and last time you saw the project it looked like this:

The silk pinned onto the now much straighter calico

I hadn’t quite decided yet whether to attach only the top and bottom of the silk, or all four sides, but I thought I’d start with the top and bottom and then see how well that worked. It worked quite well, but not perfectly – the silk obviously needed a little sideward pull. I had worked the top and bottom herringbone with the fabric on a slightly slack tension, but for the sides I stretched it a bit more; not quite taut as a drum with the Millennium frame stretched to its maximum reach, but definitely tight. The result: a perfectly flat piece of silk to work on.

Attaching the silk to the calico with herringbone stitch One beautifully taut piece of silk

To attach the silk I had to use the frame’s side bars at their maximum extension, but for the actual goldwork embroidery I could do with a smaller area; and I much prefer that if it’s possible because I don’t like using the frame at its full 10 inches, for fear of overstretching and damaging the mechanism. So I repositioned the calico on the rollers, cut off the excess fabric, put on the roller guards and my needle minder, and collected my faithful helper. I was ready to roll.

The fabric rearranged on the rollers, and my helper in place

So have I done any stitching at all? Well, no. But I’ve done some more preparatory work! There are a number of felt shapes to be cut out for padding. As I find it very difficult to draw on felt, I decided to make use of some thin Vilene. I traced the outlines of the felt shapes on to the glue side of the Vilene, so that when it was ironed on to the felt they would be back-to-front. This meant that the cut-out shapes, non-Vilene side up, would be the right way round. The design is not quite symmetrical, so this is important.

Tracing the felt outlines onto the back of the Vilene, right way round The Vilene ironed on to the felt, back to front The felt shapes cut out, right way round

There is some leather to cut as well, but I will leave that until it’s needed. First I’d like to get some proper stitching done on this balloon, even if it is only attaching the padding.

Finally, a few remarks on the kit so far.

  • The crease in the silk that worried me, and which I couldn’t get out completely with ironing, is a lot less noticeable when the fabric is stretched, so it should be all right.
  • The silk is generously cut, with a 2½” margin all around the design.
  • The felt, too, has plenty of room for all the parts.
  • The felt outlines are numbered, and the instructions very clearly explain in which order they need to be attached. They explicitly point out that it is unusual for the small shape to be sewn on top of the larger one, so that stitchers who have done some padding before won’t get confused by this.
  • According to the instructions, the two “half-balloon” shapes go underneath the full balloon shape. Although this is the usual order (smaller underneath larger) in this case I didn’t expect it, as the gap between the two half shapes is there to accommodate a line of pearl purl, and I’m not sure how this will work with the full balloon shape on top. It’ll be interesting to see it develop.

Now stretch up that frame, it’s time to start stitching!

Hurrah! Oh dear…

Sounds of rejoicing throughout the Figworthy home: I’ve finished Orpheus II! It is essentially a re-arranged and elongated Orpheus I, which is why I’m treating them as two variations of one design. Doesn’t the choice of colour make a difference though! And I love the subtle variegations in the Sparklies fabrics – they bring out the best in the standard DMC perles. Orpheus will go on sale tomorrow, both on its own and as part of the Ukrainian Collection together with Odessa and Lviv.

Orpheus I finished Orpheus II finished

Finishing Orpheus meant that I was now allowed to start a new project. Or perhaps even projectS – one on the Millennium frame and a few tiddly ones in hoops. The choice of project for the Millennium frame was easy: the Benton & Johnson goldwork balloon. My first step there was to attach the blue silk to a calico backing, and this proved to be more challenging than expected.

I’d done my research, studying both in books and online how various experienced stitchers attached smaller pieces of fabric to larger pieces of backing before mounting the sandwich on a frame. There were some individual variations, but on the whole it seemed to amount to this: Pin fabric to calico. Sew fabric to calico using either herringbone stitch or long and short stitches, starting from the centre of each side. Mount calico on frame. Start stitching.

Having remembered just in time first to transfer the design on to the silk, I began with step one (I’m a traditionalist at heart) and pinned the silk to the calico, making sure that the grain of both fabrics lined up. Not easy as the calico appeared to be a little crooked, and the silk hadn’t been cut straight on all sides, but I did the best I could manage. That was my first mistake – I should have straightened up the fabric before starting.

The pins make the fabrics look very bumpy

It looked terribly bumpy even before I got all the pins in, so I removed quite a few of them and made do with about four a side, equally spaced. That was very likely my second mistake. (Can you see a pattern emerging here?) Third mistake: I made my herringbones far too large, especially when I changed from the stabbing method to the sewing method halfway through.

Herringbones that are far too large

Perhaps if I just put it on the Millennium frame and tighten it up, it’ll miraculously go flat and taut? Alas, no.

Even the Millennium frame can't put the tension right on that

At that point I decided to give up and unpick the whole thing. My husband reminded me that there were daffodils to be dead-headed in the front garden, and that I had declared an intention to attack the virulent ground elder that threatens to smother everything else in the back garden, so I went out into the sunshine and got myself some virtuously aching muscles. Then I came back in and did what I should have done in the first place, tidied up the edges of my fabrics. You do this by pulling out threads until you’ve got a straight edge, then trimming the superfluous fringe. And boy, was there a lot of superfluous fringe!

Some very wonky fabric

So now that I’ve got two straightened pieces of fabric my troubles are over, right? Well, not quite – the calico really is rather crooked; I mean that the warp and weft threads are not at right angles to each other, so even with neatened edges it is not a true rectangle. And the silk, though by no means as wonky as the calico, is half a centimetre longer on one vertical side than on the other, even though all four sides have been straightened. So I’m taking a while to think this through. I can get the vertical grain of the two fabrics to line up quite well. Perhaps if I attach the silk along the top and bottom only, it’ll work better. I might try this out with a spare piece of satin dupion first.

For now I’ll relax with some of the Kelly Fletcher flowers, trying out my two twills and some other fabric and thread combinations. But I’ll get back to that balloon in time – promise!

Unexpected goldwork

Remember I said there was another project for which I wanted to use the Millennium frame? It’s an unexpected piece of goldwork. No, not the little Jacobean design I mentioned last time – I’ve written to the magazine again with my husband’s clever proposal but haven’t heard from them yet – this one came to me more or less by accident! A few weeks ago Mary Corbett wrote about Benton & Johnson goldwork kits, and in the comments someone mentioned the intriguingly named “Air Balloon Goldwork Kit” which unfortunately doesn’t have a picture with it. I’d visited B & J’s website before in my search for goldwork materials, but they sell in rather large quantities more suited to resellers or teachers making up kits. However, on revisiting the site I saw they had moved to a new address in London, very close to one of my regular walking routes when I am in town for the Knitting & Stitching Show; but it wasn’t very clear whether the address was actually a shop which you could visit. So I rang them to find out.

Neil Halford at Benton & Johnson’s very kindly explained to me that it was really only a showroom for their ceremonial work, and that any purchases had to be made via the website or over the phone. I took the opportunity of asking him about the balloon kit. “Ah”, he said. “We haven’t actually had that stitched yet.” And before I knew it he asked me whether I would like to stitch it for them. Very tempting, but I felt I ought to tell him that I am a bit of a beginner when it comes to goldwork. Which reminds me, I don’t think I ever showed you the finished RSN day class project – very remiss of me, so here it is, on its own and framed in a happened-to-have-this-and-it’s-just-right frame.

The goldwork watering can finished

The goldwork watering can framed

Anyway, we talked some more and he said how difficult it was to find model stitchers, so I took a deep breath and said that if he was willing to take the risk, I’d be more than happy to have a go and take pictures and write comments etc. A week later, the postwoman brought a goldwork air balloon. Well, a potential goldwork air balloon. It uses padded kid, lots of couching, some chipwork, and as far as I can see no techniques that I’ve never done before, which is a reassuring thought.

When I opened the envelope and took out the kit, one thing immediately struck me. Can you guess what it was?

The Hot Air Balloon Goldwork Kit

That’s right: it’s already got a picture of the stitched design. I rang Neil and he said it was a very bad photo, they couldn’t use it to fit in with the format of the other kits, and they didn’t really have any information as to how good the instructions were so they needed a stitcher to tell them. Well, I’m happy to oblige smiley. I also asked whether it would be all right for me to blog about the project and how I got on with it, and he said that was fine, so expect various updates over the next few months. Rather wonderfully, there is no deadline, so no pressure – just enjoyment.

It’s always very enjoyable to dive right in and take all the bits and bobs out of the kit and see what’s there, but I noticed there was a content list on the back so I read that first. It definitely looked promising! The materials were all snugly enclosed in the instruction booklet which looks quite comprehensive, with colour photographs to illustrate the various steps.

What's in the kit

Instructions with colour photographs

It really makes me want to promote this to Current Project, but unfortunately I can’t quite start on this yet, as there are several other things that have priority (see last Wednesday’s post). When I do, however, the first thing will be to mount it on the Millennium frame. This means finding my own backing fabric, as B & J’s very understandably don’t provide a piece large enough for the purpose; the included backing fabric is actually larger than stated in the content list and is easily big enough to mount the whole thing in a hoop, so no criticism there (it does annoy me so when the fabric supplied with a kit is only about half an inch bigger than the stitched project – you can’t work like that). The blue silk fabric is also of a good size, but with rather a strong crease in it; I’ll have to see how that irons out. Then there are two squares of dark gold felt and some extremely shiny gold kid leather which will definitely attract the eye in the finished piece. The last thing in the kit is a bulky acid-free envelope – another thing to unwrap, it’s almost as good as a birthday! Inside are beeswax, beads, coloured metallic threads and various gold threads and purls. Now of course I don’t know yet how much thread this balloon will take, but at first sight there seems to be an extremely generous amount of everything, and it all looks beautiful and shiny and very tempting. Let’s see how long I manage to resist…

Fabric, kid, felt, and a glassine envelope

Lots of metal threads