Leaf motifs and shisha variations

Having tried four different corner leaf motifs for my new Shisha Mini I didn’t really think any of them was going to work; but as I’m still trying to decide which shisha stitch variation to use as well, I decided to work another one with four different corners to try out. First one up (using the original dots on the pattern): a sort of fan of five lazy daisy stitches. This looks quite good, though perhaps a bit large. Keep it in mind and on to the next two options, for which I drew a leaf outline around the pattern dots.

Alternatively arranged lazy daisies, and new pencil marks

The mirror, by the way, is attached using a herringbone variation in #5 perle cotton. The first one I did, last month, was Cretan stitch (also in #5). As for the two leaf shapes, one was outlined using buttonhole stitch (top right) and one filled with fishbone stitch (bottom right). Neither of them looked right. The buttonhole leaf, though I like it in itself, is too clunky (and wonky) for this design. The fishbone leaf I found too solid. Then as I was reading Mary Corbet’s blog I came across a project of hers using pistil stitch (a French knot with a tail). Another useful stitch, not too solid and easy to get into the right shape.

Four more corner variations

Looking at the two varied-corner projects, I wanted to try two of the corner variations on “proper” projects – the fan-style motifs using lazy daisy and pistil stitch. And although with hindsight it would have made more sense to vary only one thing in these two projects (namely the corner motifs) I decided to try out various other things at the same time. First of all the centre shisha bit. And then the threads. I’d ordered three different threads from Tamar Embroideries, all in shade 243 – stranded cotton, brodery or mercerized cotton, and matt cotton. The second one is described on the TE website as “similar to cotton a broder”, the third as “similar in weight to our mercerized cotton but with a softer feel and a matt finish”. From threads I bought from them earlier it seemed to me that the matt cotton is actually a bit heavier than the mercerized cotton, and that both are heavier than the coton à broder I have, which is mostly #25, but they would be interesting to try. What wasn’t noticeable until I stitched with it: the stranded cotton is a bit heavier than the ordinary DMC variety too.

So here is the third attempt, with herringbone variation in #8 perle cotton, two strands of Tamar stranded cotton for the curls and matt cotton for the lazy daisies. I like the central motif, it reminds me of a sunflower; it works better in #8 than in #5, I think. Two strands of stranded cotton makes quite a heavy stem stitch line, and although the lazy daisy fan is a pretty motif the matt cotton is far, far too thick for it.

stranded and matt cotton, and lazy daisies

The fourth version uses a crossed long-armed fly stitch variation in #8 to attach the shisha, one strand of stranded cotton for the curls and mercerized/brodery cotton for the pistil stitches. The mercerized cotton works OK for the pistil stitches, although it is still a little more solid than I had in mind, and the curls are more light-weight but perfectly visible in one strand.

stranded and mercerized cotton, and pistil stitch

So what am I going to use? For attaching the mirror, either Cretan stitch (if I want it to be suitable for beginners) or crossed long-armed fly stitch (for a slightly more challenging version). Although I really like the look of the herringbone version in perle #8, its petal shape is a bit too much like the plaited fly stitch of the Shisha flower I use for workshops. As for the corner motifs, pistil stitch would make sense as I want to use different stitches from the Shisha flower which uses chain stitch for its scrolled stem, and a lazy daisy is in effect a single chain stitch. Unfortunately, I like the look of the lazy daisy fan slightly better than the pistil stitch fan. One option would be to go for French daisies – lazy daisies secured with a French knot.

Now I want to stitch a series of Shisha Minis with all the different shisha variations, at the same time trying out different combinations of threads for the corner curls-and-fans. For example brodery cotton for the curls, and two strands of stranded cotton for the fans (in pistil stitch, lazy daisy or French daisy), or the other way around, or one strand for the curls and two for the fans, or perhaps go back to standard DMC threads after all. I’ll keep the updates coming!

Theory and practice

It was a Bank Holiday weekend and so I decided to do some much-needed maintenance in our much-neglected (but much-loved) garden. We’d bought some bedding plants (marigolds and violets, I think, but I’m still not very well up on English plant names) at the local car boot sale, and the idea was to plant half of them in a bare patch of back garden, and half in a bed in the front garden where there is also a cotoneaster that needed a haircut. Of course it’s never that simple. Sunday afternoon saw several hours of all-out war on ground elder before we could even think of planting anything, and on Monday the cotoneaster’s short back and sides turned out to need a machete rather than dainty seccateurs. Still, we won! Two small patches of our garden are now fit to be seen by other people besides ourselves. It’s not exactly Chelsea Flower Show material, but it’s a lot better than it was.

The back garden after a LOT of weeding and a little planting a shrub with a haircut, and some new plants

Fortunately the gardening did leave some time for experimental needlework. Unfortunately, both the experiments were unsuccessful. Occasionally you come up with this great idea, and in your head it works absolutely beautifully, and on paper it looks perfectly feasible, and then you get the fabric and needle and thread out and it simply will not work. I’m afraid this was the case with my ideas for beaded picots and buttonhole bar fillings.

Ordinary buttonhole bars are worked on one or more foundation stitches (see below), and apart from the ends of those foundation stitches the bars are unattached to the fabric; it is sometimes known as detached buttonhole stitch, and you can fill whole shapes with it. One day, as I was trying out some new Hardanger bars, I looked at the four fabric threads that make up a bar, and thought, “what if I used two of those as the foundation threads for a buttonhole bar?” It’s a simple enough idea – come up in the cut hole beside the bar, then take the needle over two threads (so going down the centre of the bar) leaving a loop, and come back up in the cut hole, catching that loop. Continue in the same way until the end of the bar, and hey presto, buttonhole bar filling.

If it works like this...

The beaded picot also seemed uncomplicated both in my mind and on paper (see below): weave half a bar, then instead of making a little knot or loop to form the picot, knot your thread around a bead, then continue weaving. The bead will sit snugly against the bar, making a novel, colourful and slightly chunky picot replacement.

A promising sketch

The theory looked promising – so I got out my “experiment hoop” to try them out in practice. Alas. I tried several ways of attaching the bead picots, and none of them would stay where it was put; the ones that did stick in roughly the right place had a lot of thread showing. You will note that in my sketch I’d drawn the bead with its hole running away from the bar, whereas what happened in practice (and what I should have forseen) was that the hole ran from the front of the work to the back. The buttonhole bars were, if possible, worse. They twisted. It turned out to be absolutely impossible to keep them flat with a pretty buttonhole edge on the outside of the bar. I tried them over two threads (red arrows), over two with the buttonhole edge on the inside (green arrow, the edge has completely disappeared), and covering the whole width of the bar (blue arrow). None of them worked.

Unsuccessful experiments

I would have said “back to the drawing board”, if the drawing board hadn’t turned out to be so unreliable! It just goes to show there’s nothing like actually stitching something to see if it will work. Oh, and those two fuzzy, blurred bars in the top right of the picture? They were experiments that did work which I’m not revealing just yet smiley.

Border control

One way of finishing pieces of stitching, whether they become bookmarks or table mats or bell pulls or patches, is to give them a decorative and sturdy border (“hem” would probably be a better word, but “Hem control” wouldn’t have been such a good title smiley). The emphasis is on “sturdy” – it’s easy enough to work a line of running stitch and fray the fabric up to it, and I recently saw a finish where the fabric was frayed up to a border of Kloster blocks, but although that would probably be fine for projects that get stuck on cards, or the tops of boxes, they probably wouldn’t stand up to a lot of handling.

At the moment I’m working on several sets of small and even smaller designs specifically intended to be used with foam items like the notebooks and purses I showed you last week, and also with smaller foam shapes to make ornaments. Some will use the frayed-edge finish, some will be attached with buttons, and some will have a more use-proof finish. But as I am stitching the models, I am reminded why I use these first-class, grade A borders so little. They are very time-consuming! On the other hand, they do produce pieces which will stand up to handling, and which can be displayed as they are, or easily attached to a background (for example a cushion or a bag). Below are a few examples of long-lasting borders: hem stitch (not used in the pieces I’m working on at the moment), four-sided edging (shown here on Percival, used as part of the design on Faith Hope & Love and the Guildhouse needlebook) and buttonhole edging (progress picture for Art of the Needle; not cut out of the surrounding fabric yet).

Hem stitch border Four-sided edging Buttonhole border