Playing with other people’s designs

Designing your own projects is very satisfying of course, but it can be quite relaxing to work on someone else’s – especially as there are so many embroiderers out there with great ideas! Recently I’ve been finding a proper treasure trove of designs on the Needle ‘n Thread Community FB group, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with them.

First there was the video containing a little four-petalled flowers to which I added leaves and some gold. I called it the Quatrefoil and it is now on the Freebie page with some notes on stitches and number of strands used and so on. It’s a lovely little design to use up odds and ends of threads, or to try out new ones; so far I’ve stitched three in silks (Rainbow Gallery Splendor, Madeira and Chameleon Shades of Africa) and one in wool (Heathway Milano crewel wool), using Jap, passing and twist for the gold couching. As I was stitching all these different versions I realised that I had originally drawn the inner circle too big – in the third picture you can see the gaps around the French knots – so the final drawing has had that amended.

The first Quatrefoil; Rainbow Gallery Splendor and Jap The first Quatrefoil; Madeira stranded silk and Jap The first Quatrefoil; Chameleon Shades of Africa and double passing The first Quatrefoil; Heathway Milano crewel wool and gold twist

I want to try out several more, one using silks in slightly different colours on a new fabric I got recently, a Higgs & Higgs linen-look cotton (recommended by a Cross Stitch Forum friend), and one using Madeira Lana (a thin wool/acrylic thread).

Then there was a woven picot poinsettia originally conceived by Sarah Fragale Roberts in tapestry wool. Not having any tapestry wool, I used some yarn I bought to use for crochet. Finishing it as a brooch was a bit fraught – I didn’t think it through in advance!

A picot poinsettia Making a brooch - buttonhole stitch Finishing a brooch - cutting around the flower Finishing a brooch - where to put the pin

What I should have done, and will do next time if there is a next time, is what I’ve tried to capture in this diagram:

Finishing the poinsettia brooch, ideally

Catherine Kinsey showed her brown felt Christmas bunny ornament, and I knew it was exactly the right thing to make for my daughter-in-law who had just had to say goodbye to her pet rabbit, Harry. Only Harry was grey, so grey felt it was. From the pictures I couldn’t quite tell whether it was meant to be double-sided, but as it was to be an ornament I thought I’d better make it look good on both sides! I’m not really used to this sort of embroidery so some of it was a bit challenging (not to mention fiddly!) but the end result was definitely appreciated – sigh of relief.

The Christmas bunny, front The Christmas bunny, back

And finally there was a Christmas tree embroidered freehand on paper by Sandy McGrath. It looked simple, and elegant, and quick, and just the no-deadline-no-stress sort of project I could really do with. I’d forgotten to ask Sandy the size of hers, but judging by the size of the beads in her picture and assuming they were seed beads, I went for 10cm high (hers, it turns out, was 9cm). I used red beads instead of her rose gold ones. And rather more of them. Otherwise it was identical smiley. Then my husband suggested candles instead of baubles. I played around with some bugle beads to put on a second tree, and then decided that you could actually have baubles and candles on one tree! So there it is, a baubly candly tree that you can stitch in an evening. The only change I’ll make to future trees (something which both Sandy herself and my husband mentioned) is to lengthen the trunk a bit at the bottom.

Quick Christmas tree - guidelines Quick Christmas tree, stitched but bare Quick Christmas tree with baubles Quick Christmas tree with baubles and candles

Besides giving me lots of enjoyable stitching projects, this has also reminded me once again what a generous lot stitchers are: when asked, all these people were perfectly happy for me to take their original ideas and play around with them, and the Christmas tree will even become one of my Church Building Fund workshops (if everything goes to plan) – watch out for it on the Workshop page towards the end of 2019!

Variations on a bauble

Several Round In Circles participants remarked that Round Eight reminded them of a Christmas bauble – very pleasing to hear, as this particular design was the original bauble when I was still considering calling the SAL “The Twelve Months of Christmas” and making it a collection of twelve baubles. As it turned out this was too restrictive a design brief, so I kept the circular theme but let go of the idea that they should all look baubly, to coin a phrase.

Even so, within this one design a lot of variation is possible, as is so often the case in Hardanger (especially when combined with surface embroidery). You can use any combination of bars and filling stitches in the two cut areas, and there are plenty of line stitches around (many of them used in Round In Circles) to decorate the central horizontal band with. Some of those stitches are used on the diagonal in the SAL, but most of them could easily be worked horizontally as well.

I had a little play in my charting program, combining the Round Eight outline with line stitches and other motifs from the previous rounds – and I added a little “wire loop” at the top to make them look maure bauble-like. By the way, the later rounds offer very usable stitches as well, but of course I don’t want to give anything away about those! I hope you’re not too disappointed that I didn’t actually stitch them all smiley, but that may well happen in future if I am ever tempted again to stitch all my Christmas cards (although something smaller and quicker would probably be more sensible).

Bauble variations

One SAL participant suggested making the design smaller and having two or three of them together to emphasise their baubleness (baublicity?). That would definitely produce an interesting effect, although my worry was that there would of course be much less room for line stitch variations. Also, the smaller you make a Hardanger circle, the less circular it tends to look. Still, I had a go, and came up with the little bauble below. It doesn’t actually have any room for line stitches at all, so the horizontal band needs to be created by means of coloured bars and/or filling stitches. So not really like Round Eight at all, but quite usuable nonetheless, I think – and if this stitches up nicely you may well see it on Mabel’s Fancies or at least in a FoF some time in the future!

Miniature baubles

An experimental wreath

As I was trying out various stitches on my doodle cloth, I was rather taken with one of them, a raised chain stitch arranged in a circle. Lots of texture, relatively quick, and – after a bit of trial and error with a pencil and squared paper – it looked good on the counted fabric I was using (unfortunately not all freestyle embroidery stitches can be successfully transformed into a counted equivalent, so I was particularly pleased with that).

Raised chain stitch in a circle

Does it remind you of something? Forget for a moment that it is very pink. It may be the season that put it into my head, but doesn’t it look like a Christmas wreath?

A quick-to-stitch motif that looks a bit like a Christmas wreath – I don’t know about you, but I immediately think Christmas cards. It’s lovely to send hand-made Christmas cards, but unless you choose something fairly quick to do you’ll either be stitching Christmas cards the entire year, or you just give up on the idea. Could I perhaps transform this into something usable for next year’s Season’s Greetings? If so, what would be needed? Well, for one thing, it would have to be a bit bigger; this one measures only 2cm across, which is on the small side for a card motif. About twice as big would be nice.

Now when you’re working a stitch like this on freestyle fabric, you can make it whatever size you please without too much trouble. Especially if you have one of those useful diagrams of circles divided into segments, you just pick the circle size and number of foundation stitches you want, transfer the necessary lines to your fabric and hey presto, you’re ready to stitch. On counted fabric it takes a bit more work. So back to the paper and pencil, and after some more drawing and rubbing out and re-drawing a larger circle with more foundation stitches emerged. The smaller one had been stitched using perle #8 for the foundation and #5 for the raised chain itself, so in order for this bigger one not to look too spindly I decided perle #5 and #3 were called for. Fortunately I had a perle #3 in green in my stash, though if these do make it into production I might buy a slightly brighter, Christmassy green. The foundation stitches I worked in brown – not much of them is visible, but if some of the colour did peep through it would look like twigs.

Raised chain stitch in a larger circle, single chain

OK, not too bad – add some red and gold beads as baubles, and a ribbon bow at the top, and we’re nearly there. But in spite of the perle #3 it looked a bit thin. I showed the wreath-in-progress to my husband. He said it looked a bit thin. Couldn’t I add another round of chain stitch? Yes, I could, but the foundation stitches would have to be lengthened, and because it’s a counted fabric that meant more re-drawing. Still, if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing right, as they say, so back to the squared paper.

So let’s start a new wreath. First the longer foundation stitches, in a variegated brown perle #5 I happened to have lying around.

Foundation stitches for the double-width wreath

Then the first ring of raised chain stitch – the inner ring, because if you start with the outer one it will pull towards the middle.

The first ring

I thought it would add texture if I stitched the two rings in opposite directions, one clockwise, the other counter-clockwise. It didn’t – the two seemed to cancel each other out and the texture just went muddy. So unpick the second ring and do it again; when both are stitched in the same direction the whole retains its crisp look, and this method automatically provides little gaps for the beads to snuggle into later on. Best, by the way, to work both rings anti-clockwise; makes it easier to get the needle underneath the foundation stitches.

Both rings together

Now for a bow. Big needle with a 3mm ribbon, down and up just above the wreath, then tie as neat a bow as you can manage. Alternatively, get a small ready-made bow and sew it on… Finally some red and gold beads attached randomly; actually it would have been easier to do this before tying the bow. It looks nicest when the beads sit snugly in the little gaps. I used a white thread to attach them which unfortunately is visible here and there, so it might be better to use a green thread to match the chain stitch.

And here is the finished wreath, ready to become a Christmas card!

The complete wreath with beads and bow

Next year.

PS The Christmas Wreath is now available as a kit – choose a card or an ornament

Christmas craft, twice

Last Saturday afternoon Dunchurch Junior School was buzzing with the excitement of the 2014 DBC Christmas Craft Event; more than 60 children came and made penguin wise men, gift bags, Christmas cards, sparkly candle holders, and of course stitched bookmarks!

Children stitching at the Christmas Craft event

The design this year was much freer than usual – the children were given a kit with a pinked blue felt bookmark, black sticky felt to tidy up the back after stitching, 5 silver and gold star sequins, stranded cotton (blue, red or green) to attach them wherever they liked, and white, yellow, red and green crochet cotton to embellish the rest of the bookmark with letters, lines, holly leaves or whatever else took their fancy, either drawn on with gel pen or freehand. And boy did it unleash their creativity! Nimble fingers produced letters of all shapes and sizes, a great variety of constellations, satin stitch berries and even a Christmas tree.

Ruby's bookmark

Alex's bookmark

Bookmark by a girl whose name I don't know

Erin's bookmark

Katie's bookmark for her friend Sophie

I didn’t take a picture of one impressive bookmark produced at my table that day: young James put a star in each of the corners and then traced a big J in running stitch. It was the very first stitching he had ever done. Well done him! Can you imagine how proud (and surprised) his mum was?

My second Christmas craft has a rather more immediate deadline than I intended. Last year I forgot to bring cards to our stitching group’s Christmas lunch, and promised I’d make up for it by giving them all a hand-stitched card this year. That’s 12 cards. And our Christmas lunch is not next Wednesday, as I blissfully thought, but this Wednesday. I’ve got some speedy stitching to do…

Cards and Caron threads for the stitching group's Christmas cards

P.S. I’m rethinking the double cable stitch border on Orpheus, which looks as though it might make the centre a bit too crowded; the single cable stitch I’ve done so far (with small bits of double) may well be enough.

Preparing for the Christmas Craft Event

Another November, another Christmas Craft Event – I don’t know how many of these Dunchurch Baptist Church has organised over the years, but this is my ninth. Perhaps I should start recycling craft projects instead of trying to come up with a new one every year! On the other hand, thinking up new projects is fun, so perhaps I’ll wait until I’ve got a back catalogue of at least ten projects before dipping into it for future events.

Bookmarks having featured rather largely in my stitching recently I thought I’d put together another one for this occasion. Not a Hardanger one, obviously, as it needs to be one of a number of crafts the children cram into two hours; and as all the children are under twelve and many of the ones ending up at my table are 7 or 8, it needs to be something relatively easy so they can all complete it (with a little help from mum or dad or gran if necessary).

Rummaging through my stash I found some star sequins and crochet cotton in various shades, as well as scraps of felt both plain and sticky-backed. Cut the felt with pinking shears, put it all together and you get two varieties of bookmark – with a name worked in whipped running stitch, or with a running stitch holly leaf and and whipped berries. The sticky felt is cut smaller and used to cover up the back of the stitching, adding some stiffness in the process. (I need to buy some more of it, and will probably go for black as it’s more neutral than green, so I’ll be able to use it for other things as well.)

2014 Christmas Craft Event - bookmarks 2014 Christmas Craft Event - bookmarks

Aesthetically I suppose the holly version would look nicer with a fly stitch leaf and satin stitch berries, but we simply don’t have the time – I have to remember it’s not a class, and anything they learn has to be picked up on the fly. But the bookmarks are decorative, they’ll make lovely gifts, and they will be something of which they can say proudly, “I made that!”

A young stitcher, a new stitcher and echoing motifs

There were fewer older children (11 or 12) at this year’s Christmas Craft Event, it seemed to me (although I don’t get a lot of time to look around when we’re in full swing) but fortunately still plenty of stitching action, including several boys. One of them was going to use the finished project as his history homework – they are doing the Victorians and were told to bring in some craft appropriate to the period. Although foam baubles would not have been recognised by embroiderers of that time, needlework is definitely an appropriate craft, and thinking of all the beaded slippers, woolwork sewing baskets and decorations stitched on perforated paper I’m sure many a Victorian needlewoman would have loved this new type of ornament to decorate! One modern-day young lady definitely did enjoy herself, and was justifiably proud of the end result.

A proud young stitcher

I am a member of a stitching group that meets ever Monday afternoon during term time at the local adult education centre (where I also teach occasionally). It’s not a class, we simply all bring our needlework (mostly cross stitch, but also Hardanger, stumpwork, beaded cards, crochet and knitting) and work on that while having a good chat and a cup of tea. Sometimes a member may organise a workshop or demonstration, and anyone who is interested joins in while the others work on their own projects. And of course we all help each other out when a project presents particular difficulties.

We heard last Monday that a new lady would like to join, but she has no experience of needlework and would need a lot of guidance and advice about materials and so on. As she had also asked what she should bring, I told our group leader (who hates the title, claiming that all she does is pick up the attendance register from the office, tick it and take it back again) that I’d provide a small kit so that this lady would have something to get started on. A few years back I did some small kits for two children we were babysitting, but they had rather child-like motifs, so I decided on the mini peacock from the freebie section. I printed the chart in three different ways (coloured squares, coloured squares with symbols, and symbols only) so that she can see which type she finds easiest to follow, and stitched a model myself to check on the amounts of thread. Like many stitchers I have a bag of unlabelled stranded cotton which contained plenty of thread in the right colours, and a piece of 14ct aida was easy enough to find too. The second picture shows my stitched model next to the original peacock I stitched on 40ct silk gauze some time ago. It’s quite a difference…

Kit for the new member of our stitching group A peacock on 14 count and on 40 count

Several people have let me know that they are thinking of doing a Floral Lace afghan, which has made me feel a bit twitchy – will 14 designs be enough? Should I design a few more? I am curiously tempted by the little red pimpernel flower, and I love lily-of-the-valley, although on white fabric with white Kloster blocks that may turn out a bit anaemic. But let’s face it, even if I disregard white flowers because they wouldn’t show up enough, there are still plenty of flowers I haven’t tackled yet. So the flowers aren’t the problem; new and different bead arrangements are more difficult to come up with! Because of this I am particularly pleased with the beads in Sunflower as the clusters echo the two internal, skewed squares formed by the Y-bars.

Filling stitch echoing bead motifs

Perhaps thinking up some more new filling stitches would in turn inspire more bead patterns?

And then there were fourteen … and forty

OK, so I’m rather preoccupied with Floral Lace at the moment… As I was stitching one of the models, I thought of alternative for four-sided stitch, using pulled eyelets or Algerian eyes, so I charted a quickie using elements from existing designs to try out some time in the future. But then I noticed a daffodil that I’d charted but not used and played around with it a bit. Now don’t be silly, you can’t have a series of 13. What would you call it, Baker’s Dozen? But of course there are other flowers… daisy? Lily of the valley? Too difficult to see as they’re mostly white. Buttercup? Dandelion? But the daffodil is yellow, so better have a different colour for its partner. How about periwinkle? A quick dash to Google Images to refresh my memory about the shape of periwinkle petals, and now there are fourteen Floral Lace designs. As you could just about stitch each one in a day (if you don’t do much else) I might call them Floral Fortnight!

By the way, I made a very silly mistake in one of them. I fastened on behind a Kloster block to start the beading, turned the work over, and started – at the other end of the work. The result: a thread stretched right across the part of the design that’s going to be cut. And of course I didn’t notice until all the beading was done. In the end I carefully unpicked the fastening-on knot, rethreaded the tail and secured it behind Kloster blocks nearer the starting point. (The photograph also shows the reverse of diagonal four-sided stitch, which is double cable stitch!)

A silly error

The other thing occupying me at the moment is the Christmas Craft Event, and especially the kits I’ll need for it. I set aside a fair part of yesterday to put together 40 of them. It was quite a production line I had going – 40 bags; bauble plus chart in each; add metallic thread and beads. Then on to the fabric and perle. To make sure the stitching process is going to be as smooth and enjoyable as possible for every child, I decided I’d do the waste knot and the first stitch for each one of them (then even if they can’t really read the chart, they can work from the length of the first stitch). After a while I got this down to a fine art (fuelled by lots of tea, see first picture…): count the number of ornaments in a particular colour. Count out the same number of the appropriate coloured perle. Count out the same number of needles. Thread each needle and knot the thread. Count out the same number of fabric squares. Find the middle of each fabric square, start the waste knot, do one stitch, don’t forget to stop after the first stitch! (it is easy to get carried away), add to kit, done smiley.

Putting together the Christmas Craft Event kits Getting the first stitch in The Christmas Craft Event kits What's in the kits

Oh, remember Katie my brilliant guinea pig? She is too old now to come as a participant, so I quickly claimed her as my assistant at the stitching table (with her full and enthusiastic consent, I hasten to say). Yay!

Incidentally, when I was stitching Floral Lace Fuchsia I noticed that the pink and purple of the flowers went remarkably well with my tights; how’s that for colour-coordinated stitching!

Colour-coordinated tights

Christmas Craft preparations

It’s that time of year again – the annual Christmas Craft Event is nearly upon us! Well, it will be in three weeks on Saturday, so we’re all getting our materials ready. For those of you unfamiliar with this highlight of the Dunchurch calendar, it is an event organised by our Baptist church and open to all children from the village and the surrounding area. For a couple of hours on a November afternoon they come and do as many Christmas-themed crafts as they like (and can fit in), choosing from about a dozen different ones. They range from simple decorated cards for the little ones to painted glass jars, Christmas tree ornaments, decorated gingerbread men, Nativity scenes, stars, snowflakes and whatever else the volunteers have been able to dream up.

For the past six years or so I’ve been providing a stitchy craft, meant to be a slightly more challenging project for the older children. In practice I do get some of the 6-year-olds as well, and provided they bring a responsible adult I’m perfectly happy for them to have a go. It’s really rather endearing seeing a dedicated dad wrestling with his first-ever embroidery as his little daughter looks on encouragingly smiley.

I could just about start recycling previous projects, as the children who did them are now too old to join in, but it’s much more fun thinking up something new. This time I teamed up foam baubles from Yellow Moon with a non-cut adaptation of the freebie stars. At first I thought it would be a good idea to use 20ct aida, as it is a bit stiffer and larger than my usual fabrics, but I found that one length of perle #5 was just too short for a star on 20ct, and it’s also relatively expensive to buy; whereas I have plenty of 22ct Hardanger in stock. So Hardanger it is, with DMC Variations (also from my stash) instead of the lovely Caron threads I used for the two models, plus a Madeira metallic I had lying around and some beads I got at the Knitting & Stitching Show.

Non-cut freebie star stitched in Caron thread on 20ct Non-cut freebie star stitched in Caron thread on 20ct models for Christmas Craft baubles Materials for Christmas Craft baubles Christmas Craft baubles with chosen materials

All I’m waiting for now is the needles, then I’ll cut the fabric squares, do a waste knot and come up in the first hole for each one of them, and kit them up with a large chart (I’m still working out what style would be clearest). Usually I don’t get a lot of time to take pictures when we’re in full swing, but I’ll do my best record some of the children’s efforts for posterity!

Over the (Yellow) Moon

Summer seems to have arrived at last! At least I’ve got my first sunburn of the year – the consequence of falling asleep on the lawn last Saturday. I have some interestingly shaped patches of red skin now, but it was really very relaxing, dozing in the sunshine with the sound of birds and the smell of grass and all that. Add to that a lovely walk along the canal followed by a drink at a canal-side pub before dinner, and seeing an alpaca being born during our Ladies Walk in the morning, and it all adds up to a very pleasant weekend. I even managed to get the pile of 100+ skeins waiting to be bobbinated down to 18, which I hope to do at my stitching group this afternoon.

Hoever, that is not what I set out to write about. Some time ago I showed you the foam purses and notebooks I bought from Yellow Moon, and a bit later the purses adorned with Art of the Needle. This gave me a taste for foam, so to speak, and browsing through the Yellow Moon catalogue I found all sorts of interesting items. Last Friday I received my parcel, containing lots of things to experiment with.

One of them was a set of foam blanks in the shape of flowers and butterflies. I got this mainly for the flowers, although as they turned out to be rather bigger than I thought it might be possible to decorate the butterflies with two small projects, one on each wing.

Foam flowers and butterflies

More practical (well, a little more practical) are the Christmas tree baubles and keyrings. The foam blanks attached to the keyrings are fairly large, but then that would just make them easier to find in your bag! Any stitching will have to be attached quite securely, though, as it will be handled a lot. Perhaps I’ll advise people to use them only for spare keys that live in a drawer or on a hall table … The baubles are glued on one side, so you push your photograph/artwork/stitching in from the unglued side and then glue it shut. These are perfect for mini designs, whether cut or uncut. I rummaged through my workbox and found a few minis I had done earlier (including the blackwork snowflake freebie), which turned out to be just the right size; I haven’t glued them in place yet, but they give an idea of what is possible.

Foam baubles and keyrings Some mini projects mounted in foam Christmas tree baubles

Finally I got something which was not quite the size I wanted, but I thought if I studied the kit I could then make my own from large sheets of foam with exactly the dimensions I want. These are Bible folders (they also come as book folders, with a bookworm design on them; the bag on top, by the way, is a selection of foam cross-shaped beads I got for our Church’s Sunday school), but of course they could equally well be needlework folders! Not, perhaps, with the supplied decorations, so they will be donated to our Sunday school together with the cross beads, but you get the idea: sew a folder out of foam, using cord or perle or whatever, with a slit to take the tip of the flap to close it, and decorate the other side with a piece of needlework (either sewn or stuck on, hemmed or buttonholed or with a frayed edge), and hey presto, a folder to keep your finished projects in before turning them into framed decorations or useful objects. Or you could keep charts in it, or even the threads and fabric for a project-in-progress. if this one works, I’d like to create a folder with a gusset. If I do get round to it, you’ll see it on FoF!

Bible folder kits and cross beads Folder kit - foam, cord and plastic needle