The effect of “more” on a design

We’ve probably all had moments when we were presented with too wide a choice and just ended up saying “I don’t know” and not picking anything. Too much choice can be paralysing. And even if you are usually an extremely adventurous stitcher, there may be times when you don’t want to hear “you can do this design in 5 different colourways, would you like the blue, red, purple, green or neutral, and with or without speciality stitches?” – you just want to pick up a kit or chart that tells you exactly what to do in exactly what spot with exactly what thread in exactly what colour.

On the other hand, it is equally true to say that choice is liberating! Now that I have more shades of Pearsall’s crewel wool to choose from, I can decide whether I want Hengest’s spots to be muted pastels (which is all I had until my most recent purchase) or bright pastels, if the latter isn’t a contradiction in terms. And I’ve chosen the bright pastels (my husband says they remind him of Edinburgh rock). They’re so cheerful that I find myself smiling just looking at them, and I’m looking forward to seeing Hengest in all his unnaturalistic, brightly pastel-spotted glory.

New colours for Hengest's spots

By the way, I managed to fit in irises! (And incidentally also found that surrounding the eyes with a single line of white before working the vertical lines of the face sets them off beautifully while also reducing the dark grey outlines to something a little more subtle.)

Hengest has blue eyes

As I was using that light blue anyway, I treated myself to a few spots smiley. Just the one colour, the rest of the sweet shop will have to wait until I’ve finished his face!

A first few spots

Cadbury’s Hardanger and other matters of colour

I know they say chocolate and stitching don’t mix, but I’m not so sure. Last week a friend gave us a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray (and no, he didn’t scale our walls action-hero style to deliver it), and it just happened to sit on the coffee table when I put down the last Guildhouse model that I was stitching. Don’t they make a pretty picture together?

Milk Tray and Hardanger

I have sinced finished the model (and the Milk Tray, but let’s not dwell on that), and although the course unfortunately will not run this term I’m very pleased with how the design came out; the solid off-white thread works well with that deep purple hand-dyed fabric, I think. I had to play around a bit with the beads to find the right number per square filet – 12 seems to fit best on Hardanger fabric.

The last Guildhouse course model

My week has been rather colourful in other ways as well. For one thing I was trying to find a combination of Caron Wildflowers and beads that I could use for Double Cross 1 (previously known as Guildhouse course 2b). I used fairly bright green for Double Cross 2, and wanted something a bit more pastel for its counterpart. Eventually I settled on Caron Orchid with Mill Hill Shimmering Lilac.

Wildflowers and beads

And then there was the decision about a card for an aunt (not the one who irons, this one is my husband’s) whose 80th birthday we will be celebrating tomorrow. She is a lady of character and does not do old-lady beige or wishy-washy pastels (although let me hasten to add that I actually like both beige and pastels; they’re just not something I’d choose for her!), so I picked a Round Dozen variation I stitched some time ago in a variegated thread that combined mauves and purples with small splashes of bright fuchsia pink. But what colour card would go with that? I toyed for a moment with silver, but that made it look rather washed out; and then I tried one in Cross Stitch Heaven’s Raspberry shade which picked up the bright pink in the thread.

Unfortunately it didn’t look very good behind the cut areas, where it seemed to clash with the filling stitches. Now if you ever run into a similar problem, there are several options. One is to place a square of paper or felt behind your stitching in a colour which shows off the cut areas better than the colour of the card you are mounting it in. This has the advantage that paper and felt come in lots of colours, so plenty of choice. But if you want either white or black behind the cut areas, I’d recommend Vilene (or iron-on interfacing, or whatever it is called generically). Some time ago I got a large piece of very thin black Vilene to use with coasters, and I’ve found it invaluable in cases like these. Here is the result with the Raspberry card:

The 80th birthday card for my husband's aunt

The last colour issue to crop up this week was what colour Soft Cotton to get for friendship bracelets. Somehow I seem to have volunteered for tonight’s Youth Group, because “you do things with threads and would you know an easy way for them to make friendship bracelets?” I carelessly let it slip that I knew how to do (make? work?) a finger cord, which needs no equipment apart from, well, fingers, and was asked to come and demonstrate this to the young people rather than simply teach it beforehand to the people who normally lead Youth Group. How did I get myself into this?

Anyway, I decided on half pastel and half bold shades so that the young people can all choose colours that suit them. Unfortunately I didn’t get any yellow, which with hindsight I think would have been a good idea, but these eight colours should give them a fair range of choice. The second picture shows “one I made earlier” to time the process (about 15 minutes for a 20cm length of braid). I’ll try and get some pictures tonight of the bracelets they make for themselves!

Soft cotton for friendship bracelets Bracelet made from soft cotton

White on white

Last month Serinde commented on my Stitching in the Netherlands post saying she’d like to stitch some Mabel designs in traditional white on white. Serinde is at least partly responsible for the existence of Mabel’s Fancies as she greatly encouraged me when I started doing Hardanger, so I take note of what she says! And so, instead of working on planned projects as I ought to, I stitched Song of the Weather February in white on white. What do you think, Serinde, does it work?

February in white on white

The difference colours can make

You may remember I had to order a ball of Anchor perle #8 for my variation-on-a-Guildhouse model (one or two other things may have found their way into my basket at the same time; can’t think how that happened …) It is used for the Rhodes diamonds and should be quite close to the darkest perle #5 shade – what do you think, is it a good match? Below is the pink variation (on dusky pink 28ct Jobelan) side by side with the original model (on antique white 25ct Lugana) to show the difference in size, and because side by side it’s much easier to see the difference that fabric and thread colours make (a more dramatic example is Shades).

Guildhouse 1a, rose-on-rose The original Guildhouse 1a

And just to show that orientation changes the look of a piece as well (something to keep in mind when framing projects), here is the pink version straight and turned 45 degrees.

Guildhouse 1a, as before Guildhouse 1a, turned 45 degrees

After all that I could have gone back to Blackthorn, but instead I’ve been doing some alternative versions of Happy Hour using the very pretty Treenway Silks I bought some time ago but hadn’t used yet. I’m enjoying my little stitching holiday!

Buying threads online

Nowadays very few of us are lucky enough to have a needlework shop anywhere near us – let alone one that sells more than 14ct Aida and stranded cotton. For speciality threads or slightly more unusual fabrics you either have to travel a long way (there’s a lovely shop in Ilfracombe, for example …), bulk buy all your needlework supplies at a stitching show once a year, or buy online.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I can get pretty much any thread or fabric I could possibly need (and many, many that I will never need but am tempted by nonetheless) by going online. I can get supplies from the UK, from my native Holland, and (if I’m willing to pay import duty and Royal Mail’s extortionate handling fee) from as far afield as America, Australia and South Africa. It’s great!

But sometimes, it’s just not good enough.

When I was trying to get three shades of beads (some of them variegated) that would match three variegated shades of Caron threads for Very Berry, I realised I hadn’t a hope of doing so unless I could compare the beads and threads in the flesh (or should that be "in the fibre"?) My husband very kindly took me shopping at Burford Needlecraft and I managed to find the exact shades I wanted – but trying to match them up on a computer screen would have been utterly impossible.

Very Berry

We don’t always have that option, though. Usually, the images on the monitor are all we have, and they’ll have to do. And so, what with the unreliability of online images and the differences in dyelots, buying hand-dyed threads online can lead to surprises when unwrapping your purchases.

Some shops do their very best to minimise these surprises, and are willing to go the extra mile for their customers. Stitching Bits & Bobs (US) has more than once helped me find the right shades by going through their stocks and finding a silk "a little more DMC 3042 than 3743", or some such description of mine. Sew & So have likewise been very helpful.

So I turned to them again when getting the threads for the anniversary version of Lustrum. I had decided on Caron 038, a very pretty shade I already had in Impressions (silk/wool), so I knew what it looked like in real life. On their site, however, the picture of the Watercolours thread in that shade looked much darker than the others in Caron’s range (Wildflowers cotton, Impressions and Waterlilies silk). When I contacted them I was advised to add a note to my order explaining that I needed the Watercolours and Wildflowers thread to be quite close in shade, and so not to send them if the Watercolours thread was really as dark as the picture suggested.

I don’t know how many dyelots they had in stock, but they managed to find me a Watercolours thread which was the same lightness as the Wildflowers thread, which was great. Unfortunately there was another snag – the Wildflowers they sent and the Impressions I already had were much alike in colour, with lavendery blues, pinks and creams, but the Watercolours thread had no blue shades at all and hardly any pinks, but was mostly cream and a warm lilac. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

Caron 038

When I contacted them they very kindly had a look at the skeins of Watercolours 038 they had in stock, but they were all much the same, so we agreed I’d return the threads. I contacted a number of other shops carrying Caron threads, and several of them were extremely helpful. Burford Needlecraft sent a scan of the thread they had in stock, the London Bead Company looked at several dyelots for me and described them ("this one is more lavender blue, that one is more mauve, but the mauve one has more pink"). Both, unfortunately, were not blue enough. Finally I turned to Thread Bear, and after a few very helpful emails back and forth I picked one which I will now use with the thread I already have – Impressions is a little thicker than Wildflowers, but its matte appearance should make rather an interesting contrast.

Oh, and you’ll want to know what the new Watercolours looks like, of course! It is not easy to show the difference between two threads in photographs, but I think you’ll agree the new thread is definitely less mauve and more lavender than the original. So here it is, with the other threads and fabric that will make up the anniversary sampler.

Caron 038

Deceptive charts

I’ve done it again.
You see, I like playing around with filling stitches (and other stitches as well, but let’s stick to filling stitches for now). Make them larger than usual, or add beads to them – or both at the same time, as in Frills. Or make up a stitch from scratch, like the Bow Tie in Noon and the Woven Picot filling in Night (which I thought of calling Furled Umbrella stitch at one point …)

Frills Bow Tie Woven picot

Another thing I like to do is to combine colours within one cut area, for example in the cut areas in Spice Islands, where the filling stitches go from Ground Ginger yellow to Clove brown. Or (and this is where we come to the design problem I’m struggling with at the moment) Luck of the Irish, where one colour is completely surrounded by another.

Cloves close-up Luck of the Irish

I liked that effect so much I decided to use it again in Frozen Flower. Bright white filling stitches would appear to float in a sea of ice blue or silver grey filling stitches. I charted two designs, one small, one a bit larger. The small one is my present project (the two of them were originally meant to be one of my February finishes but that’s obviously not going to happen). I made some changes to the small version to accommodate some lovely hand-dyed fabric from Sparklies, reversing the colour scheme and reducing it to two shades rather than three. It took some navigating to work out a stitchable way round the fillings, but I think I’ve plotted a workable route (fingers crossed). So far so good. The trouble, however, is with the larger design.
Frozen Flower
Why is this more problematic than the small one? Because the dark bars, which need to be worked first, are placed in such a way that you would often have to return through the back of a recently worked bar to get to the next bar. Not insurmountable if it happens once or twice within a design, but definitely undesirable when it practically becomes a feature!
But how does this sort of thing happen in the first place? Well, it happens because when I’m charting (sometimes on paper, more usually on the computer) I can draw in woven bars and wrapped bars and all sorts of bars and fillings anywhere I like, and so I tend to just place them in a pleasing shape or pattern. Usually this isn’t a problem – when you’re working in one colour, whether it’s traditional white or more colourful, you simply fill the whole of the cut area, sometimes weaving through the back of a few Kloster blocks.
When more than one colour is involved, however, you can’t always use Kloster blocks to get from one bar to the next as there may not be a Kloster block bordering any of the colour you’re working on. In Luck of the Irish, you have to take the needle through one green bar to get to the pink ones, and through another to get back and fasten off, and that’s manageable – but more than that I wouldn’t inflict on anyone but myself!
"So just rechart it," I hear you say. That’s the obvious thing to do, of course. But I’ve rather fallen in love with the shape of the white filling as it sits inside the darker filling, and for the moment at least, I simply cannot find a balance between its being stitchable and looking "right". It’ll come in the end, no doubt; and in the meantime it’s bound to be doing my character a lot of good, teaching me patience and humility …

How a Walled Garden grows

I could also have called today’s post "From shape to name to colour", because that is very much how Walled Garden, my latest design, came into being. It all started out with a shape that kept coming to my mind – as it happened a most unsuitable shape for Hardanger, being one of those diamonds with their sides pushed in, all steeply sloping lines:

Walled Garden Mono
So I started a new canvas, put in some grey Kloster blocks and started pushing them around to see if I could create anything like that. I couldn’t, of course; the shape is just impossible to create in Kloster blocks unless you make it huge and look at it from several metres’ distance. But I managed to get a shape that I found pleasing, and which did have the four points and indented sides. I experimented a bit with which bits would be cut and which wouldn’t, what the filling stitches would be, and what sort of satin stitch shapes I’d use to embellish it. The first shapes I drew, inside the Kloster blocks, were a bit like leaves (tulip leaves perhaps?) and that suggested flowers, so flower shapes with rounded petals followed, plus some ribbony bits. I thought of adding more of the same flowers, but as I was drawing some basic Hardanger satin stitch shapes, the ones that make up a star, I noticed that if you use four in a sort of windmill pattern, they look vaguely like periwinkle flowers. Very vagueley, as they lack a petal, but close enough. Finally a border of Pekinese stitch, a bit like a fence, and I had a monochrome (well, light and dark grey) design with a strong Kloster block frame and several floral shapes. To save this version of the chart I needed a name, and it looked rather like walls and flowers, so I called it Walled Garden.
Walled Garden Mono
But a grey walled garden isn’t much fun. What if I made the "walls" brown? Preferably shaded brown, not solid … a Caron shade perhaps, like one of the two browns in Vienna … and greens of course for the leaf and ribbon shapes, and brown and green for the Pekinese "fence" … red and blue or pink and blue for the flowers; blue for the periwinkle shape of course, pink for the rounder flowers … not quite there yet; what about some yellow? The French knots and some of the filling stitches, and perhaps the centre of the periwinkles. Not botanically correct, but then it’s not a textbook … filling stitches – two colours in every cut area, like flower beds … and that was the chart done.
Walled Garden
Now for the colours. Nothing solid, but not too variegated either. Shaded colours. The dark brown from Vienna, the pink from Cross My Heart … or perhaps the red … a light blue or a dark … and what greens does Caron do? I haven’t decided on all of them yet, but that’s the next step, and a very enjoyable one so I may take some time over it!

Spice threads have arrived!

… but there has been a worrying development. A few days ago, I realised that I needed two perle cottons: one each of #5 and #8 in the new brown for Spices. I went to Sew & So, had a nice browse, and then came away having bought TWO PERLE COTTONS. That’s it. Nothing else. And they had several silk threads in their 50% Off sale. My husband, needless to say, thought this was definitely A Good Thing and commended me highly for my restraint. I must be getting better at the virtue of Prudence than I thought!
When the threads arrived today they looked just right as they tumbled out of the envelope – but of course you can’t really tell until you’ve got all the colours together. I first compared them with the brown I had originally meant to use, and was encouraged to see that it was definitely a much warmer colour:
Browns for Spices
Then I unearthed the project wallet that holds all the threads for Spice Islands and lined them all up; and don’t they look rich together! I’ll be starting this the moment I’ve finished the second Shades.
Browns for Spices

Spices & Shades

I’ve rearranged some shades, a new brown is on its way from Sew & So and all is well – Spice Islands is ready to roll!
But first there is Shades. This was planned for March, but I needed something not too challenging after all the commotion about Spice Islands. It’s a nice relaxing design, and the perfect project for the next few days while the house is in turmoil as the windows at the back of the house are being replaced. I can only hope that I can defrost my fingers enough to hold a needle in the evenings.
The window upheaval is not the only reason for sticking with Shades though; it shows off the texture of the perle cottons rather nicely and I am thoroughly enjoying stitching it, even though I realised half way through that I had charted the double cable stitch incorrectly …
Never mind, it’s been recharted and I’ve now got fabric and threads together for a second version after finishing the first, to show the difference a colour choice can make. The first is rose pinks on antique white – the original colours I chose for it – the second uses light beige-browns (from the series of browns that wasn’t right for Spice Islands) on dark brown fabric. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will turn out!

Spices crisis

Having stitched mostly smallish projects recently, I was looking forward to starting on something a bit larger, one of my planned-for-February designs, Spice Islands. With its clove-shaped cut areas and warm earthy colours it is my little ode to Dutch cooking, and the spices I love to use – cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, ketoembar (coriander), djinten (cumin), kurkuma (turmeric), djahé (ginger). You could make a song out of that!
Spice Islands
Some years ago I was putting the groceries away, and suddenly noticed three jars of spices I’d bought: paprika, ginger and turmeric. What lovely colours, I thought, and how well they go together! And because like most stitchers I’ve got That Sort Of Mind, I tried to work out which DMC shades would come closest. They turned out to be 919, 677 and 782, and together with a dark brown I used them for a salamander bookmark.
DMC spices
So when I started thinking about a spice-inspired piece of Hardanger, I naturally picked up on those colours. Looking through what I had in my stash, I picked five shades of perle #5. The lightest one, cream, would be used in the central motif, the other four would make up the Florentine sections and the Kloster blocks. Those four I would need in #8 as well, for the bars and filling stitches.
That’s where I ran into the first difficulty. DMC, in their wisdom, have decided that we really don’t need all that many shades of perle #8, and so two of the shades I’d chosen in #5 were actually non-existent in #8. Fine, we’ll use one shade lighter. And so that’s what I put into the Spice Islands "short pack" (which is what I call the documents which contain a chart and some basic notes for a design).
Fast forward 13 months or so, and I’m getting the materials together to start stitching. And suddenly I realise four things: that the brown perle #5 is too light; that one shade darker is better, but that both are really much too grey-brown; that the darkest perle #8 I have for this series of browns is a medium shade of stone; and that the paprika shade is far too orange.
After a short bout of panic, the inescapable fact that it was 8.30pm on a January night with a standard lamp as my only illumination made it quite clear that any colour changes were not going to be made that night. So I decided to start on Shades, a small, simple and soothing project to keep me occupied until I sort out the spice colours.
Later today, before dusk sets in, it’s off to my box of stranded cottons to choose the perfect shades, and then to the online shade card to see if the perfect shades exist in perle #5 and #8. Wish me luck!