A horse of a different colour

My embroidery has been distinctly equine recently, and I’d like to show you some of my progress (and regress; that is to say, unpicking…) on two horsey creatures.

The first is the goldwork racehorse I started at Helen McCook’s three-day class last year. I’d been doing some couching and plunging but a week or so ago I decided that before I did anything more, something needed seeing to first – his eye. The centre of the eye is a gem, and in the stitched model it is round and makes a good iris. But the gem that was in the kit, although a round cut as well, was set in such a way that it looked quite square. It was also rather larger than in the model (at least partly because of the setting), and quite apart from the fact that it just didn’t look right, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to work the surrounding couching properly with the setting extending beyond the design line in places.

Two different eyes

Time to rummage through my stash and see if I could find an alternative. I remembered some tiny oval flat-backed gems I bought last year – might they work? But alas, even the tiniest was too large. How about a sequin? The 3mm flat ones I have would be too small, but what about a facetted cup sequin held on with a black bead? Would that look like an iris with a pupil? And it would still have some of the facetted look of the original gem.

A slightly too large oval gem A cup sequin-and-bead combination that looks promising

I unpicked the original eye, attached the sequin and bead, and gave a sigh of relief. The eye operation was a success!

A much better-looking eye

Next was a decision about the pearl purl curving around the eye and down the horse’s neck. This was a very fine pearl purl which had also been used in the tail, and I’d noticed there that the gold was very yellow. I didn’t think this would work very well against the copper that outlines the eye, and another rummage produced a much mellower-coloured pearl purl of roughly the same thickness. None of the photographs I took quite picked up on how different the colours were, but it should give you an idea.

Very yellow pearl purl

Since last time I also completed both the colour-graded couching and the plunging on the horse’s backside, and here it is as it looks at the moment (you can see the very yellow purl outlining the chipped section at the top of the tail).

The racehorse as it looks at the moment

On to a horse of a different colour, or rather of many different colours – although the bits I’ve been working on have been mostly grey smiley. For some time now I’d been itching to get back to Hengest the Medieval Unicorn; I hadn’t worked on him since June last year! To ease myself back into it I started with his nose band. Once I’d stitched it I realised that if I stitched the rest of the bridle (if that’s the correct term) in the same light golden yellow (Old Gold #4) as I had planned, it wouldn’t look quite right next to the light yellow spot high up his neck. But I didn’t want to use the darker #6 because that was going to be used in his horn (together with darkest #8) and I needed the contrast. Fortunately I remembered that I also had shade #7 in my stash, so the rest of the bridle will be done in #6, and the horn in #7 and #8. One problem sorted, although putting the solution into practice would have to wait as I wanted to get on with his mane first.

And as I stitched the first two locks, another problem emerged. They were far too dark.

Hengest's mane is too dark

I’d worked it out so carefully, too. Because Hengest is quite cartoonish in look, I didn’t want the shading in the mane to be too subtle. All the rest of him is areas of flat colour, with the only “shading” coming from the direction of the split stitch. The mane would have dark locks and light locks, and each would be done in two shades which I wanted to be visibly different, with the light and dark locks also having to be different enough from each other. The design drawing has black outlines, but the stitched version doesn’t, so the locks had to be delineated by colour difference.

I had therefore decided to have no colour overlap between light and dark locks: for the light locks I chose Silver Grey #1 and #3, and for the dark locks #5 and #6 (the difference between two consecutive shades is not always equally large). But #6 was very obviously too dark compared to the pastel tints of the rest of Hengest. And so I ended up doing something I had strenuously resisted for this project so far – I started a doodle cloth. Five combinations of two greys would be tried out, and I started with the darker one in each of the combinations, then added the lighter shade. #5 plus #3, #4 plus #3 and #4 plus #2 were all options for the darker locks, while #3 plus #1 and #2 plus #1 were possible pairs for the lighter ones. Having studied all the combinations I opted for an overlap after all: #5 with #3 and #3 with #1.

Different shades of grey A doodle cloth with five combinations Starting with the darker shades The lighter shades have been added

Hurray! As tress after tress was added the new shades turned out to work very well together, the individual locks perfectly distinct in spite of the fact that they share shade #3. I’d completely forgotten that the direction of the split stitch would set them apart even if the colour didn’t.

The old mane is unpicked Starting the first locks The new mane is growing The locks are perfectly distinct

And that’s the state of the Figworthy stable to date. I love both its occupants, but I will admit to a soft spot for Hengest. He will never be a racing champion (his inspiration on the Steeple Aston cope is decidedly duck-footed) and he will never be decked out in the Queen’s colours, but I think he holds his own against any racehorse in his polka-dotted eccentricity smiley.

The lure of more

“Once I’ve got my own craft room everything will be lovely and I won’t need any extra storage ever again!” Ha.

Don’t get me wrong, everything is lovely in my still relatively new craft room. It’s my optimistic ideas about storage which have turned out to be less than accurate. So something needed to be done. And before you ask, no, I didn’t start breeding my tall rainbow storage towers. But isn’t this dinky little matching set of drawers just the perfect find?

A little tower of drawers joins the large ones

As for the reason behind this purchase, let’s go to another I-spoke-too-soon remark I made to myself not so long ago.

“Now that I’ve got at least four shades of pretty much every colour of crewel wool on Pearsall’s website, I’m sorted and won’t need any other crewel wools ever again!” Ha.

Listening to Jessica Grim on Fiber Talk (incidentally, if you missed Mabel’s last month it’s here) I was reminded that I bought loads of spangles from her last year, and paid another visit to her website. And there I found Heathway Milano wools in more colours than on the Pearsall’s website!

Surely this couldn’t be right – Pearsall’s are the original producers of this wool. So I contacted Carol (the helpful lady who went through the available starter packs with me over the phone when I first dipped my toes into the crewel waters) and she confirmed that these colours (including a true orange, a gorgeous turquoise and some beautifully bright purples) were indeed available, they just hadn’t made it onto the Pearsall’s website yet. “Just order as many blacks as you want colours and then let me know which ones you really want.” Well, how could I resist? And so a true orange, a gorgeous turquoise and some beautifully bright purples, as well as some daffodil yellows and various pinks, have been added to my ever-growing collection.

The latest additions to my crewel wool collection

And this is why the little storage tower joined the two big ones – I now have colour-coordinated crewel wool drawers! (Which are already beginning to feel a bit crowded. Oh dear…)

Colour-coordinated drawers with wool The Teal drawer

Choosing colours and accommodating different materials

Thursday 24th January 2019

Winter in England can mean beautiful snowy vistas under an icy blue sky, but more often it’s just rather grey and damp. Yesterday edged towards the former, although the snow was just a sprinkling. But icy it definitely was, and I managed to slip on a treacherous little patch just outside our church. The ladies preparing for the mother & toddler group immediately treated the patch with salt, and offered to treat me with tea, but I didn’t think it was too bad so I just went home. And it isn’t too bad – no broken bones or torn ligaments or anything – just aching muscles in my leg and a stiff arm, probably from trying to break my fall. Unfortunately it’s my right arm. The one I stitch with.

It’s a good thing that my order of Milano Heathway crewel wools from Pearsall’s had arrived the day before; sorting through threads distracts the mind very effectively from both the muscle ache and the inability to stitch. And I had quite some sorting to do! You see, some of the Milano wools already in my stash have been set aside (for quite some time now…) in a box with my Tree of Life project, to stitch experimental leaves. And some I had picked earlier in the week for a crewel project based on parts of two designs from the two crewel embroidery books I bought last week. The remainder of my existing collection was in a third box. And now these new shades had arrived. It was time to get organised.

The wools and other materials for the Tree of Life Two new crewel books Materials for the crewel Rabbit and Carnations The wools in my latest Pearsall's order

One thing I had to do was decide how to store skeins that have been used; so far I’d put them back on the cards in two different ways, and that just looked messy. As one method could fairly easily be transformed into the other but not vice versa, the choice was easy. That done, I got all the shades together and organised them on binder rings. The Tree of Life project is definitely on the back burner at the moment, so I will re-pick the shades for that as and when I get into my experimental leaves again. For now I needed the shades for my Rabbit & Carnations (above), and my wool version of Hengest the Medieval Unicorn. I deliberately do not call it a crewel version, as it will be in split stitch only and I have a feeling that doesn’t quite qualify!

Whatever it is called, the change from silk to wool brought with it the need for a little change to Hengest. A leopard may not be able to change its spots, but I would have to change Hengest’s – even in my original version they are already a little bigger than on the medieval cope by which he was inspired, but crewel wool being rather thicker than a strand of silk there would simply not be enough room (especially in the smaller spots) to comfortable work a dense spiral of stitches, and show off the texture and colour of the thread. Fewer, larger spots were what was needed.

Hengest for silk with small spots Hengest for wool with big spots

In addition, I printed him a bit larger than I would for the silk version, once at 9cm high and once at 10cm. The fabric I intended to use was Normandie, a cotton/linen mix, probably in the “natural” shade, which is a bit beige-y. I got out the fabric to see whether it would work with the white and greys I’d picked.

Will the fabric and threads go together?

I was happy with that combination, and cut the Normandie to sit comfortably in a 7″ hoop. I cut some calico backing and ironed both pieces of fabric. I then realised that if I wanted to use the 10cm version (and I did) it would really need an 8″ hoop. Fortunately I had cut rather generously, and found that it was just about big enough for the larger hoop. Phew. Now all I had to do was get an 8″ hoop. My deep hoop is already in use for Soli Deo Gloria, and it turns out I have no other wooden hoop (which I prefer for this sort of work) of that size. Fortunately Barnyarns stock them and so one is on its way to me as I write this; when it arrives I’ll bind it, and then Hengest is good to go!

Hengest transferred and the threads chosen

By the way, I love split stitch in wool – compared to a single strand of silk there is so much more thread to aim for!

It’s a small world

It is! And to trot out another cliché, life is full of surprises, not to mention coincidences. Let me tell you the story.

Last week I received an email from a lady who wishes to start a cut flower business. Good luck to her, I say – being Dutch I thoroughly approve of anyone providing more flowers for the adornment of our homes – but you may wonder why she contacted me about this. Well, in her online search for images to use as a logo she came across an embroidery featuring a single flower and leaf (which would go well with the name she has chosen for her new business) in colours similar to the ones she was planning to use. It was this embroidery:

The SANQ goldwork design stitched using Pearsall's crewel wool

That’s right, it’s the little Jacobean goldwork design that I first used for two crewel wool experiments; this is the one using Pearsall’s wool. I was flattered, of course, and wrote to the lady saying so, but also noted that although the stitching and the interpretation were mine, the design was not; it doesn’t really look the way the designer originally intended, but even so I was of the opinion that the copyright of it probably still lay with him or her. Nevertheless, I promised I’d ask the opinion of the Cross Stitch Forum, whose members feel very strongly about copyright and some of whom have looked into the matter in some detail.

One person there sensibly suggested contacting the designer. An excellent suggestion, but I didn’t feel very hopeful about its success; I contacted the magazine last year when I was hoping to acquire this particular design (which I’d seen on a picture of the magazine’s cover on Mary Corbet’s blog), and apart from a fairly standard reply saying they’d forwarded my question to the editorial department (and pointing me to a book they had for sale on goldwork) I didn’t get any further replies, neither from their main email address nor the editorial department.

Samplers & Antique Needlework vol. 38

Then another member suggested looking at the original pattern to say if it said anything about “free use”. Now I hadn’t actually looked at either the pattern or the instructions since I printed off an enlarged version of it; I use that print to transfer the design whenever I want it, and I’m not actually following the instructions but going loosely (very loosely…) by the photograph of the finished pincushion. Moreover I only have the pages with this design on them, not the whole magazine, so any copyright rules covering the magazine generally would probably not be there anyway. Still, I unearthed the original pages and had a look. That’s when the coincidence/small world thing came in.

The designer turned out to be Barbara Jackson of Tristan Brooks Designs ; that sounded very familiar, but it took me a while to remember why. And then it came back to me – Barbara Jackson was the very helpful lady who sent me some twill samples all the way from America last year so I could try them before deciding which one to buy! We had quite an email conversation at the time and we spoke on the telephone as well. As the time difference meant that she was probably at work when I realised this, I rang and explained the situation to her.

It took her a while to remember the design, actually, and when she’d worked out which one it was and I told her my fairly convoluted reason for ringing her she said “I was afraid you were going to ask me for the instructions!” Anyway, she was perfectly happy for me to pass on her permission to use the design, or rather the picture of my rather different version of the design, and so I did. Don’t you just love happy endings smiley? If the flower lady does indeed decide to use the embroidered flower as her logo I’ll post a screen shot when the website goes live!

When the stitching bug deserts you

As I mentioned earlier this month, my urge to stitch is not particularly high at the moment. I’m keeping up with a few necessary projects (like a set of coasters ordered in aid of the Church Building Fund, and second versions of the SAL designs so I can take pictures for the blog), and I do enjoy those, but there isn’t really any project that’s making me eager to kit up and get started. And that is quite unusual, especially as there are several designs in my yet-to-be-stitched folder that a few months ago I was itching to start, like a goldwork daisy-and-bee, an autumn leaf arrangement and the Tree of Life in two versions.

I have done something about the Tree of Life. As playing with stash (sorry, I mean of course “studying the supplies I have in stock in order to find the best ones for the project under consideration”) is a lovely relaxing thing to do I got out my collection of Pearsall’s Heathway Merino crewel wool to see whether any of the shades I’d picked for Tree of Life from their starter pack would be better replaced by some of the shades I had added to the hoard later. Here are the shades I’d originally considered:

Heathway wools for Tree of Life

Very pretty, if a little muted. But a different set of greens and browns lifts it, I think, and makes the palette look more lively.

different Heathway wools for Tree of Life

Add to that some pretty goldwork materials (pearl purl, smooth passing, metallic kid leather) and you know what, I think that itch is faintly considering coming back! While I was at it, I also picked out some shades for a more autumnal version; originally I’d envisaged that in coton à broder, but if I do decide to do it in wools, these beautiful warm shades I feel would work very well.

autumnal Heathway wools for Tree of Life

When stitching is temporarily just not the thing, there are other things you can do besides petting, organising, admiring, and re-arranging stash – one of them is putting things together for other people to stitch! In the coming months I hope to introduce a selection of kits: a second Shisha card, the Little Wildflower Garden (at the moment only available as a chart pack), and the Christmas Wreath both as a card and as an ornament. Just so you can start your Christmas stitching in good time smiley.

Wool again – back to Pearsall’s

Some time ago I treated myself to Pearsall’s starter pack, 30 skeins of their Heathway Merino crewel wool plus two pieces of twill.

Wool from Pearsall's starter pack

Of course they needed to be tried out, and for ease of comparison I used the same design as for the Renaissance Dyeing experiment. Originally I intended to use the same stitches as well, but then I came across the raised chain stitch band which, having worked it in perle cotton and loved the result, I simply had to try out in wool. As it happens, it’s not quite so successful in wool as in perle, although it still has an interesting look. The two wide pink/red bands on the flower cone (what do you call that thing?) are raised chain stitch band, with intentionally varied spacing (just so you don’t think it looks sloppy by accident…).

Starting on the SANQ pattern in Pearsall's wool

The main thing I noticed about Pearsall’s is that it feels and looks a little heavier than the Renaissance Dyeing wool. It’s not a big difference, in fact I sometimes wondered whether I was imagining it, but on the whole I do think there is a difference. It’s most noticeable on the three lines of stem stitch in the stem, and the little lines of stem stitch around the tiny satin stitch leaves. Talking of which, they are very irregular. I know. I was getting a little impatient to finish this because I really want to work on the Shisha Mini and the SAL, and so I wasn’t as careful over my stitching as I would have been if this had been a proper project. (That’s not to say these two Jacobean flowers are improper projects – just that they are more in the nature of samplers, or to hark back to the previous FoF, doodle cloths. Pictorial doodle cloths. I might do more of those, actually! Perhaps I could use some of those leaf outlines I’ve been drawing for one.)

The finished Jacobean flower

Apart from the slight difference in thickness, Pearsall’s crewel wool is really very much like Renaissance Dyeing’s. They work up very nicely, they don’t pill, and they are both so much better than Appleton’s! I like the feel of the Pearsall’s a little better, but on the other hand the RD makes really nice fine lines in stem stitch. Mind you, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t mix them.

Finally, just a few close-ups to show the various stitches used in this project. In the flower cone: raised chain stitch band, seed stitch, French knots (using two different colours in the needle which unfortunately doesn’t show up at all) and long-and-short stitch worked over a split stitch border which is now invisible. In the bluey-green petals: stem stitch (the vein), Portuguese knotted stem stitch (the outline) and bullion knots. In the stem: stem stitch in three shades of green, and French knots with two shades in the needle – here the colours were sufficiently different to show up. In the leaf: stem stitch, Palestrina stitch (the outline) and satin stitch (the little leaves-within-a-leaf).

raised chain stitch band, seed stitch, French knots and long-and-short stitch stem stitch, knotted stem stitch and bullion knots stem stitch shading and French knots stem stitch, Palestrina stitch and satin stitch

And now I can go and play with Shisha minis and SAL doodle cloths – yay!

More wools – Renaissance Dyeing

Serinde very kindly sent me some Renaissance Dyeing crewel wools so now I’ve got two types to try out! You may recognise the design I chose for my comparison – yes, it’s the goldwork pincushion design from Samplers & Antique Needlework. It’s nicely Jacobean looking, so why shouldn’t it work in wools as well as gold? A brief aside – judging the colour of threads by what they look like on websites is very unsatisfactory; the Pale Apple (far right in the picture) is clearly green on the RD website but in real life it is more like a slightly green-tinged pale yellow.

A selection of Renaissance Dyeing wools

The RD wool is quite fine, and some threads have very occasional thinnish patches. To some extent this may be caused by part of the thread untwisting as I’m using it – as you can see, the thicker part of the thread looks much more loosely twined. However, even straight off the skein there seems to be some unevenness here and there. Still, it is very infrequent and otherwise the thread is beautifully even, and lovely to work with. As for the stitches used in this project, although I’d scribbled a few ideas on the design I’ve been changing things as I go along; one line of stem stitch looked far too spindly for the stem (perhaps I should have used a smaller version of the design) so I added another line, plus a line in yellow – good practice for my Tree of Life trunk! The leaf is outlined in Palestrina stitch (I told you I was going to play with that). I added two-coloured French and colonial knots roughly where spangles were in the original, and a thin yellow stem stitch line to one side of the satin stitch leaves. As for the decoration inside the blue Portuguese knotted stem stitch petals, fairly last-minute (just before starting the lazy daisies specified by the design, in fact) I substituted bullion knots in two colours so I could include the dark navy blue. The red outline on the flower is heavy chain stitch, and the wool behaved very well on that.

Unevenness in Renaissance Dyeing wool

Stems and leaves in a variety of stitches

Last-minute change to the petals

The orange inner line is Hungarian braided chain stitch, and with hindsight I don’t think wool is particularly suited to it. Its slight fuzziness makes it difficult to pick up the inner stitches without catching the outer ones. It doesn’t look too bad but the braided appearance isn’t as distinct as it would be with a smoother thread. Long & short stitch isn’t my forte but it did create the flame-like look I was aiming for. The three yellow French knots on the tip of the flower were added because there was a little dot of ink there which hadn’t been covered by the chain stitch…

The Renaissance Dyeing experiment, finished

A close-up of the leaf

A close-up of the stem and petal

A close-up of the flower

I like this type of project – I can do pretty much whatever I like, change my mind half-way through, and add things and change things as the fancy takes me. It’s as close to anarchy as I am ever likely to get; very liberating smiley.

Pearsall’s, and disappearing silks

Some years ago I picked up a small collection of vintage silks made by Pearsall’s Embroidery, called Filofloss. They were stranded, flattish silks with a lovely sheen, made during the 1920s and 30s as far as I can remember. Lovely, and unfortunately discontinued. But Pearsall’s continued with a different stranded silk, Filoselle, which I used for the stems and the blue flower in Mary Corbett’s small cross design. It has more twist than Filofloss, and is a little more springy, but it has the same lovely sheen. Unfortunately, despite the label shown on Pearsall’s home page, Filoselle is no more. When I spoke to Carol at Pearsall’s to ask whether they would be at the Knitting & Stitching Show she explained that the silks had been very much the domain of her business partner John, who sadly died in 2012. Since then, all their silks apart from surgical silks have been phased out.

What they do still do is crewel wool. After my recent re-acquaintance with Appleton’s (about which more when I post about my twill experiments) I felt I would really like to try a crewel wool that doesn’t have thin bits which make one’s stitching look more irregular than it needs to, that doesn’t pill, or fluff, or untwist. Serinde over at the Cross Stitch Forum suggested either Renaissance Dyeing or Pearsall’s Heathway Milano crewel wool.

There is a lot to be said for Renaissance Dyeing’s wool. For one thing, it’s a lot cheaper than Pearsall’s. But Pearsall’s has a wider range of colours, and these are much more conveniently laid out on their website. I’m finding it almost impossible to work out from RD’s page of wools how to put together a set of three or four matching shades of any one colour. For example, presumably Light Orange #0302 goes with Pale Orange #0301, but they are several rows apart, their pictures separated by seven completely unrelated colours; in some cases shades that are probably related are so far apart that you need to scroll from one to the other so you can’t see them together. Another thing, do you go by name or by proximity of number? Does Dark Apricot #1205 go with Light Peach #1203? I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and this confuses me. I will try and work it out because anything Serinde recommends is likely to be lovely to work with, but for now I decided to concentrate on Pearsall’s.

Because Pearsall’s have a Crewel Starter Pack – 30 skeins of wool plus two good-sized pieces of twill at a considerable discount to what it would cost to buy all the bits separately. True, you don’t get to choose the colours, but the picture seemed to indicate that there would be four shades of seven different colour families, plus black and white, which is a useful start to a collection but also varied enough to be useful without having to add to it. I decided to ring them and spoke to Carol, who was incredibly helpful. She actually went through several of the packs she had in stock to tell me what combinations they contained! Determined not to impulse-buy I said I’d go away and think about it. I did. For at least 10 minutes. Then I called back and ordered one of the starter packs. This was about three o’ clock on Friday afternoon; on Saturday the postwoman delivered this:

Wool from Pearsall's starter pack

Aren’t they gorgeous? And the picture can’t tell you how beautifully soft they are – I was fondling them for at least five minutes before putting them away for the moment. When the Wedding Elephant is done, I’ll do a Kelly Fletcher flower with some of them to see how they are to work with.

Talking of KF, I finished Bloomin’ Marvellous 7 (yes, it was on hold; but for various reasons I didn’t get round to setting up the Elephant on Saturday, so I finished this while watching the VE Day concert). Besides some Chameleon Shades of Africa silks (the two yellows) it uses some of Vikki Clayton’s Hand-Dyed Fibers premium stranded silk. A little chunkier than standard strands, and lovely to work with, but it seems Hand-Dyed Fibers is yet another brand that has ceased to exist – the website is down and although I can find references to Vikki Clayton online, I can’t find anything to indicate that she is still producing these silks. I hope not too many silks go the same route or we won’t have anything to stitch with but DMC and Anchor! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen beautiful projects created with stranded cotton, but there is just something about working with silks that is a little bit special, not to mention their place in the long history of embroidery – it would be a shame if they all went.

Bloomin' Marvellous 7 finished