Alternative uses for flannel?

Some time ago I bought a piece of light blue flannel (well, what I grew up knowing as “flanel” – only one “n” in Dutch – here in the UK it sometimes seems to be referred to as brushed cotton), thinking its slightly fluffy texture might make a nice background for the Little Wildflower Garden. But transferring designs on to it turned out to be a pain, and so the stack of flannel squares was put aside in a drawer somewhere.

Blue flannel or brushed cotton

There they cluttered the place up until I decided that I wasn’t ever going to use them for anything, and threw them away. My husband was about to go out to work on a car at a friend’s garage and asked if he could use them for oily rags, mopping up spills and wiping bits of car. Sure, I said. Have fun!

That afternoon I was doing some work on the goldwork embroidery workshop, and contemplating a mini velvet board that is part of my larger velvet board. Its size, about 10cm x 5cm, would be ideal for the workshops. There were two problems: they aren’t available separately, only as part of the larger boards; and even if they were, they’d be far too expensive to buy 12 of just for the workshops. Could I make them myself, just simple ones of cardboard with some slightly fluffy fabric on it…?

A mini velvet board

The blue flannel!

On my husband’s return he assured me that only a few of the squares had been turned into oily rags as yet, and he’d bring some back for me next time he went down there. And he did. Only by that time I’d found a large remnant of luxurious dark green velvet for a couple of pounds at our local fabric shop, which is obviously a more suitable fabric for making velvet boards than flannel. The blue squares have since made their third journey, to join the other oily rags.

A remnant of green velvet

While doing some research into fabrics that might work for making goldwork boards I had a look at Ultrasuede (not convinced it would work, and I couldn’t get small quantities) and – following the Stitch in Time programme – doeskin. Hainsworth very kindly sent me some small samples in a variety of colours. It is beautiful! Could it perhaps be used as a background for goldwork? Then the lady I’d spoken to on the phone sent me their catalogue-with-prices. Oof. That would have to be for very, very special projects only! But first I’ll do some experimenting with the samples.

Doeskin samples

Smoked eels, pleasant post at home and abroad, a cross and some flowers

It’s been a while – we’ve been to The Netherlands to visit family, but now I’m back from the old country, and as usual I’ve brought back lots of things I can’t get here, like my favourite shampoo, various types of biscuit and sausage, salt liquorice, and (a special birthday treat) these:

Smoked eels

They’re smoked eels. All right, so they don’t look particularly attractive, but they are very very tasty, apart from which they remind me of my grandmother with whom I used to eat them. Lovely smoked eels and memories of Oma – an unbeatable combination.

With the Euro looking encouragingly weak against the pound this was obviously a good time to order things from the Netherlands, especially as I could have them sent to my mother and so save on postage. So when we got there, two interesting parcels were waiting for me: one contained several very thin marker pens for transferring designs on to fabric, the other a piece of Kingston linen and a piece of Normandie fabric (a non-count cotton/linen blend). I’ve never tried the latter before, but it feels very nice so I’m looking forward to stitching on it; perhaps a pretty strawberry design from the out-of-copyright book Samplers and Stitches by Mrs. Archibald Christie. I have a fancy to stitch it relatively large, in stem stitch outline only.

Sakura Pigma Micron pens Kingston linen and Normandie fabric

Of course when we came home there was a stack of post waiting for us; the usual pre-election leaflets, bank statements and other decidedly less-than-exciting stuff, but some gems as well. The first one was almost literally a gem, as it contained some goldwork materials from Golden Hinde. Two thicknesses of Rococco in gold, silver and copper, some lovely lacy milliary wire (one of which is destined to become a caterpillar in a toadstool design I’m working on), and some spangles.

Rococco and milliary wire from Golden Hinde

The next one was rather surprising – I’d ordered a few things from Sew & So last month, and they’d emailed to say the parcel had been sent but without the 5″ flexi-hoop I’d ordered, which was out of stock and would be sent later. However, when the parcel arrived, it contained the whole order, including the flexi-hoop. “They probably got some new ones in just after they’d emailed me,” I thought, and went off to the Netherlands. But there among the post was another S&S parcel, with another 5″ flexi-hoop. I rang them to find out how to return it, but they said not to worry and to keep it with their compliments. Great service, as always.

And finally there was an envelope from America. After an email conversation following some enquiries of mine, Barbara at Tristan Brooks (who was extremely helpful about the cost of sending things to England, and describing fabrics) sent me two samples of twill fabric: the Legacy Linen Twill they sell (and which is one of Mary Corbet’s favourites) and a Scottish twill more like the ones that are sold in the UK (which they don’t sell but she happened to have a bit of). This way I could feel the difference before deciding what I needed. Customer service beyond the call of duty is obviously going strong on both sides of the Atlantic!

An extra hoop from Sew and So, and two types of twill from Tristan Brooks

So, while on holiday, did I manage to stitch the floral cross plus a few of the Kelly Fletcher flowers I’d taken along? Ha! Or in other words, no. I didn’t even finish the cross. But I did get quite a long way, with only the blue flower left to do. Having no access to Mary Corbet’s version as there is no internet at my mother’s, I rather made it up as I went along: split stitch outline and long-and-short stitch for the cross, in three shades of brown which unfortunately weren’t the best combination as the two lightest ones were nearly identical, and the darkest one was quite a lot darker. Oh well, I did say I’d work with the silks I already had in my stash (this is the Alyce Schroth silk). I’m not altogether happy with some of the stitches on the curved edges of the cross, but couldn’t quite work out how to make them into a smoother outline while covering the split stitching. Some work needed there.

Split stitch outline for the cross The cross filled in with long and short stitch

Next was stem stitch in one strand of medium green Pearsall’s silk for the stems (with slightly padded satin stitch for the little bobbles on the ends of the tendrils), fishbone stitch in one shade of green (light or medium) for the small leaves, and long and short stitch in two shades without first outlining for the larger leaves; I can’t say I see a great difference, but perhaps a closer look in good light with my glasses off will show that there is one. As I said before I haven’t got much experience with l & s stitch, and on some of the leaves it looks more like split stitch filling, but on the whole I’m pleased with the way it turned out. Oh, the little rosebud is also l & s, in two shades of pink/red Soie de Paris using one strand. The blue flower will be outlined in split stitch and then filled with l & s in two shades of blue Pearsall’s silk, with the centre and some little lines in yellow. I picked up most of these Pearsall’s Filoselle silks in a lovely needlework shop in Cumbria some years back, where they were in a half price sale. They are lovely to work with and have a beautiful sheen – it really is a shame Pearsall’s have discontinued them. Incidentally, the difference between the two greens isn’t very big, but it is more noticeable in real life than in the photograph; very annoying that the camera won’t simply see what our eyes see!

The leaves and bud finished (flash) The leaves and bud finished (no flash)

So all the prepared flowers are still waiting, drawn on the fabric but unstitched, in my little surface embroidery folder. But although I haven’t been stitching them, I have been thinking about them, and I’ve decided I will probably make them into single-stitch projects – or as much as is feasible, anyway. That is to say, one flower will be done in buttonhole stitch only, and another in chain stitch (or the heavy variety) only, and a third in closed Cretan stitch only and so on, with a bit of stem stitch (possibly knotted) or back stitch for those parts that can’t easily be worked in the stitch chosen for that particular flower. Together, they should then become a sort of floral stitch sample; I may even turn them into a little fabric book.

Mabel’s Sketchbook (IV)

Back to the sketch I showed you some time ago. You may have discerned a pumpkin shape with swirls around it and a girl in it. Well, that can mean only one thing, right? Cinderella!

Mabel's sketchbook

It all started with a Kloster block shape I’d idly doodled some time ago. It consisted of a sort of oval in the centre, and a curve or half-oval attached to it on either side. If you half-closed your eyes and used your imagination, it might pass for a pumpkin.

To some people pumpkins mean Halloween. But I don’t really do Halloween, so that was a bit of a dead end. They do remind me of Harvest Festivals, and churches decorated with fruit and vegetables, but I couldn’t quite see how to turn that into a workable design. And so it just sat there in my stitching program, forgotten and unloved.

I came across it again when I wanted to tinker a bit with a design that happened to be in the same file, and thought it would be a shame not to do anything with it. So I sketched a pumpkin shape and drew some swirls around it, and then realised it looked rather like a coach. A pumpkin coach. OK, but I didn’t want it orange or any other pumpkin colour. Silvery, or a very very pale blue, that would be much nicer. On a sparkly fabric perhaps? Another memory stirred – Serinde, a fellow-member of the Cross Stitch Forum and an accomplished Hardangerer (Hardangeress?) had mentioned that 28 count white opalescent Lugana went particularly well with a certain pale blue shade of Caron thread. And I happen to have both the fabric and the Caron threads in my stash! So that was settled. But if it was blue it wouldn’t look very pumpkin-like anymore; so add a stalk to the top to counteract that.

Now for Cinderella herself. What if I put her in the central bit, and used cutwork in the two other sections? She’d have to be cross-stitched over one if she was to fit the shape and still have a reasonable amount of detail. What about the colours? I didn’t want her to look like the Disney version – not because I don’t like it, but because I didn’t want to copy some else’s ideas. So a blue and red dress, and some flounces or ribbons. What about her face? Now if you have a close look at the sketch you will see that at this point I got a little bit over-ambitious – not only was I planning some fairly detailed backstitching in the face, but I also considered using open chain stitch to represent her ringlets. Nice idea, and I may use it some day, but not here. Cinderella would be all cross stitch.

Then all I needed to do was decide on colours and stitches for the scrolls that formed the wheels, and, as a last-minute addition, to add some sparkly stars all around the coach. I know the fabric itself will be sparkly, but that’s no reason not to add a bit more! One final idea occurred to me – wouldn’t this make rather a nice decoration for a little girl’s bedroom? And if so, wouldn’t she like to have her initial in there somewhere? So I charted a variation with Cinderella a little lower in the coach, and designed an alphabet to go with it. And there she is, ready for the Planned section, waiting to be stitched!

Cinderella Cinderella Initial

And what about the tray mentioned in the sketch? Well, I happened to pick up an oval tray with needlework in it a year or two ago, and have been looking for a design for it ever since. This might be just the right shape and size (I’ll have to do a few calculations), so you may see it in the Gallery some day.