Slow progress is still progress

Remember the Craft Fair last Saturday? The organisers had asked people with stands if they could give demonstrations at various points throughout the day, and several did, among them a lady spinning wool, and a woodturner. I offered to demonstrate goldwork embroidery, which proved a good opportunity to finally get some work done on my SANQ/Jacobean flower project! I’d already been playing fast and loose with the design so I decided to leave the picture of the model, which is usually magneted to my frame, behind and just do whatever I liked. Ah, liberty! The two petals, originally intended to be done in paired gold Jap, I did in silver, and I intend to have some tiny silver spangles in there with the charted green silk. The cone, or whatever that other bit of the flower is called, was likewise charted in paired gold Jap with fairly chunky pearl purl on the outside; I swapped this for very fine pearl purl and some of the check thread I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show. I really like the effect of the wavy line bordering the delicate purl, and will definitely use it again.

To show the progress, here are some Before and After pics.

Gold and silk Silver and some wavy gold added

Some years ago I designed a series called Floral Lace; as my husband won’t let me forget, it started out as a small collection of three designs but kept growing until in the end there were 18. Some of these came out in late autumn and it gave me the idea of doing a Remembrance pair as well. I decided on Poppy and Rosemary, made some sketches none of which quite satisfied me, and so they disappeared into my When I Get Fresh Inspiration folder. Then one night last week I woke up with the design worked out in my head; the next morning I quickly got it charted up in my design program and so after well over two years “Floral Lace: Remembrance” is finally finished. I’ve even started stitching it, at my Embroidery Group yesterday afternoon with a bit more work done in the evening.

Floral Lace: Poppy - in progress

It seemed oddly appropriate to be stitching a remembrance-themed project at the group meeting yesterday, as we recently lost one of our long-standing members, and a number of us will be attending her funeral today. It’s a nice thought that this piece, as well as symbolising a more public remembrance, will also remind me of Jean.

An end to buttonholing, and some ornament-making with a purpose

In October 2013 I started stitching what was to be a set of three designs. Three months later I completed the 18th design in the series. And now, a little over a year after putting the final stitch into “9b: Holly”, Floral Lace has finally been properly finished – backed with felt and with a buttonhole edge scalloped on the inside they are ready to be… well, what? Not coasters; the beads would make anything put on them wobble, and they won’t fit into my trusty acrylic coasters so the stitching is unprotected and I’d live in constant dread of getting coffee or tea on them. They’re not really big enough to be decorative mats. They could be stitched onto cushions or a quilt, but that seems rather a waste of the nicely finished back. If anyone has any workable suggestions, do let me know!

18 Floral Laces all buttonholed

Rather exciting – a needlework magazine has shown an interest in one of my designs, but they’ve asked for a bit of tweaking and for the finished projects to be made into ornaments, so that’s my next task. I’ll start stitching the tweaked design tonight, and with a bit of luck will be able to do the ornament-making over the weekend. That part of it may be a bit of a challenge…

A surprising lack of poppies

Recently a lady wrote to ask me: “Have ever you done anything with poppies?” My first reaction was “Of course!” But when I actually went through my list of designs it turned into “Oh, er, no…”. The closest thing I could offer her was Blackthorn, which Louise H ingeniously stitched in poppy colours.

So how did this happen? How did I design (besides several other flower-themed charts) 18 Floral Laces without ever doing a poppy? And how am I going to remedy it? Because I must agree with the lady that a poppy design would be a great idea. Well, I suppose I could do a 19th Floral Lace (remember how it started out as a set of three…?). It could perhaps be done on its own (not as part of a pair) as a Remembrance Day special, with part of the profit going to the poppy appeal.

So now I am charting poppies. Whatever the design is going to be, it will definitely have red poppies! Those yellow and orange things may call themselves poppies but with apologies to them, for me a proper poppy is red. So far I’ve charted one larger and one smaller version, both a suitable size for the Floral Lace framework – but it’s difficult to get particularly the leaf to look right in the smaller one. I’ve looked at photographs, and red poppies in bloom in our own garden at the moment, and also the poppy lapel pins I bought for my husband and me last year.

Poppy lapel pin

Those pins were very useful as an aid to design because they are stylised; still, I think I’ll go for a four-petalled flower to make it look just a little more natural. And perhaps “Floral Lace: Poppies” will end up as a pair after all – don’t they say Rosemary is for Remembrance as well?

Introducing a new speciality thread – Lexi’s Fur

Have you ever seen that cross stitch design – Lizzie*Kate, I think – with a ginger cat’s head and the words, “Cat hair, just another speciality thread”? How true. The ginger hair of our much-missed Alfie definitely found its way into several of my designs, and now a new thread is about to be incorporated: the fur of Alfie’s successor Lexi.

Young enough to enjoy some boisterous play

We adopted Lexi through the local Cat’s Protection and picked her up last Tuesday. She’s already made herself right at home, and has a great time finding the best places from which to watch the birds in the garden (she’s not allowed out yet, of course). The large window is proving a bit confusing though, and just now there was the most alarming thud as she went for the pigeon on the bird bath.

Studying the local bird life

Two recent finishes were pre-Lexi and therefore guaranteed fur-free – two more Floral Laces. Five down, thirteen to go…

Floral Lace: Clematis Floral Lace: Forget-Me-Not

I have done more than just buttonhole, though: Extravorganza 3, the second smallest of the four variations (yes, I know I said there were five variations, and in fact I charted a sixth, but the three smallest ones turned out to be so very alike that I’m counting them as one variation). This one uses a rich blue (and probably some tabby), the next one will be green, and the other two most likely orange and purple, but don’t be surprised if I change my mind!

Extravorganza 3

A workshop finish and a floral calendar

Some time ago I showed you the model for the Spring Knitting & Stitching Show workshop – duly stitched, and finished as a patch on a gift bag, using white cross stitch to attach the stitched piece to the cotton bag. It was photographed and the photograph turned into a kit cover and that, I thought, was that. It wasn’t. I’d scribbled some rough notes on the chart to remind me how much thread would be needed for each kit, but they weren’t very clear, and when I came back to them I wasn’t at all convinced that I’d got it right. Fortunately I was looking for a quick project to take to my in-laws last weekend, as Treasure Trove is rather too big and complicated, and so I decided to stitch another model, this time using Anchor Multicolor perle #8 instead of a solid colour – variegated threads give such a nice effect for no extra effort and I thought it would encourage the workshop participants.

Part of our visit would be spent marshalling (i.e. helping out) at a vintage car trial, but as it happened I had quite a bit of stitching time on the Friday, and finished all the surface stitching, leaving only a small amount of cutting and filling – easily finished on Saturday, with time to spare. As I would like to take this model to show at the workshop, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to finish it in a different way from the first one. How about giving it a buttonhole edge and then cutting it from the fabric? Still a patch, and attachable to bags, cushions and what not, but showing a different technique. And I had plenty of white perle #5 with me. I didn’t quite manage to finish it, but there’s not much left to do.

Buttonhole finish to a workshop model

That gave me another idea. I’ve been thinking about what to do with the 18 Floral Lace models. Because of their size, cards spring to mind, but this suggestion was met with indignation by both my mother-in-law and the ladies at my stitching group. They felt the designs deserved a more permanent fate. But what? I’m no good at patchwork so the idea of a quilt didn’t appeal to me. I can’t easily make them into coasters bcause of the beads, and anyway the house is rather well-stocked with stitched coasters already. Then I remembered that one of the ladies who joined the Song of the Weather SAL was planning to use the 12 designs as a calendar, finishing them all separately and then changing them over every month. She had used a backing fabric and finished them a bit like ornaments, but buttonhole edging was surely an option too!

There was a possible problem, however. The workshop model is stitched on Hardanger fabric, which is relatively stiff; Floral Lace is worked on evenweave. A line of buttonhole stitch on evenweave can pull away entirely. One option is to vary the length of the stitches, which can look quite attractive as well as making the edging more secure. Another might be to make use of the fact that the projects will need a backing of some sort. I came up with the following: find a colour of felt that will complement the design (I may end up using black for all of them, or I may vary the colours – I haven’t decided yet). Cut the felt slightly smaller than the finished patch will be and attach it to the back with running stitch, then work buttonhole stitch over the top. This should strengthen the edging and stop it from pulling away simply because the stitches bite into the felt (which doesn’t fray) as well as the evenweave. I might still use variable length stitches because I think it will look nice, and it will add even more strength.

So there we are – over the next months I will be buttonholing Floral Lace in between other projects, then choose a frame or possibly a canvas or even a cork board to which I can attach a different one every month. I may or may not add a calendar underneath; perhaps I’ll just keep it as an interchangeable display. Whatever it turns out to be in the end, I’ll post pistures here of the process!

A distracting variation

The Floral Lace series is nearly finished. Only one more model to stitch to complete the dozen-and-a-half. At least one person is waiting for number 18 in order to plan a Floral Lace afghan. So why, after stitching the other 17 in relatively quick succession without anything in between except the November and December speciality SAL versions, did I decide to stitch a variation first?

It was not something I’d only just come up with, this variation. I charted it, with its tightly pulled Algerian eyes instead of four-sided stitch, some time ago; in fact, back when Floral Lace consisted of only three or four designs. At first it was meant simply as a slightly different take on the designs for my own use, but then as the series grew I thought it would be a nice bonus for people buying the whole series. And that meant it would be nice to have a stitched model of it.

Logically I would have left it until after finishing 9b (Holly); but I finished 9a (Thistle) while visiting family in the Netherlands, just before we were leaving for home. I wanted to start a new project, but A) not too complicated and B) something where it didn’t matter too much if I made a mistake – after all, some of the stitching might be done on the ferry, and the crossing was predicted to be a choppy one. The Variation, planned on 22ct Hardanger instead of 25ct Lugana, using one of the simpler floral motifs, and meant only as an illustration, not a Proper Model, fitted the bill perfectly. As it happens I didn’t stitch on the boat at all, but by that time I’d started it so I thought I’d better finish it.

So here it is, with a diamond of round pulled holes instead of square four-sided stitches. It’s a surprisingly different look, quite lacy, and I’ll definitely use it again!

Floral Lace variation

The bonus chart pack with stitch diagrams and descriptions for working the designs using Algerian eye stitch or eight-armed eyelets is now finished, complete with picture of stitched model. And an additional stitch diagram for Rhodes stitch. After all, that too occupies a square the same size as four-sided stitch, and it offers a completely different texture again, like in the Floral Tiles borders. I don’t think I’ll be doing a stitched model for that one any time soon though; I’ll leave it to stitchers’ imagination for the time being, and get Holly finished at last!

That darned daffodil again!

Remember that originally five-petalled daffodil whose additional petal necessitated the unpicking of already-stitched greenery in Floral Lace 7b? Well, it’s been doing it again – this time the colours aren’t working! *Voice of Reason intervenes and reminds me that as I designed it, it’s all my fault in the first place so I might as well get on with it and put it right without whining about it*

The Voice of Reason is absolutely right, of course. It just illustrates once again how incredibly difficult it is to envisage how colours will work together when you’re working on paper or a computer screen. It doesn’t matter how often you take out your bobbins of stranded cotton or your skeins of perle and put them together to see what the combination looks like, it’s only when you see it stitched that you can tell whether you got it right. In this case I hadn’t. The daffodil has six petals and that trumpet bit in the middle; my idea was for a yellow daffodil with an orange centre. However, if I stitched all the petals in the same yellow, it would just become one big yellow splodge, so I decided to work the petals in two shades of yellow, alternatingly. I chose two that were distinct enough to show up, and set to work.

But as soon as I started the first petal in the darker yellow, I realised that it looked orange, and contrasted far too much with the light yellow petals; also, the trumpet would have to be extremely orange to show up – think DMC 946 or something equally in-your-face. But on the bobbin the next lighter shade seemed almost identical to the light yellow I was already using. I decided to leave the dark yellow/orange petal and stitch another one in the medium shade, to see if it contrasted enough with the lightest petals. And quite unexpectedly, it did! So my next chore is to unpick the dark yellow petal (unpicking cross stitch over one on 25ct is not one of my favourite jobs) and complete the rest of the daffodils in the medium yellow. I still hope to be able to put the completed Daffodil on the website before Christmas, so I’d better get a few long evenings of stitching in!

Colour changes in a daffodil

A productive cold and a troublesome daffodil

I have a cold. So, I’m sure, have lots of other people, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable; and it’s most annoying not being able to sing along to carols because it brings on a coughing fit! In short, for the last few days I have been feeling less than usually cheerful. So last Friday, with the accounts more or less up to date and the tax return completed and sent off, I took some time off. What with coughing and bunged up sinuses I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to get to sleep if I tried, so I decided on a relaxing afternoon of card-making. I riffled through my stack of completed small projects, picked some suitable cards to go with them (remember all those aperture cards?), made myself a mug of tea and set to work.

First some miscellaneous projects, mostly Snippets and Happy Hour with a course project and a few freebies thrown in; for some of them I used single fold cards I had in one of my stash drawers.

Miscellaneous finishes

Then eight Round Dozen Variations. I hadn’t realised I’d done so many recently…

8 Round Dozen variations

On Saturday I had another go and elevated eleven Song of the Weather stitched models to a state of usefulness. There were thirteen (I’d stitched March twice), but two of them were done on Afghan fabric so they weren’t suitable to be made into cards. I haven’t yet decided what they’ll be turned into, if anything.

11 Song of the Weather cards

With about ten left of the original blue-and-white Song of the Weather models which had already been “finished”, that should give us a good stock of birthday / anniversary / wedding / baptism / etc. cards for a couple of years!

Because of the general head-stuffed-with-cotton-wool feeling I hadn’t been doing a lot of stitching, but I worked on Floral Lace: Daffodil for a bit yesterday. All was well to begin with (I can now stitch the shared part of Floral Lace practically blindfolded) but when it got to the small cross stitches I did some serious miscounting. Unpicked, worked it again, then realised the flower on my chart looked a bit odd. Ah. It’s only got five petals. Daffodils have six petals. I know the flower motifs in Floral Lace aren’t exactly botanical illustrations, but here it was definitely noticeable. So today I recharted the flower, which unfortunately means having to unpick part of the green stems and leaves I’d already stitched because the flower now overlaps them. Heigh ho, it’s all in a day’s designing, and hopefully Daffodil will look all the better for it.

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