Counting down in Latin

Remember the rainbow birthday card I stitched for a girl who had her birthday during the second lockdown? Well, her younger brother will soon have his birthday during this third lockdown, so their mum has asked people to send him birthday cards as well. He likes dinosaurs, which are very much not my cup of tea, but fortunately he likes sea creatures too, and as he turns seven:

Meet Septimus the Septopus!

The first sketch The tidied-up design

Now from the start this octopus-with-a-leg-missing and his surroundings suggested something very textured to me. So a great opportunity to rummage through my stash of lumpy, bulky, fuzzy, stretchy threads and any other bits and bobs I could think of to create tentacles, sand, seaweed, coral and the like. I don’t know about you, but whenever I go on a rummage like this invariably there are things that I was sure were there, but which aren’t. I thought I had some small round and square stone-coloured buttons, and also a very lumpy red thread. I don’t. But I found plenty of other things so I’m good to go!

Possible ribbons, threads and beads

And what will all this be attached to? I decided to go for a blue cotton to give an instant watery background. Unlike the cotton duck and heavy sateen I’ve been using for the recent baby cards, this does need a backing fabric, especially with heavyish threads and beads couched all over it; some time ago I bought an Egyptian muslin which because of its fairly open weave unfortunately doesn’t work as a backing for any detailed designs, so it’s good to be able to use it up in projects like these. Next step was to transfer the design, and play with placing the various threads on the fabric to see what they look like all together.

What goes where?

Sometimes with projects like these you need to get creative. One of the things I thought I had was a blueish wavy thread which would work for the surface of the sea right at the top of the design. Well, I have the wavy thread, but it’s grey. However, as the fabric is blue I think I can get away with grey, especially if I combine it with a very fluffy white thread. After all, when you look at the sea (especially the North Sea, which is the one I grew up going to for beach trips) it is rarely blue, and in fact grey is probably a lot more realistic. Also, there’s going to be plenty of colour in other parts of the design to compensate. In the previous picture, did you notice the red variegated thread? That’s going to make a bit of coral, and as it is not a lumpy thread as I originally though, I’ll use it with a lumpy stitch instead!

Combining threads

As I prepared to start stitching, there was one last decision to make: after creating this one and sending it off to the birthday boy, is it going to be a “commercial” design? If so, I need to take notes, think of the instructions, make sure I use only widely available threads… No. Although most of the threads and bits & bobs I’m using are available (though some of them not what you would call widely), others are unlabelled or I can’t remember where I got them from, and really I just want this project to be fun. I want to play around with what I’ve got while creating something that will hopefully bring some cheer to a lockdown birthday.

This meant I could relax and just get on with stitching! I will mention the materials I used, partly for my own benefit (“what on earth did I use for that coral?” I may wonder as I look at photographs of this project years down the line) and also for reasons which will become clear later. By the way, apologies for the quality of some of these pictures, I took them as I was stitching in the evening by artifical light.

First up was the sea surface, couching grey Rainbow Gallery (RG) Fluffy Fleece twisted together with white RG Arctic Rays. The seabed consists of three lengths of a beige RG Ultra Suede, also couched. There’s a lot of couching in this design, which does make it relatively quick!

Sea surface and seabed

Next came the seaweed, and more couching. On the left a variegated thick silk from The Thread Studio; I think I picked this up at a Knitting & Stitching Show some years ago. The shade I’m using here, Marble, doesn’t appear to be part of their range anymore. The other bit of seaweed is a nameless silk ribbon from my silk ribbon bag. I did look at some hand-dyed Au Ver à Soie ribbon, but the colour changes didn’t quite work for this short a length so plain green it was, couched down in twists. For the rocks I used some rose gold pebble beads (appropriate name); I bought these online for a children’s project years ago, and found them infuriatingly uneven in shape and size. In this project, that was a bonus!

Seaweed and rocks

The coral was the first thing to be stitched rather than couched; using a thick spun silk from Oliver Twists (again bought at one of the Knitting & Stitching Shows) my first idea was to use either Palestrina stitch or (possibly the most obvious choice) coral stitch, but the rather complicated shape I’d drawn and the thickness of the thread made that too complicated, so it’s a combination of French knots, small straight stitches, and some knotted stitches that I made up as I went along. Septimus’ head is outlined and shaded in stem stitch using two shades of RG Treasure Braid Petite (21 Copper and 27 Ice Pastels). I chose that blend because it seems the best match for the metallic in the thread I’ll be using for his tentacles.

Coral and a head

The moment I started planning an octopus/septopus I thought of one of the speciality threads from the Paint-Box Threads Inspiration Pack I got for Christmas as being ideal for the tentacles. The metallic part snaking in and out does a great job of suggesting suckers! Unfortunately it turned out to be too thick and fussy to do all the tentacles in it – they would have been impossible to tell apart – so three of them were worked in doubled Anchor metallic perle #5 (white/gold). For the eyes plain DMC was an option but I wanted them to stand out so I opted instead for Kreinik #4 braid 5760 Marshmallow and RG Treasure Braid Petite 05 Black, both in satin stitch. The white is stitched across the ovals, the black pupils lengthwise.

What's in the box in detail The eyes done, but what about the tentacles? Tentacles in two different textures

The last part was the figure 7 in bubbles, for which I used unbranded iridescent beads (probably a size 8) They got a bit close to the sea surface, but I think they still work. What surprised me, though, was how different the beads and other parts of the project looked with different lighting! Below is the finished piece, once photographed with the light coming from the right, and once with the light coming from the bottom.

Finished and lit from the side Finished and lit from the bottom

And so on to finishing. From memory I thought the aperture in the card I had in mind for this was 10cm square, and because I wanted a tight fit that’s the size at which I printed the design transfer. Unfortunately the aperture is 9.6cm… So a slightly tighter fit than intended, but with a bit of fiddling I got it all in. Phew.

It will fit...just The finished card

And now it’s over to you – whether you’re making a birthday card (add the desired age in bubbles) or just a Cheer Up! card, get out those odds and ends in your stash and start experimenting. The Septimus Freebie download has the design in two versions, the original Septimus and a more traditional octopus with the full complement of tentacles. Enjoy!

Variety is the spice of stitching

First let me play the sympathy card: I hurt my stitching hand in a fall, so for the past week I’ve done no stitching whatsoever. The last thing I did (and probably shouldn’t have) was finish Forever Frosty last Sunday; after that, nothing. How did I manage to restrain myself, I can hear you think. With difficulty, is the answer, and mostly because of the knowledge that this week I will be attending the 2-day Medieval Embroidery retreat at Coombe Abbey (thank you, oh husband-who-understands-the-desires-of-a-stitcher’s-heart) for which I want to be in good shape. Angela Bishop, one of the tutors, assured me that the retreat is “a combination of demos, talk, stitching (and eating!) so not all stitching”, so there should be plenty to enjoy even if I can’t quite keep up with the other embroiderers in the practical parts.

Of course this enforced stitch-less period comes just when I’ve got about five different projects either in progress or hooped up and ready to go! Some people like to stick to one project at a time, and they have the perseverance, concentration and self-control to stick with that one project until it’s finished (all the more astonishing when it’s one of those fully covered pictures consisting of half a million or so stitches). I, on the other hand, am fickle. I start a project, and half-way through I want to do something different. And that’s with designs which hardly ever exceed 10 inches, and generally aren’t solidly stitched. But in embroidery I will allow myself this fickleness – it is, after all, my hobby, which I’m meant to enjoy! And so I gather around me many different projects, preferably in different styles or techniques, and stitch whichever of them appeals to me at any given time. So what projects am I surrounded by at the moment? Here they are, in no particular order.

Line sampler project pouch. This was inspired by pictures posted on the Mary Corbet Facebook group by a lady who stitched line samplers in the shape of hearts and letters. I had just bought a couple of stitchable pouches meant for large tablets, which I think will work very well as travel cases for small-to-medium embroidery projects. Because I find it very difficult to be completely random in my stitching, and because I sometimes need a quick reminder of stitches that I don’t use very frequently, I’ve printed out a list of my stitch diagrams suitable for stitching lines. The letters will be worked in five different colour combinations, each based on and outlined in a shade of Anchor Multicolor.

Line sampler in letter shape on a project pouch

Carousel, a Hardanger design. After lots of freestyle and other embroidery I decided it was time to get back into Hardanger, and to ease myself into it I started with the non-cut designs of Veiled Delights. This was both a good idea (simple motifs) and a bad one (stitching through organza is predictably less easy and relaxed than stitching straight onto the evenweave), but on the whole I think it did re-ignite my enthusiasm for Hardanger, so I have hooped up a proper Hardanger design with cutting and filling stitches and everything. It’s called Carousel because many stitches in it have a “whirly” quality to them. I had various colour combinations in mind, and may well stitch it in other colours besides this one in the future, but for now it’s bright blues on bright white.

Carousel, a Hardanger project

Come Rain, a goldwork umbrella. And yes, there is a Come Shine as well – a parasol. Strictly speaking the umbrella is silverwork, on a teal ground, while the parasol will be done in gold on an orange fabric. Both will have some appliqué as well as a variety of metal threads. I’ve worked out which threads and wires and techniques I want to use where, but only while I’m stitching will I be able to decide which sizes will work best (it wasn’t until I was actually stitching Forever Frosty that I realised the pearl purl I’d chosen for outlining his body was far too thin). This is the one that’s really calling to me at the moment – perhaps I can make a start next weekend.

An umbrella in silverwork

Soli Deo Gloria, a silk & gold flower. I was so taken with the combination of colours and materials I used for my interpretation of a Kelly Fletcher freebie that I designed a flower of my own to work in those colours and techniques. As I was putting this together I decided on different silks, and possibly some of the gold threads will be slightly different too, but the look and feel of it will, I hope, be the same. I called it Soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”) because the colours of the petals and the use of goldwork threads were originally suggested by a Bible verse about furnishings made for the Tabernacle: “They hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut strands to be worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen – the work of skilled hands” (Exodus 39:3).

Soli Deo Gloria in silk and gold

And finally, a Kelly Fletcher design on a tea towel. You may remember the Classic Creations kit I got a while ago; it comes with fabric for two of the twelve designs, and as I was looking for a suitable fabric for the others I came across some tea towels and napkins I bought as “postage filler” when ordering shopping bags from the Clever Baggers. A tea cup seemed a suitable design for a tea towel, so I’ve ironed on the transfer, making sure it’s far enough from the corner for me to get a hoop around it (I cannot stitch comfortably without a hoop). I will have to remember to finish everything off very securely (not usually a priority when most of my projects end up in cards, coasters or boxes), and keep the back neat (likewise)!

A Kelly Fletcher design on a tea towel

And what about you? Are you strictly faithful to one project from start to finish? Or do you lavish your affections on many different designs? If so, do you work on them according to a strict rotation or do you stitch whatever takes your fancy? Whatever your ways and methods, enjoy your stitching. I hope to be enjoying mine again in a few days’ time!

A goldwork indulgence and a cheeky Christmas tree

Right. The most urgent deadline stuff is out of the way, with the next one not due until October (except for getting all the workshop kits ready, but I’m going to devote a large part of the coming weekend to that), and there is nothing that I absolutely Have To Stitch Now. This means that for my next project I can choose whatever I jolly well like – luxury!

At this point, my mind went blank and I had no idea whatsoever as to what I wanted to stitch. The only thing I did know was that I didn’t want to do anything that would need photographing or monitoring or tweaking or serious thinking. This ruled out any of my own designs. Well, I have quite a few designs by other people tucked away in my One Day folders, so I had a good rummage through those and found just the right thing. You may remember that earlier this year I saw a little goldwork pincushion on a magazine cover shown in Mary Corbet’s blog and fell completely and unreasoningly in love with it. I eventually managed to get the chart, but then used it not for goldwork, but for two crewel wool experiments: one with Renaissance Dyeing crewel wool and one with Pearsall’s Heathway merino wool.

The SANQ goldwork design stitched using Renaissance Dyeing crewel wool

The SANQ goldwork design stitched using Pearsall's crewel wool

So now is the time to actually get it done in goldwork. One of my favourite stages in any project is getting the materials together – I love playing with stash and have been known to put project boxes together for projects that subsequently didn’t get stitched. No problem, everything just gets put back into the storage boxes and I have the pleasure of doing another project box when I do get round to that design!

My usual project boxes, the ones with little compartments, don’t really work for goldwork; for one thing, the acid-free glassine envelopes that the various precious metals are kept in won’t fit unless I fold them over, and some of the reels of thread will only fit at an angle, taking up a compartment each. I resorted, therefore, to borrowing a small lunch box from one of the kitchen cupboards. Here it is with the tools and metals and threads – doesn’t it look inviting? And this picture was taken in a shady spot; the one I took in direct sunlight had so much sparkle and shine on it that it was unusable smiley.

Project box for the SANQ goldwork

Of course it takes more than the threads and metals; we need fabric too. I decided on some cream satin dupion, stitching on the shiny side. I transferred the design with one of my fine drawing pens, but unexpectedly the line bled rather severely, leaving a much thicker line than I wanted although it may still work. To see if a different method would work better I did another transfer using an ordinary pencil, and this came out better. It did take a lot of going over the lines to make them visible enough, though, and the tip of the lead occasionally got caught in the fabric. I’ll have to see if there is a more effective method for dupion, and I also want to try transferring to the less shiny side, to see if that makes a difference. Another thing I would like to experiment with is to draw the design on the calico backing in black, to see if it will show through the dupion sufficiently to work from. In that case, if a transfer goes wrong, I’ve only wasted a bit of calico, not my pretty fabric.

So here is the whole caboodle, everything that is needed for the project, including both transfers. I’ll need to decide which one to use, then iron the calico and attach the dupion to it with herringbone stitch, and mount it on my Millennium frame. By the way, you may have noticed that there are two green threads, and that not all the goldwork materials are gold. The original design used a variegated silk by Pearsall’s which unfortunately has been discontinued – in fact, all their embroidery silks have been discontinued *sniffle*. There are two candidates to replace it: a Vineyard Silk Shimmer in a light greyish green with sparkle (which, incidentally, seems to have been discontinued as well) and a Treenway 8/2 reeled silk. I may use both as they are equally lovely.

All the materials for the SANQ goldwork

The reason for the silver and copper purl getting in on the act is because I’d like to try some shading in the chipping used on the flower head. Yes, once again I just can’t seem to work the design as originally intended. Oh well. I’m also seriously considering using overstretched purl with a silk core for the stem, and I’ll probably attach the spangles using tiny petite beads instead of chunky purl chips. I’m sure it’ll still be recognisable. More or less.

One disadvantage of the goldwork project is that it isn’t exactly portable, even using the lap stand, so it’s not really suitable to take to the monthly craft group meeting at the local library tomorrow. Another project was obviously called for, and as I was going through my One Day folders this Christmas tree freebie by Kelly Fletcher cheekily suggested that it was Just The Ticket and that it was about time it got stitched. I’ll do this on Rowandean’s cotton fabric, which I got at last year’s Knitting & Stitching show. Interestingly, it has a plain side and a slightly fuzzy side; last time I used the plain side, so I’ve decided to go fuzzy this time. The threads are Caron Watercolours and Wildflowers. I may use different stitches for the baubles from the ones Kelly Fletcher suggests, and definitely will do on the bucket/basket in which the tree sits. Let imagination roam free!

Materials for Kelly Fletcher's Christmas tree

Bits and pieces (II)

Once a month there is a craft group at our village library; everyone brings whatever they are working on and we have tea or coffee and cake and a chat. This time I decided to bring the Toadstools. In a sense they are finished – all the outlines have been worked in different “thicknesses” of stem stitch, and although I want to make a few changes to some of the colours, otherwise I could just leave it as it is. But it looks a bit flat, and I decided it could do with a little shading in the form of seed stitch. Having decided this, I then proceeded to ignore the project entirely for several months. But I needed something smallish to take to the library, and Toadstools fitted the bill. In the end (and I will explain why a bit later) only a little bit of seed stitching got done, but I am rather pleased with its effect and will definitely do some more of it; with no chart to follow and only some standard DMC stranded cottons needed this may be just the right project to take when we visit my husband’s parents later this month.

Some shading is added to a toadstool Seed stitch shading

So why did I get so little seed stitching done? Because at the very last minute before leaving the house I popped a piece of hand-dyed felt in a 3″ hoop – just to see if it would fit, you understand – and when it did I thought I might as well take it and do some flower embroidery on it using the colours in my Toadstool project box. And that’s what I did; with a little sketch I’d scribbled on a bedside notepad the night before as a rough guide, but otherwise just seeing where it would go. Unfortunately the Toadstool box is not very well-stocked with blues and purples which meant I couldn’t work a planned cornflower and sprig of lavender, so I then did some seed stitching, taking the flowered felt home in its incomplete grass, daisies and one poppy stage.

Freestyle flowers on felt - the beginning

In the evening I got out my thread boxes and chose two blues for the cornflower, but for the sprig of lavender I decided to blend 2 strands of lilac with one strand of light green, and I’m rather pleased with the look of the resulting French knots.

blended threads used for the lavender

Finally, having stitched everything that was in my sketch, I added an ear of wheat. I felt the design could do with something yellowy, and something tall. I had to cheat a bit by taking the stem behind stitches I’d done before; when I stitch this design again I’ll start with the wheat. Writing a list of colours and stitches used (as much as an aide-memoire for myself as for possible future use in a chart pack) another thing I changed is the way the cornflower is worked. Here it is a small circle of dark blue fly stitch, with a large circle of medium blue fly stitch on top. The effect of the fly stitches on top is fine, but inderneath simple straight stitches radiating from the centre will do just as well and be less bulky. And finally the middle daisy – that needed to come down a bit. So based on the finished stitching I cleaned up the drawing and made it into a proper line transfer, with all the parts in the right place and order.

The finished flowers

And then I added a bee.

The finished flowers, with bee

Well, what can I say – I like little creatures in my embroideries. (Stitched ones, that is; let no real-life moth dare come near them!) And I’ve been wanting to try out a bi-coloured bullion knot for ages. Anyway, I’m happy with how this came out, and in its cleaned-up form (with or without the rather challenging bee) it might work rather well as a beginners workshop; perhaps another one for the Church Building Fund? All I need now is a good method for transferring a design on to felt…

Threads for a tree

Recently I’ve been playing around with different thread ideas for the Tree of Life. The first colour scheme I picked was a selection of Rainbow Gallery Splendor silks in blue, green & purple for the leaves and brown for the stem, all in three shades, with some yellow touches thrown in. Quite a nice combination, although the blue is a bit more blue-grey than I would have liked.

Splendor silks for the Tree of Life in blue, green and purple

Then Serinde pointed me in the direction of Pearsall’s Heathway wool, and, well, you know what came of that. The blue in the starter collection I got isn’t any brighter than the Splendor blue, and the purple (“Aubergine” the shade is called) is rather subdued too, but even so it would work quite well for a traditional tree on twill fabric, especially if I switch to a slightly brighter blue (Lapis, perhaps) and a more muted green (I’m thinking Willow Green instead of this Laurel). At first I intended to use it for the version of the tree with the bird and lettering. However, will wool go well with small letters? Or would I need to switch to silk for that?

Possible combination of Pearsall's wool for the Tree of Life

And there’s the matter of the other colourway. I had an idea of doing one in autumnal colours. A bit inappropriate, come to think of it, as these colours are caused by the leaves dying, which is not quite the message you want a Tree of Life to give. On the other hand, autumnal colours are very, very beautiful, and as the dying of the leaves preserves the tree’s energy to grow new leaves when spring comes again, perhaps I can just about pull that idea off. But autumnal colours and caterpillars don’t go together very well either. Will the caterpillar, who strictly speaking shouldn’t be around in autumn, enjoy his hypothetical bite of leaf if the leaf in question has turned orange, however vibrant and lovely? Or am I being too literal-minded about what is rather a symbolic and stylised design anyway?

Very well then, let’s use the blue-purple-green colour scheme for the caterpillar tree, whether in Splendor silk of Pearsall’s wool, and keep the autumnal colours for the bird-and-lettering tree. There are birds in autumn, so that’s OK, and going with silks for this version also gets around the problem of having to use wool for the lettering. But. As with the other version I would really like to use at least three shades of every colour, and I don’t have them in Splendor silk. I have some lovely radiant yellows, vibrant oranges, mossy greens and warm browns, but not three shades of each. Nor do I have them in any other silk. I could buy some, of course (Soie d’Alger comes in a wide range of colours and is lovely to work with), but having splashed out only very recently on the Heathway wool I feel I can’t really justify any further speciality thread purchases for a while. And the Splendor shades do look the part – there would just be rather less shading. One way around that would be to have a dark yellow and a light yellow leaf, a dark orange and a light orange one, and so on. I’ll have to think about that one.

Splendor silks for an autumnal version of the Tree of Life

Or I could ditch the idea of silk altogether, and go with DMC Coton à Broder. Size 25 is about the thickness of two strands of stranded cotton, or perle #12, and although it wouldn’t be quite so plump as the Splendor silk (which is absolutely gorgeous to work with) it would show the texture of the various stitches rather nicely. And it comes in quite a lot of colours, some of which would make a lovely autumn tree.

DMC Coton a Broder for an autumnal version of the Tree of Life

Then there is the question of what to use in the couched leaf. Something gold, but of course that could be either a colour or a metal. In at least one of them I would like to use a pair of gold passing threads, probably on a tree that’s worked in silk. A more economical version could use one of the many Kreinik metallic threads – I’ve got their 1/16″ ribbon and #16 braid to try out. Still less of a strain on the budget, but not quite so shiny, is a golden yellow perle #3.

Various options for the Tree of Life's gold couching

Besides these versions I have a few other ideas as well, although I’m not sure if they will ever happen; how many Trees of Life do I want to stitch? (I suppose I could stitch as many variations as I want to try out and donate one to each of the churches in our village. Or parish. Or county.) But I can envisage a goldwork tree, for example – the outlines of the stem worked in overstretched pearl purl with a core of dark brown silk on the left and light brown silk on the right; and two curved lines of couched passing thread down the middle, worked in or nué with medium brown silk. As for the leaves, well, where do I start…

Threads, satin stitch and a Wedding Elephant

The other night I had some stitching time in the evening. But *gasp* I did not stitch. Or not all the time, anyway. Instead I indulged in one of my other favourite needlework pastimes: playing with stash! Well, not playing really – re-arranging so that they are logically distributed among the various storage boxes. Useful, and very enjoyable at the same time. Not only that, but handling the threads and looking at them is a great way of getting ideas for their use.

A lot of threads and a lot of boxes

I did get some stitching done, starting on another Kelly Fletcher flower. Bloomin’ Marvellous #7 this time. For the centre I wanted padded satin stitch, but with something else added. Having considered a few options I decided not to do a split stitch outline first, but work the satin stitch by eye, staying inside the pencil line of the central circle, and then outline it afterwards in stem stitch in a lighter colour using four strands. On the whole, I’m pleased with the effect, although I think I’ll have to fit in a retrospective satin stitch where the orange arrow is in the second picture.

Kelly Fletcher's BM7, a start Satin and stem stitch flower centre

But for now, this project is on hold. It seems a bit silly to put something this small on hold – after all, how long can it take to finish? But something else came up: a wedding! Next Thursday! Well, yes, I’ll admit I knew about it a while ago, but I hadn’t really thought of anything to stitch. Until last night. The bride is my husband’s niece, and she is a wiz with fabrics and interior decorating and all that. She also makes adorable cuddly elephants, all sewn by hand and each one unique. Elephants. Now, there is something about elephants not forgetting, or in other words, remembering… Some furious scribbling later I had a small elephant with initials, a date, a motto or saying, colour suggestions (purple, green and yellow) and ideas for a filling pattern (lattice work with lazy daisy flowers). I like my Wedding Elephant!

First sketch for a Wedding Elephant The Wedding Elephant with the appropriate date and initials The Wedding Elephant, ready for any occasion

Now all I need to do is stitch it smiley.

Normandie and a tale of two twills

Do you like trying out new materials? I do! Threads, needles, scissors, frames, embellishments, goldwork stuff, and of course fabrics. Sometimes when trying out a “new” fabric it’s actually a familiar one but from a new hand-dyer who may have quite a different colour palette from the ones you already knew; fabrics like that, in novel shades and interesting colour combinations, can be a great source of inspiration. Or it could be a familiar fabric but in a different count, like the 55ct Kingston linen I used recently for the floral cross. But at the moment I’m also trying out fabrics that are really new to me: twill and Normandie.

Normandie is a Zweigart cotton/linen blend for freestyle embroidery, and there seems to be a rather freestyle approach to its spelling among sellers; Willow Fabrics, for example, spells it both Normandie and Normandy on the same page. I’ll follow Zweigart’s own -ie spelling. Anyway, for the needleworker spelling is neither here nor there (unless you’re stitching a motto or a name, of course). The other two fabrics are twill samples which Barbara at Tristan Brooks very kindly sent me; one is Legacy Linen twill in a warm white colour, the other is a much thicker and stiffer Scottish twill in (appropriately) an oatmeal colour. I think it is pure linen as well. What I’m hoping to look at in these trial projects is how the fabrics handle, how they take a transfer, how easy they are to stitch on, and probably (though I hope not) how they behave when – oh dear – there is unpicking to be done.

The Normandie I used for my stem stitch Grace Christie strawberries, but for the twill I needed something smaller, and also something slightly quicker to stitch. I fitted both samples in as large a hoop as possible, which was a 4″ one for the Legacy twill and a 3″ one for the Scottish twill, and decided on two Kelly Fletcher flowers reduced in size. To compare it with the Normandie I really should use the same sort of silks, but twill is so strongly associated with crewel work in wool that I dug out some of my Appleton crewel wools; I may not use all colours in both projects, we’ll see how they develop. As for the stitches, I’ve scribbled down a few ideas for the Legacy twill project to begin with. The Scottish twill one will likely just be stem stitch or chain stitch with perhaps satin stitch for the green bit underneath the flower.

Appleton crewel wools for the two Kelly Fletcher flowers on twill Stitch ideas for the Legacy twill project

Only one part of stitching a project has been done on all three fabrics so far: transferring the design. In all cases I did this by placing the fabric over the design against a sunny window, and tracing it using a brown Sakura Micron 01 pen, which has a 0.25mm tip. As you can see the fabrics take it rather differently! On the Normandie, I got a very fine line – visible but easy to cover. It didn’t go so well on the Legacy twill; the line is too thick and bleedy and rather hazy looking; in fact it makes my eyes go funny to look at it (I keep wanting to blink), which may turn out to be awkward when it comes to stitching the design! A thin pencil may be a better choice here. The Scottish twill was a bit more difficult, as it’s darker and thicker than the other two fabrics, and the sun had gone in. Fortunately the flower shape is simple, and for this trial piece it didn’t matter too much if the petals turned out slightly differently from the original design. The line is fine and visible enough, but I did find that the pen occasionally got “distracted” by the twill ridges, which might be a problem when transferring finely detailed designs.

brown Sakura Micron pen on Normandie brown Sakura Micron pen on Legacy Linen twill brown Sakura Micron pen on Scottish twill

The only one that has been stitched on so far is the Normandie (I’m determined to finish Orpheus before picking up anything else, and I’m getting on well). The Grace Christie strawberries were worked in a variety of silks in stem stitch. The heaviest thread I used was the Gumnut silk/wool (which they call Poppies); it’s a little fuzzy and about the thickness of three strands of cotton. It’s easy to work with, but it did leave some fuzzy residue when I had to unpick it. The fabric stood up well to this unpicking, fortunately, and I don’t think you can tell where I had to unpick stitches. This is at least partly because most of the unpicked areas were stitched over again, but the fabric didn’t feel pulled out of shape or slack after unpicking. In order to follow the curving lines accurately I sometimes had to split the fabric threads, and in most cases that was easy to do – any problems there were caused by my eyes, not the fabric.

The strawberries finished The strawberries finished (direct sunlight)

It’s not really fair to give a verdict when I’ve only used one of the three fabrics, but I do like this Normandie. It’s light and it’s easy to trace on, but it’s got enough body and the weave is close enough to be able to place stitches quite accurately. The fabric has a slight slub and some unevenness (due no doubt to its 45% linen content) which I think gives some character to the fabric, and although it is noticeable it doesn’t get in the way of the stitches. I’ll definitely be using Normandie again.

Close-up of stitching on Normandie fabric Close-up of stitching on Normandie fabric Close-up of stitching on Normandie fabric

Excess luggage

Some people, when going away for the weekend, pack half their wardrobe just in case they will be required to change for dinner, and lunch, and breakfast, and country walks, and afternoon tea, and formal outings, and informal outings, and anything else that might turn up. I don’t. But that’s no reason to feel smug – I have my own weakness. I pack stitching projects.

Even though we were only going to be away from Saturday morning to Sunday evening, and even though most of that time would be taken up with helping out at an Austin Seven trial (a type of vintage car competition), I packed not only the strawberries, but after some hesitation also my folder of Kelly Fletcher flowers. Guess how much stitching I did. That’s right, none. The days were taken up with preparation and the trial itself, and Saturday evening with many enjoyable hours of conversation over dinner and beyond, touching on features of Old English, goldwork on Russian military uniforms, and what the apostles did after the events recorded in the New Testament.

So has any stitching been done on the strawberries at all? Yes, a little, at home after supper on Sunday evening. I did consider using heavy chain stitch, but decided to keep that for the larger version of this design, or one of the Kelly Fletcher flowers. On this one I’m sticking with stem stitch all the way, and here is what I’ve managed so far.

Some stem stitching on the Grace Christie strawberries

I like the effect of the intertwining stems, and the contrast between the slightly fuzzy look of the silk/wool blend (dark) and the smoother appearance of the stranded silk (light). I am a little puzzled by the middle of the three leaves on the top left, where the thread seems to be a bit thicker than on the other two, even though it is the same thread, but that may just be a trick of the light – I’ll see if it does it in other places as well.

Incidentally, looking at the picture as I was editing it for this post I noticed that I’m tackling the dark green and the light green stem in different ways; understandable to some extent as the dark green one has the extra bit going up to the flower, but perhaps I should have tried to keep the rest the same, rather than having the strawberry as a later offshoot on the left, and the leaf as a later offshoot on the right. Oh well, I’m not going to unpick it!

Stitchers are wonderful, patience is a virtue, a finished cross and strawberries

Some time ago I showed you a lovely little goldwork design from Samplers & Antique Needlework Quarterly, and told you I was looking for an affordable copy. The publishers didn’t get back to me about letting me work from available pictures if I paid them the price of the magazine, so I kept scouring eBay and so on. Then I found a kind lady in Canada who was selling a copy of the magazine, and who, after some correspondence, was willing to take out the pages in question and send them as a letter. Yay! She sent it the very same day, even though it was a Saturday, and even gave me a partial refund on the postage when it turned out to be cheaper than she’d expected.

Samplers & Antique Needlework vol. 38

Those pages were in the post but hadn’t yet reached the UK when I got an email from Kathy in America, who reads these outpourings of mine and found that she’d picked up a copy of SANQ issue 38 in a pile of second-hand magazines. She wasn’t interested in ever stitching the goldwork, she wrote, so would I like her to send me the pages? What a very kind offer! I told her that, if all went well, I should have the design in a few days, but asked her if I could get back to her should anything go wrong. It didn’t, and the pages arrived some days later, but that week two phrases were often in my mind: “Stitchers are wonderful people!” and “Patience is a virtue” … if only I’d been willing to look around a bit longer the lady from Canada would still have had a complete magazine to sell.

By the way, having seen the cover pictures of the design only, I hadn’t realised how tiny it is. I suppose I should have realised that as it is a pin cushion it wasn’t likely to be huge, but even so I think I’ll enlarge it a bit before stitching it. To give you an impression, it’s the part circled in red on what is a normal-sized magazine page.

It's a very small design!

I’ve finished the floral cross! And I’m quite happy with the result on the whole – it’s my first “proper” silk shading project, as the only thing I’d done before was a 1-hour RSN workshop quite a few years ago, where we did a toadstool in long-and-short stitch (to which even then I made some changes; why is it that I can’t seem to stitch anything the way it was designed?). One of the petals on the blue flower is a bit wonky in spite of working a split stitch outline first, but my husband, bless him, says nature is wonky too and it adds to the artisan look of the thing. I do like the placing of the little yellow stitches in between the petals rather than down the middle of the petals as I’d first planned; more like a rather large forget-me-not this way.

The cross finished (flash) The cross finished (no flash)

Remember the strawberry motif I mentioned earlier this week? Although I still want to stitch it Large, I’ve decided to have a go at it on a smaller scale first. I’m afraid it’s jumped the queue, but the flowers are still there, they will get worked as well! I picked on the strawberry design as a quickie because this weekend for various reasons I can’t work on Orpheus, and I do want something to stitch. So here it is, transferred with one of my new pens on to the Normandie fabric, with a selection of silks – Gumnut stranded silk (yellow and light green) and Gumnut silk/wool (dark green), Dinky Dyes stranded silk (whitish) and Gloriana Silk Floss (pink/red).

Fabric and threads for Grace Christie strawberries