A new pair of designs?

The Guildhouse course is definitely taking shape! Last Saturday I was at the Open Day, and although there weren’t that many people (it didn’t help that I started out upstairs) I did get a few who were interested to know what the course was about, and whether they’d be able to do it. I’ve heard it so often even from people who have actually enrolled for a course, “I’ll never be able to make something like that!” The great thing about teaching is the moment one of those people looks at what she has just created and realises that she is able to make something like that – and more.

But whether or not enough people sign up for the course to run, the models need to be stitched; if not for this term, then for a future one. In spite of being a bit more challenging than the models for the first course, I find them quite relaxing to stitch in the evenings, and over the past week I finished another two. One of them is based on Frills (as is the one remaining model I haven’t stitched yet) with a few changes to include the stitches I want to teach, such as double woven bars. This model is stitched on Sparklies hand-dyed Hardanger in a shade called Ocean Depths.

Based on Frills and stitched on Sparklies fabric

Most designs I use in my courses are adapted from existing designs – I’m a great believer in recycling! But occasionally none of the existing ones are quite what I want, so I have to come up with something new. This one is used to teach several beaded stitches as well as the X-bar (and no, that’s not the X-Men’s favourite pub…). I like it’s not-quite-symmetrical shape, although when I stitch it again I’ll probably use a rather brighter colour for the beads and double cross stitches.

An original design for the 2013 Guildhouse course

When I stitch it again? Yes – it seems a shame to let it be seen by only 8 or 10 people, so I’m thinking of pairing it up with another design and putting it in the shop. Sometimes, instead of sketching a complete design I just draw pleasant or unexpected shapes, then see if they’ll work in Kloster blocks or other stitches, and I have a shape in my doodle file that I think would go quite well with this one. Now all it needs is a catchy name (and a finished chart, of course. And a stitched model. But that’s OK.)

And talking of stitching models, a friend from the Cross Stitch Forum recently sent me pictures of some Sweetheart Tree designs that she has her eye on, and they are really elegant and dainty. They reminded me of a couple of Victoria Sampler kits I have in my stash, bought before Mabel’s Fancies took off and subsequently relegated to a neglected existence in one of my stash drawers because I didn’t have the time to stitch them. But why not? Yes, models need to be stitched if designs are to make it on to the website, but that doesn’t mean that models (and the odd card for special occasions) are the only things I can stitch! So when the Guildhouse models have been completed (and I am half-way on the last one) I’ll take a short break from Mabel and stitch someone else’s design for a change – it’ll be relaxing not to have to worry about possible changes or chart packs, and hopefully give me a fresh look at my own designs.


Having finished all three stitched models for the Counted Wishes Festival (the two Windows on the World bookmarks, and – finally – Windmills) I decided to spend my spare time this weekend to do some teaching preparation. Not that I write step-by-step lesson plans or anything like that; I meant more down-to-earth preparations, in the form of kits and models. Putting kits together is a very relaxing occupation, I find, especially when it’s several identical ones. There is something oddly soothing about laying out 12 sets of instructions, and 12 pieces of card, and sticking 12 pairs of needles into 12 pieces of felt, and taking 12 lengths of perle #5 from the thread ring, and measuring out twice 12 lengths of perle #8, all accompanied by a mug of tea and Hugh Fraser reading a Hercule Poirot story on CD. And then there is the satisfying moment when there is a neat stack of 12 mini matchbook kits, ready for the Knitting & Stitching Show.

Kits for the Knitting & Stitching Show workshop

I’ve put them all in one of my 12″ square plastic project folders, together with my own supplies and squissors and needle threader and so on, and a tiny stapler to finish the matchbooks with. Mind you, together with the 12 pairs of squissors which the students can borrow for the workshop, and my overnight things, I’m going to be quite heavy-laden on my arrival in London! I usually have a nice walk round the various parks and perhaps a museum before heading for my sister-in-law’s who kindly puts me up for two nights every year, but I may have to cut down on my roaming a bit this time.

My other preparations are for this term’s Guildhouse course; when I was about to hand in my course overview I was told this term the short courses would be six weeks rather than five, so I needed an extra class. I’d worked out more or less what I wanted to do but hadn’t actually charted the project for it yet, so that was my first task. Then there is stitching the models. One has already been done: the mini kit bookmark, stitched on 28ct hand-dyed fabric using three thicknesses of perle.

Bookmark for the autumn 2013 Guildhouse course

That leaves another four (the last week I always leave for finishing off projects and asking questions), and the first thing to do was getting all the materials together. Two of them will be done on Lugana using standard perles, Caron threads and some beads, and the other two use standard perles and beads on some scrumptious Sparklies hand-dyed Hardanger fabric. Aren’t the colours just rich?

Materials for the Guildhouse models

In the evening I finally got down to some actual stitching, starting with the project for the first week. This is based on Flora, but has been adapted to include all the things I want to address in that class: a re-cap of the basic stitches we’ve tackled in the first course (Kloster blocks, woven bar, wrapped bar, dove’s eye and square filet) plus one new stitch/technique to keep things interesting, in this case the double-sided Kloster block. Like the other three that still need stitching, this project is suitable for making into a card, and as the last project is a bookmark, everything the students stitch can be used, not just completed and then put away.

First class for the autumn 2013 Guildhouse course

If you live near Rugby and you’d like to join, do contact the Guildhouse; enrolment has started, and there are 10 places available.

Stitching alternatives

Some of you may have noticed that the Planned page no longer has “expected” dates for each of the designs. That is because I kept having to push the dates forward when once again a deadline whooshed past me, and I was beginning to find it quite depressing and not a little stressful. Time to remind myself that all this designing and stitching is meant to be first and foremost a hobby – something I enjoy. So out went the dates, and I feel much better for it!

But even without dates there’s enough to stitch, really. I generally try to put a new design on the website roughly once a month, or a bit more often if things happen to go smoothly. But the SAL (which I am enjoying tremendously – it’s such a joy seeing all those different versions!) needs pictures of all the stitches-in-progress for the twice-monthly blog, which means stitching a second version of each month. And then friends decide to have a baby and so a card needs to be stitched (juggling colours because they have chosen not to know whether it’s a boy or a girl). And the Hardanger course at the Percival Guildhouse starts in three weeks’ time, so I’d better start getting the materials packs ready. All very pleasant things to do, but it means the Planned list gets pushed into the future once again.

So do I really need to stitch an alternative version of the first project in the Hardanger course? No, of course I don’t. The model is stitched, as are all the others for the first course (though two of them still need to be made into a needlebook), so I should sit back, relax, and get on with stitching Blackthorn. But as I was going through my perles (do you ever do that? Just have a play with all your threads and fabrics, try colours together, pet any of the really strokeable threads?) I thought, “wouldn’t it be nice to try this one on 28ct – make it a slightly better fit for a card, too, and still OK for beginners as there’s no cutting – and those dusky pinks would go together very well with that dusky pink Jobelan I’ve got somewhere in the bottom drawer; pink on pink for the neutral shade – quite a different look, just the thing to demonstrate what a difference colour and count can make” and before I knew it the dusky pink Jobelan had snuggled into a spare hoop and was showing off the perles to me. Well, how could I resist? So here’s what I’ll be stitching with over the next few evenings, and hopefully in my next post I’ll be able to show you the two versions side by side.

Materials for an alternative version

A gross of SAL stitchers and another Guildhouse model

Having been born on the Continent I am generally happier thinking in decimal units than the interesting but confusing collection of weights and measures the English use, but I thought I’d stretch a point today as I am celebrating a gross of SAL stitchers. Yes, there are now a dozen dozen of you, and the SAL Gallery bears witness to what a very talented and creative bunch you are. 12 times 12 stitchers each stitching 12 months, that’s … *counts on fingers* … 1728 projects; I may need to build an extension to the Gallery!

Apart from finishing March and taking all the photographs needed for the SAL blog, I have also been recharting Walled Garden – I’ve solved my knotty problem, fortunately, and am now finishing the bars and filling stitches. And then there’s the Guildhouse projects. Over the weekend I finished the fourth project for the first course, leaving me with just the second project to stitch. This one, intended to be finished as a coaster, uses Dinky Dyes perle #8 and includes fan, rice and chain stitch.

Hardanger with fan, rice and chain stitch for the 2013 Guildhouse course

A finish, a near miss and a new product

Father-in-law’s birthday weekend went very well, we had a wonderful time with all the family and everyone enjoyed themselves (even when several of us got up to sing an appropriately rewritten version of “Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines” in honour of FIL’s flying days). I managed to get the card finished before we set off, but forgot to photograph it. I did take a picture of the completed stitching, though, and here it is, with silver filling stitches:

90th birthday complete

Of course I couldn’t possibly go off for a long weekend without my stitching bag, but I wasn’t sure which project to take. Walled Garden was calling to me loudly – all those pretty colours in my project folder waiting to be used – but it’s a bit too big for a travel project, so I decided on a model stitch for the next Guildhouse course. It’s a variation on Round Dozen, using double wrapped bars and spider’s web filling stitches. A nice quick stitch, not too complicated and the perfect opportunity to try out a new Caron colour, Calabasa, a warm and sunny variegated orange. Like the Appalachia/Jade combination, this one is definitely going to get used more often! Perhaps with Daffodil, another cheerful, sunny colour.

Remember I called this little project “not too complicated”? Famous last words … I’d done all the surface stitching, Kloster blocks, brick stitch, satin stitch, Queen’s stitch, everything, and had started to cut. I’d completed about half the cutting when I came to a Kloster block that made me stop in my tracks. It took me a while to work out why it had set the alarm bells ringing, and then I realised – I’d stitched two of the block’s five satin stitches into one hole!

A mistake in my Kloster blocks

There was no way I could cut along the Kloster block like that; the fabric thread at the bottom of the block was unsecured and although it was unlikely to make the whole thing unravel, it would certainly be a weak spot. It also looked wrong, would forever annoy me, and set a very bad example for my students. At that point I could have decided to give up on it and restitch the whole thing, but that would have been rather a waste of time and material, so I attempted a rescue operation. I cut the perle #5 on the corner where the misshapen Kloster block met its neighbour, carefully unpicked both blocks and fastened off the two cut ends. I then restitched the two unpicked blocks, pulling less firmly than usual so I wouldn’t distort the fabric threads that had already been cut. It worked, and with a sigh of relief I resumed my cutting. Can you tell from the photograph which was the rogue Kloster block? I can’t. So if you ever find that you have miss-stitched a Kloster block, or accidentally cut your stitching while cutting the fabric, don’t be too down-hearted – you may very well be able to salvage it!

Hardanger with spider's webs and double wrapped bars for the 2013 Guildhouse course

During the courses I teach I like to suggest ways of finishing projects; this project and another Round Dozen variation which I haven’t stitched yet are just the right size to be made into coasters. You can see two sets in the Gallery, one using Round the Year, and the other using Kaleidoscope. As I was considering how many coasters I would need to get for the students, I thought I might as well order in some more and make them available on Mabel’s Fancies! They’re really nice ones with rounded corners, and quite hard-wearing – the one below has been in constant use on the little table by my stitching chair for the past eighteen months or so, and apart from a few very slight scratches it’s absolutely fine, and still shows the stitching off a treat.

Acrylic coasters to finish your stitching off in style

You can find the coasters on the Squissors & Kits page, per pair or in a set of 4.

A URL and more Guildhouse stitching

One of the online shops I get supplies from is the Hardanger Atelier in the Netherlands. Their web address is hardanger.nl, which is pretty neat, and I remarked to my husband that they must have been quick to get such a good address. At which point he said “what about hardanger.co.uk?” I had to admit I’d never even looked, because surely that one must have been snapped up years ago by any of the big Hardanger designers or suppliers. “Go on,” he said. “Have a look.”

I did. And it was available! So now, if you type hardanger.co.uk into your browser’s address bar, you see Mabel’s Fancies – are you impressed smiley?

Apart from playing with URLs I’ve also been stitching for the next course I hope to teach at the Percival Guildhouse – or rather a pair of courses, each five weeks, one starting in April and one in September. These will be Hardanger only rather than mixed techniques, and the idea is to start with a Beginners / Refresher course, followed by an Improvers course if there is enough interest. Precise dates and times will be on the Workshops page as soon as I know them.

For the first course I wanted to start with a non-cut piece, much like the Stitch-Along, to get people used to Kloster blocks and satin stitch and so on before having to worry about cutting bits out of their stitching, which can seem a bit daunting when you’ve never done it before. Some of the projects I intend to use will be based on existing designs, but this one was designed especially for the course.

Non-cut Hardanger for the 2013 Guildhouse course

The other model I’ve been working on comes right at the other end – the last project of the second course. One of the things I want to explore in the Improvers course is working on hand-dyed fabric in various counts, ending with a 28ct Lugana. Hand-dyeds usually shrink a bit, so that in effect we’ll be working on 29/30ct. The Mini Kit bookmark was a perfect ready-made design to try out different combinations of perle, so that the students end up with a sampler they can keep for future reference, but also use. I worked the model on one of my Sparklies samples, stretched onto a little bar frame. As you can see it was a bit of a tight fit …

Using a Sparklies sample It's a bit of a squeeze!

The top motif is worked in perle #5 and #12, the middle one in #8 and #12, and the bottom one in #5 and #8. Every stitcher has a different tension, and different preferences, so this will help them decide which combination works for them on 28ct and finer.

Bookmark for the 2013 Guildhouse course Felt backing attached to the four-sided edging

Over the weekend I’ll be stitching some more for the SAL (with my husband standing by to take pictures of tricky stitches for the SAL blog) and hopefully a bit more for the Guildhouse as well. It’s the European Speed Skating Championships, so I’ll be cheering on the Dutch skaters, consuming vast quantities of tea and Dutch biscuits, stitching away all the while. Bliss!