Trying out a kit

After several evenings of putting kits together and tidying away new goldwork materials I finally got round to setting up some of the projects from Kelly Fletcher’s Classic Creations kit. Even when I don’t get any stitching done, I like setting up projects smiley; there is something very soothing about hooping up and looking at pretty colours.

This was made slightly less soothing by the fact that I was looking at fewer pretty colours than I should have done. As I went to pick the colours needed for my first project (that cheeky fox, of course!) I found that the yellow skein was missing. Had it been there when I opened the plastic envelope containing the threads, needles and fabric? Had it somehow got mislaid? Had the cat gone off with it? I haven’t been able to find it anywhere, and looking at a close-up of the picture I took of the kit with the materials still in their wrapping, I don’t think it was ever there.

Nine skeins instead of ten

For now I’ve grabbed a skein of yellow from my stash; it seems a little warmer than the yellow that was meant to be with the kit, but it’ll work just fine. Even so, although it’s not a problem for someone like me who’s got threads practically coming out of her ears, if you got this as a beginner’s project (which is what it is really aimed at) you’d have to go out and buy the skein. I’ve contacted the seller (not the one in the link above – I got mine off Amazon, which may prove a bad choice) to say that one skein is missing, and we’ll have to wait and see what they say.

Mind you, assuming that this was a one-off oversight and that all the other kits do come with their full complement of threads this is an impressive kit. One thing I really like is the size of the two pieces of fabric that are included: absolutely no problem fitting them in the provided hoop. They are very generously cut, with enough room for framing should you want to.

A good-sized piece of fabric

The pieces of fabric were quite creased from being folded up inside that plastic envelope, but fortunately some serious ironing got all but a ghost of a crease out.

Creased pieces of fabric The ghost of a crease

Then it was time to transfer my two chosen designs (the cheeky fox and a butterfly) to the fabric. As you can see I didn’t do too well ironing on the butterfly – it says not to make ironing movements but to press the iron down, carefully lift it off, then put it down on a different part of the design, until the whole thing is transferred; well, when I carefully lifted the iron the second time, the paper stuck to it and lifted off before I’d quite finished – and of course it is impossible to put it back in exactly the same spot, so I left it as it was. There should be enough to work from.

Transferred butterfly, a bit patchy

And here is the fox, with a little work done on him. As usual *sigh* I haven’t followed the instructions exactly; I should have done both sides of his body in a double line of stem stitch first, but I found I could minimise fastening off and on by going round the legs and part of the tail before doing the second line of stem stitch.

A start on the cheeky fox

So, first impressions. On the plus side, the designs are attractive and colourful, the instructions are generally very good (although with one or two of the stitches the instructions seem to assume some prior knowledge), and the iron-on transfers are clear when transferred correctly. The bamboo hoop works well, the fabrics are a generous size, and having a milliner’s needle included for the French knots is definitely a bonus. The threads have DMC labels on them (though they come with only one wrapper instead of two per skein) and I’m sure that’s what they are, but they feel softer than my standard skeins; whether this is because they’ve been rubbing together in the packaging, or whether DMC produce a separate stranded cotton for use in kits I don’t know, but whatever the reason I rather like it!

Are there any downsides? One or two, but in the grand scheme of things they amount to no more than niggles. Although the size of the fabric is generous, the size of some of the designs makes them only just small enough to fit inside the hoop (as you can see from the fox, which is not even the largest of the designs). The instructions say that you can move the hoop around, even on top of your stitching, and this may be a good lesson to learn (that stitching will stand up to quite a bit of squashing and handling), but I would have preferred them to be stitchable without moving the hoop. Actually you probably can just about do it without moving the hoop, but personally I’d have gone for slightly smaller designs.

The lines of the iron-on transfers are beautifully clear, but that does mean that you have to be reasonably accurate in your stitching to make sure that they are fully covered. The instructions are often for 3 or 4 strands, which helps especially in the stem stitch, but I definitely had to unpick and re-place a few of the backstitches in the legs. And although the booklet mentions that you might like to use a backing fabric, this is not included, so you can’t find out whether you would like using a backing fabric without buying some.

All in all, however, I’m really pleased with this kit and would definitely recommend it. With its bright, jolly designs it would make a great kit for teaching children to stitch (especially as it is so affordable), but it’s equally good for an experienced stitcher who wants some simple travel projects or something to stitch in between larger, more challenging designs.

PS As I was about to post this, a padded envelope came through the letterbox. It contained a packing slip from the Amazon Marketplace seller with “replacement skeins” scribbled on it, and a complete plastic-wrapped set of skeins like the one in the original box, including needles (but not fabric). I’d just suggested sending the yellow – not because I need it, but because other people might have the same problem and no stash to fall back on, and I thought it might concentrate the sellers’ minds.

A replacement set of skeins

Now the booklet mentions ten colours, not specifying the DMC numbers. They are: black, white, yellow, orange, salmon, light salmon, dark blue, light blue, dark green and light green. The original package had only nine skeins, and the colours were 310, B5200, [missing yellow – I supplied 743], 970, 350, 352, 517, 519, 704 and 905. The replacement set does have ten skeins, but there is NO BLACK. The colours are Blanc, 744, 741, [3777, 3831, 3833 – burgundy/pink rather than salmon], 825, 827, 704, 701.

The colours in the original box, plus the yellow I supplied myself The colours in the replacement package

Good try at customer service, but not very successful… I can understand not specifying DMC numbers in the booklet so that you can vary which dark and light green you send out, for example, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man to make sure that it includes one of every colour mentioned in the booklet, and none that aren’t. Kelly Fletcher isn’t well served by this as it’s her name on the box but she is, I assume, not responsible for these mix-ups. I’ll contact her and let you know what she says.

…and relax

What do you think of this cheeky chappie? He arrived at our house today, as an emergency stitching aid. Let me tell you why he is about to join my already impressive pile of WIPs.

A cheeky fox

Sometimes I simply don’t get round to stitching. At the moment I have about five different projects in various stages of completion (or rather incompletion), from just hooped up to fairly far advanced, and am I stitching? No I’m not. It’s not that I don’t like the projects I’ve got set up – my goldwork snowman especially is definitely calling to me – but somehow nothing’s happening. Looking at it objectively I can identify several reasons: the heat, family circumstances, workshop preparations. But even so, I want to stitch, yet I’m not stitching.

Perhaps it’s this: most of what I stitch will eventually become a chart pack, kit or workshop. And that means that I have to make notes, take pictures, consider the practicalities of using this stitch or that, wonder if it’s worth drawing a very complicated stitch diagram for a stitch I may never use in any other design, and so on and so forth. Usually this is a nice challenge, and an interesting addition to the stitching process. But at the moment I just want to do some mindless, uncomplicated stitching with absolutely no purpose other than to enjoy the act of embroidering.

For this sort of stitching I love using Kelly Fletcher’s designs. Now I realise that I may just have implied that Ms Fletcher’s designs are mindless, or appeal to the mindless, but I’m sure you will understand I mean no such thing. Her designs are clean-lined, modern, bright, and you can follow her instructions to the letter or play with them using pretty much any stitch you like. I have a folder full of them, and have used a fair few as travel projects.

But even that seemed like too much trouble at the moment. Having to pick fabric, and threads, and using the lightbox to transfer the outlines… And then I got her newsletter, and it mentioned a new kit that could be pre-ordered. It also mentioned previous, similar kits, all containing about a dozen designs, and one of them decorated with that Fox Full Of Character. I fell for his charms and bought the kit, and today it arrived!

Kelly Fletcher kit, outside

It’s a sturdy cardboard box shaped like a very fat book, with a lid that is held shut magnetically. When you open it there is a detachable booklet on one side, and all the materials in a secure compartment on the other side.

Kelly Fletcher kit, inside

The booklet contains coloured pictures of each of the twelve designs, instructions for stitching them, and photographs of all the stitches used. It also has information about the various materials, instructions on how to use the transfers, and a bit about Kelly Fletcher herself.

Design booklet

The compartment on the right contains two pieces of cotton fabric, twelve iron-on transfers (hurray! no lightbox! though having to use an iron in a heatwave may not be that much better…), ten full skeins of DMC stranded cotton, needles, and a 6″ hoop.

Hoop, threads, fabric and transfers

From the website that Kelly Fletcher links to in her newsletter you can get these kits for about £13, but shop around and you can find them for under a tenner. That’s twelve designs with instructions, ten skeins of floss, a hoop and two pieces of fabric – it really is excellent (not to say incomprehensible) value for money!

I’ll report back when I’ve done some stitching; at first glance I would say this is an excellent buy for anyone who wants a collection of attractive small projects with practically all the preparatory work done for you.

Two wandering stars

As I was getting together the charts and materials for my little goldwork project and the impromptu Christmas tree, I came across some charts for ornaments by Mary Corbet. They consisted of a circle, a heart and a star, each with ever smaller concentric circles/hearts/stars inside them. I hadn’t saved any picture of what MC had done with these, but they looked just right for some unplanned, do-whatever-feels-right sort of stitching – exactly the sort of relaxing project, in fact, to take to my monthly craft group meeting at the library, so I transferred the star design onto two pieces of Normandie fabric (white and cream), hooped them up and put them with the Christmas tree. And as I couldn’t possibly stitch the stars using only the green, reds, yellow and brown I’d picked for the tree, a selection of other threads was added to the communal project box. I ‘m particularly looking forward to working with those jewel-like threads in the top left compartment, overdyed Vineyard silks by Threadworx.

Materials for some do-as-you-please stitching

As it happens I only got some work done on the Christmas tree, and not an awful lot at that. Well, it isn’t a very long meeting and there is also a certain amount of chatting going on, not to mention cake eating… So here is what the Christmas tree looked like at the end of the craft session, with a slightly wonky basket and various not-quite-round baubles. I originally started with the green stem stitch but then thought it might be a bit of a squash to get the baubles in afterwards so decided to finish the green last.

First session with the Christmas tree

Incidentally, I now know that stitching on the non-fuzzy side of the Rowandean fabric first time round was definitely a sound decision. The fuzzy side looks nice, rather soft and, well, fuzzy, but it is a magnet for any bit of thread fluff (not to mention cat hair) that comes within half a mile of it. Working on it with a very dark and rather soft thread (Caron Watercolours “Sable”) I found after a while that there was a film of dark thread shreds clinging to the bottom of my work, which, for lack of sticky tape, had to be laboriously removed with a wet finger.

There are still little fuzzy remnants clinging to the fabric, but they will just have to remain there I’m afraid; this was only ever a small amusing project for my own enjoyment, and it’s unlikely to be made into anything – it’s too big for a card, and I dislike sewing ornaments so I only do it if there really is no other option. For now it will live in my “designs by other people” folder, where it will spend its time discussing with the other pieces why most of them have at least one wonkily-stitched bit.

I enjoyed stitching this design, and making up the baubles as I went along; some of them are buttonhole, some chain stitch, some French knots, there are a few in satin and Rhodes stitch, and I’m sure I’ve missed at least one there – ah yes, fly stitch. The fishbone stitch star is embarrassingly uneven, and my only excuse is that it was stitched late at night because I wanted to have it finished before going to bed. If I were to do the basket again I’d choose one of the three stitches and do all three lines in the same stitch; the raised chain stitch would make quite a convincing basket, I think, as would the fly stitch if worked a bit more regularly. It might be fun to work a very small version in single strands of silk, or a very chunky one in #3 perle – perhaps as a seasonal cushion? But for now the stars are calling me, not to mention my little Jacobean goldwork project!

The finished Christmas tree

Pearsall’s, and disappearing silks

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

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

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

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

Wool from Pearsall's starter pack

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

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

Bloomin' Marvellous 7 finished

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.

More flowers!

This morning I bobbinated the Colour Stream silks that arrived earlier this week, and it struck me again how beautifully tactile these threads are. The thicker of the two especially, Exotic Lights (which is very like Kacoonda’s Thick Silk and Treenways’ 8/2 silk), is incredibly soft and smooth – fluffy angora bunny rabbit soft and I-wish-my-legs-felt-like-this smooth, and I had a lovely time just feeling the threads pass through my fingers as I wound them on the bobbins. You don’t need to stitch with threads to enjoy them smiley!

Some lovely Colour Streams silks

But I was going to write about flowers; the first being Bloomin’ Marvellous (so there is a bit of a silk connection there), which is finished. The double row of up & down blanket/buttonhole stitch worked well, with but one mistake, and that not made with the needle: because the transfer line for the petal had faded rather I went round it with a pencil to make sure I’d be able to see it, and added a fairly strong line down the centre. That line wasn’t the problem, as it got covered up, but because the stitching has gaps in it on the outside edge the outline, of course, didn’t. It showed. Not, perhaps, very noticeably to anyone who didn’t know it was there, but it was very visible to me. Nevertheless, it’s only pencil, so with a bit of luck you should be able to erase it, even on fabric. I took a rubber to it, a new one which still had sharp corners, to get at the lines between the stitches, and fortunately most of it came off – there are still traces there if you look closely, but I’ve decided simply not to look closely. Among my (rapidly dwindling) stash of little frames I found one that was just the right size, and Bloomin’ Marvellous now adorns our mantelpiece.

Bloomin' Marvellous finished Bloomin' Marvellous framed

And then there’s a few more shisha flowers. yes, I know, I’ve stitched quite enough already, but these are different variations; and variations on variations. The first one is worked in long-armed fly stitch, with 24 petals in perle #5 or 32 petals in perle #8. In the latter version the stitches overlap, which gives rather a nice cross stitch effect around the edge of the flower.

Long-armed fly stitch shisha variation, 24 petals in #5 perle Long-armed fly stitch shisha variation, 32 petals in #8 perle

And possibly my favourite (as well as being very easy), a herringbone variation: 24 petals in perle #5, 24 petals in perle #8, and 16 petals in perle #5. I’m thinking of turning this one into a kit, probably using the middle version, but with a sort of scrolly frame around it rather than a leaf and stem. I’ll do some sketching over the weekend!

Herringbone shisha variation, 24 petals in #5 perle Herringbone shisha variation, 24 petals in #8 perle Herringbone shisha variation, 16 petals in #5 perle

A silken flower

I’ve been having a lot of fun with Kelly Fletcher’s Bloomin’ Marvellous flower, which also turned out to be a great opportunity to use the Shades of Africa silks – in fact I’ve printed off half a dozen of the Bloomin’ Marvellous set to stitch with these silks, though not necessarily using the stitches that Kelly Fletcher charted. When I’ve finished this one, and after I’ve done higher priority things like Orpheus, I’d like to try some of the other flowers on the 55ct Kingston linen, or possibly on the blue cotton I’m using for the shisha workshops. They might be just the little projects to take on our family visit to Holland!

Most of the design is stitched in 3 strands, with only the satin and chain stitch in 2 strands. I did actually choose to stitch the right-hand petal using 2 strands as it was getting a bit crowded, partly because I reduced the size of the design. I started with the stem, which is stitched in, uhm, stem stitch. It uses three strands and looks nice and chunky. But it takes only very little thread, so I had plenty left when coming to the satin stitch, which is stitched in 2 strands. Now the instructions (which for the freebies consist of what stitch to use in which shade using how many strands – you have to go to her website for the stitch diagrams) didn’t say anything about outlining the satin stitched parts first, but Mary Corbet always outlines parts that will be done in satin stitch, generally using split stitch. One strand for that, I would have thought. OK, so don’t fasten off but split the three strands into 2 + 1, keep the two out of the way for the time being and use the single strand for split stitch. Split stitch is not my forte, so apologies for the lumpy look. When the outline is finished, go back to the two strands and start the satin stitch.

Splitting the thread into 2 and 1 The split thread in close up The split thread from the back The finished split stitch outline

I’m using slightly different colours as well, as the Chameleon silks of course don’t come in all the DMC shades. Although her combination of dark rose and brown is quite striking, I couldn’t quite make it work in the colours I have, so I picked two shades of rose. I also mixed the two colours up more, instead of working all the petals on the right in one colour and the ones on the left plus the little dot in another. And finally, I used yellow beads to pick up on the yellow lattice rather than beads the colour of the petal. The petals are really interesting to do because almost every one is different; no chance of getting bored! There’s only one to go now. The last petal (well, the middle one, but the last one I’m doing) is worked in up & down blanket stitch, in two rows (I’ve sketched in a central vein to help with placement). I like this stitch with its tied pairs of legs, but I don’t find it particularly intuitive, so I’ve been practising on a scrap of calico; once you get into it it’s a really interesting stitch to work, and you can create quite a variety of shapes depending on the position of the legs and the length of the binding stitch! With a bit of luck I’ll be able to finish the flower tonight – and then it’s on to the next flower! (after I’ve finished Orpheus…)

Bloomin' Marvellous nearly finished