A kit(ty) production line

For some time now I’d been running low on kits and making them up as people ordered them, which is really not a good idea. So now that I no longer have the Certificate deadline looming over me (although there are still a few things to finish on the SAL) it was time to get a bit of a production line going once again.

If possible I like to do some of the sorting and assembling in the garden, and as the weather looked set to change after the weekend I had a good incentive to get them done quickly. On Friday all the instructions were printed, and Saturday’s task was folding them, sticking the covers on and inserting them into plastic grip seal bags – just the thing you can do outside!

The lawn was dotted with violets (soon to be decapitated by Mr Figworthy with the lawnmower), an orange tip butterfly landed on the purple lilac bush (fellow to the white lilac bush blooming its head off in the picture), a robin vociferously defended his territory on the fence behind the variegated holly, and Lexi decided that snuggled half underneath my lap tray was just the place for a cat to be.

Putting the paper part of the kits together A feline helper

Unfortunately cutting fabric would be difficult in the garden, so it was back indoors for the next part, taking over the kitchen table to produce a pile of squares of various sizes in blue cotton, Hardanger fabric, muslin backing and wadding. And as it’s impossible to store fabric in such a way that it stays perfectly flat and uncreased, the Hardanger and cotton then had to be ironed. Well, I suppose they don’t have to be, but when you buy a kit the last thing you want to have to do is iron your fabric – you want to start stitching, right? So I do the ironing for you – and as I had the iron out I thought I might as well get the “household ironing” out of the way too!

Cutting squares of fabric And then there's the ironing

On Sunday, after our online church service and the after-service Zoom fellowship chat, I got to the colourful part of the kit production process: threads, cards, beads and various kinds of bling had to be sorted and where necessary put into little bags.

Colourful kit components

First up were the Hardanger needle books. Two needles per piece of felt, match it up with a suitable piece of pre-scored patterned card, fabric, two weights of perle cotton and of course the printed instructions and hey presto, we have a kit.

Materials for a needle book Putting the needle book kits together

Next up was the Little Wildflower Garden. This is generally quite a quick one to put together, provided I have the threads pre-cut and sorted. Which I did, for two of the kits… so first I had to prep some more stranded cotton. Now I’ve devised a cunning method for this which is nice and fast, when it works. That is to say, when all twelve skeins of cotton pull without tangling and I can cut twelve colours into 65cm lengths in one go. Anyone who has worked with stranded cotton more than a few times will now emit a peal of hollow laughter and say “good luck with that!” and it’s true that by the time I’m three-quarters through the skeins there tends to be some unknotting going on as well as straightforward pulling and cutting, but on the whole it’s still a lot quicker than measuring and cutting all twelve colours separately.

Preparing the threads The components of the kit ready for assembling

And finally the two types of Shisha card, Flower and Tile. These were by far the fiddliest to put together with their mirrors, beads, sequins and bits of sewing thread as well as the embroidery threads. It’s fun to choose nice colour combinations though!

Shisha kits in bits

As well as putting together kits that have long been in our range, I also had a go at a design that until now has only been available as a workshop. Yes, it is The Mug That Cheers! Whether your tipple of choice is tea, coffee or hot chocolate, this is the perfect mug of comfort in these challenging times. I first meant to put it on the website as a chart pack only, but I couldn’t resist putting together a few boxed kits as well – don’t they look cheerful?

The Mug That Cheers comes as a chart pack... ...and as a kit... ...in different colours

Incidentally, it is not unusual when providing kits to try and buy a couple of years’ worth of supplies at a time. This has the obvious advantage of not having to go through the whole ordering process very often, but when the last time you ordered stuff was spring 2018, reordering two years later throws up a variety of problems. Shops you used to order from have closed (Sew & So), kit components you used to buy have been discontinued (Craft Creations’ coloured aperture cards), and supplies that are still available have gone up in price alarmingly (Hardanger fabric). That last problem, together with Royal Mail’s annual increase in postal rates, has unfortunately made it necessary to adjust the prices of Mabel’s range of kits. Please rest assured that I will continue to do my best to keep them as affordable as possible, keeping the threshold low for anyone who would like to have a go at a new technique, or while away a few enjoyable evenings stitching up a present or a card for a special occasion.

Workshops, a squirrel, a medieval tulip and some kits

Well, the Knitting & Stitching Show is over for another year, and I am back home (in spite of rail upheaval at Euston Station on Saturday), nursing slightly sore feet from all the walking I did outside Show hours (London is full of interesting green spaces!) and being on my feet throughout the four workshops. They all went well, with lots of positive feedback which is always tremendously encouraging. I usually try and take pictures of some of the students’ work, but I’m afraid I forgot most of the time; here are a few pictures just to give you an impression, including the rather colourful demonstration cloth I ended up with.

Appliqué Mug workshop Wildflower Garden workshop Wildflower Garden workshop No Place Like Home workshop
No Place Like Home workshop A participant's project A participant's project A colourful doodle cloth

One thing I will mention to the organisers in my own feedback is the lighting; you would have thought that at something called the Knitting & Stitching Show the setter-uppers (or at least the people deciding on the set-up) would realise the importance of good, bright and even lighting. Instead there were usually two extremely bright lights shining down from the middle of the left and right sides of the workshop booth, which meant that about four seats had splendid light but the further you got from those the dimmer it got. Dim, I mean, by stitching standards. Still, we managed, and most of the students got a fair way with their projects (the pictures above were taken some time before the end of the class).

Of course I had a good look around the show as well, and I saw some lovely kits, silk threads and goldwork stuff but restrained myself from adding either to my already tottering pile of WIPs or to my bulging thread containers. I contented myself with a spool of Madeira Lana in a variegated light green and a bobbin of Golden Hinde’s translucent couching thread in a muted gold (shown in the picture beneath two shades I already had), and felt very virtuous.

2019 Knitting & Stitching Show purchases

As I said I did a lot of walking when I wasn’t at the show, and besides coming across a man walking backwards in Highgate Wood (no, I didn’t ask him why) there was the excitement of being mugged by a squirrel in Holland Park. I’m not sure whether it could smell that I had chocolates in my bag, but it was definitely intending to have a look!

Mugged by a squirrel Bag check

On that same day I also visited Leighton House, where I unexpectedly learnt a bit more about my travel project.

Some time ago I came across a medieval Islamic tile in a museum. It was a bit of a chance find, because it was in one of the drawers underneath the display cases and I only opened a few of those. It was blue and white and it had a tulip on it – irresistible, even though it wasn’t from Delft smiley! As a friend later reminded me, tulips hadn’t made it to Western Europe at that time, but they were known in Persia and neighbouring areas. Well, wherever it was from, it was a very decorative design that just cried out to be stitched. The blobs and dots surrounding the circle in which the tulip sat were a bit irregular, so I evened them out, and also changed the white circles within the blue areas a bit. And because it’s small and only takes three colours, I thought it would make an ideal travel project to take with me to London. I even managed to do some work on it!

The tulip design based on a medieval ceramic tile Progress on the Ottoman Tulip

But what, you may be wondering, does this have to do with Leighton House? Well, in its collection there are quite a few tiles and plates and dishes that were described as Ottoman ceramics, or more particularly as Iznik pottery. And on many of them there were tulips remarkably similar to the one on “my” tile – that same rather elongated, narrow shape and the same sort of overlapping in the petals. I was intrigued, but unfortunately the museum does not allow photography, so I had to memorise them as best I could and make do with what images they have on their website to refresh my memory. With hindsight I should have asked them if I could trace one or two, or even just sketch them (because they may well not want visitors to handle the plates), but I didn’t think of that. Anyway, design-wise I’m happy with the one I’ve got – but following my visit to Leighton House I’ve renamed it from not-very-exciting Medieval Tulip to the more exotic-sounding Ottoman Tulip (Iznik Tulip would have sounded even more exotic, but is probably a bit too obscure).

And finally, a Special Offer smiley. After teaching workshops I usually have a few kits left, but because of their purpose they are a little different from the ones sold on my website. This year, in fact, I have some left that are not on the website at all (or at least not yet).

They are:

  • 1 Wildflower Garden freestyle card kit with the design transferred onto the fabric
  • 1 No Place Like Home (Little House) freestyle card kit with the design transferred onto the fabric
  • 3 Mug That Cheers appliqué embroidery card kits with the design transferred, the appliqué elements backed with Bondaweb and cut out, and one of the elements attached to the ground fabric (see picture below)

The Mug That Cheers appliqué embroidery kit

The appliqué kit will eventually be on the website for £10 including UK postage, but because of the above, and because the envelopes for the cards are missing, they will go for the same price as the other two, £7.50 including UK postage (postage to other destinations on request). If you would like one or more of these kits, email me at

Backgrounds, sizes, coasters and finishings

FoFs have been few and far between recently, mainly because of serious illness in the family, and for that same reason they will, for the time being, continue to happen very much as and when. On the positive side, one of those as and whens is now!

I’ve been doing some experimenting with the various kits and workshops I’m putting together, trying things out, making changes and generally getting them just the way I want them. And one of the things I’ve been looking at is finishing items.

I’ve finished the Christmas Wreath in two ways so far – as a card, and as a Christmas Tree ornament. The card is not a problem, I’ve done plenty of those, but the ornament posed a dilemma: laborious & proper, or quick & easy. The first involves working running stitch all around the excess fabric, stitching a little way away from the hoop, gathering the fabric by pulling the sewing thread tight and knotting it, and then attaching a piece of matching felt with tiny stitches using a curved needle. I did this a while ago to finish a piece of goldwork, and it does look very neat, while being quite sturdy and durable at the same time.

The goldwork bee framed in a flexi-hoop The felt-covered back of the framed bee

It is also a lot of work. Could this be simplified in any way? Yes, I found some pretty cardstock with a holly pattern, cut a circle out of that and glued it to the back of the hoop after gathering the fabric. It worked, although it took a little adjusting to make sure it wasn’t too bulky around the edges. Edges. Hmmm. Flexi-hoops hold fabric quite tightly. And the stitching won’t be taken out of the hoop once it’s an ornament. So why not cut the excess fabric right down to where it emerges from the hoop at the back until it’s level with the hoop, then seal the fabric edge with a line of glue and cover with the cardstock disc? This turned out to keep the fabric at the front perfectly taut while also presenting a neat enough posterior which will stand up to a certain amount of wear and tear (and let’s face it, a Christmas tree ornament is unlikely to get a lot of wear and tear, unless you have an exceedingly playful cat; if it’s the children you’re worried about, simply hang it where they can’t reach it). Definitely worth offering as an alternative!

Christmas tree ornament Backing the ornament with card

Another thing I’ve been looking at a bit more is the reduced coasters suitable for use in a workshop. I wanted to offer another border besides the alternating-V one (left-hand picture), so tried two further likely candidates in one coaster – two alternating lines of running stitch, and the block border (middle picture). The running stitch border didn’t appeal to me (though funnily enough it was my husband’s favourite) and I unpicked it, completing the border in block stitch (right-hand picture).

Workshop coaster with alternating-V border Two more borders to try Workshop coaster with block border

The final change in this, the really-absolutely-finally-final workshop coaster design, is the corner motif, which is now three separate little leaves instead of one 3/4 clover motif; it may not seem much of a change,but it saves 16 stitches in total!

The original corner motif The simpler corner motif

Next on the list was the Little Wildflower Garden, which I wanted to try in different sizes and on different backgrounds to see which would be best for the kit and workshop. The smaller the design is stitched, the denser it will look if the same number of strands are used in all versions (which is what I did). Personally I like small, and the first version I stitched and from which the design was subsequently drawn is the smallest one at 5cm wide. It was stitched on hand-dyed wool felt, and I love it dearly, but it’s not very suitable for a kit because the felt is to thick for a light box and won’t take a transfer pen. When I stitched the same size on a felt purse later on, I had to transfer the design to tissue paper and stitch through that. Also, because the stitching is very dense, many of the design lines get covered up while stitching, which could be confusing. So no felt, and not the smallest size. Pity.

Little Wildflower Garden, small size, on felt

I then tried a larger size (6.5cm wide) on Rowandean’s embroidery fabric; it’s white, looks as though it might be countable but isn’t, and is slightly fuzzy on one side as though lightly brushed. It’s a lovely fabric to work on and doesn’t need backing, which is a plus, but the daisies and especially the bee’s wings got rather lost on the white background.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on Rowandean cotton

The stitching on the large version, which I had also tried on blue quilting cotton earlier, looked quite open and airy – perhaps a bit too much so. I decided to try two more things: the large size on brushed blue cotton (as the slightly fluffy fabric might counteract the openness of the stitches) and a medium size (5.75cm wide) on blue quilting cotton. I worked and photographed them in the same hoop for ease of comparison, but I needn’t have bothered. It’s not that one looked immediately and unmistakenly better than the other, but that the brushed cotton suffered from the same problem as the felt: too thick for the lightbox to penetrate and project a clear traceable image, and too fluffy to hold the ink in thin, crisp lines. So although I do like the look of the brushed cotton (which I’d rather hoped would be a good compromise between ordinary cotton and my preferred but unusable felt) the kit will use the medium-sized design on quilting cotton.

Little Wildflower Garden, large size, on brushed cotton Little Wildflower Garden, medium size, on quilting cotton Little Wildflower Garden kit

Incidentally, I’ve discovered one reason why it’s called freestyle embroidery: because it never turns out the same twice. Here’s a collection of slim, chubby, long, short, narrow-striped, broad-striped bees to prove it smiley.

A variety of Wildflower Garden bees

A flower garden grows and toadstools get freckles

The Little Wildflower Garden was originally designed to be stitched on a small square of hand-dyed felt that I happened to have in my stash. The felt just fitted a 3″ hoop, so I scaled the design to fit comfortably within a 3″ circle. But the nice thing about freestyle embroidery is that you can easily make a design larger or smaller if you want. Yes, I know you can do so with counted embroidery as well, but there it depends on the count of the fabric; as freestyle embroidery doesn’t depend on holes in the fabric, it can be any size you like (within reason, of course). And so the chart pack shows two sizes of garden – one where I printed the design to be 5cm wide, and one where the width is 6.5cm.

When you enlarge a design there is a decision to make about the threads – do you use the same as for the smaller version, or do you scale the thread thickness up as well? When doing Hardanger, I’d definitely change the threads to suit the size, as you wouldn’t get the right coverage otherwise; although even there some stitchers might prefer using perle #5 and #8 on 28 count, giving a plump, well-covered look, while others choose perle #8 and #12 for a lighter feel. Here I decided to use the same number of strands for the larger transfer as for the smaller one, and see what the effect is. It turns out to be the same sort of effect as the Hardanger one I mentioned just now – the larger garden is lighter and airier, the flowers and the grass less dense. Is that a good thing? It largely depends on your tastes and preferences. Personally I like the well-filled effect of the smaller one where everything blends into a densely stitched patch, but some friends said they’d prefer the larger one where the various parts have a bit more breathing space and room to themselves. What do you think?

A little wildflower garden in two sizes

Another design that saw some changes is the Toadstools. As you know I found the outline-only version a bit flat, so I got to work with seed stitches to create a bit of shading. In hindsight, it might have been helpful to have done some pencil shading on my paper design first to decide where to put the seed stitches, but the “let’s get stitching and see what we end up with” approach seems to have worked all right – I’m happy with my freckled toadstools!

Toadstools in outline only Toadstools with seed stitch shading

Stitching while…

Do you “stitch while”? Stitch while waiting at the airport or the dentist, stitch while on holiday, stitch while manning a stand or shop when there aren’t that many customers – it’s remarkable how much stitching you can get done while doing other, relatively inactive things. Last week there was a Craft Fair at our church in aid of the building fund, and one of the stands there was mine. One half of the stand was covered in completed projects to demonstrate what you can do with needlework (Bible cover, lap tray, box tops, framed, ornament, cushion, etc.) while at the same time showing some of the designs available from the website, and the other half had items for sale, such as chart packs, kits, cards, bookmarks, coasters and shopping bags.

Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Sale part Mabel's Fancies stand at the Craft Fair, Show part

The Fair attracted a good number of visitors, but around lunch time the attractions of home-made soups, artisan bread and home-made cakes served in the rear hall proved to be a greater lure than the range of unique Christmas presents available in the front hall, and so there was time to do some stitching. In fact I’d been stitching off and on the whole morning, as it makes a nice talking point and offers an opportunity to demonstrate squissors or show a design in action.

Now some time ago I bought some felt “luggage labels” to make into bookmarks, and I got a little felt purse at the same time to experiment with, but I never could decide what to do with it. I’d been thinking of using tissue paper to stitch on felt, and the purse being black I thought it would look rather good with the Little Wildflower Garden on it. It was also a small enough project to do while keeping an eye of the stand – perfect! What I hadn’t considered was that it wasn’t just small, it was also very fiddly; stitching through tissue paper, and trying to manoeuvre needle and fingers inside the purse. Even with the shortest needle I could find fastening off was quite a challenge! But it worked, and here it is:

Little Wildflower Garden stitched on a black felt purse

A couple of days after the Fair I travelled to Holland to visit my mother for a few days, and as she sleeps a good deal because of her illness I knew I’d have a fair amount of time on my hands. Some of that would be taken up with doing the shopping and the washing up and so on, but there would be plenty of time left, and I’d been thinking of a suitable project to take with me, bearing in mind that I travel with hand luggage only so that the Millennium frame plus lap stand were out of the question. It needed to be something small and portable. At the Fair I’d quickly sold out of coasters, and two people had asked whether I could make some more to order in time for Christmas – just the thing to work on both at my mother’s and at the airport! The only problem was that although I bought some embroidery scissors last time I was in Holland, I didn’t have any squissors there, and I didn’t want to risk trying to take a pair through airport security. But then I remembered a fairly plain pair that I was sent as a sample some years ago; its action isn’t as smooth as the titanium-coated ones, but it is serviceable, and more importantly if it were confiscated at the airport I wouldn’t mind very much. Well, it wasn’t, so it now stays at my mother’s for future use, and I was able stitch (and more importantly, cut) my Hardanger projects. I returned last Thursday night with six of them complete and ready to be made into coasters, in time to deliver them at church tomorrow. Another brick for the new building smiley.

Six small Hardanger projects ready to be turned into coasters Six coasters ready to become Christmas presents