Surplus weight(s) and ceramics

I’d been using my Aristo lapstand for most of the work on Queen’s Silks; the stand is better suited to rectangular frames like the Millennium and my small slate frame, but it works with the 14″ hoop I used for the Tree of Life SAL and it just about works with the 12″ hoop which I’d mounted the racehorse in. But my next project will be in a not-quite-10″ hoop (Nurge’s 25cm one), and when trying it out that just didn’t sit well. I’d need to use my Sonata seat stand. Now I love the Sonata, and I’ve used it with hoops up to 8″, but I feared that 10″, especially with the added strain of plunging, would be rather too much for it. Ideally I’d use the Lowery stand, which for some years has been firmly lodged by my armchair. Would it work in my dining room set-up, which is where I like to work on larger or more complicated projects? With no armchair to hold it down, I thought I’d need the old-fashioned scale weights which live in the garage and which Mr Figworthy has been saying for years “will come in handy one day” to keep it stable (they go up to 14 lbs), but it turns out a fairly thin chair leg works, as long as there is a substantial amount of stitcher on top. (Note to self: good excuse for extra pudding.)

Superfluous weights The Lowery in my dining room stitching spot

You may remember last year I bought a small dish and a fridge magnet from Wilton Road Ceramics. Having decided that I needed more needle minders, I thought some of Sue’s ceramic bits and bobs would be just the ticket. At the moment my two main ones are home-made affairs using ceramic buttons – fine for larger tapestry needles, but the itsy bitsy needles I use for goldwork and some other types of embroidery have a disconcerting tendency to get themselves lodged in one of the holes and stand upright, business end up. Something without holes was called for.

Now I’ve been using the large fridge magnet on my Lowery stand, holding a selection of needles ready to use whenever I need them without having to rummage through sewing boxes and needle books, and it works very well. But is is on the large side for keeping on an embroidery, unless the hoop or frame is on the large side too and there is plenty of room around the design.

The first large needle minder on my Lowery

After a few measurements I worked out I wanted something about an inch square, and flat. Sue doesn’t do magnets that size, but she does do what she calls card toppers, small square tiles that decorate cards. She was happy to send me some of those without the cards, and even offered to attach some smaller magnets to them so that they would be ready for use. Not only that, she sent me a little freebie pink heart – I’d looked at some hearts she does for bookmarks, but they were too big. But she found this one-off smaller one in a drawer somewhere and just sent it with the others, wasn’t that kind?

A selection of ceramic needle minders

Unfortunately the small magnets, though admirably effective in sticking to fridges, were not quite up to the task of attracting needles through a layer of ceramics. I asked Sue what they were attached with, hoping it would be possible to perhaps heat them up a little to melt the glue, but it turned out to be E6000, which can only be dislodged with acetone and patience. Patience I have (to some extent), but as I never use nail polish, acetone is not something I have around the house. However, our kind neighbour had a big bottle which she was happy for me to use as much of as I needed. After that it was just a matter of replacing the weak magnets with the small but fierce neodymium ones which Mr Figworthy uses to make magnetic sump drain plugs (what else…)

You may have noticed that among the purchased selection there is also a larger magnet. I fell for the fish, which reminds me of the Ichthus symbol (also known as the Jesus fish because the letters stand for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”). I knew from the beach hut magnet that that one is strong enough to attract the needles and indeed, it did solid duty on the racehorse – it even successfully holds the large plunging needle!

The new large needle minder in action

Did I mention I was having a bit of a needle minder spree? This one isn’t ceramic, but the moment I saw it I knew it was perfect for my sheep-mad friend who has recently taken to stitching. And to make the most of the postage it made sense to get one for myself as well! Even if it never actively holds a needle at all (it is on the big side) it makes me smile. Isn’t that quite a good reason in itself?

A perfect lamb of a needle minder

Multi-functional trestles and felted jaws

Now that I’ve got my trestles-for-the-slate-frame, they turn out to be quite useful for other things as well!

We have a marquee which we use for our annual trade show, and which we occasionally lend to people. Last weekend our local churches used it for their stand at the village fête, but as we took it down after letting it dry out in our back garden the canvas got torn in two places. We can get mending patches to glue on, but they tend to work better if the tear is pre-mended by sewing it up. Guess who usually gets that job smiley.

Now the canvas part of the marquee is rather large and cumbersome, and not easy to manoeuvre around; I usually try to stretch the affected bit on some chair backs if I can. This time my husband tentatively suggested using the trestles. Tentatively, because as a man with plenty of tools himself (he owns vintage cars, after all) he knows people can get upset when you suggest putting a piece of equipment to non-standard use (think embroidery scissors for cutting a nail, or shiny new spanners for hitting a nail – different types of nail, of course). In this case, however, I felt it was a legitimate extension of the trestles’ proper function; we draped the canvas so that the tear was easily accessible, and yes, this round of mending was definitely a lot quicker than previous ones.

The canvas of a marquee stretched on the trestles Mending a marquee on the trestles

On to another bit of equipment: my trusty Lowery stand. It holds hoops and frames perfectly but the side clamp, like the rest of the Lowery, is made of sturdy metal, and I’m always slightly worried it will damage the hoop. Cue a doubled bit of felt folded around the edge of the hoop before inserting it into the clamp.

The felt I used in the Lowery clamp The felt folded around the edge of a hoop

This works perfectly well, but it can be a bit fiddly to keep the felt in place when feeding the hoop into the jaws (that sounds rather odd, but let me reassure you no hoops were hurt in this procedure), and when not in use the felt has to be kept somewhere; I usually keep it in the clamp, but then I undo the clamp forgetting it’s there and it falls out and gets pounced on by the cat or I step on it. There must be an easier, more permanent way of doing this, surely? Well, there is always sticky felt, or failing that ordinary felt and double-sided sticky tape. And why I didn’t think of that years ago is beyond me. But when the idea did come to me I wanted to try it out immediately, so with the works phone parked nearby on the floor in case of people wanting to place an order, I plonked myself down beside the Lowery with felt, sticky tape, and two types of scissors (see above remark about improper use of tools) and got to work.

Ready to put some more permanent felt on the jaws of the Lowery

And did it work? Yes it did. Not too much later I had two neatly felt-covered clamp jaws, and a quick trial run showed it to clamp a hoop beautifully; as protected as with the loose felt, but possibly even a little firmer and more secure than before because this felt can’t slip. Victory!

Felt attached to the top jaw Felt attached to the movable bottom jaw The felted clamp in action

Taking a stand

How many stands does a stitcher need? If we define need in the strictest sense, the answer is of course “none”. Unlikely as it may seem when browsing manufacturers’ websites, a rich and fulfilling life is possible without any embroidery stands at all. But if we take the term fairly loosely and rephrase the question as “how many stands could a stitcher use?” then the answer is probably more like my husband’s on the subject of pre-war Austin Seven cars: “one for every purpose”. In the case of the cars that means one for pottering around the lanes and going to the pub in, one for long-distance touring, one for competitions… In the case of embroidery stands it likewise depends on the use you intend to make of it.

Until last week, I owned two embroidery stands: a Lowery floor stand, and an Aristo lap stand. The Lowery is a dependable workhorse that will deal with any hoop or frame you care to throw at it (or rather, clamp in it); true, with the heavy-ish Millennium frame it needs a bit of Meccano support, but that is a minor quibble.

Lowery stand The Meccano prop in place

“So why”, I hear you say, “do you need any other stand? If this Lowery will do it all, what else do you need?” Well, the Lowery will hold anything, but it will do so in one spot. Not that it is nailed into place or set into a concrete base, but it isn’t exactly portable.

Now most of my travel projects are smallish ones in hoops that are easily held in the hand. But if I want to take a project mounted on the Millennium frame (or any other scroll frame, for that matter) to my weekly stitching group I’m stuck. Enter the Aristo lap stand, which is portable, comfortable, surprisingly stable for something that’s perched on your lap, and roomy enough to accommodate a cat.

The Aristo lap stand, with cat

Right, so I’ve got one stand that will hold anything, in its own semi-permanent place, and one stand that will travel. Unfortunately, although it’s perfect for scroll frames, the Aristo isn’t particularly easy to use with a hoop. True, you can just about perch a hoop on the arms if you put them quite wide apart, but the hoop is then so low and so close to the stitcher that you have to put the stand on a table to have the embroidery in a workable position.

And it so happens that I will be taking an 8″ hoop to the Medieval Embroidery retreat at Coombe Abbey later this summer, and simply holding it (a bit of a challenge anyway with hoops that size) is not really an option as there will be rather a lot of two-handed stitching. Taking the Lowery is not practical either. Cue the seat stand.

I’ve come across these at RSN workshops and day classes, where you can usually borrow one for the duration of the class. They have a wooden paddle that you sit on, and from it a post sticks up to which the hoop is attached. There is only one problem with them. In order for the hoop to tilt towards you, you have to sit astride the paddle. Inelegant and a bit undignified at the best of times, I feel, but completely out of the question when you tend to wear longish skirts. Theoretically it is possible to insert the paddle underneath both legs from the side (as demonstrated in this Sew & So video), but the trouble is that the hoop then tilts away to the right rather than towards you. The only other option is to have the hoop completely level with the floor, not tilting in any direction at all, but I find that an uncomfortable way of working.

Some time ago I did find the Stitchmaster Seatstand (demonstrated in the video as well and looking quite good there), which has arms like the Aristo on which to rest your work, and yes, it does tilt towards you. So far so good. But when I tried it out, I found it to be unusably flimsy for anything with a bit of weight to it, and with an unadjustable tilt that was far too steep. It definitely didn’t work for me; more research was needed.

Cue the Sonata Seat Stand, which I found on Barnyarns’ website, and which looked as though it might tilt the way I wanted. I rang their customer service department and spoke to a very helpful gentleman who got one out of its box and tried to visualise the various directions of tilt I was describing over the phone, to see if their seat stand would fit the bill. He came to the conclusion that it almost certainly would, but said I was very welcome to order one and try it out, and they would pay the return postage if it didn’t do what I’d described. Now that’s what I call customer service!

Well, here it is in what I’d describe as its Ikea stage (lots of separate bits, nuts, bolts and an Allen key); and even unassembled, the various pieces looked promising – there were definitely several tilting bits there!

The Sonata Seat Frame, unassembled

It took a bit of doing (and my husband to get the last bit of Allen key bolt into the base of the frame; I simply could not get it to budge any further) but I got it together, and although the bolts still needed knocking into the wood (which sounded rather brutal and possibly damaging but which my husband assured me is perfectly normal procedure) I managed to clamp a hoop in it to Test For Tilt. Success!

The Sonata Seat Frame; bolts still sticking out, but the tilt test is successful

And now it is fully assembled, heads of bolts flush with the wood to prevent joints from drooping when tightened, and ready for use with whatever type of skirt I care to wear smiley.

The Sonata Seat Frame, fully assembled The Sonata Seat Frame with hoop The Sonata Seat Frame in action The Sonata Seat Frame in action

Roll on the Medieval Embroidery retreat – I’m all set!

A bad workman blames his tools…

… but a good needlewoman praises hers – credit where credit is due! Mind you, having seen some of the gorgeous work that 17th and 18th-century embroiderers produced with never a daylight lamp, bead nabber or magnetic chart holder in sight I suppose a really good needlewoman will produce beautiful results whatever her tools are like, but I certainly find that some tools make my stitching life a lot easier and more comfortable.

Those of you who keep an occasional eye on my page of Planned projects may have noticed that Fruit of the Spirit has disappeared from there, but has not yet appeared anywhere else on the site. This is because it was originally meant to come out in May, and I did in fact start working on it then. However, it is now past the middle of June and it is not yet finished. And why? Because of a scroll frame.

Well, that’s not really fair on the scroll frame, which is a perfectly good one. It’s just rather bigger than anything I usually work with. At 12" it may seem small enough to some of you, but it simply doesn’t work for me; I find it cumbersome and heavy and uncomfortable, and consequently I only really worked on Fruit at my weekly stitching group (where I can lean the frame against the table) or during rare daytime stitching moments at the weekend when I seat myself at the dining room table. But in the evening in my usual comfy arm chair? No.

Perhaps a workstand might make a difference? I looked into what was available and of course also asked my fellow members at the Cross Stitch Forum. Many of them were full of enthusiasm for their Lowery workstands, and it did have one great advantage over most of the other stands I had seen: it grips the frame by the side bar rather than by the top scroll bar. With a top grip I’d always worry about damaging the fabric. Some of the other stands did have accessories to get round that, but why add an extra complication? I also like the fact that it looks very simple and relatively unobtrusive, and that it stands by your side rather than in front of you.

But would it really make a difference? And would I be able to work with the frame floating, as it were, in front of me? My husband agreed to act as stand-in stand, holding my frame the way the workstand would, and I found that apart from a slight wobble which I attributed to the fact that my husband comes with hands rather than metal clamps it really seemed the ideal solution. So I decided to take the plunge and order it – only to be asked whether I would like it for an anniversary present! I’m sure you can guess my answer …

And so I am now the proud owner of a Lowery workstand, and I love it. It is stable, easily adjustable, simple to swing out of the way when I need to get up, and the frame just sits there in front of me without my having to support it in any way – brilliant! I also made as much progress on Fruit of the Spirit in one evening as I had in the previous two weeks, so expect it in Mabel’s shop very soon.

Lowery stand