A bit of a stretch

As I mentioned last week I ordered a pair of longer side stretchers for my Millennium frame, and because it didn’t make a difference to the postage a couple of other things made their way into my shopping basket – a wooden fabric-into-the-groove pusher and a pair of clever plastic gadgets for securely storing the grooved bars without the rods falling out. The tracking information for my order promised they’d be with me on the 9th; in the end they turned up today, 10 days after placing the order. Not bad! (The record is held, however, by a stitching friend who had a pair of bars for her Millennium frame delivered in 7 days. To France. Ah well.)

The longer stretchers and the wooden fabric pusher The bar guards

One reason for getting the longer stretchers was my plan of setting up the Millennium frame as an additional sampling cloth for the RSN goldwork module. The hoop works fine at home, but to use it at a class I need to take two different stands (the Sonata seat stand for the hoop, and the Aristo lap stand for the slate frame) and as they are both fairly bulky with lots of sticky-outy bits that is rather awkward. Much easier to take the slate frame and the Millennium frame which will both happily sit on the Aristo. So I’ve got together some calico, the original piece of silk dupion I bought which had the grain running the wrong way, the grooved bars, my new side stretchers, herringbone tape and parcel string (not to mention that implement for potentially inflicting serious injury, the bracing needle) and I’m ready to get framed up this weekend.

All the materials for a Millennium sample cloth

An added bonus is that I get another go at attaching silk to a calico background; practice makes perfect, they say! Admittedly it would have been more useful to have had this practice before attaching the “official” silk, but I’m sure the experience won’t be wasted.

Stretcher bars, eyes and rainbows

Some days ago I found myself saying to my husband, “More threads isn’t always the answer”. Yes, I know – heresy! But I have redeemed myself by ordering a pair of longer side stretchers for my Millennium frame. As I was commenting on a fellow member’s Cross Stitch Forum post about Millennium frames and Lowery stands I wrote “with hindsight I would have chosen the slightly longer side stretchers” and then thought, well, why not actually get them! The idea is that with the larger stitching area I could use it as a sampling set-up for the RSN Certificate goldwork module, mimicking the slate frame set-up better than a hoop can.

Now Needle Needs, known for their excellent craftsmanship and their beautiful, sturdy and effective frames and stands, are unfortunately also known for slow delivery and less than ideal communication. Personally I’ve never had any problems, possibly because I just ring them instead of emailing, but I know other people have had difficulties. I’m not in a frantic hurry for these stretchers (I’ve managed very well without them so far, after all) but in view of wanting to use them for the goldwork module it would be nice to have them before I finish! So I rang them to ask for a time frame – and found that the gentleman I spoke to remembered me (and my husband’s vintage Austins) from when I visited their workshop to try out the Aristo lapstand back in 2015!

Trying out the Aristo lap stand

Anyway, he said he would be making some stretchers of the right size in the next few days, and yesterday I got an email to say they would be delivered by 9th November, exactly one week after I ordered them. There may, of course, still be glitches, but it all looks promising!

Until then I continue to do my sampling on the spare silk mounted in a hoop, which works well enough. Today I heard that next Saturday’s Certificate class will go ahead, with only two students which should make it nice and safe, so I’m glad I managed to do most of my homework to show Angela. Part of that involved “mixed couching”, where instead of using a pair of the same threads you couch a pair of dissimilar threads, for example rococco paired with twist. Because rococco is by far my least favourite goldwork thread I decided to practise mainly with that, starting with it combined with twist, and then trying to work a pair of rococco and Jap right next to it, bricking the couching stitches as much as possible.

Mixed couching

“As much as possible” turned out to be not very much – one of my questions for Angela will be how on earth you evenly brick anything that has rococco in it, with its wave that should be regular but in practice turns out not to be even when stitched in a straight line, let alone on a curve. Oh well, I’m meant to be learning so it’s just as well I have questions smiley. (The picture also shows some improvement in my stitching already: there is a definite gap between the two pairs where I start on the left, whereas they are much better abutted as I went on. Reassuring to know sampling helps to sort these things out.)

Another thing I’ve been sampling is kangaroo eyes. That rather sounds like a buffet I don’t want to try, but actually it was a very useful exercise. In the design drawing, the kangaroo’s eye is roughly triangular, and my original idea was to use chips of smooth purl to somehow fill in that triangle, either with the chips all running vertically (with the front one slightly curved) or with some used as outlines (another idea of making them all run parallel with the top sloping line never even made it to the sampling stage). As you can see both these options looked awful. So then I started playing with the idea of a spangle with two chips of smooth purl for the top and bottom outline. That effect was much more like it, and after some experimenting with spangle sizes and placement of the securing stitches I eventually decided on the one indicated by the orange arrow: a 2mm spangle with the slit facing forward and one securing stitch facing backward.

Lots of kangaroo's eyes

And finally, remember the rainbow project I called Hope? I’ve been stitching quite a lot of variations on the theme (including a personalised one for a young girl facing a lockdown birthday) and was hoping to put the chart pack on the website this month, but the design was taken up by a magazine for publication which means I can’t publicise it myself until after that issue of the magazine has come off the shelves (some time next spring). I think I can probably get away with a teeny-weeny sneak peek though…

Five rainbows

Certificate decisions

Last week I wrote about a significant set of four RSN Stitch Guides and ideas for the Canvaswork module of the RSN Certificate and this means, doesn’t it, surely it must, that I’ve decided to do The Whole Thing after all. As you may remember I set out on this course with the clear intention of doing the Jacobean and Goldwork modules, and then stopping. Several people (including tutors, my very supportive husband and a fellow student) have since encouraged me to do the whole Certificate, and I’ve been keeping this in the back of my mind throughout the first module. The ideas are there – my canvas scribbles and pictures-for-inspiration are fairly obvious indications of that. And yet.

Various ideas for the Canvaswork module

Having stitched for quite a few hours now using the trestle-and-slate-frame combination, I think I can confidently say it is simply not my cup of tea. I find the stitching position uncomfortable and the nearly horizontal orientation of the frame (even after putting the rear of the trestles up another notch to give it extra tilt) puts a strain on my eyes – with my ordinary glasses I can see the further end of the embroidery, but I can’t see the details nearby, while with my stitching glasses I can’t see far enough without things going blurry. When stitching the tree trunk, which covers quite a bit of the height of the design, neither of my glasses allowed me to work an entire row of chain stitch in focus while keeping a comfortable (and healthy!) posture.

The trestles at maximum tilt

But the slate frame is obligatory when doing the Certificate (and the other “big” RSN courses like the Diploma and the Future Tutor programme), and I don’t think it is negotiable. Not for the Canvaswork and Goldwork modules, with A5-sized projects, and not even for the Silk Shading module, where the brief specifies that “overall the piece should be no bigger than 8×8 centimeters (3in x 3in)”. Leaving aside for the moment that 3 inches is even less than 8 centimetres, does this really need a slate frame, even my “small” 18-inch one? I fear that it probably does if it’s part of the Certificate, and that no amount of coin-bouncing off my laced Millennium frame will convince them otherwise. But just possibly the Bling SAL Tree may sneak into my frame bag, come to my February class and show off its drum-taut tension, and then who knows?

Laced Millennium frame

PS Depending on the outcome, would anyone be interested in taking over a hardly-used slate frame in a year or so? With trestles?

All framed up

All right, I can’t resist. I’m so ridiculously pleased with the lacing I’ve done on the Millennium frame and the good tension I managed to get on my 14″ hoop that I just want to show them off! A bit of work in my photo editing programme to blur the transferred designs, and now I can share my framed and hooped SAL fabrics without spoiling the mystery smiley.

I photographed them both with the threads and other bits and bobs around them to give some sense of the size (the cat in the hoop picture is not there for scale, just for her decorative value). For a stitcher who until relatively recently thought of a 7″ hoop as quite large, this 14″ whopper comes as a bit of a shock whenever I see it. The bigger the hoop, the more difficult it is to get good tension on the fabric, but as I mentioned before the bound inner hoop helps, as does the fact that it is a 20mm deep quilting hoop; a few more judicious tugs at the fabric yesterday and some persuasive wingnut action and the tension is now equal to what I would expect from a much smaller hoop.

Hooped fabric and materials for the plain Tree of Life

The Millennium frame has superb tension when used as it comes, even side to side – in fact surprisingly so for a frame which (like pretty much all scroll frames) holds the fabric top and bottom only. The top-to-bottom tension is incredible, and must, I assume, be so much better than on any scroll frame I’ve tried because it is achieved by lengthening the side bars (they each have a thick wooden screw inside them which screws up and down), in effect pushing the roller bars apart, rather than by trying to roll the fabric tightly onto the bars. You can apply so much more force that way. The Millennium frame’s side-to-side tension is derived purely from the scroll bars – because the fabric is held firmly along its entire width by an ingenious groove-and-rod combination, it is almost as taut at the edges as it is in the centre, something that is practically unheard of with other scroll frames.

Orpheus mounted on the Millennium frame

So why lace the fabric? Two reasons. Firstly, I said “almost as taut”. You can bounce a penny off the centre of the fabric, but there is a little bit of give right at the edges. Secondly, because of the very strong top-to-bottom tension the fabric will stretch vertically, albeit only slightly; this will be more noticeable the longer the fabric is on the frame, and this project will likely be there some time. You can slacken off the tension between sessions, but I prefer to keep the fabric taut so the tension remains more or less the same throughout my work on the piece.

Neither of these is an insurmountable problem, and I have happily used the frame without any further fabric preparation, as you can see from the picture above. But because this time I’m working with two layers of fabric, and there are goldwork elements in the piece, I thought I’d apply some of my newly-gained knowledge of dressing a slate frame to this smaller frame for even better tension. Attaching the fabric to the top and bottom bar is done as usual – there is no canvas to sew it on it to, and I’m very pleased there isn’t as the rod-and-groove system is a lot quicker – and after that I extended the side bars enough to make the fabric sit flat, without sagging, but not so much that it was stretched.

Next, sew herringbone tape to the sides of the fabric, and use that lethal bracing needle I showed last time to lace them to the side bars. Slightly more fiddly than with a slate frame because the Millennium side bars are not uniformly shaped from top to bottom, and part of what I’m lacing around is the exposed wooden screw. But with a bit of string manipulation it works perfectly well, so on to the final stage of gradually increasing the tension in both directions by extending the side bars and tightening the lacing. At the end of all that I’ve got a piece of fabric you could play an impressive drum solo on, and it’s much more portable and manoeuvrable than the slate frame, sitting quite happily on my Aristo lapstand rather than needing trestles. Win!

Framed fabric and materials for the bling Tree of Life

I might sneak in a few SAL stitches later this week during my RSN Certificate Homework Time…

Stitching props

When you’re stitching or designing, it’s very important that your stitching nook is comfortable (so you can settle down for a good long time without getting cramped or stiff) and has all the necessary equipment right there (so you don’t have to keep getting up to find things). Some things are the same whether you stitch or design: comfy chair, cup of tea. Then for stitching add a stitching stand, a hoop or frame, scissors, needles, chart and all the necessary threads. For designing, substitute paper, pencils and graphic pens, rubber, lap tray, cat…



Lexi aids the designing process

Always helpful, our Lexi. She does assist me with my stitching too, patiently worming her way onto my lap and underneath the frame. It’s not too inconvenient except when I need to flip the frame to finish off at the back of the work.

And talking of frames, I’ve been using the Millenium frame a bit more, getting on with Orpheus *virtuous glow*. It is really good, keeping the tension beautifully when I pull for all I’m worth to open up the eyelets. There is really only one disadvantage: it wobbles. The Lowery stand clamps it on the left only, and the Millennium is a big and fairly heavy frame (relatively light for its size and solidity, but still quite a bit heavier than any other frame I’ve used), so it vibrates whenever I pull the thread through unless I steady it at the same time, which is not always possible. I did consider Needle Needs’ matching Aristo lap stand (check out the video review by Nicola Parkman) but although it does offer room for a cat (very important) I’m not sure a frame resting on my lap would be very steady. And even if the Aristo is absolutely ideal, it won’t be mine any time soon, being quite a major purchase. So what to do in the meantime? This is where it comes in very handy to have a husband who is an engineer. He likes solving problems. He thinks laterally. He came up with this:

An addition to the Lowery stand and Millennium frame

It worked, let’s be clear about that. No more wobble. But, well, it’s a tray shoved down the side of the chair. Surely we can do better! A bit of wooden shelf, nicely sanded and varnished, with the top carefully jigsawed into a series of sloping steps, would be lovely – but far too complicated to make. So we dug out two ancient tubs of Lego, and I set to building a narrow wall with a stepped top. It looked very colourful, and it didn’t work at all. It wasn’t flexible enough, so it just buckled and fell apart. What we needed was something you can build with which has a bit of give in it. Enter the old Meccano set. Some experimenting later we had an upright prop with a foot that slides under the chair cushion and a small ledge to balance the bottom right-hand corner of the Millennium frame on. It may not be the most elegant solution, but it works, it’s easy to use, it’s adjustable, it’s a lot cheaper than the Aristo, and it has the Lexi seal of approval. I’m happy.

A Meccano solution (with cat) The Meccano prop in place

The Millennium frame and a DIY lightbox

There hasn’t been a lot of stitching going on in the Figworthy household recently – instead, I’ve been drawing diagrams and writing instructions for some designs that will appear in Stitch magazine, as well as putting together what feels like innumerable shisha flower kits for the upcoming workshops, and trying to improve the design and choose the materials for the shisha day class. And all the while I am itching to try out some new stitches and start on Kelly Fletcher’s Cats on a Wall. Alas, not until I’ve sent instructions, diagrams and stitched models off to Stitch, which has to be done by Good Friday.

I did manage to frame up the fabric for Orpheus, and even do some stitching on it. I really like the set-up I’ve got with the bar covers I made some time ago for a clip-on scroll frame (they turned out to be just the right size for the Millennium frame) and my DIY needle minder stuck to the cover rather than to my stitching fabric. Usually when I am using a larger hoop or frame I clamp it to the Lowery stand and leave it there, but although the Millennium’s chunky stretcher fits quite snugly into the clamp, I get the impression that the weight of the frame puts a little more pressure on the clamping point than with other frames – which is odd because working with it the frame doesn’t feel particularly heavy. Even so, I will put it in the clamp only when I am actually going to work on it, and take it out when I’m done for the day (or week. or month.)

Orpheus mounted on the Millennium frame

It’s not had a lot of use yet, but it has had a significant use: the pulled eyelets. Would that lovely fabric tension stand up to being pulled about quite severely? Yes, it did. The fabric was taut when I started, and it was taut when I finished. I love my Millennium frame! What a shame it’s rather too expensive to have a spare… because you see, there is another project that I would very much like to work on it. Oh well, I’ll just have to swap projects – after all, one of the nice things about this frame is how quick it is to mount the fabric!

A week or so back I was in The Netherlands, and in a shop selling art materials I asked whether they had any small lightboxes. (Rather embarrassingly, I couldn’t remember the Dutch word for lightbox. *sigh* That’s what comes from having been an ex-pat for nearly 10 years now.) The very helpful girl I spoke to said they didn’t have any, but why didn’t I just make one with a box, a light and a transparent top? Brilliant. I am already using several bits of glass from photo frames to trace the designs for the shisha kits, but so far I’m holding them up to a light source which means I have to do my tracing vertically – not ideal. Once back home I quickly found a Chinese takeaway container, my husband supplied me with a nifty LED torch which shines from its side as well as its front, and with my bits of glass I had all the elements for a DIY lightbox.

The ingredients for a DIY lightbox

Unfortunately it didn’t work. The light was too bright and the individual LEDs were visible, even with a tissue on the top as a diffuser. But as I was experimenting with the various bits I realised that putting the torch in my lap, shining up and with a tissue over it, and then holding the glass with the design and fabric a little way away from it, does work! So that’s what I will be doing.

A frame, a bee, and another flower

Yes, I have finally taken the plunge – I have ordered a Millennium frame from Needle Needs. Have you heard of these frames? They are beautiful, hand-crafted examples of the tool maker’s art. But more importantly, they are said to keep the fabric taut from side to side, unlike any other scroll frame I know of. Now it’s easy to be cynical about claims made for any product, especially if they are made by the manufacturers, but several people have very convincingly reviewed these frames (most notably Mary Corbett and Nicola Parkman), and so I am convinced. Especially now that I want to get into a goldwork a bit (or perhaps a lot…) more, a frame that keeps the fabric good an tight will be a real treat!

Because they are hand-made to order the frames can take a while to arrive (several months, in some cases), but when I phoned to ask whether it would be possible for us to pick mine up as we would be practically passing their workshop on our way to the in-laws at the end of February, the kind and helpful gentleman told me it was almost certain to be ready then, and yes, as long as we reminded them by phone the day before, it would be fine to come and pick it up. Hurrah! If it all works out as planned, that means I save the postage and I get to show the frame to my mother-in-law, who has been a keen needlewoman all her life.

Knowing that I will be the proud owner of this beautiful frame within a relatively short time, I have put Orpheus II on hold for the moment; it will be my inaugural project.

Which means that my stitching time for this month (which is fairly busy, so there won’t be that much of it anyway) will probably be taken up with finishing goldwork projects, experimenting with shisha flowers, and some more charity stitching. And the first in line was, of course, The Bee. I managed to do a fair bit of chipwork at my weekly stitching group last Monday, and encouraged by this I finished it on Tuesday. Then it was time for some experimenting, as well as some very fiddly unpicking – the tarnished gold on the bee’s body was carefully removed and put to one side on my velvet board, then I started cutting the silver bright check purl I got particularly for this purpose. Fortunately the gold that was already there turned out to be the same thickness – a sigh of relief there.

There wasn’t enough of the gold to do the whole bee in alternate stripes, so I decided to give him a silver head and backside. I cut one bit of silver too long and the two tiny bits I cut off to make it fit struck me as being just the right size to go on the end of his antennae. He doesn’t have any in the original design, but that’s neither here nor there. He does now. I found some very thin gold-and-red thread I had left over from a Japanese embroidery workshop which I used for the antennae themselves. And here he is!

The 2009 RSN workshop bee, finished at last

It turned out to be very difficult to get an accurate picture – the fabric shows up in the various photographs as tinged with red, yellow and green, but it is just an ordinary natural-coloured fabric, sort of off-white/creamy. Another thing that was difficult to capture was the shine of the gold threads and wires. In the end I held the un-hooped fabric in direct sunlight and, with the camera pointed at it, moved it about until both leaf and bee sparkled. So here is an attempt at showing him in his full sparkly glory.

Showing the sparkle

With the bee finished more or less to my satisfaction I found myself with some stitching time left before going to bed, so I had a go at another shisha flower card. As I’ve decided to use the small flower motif for a workshop my plan is to stitch it in several versions to see which one will work best, producing a number of useful cards in the process. This one uses the fly stitch variation which looks rather like a daisy; I used my 12-dot pattern in order to end up with 24 petals, as my shisha mirror stand-in (a disc of shell dyed a cheerful yellow) was smaller than the one in my experimental daisy, which could easily accommodate 32 petals. The scrolled stem is worked in chain stitch using DMC floche, the leaf is done in fly stitch using two strands of Carrie’s Creations stranded silk, and outlined in stem stitch using one strand. I like the effect of the fly stitch leaf, and together with chain stitch it will offer the learners some nice traditional stitches for this type of work.

A small shisha flower using fly stitch

Now it’s a pretty motif all on its own, but you can never have too much bling in a shisha piece and I felt perhaps there wasn’t quite enough of it here, especially as I won’t be using blending filament in the workshop. Perhaps some sequins? I didn’t have any metallic sequins to hand (though I have ordered some in gold, silver and copper) so I dotted around some gilt spangles. I started out with them in little triangular groups of three but ended up with a sort of “halo” around the flower, which seems to work quite well. The spangles are not actually attached, just put on the fabric for the photograph, as they are proper gilt ones which came with the goldwork watering can kit and I am not sewing nearly a pound’s worth of spangles to a small card! When the sequins arrive, I’ll sew some of those on, either gold only or perhaps (as there are nine of them) three of each colour. We’ll see!

Adding spangles to a shisha flower

Note to self: must remember to add the sequin dots to the shisha flower patterns.