A problematic set

Some designs seem to cluster together but aren’t really sets at all, more of a process where one design suggests another and so on. It all started with a design using thistles. Thistles mean Scotland. Or Eeyore, if you’re a Winnie the Pooh fan, but I thought something Scottish would probably sound better. So I named it Scotland the Brave.
Scotland the Brave
Then some time later I came across a discussion (either online or in an old stitching magazine, I can’t remember) about the difficulty of representing anything five or six-sided in counted thread work, a medium that is intrinsically based on squares, or at least on a fabric that does right angles naturally, and 45-degree angles with some persuasion, but struggles with anything else. Hardanger is, by its very nature, quite square. What a challenge! Could you create, say, a five-petalled flower in Hardanger? Like a Tudor rose, perhaps? After much charting, re-charting, and re-re-charting, I decided you couldn’t, and Tudor saw the light of day in a four/eight-petalled variety.
If I’d had any foresight, I would have made it the same size as Scotland the Brave, realising that I had a series in the making, and the Tudor rose could represent England. A little more foresight yet, and I would have called it Merrie England.
By the time I was jotting down ideas for a clover-based design, the idea of a set had finally suggested itself. Clover, Ireland … Luck of the Irish joined the other two. It had the same basic outline as Tudor, and the same size. I was on to something!
Luck of the Irish
Have I mentioned that I like things that come in fours? And the fourth in this set would, of course, be Wales. Somehow I can’t quite envisage a leek-based design, but daffodils offer definite scope; and if I give it the same basic shape and size as the thistle design, that would even things out nicely. And then I’d have a UK set – a nice tribute to the country which I now call home. Tudor could be renamed, and the daffodil design could be called Land of My Fathers or possibly Eisteddfod (or if I was feeling really silly, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch).
There are, however, one or two problems with this whole UK idea. For one thing, can Luck of the Irish stand for Northern Ireland rather than the Republic? And more seriously, will Scotland stay in the Union long enough for me to complete the set! Do I want people to think I am making a political statement in Hardanger? Probably safer to call this hypothetical collection the British Isles set. Watch this space to see whether leek and daffodil manage to inspire me any time soon!

The birth of sets and series

Some designs are easily recognisable as sets (or series; I’m not quite sure what the difference is, if any). They don’t need similar names, or a group name, to show that they go together. Like the four Floral Tiles, Pansies, Holly, Forget-Me-Not and Tulips. They all have a Rhodes stitch border, satin stitch floral motifs (or vegetation, in the case of Holly), beads and speciality stitches within Kloster blocks, and beaded square filets in single cut squares. Likewise the twelve designs in Round Dozen simply shout their kinship from the rooftops, with their recognisable pattern of a cutwork diamond within a surface stitch diamond within a square. But oddly enough, neither of them were originally planned as a series – or in the case of Round Dozen, as such a large series.
A little over a year ago I was looking at some online shade cards, and my eye fell on a lilac-and-yellow variegated silk. At about the same time, I was toying with the idea of satin stitch pansies. I wanted to make satin stitch a main feature of the design, and to have quite a few Kloster blocks but minimal cutting; I also wanted quite strong lines, probably diagonal, and a border of some sort using the variegated thread I’d seen; and beads. So Pansies was born.
As it was December, Christmas was all around. Why not do a seasonal design in the same style? the carol suggested Holly & Ivy, but I didn’t really like the idea of ivy and so holly got paired with mistletoe. Then I started thinking of other flowers with simple and recognisable shapes, and came up with forget-me-nots. Designing it in the same sort of style as the other two seemed only logical.
Now I happen to like sets of four, so I started looking around for a fourth floral design. My Dutch background led almost inevitably to tulips, and as they are quite bold, striking flowers I felt they’d do well within this sort of design. And so the set was complete; and only then did I decide to give them a collective name – Floral Tiles.

Pansies Holly Forget Me Not Tulips

Remember I said I like sets of four? I’d been doodling and scribbling some ideas for a set of four small designs, possibly for coasters. I wanted them all to have the same basic framework, but to play around with bars, filling stitches and speciality stitches; they were also to use very few colours, preferably white and one other colour. And as they were going to be fairly abstract, the names could be pretty much anything. Well, when thinking of sets of four, the seasons are quite an obvious choice. So I called them "Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter", choosing the colour in each of them to tie in with that particular season. But I had a few doodles left that hadn’t got used. It seemed a shame to waste them. Could I get four designs out of those ideas? I could; and so I needed another set of four names. The points of the compass sprang to mind, and in fact this set of four started life being called "Compass: North, East, South and West".
Meanwhile I’d also charted two designs along the same lines which didn’t quite fit in with the Season and Compass designs. They used different stitches for the diamond shape. The outer square varied in outline but not in stitches. And there were only two. Surely I could think up another two to go with them? I could, and I did. But what to call them? Remembering an educational programme we used to watch at primary school, I thought of Earth, Water, Wind & Fire, but found that since my school days these had taken on distinct overtones of Wicca and paganism, and as a committed Christian I felt I could not use them. But there was another quartet which I remembered being used to name a set of musical compositions – Morning, Noon, Evening & Night, which seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
Now here is where it all becomes a bit muddy, and I can’t quite remember which change of name led to which, but I realised that having started out with a set of four designs, I know had a round dozen of them. That sounded rather good, so I called the "set of sets" Round Dozen. Now wouldn’t it be neat and tidy to give the subsets Round names as well? Based on the individual names, that idea led to Round the Year, Round the World, and Round the Clock – and those names seemed so appropriate that they stuck.
Round Dozen

From theme or technique to name

Some of the least transparent names, at first sight, are probably Lviv, Odessa and Orpheus (the last one as yet unstitched). Two of the three become clear immediately when you realise that the techniques used in the designs were inspired by Ukrainian whitework – Lviv and Odessa are cities in Ukraine. But where does Orpheus come into it?
Well, some years ago my husband and I saw a programme about the 2006 International Church Music Festival. Choirs from around the world (mostly Britain and America, but also South Africa, Slovenia and many other countries) came together to sing God’s praise. One group of eight men singing close harmony was our absolute favourite; the sound they produced was just incredible! We then found that the next ICMF would be in 2008, and practically next door to us. We both love singing, so we signed up, and that group of eight men was there as well. We went to several church services and concerts where they sang; on one occasion one of the baritones sang a romantic solo and chose me to waltz round the church with. Quite an experience!
And what does this have to do with a stitching design? They are from Ukraine, and their group’s name is Orpheus. Simples!
Of the two designs Berrington Hall (I) and Berrington Hall (II), one is an impostor. My husband and I visited Berrington Hall, a National Trust property, and admired (among many other things) the beautiful Georgian ceilings. When we got home, he suggested that I could base one or more designs on them. I chose two colour combinations which remind me particularly of Georgian interiors, pale blue/white/gold and sage green/cream/gold, and having looked at a great many pictures of Georgian ceilings, sketched the basic outlines for two designs. It wasn’t until I’d charted them both and decided to call them both Berrington Hall that I realised the first one was actually nothing like any of the ceilings in the real Berrington Hall. I’d got rather fond of the name, though. And the style was still very much the same as the Berrington ceilings. And so far no-one has written to me in a high dudgeon (lovely word) to complain about it. So Berrington Hall they both remain.

Berrington 1 Berrington 2

From shape to name

I suppose you could say that in naming anything pictorial you go from the shape to the the name. But sometimes the design is not quite a picture, it just has shapes which remind you of a picture. One of these is Kaleidoscope. I created those four small designs particularly to be quick stitches that would fit coasters. An hour’s (or two) stitching, then a coaster on which to put your drink – I was going to call them Happy Hour. I still think it would have been a good name; in fact, I may use it in future if I design some more itty-bitty charts. But then my husband (who is always ready with suggestions, some impossible, some inspiring, some both) said the shape of them reminded him of those patterns you get in a kaleidoscope. He was right, of course. So Kaleidoscope it was.
Another one, where the shape led to the name which in turn influenced the design, is BonBon. I designed it simply as a pleasing shape, then the four cut areas sticking out in the four corners, with their little square of Kloster blocks on the ends, reminded me of sweet wrappers. Just calling it Sweets didn’t seem right, so I looked around for alternatives and came up with BonBon, which then led to the choice of pink for the colour scheme.
Two designs which are still on the To Do list also got their names from their shapes – I was playing around with cut areas within a large Kloster block square, and as I removed bits of the square, made some areas cut and left others uncut, I suddenly realised they looked like those windmills-on-sticks that you buy at the seaside and run with, and the wind makes them spin. So Windmills it became. I found a most patriotic red white and blue variegated thread to stitch it in, probably on hand-dyed fabric looking like blue sky with white clouds; as refreshing as a walk along the beach.
The other one is Cross My Heart, you can probably see why it got that name. It has hearts, it has crosses, so the name Cross My Heart practically thought of itself – sometimes a name is not just easy, it’s inevitable!

From occasion to name

It sounds like good common sense to make names descriptive, so that people know what they’re getting. And sometimes a descriptive name happens to be just right for a design, in which case I’m happy to use it. Even a partly descriptive name, like Midnight Stroll (which does have midnight colours and stars and a moon, but nothing to do with a walk) may seem better than one which appears to have no connection at all to the design.
Midnight Stroll
But sometimes designs are created for very specific occasions (they don’t always get used for the occasions that inspired them, but that’s another story); and in those cases, I like to somehow use the occasion in the name, even though it may not make much sense to anyone else. Will anyone who likes a particular design be put off by the fact that the name doesn’t sound very logical?
Some of my first designs were created for a course of beginners’ counted thread work that I taught at our local Adult Education centre, called the Percival Guildhouse. They were (you won’t be surprised by this), the Guildhouse needlebook and Percival. As it happens, by the time I had completed Percival to my satisfaction it had become far too complicated for the purpose, so I had to chart something simpler – this was Delft.

Guildhouse Percival

Another design that still shows its original purpose in its name but never got used for it is Lustrum. It’s not a very common word in English, but in Dutch it’s used for a celebration held every five years, especially to mark anniversaries; it’s usually universities or clubs, but it can be used for anything that has existed for five or a multiple of five years. As my husband and I celebrated five years of marriage in 2010, I wanted to design something to mark the occasion. This was Lustrum. It comes in two variations, one with shield-shaped bits of cutwork, and one with heart-shaped cutwork and room for initials and a date. I stitched the shield variation first, then chose the threads for the hearts-dates-and-initials version but never got round to stitching it … Perhaps in 2015?

From colour to name in another way

Sometimes it’s not the name of the colours that lead to the name of the design, it’s the colours themselves. Delft and Citrus come into this category – there is nothing particularly citrussy about the latter apart from its green, yellow and orange colour scheme, and it is the blues in Delft that give it its name, rather than the fact that it looks like a pottery design. The Bittersweet designs I wrote about recently got their name in this way as well.

Delft Citrus

Some of the designs whose names are inspired by their colours may need a bit more explanation, though. Like Veronica. Not a girl’s name, in this case, but a tiny flower, more commonly known as Speedwell – which would have been a good name too and may well be used in future – and (as you may have guessed) blue. African Star (which hasn’t been stitched yet) is shaped like an 8-pointed star, but the African bit in the name comes from the colours it uses: red, gold and green, sometimes called the Pan-African colours. And Vienna is stitched in chocolate and coffee colours on chocolate brown fabric. With Vienna the home of coffee houses and Sachertorte, what else could I possibly have called it?

Veronica Vienna

Spice Islands uses the colours of all those spices I love to use, like cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and cloves (the cut Hardanger bits in the desig are shaped like cloves). Nutmeg and cloves feature largely in Dutch cuisine, but they can be a bit startling to the British palate, so I tend to halve the amounts in any recipe I cook nowadays. Spice Islands is my tribute to Dutch cooking!
Another tribute to my Dutch heritage (if one can apply the grand name of heritage to something sweet eaten on bread) is Sprinkles, which shows how closely linked colour and shape and name can be. On the design’s info page I explain that the thread colours reminded me of the pink, yellow and orange of those sweet fruit sprinkles I used to eat as a child. This in turn influenced the shape of the design, which started out with four giant sprinkles arranged in the centre. As for the significance of the hearts and butterflies, well, uhm, I got a bit carried away while designing and didn’t have the heart to delete them once they were there …
And finally a case where the colour led to the name, which then led to another design (both still on the Planned page). I wanted to do something with the combination of moss green, brown and cream. The design turned out to be geometric rather than pictorial, so I turned to the colours for a name. Something mossy. Hmmm. Moss Rose? But there were no rosy colours in it at all. Then I remembered some pieces of agate I had had as a child, with bands of all sorts of lovely subdued colours, and I also remembered that one type of agate was called Moss Agate. Bingo. But I liked the colours so much I wanted to do another design using them. The word moss and the brown colour made me think of Reindeer Moss. I liked the name but felt there should be something in the design to reflect it; cue four satin stitch reindeer. This is what is so nice about letting colours inspire you – you never know what you’ll design next!

Moss Agate Reindeer Moss

From colour to name

First things first – Happy Christmas to you all (I know it’s not quite Christmas yet, but I’m unlikely to write anything tomorrow.) May it be a joyful time for you and those you love, and if you give and receive presents at Christmas, may there be lots of stitchy goodies to enjoy.
Back to the subject of names now. There’s actually quite a lot about names in the Christmas story (John the Baptist and Jesus being given meaningful names, and Jesus being "Emmanuel" or "God with us") so perhaps the shift from Christmas to design names isn’t so odd after all!
Sometimes, the colours I use suggest a name – either the colours themselves, or the names that the manufacturers have given to the colours. To begin with the latter, that’s how Heather and Douglas got their names. They are two designs that more or less form a pair, echoing each other’s stitches and shapes, but more to the point here, sharing the same hand-dyed thread – Dinky Dyes perle in a shade called Airlie.

Heather Douglas

Now I know, of course, that Dinky Dyes are an Australian company. But my knowledge of Australian geography, apart from the better known cities and whatever names I picked up from Terry Pratchett’s Last Continent is practically non-existent, so to me, Airlie sounded Scottish. (There is in fact a place called the Airlie Estates in Scotland, near Kirriemuir – another name just waiting for a design – but what DD had in mind when naming their thread was probably Airlie Beach.)
So I had two designs that needed Scottish sounding names. When I was very young and dreamed of owning two Scottish terriers, I came up with Sporran and McTavish, and I did briefly toy with the idea of applying those names to the designs, but fortunately I resisted. Scotland reminds me of heather, and there were some light purple shades in there, so Heather it was. Douglas also sounded like a suitably Scottish name (the Black Douglas and all that), but it took me a while to realise why that name had popped into my head: the central bit of the design reminded me of the three legs in the flag of the Isle of Man, whose capital is Douglas!
Well, I never said my mind worked logically when thinking up names …

From name to design

I know I promised to explain some of the names I have given to designs, and I will, but I’m going to digress a bit first – this is about a design that has a name but doesn’t exist yet. Odd though it may sound, very occasionally I come up with a name that won’t suit any of my exisiting designs, but seems too good to waste. Or not exactly too good, just "rather nice and wouldn’t it be a shame not to use it".
Last week I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of "Musing" over the next few weeks, what with Christmas and a big family pre-Christmas party and the in-laws coming to stay and then visiting my family in The Netherlands for the New Year’s celebrations. That in turn made me think of the Dutch term for New Year’s Eve: "Oud en Nieuw", which means Old & New. One of the things the Dutch do for Oud en Nieuw is let off fireworks. And they do it in a BIG way. We watch it from my mother’s apartment on the 6th floor, and all around there are bangs and whistles and stars and gold and silver and red and green and blue sparkles, until after 20 or 30 minutes the whole town is cloaked in a black cloud of smoke.
The brain started whirring. Would it be possible to design fireworks in Hardanger? Nothing very photo-realistic, obviously – you’d be better off with coloured blackwork for that (which led to another idea, of using those Silk Mill shiny threads on black for a blackwork fireworks design; all right, I get distracted very easily). But something round with spiky bits bursting out, using various colours, on a black or navy ground …. And I would call it "Old and New", which to a non-Dutch speaker would be a little puzzling (and hopefully intriguing), and even to a Dutch native speaker might not be immediately clear because we’re not used to seeing the term in English. So there we are: a name with as yet no design. Just a few vague ideas. Which I am now off to work out a bit, before the Christmas rush starts in earnest!

What’s in a name

You may wonder why some of my designs have names that aren’t immediately obvious (to say the least). Why not give a design a nice, clear, unambiguous name and be done with it?

Well, sometimes I do. The Faith Hope & Love bookmark has Faith, Hope and Love on it; St Francis quotes St Francis of Assisi. Autumn Wreath is a wreath made up of autumn leaves and nuts, Tudor looks like a Tudor rose.

Faith, Hope & Love Bookmark St Francis

Autumn Wreath Tudor

Others are not quite so literal, but still fairly obvious. Very Berry has three berries, and Eek! echoes what would no doubt be many people’s reaction to a spider that size.

Very Berry Eek

So far so good. But what to do when a design – as is often the case with Hardanger – is more abstract than pictorial? You could of course do as some modern artists do and just call them Composition 1, Composition 2 or similarly meaningless words. But where’s the fun in that? And even when a design is clearly pictorial (like the dragonfly in Resurrection), simply calling it what it is can be just a little bit dull, especially when there is a story behind it. So I think up names based on a variety of sources – the colours I use, the shapes, something that the design reminds me of, or whatever it was that sparked the idea for the design in the first place. Some of the names, like Sprinkles and Resurrection, are explained on the design’s detail page. The ones that aren’t I’ll be telling you about on Flights of Fancy.

Sprinkles Resurrection