Orpheus is finally boxed!

Less than a week to go until the Craft Fair and I haven’t really had a go at mounting anything much in any box whatsoever. True, I have crocheted about half a dozen little butterfly brooches, and jolly pretty they are too if I say so myself, but that doesn’t quite make up for the lack of display items.

Two little butterfly brooches

So yesterday I finally sat down with Orpheus and an as yet unadorned thread box. The reason I had been putting this off was that until I received the box I hadn’t realised that A) it had glass in the lid, and it was impossible to remove without damaging the box, and B) the construction of the box was such that I couldn’t lace or in any way stretch the embroidery around a board before inserting it. This meant that the fabric would have to be cut exactly to size – scary stuff!

Cutting the fabric very close - scary!

What you see above is the wooden backing covered in double-sided sticky plastic, then covered in dark brown felt leaving a sticky rim around the edge, covered with Orpheus, and Orpheus then cut as close to the sides of the panel as possible. This order of doing things at least kept the sticky stuff away from the embroidered part of the fabric! And although the sticky plastic was strong enough to mildly stretch the fabric, it did allow me to pull and reposition the edges just enough to get it all straight.

Orpheus safely mounted in its box

Now its outside was looking just fine, but no thread box is complete without threads. So here I present the Orpheus thread box complete Threadworx perles and silks; don’t you just love the colours?

And the box filled with pretty threads

Hurrah! Oh dear…

Sounds of rejoicing throughout the Figworthy home: I’ve finished Orpheus II! It is essentially a re-arranged and elongated Orpheus I, which is why I’m treating them as two variations of one design. Doesn’t the choice of colour make a difference though! And I love the subtle variegations in the Sparklies fabrics – they bring out the best in the standard DMC perles. Orpheus will go on sale tomorrow, both on its own and as part of the Ukrainian Collection together with Odessa and Lviv.

Orpheus I finished Orpheus II finished

Finishing Orpheus meant that I was now allowed to start a new project. Or perhaps even projectS – one on the Millennium frame and a few tiddly ones in hoops. The choice of project for the Millennium frame was easy: the Benton & Johnson goldwork balloon. My first step there was to attach the blue silk to a calico backing, and this proved to be more challenging than expected.

I’d done my research, studying both in books and online how various experienced stitchers attached smaller pieces of fabric to larger pieces of backing before mounting the sandwich on a frame. There were some individual variations, but on the whole it seemed to amount to this: Pin fabric to calico. Sew fabric to calico using either herringbone stitch or long and short stitches, starting from the centre of each side. Mount calico on frame. Start stitching.

Having remembered just in time first to transfer the design on to the silk, I began with step one (I’m a traditionalist at heart) and pinned the silk to the calico, making sure that the grain of both fabrics lined up. Not easy as the calico appeared to be a little crooked, and the silk hadn’t been cut straight on all sides, but I did the best I could manage. That was my first mistake – I should have straightened up the fabric before starting.

The pins make the fabrics look very bumpy

It looked terribly bumpy even before I got all the pins in, so I removed quite a few of them and made do with about four a side, equally spaced. That was very likely my second mistake. (Can you see a pattern emerging here?) Third mistake: I made my herringbones far too large, especially when I changed from the stabbing method to the sewing method halfway through.

Herringbones that are far too large

Perhaps if I just put it on the Millennium frame and tighten it up, it’ll miraculously go flat and taut? Alas, no.

Even the Millennium frame can't put the tension right on that

At that point I decided to give up and unpick the whole thing. My husband reminded me that there were daffodils to be dead-headed in the front garden, and that I had declared an intention to attack the virulent ground elder that threatens to smother everything else in the back garden, so I went out into the sunshine and got myself some virtuously aching muscles. Then I came back in and did what I should have done in the first place, tidied up the edges of my fabrics. You do this by pulling out threads until you’ve got a straight edge, then trimming the superfluous fringe. And boy, was there a lot of superfluous fringe!

Some very wonky fabric

So now that I’ve got two straightened pieces of fabric my troubles are over, right? Well, not quite – the calico really is rather crooked; I mean that the warp and weft threads are not at right angles to each other, so even with neatened edges it is not a true rectangle. And the silk, though by no means as wonky as the calico, is half a centimetre longer on one vertical side than on the other, even though all four sides have been straightened. So I’m taking a while to think this through. I can get the vertical grain of the two fabrics to line up quite well. Perhaps if I attach the silk along the top and bottom only, it’ll work better. I might try this out with a spare piece of satin dupion first.

For now I’ll relax with some of the Kelly Fletcher flowers, trying out my two twills and some other fabric and thread combinations. But I’ll get back to that balloon in time – promise!

A gold (or copper) snag, and another Orpheus

My bee has hit a snag. And I was getting on so well, too. Below left is the little goldwork bee as unearthed from my RSN workshop folder after nearly six years of neglect, below right what I’ve done to it so far: completed the edge of the leaf (couched double Japanese thread – and I need to neaten up the bit I had already done, as it wasn’t stitched quite correctly and is beginning to buckle) and its stem (couched pearl purl); started on the chipwork that will fill the leaf; and worked the bee’s wings (couched pearl purl again – the image on the kit showed them as two separate wings but I wanted to try a sharp corner so I stitched them as one; a pair of accurate tweezers might have helped there).

Where I had got to on the bee The goldwork bee has hit a snag

Actually I had meant to complete the bee’s body (cutwork of bright check purl in a rather pleasant copper shade) before working its wings, and I got as far as stretching (please don’t mention this to any true goldworker as it’s bound to get me excommunicated before I’ve even got properly started) the purl already there to make them cover the gaps down the sides caused by my inability to judge what length of purl was needed to fully cover the padded felt. Then, as I reached for the remaining bright check purl in the kit to cut it into hopefully better-fitting pieces, I found that there was none. I can only assume that when I picked up all the bits and pieces after the workshop, I must have missed the copper bright check. And none of the other odds and ends I have will match it – for one thing they are all either gold or coloured, not copper, and for another they aren’t the same size. One option is to unpick what is already there (on the grounds that it isn’t very good anyway) and re-do it in the threads I have; another is to get some more copper bright check, although I don’t know whether there could be a colour difference if you get it from a different source or manufacturer. At the moment I’m leaning towards getting some bright check in silver and gold, or some bright check and rough purl both in silver, and making a stripy bee. Watch this space!

I’m juggling several projects at the moment – not literally, you understand; that would require more skill than I possess – which makes for a very pleasing variety in my stitching hours. There is the goldwork watering can, although I may put that on hold for a little until I collect my lovely tools (and a few other bits & pieces…) from Sarah Homfray at the Shisha class; because of a family weekend away, for which I wanted some not-too-challenging stitching, I have picked up the buttonholing of Floral Lace again (11 and a quarter down, 6 and three quarters to go); and of course there is Orpheus. Orpheus I, Orange Orpheus, is finished *yay!* and fortunately after damping, ironing and some judicious pulling it is now almost perfectly square instead of noticeably rectangular. It will eventually get laced over brown felt.

Orpheus I

But I am not left completely Orpheus-less, as it is now the turn of rectangular Orpheus II. Literally the turn, as I will work it sideways on my larger frame. That way, the longer sides of the fabric are secured, and hopefully there will be enough tension to work the pulled stitches on the scroll frame (I am beginning to feel very tempted by the Millenium frame, especially after reading Mary Corbet’s review of it). Unlike in the first Orpheus some of the stitches will be worked in perle #12. This is not because I’ve only just thought of it, or because I think three weights of thread look better in green than in orange, but merely because the shade of orange used in Orpheus I is not produced in #12 by DMC. I’m sure they have a reason for this. If I like the effect of adding in the lighter-weight thread I’ll simply put a note in the chart pack to suggest that if #12 is available in the shade picked by the stitcher, it may be used to good effect for such and such a stitch.

Orpheus II on its frame

Christmas gifts and more Orpheus

Do you give and receive Christmas presents? When I grew up in the Netherlands, presents came courtesy of St Nicholas on the evening of 5th December, so Christmas was a gift-free zone. That changed, predictably, when I married into an English family! True, there has for some years now been a “non-present pact” with my husband’s siblings (apart from small gifts of fancy nibbles or special chocolates, or in my case this year, home-made coffee liqueur), but we do still exchange presents intergenerationally (which is a difficult way of saying “with parents and children”…). Inspired by only the slightest of hints, my two lovely stepsons gave me the RSN Goldwork book, so that I can refresh my memory about the techniques that were taught at the day class I did. They also intended to give me some Embroidery Den vouchers but as the card with the goldwork book explained, they hadn’t realised they were proper paper vouchers which had to come all the way from Australia smiley. So much the better – I’ll have another present to brighten some cold, grey January day!

RSN goldwork book design pages in the RSN goldwork book

In spite of Christmas and all that comes with it I managed to do some work on Orpheus, particularly the last of the pulled stitches. They wouldn’t fit into the hoop I used for the other eyelets, so I had to stitch them with the fabric on the roller frame. Not ideal because the tension isn’t as tight as I’d like it to be for pulled work. (Digression: I’ve heard very good things of the Needle Needs Millenium frame which apparently keeps the fabric taut as a drum throughout, but it is expensive, takes months to order, and really needs its own stand which adds to the cost. What I would really like is to be able to try one for a few days before deciding!) Well, they’re done now – four spot eyelets, and yes they did distort the fabric rather, but fortunately after wetting and ironing it looks a lot better. The one below, by the way, comes from the coloured version of Lviv; just imagine them in orange-on-Pumpkin-Patch-marbled-orange and you’ll know what they look like in Orpheus.

Spot eyelet from Lviv

Tamar Embroideries and more Orpheus

In my continued search for threads to replace the perle cottons so inconsiderately discontinued by Dinky Dyes some time ago, I found a few likely looking shades at Tamar Embroideries. Most of their threads aren’t perles as such, but are perfectly usable for Hardanger, especially their Combed Cotton (also called Cotton Twist) and Fine Perle. I ordered the two shades I thought might do as substitutes for DD Jaffa and Daydream, the latter having proved particularly problematic to replace as it is used in combination with several shades of DMC (in Sunken Treasures).

Tamar replacements for Dinky Dyes

I was quite pleased with the bottom shade; the Combed Cotton is a little on the pink side for Jaffa, but the Fine Perle is quite a close match (it’s quite surprising sometimes how different different threads look which have been dyed in the same shade), so it’s certainly one of the threads now suggested in the Citrus chart pack (perhaps the thicker thread could represent pink grapefruit…)

The top shade is not another example of how differently the dye takes on different threads – I had ordered the lighter shade in both thicknesses but the Fine Perle was out of stock. Very generously, Tamar Embroideries refunded me for that skein but sent me a complimentary skein of the darker version! (I would have liked the option of cancelling if one thickness of a pair is unavailable, but even so it is a very kind gesture and jolly good customer service.) Comparing the lighter shade to Daydream I was very pleased to see they are very much alike; the Tamar thread is a little paler, and the look is different because it is a much matter thread than perle cotton, but it’ll definitely work – yay!

Meanwhile, work continues on Orpheus. And as the pulled work needs more tension than my roller frame provides, a flexi-hoop was called for. Unfortunately, because of their quite fierce grip on the fabric, flexi-hoops cause rather severe creases; not usually a problem when the whole design is within its circle, but not good when the crease runs across a part where there will be stitching later on. So every evening (and this is definitely a first for me, even though it would be good practice whatever I stitch) I take the fabric out of the hoop, and in the morning I iron it to take out every suspicion of crease, only to put new ones in in the evening. I’m hoping that this way they won’t become permanent creases.

Orpheus taken out of the flexi-hoop

PS That smudge in the middle is what I’ve done so far, artistically blurred. Well, I don’t want to give too much away smiley.

Working on Orpheus

I’ve been using a frame – and my Lowery stand – again for the first time in many, many months. Well, I always use the Lowery in that it is by my side and holds my needles and scissors by means of some little disc magnets, but I am now using it for its prime purpose of holding a frame. Orpheus is just a little too large to sit comfortably in any of my hoops except the 12″ one, which is too large for my cut of hand-dyed fabric (square designs and round hoops are never an ideal combination when trying to be thrifty with fabric).

So into the Easy-Clip frame it went, and I must say, it really is an easy frame to use; not like lacing fabric onto a slate frame, which I’ve never done but looks like a day’s job in itself judging by some of the online tutorials I found. One consequence, however, of not having the sides of the fabric secured to the frame is that tension is OK North-South, but not so great East-West, and so the central motif looks a bit elongated. In fact, it’s 8cm wide and nearly 9cm high. I hope ironing and stretching when the whole thing is finished will correct that.

A slightly elongated Orpheus

Now I’ve got to a part of the design that has pulled stitches and I’m worried the tension isn’t enough to stand up to all that pulling. I’ve decided to put the fabric into an 8″ flexi-hoop temporarily, do the stitches, then quickly take it out, iron it, and put it back on the frame for the rest of the work. Unfortunately there are four small pulled motifs which I don’t think will fit into the hoop, so they will just have to be done on the frame. It’ll be interesting to see if there is a visible difference.

While working on Orpheus I had a sudden thought that it might look better using #12 for some of the stitches; unfortunately DMC 402 doesn’t come in #12, nor does any closely-related shade, or any similar Anchor shade. Oh well. I may put a suggestion in the chart pack which stitches could look good in #12 if you happened to do it in a colour that comes in all three thicknesses. Actually, I think DMC 3813, which I’m doing the second Orpheus design in, does come in #12, so I might experiment there.

And finally, why I always stitch designs myself before putting them on the website – because sometimes it’s only when stitching a design that I realise a stitch or stitch combination which looked obvious and simple on paper actually needs a fair bit of thought when producing it with thread on fabric. The double cable stitch border surrounding the central motif will have to be done, not in the usual 2 start-wherever-you-like stages, but in 3 fairly carefully planned ones!

Kits, cards, and a missing colour

It’s an excellent thing to get children interested in crafts for all sorts of reasons besides giving them an enjoyable hobby for the rest of their lives, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone by producing some children’s kits and offer them for sale at our church’s mother & toddler group to raise money for the building fund. Having considered and rejected the mini peacock as not really being a children’s design, I remembered a kit I put together some years ago for some young friends of ours whom we were “babysitting”. It needed a serious rummage to unearth it, but I managed to dig up my Hot Air Balloon chart! Here is its first stitcher proudly displaying her work; a sneak peek at the chart; and the blue aida and perle cotton I’ve picked to make the kits with (I think the first one was done with coton a broder).

A young stitcher shows off her work The hot air balloon chart Materials for the kit

Talking of the building fund, the Art & Craft Fair went well, a good number of people came in and viewed, browsed and bought, although as usual the cake stall proved to be the most popular smiley. Lots of people took flyers for the workshop, so I’m hoping for a full house and possibly a second workshop! But first I’ll be doing a sponsored cycle ride around the local reservoir this Saturday – and the weather forecast is not good …

My table at the Craft Fair

The new Notebook Kits (just visible on the Craft Fair display above) are finally on the website – with pop-up pictures of all available colours, which is why it took a while for them to appear as I had to stitch the model in a further five colour combinations. As I didn’t want to use up any more of the notebooks, they’re not actually attached. Fortunately they work on cards too! It’s always good to have a further use for a kit, isn’t it?

The notebook patch works on cards too

Having finished the notebook models, and keeping the Floral Lace finishes as in-between and travel projects, I had to decide which of the Planned designs I’d stitch next. I went for Orpheus, a pair of designs based on Ukrainian whitework, although these will be stitched on two shades of Sparklies hand-dyed Lugana rather than on white. I do plan to use threads in the same shade as the fabric, though, and this is where I ran into an unexpected problem: I didn’t have perle #5 in the right shade. Originally I had planned one of the pair to be worked on Zweigart’s Moss Green with DMC perle 503, and the other on Burnt Orange with 722. But 722 is too dark, really, for Sparklies’ lovely muted orange Pumpkin Patch – it needs 402. And for some unfathomable reason I do not have 402 in perle #5! So a visit to Sew & So is called for, with possibly a few extra skeins of White perle thrown in (always useful) in order to make the most of the postage. For now I leave you with my colour dilemma:

Which shade for Orpheus?

Kate is brilliant!

My belated Christmas present arrived earlier this week: a collection of beautiful Sparklies fabrics. I’ve used Kate’s fabrics several times before – among others in Windmills, Frozen Flower, Flodgarry and Patches – and although it is of course possible to stitch those designs on standard coloured Zweigart Lugana, the irregular look of hand-dyed fabric just adds a certain something.

Windmills Frozen Flower Flodgarry Patches

And here are the ones I got this time: Fire, Gina’s Delight, Lemon & Lime, Pumpkin Patch and Triton; Dark Goddess in linen, and Harvest Blush; plus samples of Innocent Princess, Sunlit Forest and Pitch. Isn’t Kate brilliant thinking up and producing such a wide range of colours, from the palest pastels to the brightest oranges and pinks and blues, and that amazing dark purple?

My Christmas present from Sparklies

When I showed them to my husband he admired them admirably, but then asked the W-question: What did you get them for? Fortunately being a designer means that I can say “for inspiration”, and it’s true at that – as I ironed them and got them ready to be photographed, just looking at them gave me several ideas about threads to use with them, and I am now fairly certain I’ll use Pumpkin Patch (the muted orange) and Sunlit Forest (the sample of pale sage green) for the two Orpheus designs, which I’d originally planned on Zweigart’s Burnt Orange and Moss Green. The perle colours I had already intended to use with those two fabric shades also work perfectly with the two Sparklies fabrics!

Dark Goddess and Sunlit Forest Lemon & Lime and Fire Pumpkin Patch and Triton