Applying appliqué lessons

You may remember that my first appliqué bauble suffered from a few flaws, most notably visible attaching stitches. A second bauble was called for, with two changes: the thread used to attach the patterned fabric would match that fabric, not the calico it was being attached to; and the embroidery stitch covering the edges (in this case heavy chain stitch) would be worked in perle #5, not perle #8. Together these measures should make the stitches pretty much invisible. So I set to work.

The patterned fabric attached with coordinating thread

So far so good; the thread I’m using is variegated so it doesn’t match the fabric everywhere, but as the fabric is patterned it doesn’t matter too much. Yes, definitely pleased with that.

The next bit is unchanged from the first bauble, because I quite liked it as it was – two lines of Kreinik 1/8″ silver ribbon couched with the same variegated stranded cotton I used to attach the coloured fabric.

The central band is bordered by silver ribbon

Now for the second change, working the border stitch in perle #5. Well, the stitched circle itself looked fine (it is my firm belief that very few things stitched in Anchor’s Blue Hawaii shade could ever look bad) but I noticed something that had occurred in the previous bauble as well: the appliquéd fabric seemed to pucker as I covered the edges.

I held it up to the light at different angles; I pulled the calico tighter in the hoop; I squinted at it. None of it was any good. There was no doubt about it, it puckered.

The fabric puckers after working the heavy chain stitch

So there we are. Using a matching thread to attach the coloured fabric and a thicker perle for the border did solve the problem I’d set out to solve, but the problem I hadn’t really thought much about was, if anything, worse. When I noticed it in the first bauble I rather thought it was just one of those inexplicable things that sometimes happen in embroidery and it would be fine in subsequent projects – after all, there had been no puckering in the appliqué Christmas tree. It now seems that it may be a direct consequence of the border stitch I chose. The Christmas tree was worked in raised chain stitch, most of which is on the surface; only the foundation stitches go through the fabrics, and there isn’t much strain on them, whereas the heavy chain stitch pulls quite strongly at the fabric.

The finished tree, embellished

So it seems there will have to be a third bauble, bordered in perle #5 raised chain stitch! One advantage of that stitch is that it takes corners better than heavy chain stitch; not crucial in the bauble design, which is perfectly circular (or as perfectly circular as I can make it), but I have other ideas…

Star bright

Having completed the Kelly Fletcher Christmas tree freebie and not yet having enough time to make a solid start on the Jacobean goldwork flower I decided to have a go at one of the star designs I had transferred onto two shades of Normandie fabric. For no particular reason I picked the ivory one, and as there probably wouldn’t be time to do both (I’m proofreading a friend’s thesis at the moment, not to mention being up to my ears in bits of kits) the threads simply had to be the Threadworx Vineyard silks. They are gorgeous! Not only are the colours full and deep and rich, even in the pastel shades, but they are some of the most strokeable threads I have ever come across, soft and luxurious with a lovely bounce. Do you know that feeling when you walk barefoot on thick springy moss? You get the same spring when you gently squeeze a bobbin of Vineyard silk.

Yes, all right, I admit it – I’m the sort of stitcher who squeezes bobbins of silk. It’s soothing. It’s good for my blood pressure. Anyway, moving swiftly on, let’s discuss stitches!

I wanted to try a variety of stitches on the various concentric stars, in a sort of rainbow of colour, starting with a small yellow star in the middle. This started out as a French knot surrounded by stem stitch, but that looked a bit empty so I added the various straight stitches later. One of the stitches I particularly wanted to include was raised chain stitch, which is worked over a straight stitch foundation stitched between two lines; that meant I was one line short for the number of colours I wanted to use, so I inserted an uncharted dotted line of more French knots, in green this time. Blue for the raised chain, with a foundation of Caron Wildflowers. Raised chain stitch is not ideal for very sharp points, but it looks OK and the texture works beautifully in the Vineyard silk. Then a line of pinky-red Portuguese knotted stem stitch and finally the outer line in purple Mountmellick stitch. Again not an ideal stitch for sharp points and corners, but I actually rather like the look of the “teeth” in the peaks and troughs. I did briefly consider working 10 separate lines of Mountmellick from the tops to the troughs, but decided it would involve far too much fastening on and off – this was meant to be a relaxing stitch, after all!

And here is what it looks like, once photographed in bright sunshine – brilliant to show the colours, but lots of sharp shadows as well – and once in the shade, which is probably better to show the stitches.

The finished star photographed in full sunlight The finished star photographed in shade

Incidentally, it was quite interesting to have a look at the back and see how different the stitches look there; Mountmellick looks like a very elongated rake head, and stem stitch becomes back stitch!

The back of the MC star

And finally a close-up of the stitches, to show off the lovely sheen and texture of the threads.

Close-up of the stitches used in the MC star

Last of the three freestyle workshops for the Church’s building fund tomorrow; a full house with some children and young people as well! Not all of them will be stitching, but just in case they change their minds I’ve made sure I’ve got enough kits with me for everyone.

An experimental wreath

As I was trying out various stitches on my doodle cloth, I was rather taken with one of them, a raised chain stitch arranged in a circle. Lots of texture, relatively quick, and – after a bit of trial and error with a pencil and squared paper – it looked good on the counted fabric I was using (unfortunately not all freestyle embroidery stitches can be successfully transformed into a counted equivalent, so I was particularly pleased with that).

Raised chain stitch in a circle

Does it remind you of something? Forget for a moment that it is very pink. It may be the season that put it into my head, but doesn’t it look like a Christmas wreath?

A quick-to-stitch motif that looks a bit like a Christmas wreath – I don’t know about you, but I immediately think Christmas cards. It’s lovely to send hand-made Christmas cards, but unless you choose something fairly quick to do you’ll either be stitching Christmas cards the entire year, or you just give up on the idea. Could I perhaps transform this into something usable for next year’s Season’s Greetings? If so, what would be needed? Well, for one thing, it would have to be a bit bigger; this one measures only 2cm across, which is on the small side for a card motif. About twice as big would be nice.

Now when you’re working a stitch like this on freestyle fabric, you can make it whatever size you please without too much trouble. Especially if you have one of those useful diagrams of circles divided into segments, you just pick the circle size and number of foundation stitches you want, transfer the necessary lines to your fabric and hey presto, you’re ready to stitch. On counted fabric it takes a bit more work. So back to the paper and pencil, and after some more drawing and rubbing out and re-drawing a larger circle with more foundation stitches emerged. The smaller one had been stitched using perle #8 for the foundation and #5 for the raised chain itself, so in order for this bigger one not to look too spindly I decided perle #5 and #3 were called for. Fortunately I had a perle #3 in green in my stash, though if these do make it into production I might buy a slightly brighter, Christmassy green. The foundation stitches I worked in brown – not much of them is visible, but if some of the colour did peep through it would look like twigs.

Raised chain stitch in a larger circle, single chain

OK, not too bad – add some red and gold beads as baubles, and a ribbon bow at the top, and we’re nearly there. But in spite of the perle #3 it looked a bit thin. I showed the wreath-in-progress to my husband. He said it looked a bit thin. Couldn’t I add another round of chain stitch? Yes, I could, but the foundation stitches would have to be lengthened, and because it’s a counted fabric that meant more re-drawing. Still, if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing right, as they say, so back to the squared paper.

So let’s start a new wreath. First the longer foundation stitches, in a variegated brown perle #5 I happened to have lying around.

Foundation stitches for the double-width wreath

Then the first ring of raised chain stitch – the inner ring, because if you start with the outer one it will pull towards the middle.

The first ring

I thought it would add texture if I stitched the two rings in opposite directions, one clockwise, the other counter-clockwise. It didn’t – the two seemed to cancel each other out and the texture just went muddy. So unpick the second ring and do it again; when both are stitched in the same direction the whole retains its crisp look, and this method automatically provides little gaps for the beads to snuggle into later on. Best, by the way, to work both rings anti-clockwise; makes it easier to get the needle underneath the foundation stitches.

Both rings together

Now for a bow. Big needle with a 3mm ribbon, down and up just above the wreath, then tie as neat a bow as you can manage. Alternatively, get a small ready-made bow and sew it on… Finally some red and gold beads attached randomly; actually it would have been easier to do this before tying the bow. It looks nicest when the beads sit snugly in the little gaps. I used a white thread to attach them which unfortunately is visible here and there, so it might be better to use a green thread to match the chain stitch.

And here is the finished wreath, ready to become a Christmas card!

The complete wreath with beads and bow

Next year.

PS The Christmas Wreath is now available as a kit – choose a card or an ornament