Finishing off a robin

I am itching to start on the rainbow sheep, but the robin was to be completed first, for no other reason than that I had told myself it should and it would feel rather weak-willed to give in to ovine temptation, however colourful. So over the weekend I got to work, completed the shaded herringbone wing (also good practice for my Canvaswork module, as I hope to use the stitch there), and outlined the breast in medium red (left/top) and dark red (right/bottom) stem stitch.

The wing filled in, and the breast outlined

But what to do about the wing outline? I was hoping to find something feathery but inspiration failed to strike so in the end I just went with shaded stem stitch. Then on to the head. There I did want something feathery, and I decided to use fly stitch in one strand.

The wing outlined and the head feathers started

Now in my original version of the robin the head is entirely worked in brown. This works fine as a stylised outline, even though in real life the red of a robin’s breast extends into its head. But as this version is “coloured in” (even though it is still very stylised), I felt I ought to have some red going up the throat, which is why the light brown fly stitches only surround about two thirds of the eye. However, before thinking about how to get the red to flow reasonably naturally from the battlement couching, first I had to do the feathers. It wasn’t easy to get them to lie in the right direction, and in fact I ended up with a rather ruffled robin, but on the whole I was happy with the effect.

Working on the head feathers

Especially when I added in the other two shades of brown, and got the one-strand fly stitch head to blend into the two-strand herringbone wing. For the throat I went with straight stitches in blended light and medum red, with tiny seed stitches in one strand of dark red on top. The legs were done in black stem stitch, the beak in black straight stitch, and the eye in black Rhodes stitch. Finished, right?


But the eye didn’t look quite right. Nice and beady, and the Rhodes stitch gives it a bit of extra beadiness by being domed, but even so it needed a little something extra.

A beady eye that needs a a little something extra

That little something extra was a stem stitch outline in one strand of light beige (fortunately I decided against my first choice of bright white), and now he is finished. On to the sheep! (among one or two other things…)

The beady eye outlined

Notes on toadstools and a robin

I’m having great fun with my toadstools! Of my several plans I decided to start with the medium-sized, insectless version, simply outlined in stem stitch throughout. At this point I had ideas as to what I wanted the fungi to look like, but nothing set in stone – probably golden yellow for the right-hand toadstool, cream with blue or purple spots for the left-hand one, and the middle one the traditional red-with-white-spots (the only thing that is non-negotiable!). An enjoyable hour or so with my boxes of DMC and an LED light (invaluable when selecting and matching colours in the evening) produced a nice collection of bobbins, but as any stitcher knows, colours on bobbins don’t necessarily look like those same colours stitched onto fabric!

Toadstools ironed on, and colours chosen

By the way, I used the black iron-on pen to do the transferring. It worked beautifully, but there are a few things to keep in mind for future transfers; not criticisms exactly, just notes-to-self. First, although the line drawn with the pen is quite fine, the ironed-on line on the fabric is a little thicker. On small designs where a single strand is used this may cause the line to remain visible. Second, the ironed-on line is much lighter than the pen line looks on the transfer paper. On the fabric, the “black” pen looks a pale blue-grey. This is not a problem in itself – the lines are perfectly visible as they are and it might even be a drawback if they were any darker, as it would be more difficult to cover them up. Finally, I have the feeling that the lines fade a little over time. I transferred two copies of the robin (more of him below), and the second one, which hasn’t been stitched yet, is a very pale blue now – still visible, still workable, but paler than it was when I’d just ironed it on. I think. It’s very difficult to remember accurately the exact darkness or lightness of a line two weeks later!

Back to the toadstools. They were worked in standard DMC stranded cotton, using two strands for the two outer toadstools, and three strands for the middle one and the grass. The grass is worked in two strands of dark green and one of light green.

Toadstools outlined in stem stitch

I quite like the look of it as it is, but I feel it needs a few tweaks. My ideas so far:

  • I like the contrast between the slightly heavier middle toadstool and the lighter outside ones. However, the outlines of the outer two toadstools aren’t as clear as I’d like, and the spots are a bit too heavy. Next time try 4 strands and 3 strands respectively for the outlines, 3 and 2 for the spots. The grass is OK at 3 strands (2 dark, 1 light).
  • The red is too orange and too bright; try tweeding a darker red into it. The line forming the underside of the cap is a bit dark; would it look better in a very dark red? Then fill in the under-cap area with gills in brown – either straight stitch, or stem stitch in one strand.
  • The ecru toadstool is rather light, probably even with an extra strand. Think of a different colour. Spots in blue rather than purple?
  • The outline-only version looks a bit empty (as does the no-insect bit). Try seed stitch (in 3 strands for the middle one, 2 for the outer two) of diminishing density top down (start at the top of the cap with dense stitching and become more scattered downwards, stopping at about the half-way point). Same principle for the stems, and the frill on the middle one.
  • Is there a blueish fungus of the left-hand shape? If so this might look better than the yellow. (Then the insect can be done in a warm shade.)

So there’s my homework for the coming time: experiment a bit more with the toadstools, both as regards colours and stitches. Incidentally, did you spot the addition to the design? Serinde suggested in a comment that a snail would be a good alternative to an insect, and I thought that was a spiffing idea, so I drew a snail version and also added it to the project in progress, as you can see above. It took me a while to decide on colours and number of strands for him, but eventually I settled on the dark brown used in the middle toadstool, and the purple used in the right-hand one, both in one strand. As this is a trial piece I’m afraid he wasn’t stitched as carefully as he should have been (the shape of his body is too much of a smooth arc, it should have some bends in it) but it gives an idea.

The toadstools with a little snail added The snail has been stitched

The little stylised robin inspired by a 1920s starch advert has been played about with as well. As with the toadstools, I decided to do one simply outlined in stem stitch to begin with. Well, apart from its eye, which is a black, round Rhodes stitch, to make it nice and beady (using that word makes me think I could just have used a bead; still, I like this look and a bead might have been a bit too shiny compared to the rest). For this one I used Rainbow Gallery Splendor silk, which is lovely and soft to work with. Just so that it wouldn’t look too “flat”, I tweeded quite a few of the colours, using one strand each of a darker and a lighter shade – it’s a simple way of adding a bit of instant shading.

On the whole I’m quite happy with this little chap, although I will do the legs differently next time – either outlined in one strand, or in two or three strands but as single lines. As they are here (outlined in two strands) they look too heavy compared to the rest of the bird. I was also thinking of stitching one filled in with long & short stitch, but on second thoughts I’m not sure that naturalistic shading won’t look out of place on such a stylised design. Perhaps using tweeded stem stitch as a relatively blocky filling would suit his look better.

The starchy robin outlined in stem stitch