Model stitching for the Guildhouse course (I)

One of the interesting parts of preparing to teach a needlework course is stitching the various projects beforehand. I can’t imagine teaching a class about a project which I haven’t stitched myself – for one thing I’d be terrified that I’d overlooked something vital and would find out half way through the class that part of the design is impossible to stitch!

It also gives me some idea of how long a project will take to stitch, and of course how much thread needs to be included in the materials packs. Although it is possible to design projects that can be completed within the 2 hours allotted to each class, they would have to be very simple indeed, and very small. Instead I tend to use slightly larger and more complex designs which are started in class but finished at home. The idea is that if a design includes four identical or similar chain stitch shapes, I will explain chain stitch, and the students will stitch one of the shapes, then we move on to the next stitch and the other three get finished at home, or at the end of the class if there’s time. In addition the last class in the course is dedicated to finishing off projects, asking questions, practising challenging stitches and so on. It seems to work. It seems to work.

The first class of the course I’m teaching at the moment looked at blackwork, and more specifically at ways in which you can "shade" blackwork from dark to light. We did this by using different thread weights, and by gradually simplifying the repeated motifs. There was some metallic thread included as well, showing the difference between blending filament and #4 braid. The result will eventually be made into a card.

Blackwork project for 2012 course

The interesting thing about stitching a model is that often it will change considerably in the process, sometimes because something doesn’t look right, sometimes because it turns out to be too complicated, sometimes for very practical reasons. This blackwork design started out square, but as I was working it in the 4" hoop that the students would be using I realised it was getting very difficult to work towards the corners, so I left some of the pattern out and turned it into an octagon. And you know what? I actually like it better that way!

When I’d finished the blackwork, the logical thing would have been to start the week 2 project, which is a silk sampler; but I decided to do the Hardanger & ribbon work for week 3 first, as it is a bit more challenging. Did any changes get made to this project? Yes, one – if you look very carefully you will note that the "spokes" for the ribbon rose stick out a bit, so I shortened them on the chart that the students will be using.

Hardanger and ribbon work project for 2012 course

Note to self: it is extremely difficult to get ruched ribbons the same width, even when you start out with identical bits of ribbon. I haven’t quite decided yet whether the result is "sloppy" or "charmingly uneven" – a bit like an asymmetric smile is said to be quite attractive.

Stash: the stitcher’s hermit crab

Hermit crabs have no shell of their own, and so they use empty, left-over shells to protect themselves. The trouble with using someone else’s shell, however, is that when you grow, it doesn’t grow with you. And so every now and again the hermit crab will find that it is getting rather cramped in its present abode, and that it needs to look for a new, larger shell.

Isn’t it remarkable just how reminiscent this is of stash?

You start stitching. It doesn’t take much – a piece of fabric, a needle, scissors and some thread. At first, it all fits into a small plastic bag, with room to spare. Then you get some more fabric; different counts, perhaps, and in several colours. Possibly you even venture into pretty hand-dyeds and opalescents. And of course for every new project colours are needed that you haven’t got yet. They get added, as well as speciality threads, metallics, perle cottons, silks, for that special touch. Talking of special touches, how about beads? And charms? The original plastic bag is now only just big enough for the fabrics, and all the threads and beads and other thingummybobs need their own boxes.

So you’ve got everything in neat boxes and bags, either sorted by number or colour, and doesn’t it all look wonderful! Then you buy one more colour – will it squeeze into the box? Just! But the next colour doesn’t have a hope …

That’s what happened with my perle cottons. They were housed in two boxes: the #12 perles in the drawer of my Dragonfly box, which also holds my Caron threads and silk perles, and the #8 and #5 perles in a wooden box I was given by a kind friend. The #5 perles live on hinged metal rings, and were draped on top of the balls of #8. But what with Rainbow Wings and the SAL and Gingham Gems my collection was rapidly outgrowing its comfortable "shell"! So I started looking for shallow boxes to hold the #8. I found some in laminated cardboard, which looked quite useful but came to about £15 each which seemed a bit much for cardboard; I looked into wooden boxes with drawers but they were either not the right size, or beautiful antiques several hundred pounds beyond my budget.

Then we went to Holland on our holiday and in one of those useful shops which sell anything from underwear to baking trays to camping gas I found these, at €1.99 each:

Three useful boxes

Not particularly attractive, but the right size, stackable, and cheap. And once I’d put my threads in, they suddenly looked quite pretty!

All my perle #8 neatly stored

And just to demonstrate the way in which stash simply keeps growing – while in Holland I bought a few more things; some useful, some just very pretty and very moreish. A metre each of White and Antique White 25ct Lugana falls into the first category. These lovely Au Ver à Soie silk ribbons definitely come in the second. One of them will be used in the speciality thread version of the Song of the Weather SAL; I haven’t decided yet which one, but I can’t wait to stitch something with the coffee/chocolate ribbon!

Au Ver A Soie silk ribbons