Different threads, different look

If you’ve been following Flights of Fancy for some time you may be aware that I like silks. A lot. My budget doesn’t, but I do. Unfortunately most of these beautiful silks seem to be produced by people a long way away from the Midlands (of England, that is) – America, Australia, South Africa … One of them is Treenway, and I wrote a while ago how helpful Susan had been choosing various shades that go together. I picked several combinations with the Song of the Weather SAL in mind, but because there are so many great threads to use only one of them made it into my final selection. All the other silks just sat there, being stroked occasionally, waiting for a project.

They got their opportunity to shine when I decided to have a little stitching holiday and just do some variations on small designs I’d stitched before. Very relaxing, and very interesting to see the difference colours can make. Here, however, it wasn’t just different colours, but different textures – the difference between cottons and the lustre of reeled (or filament) silk; between the medium twist of perle cottons, the slight twist of Treenway’s 8/2 silk and the strong twist of their Fine Cord.

Happy Hour 1 as designed Happy Hour 1 using Treenway silks Happy Hour 2 as designed Happy Hour 2 using Treenway silks

There is one more “variation” that I want to do: a white-and-bright, slightly adapted version of one of the Rond Dozen. After that I’ll be good and go back to stitching for the SAL, and from my Planned list. Promise.

More Mulberry silk

Last week I tried out some Mulberry silks which I’d had in my stash for some time, to see how well they were suited to Hardanger. The Thick and Medium silks I tried first were both a little on the chunky side compared to #5 and #8 perle cottons. I don’t mind that so much for the Kloster blocks, where good solid coverage is a bit of a bonus to my mind, but if you’re going to use the thinner thread for backstitch as well as worked bars and filling stitches it can look better when it’s a bit thinner than a #8. On the other hand, too thin and you end up having to work an endless amount of weaves or wraps to give your worked bars decent coverage.

I intended to try out Mulberry’s Thin silk as a substitute for Medium, but just looking at it on the bobbin made it quite clear that it was going to be far too thin. Mulberry give the thickness of their threads in the x/y format which I’m still trying to get my head round. It means, as far as I’ve been able to work out, that the thread consists of y number of plies, and each ply has the thickness x, where a higher x means a thinner thread. Apparently it’s all based on the number of 840-yard hanks you get from a pound of thread. I assume that’s an imperial rather than a metric pound, but whichever it is, after about ten seconds of trying to work this out my eyes start to glaze over and I decide that I can spend the time much more enjoyably stitching.

It boils down to this – as with perle cottons, the higher the number the thinner the thread. And a 30/3 thread is equivalent in thickness to a 20/2 thread, although I’m sure it makes a difference whether it is, for example, very tightly twisted. Anyway, Mulberry Silks’ Thick silk is a 10/3, Medium is a 30/3 and Fine a 100/3. So the trick would be to find something between 30 and 100. Enter their Quilting silk, which is a 70/3.

The Quilting silk is lovely for the little backstitch motifs, with a very nice shine and crisp detail,and it makes a beautifully lacy square filet, but it is quite thin for the woven bars and takes a lot of weaving to get good coverage. Probably the best solution would be to use Thick for Kloster blocks, Medium for bars, and Quilting for filling stitches and backstitch.

Mulberry silks

Yesterday the postman brought me some lovely Treenway silks to add to my collection – watch this space for a further silk Hardanger experiment!

Enabling and two new threads

There are words which mean something completely different depending on the context. On my favourite stitching forum we often use the term "enabler". It means someone who tells you about a new supplier, designer, fabric, thread, embellishment, piece of equipment, anything stitch-related, really – and thereby enables you to add many lovely things to your stitching stash. Although this may lead to a severe strain on the budget, it is generally seen as A Good Thing. Imagine my surprise when I found out today that out there in the non-stitching world "enabling" may also refer to "unhelpful help", for example by making it possible for an alcoholic to keep feeding his addiction. This "enabling prevents psychological growth in the person being enabled". Oh dear. Well, I think I can safely say that stitch-enabling has no such negative effects; provided you handle your stash budget sensibly, there are few things as pleasant as finding new materials, browsing a site, deciding which colours to get and what you’ll use them for.

My unconditional thanks, therefore, to that kind fellow-member of the Cross Stitch Forum who pointed me to an eBay seller called michigandoctor; she has the most amazing collection of hand-dyed threads including some beautiful silk perles, and is extremely helpful and quick to reply to emails. I should have some Gloriana and Thread Gatherer silk perles coming my way soon …

Meanwhile I decided to alleviate the waiting period by playing with some more of the silk threads already in my stash. I like buying one or two skeins of silks (and other speciality threads) that I don’t know, to see what they might be used for. You may remember the Gumnut silk Hardanger experiment on 36ct linen I did a while back. Well, there were some other threads which might be good for Hardanger but which I hadn’t tried yet.

The first two of these are Mulberry Silks‘ Thick and Medium Silk Twist. Mulberry Silks come in lots of different weights or thicknesses, and most of the sets they sell are Medium and Fine weight. For Hardanger on 25ct these are too thin a combination – Fine looks rather thinner than a #12 perle, and Medium is about the thickness of a #8. Their Thick silk twist feels a bit heavier than a #5. But enough of the numbers, how do they stitch up and are they nice to work with?

Well, the Thick silk gives great coverage on 25ct Lugana – perhaps a little too much even, as it can be tricky to get the satin stitches in a Kloster block to lie neatly parallel. They do look lovely and plump, though, and getting rid of those pesky cut ends is no trouble at all with such a lot of Kloster block to hide them in. The Medium silk has a lovely sheen and produces a well-defined dove’s eye, but if you like a lacier effect the Fine silk may be the better choice. I did not stitch the little backstitch corner motifs I usually include in my Hardanger experiments, but I feel that the Medium silk may be just a little too chunky for that.

Mulberry silks

All in all lovely threads to work with, the only drawback being the limited number of shades in which the Thick silk is available. As for the Fine silk, I may need to stitch another experiment to see how that one looks "in action" …

Mabel’s Sketchbook (IV)

Back to the sketch I showed you some time ago. You may have discerned a pumpkin shape with swirls around it and a girl in it. Well, that can mean only one thing, right? Cinderella!

Mabel's sketchbook

It all started with a Kloster block shape I’d idly doodled some time ago. It consisted of a sort of oval in the centre, and a curve or half-oval attached to it on either side. If you half-closed your eyes and used your imagination, it might pass for a pumpkin.

To some people pumpkins mean Halloween. But I don’t really do Halloween, so that was a bit of a dead end. They do remind me of Harvest Festivals, and churches decorated with fruit and vegetables, but I couldn’t quite see how to turn that into a workable design. And so it just sat there in my stitching program, forgotten and unloved.

I came across it again when I wanted to tinker a bit with a design that happened to be in the same file, and thought it would be a shame not to do anything with it. So I sketched a pumpkin shape and drew some swirls around it, and then realised it looked rather like a coach. A pumpkin coach. OK, but I didn’t want it orange or any other pumpkin colour. Silvery, or a very very pale blue, that would be much nicer. On a sparkly fabric perhaps? Another memory stirred – Serinde, a fellow-member of the Cross Stitch Forum and an accomplished Hardangerer (Hardangeress?) had mentioned that 28 count white opalescent Lugana went particularly well with a certain pale blue shade of Caron thread. And I happen to have both the fabric and the Caron threads in my stash! So that was settled. But if it was blue it wouldn’t look very pumpkin-like anymore; so add a stalk to the top to counteract that.

Now for Cinderella herself. What if I put her in the central bit, and used cutwork in the two other sections? She’d have to be cross-stitched over one if she was to fit the shape and still have a reasonable amount of detail. What about the colours? I didn’t want her to look like the Disney version – not because I don’t like it, but because I didn’t want to copy some else’s ideas. So a blue and red dress, and some flounces or ribbons. What about her face? Now if you have a close look at the sketch you will see that at this point I got a little bit over-ambitious – not only was I planning some fairly detailed backstitching in the face, but I also considered using open chain stitch to represent her ringlets. Nice idea, and I may use it some day, but not here. Cinderella would be all cross stitch.

Then all I needed to do was decide on colours and stitches for the scrolls that formed the wheels, and, as a last-minute addition, to add some sparkly stars all around the coach. I know the fabric itself will be sparkly, but that’s no reason not to add a bit more! One final idea occurred to me – wouldn’t this make rather a nice decoration for a little girl’s bedroom? And if so, wouldn’t she like to have her initial in there somewhere? So I charted a variation with Cinderella a little lower in the coach, and designed an alphabet to go with it. And there she is, ready for the Planned section, waiting to be stitched!

Cinderella Cinderella Initial

And what about the tray mentioned in the sketch? Well, I happened to pick up an oval tray with needlework in it a year or two ago, and have been looking for a design for it ever since. This might be just the right shape and size (I’ll have to do a few calculations), so you may see it in the Gallery some day.

A Caron giveaway

Rejoice, rejoice – after some unpicking and a bit of a dilemma over the right shade for the lettering, the anniversary sampler is finished and waiting to be stretched over a lavender blue felt, if I can find any!

Lustrum anniversary sampler

In the process of trying to find the perfect shade for the Kloster blocks and satin stitch, I ended up with two skeins of Caron Watercolours 038. Both lovely, but of course I’ve only used the one that’s more lavendery; after all, that’s what the whole search was about! But what to do with the other skein, the mauve and cream one?

That’s an easy one – give it to another stitcher! Either to try something new, or to add to an existing thread collection. So if you’d like to give this poor unwanted skein a good home, by the end of Sunday 1st April with your address and the answer to these two questions:

  • In Hardanger you use one ply of Watercolours – but how many plies does the full thread consist of?
  • The colour number of this skein is 038 – what is its name?

A random winner will be picked from the correct entries on Monday 2nd. Good luck!

Buying threads online

Nowadays very few of us are lucky enough to have a needlework shop anywhere near us – let alone one that sells more than 14ct Aida and stranded cotton. For speciality threads or slightly more unusual fabrics you either have to travel a long way (there’s a lovely shop in Ilfracombe, for example …), bulk buy all your needlework supplies at a stitching show once a year, or buy online.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I can get pretty much any thread or fabric I could possibly need (and many, many that I will never need but am tempted by nonetheless) by going online. I can get supplies from the UK, from my native Holland, and (if I’m willing to pay import duty and Royal Mail’s extortionate handling fee) from as far afield as America, Australia and South Africa. It’s great!

But sometimes, it’s just not good enough.

When I was trying to get three shades of beads (some of them variegated) that would match three variegated shades of Caron threads for Very Berry, I realised I hadn’t a hope of doing so unless I could compare the beads and threads in the flesh (or should that be "in the fibre"?) My husband very kindly took me shopping at Burford Needlecraft and I managed to find the exact shades I wanted – but trying to match them up on a computer screen would have been utterly impossible.

Very Berry

We don’t always have that option, though. Usually, the images on the monitor are all we have, and they’ll have to do. And so, what with the unreliability of online images and the differences in dyelots, buying hand-dyed threads online can lead to surprises when unwrapping your purchases.

Some shops do their very best to minimise these surprises, and are willing to go the extra mile for their customers. Stitching Bits & Bobs (US) has more than once helped me find the right shades by going through their stocks and finding a silk "a little more DMC 3042 than 3743", or some such description of mine. Sew & So have likewise been very helpful.

So I turned to them again when getting the threads for the anniversary version of Lustrum. I had decided on Caron 038, a very pretty shade I already had in Impressions (silk/wool), so I knew what it looked like in real life. On their site, however, the picture of the Watercolours thread in that shade looked much darker than the others in Caron’s range (Wildflowers cotton, Impressions and Waterlilies silk). When I contacted them I was advised to add a note to my order explaining that I needed the Watercolours and Wildflowers thread to be quite close in shade, and so not to send them if the Watercolours thread was really as dark as the picture suggested.

I don’t know how many dyelots they had in stock, but they managed to find me a Watercolours thread which was the same lightness as the Wildflowers thread, which was great. Unfortunately there was another snag – the Wildflowers they sent and the Impressions I already had were much alike in colour, with lavendery blues, pinks and creams, but the Watercolours thread had no blue shades at all and hardly any pinks, but was mostly cream and a warm lilac. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

Caron 038

When I contacted them they very kindly had a look at the skeins of Watercolours 038 they had in stock, but they were all much the same, so we agreed I’d return the threads. I contacted a number of other shops carrying Caron threads, and several of them were extremely helpful. Burford Needlecraft sent a scan of the thread they had in stock, the London Bead Company looked at several dyelots for me and described them ("this one is more lavender blue, that one is more mauve, but the mauve one has more pink"). Both, unfortunately, were not blue enough. Finally I turned to Thread Bear, and after a few very helpful emails back and forth I picked one which I will now use with the thread I already have – Impressions is a little thicker than Wildflowers, but its matte appearance should make rather an interesting contrast.

Oh, and you’ll want to know what the new Watercolours looks like, of course! It is not easy to show the difference between two threads in photographs, but I think you’ll agree the new thread is definitely less mauve and more lavender than the original. So here it is, with the other threads and fabric that will make up the anniversary sampler.

Caron 038

Variations on variations on a theme

No, my fingers didn’t have a stutter when typing the title, nor did I have an accident with copy &paste. This is about variations on Round Dozen, whose twelve designs are themselves variations on a theme.
I always intended these designs to be just the right size for coasters and cards and so on – relatively quick to stitch, suitable for birthdays, new babies, anniversaries and Thank Yous, and easy to adapt to the stitcher’s or the receiver’s taste by changing the colours.
The ease of changing the colours was an important consideration when I designed them – it was one of the reasons why I went for one neutral and one coloured thread per design (and why I suggest 2 or 3 options for each of them in the chart packs). It meant that you didn’t have to worry about getting just the right shades together, or about needing four or five shades of one colour, or anything like that. It also meant that the designs were perfect as trial pieces for hand-dyed threads; you get to see your speciality thread in action, it doesn’t take very long, and you end up with a useful, versatile and decorative piece of stitching into the bargain.
So whenever I find myself in need of birthday cards in a relatively short time, I turn to these twelve. But having stitched them all as models for Mabel’s Fancies, I don’t really want to do them exactly the same, and so over the past months I’ve tried various changes. The easiest is to change the colour – here is East using a hand-dyed perle; I also exchanged the neutral thread for an Anchor perle with metallic running through it (the original is on the left, the variation on the right).

Round Dozen variations Round Dozen variations

Another fairly uncomplicated change is to use a coloured fabric; it makes quite a difference whether you stitch Spring using green on standard white, or with a variegated yellow/pink on a dark red background.

Round Dozen variations Round Dozen variations

But for the adventurous, there are even more options. The central Kloster block diamond is exactly the same size in each of the twelve designs; the double cable stitch border surrounding it in eight of them is only a little wider than the chain stitch border that is used in the other four; quite a lot of the small satin stitch motifs are roughly the same size; and the majority of the speciality stitch outer borders are interchangeable.
So if you like the satin stitch motifs and chain stitch of West, the outer border of North, the filling stitches of Morning and only the central square left uncut; or the cutting pattern of South with the filling stitches of Night, the satin stitch motifs of Morning and the border of Spring; there’s no reason why you can’t combine them.

Round Dozen variations Round Dozen variations

And then of course you can use different types of thread – here is a hybrid Summer/South, on coloured fabric, and using Gentle Art hand-dyed wool (which Tiffany, a generous fellow member of the Cross Stitch Forum, sent me to try) instead of perle #8.
Round Dozen variations
So let your imagination run riot, try different cutting patterns or no cutting at all, use two contrasting colours instead of one colour and a neutral, stitch on hand-dyed fabric, do whatever you like – and then send me a picture!

Stitching for an occasion

Remember Lustrum?
The poor thing was intended as a celebration of our fifth wedding anniversary, but having charted it in two versions I foolishly decided to stitch the "neutral" version (without dates and initials, and with the cut areas shaped like shields instead of hearts) first; and of course the second version never happened, even though I have the hand-dyed material which I specially picked for it (from Crafty Kitten, worth a look) and the Caron threads to go with it.
The trouble is that there are so many things to stitch – and of course the latest designs usually shout loudest, winking at me with their dove’s eyes and crying "Stitch me!", "No, stitch ME!".
But things are looking up for Lustrum, as I appear to have entered a period bursting at the seams with celebrations of one kind or another (all of which need to be stitched for, of course), and one of them happens to be an anniversary. So I have blown the dust off its chart, deleted our initials and date and replaced them with the appropriate ones for this occasion, got out the fabric and threads, and …
… decided that they were quite the wrong colour. Well, after all, I’d chosen them for us, and this is a different anniversary altogether. After some thought I decided on light blue fabric with white or pearl metallics and a pale blue/pink/peach Caron thread. I’ve got the fabric and the metallics, but that particular shade of Caron I only have in Impressions, their silk/wool thread, not in the Watercolours and Wildflowers which I use for Hardanger.
There’s no help for it, I’ll have to do some stash shopping. How terrible.

The temptation of pretty threads

When I started charting, I knew exactly what I wanted Flora to be (even though it didn’t have a name at that point): a simple design (or possible two variations) that would make a quick and attractive card for various occasions, floral in look, not too challenging in its bars and fillings, and using standard perles. The idea was that beginners would be able to tackle it and produce something pretty and useful relatively quickly, without the need to splash out on speciality threads they might not use again (although I’m always happy to encourage people to experiment with different threads, of course), while more experienced stitchers could use it as a relaxing little project between larger or more challenging ones, and would probably not need to buy anything but be able to stitch it from their existing stash.
I ended up with two variations, one in purples and one in pinks, though with a slightly more difficult filling stitch than I had originally intended (spider’s web rather than square filet). I defended this decision by telling myself I’d include instructions for the square filet as well, and leave the choice to the stitcher. Otherwise, it was still very much along the lines that I’d had in mind – nothing too fussy, quick to stitch, and using only standard DMC perle cottons.
Then I looked through my box of Caron threads for a completely unrelated project, and saw these:
Flora Threads
All right, so I cheated. But then people stitching this in future may want to use speciality threads as well, and surely it is my duty to try it out for them? Well, that’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m going to stick with it!
So that was the purple version taken care of. I decided to be a good girl when stitching the pink one and got the required DMC perles from my box for when I start Flora 2 tonight. But then, as I sat at my computer, I caught sight of a picture of Tulips. It uses beaded square filets. I’ve got some lovely yellow frosted beads that would go ever so well with the yellow perle used for Flora’s filling stitches …
So Flora’s chart pack will come with a variety of instructions – standard perles and hand-dyed threads; spider’s webs and square filets (beaded or plain). And plenty of choice for the individual stitcher. Let’s hope the individual stitcher likes choice!

How a Walled Garden grows

I could also have called today’s post "From shape to name to colour", because that is very much how Walled Garden, my latest design, came into being. It all started out with a shape that kept coming to my mind – as it happened a most unsuitable shape for Hardanger, being one of those diamonds with their sides pushed in, all steeply sloping lines:

Walled Garden Mono
So I started a new canvas, put in some grey Kloster blocks and started pushing them around to see if I could create anything like that. I couldn’t, of course; the shape is just impossible to create in Kloster blocks unless you make it huge and look at it from several metres’ distance. But I managed to get a shape that I found pleasing, and which did have the four points and indented sides. I experimented a bit with which bits would be cut and which wouldn’t, what the filling stitches would be, and what sort of satin stitch shapes I’d use to embellish it. The first shapes I drew, inside the Kloster blocks, were a bit like leaves (tulip leaves perhaps?) and that suggested flowers, so flower shapes with rounded petals followed, plus some ribbony bits. I thought of adding more of the same flowers, but as I was drawing some basic Hardanger satin stitch shapes, the ones that make up a star, I noticed that if you use four in a sort of windmill pattern, they look vaguely like periwinkle flowers. Very vagueley, as they lack a petal, but close enough. Finally a border of Pekinese stitch, a bit like a fence, and I had a monochrome (well, light and dark grey) design with a strong Kloster block frame and several floral shapes. To save this version of the chart I needed a name, and it looked rather like walls and flowers, so I called it Walled Garden.
Walled Garden Mono
But a grey walled garden isn’t much fun. What if I made the "walls" brown? Preferably shaded brown, not solid … a Caron shade perhaps, like one of the two browns in Vienna … and greens of course for the leaf and ribbon shapes, and brown and green for the Pekinese "fence" … red and blue or pink and blue for the flowers; blue for the periwinkle shape of course, pink for the rounder flowers … not quite there yet; what about some yellow? The French knots and some of the filling stitches, and perhaps the centre of the periwinkles. Not botanically correct, but then it’s not a textbook … filling stitches – two colours in every cut area, like flower beds … and that was the chart done.
Walled Garden
Now for the colours. Nothing solid, but not too variegated either. Shaded colours. The dark brown from Vienna, the pink from Cross My Heart … or perhaps the red … a light blue or a dark … and what greens does Caron do? I haven’t decided on all of them yet, but that’s the next step, and a very enjoyable one so I may take some time over it!