Back to basics, and back to tradition

Could you do without stitching? I would definitely feel a little deprived not to have my lovely, colourful, relaxing hobby, and fortunately it is not a question I really need to ask myself. It is one of the many things in my life that seem either an essential part of me, or too obvious to need any thought. Of course there is always a bit of needlework ready for me to pick up when I feel like it. And of course there is always a cup of tea to sip (often with a little something to nibble, too) whenever I want it. But last weekend I learnt that it is possible to do without an awful lot of things which once seemed essential or obvious, when I joined eight teenagers and four adults in our church’s Slum Survivor challenge. It’s remarkable, but you don’t really miss your stitching when most of your time is taken up by building a slum dwelling to live in, doing jobs to earn money, getting water, keeping warm, and trying to make something palatable for your family out of rice and lentils when all you have to add to it is a little garlic powder (no salt!)

We were lucky. After two nights we could go home, have a hot shower and any food and drink we liked, and look forward to a nice, warm, comfortable bed. Many millions can’t. The experience helped us all to look a bit more closely at what is essential to us and what we could do without in order to help others, and to appreciate all the more those wonderful non-essentials that make life so pleasant.

As for going back to tradition, this is about a design I finished some time ago. You could say that Wedgwood goes back to two different traditions. Its use of only one thread colour harks back to Hardanger’s origins when the Norwegian women of the region used only the white or cream threads they spun themselves, while the coloured fabrics echo the English pottery that the designs were named after. But what I especially like is the use of three thicknesses of one colour in these designs – the different ways in which they catch the light when you look at them at an angle is evidence that you do not need lots of colours to provide variation.

Wedgwood 1 Wedgwood 2

Does this mean that from now on I will forswear my lovely hand-dyed and other coloured threads, or beads, or other colourful additions? Uhm, no, as this sneak preview of Treasure Trove (finished! finally finally finished!) clearly shows smiley.

Treasure Trove finally completed

Chocolate, a dress, and a golden idea

Oh dear – a Knitting & Stitching Show, some worrying family news and a severe cold and before you know it there hasn’t been a FoF for two weeks. Time for a few musings, however brief!

Let’s start with the Spring K&S Show, which like the autumn one at Alexandra Palace makes a great excuse for a few days in London, catching up with my sister-in-law, the odd friend, and London’s parks. You people who live in London, do you appreciate those parks enough? They are wonderful! Well, as my visit coincided with some gorgeous spring weather, there were plenty of people out there appreciating and enjoying them, especially in St James’ Park, which to my delighted surprise had some pelicans again, as well as swathes of colourful flower beds. Is it any wonder that embroiderers throughout history have tried to capture flowers in all their cheerful gorgeousness using threads, ribbons, yarns and what not?

The Show didn’t have that many needlework threads, unfortunately – the emphasis was definitely on dressmaking, quilting/patchwork and knitting/crochet, and home furnishing. But I did catch up with Mr X Stitch who had a wonderful display there, much of it created by young stitchers; and there were … chocolates! A bit dangerous, you would have thought. The last thing stitchers want anywhere near their projects is chocolate. On the other hand, after the umpteenth unpick, or a particularly tense bit of cutting, suddenly chocolate is beginning to look like an essential stitching accessory! And the truffle selection also made a very useful thank-you to my sister-in-law for having me to stay.

Did I mention there were a lot of dressmaking stalls? Well, some of them specialised in vintage dresses. And as it happens, my husband’s birthday present to me this year is a 1930s dress to go with our little vintage car. Strictly speaking it should be a 1920s dress, but I’m afraid I am simply not a 1920s shape (was anyone ever? I mean, naturally, without the aid of corsets?). And after all, who’s to say that a lady might not have bought a new dress when the car was seven years old? I got some really nice ideas from the vintage patterns that were for sale and the lovely fabrics available, so this summer when we have a week of vintage car activities I hope to be able to dress the part; all I need to do now is work out what sort of hat they’d have worn in 1932 or thereabouts.

Another thing I need to work out is whether to add more gold to Treasure Trove. Apart from the last bit of border all the surface work is now done, so just the cutting and then the bars and beaded filling stitches and it’ll be done according to the chart. But I’m thinking it may need a bit more goldwork. At the moment it’s got the four padded gold kid medallions, and some gold-coloured beads and perhaps that’s enough. But in my stash I have some lovely gold and silver wire with what I think is the best name for a needlework material – pearl purl. You couldn’t make it up smiley.

I first got to use it at a RSN goldwork workshop that I attended at the 2012 Ally Pally show, where we worked a lovely 3D dragonfly. Pearl purl is the stuff used for the top wings, and its tail (or body). It’s a very tightly coiled wire which you pull ever so slightly and then couch down (only partially in the case of the body). I liked it so much I bought some at one of the goldwork stalls, but I’ve not had a good excuse to use it since. Those slightly empty-looking bits of Treasure Trove might be just the excuse I was looking for!

A goldwork dragonfly done at the 2012 K&S

Sore fingers, two Jessicas and a new gadget

More – slow – progress on Treasure Trove (I work on it mostly at my Monday afternoon stitching group) and I have learnt something new: leather is tough! Even lovely soft pliable kid. And as I have never been able to work with a thimble, my fingers got pretty sore; at one point I almost succeeded in giving myself a finger piercing. Perhaps I should have put a little silver stud in it and started a trend…

Anyway, I have now attached all the gold kid, and it looks very pretty and shiny and padded. Next step: embellish the gold roundels with a border of Jessica stitch. Now many instructions for this stitch (for example in Papillon’s Around the World SAL) end with the final stitches lying on top of the first stitches, but that grates with my symmetry obsession. To look the same all the way round, the last stitches need to be taken underneath the first ones! Having settled that, I worked the first of the Jessica borders, in perle #8. It looked rather chunky. I liked it, but I did wonder whether perle #12 would look better. I decided to do the next one in #12, and then unpick the one I liked least. Unfortunately perle #12 doesn’t come in nearly so many colours as perle #8, so I had to use a darker shade, but at least I could find one that would fit in. And here they are, #8 on the left, #12 on the right:

Jessics stitch worked in perle #8 Jessics stitch worked in perle #12

I like the lacier look of the #12, but it turned out to look too dark after all, and I didn’t like the gold showing through quite so clearly. I will use perle #12 Jessicas in future designs, I’m sure, but here I’m going with the original #8. (One lady at the stitching group suggested doing two in #8, and two in #12, placed diagonally; it would still have symmetry but would use both styles. Clever, but I went with the safer option of having them all the same.)

On a completely different subject, my husband gets these tool catalogues which he peruses with the same enthusiasm which I would accord a hand-dyed thread catalogue with coloured pictures, and occasionally he finds something weird and wonderful for 35p which he simply can’t resist. Sometimes he shares these treasured finds with me, so I am now the proud owner of a pair of magnifying tweezers. I haven’t used them yet, but they do actually look as though they could come in quite handy in Hardanger!

Magnifying tweezers Magnifying tweezers

Putting things together and building things up

Not too much stitching this week, but a lot of preparation – I’ve been putting the kits together for the Knitting & Stitching Show workshop next month (there are still some tickets available), and getting some more card and felt for the Dunchurch workshop in June. For the pink floral card I can’t quite decide whether it looks better with the baby pink or the bright fuchsia felt! By the way, did you notice the small coloured rings that hold the threads for the K&S kits? They were an unsuccessful attempt at finding a replacement for my light wooden storage rings; unfortunately they were far too small to store full skeins of perle on, but they turned out to be just the right size to hold the threads for one Hardanger patch – and they look bright and cheerful into the bargain.

Putting together the workshop kits Card and felt for the Dunchurch workshop kits

Another thing that needed some preparation and putting together was Treasure Trove. I’ve done a fair bit of the surface stitching (just half the border to go) so it was time to start on the goldwork. For this I needed 4 tiny yellow felt circles, 4 slightly larger yellow felt circles, and four gold kid octagons. After some deliberation I decided on 8mm and 14mm for the felt circles; the gold octagons would be cut from 2cm squares. I measured everything carefully, cut it all, and then panicked – surely these minute bits of felt and kid couldn’t possibly be the right size? But fitting them to the running stitch outlines I had previously worked as a guide, they were just right. I could see I was in for some very fiddly stitching, securing first the smallest circle, and then the larger one covering it, both accurately centred inside the running stitch outline.

Gold kid and felt cut to size for Treasure Trove

As it looked like the sort of stitching that would need fierce concentration, I decided to do it at my very chatty and distracting stitching group. Apart from one knot-and-loop at the back of my work which I noticed too late (and subsequently secured behind previous stitching rather than unpick the whole thing) it all went remarkably smoothly, and I ended the session with what one of my fellow stitchers called “four felt blobs”. She obviously wasn’t altogether sure whether anything else was going to happen to them, but I reassured her that the rather garish yellow blobs would in fact be covered in tasteful antique gold. I would have started on it there if it hadn’t been for the fact that I forgot to bring a sharp needle, and my size 28 tapestry needle simply refused to go through the kid!

Two layers of felt built up, waiting for the gold

So just a little bit more to do on Treasure Trove – and then I need to stitch the blue-and-silver version…

Chart packs on CD and an end to neglect

To begin with the latter, I have finally started Treasure Trove – yay! I’ve done the central part (apart from the cutting) and all the beading, which looks quite different but fortunately actually better than I had envisaged it. In the design there are bead motifs which have come out much denser-looking that I thought (it’s difficult to keep remembering that charted beads on paper are smaller than actual beads on fabric), and clusters of four beads which, as I was stitching them, I feared would be too bulky for where they were in the design. But the motifs actually look rather attractive with the dense coverage, and the clusters form a pleasing X shape which I hadn’t foreseen. It’s very satisfying when a design does that smiley. Next step is to decide exactly what size to cut the metallic kid and the felt used for padding it.

Beading detail of Treasure Trove

So what about those CD chart packs? As Mabel’s Fancies doesn’t offer printed chart packs (not as a standard option anyway) wouldn’t it be much easier just to send the PDF chart packs by email as we do now? Why add the complication of a physical CD? Good point, and in fact the CDs are not intended to be sent out by post; the idea is that when I teach workshops or do exhibitions or things like that, I can put out a selection of these chart-packs-on-CD for people who would like to try a design at home.

So far so good. But how to put them together? I had some plastic sleeves which I thought would work, with an insert like the photographs I stick on the front of the Mini Kits, only square. One problem with that soon became apparent – the inserts need to be a little over 12cm square, so you’d have to go for 5″x7″ photographs and cut them to size; but that gets quite expensive. So how about 4″x6″ photographs cut square and then stuck onto some coloured paper, like these origami squares? Unfortunately 11.7cm would still leave quite a gap, and the next size up is too big. Time for Plan C. Why not use those paper CD sleeves with a circular window in them? A 4″x6″ photograph, cut down to a little under 5″ high and inserted in front of the CD, would fill the entire aperture. One snag. As you can see below, the window doesn’t show the whole cover picture. This looks a bit sloppy.

Materials for the CD chart packs as originally intended The new paper sleeves

The long-term solution is rejigging the cover pictures so that they fit a 10cm round aperture; so I had a play with the template and managed to squeeze everything into a circle. That doesn’t solve the short-term problem of the 25 covers I had printed already, but having tried a few approaches the best one is probably to stick the trimmed pictures to the sleeves so they cover the window. Not the most elegant solution, but better looking than the partly-obscured square-picture-behind-circular-aperture option. And for any future CD chart packs, I’ll use the new circular cover pictures!

The rejigged cover Perhaps sticking them to the front is better?

A neglected Treasure Trove

Remember the materials below?

Materials for the red/gold version Materials for the blue/silver version

They’ve had a change or two, but they are pretty much what is needed to stitch Treasure Trove in two colourways. Treasure Trove was meant to be my next project – something a little larger after all those Floral Lace models, with the added spur of trying something new: padded gold or silver kid with a border of Jessica stitch. All very enticing. But somehow I keep putting it off with all manner of excuses. We had a new carpet put in the living / dining room last week, with all the upheaval that entails, so it seemed sensible to start something that I could work in a hand-held hoop; Treasure Trove will need to be held in my Lowery stand, so I picked one of the three Wedgwood designs.

Wedgwood 1, on blue

And now that I’ve done the first of the set of three, well, it makes sense to do the other two before starting something new, doesn’t it? And so Treasure Trove languishes. Don’t worry though, it will get stitched eventually – because I am looking forward to trying that lovely soft metallic kid.

Choices, choices

Last Monday I went to my weekly Embroidery Circle (although Stitch & Chat would probably be more accurate), and I’d taken October to finish. That wasn’t going to take the full two hours, however, in spite of the usual amount of chatting, so I also took a couple of bits of fabric and a selection of threads to do a few freebie stars in different colours. But when I got round to them, could I find my chart? No, I couldn’t. (The mysterious thing is that it wasn’t in my chart folder at home either; did my husband go off with it for a bit of stitch therapy in the garage?) Never mind, they are quite simple designs after all so surely I could do them without a chart. Well, I could – but I couldn’t quite remember how the pointed bits went. There were two obvious ways, and as it turned out I picked the one I hadn’t originally charted. It also turned out I actually prefer the way I did them at the stitching group! So I re-charted them, and here are the new-look stars. Don’t worry if you downloaded the original charts and can’t see the difference, it’s really very small smiley.

Freebie Star 1 Freebie Star 2

That choice was hardly a choice at all seeing that the two alternatives were so alike; merely a vague preference for one pointed shape over another. But I am still working my way through a more difficult choice: which variation of Treasure Trove to do. I’ve been doing lots of small designs recently, so I thought it was time for a slightly larger one, and Treasure Trove has been calling me for a while because it contains a few firsts for me – my first use of Jessica stitch (which I work a little differently from most people), and my first use of metallic kid. That’s leather, not spray-painted off-spring, by the way. In fact, the Jessica stitch will be used to frame the padded leather.

I charted the design in two colourways: red/gold and blue/silver. And as I was getting the materials together, I realised I liked them both equally! The pictures below aren’t quite accurate, by the way – I charted the light blue as DMC 799 only to find that I don’t actually have that in my stash… Also, I am not entirely happy with the red and blue beads; they need to match the dark shade in the design, and it’s very difficult to work out from online pictures which beads do. I have a conversion list which gives DMC equivalents for Mill Hill beads, but it isn’t always as accurate as I would like. So I’ve packed two bobbins of DMC stranded cotton to take to London later this week, when I’ll be able to see various brands of beads at the Knitting & Stitching Show and compare them with the the DMC colours side by side. Choice postponed.

Materials for the red/gold version Materials for the blue/silver version

Remember the Round Dozen Hybrid charts? Purely for my own amusement (don’t expect them for sale on the website) I’ve charted the Systematic Mix & Match Round Dozen. It consists of a basic chart with four “sub-charts” that you use to fill in the gaps in the basic chart, if that makes sense. So the basic chart has four empty triangles – go to the corner motif sub-chart and choose one; the basic chart has a border of empty squares – go to the border sub-chart and pick a border stitch. And so on. How’s that for choices!

Round Dozen Mix & Match basic outline Round Dozen Mix & Match borders and uncut fillings Round Dozen Mix & Match corner motifs Round Dozen Mix & Match cut area Round Dozen Mix & Match bars and filling stitches

Incidentally if you don’t like cutting you could leave some of the variations uncut – you might want to add a little embellishment to what would otherwise be cut, but I think it looks quite effective as it is. As a matter of fact I did eventually do the cutting on this one, but it took some time to decide what the filling stitch was going to be…

An uncut Round Dozen variation