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Friday, October 28, 2011


My second recovery-from-smocking-binge embroidery project was the Kokeshi spectacle case from Inspirations Magazine 71. I must say I feel very pleased with myself for finishing two projects from this issue before Issue 72 arrived!

I already have a spectacle case I made years ago from a kit I bought my mother not long before she died. I stopped using it for a while in the face of arguments for solid cases from staff at my optometrist's, but I find it very convenient. It has a cardboard insert in the lining which provides some protection, but affects the look and feel of the case.

The Kokeshi project uses blanketing - a fabric I haven't embroidered before, although I have a single bed size piece waiting for me in my stash and an idea that's been brewing for about 3 years. I thought the spectacle case would be a good introduction - and I was right.

The very first realisation I had, was the difficulty of marking and maintaining the design on blanketing. Not impossible to mark, but I understand why the designer recommends using a stabiliser to hold the design. I have used stabiliser before ( I used Solvi) and although it works and is OK to use, it isn't my favourite way of working. It encourages me to work quickly, however, because I find it hardens in the air. It softens again as you hold it, but it is a barrier between me and the fabric that I'd rather do without.

The second challenge was needle-felting, something I hadn't tried. I bought a needle-felting tool kit hoping I might also use it with the blanket project. Felting was fun, so my hopes might be realised.
You place the blanketing on the brush and a small piece of roving (combed but unspun wool) on the blanketing and then pound it in with the needle tool.

It's fun to do and you can vary the effect by the thickness of the roving you apply.

It looks amazing on the underside.

The embroidery was mostly long and short, satin and split stitch in a combination of fine wool and DMC stranded cotton. There were 17 different threads - a lot of shades and colours that worked beautifully together. It was quite fine work - the cotton mostly stitched with a single thread.

The main problem was keeping my tension even and loose enough with the thick blanketing and the fine thread - especially hard when working on very small sections, such as the umbrella.
I like projects that are as varied as this. Making up was a matter of stitching the back and front together, then stitching the silk lining back and front together, inserting the lining, topstitching the opening edge and then beading around the seams. I find the variation of these small tasks very satisfying and soothing. There is a lot of incentive to finish each task and the time demands are not difficult to meet.

I am also going to use the finished product. I have several pair of spectacles and find soft spectacle cases easier to use. This one is sufficiently thick to provide some protection, without resorting to cardboard in the lining. It feels lovely to hold.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Garnet Bag

After my recent smocking binge I treated myself to a couple of short embroidery projects. The first was a redworked linen bag from Inspirations Magazine 71.

The design is based on a pin pillow design by Margaret Light. I attended Margaret's workshop for the pin pillow at Beating Around the Bush 2009 and really enjoyed the project.

 The Garnet Bag is designed by Anna Scott and uses every imaginable variety of chain stitch, some of which I had never tried. I very much enjoyed using them.

The thread is a lovely rich, deep red perle - great to work with and a good variation of stitches.

The main stem is in heavy chainstitch - one chain overlapping on top of another - very effective. The big leaves are outlined in double chain stitch - worked like a closed feather stitch.

The veins of the big leaves are wheatear stitch and fly stitch.

The centre is filled with Ghiordes knots - really effective and requiring care to sustain over what is a fairly large area.

Again, this is a project designed to sustain the stitcher's interest - enough of each stitch to get a bit of practice and see how the stitch works, but not so much that you get bored with repetition. It was fun to see how many variations there might be on simple chain stitch.
I'd have liked clearer labelling of the bits of the design. It wasn't always easy to work out which 'upper' or 'lower' flower was referred to or which was the 'sepal'.

Making up the bag was a little tricky. I found attaching the handles  awkward as the tabs holding the handles were very close to the top of the bag and there wasn't a lot of room to manoeuvre, even using a zipper foot. I need to practice.

I also added some elastic in the top edge of the sides as I thought it gaped a little when empty.

The result is a little crooked at the top, but not enough to stop the bag being used. It looks like a handmade bag - but quite a nice one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Smocking up a Storm - A bit of a stretch

This is another kit I bought a while back at a discounted price, thinking it would one day work for one of my twin granddaughters. It is 'Sweet, Sweet Rose' from AS&E 71, designed for sizes 2- 6 and the kit was for size 4. As the girls approached four years old, I couldn't quite see it on either of them - although it would be highly desirable to both. The colour seemed more suited to Brigid, who is 8. She liked it, so I decided to have a go at adjusting it to fit her. There seemed to be enough fabric to cover the measurements for a six year old, so I set about making it stretch a bit further.

It was interesting to smock.  It is 24 rows of pleats and you smock the back in diagonal rows right across.
This gives  lovely textured effect on the front, and you smock along every fourth textured diagonal row on the front in pale green. These become the guidelines for embroidering bullion roses - nearly two hundred of them.


Once it was smocked I managed to block it to a size 8 pattern for a dress in a similar style. There was just enough fabric to cut it to a size 8. The fact it has a contrasting border around the bottom helped.                        
Then the embroidery began. 186 bullion roses in all and around twice as many bullion leaves.

Fortunately, it is a very portable project. Once you've done one rose and a pair of leaves there is nothing much to remember or look up.  A couple of my roses are out of line. I considered undoing them, but in the end went with the Persian rug principle that only God is perfect, so the imperfections honour Her.

I decided against the Peter Pan collar for an eight year old.

I didn't have quite enough of the stripey border fabric for the sleeve cuffs, so a visit to Hetty's Patch resulted in the purchase of a remnant of a similar stripe - same colour, slightly narrower. Of course, the remnant was more than I needed so I now need to make something else......

I had quite a lot of trouble getting the hem reasonably straight. The border is cut on the bias and has some lycra in it, I suspect, making it difficult to keep flat. In the end I was sufficiently satisfied with the result to hand it over.

Brigid was happy and has worn it a lot, including helping out at the Church Garage Sale.



Friday, October 14, 2011

Han Phoenix Box

A few weeks ago I received an unexpected present - a gift certificate to use at Christina's Crafts and Gifts on Prospect Road. I had a lot of fun deciding what to buy and decided to use the opportunity to buy some silk threads to embroider the Han Phoenix at the end of Monica Ferris's book, Thai Die

I had a lovely time at the shop looking at threads and driving the staff nuts looking up equivalence charts. The pattern is designed for Kreinik and Gloriana threads - not so easily come by in Adelaide. What I should have done before I left home was google "Han Phoenix", since I now know the designer, Denise Williams, has posted DMC equivalents to the Web! As it is, I came home with a fabulous pile of threads - silks for the phoenix, and also some acrylics to add to my stash of threads for embroidering Australian wildflowers in the Brazilian style.

The thread colour markings on the Han Phoenix pattern were not very clear, so the colours turned out to be a exercise in creativity. I read a bit about the phoenix in various cultures and tried to capture the gold-red tradition as well as a bit of the blue tradition since these were all reflected in the names of the recommended Kreinik/Gloriana threads.

I used the recommended white 28 count linen, since I still have a supply from my mother's stash. I gridded it up to give myself as much help as possible. I also tried out a little bit of acrylic thread because of the vibrant colour, but quickly reverted to silk!

In the end I used mostly Madiera silks, with a couple of Gumnut Buds and a lovely purple/blue/green variegated hand-dyed silk that came as a gift from The Gift of Stitching.

Once I got into the swing of it I became addicted and found it hard to put down. A couple of midnights found me still stitching.
I really love this design. It is so elegant, poised and flowing.Each stitch is over two threads, but around the edges there are some tiny one thread stitches that give the effect of feathers.

As I stitched I pondered what to do with the finished piece. I had thought, of course, of making a bag, but part way through remembered a box (well, several boxes, actually) I had bought a couple of years ago with lids to be embroidered.

I dug out the box I had in mind and it was the perfect size. This spurred me on even more. 

When I had finished the assigned stitches I went back over it and added a few tiny stitches to integrate the blue and red amongst the gold.

I did a temporary lashing of the piece as soon as I finished - I really wanted to see what it looked like before I went to bed. The next morning I undid it, trimmed the threads at the back, cut a piece of wadding more accurately and re-lashed it carefully to keep it straight.

I decided to visit Hetty's Patch and check out their hand-dyed felt for the inside base. This comes in fat quarters - so of course, I now have extra felt to use on something else! 

It is a lovely warm colour and worthy of the phoenix! Maybe I'll keep my amber necklaces in the box. 

I'm delighted with the result. Many thanks to Anita for the gift certificate - as well as the designer and all who helped along the way.

This is a finished product I will be using.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Smocking up a Storm - skirt 2

I promised Niamh a skirt like her sister's. As it is a quick and enjoyable project, I thought I'd do it sooner rather than later.
I had enough of a bright fabric with cherries on it, so I pleated it up and chose some thread.

This time I stitched the top panels for the front and back together and pleated the whole piece, rather than smocking them separately as suggested in the pattern. This is neater and I prefer smocking the long rows .

It worked really well.

Again, my efforts to find a suitable blue tshirt failed and I ended up with a reddish-pink one.

It is such a great pattern - a real pleasure to sew and a hit with 4 year-olds!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Smocking up a storm - skirt

Deciding to smock "Babe" for Niamh, a dress her sister already has, left me with a bit of a dilemma. What could I make for Veronica that wouldn't lock me into a difficult 'catch up' cycle? I had a kit for Sweet, Sweet, Rose (AS&E 71) but decided that while it might be desirable to both twins, it wasn't a great match for either.
In the end I came up with a skirt, using the pattern " Modern Girl" from AS&E 71. If it proves popular, and Niamh wants one too, it is fairly quick to make another one.

I chose a piece of fabric from my stash, purchased from a One Stop Fabric Shop sale. It is a bright, animal print with words of animal sounds.

It is a great pattern, deeply smocked in a zigzag around the hips, with a gathered tier added below and a simple elastic casing waist.

I decided against ric-rac around the hem. The fabric is bright in itself and it seemed wrong to cover up the fabric.

I intended to get a blue or yellow Tshirt top but couldn't find the either colour with the right intensity, so settled for a red one.

I'm glad I went for simplicity. Veronica really likes the skirt and I have promised to make one for Niamh too!