Saturday, 19 February 2011

Threadfest Part 4 - Ribbons, Accessories and B/Ws

Here's the fourth and final part of the 'Threadfest' series. This time we're looking at embroidery ribbons, black and whites and the accessories part of my workbox.

First we take a look at my ribbon collection. It's a fairly varied assortment as, as I mentioned in my last post, ribbons can get expensive, esp. if you want to build a versatile collection. I've really just picked things up here and there. The YLI silk packs you can see at the top were either sent to me in an exchange game (that's the 3 green packs) or bought when Hobbycraft were selling them off cut price (the reds and pinks). I've used only a little of the over-dyed green. The other greens are a bit vibrant to be much use, to be honest.

The bobbins of ribbon on the left hand side, labelled 'Petals' I bought in Taiwan on our 2008 trip over there. They were a pretty decent price, so I got a fair few, but regret not getting a more fully balanced colour range. They're a semi-sheer ribbon, so like organza, but with a good depth of colour. The other packs and 'cards' you can see came mostly from stitching shows. I haven't got to use many of these yet - hardly any in fact, but they are lovely.....

This is the top right hand section of my cantilever workbox and it contains my blacks and white in many types of thread. The stranded cotton and coton a broder B/Ws are in the relevant packs as shown in the first part of this series, but most of the rest are here: pearl cottons (3 thicknesses of white at any rate), Pipers silks and Marlitt rayons.

Along with those, in the lower part of the photo, you can see a reel of 'invisible' thread (sort of a see-through plastic stuff that comes in 'black' and 'white') and four reels of DMC metallics. The top left silver one actually contains real silver! I'm a total pushover where metallics are concerned and I own more shades and types of gold thread than I'm sure can be good for one!

I hope, over the next week or so, to get the Kreiniks out of the workbox and photograph them too.=) Some are out 'on location' in the materials bag for the goldwork viola (see 'Forthcoming' Page), so I need to be careful not to mix them back in and lose the stuff I need!

Last of all the photos is the top left hand side of the workbox where I keep all my needles, scissors and various other bits and pieces. Normally, they're all squashed into the same size of area as you can see the black and white threads occupuying, but I've spread them out a little for this exercise.

On the left you can see a plethora of needles, most of which are DMC branded. There are varying sizes of tapestry, embroidery, chenille, millinery and beading needles here, as well as a pack of general sewing needles. The ones that are in current and regular use tend to be kept in my needlecase, (see 'Early Pieces' Page), but the back-up collection and things I don't need constantly are kept in here.

On the right hand side you can see some of my scissors, including the specialist petit point/hardanger pair (brown cover, 'silver' handles) and goldwork ones (grey cover, 'gold' handles). In here are also things like dressmakers' pencils, a tub of Thread Heaven (which I don't use much, it was included in an exchange parcel), and several specialist tools such as a hedebo stick, stiletto, stuffing tool and three half cone stickes. There are also a pair of snips, a thimble and two short rulers - one 6" regular one and one pink, folded type one. There appears to be some stumpwork wire in here too, so that needs re-housing!! Actually, I could use a better place for things like that, as I have some cotton moulds that I want somewhere better to keep etc. Maybe a Really Useful Box will do.

I didn't take photos of my beads and charms as quite a number of bead packs are out of the box waiting to be used in the forthcoming stumpwork and counted pieces, so that'll have to come sometime later.

I've finally finished messing around with the layout, colours, pages and photos on my blog. Those of you who haven't visited directly for some time may notice some changes. There are a total of seven new 'Pages' and the header photos have been changed in part. The sidebar gallery has also been downsized as I didn't want the same photos to appear in more than one place more than could be helped. So, anything that's been put on one of the new 'Page' displays no longer appears in the sidebar gallery or is featured in the header photos. I've also made the link colour stand out better from the regular text and de-pinked some of the purple shades which were looking too red for my liking at the mo.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Stumpwork and Ribbon Embroidery - Where Does One Start?

Apart from those searching for my blog by name, most of the searches that bring visitors here seem to be connected to stumpwork and/or ribbon embroidery. Although I'm no expert in either, I thought a post on some resources for both styles might be useful to some.

First up - STUMPWORK

By far the most common websearch enquiry I see on my Analytics stats is for stumpwork wire, so if that's brought you here, let me help you at once and say that what you need is florists', cake decoraters' or beading wire, usually 28 or 30 gauge and you should be able to get it from any shop that deals in supplies for those crafts as well as generalist stores like Hobbycraft in the UK, Michael's in the States and so on. I ordered mine from Surbiton Sugarcraft, who do packs 50 paper covered wires in green and white, which will last for a good long time. Jilly Beads also here in the UK also does a fantastic collection of wires in many colours and gauges.Those closer to it, may prefer to look at Jane Nicholas' site, where she also sells wire of this sort.  The non-covered wires are usually to be 28 gauge and paper covered ones are 30.  I bought a pack of different coloured (silver, copper, pink and blue) beading wires from a discount bookseller and a small reel of green from an art shop!  Google search and you will find a retailer near you, I'm sure!

So, I hope that helps anyone needing wires for their work. If you are here for that, please leave me a link to your blog or photo album so I can admire your pieces.=) Finding blogs and bloggers who have an active interest in stumpwork (i.e. actually do it, not just admire it) is not easy.

The question I often see asked on stitching groups etc is how best to go about learning the basics etc. Whilst many experienced stumpworkers frequently share their favourite book titles, my advice is the same here as it is with any new technique that seems rather challenging to you: Get a kit and start with that. It's best, in my opinion, to get something that will talk you through the whole process plus provide you with all the materials you need for it so that you're not having to spend a fortune or drive yourself nuts trying to track down specialist items. OK, the most common things to look for seems to be wire, as above, but there are often beads and other things needed that you may not have to hand, or have in the right size or colour. These days, many of us are on a budget and it also, frankly, works out much cheaper to get a ready-made package in and work from that than to source umpteen new items yourself. This is especially important if you want to take your first tentative steps in any given technique and are not sure you'll take it on on a large scale.  Kits also make great gifts for a friend you feel is interested and, of course, to hint about for your next anniversary present....=)

Which brings me to another point about your first project(s): Make it simple. I know most of us have done it, bought a kit or set up a project that we loved the look of and would be delighted to be able to do, only to have it honestly outface us and paralyse us at the outset. I learned from experience that it's best not to set oneself a professional level project as a first attempt! So, try a small to medium sized design that you like, but that doesn't have to be the design of your life. Leave that one until you've more skill and confidence.

What about designs in books and magazines? I think they're great for most people, especially if they have a little experience. Those who buy that style of magazine are often keen and fairly accomplished embroiderers anyway with sufficiently plentiful resources so that they don't need to buy everything from scratch. However, I would still go with the kit idea to start with (there are kits available for some book and/or mag designs). See how you like it, then have a go at something a little more challenging. After that, you may even want to move on to working one or more of your own designs, but I wouldn't recommend that as a place to start to anyone but the most confident amongst us. I would say that I've reached a fair skill level in several styles, but I still feel extra 'aware' when I'm working my own design and not as confident of the outcome.

There are a few distinct styles in contemporary stumpwork and they tend to be seen in the work of the few prominent stumpworkers the world boasts. Probably the best known would be Australia's Jane Nicholas, whose style is pretty much what I like - lots of wired flowers and insects and tending more towards realistic interpretations of nature. A totally different style is worked by the UK's Kay Dennis, who does a good deal of figurative work and loves needlelace. To the best of my limited knowledge, Ms Dennis' work seems closest to the traditional stumpwork style, creating whole pictures and including plenty of people in them.

Moving away from pure stumpwork, South Africa's Di Van Niekerk has become well-known for her combination of small, simple stumpwork elements with ribbon embroidery and Australia's Alison Cole has pioneered some stunning work combining quite realistic stumpwork with goldwork techniques and has published two books on the subject already.  (There are, of course, several others who haven't published books, but who produce kits and designs such as Kelley Aldridge, Julie Anne Designs (available at Willow Fabrics and direct from her on e-bay) and so on.)

I own books by all four of the above ladies and you'll find a wealth of interesting information, resources and kits and supplies on the sites. Clicking on any of the names will take you straight there. Knowing a little of what each artist does in the stumpwork field may help you in making a decision on whose books to buy.

Another personal favourite when it comes to books is the 'A - Z of Stumpwork' by Country Bumpkin's team. Although I can only see myself actually working one or two of the designs, (and maybe some small elements of some others), this book scores in my opinion by the almost 40 pages of step-by-step photos of the stitches, wiring and beading techniques used in raised embroidery. For a good reference work, you couldn't do better than add this title to your stitching shelf. When it comes to designs that I would be likely to work in their entirety, I'd go for Jane Nicholas' books and you can get kits of all the needed supplies through her site. I don't think I'd try working her pieces as a beginner though.

What are the main advantages of stumpwork? Well, it's an incredibly impressive style and you'll create things that will stun your friends and that you can be truly proud of. There are a range of different styles within raised work, so there's no need to feel constrained by a set method and, although kits and some materials need looking for, i.e. you won't find stumpwork kits on the shelves as easily as you'll get cross stitch or needlepoint, they can be sourced on-line, at specialist embroidery shops and also at needlework shows and fairs quite easily.

Disadvantages? It can be quite a fiddly style to work and thus also rather time consuming. It's also a fairly advanced technique and, whilst I wouldn't want to actively discourage new stitchers from having a go, it does help to have a fair background in flatwork etc. One or two of the larger beads and moulds needed for certain designs can also be a bit tricky to find.


This is something I have much less knowledge of, but it's something that brings a fair number of visitors, especially from Malaysia and the Far East. I've only worked a couple of small pieces myself and also a few small elements on band samplers etc have been in ribbon work.

Again, if you're looking for somewhere to start, I'd recommend the same place as with every new technique - get a kit and try with that first. Ribbon embroidery kits aren't that easy to find and one of the few places I know in the UK that deals with ribbon work to any great degree is Crafty Ribbons who I've met at several stitching shows and bought a few things from. The books I have on my shelf are by Ann Cox, who has a lovely style combining ribbon work, simple embroidery stitches and outside elements, such as painted backgrounds etc. Her website also sells kits and supplies. I also have a book combining quilting with ribbon work to make sweet bags etc, but that's the Chinese translation of a Japanese book and so won't be much use to many readers here!!!

Pros and cons? Pros are certainly that ribbon embroidery is effective in reproducing flowers and is very quick to work. Whereas it can take quite a while to stitch a small flower in other styles, you may need as few as 5 stitches to create a ribbon work flower complete with leaves! Like stumpwork, it's relatively seldom worked, so many people will be surprised and impressed with your creations.

Cons are really the limited repertoire - mostly flowers, limited availability of supplies and the expense involved in building up a stash. Although you can get organza ribbons at many craft places and I've bought some great bargain colour packs at fairs, generally speaking, you don't often come across silk embroidery ribbons (except on-line) and they can work out very pricey indeed, especially if you want to get a good collection. Bearing in mind that ribbon can be needed in 2mm, 4mm, 7mm or 13mm and that it uses up fairly quickly in comparison to threads, one can envisage needing a lot of colours in a lot of widths in order to have a reliable collection that will supply most needs and having to restock frequently. Still, if money is no object, or you can find a good value supplier, then this disadvantage won't matter so much.

I hope that info has been some use to folk and that the links provided are helpful as well. As I said, I'm no expert, especially not in ribbon embroidery, but as searches for both styles bring so many stitchers here, I hoped it would be of some interest.=)
All the photos on this post are from pieces worked by myself.

© Elizabeth Braun 2011

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Flowers are finally done!

Hurrah! The floral part is finally done. I did make a start on the mayfly, but it was a lot harder than it looked and, after having pulled it back out twice, I decided to move on to the fish next and come back to the fly later on!! All in all, it seems to be coming on quite well, although I still feel that much of it isn't worked well and I can quite see how inexperienced I am at getting the line of the stitches right. I do a lot of comparing angles to those in the original in order to get them something like satisfactory, but I fear I couldn't do it cold. It'd be a long time before I'd have enough skill to come up with something like this myself. Anyway, I'm not really planning to at the mo, so it doesn't matter. I don't mind working others' designs most of the time. Actually, it's a great deal less stressful and I can always adapt things more to my liking if need be. The stumpwork piece is going to be hard - especially getting all the shading in the leaves right.

Below is the current state of things on the narrowboat cross stitch. I've put the whole working frame in this time so that you can see it more in context, i.e. how much more there is to go. At this speed, it really will be a long time before this is complete. In fact, I seem to stitch at speed of snail these days!!

Next update will probably be next Sunday afternoon as has become a pattern lately. I don't get much done each week really, so it seems like once a week is about right just now.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Threadfest Part 3 - Overdyes and Metallics

Greetings on a dull, drab morning in northern England! I can't see much of the nice view from our windows today, so it's a good time to create some on-line eye candy with the next part of the threadfest series! Today I've got three photos to showcase.

This first one is what remains of my collection of Gentle Arts Sampler Threads (GAST), Weeks Dye Works (WDW) and Six Strand Sweets (SSS) after I sold a huge number of skeins prior to going to Taiwan. I just kept what I needed for certain projects and colours that I felt I could really use in the sorts of work I wanted to do - and one or two that I just like too much to let go of!! (Well, one or two for fun is fine. Boxes and boxes of un-used and probably never will use stuff is NOT!)

I really enjoy looking through this sort of thread, but I do feel that, outside of counted thread work they have limited usage. I know there are some stumpworkers, like Kay Dennis for instance, who use a lot of space-dyed threads in their work, but I feel that the effect is too random for my liking and I prefer to have more control over it as I want to produce the most realistic effect possible. Of course, sometimes, an over-dyed shade is spot on. I once used a dark green mix for some rose leaves and it came out very well indeed.

Next is another section of my workbox and this time it's the cantilever part on the other side of the box to where I keep the rayons and silks I showed you last week. Here you can see the Caron Collection threads I own (although not terribly well, I confess) and a few dozen Kreiniks. I know, I should have taken them out and showed them off to their fullest advantage, but it would have been a bit more than I feel up to this morning, so maybe another time.....

As you can see from the different label colours on the Kreiniks, there are a lot more than just blending filaments (the turquoise labelled reels on the right) here! I have quite a few very fine and fine braids, but also a fair number of cords, which are the pale pink ones on the top left. Many of the braids are also the 'cord' version as it's a smoother finish and I really like that. Most of the colours are varying shades of silver and especially gold, but also other things like browns, blacks, greens, blues and so on. Yes, one day soon I will take them out and show you the lot.

This last photo for today is really my odds and ends box with the non-Kreinik metallics collection. In the box you can see a few duplicate threads such as duplicate Anchor, (which have the only seven skeins of DMC that I own on top of them here), several skeins of #5 pearl cotton in bright white, black coton a broder and some gold very fine braid by Kreinik. There are so many of these three last mentioned threads as the black and gold were bought with a particular large blackwork project in mind and the pearls came with a New Stitches hardanger kit. Also in this box are a few Pearl Sweets skeins and part-skeins, ten of the DMC linen threads (I mean to complete that collection when practicable), some of the DMC Colour Variations threads and quite a lot of the Anchor Multi-colour skeins.

Onto the other bags etc. Here you can see a small collection of goldwork threads - mostly a thread sample selection from Dinsdales Embroideries, I think. There are also quite a number of the DMC Light Effects skeins and some skeins of Anchor metallics as well. There's a Kreinik scrap bag in the middle there, which although it contains a lot of uninspiring plain stuff, has provided the odd end of something special I needed. There are also about 6 packs of over-dyed Needle Necessities threads and a couple of packs of hand-dyed ribbon seem to have sneaked in as well, along with one complete and one 'left-overs' Victoria Sampler Accessory Pack.

Hope this has given you some nice eye candy for the weekend.=)

My cross stitch is coming on OK - no more mix ups thus far, but I realise that I really must get on with the other things as well or else they'll never get finished and I don't want another 'dog' scenario where the embroidery in question got neglected for so long that the finished item was over 3 years late!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Not my fault! (For a change!)

Don't you just love it when two colours on the chart key are mixed up and so you end up putting them into your design the wrong way around? I was a bit suspicious when I started putting deep blue into the hull of the narrowboat, especially when it was matched with grey. However, when I was directed to put grey in as the deepest shade in the water, I thought, 'There really must be a mistake in this chart!'

So, I went off to find the actual magazine that I'd scanned the design from before we went away August 2009, and, sure enough, the colours are the wrong way around in the key! The magazine photo clearly shows the hull in three shades of grey and a distinctly blue shade in the water. Out came the all the relevant stitches and then back in in the right colour!!

From this

Through this

To this

And a bit more now as I've put some of the correct water in as well.

It's bad enough when you mess up and have to frog through your own carelessness, but this was a real pain! Oh well, it's corrected now.... [Rolls eyes]

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Weekly WIP Posting

So, here's the current status on my two active WIPs as of about 20 minutes ago when I took the pictures:

As you can see, I've finished the triplet of flowers I was working on (the lower lilac coloured ones) and re-drawn in some other parts that had either faded or got missed when I was initially tracing the design, i.e. one of the flowers and the mayfly in the upper left hand section. I hope to get the final water violet triplet done this week and the mayfly as well, then there'll only be the fish and a few stitches to suggest water etc left.=) I don't mind just doing a small part of it then moving straight on to something more relaxing. It's working quite well and I hope to get all my 3 freestyle WIPs finished this way.

This is what our narrowboat looks like at the mo. Not coming on at any great speed, as you can see, but I am enjoying working it. I think it'll take me months to complete it, to be honest, as it's such a bitty design, with a few stitches here, then a colour change, then another few stitches. You can only do so much of one colour without risking going badly wrong - which I already did (as mentioned last post!).

More on these next Sunday, all being well and now I'm going to update my Booklist and current studies pages on the Fluff.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Threadfest Part 2 - Silks and Rayons

Hurrah! I put a flower in on the Water Violets design today! That's the first time I've worked on it for about a month! I must be feeling good.=) I've also re-started my viola practice and have done about an hour of noise pollution creation throughout the day. Some was quite hard, but I can feel it coming back and getting a little bit easier as I keep on with it. There's hope yet, see?

I won't post photos of my current WIPs until the weekend (Sunday, most probably), but here's part two of the threadfest series.

I keep some of my silks (Pipers, as used by the illustrious Helen M Stevens) and the whole of the Anchor Marlitt rayon collections in my wooden workbox. I took this photo of them, then realised that it as much hid as showed them off - rather like the stranded cottons packaging from last time, but everyone knows what they look like, right?=)

So, I just took this one instead. Sorry about the flash bleaching out part of the pack of green silk cops, but the light wasn't good enough to take a semi-decent shot without flash. Should have taken them out of the packs, I suppose.

The Pipers colours you see here are the Project Palette I bought from Ms Stevens' website a few years ago. I have used them on two projects, DH's 10th anniversary card and the waterlily in Luke's Damselfly, part of our gift to an old friend on his wedding. Other than that, I haven't really touched them much. The rayons have had even less airtime, if I'm honest. They were used for the dragonfly and goldfish (one of my current blog header photos) on the Ornamental Pool I did for MIL's 20th wedding present, and I did start to use them for a City & Guilds peacock feather sample (which I never finished, but plan to at some point).

You might notice that there are no blacks, whites or greys here. That's 'cos I have a special section for those and that'll form part of another post.

I also have the complete collection of Madeira stranded silks, which I keep in one of the boxes in the blue workbox. I've pulled out two skeins at random to give an idea here. Putting these all out so all the shades could be seen was beyond my patience level!! If I had done that, well, I really ought to have used the time and energy for something more important!!!!=) You can see 8 skeins of regular Eterna-silks, getting steadily more scuffed over the years and crying out for a little bag of their own (note to self - see to this!) and two small bags of over-dyed Eterna-silk which were sent to me as part of an exchange parcel. I certainly got some great things through those games, I rather miss them. Most of my partners were American ladies who were charmed with any British items and didn't mind that I couldn't spend a mint on them, but they always seemed to send me a small fortune's worth of stuff. Still, I know many of the things cost about half the UK price....

I haven't used these much more than the above threads. They featured a little on Luke's Damselfly and are used more extensively on this card which features a couple of Helen M Stevens design elements. Anyone familiar with her work will recognise the style at once. However, these threads aren't totally neglected as they're out 'on location' for the Blackberry Stumpwork manicure pouch project. More on that one in the weeks to come.