Friday, September 11, 2015

A High-Flying End to Summer :)

I've always been a Disney girl, and Mary Poppins is one of my all-time favourite movies! I don't usually enjoy musicals, but the many catchy songs of this one have stayed with me over the years: "A Spoonful of Sugar", "Feed The Birds", "Chim Chim Cheree" and, of course, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". During this project, it was the grand finale of "Let's Go Fly a Kite" that keep running around in my head ;)

Let's go fly a kite
Up to the highest height
Let's go fly a kite
And send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let's go
Fly a kite!

(you can read the full lyrics here)

And you may see why I can't seem to get that uplifting ditty off of my mind lately:

This little trio of kites started off as a sort of test project. Thanks to The Great Stitchy Karma Gods, I recently thrifted an interesting book called the Anchor Complete Embroidery Course by Christina Marsh. Mine is the original hardcover edition published in the UK in 1998 by David & Charles (no longer in business).

When looking for some information on the author, I learned that it was re-published in 2003, in a paperback, as The Beginner's Guide to Freestyle Embroidery. Also, according to Marsh's Author Page on Amazon, she wrote six themed cross-stitch design collections. Unfortunately, other than that, information is scarce.

This is a great book for absolute beginners to embroidery! Unlike most books, which are usually either stitch dictionaries or project books, this is indeed a "course" that starts with the simplest stitches and gradually builds in complexity and skill level.

It starts with basics, with advice on choosing materials and how to thread a needle:

And extensive information about patterns - how to read them, how to transfer them, how to resize them - and also directions for learning to read from a chart, since there are a few simple but attractive counted projects worked on Aida cloth.

There are interesting ideas for simple finishing methods right at the start...

...and then comes the first Chapter, Just Five Stitches - Backstitch, French Knot, Lazy Daisy (Detached Chain Stitch), Satin Stitch and Blanket Stitch - which is a bit of an unusual selection. I would have put Stem Stitch in place of Satin and Chain Stitch in place of Blanket, but it works. This is the first project, easy and cute:

And then comes five Chapters, with six stitches each grouped by function (Stems and Outlines, Knots and Dots, Chains and Loops, Solid and Open Fillings and Borders and Bands), for a total of 30 stitches (35 counting the 5 foundational stitches).

All of the stitch diagrams are large, clear and super easy to follow:

Each chapter has several projects at different skill levels, and the projects only use those 6 section stitches, plus the 5 Foundation Stitches.

So this neat pincushion from Chapter 2 uses only Stem and Outline stitches:

However, the idea could easily be adapted to include other stitches :)

The final chapter - Mix and Match - shows some designs with stitches from several chapter "sets". These are not necessarily the largest in the book either. In fact, my favourite is this very small Holly design that is shown stitched with three different levels of complexity, from simple outline to advanced full filling:

It is worth noting that all the patterns are only one diagram with a medium thick black outline, which serves as the transfer you copy as well as the stitching guide:

Since most of the designs are on the smaller side, this works mostly okay, but for large projects like this gorgeous goldwork floral - which reminds me of pretty blue-and-white china - it might be a bit tricky! Keeping the glossy pages flat is hard.

Another of my favourite projects is this quirky and fun Fireworks Display cityscape:

One blogger actually put the Fireworks idea to a great use on a landscape quilt! The round white firecracker is made with an intriguing stitch called a Danish Knot, which I hadn't come across before now and am hoping to try soon :)

The "showpiece" project of the book is from the same Chapter, Knots and Dots(3):

Called the Medieval Strawberry Sampler, this is a colourful and open translation of historial crewelwork, which was stitched much more densely with wool.

But my favourite project by far is this beautiful Summer Bouquet (Chapter 4):

I absolutely LOVE the pink ribbon tie! This project was the whole reason I bought the book and it was what I intended to stitch first - then I fell for the adorable kites:

This trio of kites is called High Fliers and is Project 2 in Chapter 2. I stitched it pretty much as written, although I did make a few changes as I went along ;)

Instead of my usual iron-on transfer methods, this time I traced the design directly from the book! I used the white Nonce Marking Pencil, and it worked wonderfully - the lines are visible but subtle and they did not smudge or fade at all while stitching.

This pencil is designed for marking on dark fabrics, and although it is water soluble, I didn't see any need to wash the work since the embroidery covered the lines well.

The lead is not like an ordinary colouring pencil - it's slightly waxy, and it traced a pretty fine and clear line with only light pressure. It's a very convenient, inexpensive tool and I'm really looking forward to experimenting with it more!

The fabric is my favourite sky blue 100% cotton :)

I started stitching with the lovely DMC PC #8 I recently used for my Happy Bluebird:

However, the stitches were too skinny compared to the project design, which uses all six strands of Anchor floss in the needle at once. I needed something a bit chunkier, so I took out what I had stitched (I had already removed some in this photo).

I found it quicker to cut right through the loops, and use the needle to lift up the short pieces. Although this wastes thread, it does help reduce strain on the fabric:

Then I remembered the Prism craft threads I last used for my Floral Umbrella, which was fully embroidered. I was interested in seeing how these threads would work for simple outline stitching, so I chose some pretty pastels from the "Sweets" collection:

This particular thread isn't mercerized so it's more fragile than other craft threads on the market. This is what gives it the lovely vintage look, and it's like a thicker single-stranded version of the matte Flower Thread flosses that used to be on the market.

I'm happy to report that it works great for outline stitching - much better than it does for heavy embroidery like my Floral Umbrella! For beginners especially, I would consider this a specialty thread, akin to working with metallic flosses in cross-stitch.

Just like metallics, it helps to use shorter lengths and you need to trim the ends often as they are prone to fraying, which makes the thread more likely to knot and tangle.

I had tons of fun stitching these kites! But I did change the stitches up just a little ;) I used the recommended Stem Stitch and Backstitch, and learned the Coral Knot for the tails and Whipped Running Stitch from the chapter diagrams. Instead of Couching, I used Whipped Backstitch and I added some ties to the kite tails using Lazy Daisy (Detached Chain Stitch), French Knots, Straight Stitch and Cross Stitch.

And since the kites looked a little bare, I added some quick fillings with French Knot polka dots, Oblong Cross Stitch, Double Seed Stitch and Seed Stitch :)

Here's a close-up of the fillings and the kite tails:

The chunky texture of the thread gave the stitches a wonderful lofty lift:

Finally, I decided my trio of kites needed some company, so I added some whimsical floofy clouds with Whipped Backstitch! This gave me the sunny sky feeling I wanted.

I just free-handed the designs, and although I was worried at first that they were too wonky, I've come to like them :) Although I love the funky, folksy look of simple outline embroidery, I find it very difficult to step back and stop trying to "finish" it off into something more complex. The imperfections are all part of the charm, and while I know that, it's hard to put that into practice.

Following Mary Poppins, rather than thinking about these natural variations in stitching as "imperfect", I'm trying to think of them as "practically perfect" instead ;)

It's a struggle I think many stitchers who cross over from counted techniques to free-style embroidery must face! When you're used to stitches that are symmetrical and evenly spaced, it's an adjustment to have every stitch be slightly different, no matter how hard you try to keep them the same (which can be incredibly frustrating!).

But it is exactly this quality that makes embroidery so much fun to stitch, and I'm trying to let go and embrace the wonkiness :) All of the projects I've done to date have ended up being a surprise of sorts, because it's so easy to change up elements as you go, and I've had the best results when I don't try to plan things out much beyond the basic design beforehand and just "go with the flow" for the stitches themselves.

It's a totally different mindset, and I'm curious if others have this problem too?

Hopefully, your Summer is also coming to a happy end! As Autumn comes in, I'm letting my imagination soar with project ideas, although I can't quite bring myself to look ahead to Christmas yet as so many stitchers are doing. But that cute little Holly design from the book is calling out to me so I may change my mind soon :)