Thursday, 18 April 2013

Tools of the trade

I have a feeling that some of the tools I use might be greeted with amusement by some and complete bewilderment by others.  Honestly some of them are a bit weird and wonderful but they are all tools and tricks I use regularly in stitching. Some are cross overs from my other 'quilting' life and all to often get used.

This post is intended to be part of the &Stitches blog competition about needleworkers and our tools.

I suppose I'd better work my way round my cutting mat,  Bottom left hand corner are cutting and sharp implements.  I use a rotary cutter for cutting fabric as well as the more usual shears.  I use a scalpel for intricate cutting on occasions (it's also good for trimming threads on Hardanger pieces).  The blue thing in the bottom left hand corner is a rotary blade sharpener as the original blades cost so much and blunt so quickly. I have a half a dozen pairs of embroidery scissors and as usual can find only one pair

Behind these are metallic braids which I love and use a ton of in virtually every piece I stitch.  My preferred braid is the Rainbow Gallery Petite Treasure Braid because it is so versatile and tough. Its something born out of experience to find something that you work well with. It's taken 5 different brands of metallic to find one I really love.

To its right is my needlebook which was a gift 15 years ago and I still use every day.  It holds my current stock of in-use needles of assorted sizes and types.  Periodically I go though and pull out any rusted or broken needles

Behind that is a little lunch bag I made last year.  Mine never made it as far as lunch as it now keeps together any stray threads that don't fit into project boxes such as the Rainbow Gallery threads.  It also holds spare scissors, beads, needles and my spare glasses at the moment for some reason.

Back to the front. The orangey-red thing at the front is an ort bag.  This is to collect all those little bits of thread we all snip off on a project.  This stops them from getting on your clothes, furniture, dogs etc.  It also has a nice rest for scissors and a built in pincushion on you can store spare or threaded needles.

Just to the left of this and rather hidden is a trolley needle. Excellent for getting misbehaving threads to lie flat and show their sheen.  It can also pull double duty as a stiletto and poke holes in things or enlarging existing holes. Think eyelet stitches on canvas and evenweave when the hole won't open properly. Just remember it is there and don't scratch your eye!

Above that from the left are a cording tool, a small flat headed screwdriver, clothes pegs and a tape measure.  The tape is essential to cut the fabric the right size. Screwdriver for tinkering with machines but it also useful if it is magnetised to find dropped needles quickly.

The clothes pegs are useful for many things.  They can hold pieces together when you can't pin them, they hold cut pieces together during the cutting process and assembling fiddly projects like the necessaire I have half completed.  The ones I use have silicon grips so they don't slip about.

The cording tool wasn't cheap but makes any cord you want from any materials you want to embellish a project.  Hanging loops, bespoke edging, corded detailing for projects, even cords for drawstring bags.  This will do them all.  The rule of thumb for making cords is 3 times the length of the finished cord i.e. for 1m of finished cord, you start with 3 m of material. It's fun and you get something unique.

Behind those are the ubiquitous pin cushion (preferred pins are long fine quilters pins)  I also use them to pin excess fabric out of the way on my huge projects.  I also pin two into the main part of a project and tuck the chart or instructions under the heads to have them close to hand.

Right at the back is a task light.  These have been the best investment ever, cutting down on my eyestrain when working on fine projects.  Also the Ott-Lite bulbs (although hideously expensive) are utterly brilliant for colour matching.  The light produced by them is very close to natural daylight an is fantastic for colour matching after dark.  That point when all the greens and blues look the same?  Not any more with a task light.

Finally on the right are the simple things.  A needleminder from Kelmscott - magnetic and very handy. Mine has a flamingo on it but many other designs are available.

Needles. I'm only showing my tapestry needles here but I have many types.  My preferred ones are John James 28 petites but I'm not to picky!

Thread winder - I store pretty much all my threads on bobbins and this takes the pain out of winding on a pile skeins at one time.

Pens - I use all sorts. Pencils too. Pencils are good for marking fabric as are tailors chalk, coloured pencil and disappearing pens. I'm not going to count Frixion in here as they have a habit of coming back in cold weather. I also on occasion use permanent marker and the double ended Sharpie is great with a thin and thinner ends.  What I use most of are highlighters.  Marking important bits on instructions, clarifying numbers on patterns and marking off completed areas on complex chart.

Last but not least is FlossAway.  This is perfect when the project you are working on has too many threads for one floss box. I have a ton of those too but none of them were big enough to hold all the threads for this project. It has a hinged ring holding all the bags together and you just pick your thread, open the bag, chop a bit off and tuck it bag in its bag.

I also use wooden hoops, Qsnaps and R&R clip frames, large floss storage boxes (currently 18 of them), tablet organiser boxes (for beads on projects) and many many more things.

I hold my hand up - I've been sewing most of my life and I have the tools to show it!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Three more finishes (including 2 I forgot to blog)

Please excuse the poor level of photography at present.  I cannot for the life of me find my battery charger and the rechargeables in my camera are as flat as pancakes.  I need to remember to buy some decent AA ones on Tuesday!  It's weird but the camera on my phone is theoretically better (5MP) than my 10 year old 2.2MP Olympus.  The Olympus still takes fantastic photos and I am loathe to chop it in for something fancier and with theoretically better resolution.  I have always been a fan of Olympus Cameras and the digital cameras are just fab.  Sorry for the digression.

Finish 1 is the much heralded Chatelaine Japanese Garden which has taken 7.5 years to complete.  I still love it as a piece but I am so relieved to have finally finished it. It's mixed silk and cotton on DMC 32ct linen. The piece of linen was barely big enough for the project, hence the conservation strips you can see sewn on in some of the photos.  There are a couple of detail shots in my Flickr Album

It's got the most enormous mistake on it, which I can immediately see but no-one else would even notice.  It was the reason that it didn't get finished for so long.  Problem was that it was not a mistake that could be corrected as I made it very early on in the project so it had to be fudged.  I was reduced to despair when it happened. Now its complete, only the fussiest judge would find it.

Yes, those are real pearls, ring pearls to be precise and loads of bling from Delica beads and Swarovski cubes and bicones.  Now to complete a companion piece - Japanese Moss or Chinese Mandala?  Yes, I am a Chatelaine addict or should that read 'glutton for punishment'

Second finish is one from last year.  I took part in the Tree of Stitches SAL on Abi Gurden's Yahoo group The Stitch Specialists It is the Tree of Stitches and it is all silk and speciality stitches on 28ct dusty pink linen. I can't get the photo to load from Flickr :(

Third finish is The Great Escape also by Abi Gurden and also a SAL last year.  I finshed this about November time and completely forgot about it!  It's turned out far better than I has hoped as I had real problems early on.  All silk again from my Chatelaine leftovers it has a real charm to it. From the bugs, moths and spider to the mice and the flowers, it is a lovely project and bound to stretch technical skills.

Back to current stitching.  The Ostsee Mandala is back on the Qsnaps (with all extenders fitted) and is edging closer to a finish.  There is still a huge amount to to and if I look at the whole piece I start to panic. I have to stick to the corner I'm working on and ignore the rest.  It's the only way with a project this BIG.  It's one of the largest Chatelaine mandalas and it's 411 stitches square.  That works out at pushing 30" or for those who speak metric 75cm.  Told you it was big!

Also on the frame is Long Dog Samplers Time and Tide which is now at the half way point.  The border still bugs me but, like toothache, it is nice once it stops I'll get some more crappy pictures this week and hopefully update in a week or so

Of to play with thread now and make some progress!

Monday, 4 March 2013

2 finishes to report

Hot on the heels of the last blog post, I've actually managed to finish two projects and am incredibly close to a third

First up is the Dragon Dream 12 Days of Christmas.  All DMC with a little sparkle from Petite Treasure and Kreinik Braids on grey evenweave.  This is a free chart on Dragon Dreams Facebook page and has more than a little humour involved.  I gave it the simplest box frame to finish it off

Second finish is Just Nan's Great Expectations.  I bought this chart on one of my many visits down to Exeter Prison 6 years ago. I started it at least 2 years ago and it got sidelined. It only took a couple of evenings to finish, beads and all. It has a beautiful enameled nest for a charm which is the reason I bought the chart.  Just simple DMC with the petite beads in the charm pack on natural linen.

So as an encore, I picked up Japanese Garden which is incredibly close to being finished.  I'm going to be rotten and not show a photo because it really *is* that close.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Dilatory blogger reporting in.....

This really should have been posted up 6 weeks ago at the start of the year in the tradition of New Years Resolutions except that I'm really bad at those.

This is my 15 WIP's to finish this year.  I don't expect to finish all of them but I want to make significant progress on all of them during the year. Pictures of most of these are in my Flickr album here

1. Chatelaine Japanese Garden Mandala         90+% complete
2. Chatelaine Ostsee Mandala                        85% complete
3. Chatelaine Desert Mandala                        15% complete
4. Chatelaine Egyptian Mandala                     10% complete but requires remedial unpicking
5. Cross Eyed Cricket Skeleton Crew           60% complete
6. Passione Ricamo Galatea                          70% complete
7. Just Nan Great Expectations                      85% complete
8. L'Epouventail                                            70% complete
9. Blackberry Lane Rest ye Pins                    40% complete
10. Long Dog Samplers Time and Tide          60% complete
11. Jan Houtman Liberation Sampler             45% complete
12. Mirabilia Blooming Bride                         05% complete
13. Permin Windmill Sampler                         25% complete
14. Lanarte Chinese Culture                           40% complete
15. Dragon Dreams 12 Dragons of Xmas       20% complete

Current focus pieces are 1, 6, 8 and 15 with 1 and 15 being closest to being completed as I write this in mid-February.

A lot of these pieces are large to ginormous but there are many others that are tiny.  I seem to stutter at the half way mark and each of them stalled for different reasons.  All I know is that my own inattention and lack of concentration seem to be the kiss of death with projects of all sizes at present, hence my need to buckle down and get them finished.

I keep seeing new, sparkly and pretty projects that are incredibly appealing. In particular there is a new Chatelaine that is the perfect match for my Japanese Garden.  The Japanese Zen Moss Garden is yodelling very loudly at present and I have got two months before the class starts to get a firm handle on the almost finished pair.  I just so want Japanese finished.  It was my first Chatelaine started and it is still one of my favourites.  I'm bitterly ashamed that I have managed to get distracted and start/ finish two others while this elegantly simple design remains unfinished.

My other bugbear is PR's Galatea.  I adore mermaids yet this one gives me nightmares about ever finishing.  The hair has caused many sleepless nights and much frustration.  She will be finished soon - very soon! I will not give up on her because she was a gift from the ever wonderful Mel. Then perhaps one of the Mira mermaids might come out and take a turn. I have 5 more waiting in the wings and they take a tiny amount of time.  Oh and the new Mira Mermaid is one of the sparkly pretties that is distracting me mightily at present.