One of the joys of summer in Norfolk is a poppy field.
So I wanted to include a poppy. It’s another from a cross-stitch magazine, designed by Joanne Sanderson. I enjoyed the richness of the colours in this one, and the outlining made a huge difference.
Next: a swan. This motif does several duties: memories of feeding swans with my parents as a child, the swans at Stratford-upon-Avon, the Yeats poem (which is one of my favourites) and Swan Lake. This is a Maria Diaz design, and again the outlining made a huge difference.
Next is one of my favourite places: the Globe. This symbolises my love of theatre and particularly Shakespeare, and I’ve been fortunate to see several productions here (Mark Rylance as Iago was a standout), as well as to an amazing production of Faustus in winter by candlelight in the Sam Wanamaker stage here. Going to the theatre/gigs was the thing I missed most in lockdown — streamed performances just aren’t the same. Best Shakespeare ever: for me that’s Ian McKellen in King Lear. The design is from a Bothy Threads Shakespeare sampler; my son bought me the kit for Christmas and I’m looking forward to stitching it later.
Finally on this section, a guitar — another Maria Diaz design, though I changed the colours a little bit to make it slightly more like my own guitar. This one symbolises my love of music. (I couldn’t fit a piano and cello as well!)
Ouch – three months since I last posted! In that time, I have done some other projects – a wedding sampler which I’ll post after the wedding, and a sampler for my daughter’s 21st, which I’ll post later.
But updates on the big project.
I’ve always been fascinated by peacocks, and I really enjoyed stitching this one. It’s a Lesley Teare design from a cross-stitch magazine, full of complicated fractional stitches and those backstitched swirls.
Next was the rose – I adore roses, and have quite a few in my garden. I remember my dad trying to grow a blue rose (Blue Moon); my mum’s favourite was a very deep red (Deep Secret). My late agent bought me a beautiful Brother Cadfael when my dad died, and I’m not allowed anywhere that sells David Austin roses without adult supervision, because they just come home with me. (Madame Hardy – well, obviously that had to be there. And Darcey Bussell. I have my eye on Emily Bronte and The Mill on the Floss. Of course it’s an arty garden!) This is another Lesley Teare design – ‘vintage rose’, and I loved the shades in this.
Next, the stained glass window. This represents my love of church-crawling – I did want to stitch my favourite view of Norwich Cathedral spire here, but couldn’t make it work. So instead I used a Bothy Threads (Derwentwater) design; the ‘panes’ of glass are in single rather than double thread, giving that lovely quality of light coming through.
I definitely wanted bluebells. A bluebell wood is one of the deep joys of spring; my favourite is probably Blickling Great Wood (because we can take the dogs), though I also love the ancient woodland at Foxley. And it took lockdown for us to discover that we had a bluebell woodland roughly fifteen minutes’ walk from our back door… This one’s from a cross stitch magazine.
Finished the next ‘line’ of the sampler, so I need to do a chunk of fiddly border before I start the next set of motifs.
The ballet dancer is a Lisa Reakes design (from a magazine), and represents my love of ballet and dance in general. I prefer dance aerobics and Zumba to any other cardio, and loved learning ballroom; Gerry and I were utterly hopeless at the waltz, but we enjoyed the quickstep, samba, rumba, jive and our absolute favourite was the cha-cha-cha. Sadly his arthritic hip meant we had to give up lessons. I desperately wanted ballet lessons as a child, but didn’t get them because I was too clumsy and round. However, I always loved the music of Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. I finally got to see Swan Lake a couple of years ago, and the theatre sent me an email asking if I’d like to try adult beginner ballet classes. I did – and it’s the best decision I ever made. Absolute joy. I love the music, I love the movement, and I come out of class feeling as if I’m floating. It’s been very good for my balance, and during lockdown zoom classes the dogs have joined in! I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed workshops, and the one where we danced to the Sugar Plum Fairy was utterly wonderful.
The teacup is a Lesley Teare design (from a magazine), and I chose this one because it’s very close to the Royal Albert ‘Old Country Roses’ design of my mum’s posh china. It’s also a nod to afternoon tea at the Assembly House in Norwich (aka a special treat). My tea of choice is either Passionfruit and Orange, or Cornucopia (mixed fruit, quite heavy on the blueberries). A book and tea in a pretty cup is such a good combination. The gold thread was meant to be the DMC ‘light effects’, but it wasn’t very nice to work with and refused to lie flat, so I unpicked it and used the same gold as the lighter one in the border. The outlining is a bit looser than I’m used to, so it was fun to try a slightly different approach. (I do like Lesley’s designs, and the one I’m doing next – in shades of teal, blue and orange – is also one of hers.)
Back on the big project: continuing the side borders as I go, and doing the first line of motifs, shown underneath a ‘leaves and flowers’ border (in suffragette colours!).
The spaniel is a design from Fido Stitch Studio, a Christmas present from one of my best writer friends. I did a larger project which was the spitting image of Archie; this spaniel has a slightly wider blaze, but is still much more like Archie than like Dexter (I do intend to stitch Dexter!).
The typewriter is a nod to my childhood; I’d always written stories in notebooks or on lined paper, but what I really wanted was a typewriter so I could be a PROPER writer. So I badgered my parents. (No, I didn’t want a doll’s house. I wanted a typewriter. And more books. Lots more books. There is no such thing as too many books.)
Eventually, on my sixth birthday, I got a Lilliput typewriter. It came in a hard case, and I can still remember the thrill of opening the case and seeing a proper typewriter. Metal, not plastic; and it was turquoise and white (so when I saw this Diane Machin pattern, it was clearly the right one for my sampler – though the turquoise I remember was more on the teal side). It didn’t have a proper carriage return lever – you had to push it from the side instead – but I’m fairly sure it had little metal buttons you could press and slide to set the margins, and gave a warning ‘ding’ when you were five characters away from the margin.
Oh, and the wedding sampler? It’s on parchment-coloured Aida; the design is from the Historical Sampler Company, and the bees were great fun to stitch. I’ve ordered a second (different) sampler kit from them, for an event later in the year.
More progress this week, to the point where I’m about a quarter of the way through. (I’m taking it off the stand later today and sneaking in another project.)
The border is quite time-consuming and fiddly (it needs concentration as it’s very easy to go astray on the backstitch), so I’m doing the side borders as I go; plus it means I won’t have to keep scrolling through the sampler.
This week’s additions: finished the alphabet, added the quote, and two butterflies.
The quote is one of my favourites because it’s so uplifting. It was written by Julian of Norwich – from chapter xxvii of Revelations of Divine Love, the earliest surviving published book written in English by a woman, and the only known book written by an anchoress. In 1373, aged thirty and a half, Julian fell seriously ill. The night she thought she was on her deathbed, she received sixteen ’shewings’ (visions); she recovered, wrote her book and spent the rest of her life as an anchoress (i.e. she withdrew from secular life to concentrate on religious observance). I’ve modernised the spelling (though I was very tempted to keep to the original!). Stitched in Anchor 162 (surf med), and the attribution is in DMC 413 (pewter grey dk).
The blue butterfly is a Madeleine Floyd design (clipped from a magazine – I loved the feeling of movement). I’ve always been fascinated by blue butterflies, ever since I was a tiny child and saw the Margaret Fountaine collection at Norwich Castle museum; there are lots of chalk hill blues at Warham Camp, which I used as a research location for my book ‘A Will, a Wish and a Wedding’.
The swallowtail is from littlebeachhut.com; although we didn’t actually get to see any swallowtails during our research trip to Wheatfen Broad (same book!), we saw plenty of peacock butterflies. And I finally got to see a swallowtail at the Horniman Butterfly House in London (along with a blue morpho).
Started the ‘my favourite things’ sampler on 7 April 2021. Pleased with how it’s looking so far.
The top and side borders are based on a Textile Heritage design, though I’ve changed the colours of the jewels. Originally I wanted a border in green, white and violet (suffragette colours!) but couldn’t find one I really liked. This one is more of a medieval knot type, corresponding with one of my favourite literary periods, and the dog design at the corners (taken from a Celtic internet page) reminds me of the little dogs you see at the feet of a knight on an alabaster tomb (ticking another of my interests).
Borders and dogs, using DMC threads:
* dark gold 832 (golden olive)
* light gold 834 (golden olive vy lt)
* red 326 (rose vy dk)
* green 700 (green bright)
* purple 333 (blue violet vy dk)
* blue 3839 (lavender blue med)
* black 310 (black)
* white BS5200 (snow white)
The alphabet is from a DMC pattern – I really liked the font, and I also liked the idea of having flowers round them (similar idea to the lettering in medieval illustrated manuscripts, and the shape of the flowers is closely connected to the ‘jewels’ in the border).
The letters are stitched using Anchor – 168 (surf blue lt) for the main body and 169 (surf blue med) for the outlining. The flowers are stitched in DMC: petals 600 (cranberry vy dk) and centres 726 (topaz lt).
As a student, I used to do tapestry and cross-stitch. Then I was busy with work and professional exams, and it kind of fell into the background. Until a couple of months ago, when I decided to pick up a needle again. I started off with bookmarks (I particularly like the Textile Heritage kits – beautifully designed and relatively quick makes), and now I’ve got the confidence to move on to tweaking patterns to suit a project, and to do bigger things.
Sometimes, when I’m stuck on a book, I need something that will occupy the front of my mind, and let things brew in the back. I’ve used online word games a lot, but it means I spend too much time on my phone and makes me feel unproductive. Counting things always helps (hence reps in the gym, or steps in ballet where I have to think about what I’m doing).
And then it occurred to me at the beginning of the second lockdown.
Counted cross stitch.
So I get to occupy the front of my mind (counting), I’m doing something where I can see the result, and it’s also good for stress. (Hmm – why didn’t I think of that in the first lockdown??)
I bought the first kit – a rose – and remembered how much I enjoyed sewing. So people close to me are getting bits of handmade needlework! Sometimes they get to choose; sometimes it’s a guess by me based on what I know of their tastes.
This was my first batch of makes:
The mini sampler is for my best friend Fi (in Suffragette colours), who sent me a gorgeous cross-stitch book. Bookmarks, left to right:
the rose for me (my first bit for years, really to get me back up to speed)
bluebells for my best friend (learned to mix strands to change colours)
cows for my daughter (chosen by her – and they were SO cute to stitch; the outlining made a huge difference)
a Celtic knot for my son (chosen by him – that taught me a lot about geometrics)
tulips for my favourite cousin (again, geometrics – her fave flower)
a dinosaur for one of my best writer friends, Scarlet Wilson (first time I’d tried using a pattern from the internet – also, using colours close together in shade, in preparation for a very ambitious project next year)
carnation for my dear friend Debbie – her favourite flower and I got to mess about with borders (and kind of designed this from a mix of patterns)
Dachshund and daffodils for one of my best writer pals, Liz Fielding (Dora the Dachshund from one of her books, and daffodils because she’s Welsh – the dog was tricky and also taught me that I need to check shades, as I like using DMC and the colour conversion from Anchor doesn’t always quite work)
Scotties and Westies for my friend Sarah, who has a Westie and introduced me to Radley handbags (Scottie dogs!)
Puffins for one of my best writer pals, Michelle Styles (my first bird – and I loved doing the feather on this because it’s in preparation for another of my ambitious projects, this year)
Coaster for my friend Jo, who tends to read ebooks rather than paper so I thought something for her mug of tea would be better than a bookmark
A second dinosaur, for my favourite cousin’s daughter
Lily of the valley for my sister-in-law (her favourite flowers) – very dense stitching, plus some shading, which will again be helpful for the big projects
Turkey coaster for my husband, who’s a turkey farmer
Daffodils for my stepmum (her favourite flower)
Guitar for my husband (tweaked this slightly as the pattern used black for the outer line of shading but in real life it’s chocolate – and I had chocolate thread!)
Sunflowers for one of my best writer pals, Annie O’Neil (her favourite flower – the original pattern had 5 flowers, but I wanted 7, so I tweaked it a bit; also outlining was done in a lighter shade because I thought black was too harsh)
I’m currently doing a sampler on evenweave (given to me by my RNA pal Anne Styles, who’s an amazing seamstress and has been very kind and supportive to me). It’s an easy pattern, but evenweave is very tricky! It has, however, made me think that I’d like to design my own sampler, with motifs of my favourite things, so I’ve been having fun putting ideas together.
On the advice of my lovely neighbour and friend Vicki (also an excellent seamstress – the socially distanced tutorial on French knots was fun, though anyone seeing us would probably have been convinced we were doing charades!), I’m going to keep doing little projects at the same time as bigger ones, so I get the fun of finishing things to motivate me to continue (haha – this is SO like writing!). I bought a couple of projects and have been given some more, so as well as my personal sampler I have a wonderful peacock, a spaniel who’s the spitting image of Archie (that’s going to be HARD as there are lots of similar colours), a smaller spaniel which will be a quicker make, a bee flying across tulips, a Shakespeare sampler and a family tree sampler. And then there’s a stash with Noah’s ark.
I do plan to do some for reader giveaways; and I have a list of things I want to do for friends – the fun bit is sending them out as surprises 🙂 I might casually ask about favourite flowers or birds (I like stitching flowers in particular), and the answer is being carefully stored away on my list. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, but I can follow a pattern and tweak things. And stitching is much better for me than endless word games on my phone – but I’ve learned that I need a timer to limit myself on Pinterest…