Many years ago I used to design counted cross stitch kits, and did some for the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. I did think of turning a certain very famous picture into a kit, but since we never finished the test stitch, it is just as well they decided not to go with it.
This is something else we’ve found in a fit of tidying up, and thought,”hmm, we should finish that – it will look good!”
It was done in the early days of computer-aided cross stitch design. I scanned a postcard of “Coalbrookdale By Night”, in the somewhat apocalyptic vision of Philip James de Loutherberg, and then spent some time tweaking the number of colours the computer used to render the design as a cross stitch piece. One of the problems with this form of computer design was that, no matter how much human intervention was involved, the design tended to end up being a bit spotty.
You can see that spotty effect in the detail picture above.
The human intervention did at least result in the removal of the entirely superfluous lime green stitches that the computer package used to scatter across every design it was involved in. I never did understand why that happened, but the first change I always had to make was to change the lime green into something more suitable.
What I have to do now is think of something useful to turn it into when it’s finished….
I’ve not really been able to settle to anything this summer, which has lead to a lot of reorganisation, rather than any real progress. Consequently, I keep on finding long-forgotten projects and thinking “Must finish that!”. Here’s another one…
This is in fact a legacy of the early stages of my original, pre-internet, usage of the word “VirtuoSew”, when I was producing counted cross stitch kits as “DevaStitch Designs”. The idea, developed by my husband The Australian, was to use whole stitches, fractional stitches, and back stitches to create a sort of dithered “newsprint” effect.
The Stalking Tiger never got beyond early stages, but it’s an interesting technique, if not one for cross stitchers who hate fractional stitches!
I might wait until I’ve got on top of the Garden of Eden, which also involves a lot of counting, before I try to wrap this one up…
Some years ago (in fact long before we were married) my husband the Australian bought me an Australian Opal Triplet pendant. It’s really stunning, and when it catches the sunlight it takes people’s breath away.
At about the same time, I received a Framecraft pendant blank with a magazine I’d bought, and found myself thinking it might be fun to create a sort of Homage To The Opal.
I still have, somewhere, a whole sheet of coloured design ideas that never made it to a chart, but anyway, here is the final result. It combines a swirling spiral (inspired by the simple gold wire setting he designed for the stone) with some basic “flower” shapes intermingled to create the effect of the changing colours of the stone. The colours were picked to echo the colours in my opal triplet – naturally each opal is different.
The embroidered version is worked in counted cross stitch on 18hpi aida using variegated silk threads, and although I know I am not exactly an unbiased judge, I think it is lovely, and I very much enjoy wearing it!
Here is something else I have found in a heap of things to finish…
This cotton tote bag with an aida panel across the front was a free gift with a magazine, several years ago. It must have been about the time I was designing the series “Inspired by Clarice Cliff“, and it probably seemed a good idea to cover all the aida, rather than having threads stretching across the back of the stitching.
It’s a real trial to stitch, though. I’m not at all surprised it ended up at the bottom of the workbasket. If the handles don’t get in the way, the rest of the bag does. Since it is made without a seam at the bottom, I can’t even release the seam to make life easier, although I admit that doing so might not help as much as you’d hope.
Here is a close-up of the design as far as it is stitched. I’ve used Anchor Stranded Cotton, and the variegated thread is one of Anchor’s standard variegated threads. I’ve stitched the primary section in that thread in two phases of half-cross stitch, to spread out and change the colour effect a little.
This is going to be my “travelling project” until it is finished, as when I sort out the threads it should be quite compact, and it’s not such fine and delicate stitching as most of my other current projects. As I don’t travel regularly, it will be a while before you see it again.
You may have noticed my glee last week at the launch at the “Stitches” trade show of two more “Designs Inspired by Clarice Cliff“. I enjoy designing for other people as well as myself, and it is always so satisfying when all the thinking, the planning, and the scrambling around the floor picking colours finally reach their culmination in the launch of the new kits. I usually design counted cross stitch for publication because my embroidery gets reworked on the fly so often that timetables might sometimes be unacceptably stretched. I’m hoping that what I learn by thinking about my embroidery designs and writing about my designs will help me to develop my skills to the point where my designs for publication need not be in counted work!
Last year I worked on some designs for a second company producing counted cross stitch kits, EQS Limited. EQS are now UK distributors for Madeira threads, and each kit contains full spiral packs of each colour, which they hope will help to differentiate their offerings from all the other kits available. Some of these kits have been launched recently, and I’m so pleased with them that I wanted to share them with you.
The four “Garden Scenes” were originally inspired by some of the gardens that were being developed at the Blists Hill Open Air Museum when I visited with my parents when I was in my early twenties. The designs no longer bear any resemblence to the gardens I saw at the time – in particular, there was nothing so grand as an orangery with a summerhouse in front of it, as there is in the second design – but they do provide some sunny pictures of summer gardens – scenes which were in short supply in England last summer!
The last design here was I think inspired by the front garden of the Doctor’s house, and the view into the garden through the railings. I added beehives to the first design because while I was working on the charts, there was so much in the news about the collapse of the bee population. Living as I do in a house with no garden at all I am in no position to keep real bees!
Naturally in working gardens such as the ones that were being developed at Blists Hill there would be very little lawn – a lawn takes considerable upkeep without actually providing anything in return – but in the stitched versions there needed to be something flat to contrast with the plants, so I’ve stretched reality rather considerably there.
I have produced a second range for EQS Limited as well, this one entitled “Working Boats“. As the grand-daughter, great-grandaughter (twice) and great-niece (four times) of merchant seaman, it seemed very appropriate for me to offer a homage to the merchant and fishing fleets that support our island nations, and have done for centuries. The first two designs show, firstly, a canal boat on the Llangollen canal – a local tourist attraction throughout my childhood, and in a way a link to the Gardens, because the canals provided vital inland transport during the industrial revolution and beyond. The second design shows a Clyde Puffer, a very particular design of coasting cargo vessel with a flat bottom so that it could run itself ashore to be unloaded in places where there was no quayside. The mast is a cargo hoist, rather than a support for sails, since the puffer was developed after the invention of the marine steam engine.
There are four more designs in the range which we expect will be launched in the coming year. All I need now is a local needlework shop to go to so I can get a quiet thrill from seeing my designs on sale!
Well, over the past year I’ve created another two, “On Guard” and “Swimming Swans”. They’ve been charted and test-stitched, photographed and the kits prepared, and now they are launched.
I went down to the NEC in Birmingham last week, to the trade show, to look at the finished pieces and discuss further projects. The other four “Designs Inspired By Clarice Cliff” are still selling, and part of our discussion was also concerned with whether to create more designs in the range, or move on to something else.
We’ve decided that for now, the range is complete – there are four small(ish) square designs and two slightly larger rectangular designs. In each case the crisp geometry of the edges is broken by part of the design spilling out, and the colours are bright and clear.
As trade shows go, “Stitches”, as we all still call it, is a fun, friendly event. I remember the first time I ever went, introducing myself as new to the needlecraft world and being greeted with beaming smiles and welcoming handshakes on every stand. That hasn’t changed, although a good many years have passed and the show is now called “Craft, Hobby, and Stitch” and encompasses papercrafts and ceramics (among other crafts) as well as needlecrafts.
Some years ago, I was asked by a magazine to design “my interpretation of buildings” in counted work. I produced three versions of the same thing – a set of steps in a Tuscan village, with plants in pots on the steps and a window looking over them. Then the magazine didn’t use them. Any of them. Sigh.
Never mind, I enjoyed doing them, and it was a very interesting exercise.
The colours are inspired by Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series – strong, bright colours with purples and blues as the shadows. They are like impressionist oil paintings in another way, too – it’s not always entirely clear quite what the shapes are until you have looked for a while.
For Version One I used counted cross stitch in space dyed and other threads. The walls were worked using a cotton bouclé, and the steps in a range of soft unmercerised cottons. The terracotta plant pots were worked in stranded cottons (solid colour), and the plants themselves were worked in rayon, also in solid colours. The threads were rather heavier than stranded cottons, so I used 22 count linen and stitched over two threads. The bouclé battled every stitch of the way!
For Version Two I used plain counted cross stitch in stranded cotton, chosen to reflect the colours of the overdyed cotton as well as I could manage. It is strange to see that the photograph gives the impression of the aida fabric showing through, which isn’t so obvious to the naked eye. This version actually is more successful in some ways than the first one, although I have them all three on the wall and I actually prefer Version One! Version Two is not so hectic, but still, it doesn’t “read” as clearly as I might like. Or at least, not to everyone. I see the steps in all three, but I know people who don’t.
In Version Three I became even more experimental – I knew the magazine wouldn’t go for this one, but thought it would make an intriguing exercise. The base fabric is ordinary aida, but I chose to use canvaswork stitches in stranded cotton. The bush in the bottom planter is worked in Leaf Stitch – oh, look, Leaf Stitch again! – and the steps are long-legged cross stitch. The wall is Double Straight Cross Stitch. I enjoyed this one the most, but at the scale of the piece (it is less than four inches square) there really is not enough space for most of the stitches to do their work properly.
I’ve done some counted cross stitch designs for Classic Embroidery, and on Tuesday I went to a trade show in the NEC, Birmingham, to see the designs up on the stand, and to talk about other possibilities for future designs and future collaboration.
It was so satisfying to see the designs, beautifully mounted and framed, and to hear that they are already selling!
I don’t think my designs have made it to the Classic Embroidery website yet – we only got all four ready to go a few weeks ago, and making kits is the higher priority at this time of year – but they are also going to send me a kit so that I can see how the designs are packaged. I’ve already seen some of their kits so I am confident that they will look good.
The designs are inspired by Clarice Cliff, although there is little about them which is even close to any of her designs. From top to bottom, they are called