Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Wednesday's Workbox

Pictured below is the cross stitch embroidery that I started TWO years ago! As I said yesterday, I can only sew during hours of daylight, and as I don't schedule myself time for hobbies (which this is) until the evening and perhaps during the weekend, it means I don't get an awful lot of hours to sew, during the winter months. You can buy special lamps with daylight bulbs just for sewing, but they are very expensive and for the amount of time I'd be using it, this seems like an unnecessary extravagance. If I were serious about sewing - making items to sell, for example - then maybe the expense would be justified. But for now, I just wait patiently until the summer months, and then get stitching!

Cross stitch is very easy to pick up. In fact Little Bear has been enjoying this craft for almost as long as I have! I didn't get interested in it until after I became a mama. It seemed a little overwhelming, when confronted with the stiff aida fabric (the material that you sew on, which comes in different grades, depending on the thickness of floss you will be using. It is like a very open weave calico or cotton), the silky coloured skeins of floss and the outline pictures printed on huge sheets of graph paper! (Each square on the paper represents one square of the aida fabric). I couldn't see how I'd ever get started on anything, and although I had lots of ideas and inspiration from books and magazine cuttings, I never went any further than this. That was until I discovered pre-printed cross stitch! With this, the design that you are going to sew is printed right onto the aida, and you have a paper guide that shows you which colours of floss to use where. It cuts out the need to count the squares of aida to see where you should get started, and some kits even include all the coloured floss, so all you have to do is read the instructions and get sewing! Here is a picture of my cross stitch, as far as I have got to with it, to date ...

Isn't it beautiful? I really like the pretty peach and pink colours, highlighted by the green of the leaves. Papa Bear has said he will frame it and hang it in our bedroom when it is done. It is entitled "two hearts entwined" and it is a wedding or anniversary commemoration. The heart in the centre will be filled with our names and the date of our wedding day, and above it (not completed at this point) are two wedding rings, entwined, that are picked out in a special gold thread. I have really enjoyed sewing it thus far! And along the way, I have learned a few things!

Before you start, ensure you have correctly identified all the different colours of floss. This kit has a great many very subtly different colours, and it is all too easy to use the wrong colour without realising it. Most kits come with a key, with the different symbols, the colour description and then the identification code, should you need to purchase more at any time. In different countries, these codes can vary depending on the brands of floss available (this is a Dimensions kit, but it is not possible to purchase loose Dimensions floss, where we live). I have found a very good website which will translate them for you, and I would suggest you keep a copy the web address for future reference! I have found it to be invaluable, and you can access it here.

Another trick to use to avoid getting into a muddle with your floss, is to do as I did, and stick a tiny sample of each strand of floss beside the corresponding symbol on the paper key. That way you can match up skeins of floss as you go quite easily and quickly. I found that the quantity of floss provided with my kit wasn't nearly enough, so next time I buy a kit, before I even get started, I shall purchase some extra skeins of floss. They aren't expensive, and any left overs can go into your work basket for future projects. Some shops will take back unused skeins (but none that I know of here, sadly). This way I won't get stuck like I have this time around, finding I am stalled going any further with my stitching because I've run out of floss.

I would also strongly recommend purchasing a floss organiser box, to keep all your separate skeins of floss organised. This is a large flat box with many small compartments in it. I put a different colour of floss into each compartment, along with a label from a used skein, so that I know which colour goes in each compartment. It's surprising how quickly you can find yourself in a huge muddle if you don't have some way of keeping the colours separate, especially once you start snipping lengths of floss from different colours (in this cross stitch, separate colours are combined on the needle to make another colour. It lends a lovely pearly luminescence to the work, which you can't really see in the picture above). I got the largest box I could afford, which was just a few pounds, but if you didn't want to spend that much, egg boxes would be a good alternative!

After watching me struggle with the floss snagging, snarling and knotting as I stitched, Papa Bear suggested that I try using shorter amounts of floss each time I rethreaded my needle! What a very wise suggestion - it eliminated the tangles immediately! Thank you Papa Bear! It is much easier (and you'll get a much neater result) if you use shorter lengths of floss. I can really see what a difference this has made when I look at my sewing. The areas I did first, with longer lengths of floss, are not nearly as neat or uniform as the areas I did after Papa Bear intervened!

You will inevitably find yourself needing to use your scissors frequently when you do cross stitch. To avoid having them keep disappearing from your side, as I did, why not try this trick - get a long length of ribbon, a chain or even a bootlace, and tie the scissors to the length, then fasten the two ends of the length together, and wear it like a necklace around your neck! Instant access to your scissors whenever you need them!

Use an embroidery hoop. I thought this was an unnecessary extra at first, but it makes a huge difference to the neatness of your sewing, helps you to keep your work clean (you hold the hoop and not the fabric) and has the added bonus of making you feel like a Victorian gentlewoman as you sit and quietly stitch! They cost just a couple of pounds, so they are a very worthwhile investment in my experience. Remember to remove it when you are done with your stitching each day though, or you will spoil the fabric.

Finally, in my experience, if you want a really neat, professional look to your finished stitching, invest in a pair of reading glasses! I cannot believe the difference wearing these has made to the quality of my sewing (and also knitting - and Bible study!). They work like magnifying glasses, but because they are on you, and therefore move with you, it is much easier to work on your sewing wearing these, than it would be to buy a far more expensive magnifier to hold over your work. You can purchase reading glasses for next to nothing in most pound or dollar stores (that is where mine came from). Of course, the fact that I later discovered I am long-sighted, was probably also a contributing factor, but I still prefer my glasses to a magnifier, and would recommend them even if you are only slightly long-sighted and don't need to wear glasses to read.

If you or your daughters haven't ever tried cross stitch before, or like me were put off it because it seemed so fiddly and complicated, why not have a try with a miniature kit, and see how you get on? You can buy small, fairly simple kits at many craft and habadashery outlets, and they don't cost much to purchase. Be warned though - cross stitching is very addictive, and if you get hooked like me, you may well find yourself longing for the beautiful, sultry days of summer, not so that you can get outside, but so that you can sit quietly indoors with your sewing on summer evenings! Mind though, if you have a garden (we don't), I can think of few nicer way to spend the evening or a Saturday afternoon than to sit quietly under the trees with your sewing!