Tools of the Trade

With getting back into embroidery and tiny knitting and other handwork this year, I’ve been doing some shopping to make my life easier. I figured I’d show some of the new toys I’ve gotten recently and some old favourites.

A couple caveats here in how my workspace is set up. I work at the dining room table. Yes, this does mean I have to clean up what I’m working on if we want to pretend that we’re civilized people and eat at the table, and I have to clean it all up every week when we have people over for dinner and D&D. (Why yes, I do let my nerd flag fly proudly.) This means by nature, my set up is very portable and transitory, I do not have a ‘set up all the time’ work area. I also prefer to work at a table, rather than curled up in the couch with my embroidery, sewing, knitting etc. I appreciate being able to have my charts, coffee, notes, notions etc sprawled out in reach rather than falling into the couch cushions, or having a cat laying on them. It’s perhaps not as comfortable, but it works for me.


The first and most beloved of all is my Ott light. Acquired on killer sale at Jo Anns a few years ago, I have a small gooseneck LED lamp that just sits on the table. It is light weight, it travels well, it is brilliantly bright and it makes everything I do possible. I adore natural light most of all, but the mix of Canadian winters, full time jobs and being the short house between two taller houses ensures that I do not have much natural light in my home when I have time to do handwork. Take (nearly) everything else away, but pry my Ott light out of my cold dead hands.


A very new addition to the workspace is my magnifier. Until very recently, the reality of my extremely nearsightedness meant that tiny was fine, I just held it closer with good light. (See the Ott light above. So much <3)  Now with progressive lenses, and that whole ‘aging’ thing that none of us really signed up for, that’s not working out as well for me as it once did. It clamps to the table edge and it’s a 3x magnifier, which I’m finding just about perfect for my embroidery work. It has a built in light, but I find it far too dim to be functional for me. I am spoiled by my Ott light. (I swear it’s not sponsored.) Even though my house is not noted for its direct sunlight, I am trying to keep good habits of leaving its cozy on when not in use.


The next new toy is my snazzy light table. Acquired for a pittance off Amazon (bad me, support your local retailers etc etc), it’s a smidge larger than a standard piece of paper, plugs in via USB (helllooo battery pack at events / Pennsic), and has 3 brightness levels. It’s about the thickness and weight of a cutting mat, and indeed, I store it with my cutting mats, because it’s that damn convenient. While it will not be amazing to trace a whole jacket’s worth of blackwork pattern onto, it is brilliant for smaller pieces, and honestly, big pieces are just a whole lot of small pieces put together. I expect it will be fine. Also, I feel as if I should mention that I do own other mugs, but that IS a favourite one, painted for me by Dagmar, I’m not surprised that it shows up often in photos.


The next piece of super important kit is a bit more seasonal, but I swear I seem to find myself working with silk most winters, and winter = dry hands. Silk loves dry hands. It loves to catch on the dry spots, and pull apart, and stick and generally make your life absolutely miserable, so hand cream is vital. This is a very personal preference, so my favourites might be another person’s worst misery, but I tend towards hand cream that is not suitable for putting on right before embroidery. Or much else really. The super goopy, super greasy, wait for it to soak in for a while sort. I’ve a couple of homemade hand creams (one by me, one given to me by a friend), one that’s commercially available sort of homemade (shown above) and they all work well. I cover my hands before bed, and while I’m drinking my first coffee, when I’m not about to be doing much for a little while anyhow and it seems to keep the worst at bay.


The next bit are even more personal than hand cream choices. Needle choice. And here I could mean knitting needles, could mean sewing needles. I really could say tool choice, because I’m certain that it’s the same for paint brushes and chisels and whatever else people use. Get the good ones. You don’t have to get the best ones, I personally don’t buy tulip needles, cause while they are amazing, I lose embroidery needles far too quickly to justify spending the extra, but get up to good. Crappy points, burrs in the eyes, nasty finish.. it all makes for a miserable work experience. Yes, it does mean I spend 20 bucks (or more) on a set of dpns. (This is a lot for a set of double pointed knitting needles, not crazy, just a lot to casual knitters.) It means that my good embroidery needles are about a dollar each (goodness, phrased like that, I really need to stop losing the damnned things!), but with how much time you spend using them, and how much nicer it makes the experience, spend the money. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not even that much money. Ditto with thread. Please throw out the 3 / 99 cent threads. Please. They aren’t worth it. The environment will forgive you.


What the 3/99 cents thread deserved and got.

Alright, I think that’s enough rambling for the moment about my new (and old toys), I promise I’m also using them and toddling my way through February’s blackwork, I should have an update on that for you soon!

February is for Blackwork

First off, what is it? It’s the name of a style of embroidery that has a few forms, historically and tends to mean just one of those forms modernly.


Reversible edging

It is stitched with black thread, except when it is not. It’s counted work, except when it’s not. It is reversible, except when it’s not. It is only done with double running stitches, except when it is not. You get the picture here.


Peppermint Purple SAL Week 5

The first style, and the one that is almost exclusively used modernly, is counted blackwork. This can be reversible, or not. (Modernly, usually not). It is very linear, made up of repeated motifs on evenweave fabric. It is what one thinks of in Tudor collars and cuffs. It can be stitched with backstitch, or double running stitch (also called holbein stitch). Backstitch is not generally reversible, double running stitch generally is. The best resource I’ve ever found for the nitty gritty of double running stitch can be found on Kim Brody Salazar’s blog (Countess Ianthé, d’Averoigne): String or Nothing. Blackwork (the counted fill variety) seems to be coming into a current spate of modern popularity, if some current stitch alongs are anything to go by.


 My coif and spangles

This is not what I’m using for my February’s blackwork piece for the Athena’s thimble sampler. I’ve done blackwork before in my coif, (which apparently I never blogged about, but there’s a shot of it in progress there, and pictured above.) and I’m going with another motif from a different inspiration coif. The free stitch blackwork on coifs is generally done with your favourite outline stitch: backstitch, split stitch, stem stitch, plaited braid stitches are the usual ones, and then the centres are either filled in with either small counted motifs, or shaded with just little seed stitches. Sometimes there are pearls, sometimes spangles. Usually it’s monochrome, sometimes it’s not. 

This coif is from the V&A, it’s listed in Digby’s Elizabethan Embroidery as being plaited stitch, stem stitch and back stitch and entirely done in black silk. I’m aiming to use some bits of dye experiments, so cochineal dyed silk on a scrap of linen fabric, and the current plan is plaited braid for the outline, and then split stitch interior outlines (maybe backstitch, we’ll see how the spirit moves me), with 3 leaves getting fills and 2 leaves getting seed stitch shading. Now we’ll see how much of this cunning plan survives contact with reality of stitching!


Every so often, working at the University has some unusual benefits to it. One of the recent ones was opportunity to attend a lecture (and book tour stop) about the history and production of pepper. That ubiquitous spice that hangs out with the salt on every table, which is barely thought of these days.

The book was written by a retired professor from the School of Hospitality of Tourism, Joe Barth. (Now part of the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics ’cause with enough money, you can get a whole college named after you.) Full disclosure, I met Joe over 20 yrs ago when I was his IT person and he was actively teaching. I no longer support that college, and he has retired, but I remembered him as an interesting speaker, so I was confident that he would not make a 2 hour talk about pepper boring.


HG Kitty at the talk

I was absolutely right. He’s an engaging speaker, and I’d say we spent almost an hour on the history of mentions of pepper (back to the earliest papyruses! 1550 BCE in a medical guide (Ebers Papyrus) And allllll the way through history, as those of us who hang out in medieval and renaissance cooking well know), and how it informed the spice trade along the silk road and various countries aiming to take over other countries to get a chunk of that sweet sweet spice money pie. His research claims that pepper was the most traded spice in history, and I believe it.

Other tidbits that I found fascinating from the talk.. most foods are fairly bland on their own, and humans like some zip in their food. (Most humans at least.. pungency trips off our endorphins and let’s face it.. endorphins are literally happy making.) There’s only 3 broad things that can be grown in Europe natively that are pungent. Garlic (allicin), mustard and horseradish (both containing allyl isothiocyanate.. probably why I dislike both of them, I’d no idea they have the same chemical compound!) Everything else that we use to spice things up come from tropical places and had to be imported. Which makes it expensive, as we well know from medieval studies. Spices are a show of wealth. Even more so than silk and gold, because you consume them. You still have gold after you work it, spices? Poof, gone in a fine meal.

True peppers (green, black, white and red pepper) are all the same plant, Piper nigrum. The four different varieties are different ripeness of the berries when they are harvested, and the nature of the beast makes it impossible to harvest mechanically. Every peppercorn you’ve ever used was harvested by hand. Even in 2020. Amazing, and crazy. Up very tall trees (pepper is a vine and they are trained to grow up a tree, or post), generally via sketchy bamboo ‘ladder’ (mostly a stick with spikes) and I got a little shuddery just watching it via video. India still grows pepper traditionally (intercropped, high quality, lower yields), Vietnam has gone the factory farm route (monocropped, higher yields, lower quality, required fertilizer and irrigation), and is the largest producer of pepper currently.

Black Pepper Farming Business

Image shamelessly stolen from:

The two other pepper varieties I’m familiar with in medieval cooking are cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba) and long pepper (Piper longam). Both part of the pepper family, but different species. There’s a great many other things colloquially referred to as peppers that have nothing to do with the piper family. Chili peppers spring to mind immediately (capsicum), but there’s also grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) which was sometimes referred to as melegueta pepper, alligator pepper (Aframomum danielli), Sichuan pepper (various Xanthothylum species) and pink pepper (Schinus molle)


Alligator pepper

It was a great talk, we did some pepper tasting (that blows your palette out for the evening, lemme tell you. I had no idea that cubeb pepper was SO wintergreen!) and I’m really looking forward to digging into the book in more detail. (Of course I got a book! Autographed and everything!)

Derpy deer

January has come to an end, and with it the first month of my Athena’s Thimble sample of the month grand plan. I wrote about the inspiration and getting started a few weeks ago here on the blog. I really had to get my skates on to get it finished by the end of the month, but Jan 30th the final stitch went in.


Derpy deer in his final glory.

The basic details: Wool cloth (one colour dyed by me), linen thread, linen cord and silk thread. I am really pleased with how he turned out. A few modifications from the original, and some thoughts on the technique and challenges I bumped into. (aka ways I screwed it up.)

There was a lot of debate at the event I was showing it at about why on earth anyone would do this, when it’s a whole lot easier to just set the appliqué on top like a normal person. It does keep it from being overly thick, it helps maintain the hand of the fabric, both of which seem frankly irrelevant in a wall hanging. It is very fabric conservative, there’s next to no waste, but that also feels pretty irrelevant in a piece that feels gilded leather is a reasonable outlining cord. Ultimately, I think we came down to ‘someone realized they could, so they did’. If you have better reasons, although that’s a good one, feel free to share!

The most obvious change is size. This is about half the size of the original, and as such made from some extremely tiny (and fragile) spots. Everything was tiny, and while I am quite happy to work at tiny scale (Quote from the spouse: You do bonsai textiles.), this got so tiny, my cloth was losing structural integrity and I had to take off my glasses and squint to see the backstitches. (I am profoundly and outrageously nearsighted. I almost stabbed myself in the nose with the needle, it was that close.)


Speaking of my cloth, I should have felted it even more than I did. I would have sworn that the cloth was well fulled when I started, but tiny little curves and tiny little tacking stitches to hold it to another tiny bit of wool, and I found all the places the the threads just pulled away from the rest of the fabric and I had to pray for structure and for something to grip. It was maddening. The dyed wool was better, I’d been rather <cough> aggressive in my dye work and felted it a bit more, and that was a feature.


Green sharpie to the rescue

Accept that you are not going to cut both versions identically, and know that you are about to do some trimming. Be grateful that wool has some stretch and give to it, so the wee gaps just sort of snuggle in together. Trying to mark my template onto wool was miserable. I used a sharpie on the lighter colour (that worked fairly well), but on the dark colour? Nothing showed. I didn’t have a white gel pen (on the shopping list for next time), so I literally used the template like a stencil and rubbed chalk all over. I cut it out and hoped for the best. It worked better than I feared, but there was a lot of trimming up of details. It is for jobs like this that the Cricut was invented.


The original used gilded leather cut in approx 1 mm strips to outline it. I considered learning how to gild leather, then I considered painting leather with gold paint, and then I remembered half scale and I was not going to cut anything to 0.5 mm reliably. I used linen cord in a bright gold colour. Perfect. A really fuzzy linen cord in the perfect colour. Alright, beeswax will fix that.. and it sure did, and was perfect. It also shed so badly, my little chunk of beeswax looks like it needs a shave. Worth it.


Fuzzy beeswax

I would absolutely do this again, preferably at a more sane size, once I got past my ‘omg, I am gonna break it!’ brain, it was pretty fun to do.

The Peacock

I’ve been teasing this project out on the book of faces and on instagram all through the progression of it, enough that I get surprised when I mention it as just ‘the peacock’ and someone is ‘uhh.. wtf are you /on/ about’. Social media, not always very social. But anyhow.


So it begins.

This project is over 20 yrs in the making. Allow me, if you will, to ramble a bit about the Good Ole Days ™ on the internet, aka the late-90s. It was a time when finding anything was /hard/. Google wasn’t yet a thing, but putting up a webpage, if you were at all technical, was pretty easy. Running a mailing list was very much a thing, most of us were some form of academics (students, staff, faculty) and the world didn’t much care what the weirdos did with the university computers as long as it didn’t break anything. Usenet was a thing, and most of us knitters found ourselves, at one point or another on The Knit List. It was THE list. A listsrv that required just having faith in arcane directions to join. It was where all the knitters of the internet hung out, and there was everything from ‘how do I start?’ to ‘I am knitting guru, and here’s some of my latest design work’. I fell into that first camp on the knit list, just so we’re clear.


Disaster dodged. (Spilled candle wax is bad for lace.)

Regular posters to the knit list became early internet superstars (very much like the ‘fame’ of costumers who are on YouTube these days. #Costube etc.) and I hung upon their every word and project. They were amazing, and one in particular was crazy. My sort of crazy. She knit tiny before knitting tiny was a thing, and I wanted to do that SO BAD. Not only did she knit tiny socks, and a tiny bag. She had knit doilies. A peacock doily. She noted that she’d used piano wire to make her needles and sewing thread for her yarn. I went out and found 0.3 mm piano wire (dutifully following her comments to the letter) and picked up a spool of navy blue thread from the stash to make a sample.


Hey look, peacock!

This was, in a word, a nightmare. That blue thread? Faintly fuzzy polyester of the ‘3 spools for a dollar!’ variety. Navy blue. About as easy to see as finding a black cat on a new moon night in a mud puddle. I never did get nice points on those damn wires, and it caught with every other stitch. I am notorious, legendary even, for having bulletproof tension. I was no different then, and even for sewing thread, I probably should have been up in the 0.75 mm or 1mm needles.

I knit a wee thing about 2 inches by 2 inches, determined that it was 36 stitches to the inch, and when we were packing to move almost 10 yrs later? Threw it in the trash. (I have regrets now, but at the time? It felt cathartic.)


But that peacock doily? I kept the pattern. Not only did I have the original pattern (found at a junk store back in those knit list days), but I had the reprint in one of my lace knitting books. And I was determined. The swatch may have been a hot mess of awful, but the doily.. that should be fine, right?

Reader, it was not fine. Terrible thread (at least I’d moved to a light colour!) and worse needles did not make a complex lace pattern easier than a swatch. I didn’t make it past half a dozen rows, ripped it all out and shoved the pattern back on the shelf.


The original

Fast forward, and I join the SCA. And I discovered more people who are quite reasonable about tiny knitting. And by now, I have acquired more than 20 years worth of knitting experience, and knowledge about thread, and some rather lovely tiny needles, and find myself in need of a distraction project. Thus, the peacock got another crack. An ode, perhaps, to how far I’ve come since the days of that hideous thread and those poor little wire needles.


Early in my bobbin lace learning, I bought myself a rather nice spool of cotton. (Brok 32/2 for those keeping track at home), and it’s been waiting for just the right project. This seemed like the time to break it out. I tried it with 0.75 mm needles (I know what tension is now!) and it was too tight, so 1.0 mm needles (5-0 for the Americans) and that was just about right. I am not going to say that this was the easiest pattern I’ve ever worked. There was language at a few spots and there’s a whole section that is just a mess of picked up tiny stitches and knit 3 togethers that is a nightmare at this size. I took off my glasses to get closer to see what was going on, and poked myself in the face with needles sort of miserable sections. The Interweave reprint has errata no longer easily available on the internet (thank you wayback machine) and even IT is wrong. Thank goodness for having the original available to refer to.



Most who, back in the day, knit the peacock in tiny (it was a /thing/ amongst a few crazy folks), stopped after the peacock section, and called it good enough, but I rather liked the extra border to make it a square, so I decided to do the whole thing. I have no regrets. It’s just about exactly 8″ square, and ultimately it will be tacked down to fabric, framed and hung on the wall. I’m not wholly delighted with my blocking, I might yet block it again, but for the moment, it is done.

Blue Dragon thoughts

Good morning sunshines! I am a terrible blogger and totally spaced on taking pictures at the event that I’m about to discuss, so there may be some imagination work. It’s good for us, a little bit of theatre of the mind, a la old fashioned radio.


Picture yoinked from Emelote. Picturesque when you don’t need to go anywhere!

Blue Dragon was a lovely event. An A&S sleep away weekend, hosted at a scout camp. Meals included and enjoyed communally, dorms, classes, good space for social. It was, for those who grok the reference, FF&F (or a multidiscipline St Claire’s) but in my own backyard. Almost literally my own backyard, we live 20 minutes from site. (And to illustrate how close we live to the edge of our barony.. site is not in our barony.) It’s the first year it has run, and the baby event hiccoughs were few enough. (Mostly in the form of not quite enough communication before hand, or on Friday night, but that’s a really minor complaint. Also, while I’m musing.. I know FB is evil incarnate, but I really do miss FB events for events. There’s been a few events of late without FB events to match, and I do appreciate being able to chatter with other folks going and have one location to go look for things, rather than fight with FB showing me posts on the kingdom feed. Websites are all fine and good, and I like them in addition, but you can’t hype each other up on a website, they aren’t interactive. Anyhow, that’s a personal side muse, and likely just me.)

We did get a healthy dump of snow while we were there (a good 30 cm or so), and there is something terribly lovely about sitting and sewing in a cozy lodge, watching snow blow outside, chatting with good friends and know you have no where to be except dinner.  Winter garb was relevant! I was comfortable in all my wool, and it was lovely to have it be useful. Even my usually far too warm first pent stockings got to be appreciated! The storm was done by the time we were heading home, and while digging cars out was an adventure, the drive home was sunny and lovely. (all 23 mins of it! Our drive home was 10% longer due to weather.. our neighbourhood is never terribly well plowed.)

I heard that all of the classes went well, the ones that happened in the room we were hanging out in certainly sounded pretty good. In this Year of Doing Less, I didn’t teach any (and having now seen what my holidays looked like in terms of illness, I am grateful. Prep time would have been nonexistant.). I also didn’t take any classes, and that usually gives people a certain moment of pause. I mean, when you attend an A&S weekend full of excellent classes, why wouldn’t you take any of them!? It has nothing to do with the quality of the teachers, or the classes being offered. Some were darn tempting, I have to admit. I am just not looking for something new right now. I am comfortable with the breadth of my interests (sometimes a little overwhelmed with the breadth of my interests!), and wanting to spend time exploring the depth of my skills and insight. To put it another way, I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head, and I’m firmly in that journeyman stage of putting in my 10 000 hours, or throwing my 50 lbs of clay pots, or whatever your preferred metaphor for the reality of doing more stuff is the only way you get better.

{Picture here a large room full of tables and chairs, with the scriptorium set up in one corner, and a big dragon across from it, guarding raffle prizes that are all going to Sciath anyhow, and various small groups settled in at tables up the length of the room to chat and work on projects. Our table is covered with a red tablecloth and about 9 projects collectively over 3 people.}

A few of us, who are all sitting in that journeyman range of skills, got to talking about this, about the value of working socially and how that value is immensely underrated in today’s world. (Not just SCA world, but that’s the world we’re looking at primarily here.) We were, by and large, doing our own things. Knitting, embroidery, spinning, planning. (Sometimes all of the above, because I have the attention span of a chipmunk on speed), but all together, and knots (literal and figurative) or musing or puzzles got mentioned, and brainstormed absently. Sometimes it was nothing more than sympathetic agreement that you are cutting that bit out, sometimes with reassurances that it’s fine. Sometimes an offer to hold things that simply will not clamp onto those plastic tables. (Swift and ballwinder should make winding a skein into a centre pull ball into a mindless single person activity. Instead, 3 people, all holding different bits, and even in THAT, there was absent minded commentary about flax, and the fibre and choices made.) Just being with others doing The Thing (even if that thing is only sort of related to your thing), provides insight, inspiration and fresh perspective. It’s a side of A&S learning that was very organic in a world that lived more communally, both with extended family, and with others in the village and that we have to actively aim to achieve. I watch the scribes get that with the scriptorium, a place to be with other scribes and absorb the ambient scribal mojo going on, and it was lovely to have another tiny taste of it in the fibre world.


Confident threads

Alright, I am wholly a media child of the 80s, because typing that word makes me hum a deodorant jingle.. but I digress.  It has been a long time, a very long time really, since I enveloped myself in the modern needlework world. Easily more than a decade since I was part of a mundane needlework guild (who are sadly closing this year! Hard to believe! But I digress again), and I’ve spent the last five or so years pretty solidly amongst historical embroiderers. (Amongst many other bits of handwork, but this example is embroidery atm).

I am going to also preface this by acknowledging that in any group, the folks who are happily going along, doing their thing are not the ones posting the most. They get their pattern, they stitch it up, they admire the progress, they move on with their life. There are thousands (literally!) of stitchers doing exactly that in this stitch along.

The amount of hand wringing, stress and uncertainty is heart wrenching. For context, this is a modern designer (Shout out to Peppermint Purple, who was utterly not expecting this to go viral) doing a blackwork sampler, with a small square of counted blackwork fill released every week for the year. 52 weeks, 52 fills. I will say that they are very accessible for beginner stitchers, literally you look at the chart, and you make your thread lines on the even weave fabric look like that. This is 52 weeks of backstitch. The designer gives suggested colours for each block (different one every week!), but many people are personalizing the piece by selecting their own colours. (so much rainbow variegated. So. Much.) Based on the posts, choosing those colours, and the colour of one’s base fabric, is an act of life and death. Choosing what brand of embroidery thread, or other kinds of thread, how many threads, what count of cloth.. all are decisions that cannot be made without much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Phew. It’s exhausting just watching people fret.

For the record here’s my thoughts on thread. Your work does not care what the label said. Crochet thread, tatting thread, embroidery thread, sewing thread, knitting thread.. the piece does not care if you embroider with tatting thread. (Or knit with sewing thread, or sew with crochet thread.. you get the picture.) The handwork police are not going to bang on your door and take away your birthday.


Crochet cotton, sewing thread, knitting yarn

Your work cares very deeply for the properties of that thread, and often (but not always), the name on the label gives clues about those properties. Tatting thread is, usually, very smooth and tightly twisted and quite thin, often quite similar to sewing and quilting thread. (really, all of those are same style, the names are mostly about the size, because goodness forbid this not all be hideously confusing.) Embroidery thread, at least the gloriously common DMC 6 strand embroidery floss, those strands are more loosely spun than tatting cotton, and squish a bit more, so they take up more space and cover better, and are often ever so faintly fuzzier. Perl cotton? Thicker, squishier, more loosely spun again, great coverage. Knitting yarns take that to an extreme. They are comparatively very loosely spun, and super squishy, because that makes a glorious cozy sweater. Can you embroider with them? Sure can! Just know that they are not going to hold up well to getting pulled through fabric over and over again, and you are going to have to be gentle with the twist. It will LOOK different if you embroider with knitting yarn, or weaving yarn, or DMC floss, or tatting cotton. None of them are BAD, but they are all DIFFERENT. Pick what look you want, and run with it. It’s your piece. You need to be happy with it, not the internet.


2 squares of floss, 1 square of sewing thread.

Historical embroiderers have, largely, figured that out. We have no convenient package from the designer saying ‘use this count of evenweave cotton, and these colours of DMC floss, and here’s the pattern’. We generally have a moderately terrible photograph, sometimes a really amazing photograph and some guesses, and a lot of ‘well, I tried this, and hey look, it was a miserable failure compared to the picture, but next time…’ We stress about ‘how did they DO that!?’ rather than what colours to choose. (I have no illusions that we don’t stress, just different things.) I hope for the modern stitchers, those who are so worried about a few stitches find their zen. It’s a cute little sampler so far, and now you’ve been properly spoilered up to week 3.

P.S. Dear Modern Stitchers.. a few points. 1) messy backs are have a long and glorious historical tradition, stop telling people that the Elizabethans started the neat back obsession, we can stick that blame on the Victorians where it solidly belongs. 2) Blackwork was not ‘historically done always on sheer cloth’, and it was not ‘historically done in black because that was the most colourfast’. (Warn the natural dye folks before you say such things so we don’t have a mouthful of coffee at the time. Cause yeah.. no. Just no.) and was not ‘always reversible’. You can think it all you want, but the archaeological record disagrees. 3) When you take a strand of thread and you fold it in half and then use those TWO strands to make a stitch with, you are using 2 strands of thread. When you complain that it looks so messy, and we say ‘your thread looks thick, are you using two strands?’ You answer ‘yes’. The words ‘no, just one strand but doubled’ translates to ‘yes, I am using two strands’. Thank you.

January is for Appliqué

And you thought it was for complaining about winter, and grumpily putting away shiny decorations.. p’shaw. (okay, I can multitask, I can do those WHILE I’m embroidering!) As I mentioned last week, we decided that the fact that the East Kingdom Embroidery guild category list has one for each month of 2020 was just too much to look past. Ergo, January is for appliqué.

When I decided on this project, I knew exactly what appliqué was going to be. A friend (and I wish I could remember who, so I could beg them for class notes.. if it was you, ping me!), took a class in inlaid embroidery at Pennsic a few years back, and I thought it was seriously cool. I never did manage to take the class, but I also never forgot it, just lurking around in the back of my head, seed planted.

So like a good little SCAdian A&S junkie, I went off and did some cursory research and found some period examples and more information. Mostly, I’m not gonna lie here, I found Mistress Katheryn Hebenstreitz‘s fabulous bit of documentation and was confident that I was in the right realm of history, even if I still wasn’t wholly sure how to /do/ it. Minor technical detail.  (Historical Textiles has a glorious write up as well. Go read it, I wish I’d found it earlier in my searching. I’ll wait. Heck, I’ll go read it again. They’re awesome, I can only aspire to be that cool someday.)

In short, inlay embroidery (also called intarsia embroidery, mosaic embroidery, inlaid appliqué.. so many search terms), involves taking wool fabric, cutting out the same motif in two colours and swapping them. Red design goes in design hole in blue fabric, blue design that came out goes in the hole waiting in the red fabric. Sew it in, add some embellishments (including gilded leather to hide the stitches, la de dah!) Sew all those squares together into awesome.

I knew I had some wool cloth left over from my viking coat, but it’s just a single colour. Using two different wools seemed like a poor idea, so clearly I should just dye the wool. Easy peasy, right?


I did not win this round.

Apparently this wool cloth is covered in teflon or something, but it rejected my madder and the paduak dye bath in a horrific sort of way. Plan B was a blast of food dye. Take THAT, you stubborn wool. I win.


Wiltons icing dye to the rescue

I did a rough outline of the derpy critter I liked the best, and then made a template and transferred it onto the wool. Easier said than done, for certain. A sharpie worked not too badly on the lighter colour, but that glorious dark colour I was so pleased to have gotten? Yeah. It was a bear to draw on. I ultimately used chalk to paint my template on like a stencil and cut as best I could around that. It wasn’t terrible, but needed some finicky trimming to get to fit in perfectly.


Finally I’m at the stage of sewing it in, and realizing that I have not got any gilded leather to outline it with, and not wholly certain I WANT gilded leather to outline it. Bears more thinking on. It is the period fashion (although I vaguely recall finding a source that claimed that some were outlined in cord, but of course I can’t find THAT source again.), and it would hide my messy stitches. (Working at about 60% scale to the original is fiddly, in case you needed confirmation of that obvious point.)


Not the easiest whip stitch I’ve ever attempted. (certainly not the neatest)

So that’s where I sit on this month’s Athena’s Thimble project. Progress is being made!

Ongoing 2020 projects

The drive home to and from Halifax last month provided plenty of opportunity to discuss projects and plans and thoughts and the state of A&S in big terms and little terms, and generally illustrated that stuck in a vehicle for 2 days solid, Emelote and I can talk for 2 days solid. Those who know either of us in person are nodding in a complete lack of surprise at the moment.


No handy wifi here.

On the way home, I was explaining all about the East Kingdom embroidery guild, Keepers of Athena’s Thimble. If you are ever at an East Kingdom event where they are having a panel and you are in any way interested in embroidery, you should go. It’s such a good time, spent with amazing needleworkers and even if you’ve nothing to panel (aka show and tell with some expert critique on offer), it’s worth gawking at the awesome and meeting great resources in embroidery. The guild has divved up embroidery into 12 broad categories, and they have rankings for skill level in each. In a car, going 120 kph down the highway with spotty cell service, I struggled to remember all twelve, but we got there in the end (or perhaps with the assistance of convenient rest stop wifi, I don’t recall). Ultimately, we commented that twelve categories fit really very nicely into twelve months of the year, and gosh wouldn’t examples of all these different ones be nice.

And so the year of embroidery was begun. Small projects, pincushion sized, one a month for all twelve categories. I did mention I’ve rather missed embroidering, right? Just wait, I am going to get plenty this year. For lack of any reason why not, I’m approaching them alphabetically, which places January as appliqué. I have long wanted to play with intarsia appliqué (inlay, mosaic, patchwork.. all the same thing), so I’m delighted. More on that project next week.


It all starts with a dyepot

That’s the first year long project, and honestly was aimed to be the only year long project, such that I had time for everything else I do. (Looking at you peacock, and the dressed looms, and and and.. oh dear.) Then I was surfing around the internet, as one does, and stumbled upon a year long blackwork stitch along from Peppermint Purple.

Stitch alongs, for those unfamiliar with the concept, are basically a mystery project where the designer doles out the pattern in small chunks, and you only know the bare bones to start, so it’s a surprise every week (or however often they release clues). I’ve done more than my share of knitting ones, but I haven’t done an embroidery one in forever, and I rather adore blackwork. It’s wholly modern, each week is a little fill in a wee box, and I failed my will save to resist. This is clue one, sorry for the spoilers. (22 count hardanger fabric, random unlabelled cotton floss)


Tiny! Barely a project!

So now I’ve got an embroidery project every week, and one every month. I am not going to lack for embroidery in 2020, that’s for certain! The stupid knitting continues apace with a doily that’s been haunting me for 20 years, but that’s a story for another time. I dare say I won’t lack for things to keep me busy this year. 

Look back and look ahead

Phew. We made it to a new calendar! Go us! I’ve also been sick for the entirety of the holiday break around here, so that carefully collected list of things I wanted to do while I was off work? Yeah, not so much. Video games and naps punctuated by social obligations, which required more naps. (Civ VI is my video game crack of choice, thanks for asking. Thank you Steam Winter Sale for providing the most recent expansion at 40% off.)



2019 was a year of expanding horizons. Unwillingly at first, as I had to find something I could do with a rampaging and frustrating bout of tendonitis. (Mostly gone, not wholly gone. I overdo it regularly and then have to wait to heal again.) That’s how beer and soap came into my world, and I do enjoy both. I have had successes at both, and failures at both, but I admit that neither are my One True Love ™. Enjoyable past times, but not my one and only. I do both because I like having soap and beer, so they’ll turn up again. I have wood ash to make my own lye again, but that’s a task better suited to outdoors, so look for that once the weather warms up.


Pumpkin ale in progress

There was a lot of spinning in 2019, although that was also the year that I learned that I can no longer treadle a spinning wheel. The damage in my legs and the motion of treadling do not play nice, not even a little. Fortunately, I started as a spindle spinner, and it’s always been my preferred spinning love, it’s just not terribly quick. I added in a wee tiny electric spinner, but honestly? I am just as fast on my spindles, so my little nano doesn’t see a whole lot of use. Practice would probably fix that, but I adore the portability of spindles. Look for a whole lot more spinning out of 2020, because it is zen and <3.


Nano electric spinner

I honestly thought I’d done more weaving than I have, perhaps just the looming of the looms makes it feel eternal. I got some black wool woven up on the floor loom for an exchange gift, and then a single electric blue warp off the warp weighted loom. There’s another warp on the loom currently, but I kinda hate it and am uncertain what I want to do with it, or where to go next, so it sits while I muse on that. I have so many things I want to weave, and I admit, I’m being held back by ‘what if they go wrong!?’, which is frankly ridiculous. What if they go right? (Well and the 4 shaft floor  loom is currently utterly buried behind the 3D printer, that’s a whole different challenge.)


Loom weights just hanging out

There was some hand sewn garb, and some machine sewn mundane wear, and honestly, I really do want to make more of both. I need to figure out how to arrange a sewing space, as I don’t find it particularly portable and I don’t have a space at the house that doesn’t need to be put away at least once a week, which I am finding utterly tedious. More solutions to be had in 2020, but I don’t yet know what they look like. I find making clothing terribly intimidating (yes, even still) and there’s exactly one way to solve that issue. Make more terrible clothes, and each will, ideally, be less terrible than the last. A solution easier typed out than implemented, but we’ll try.


Assembling the cursed underdress

2019 saw other bits and pieces tucked into it. I tried painting on silk (hated every second), and painting on a wooden box (that was rather fun!). I did do some knitting, stupid and otherwise. (Okay, a lot of stupid knitting), and the year ended with enough stupid knitting to have a sore arm, so there’s a pause on the knitting for a few days. Some yarn and fleece got dyed, and no doubt more will get dyed in 2020. That’s an enjoyable afternoon making colours, and I don’t foresee that ending anytime soon.


What the 3/99 cents thread deserved and got.

What 2019 didn’t have in it was much in the way of lace (other than knitted), or embroidery, and I missed both terribly. Stay tuned for glorious plans about that coming up in 2020. I’ll tell you all about it on Monday.