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Am I Unreasonable

If you look up the word ‘altruistic’ it describes a person who is ‘unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others’. I am not that person. Like most members of the human race, I tend to be selfish and more concerned for me (and mine) than I am for you (and yours). That is not to say, however, that I am completely unconcerned and I spend quite a bit of time, money and energy helping where I can. The primary focus of my benevolence is animals in general and dogs in particular. Human beings do terrible things to animals and not enough people care about that.

Where humans are concerned, my approach tends to be one of tough love. I feel strongly that if every able-bodied human took proper responsibility for his or her choices and taught his or her children to do the same thing, poverty could be minimised, the birth rate would fall to manageable levels and everyone could have a job so that we could all live with dignity. Needless to say, I don’t believe in handouts because that just creates bottomless pits that will never be filled. If, however, you are down on your luck (for whatever reason) and you ask me for a job, I will oblige if I have work for you to do. I will pay you a living wage, I will show you the respect you deserve and if you do that job well, I will encourage you to continue working for me. I will give you an increase, I will give you a bonus at Christmas time and I will become your friend.

My business is designing embroidery, writing about it and putting kits and packs together. I am not in the business of looking after anyone’s life savings, neither do I save people’s lives. I don’t need to employ people with seventeen degrees and an MBA. I just need to employ people who are willing and interested. To this end, when I need help in my business I take my time finding that help and I tend to look for people who themselves need help. If you are a pensioner, not quite making it on your fixed income, I will give you a job. If you are widowed and lonely, I will employ you so that you have somewhere to go and people to see on a few mornings a week. We have one job in this business that requires almost no skills. The studio, and the area surrounding it, needs to be cleaned a few times a week. To do that job, I employ a middle-aged black man. I found him after making enquiries and he has worked for me for about two years now.

I live in the country that has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world and the province that I live in has the highest rate in the country. Along with these statistics, there is stigma, superstition and desperation. My middle-aged black man (who I will not name) is one of the statistics. A thoroughly decent, but unsophisticated human being. A person who, despite his illness, wants to work. He comes to work a few times a week and we allocate his working days to fit in with his visits to the AIDS and Tuberculosis clinics that he has to attend to keep himself alive. In the same way that I pay my other staff members, his wages come from the proceeds of my business. My contribution to the fight against poverty and AIDS in Africa is not huge, but it is larger, on a daily basis, than that made by the average citizen in the developed world.

My country has a per capita income of US$6.85 and an unemployment rate of 24.7%. This morning I received the following email from a person in a country with a per capita income of US$40.88 and an unemployment rate 6.2%.

“Some time ago I purchased the full embroidery kit from you for your Floral Pomander, which I have recently completed (and am exceptionally pleased with the end result).

I am a member of the (name deleted) Embroiderers Guild, in (town and country deleted).

Our traditional embroiderers (a sub group of 12 members of the Guild who predominantly specialise in Traditional Embroidery) have asked if they could do this project as a Group Challenge (doing one panel per month for the next 12 months).

I am writing to ask if you are prepared to give your permission for us to photocopy my original pattern rather than having to purchase 12 more.”

This was my reply:

“The sale of my embroidery designs in kit form is the nature of my business.

Apart from the normal business expenses, a major share of the income derived from these sales is how I pay the salaries of the people who work for me. One of these is an older lady who depends on her children for financial support and by working for me, their financial burden is eased a little. Another is a middle aged black man who has AIDS and is unable to find other employment or access a social grant. He comes in twice a week to clean the studio and the money I pay him is his only income.

Our country is not a welfare state and it falls to people like myself, people who run businesses and have a product to sell, to take care of the more vulnerable members of our society. Personally, I earn very little from my embroidery designs as I pay salaries without drawing one myself.

I realise that your members would like to save a few pennies but I am going to have to ask you not to photocopy and distribute that design amongst your members. I am prepared to send you 12 pattern and print packs, without threads and beads, to make the cost lower but I must ask you to take the ethical route and order from me.”

If you embroider, or indeed have any hobby, it means that you have the kind of income that affords you this indulgence. You don’t need to worry about how you are going to feed yourself from the little you can earn in between your visits to the AIDS clinic. Reasonable or not, I have sat here working away for a whole morning feeling outraged. Have I over reacted?

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A Range Of Beautiful Beads for Needlework

For quite a few years now, I have had the feeling that I ought to put a range of ‘needlework beads’ together. By ‘needlework beads’ I mean the following:

  • First and foremost, the beads must be good quality beads. There is just no point in taking hours, weeks and even months to work on a fine piece of embroidery or quilting only to embellish it with cheap beads that, quite frankly, can only be classed as rubbish.
  • The beads must be available in small packs because, on the whole, needleworkers want to use beads to embellish their work and create highlights, rather than create entire projects from beads.
  • The range of beads must include an array of shapes and sizes. Gone are the days of just using average size round beads when there are tubes, cubes, drops and faceted round beads, all of which create effects that vary. Effects that add value to a needle work project.
  • The range of colours must be varied and the price should be good. What’s out there is, to be honest, limited and over-priced.

So, bearing all of the above in mind, I would like to introduce to you our range of beads.

  • Most importantly you can find them on my website. Go to and navigate from there to see all the colours, shapes, finishes and prices.
  • If you are a shop or a teacher, we have trade prices for you and you should email us asking for the trade price list. But, please bear in mind that if we don’t know you, we may ask you to prove to us that you are a bona fide business.
  • If you are a Guild or a Club, we will give you a 25% discount for all group orders over R1 000.00. And that’s not just an introductory offer. We will always give you that discount.
  • All are 2 gram packs – what we consider to be the ideal size for needleworkers.
  • You will see that on the ordinary beads, our prices are really competitive.
  • You will also see that some cost quite a bit more. That is because they have special finishes or are special shapes. Some examples are the copper- or 24 carat gold-lined beads, the nickel-plated beads, the Delicas and the Tila beads. Whichever way you look at it, these are special beads and we believe that they should be available for needleworkers in small packs. But they are more expensive.

Over the next few posts I am going to tell you about them.

Let’s start today with shapes and sizes.


The ones that needleworkers are likely to use most often in both quilting and fine embroidery. Sometimes called ‘petites’, the size 15° beads are the smallest with the size 11° beads a little larger and the size 8° beads larger than those.

They can be used for stems, outlines and veins as in the image above, or stitched on individually as in the image below.

If it’s a perfect circle that you want, a round bead is what you would look for:

Using just one size, or a combination of sizes:

If it’s seed pods you would like, use a combination of beads. In the photograph below size 8° beads are being held down with 15° beads, giving the impression of the seeds that bulge out of a Jacobean style fruit.

In addition to the Round bead sizes mentioned above, we have a size 5° bead that is particularly useful when you want to cover a bead with thread, as in the image below:


Bugle beads are long skinny tubes that are under-used and under-rated. I find them very useful little things.

This is what I call bead seeding:

Combined with round beads in the images below, they form the border around either a leaf or a petal:

If you want to bead the edge of something, in this case a needlebook made from one of the designs in my new book, Crewel Intentions, out in June 2014, small bugles are just great.

That’s as far as I am going to go today. It’s 38 degrees centigrade outside, a really droopy sort of day and one on which it is hard to think in an inspired kind of way. When it gets like this, I start thinking of the frozen plains of the North. Of course, I realise that you northern ladies are now into autumn hurtling fast towards snowy winter, and that you think I’m a little crazy. I’m not. Ask yourself why productivity, generally, is much higher in the northern hemisphere? Because it’s cooler and you have more energy when it’s like that.

I’m off to sit myself under a fan and stitch. More about beads another day, so watch this space.

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A Weapon of Mass Distraction

Forming groups is one of the positive aspects of the socialised human being.  It is because of groups that human history has developed in the way that it has.  It is usually better to pool resources and talents in order to create bigger and better things and to move forward.  It is because of the human social instinct to form groups that we have, for example, schools and governments, societies that work for the advancement of specialised skills, charities working towards special needs and clubs that get together because the members have a shared interest. 
There is enormous benefit to be gained from group effort, particularly if something needs to be changed in the society in which you live.  If a large project needs to be undertaken, spreading the load between members of a group will make the task easier and quicker.  For people who need support for a health problem or the health of a loved one, or for people who are lonely, joining a group can be a life saver.
Groups are a good thing and society is the better for them.
There is a downside too.  Take cults, for example.  A charismatic leader who brings a group of weaker minded individuals together, coercing these easily-led souls into an unsavoury lifestyle and, often, malicious acts towards society at large.  Political groupings that form on both the extreme right and the extreme left are an example of what we don’t need in our society, as are groups of religious fanatics who do so much harm.  We won’t even go there.
I don’t do groups.  I don’t do committees and I don’t do politics.  I can’t bear the thought of sitting around talking for hours over trivial matters that could be solved in an instant with action rather than discussion.  I’m not over-fond of the sound of my own voice and I don’t need to feel important.  I don’t do coffee mornings, tennis afternoons or ladies lunches and I’m not a pillar of society.   
I have never belonged to an embroiderers’ guild.  Not because I don’t think that they have a place in the advancement of the craft.  They do.  But I would rather stitch than take the time to attend a meeting where I have to listen to people waffling on.  And I can’t be doing with all the rules that they have made up over the years.  Rules from which they think everyone should not deviate.
That’s me, an individual.  And this little character trait is to blame for the fact that I have no spare time at the moment.
I have, as many of your know, a beautiful male Boxer called Neville.  He is mad and crazy, soppy and affectionate, obsessive about chasing anything that we will agree to throw for him, he adores his human family, wants to play with any dog that he comes across and he does not have an aggressive bone in his body.  Moreso than any Boxer that I have ever had, he has the kind of temperament that needs to be passed on.
But the Kennel Union says he can’t do that.  Because he is white.
I am fully aware of the fact that, like Dalamations and white Bull Terriers, there is a small chance of a white puppy being born deaf but I also know that despite the fact that white puppies are never bred from and have been euthinased for many years (happily that travesty has now stopped), the incidence of white puppies born has remained fairly constant at about twenty percent.  Not breeding from white Boxers seems to have made no difference.  The white gene has not been bred out.
I once gave a lift to a breeder and dog-show enthusiast.  It was a long lift involving a 12-hour journey and during our many hours in the car she explained all the ins and outs of breeding a fine-looking dog, one that ticked all the right boxes, one that enhanced the characteristics of the breed.  She explained that this often involved mating dogs that were related to one another and whilst it was fine to pair father and daughter, it didn’t work if you were to mate son to mother.  She called it “line-breeding” and confirmed that this was condoned by the Kennel Union.  Well, I’m sorry.  I call that in-breeding and I’m afraid it’s to blame for many of the health problems found in pedigreed pure bred dogs.  Things like hip dysplasia and cancers.  Quite apart from physical defects, I am not sure that breeding for looks takes a dog’s temperament into account and for my money, temperament is more important.
So, after long and careful thought, knowing that no breeder is ever going to want to borrow Neville to sire puppies, despite the fact that his own sire was himself a UK champion, I decided that I would get him a wife.  I can’t let that unique personality stop with him.
And that is why I’m so short of time.
Last Thursday I fetched Brenda.  A well bred brindle Boxer bitch that is not in any way related to Neville, I asked her breeder to choose the calmest, least aggressive little girl in the litter of ten pupppies.  And here she is.

Is that not the sweetest face that you have ever seen?  Neville is enchanted and so are we.  He is gentle with her, allows her to eat from his bowl and shares his toys with her.  In turn, because she came from an exceptionally well-cared-for litter and only left her mother at eight weeks, she is confident, happy and healthy.  She is a little scamp and we might have to change her name to Rascal or even Rubbish.
I have a book to finish, it’s still a way off and that is unfortunate because little Brenda is turning out to be something of a time waster.  Quite apart from regular trips onto the lawn for her to do the necessary, it’s just too tempting to stop what I’m doing to give her a cuddle, and another one, and another one.  Particularly when she stares at me with that sweet face and those appealing brown eyes.
Completely irresistable and in the best possible way…………,.a Weapon Of Mass Distraction.


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Washing Your Embroidery


Last year someone, during one of my classes, asked me how it was that my embroidery had a luster that hers didn’t.  Why there was a sheen on my long and short stitch shading that, try as she might, she couldn’t get on hers.

You are often flumoxed when someone asks you a question like that.  You don’t know how to answer it because you don’t really know what it is that you do that would make that difference.  I went through all of the little tricks that I use, recapped on the technique, discussed it with the other ladies around the table and came up with nothing concrete.  But, it bugged me and throughout the morning it sat behind my left ear niggling.  Then, suddenly, the penny dropped.  I asked her if she washed her embroidery after she had completed her stitching.

She gave me quizzical look and said, “I thought you weren’t allowed to”.

A lot has happened over the last three or four centuries.  Our ancestors have invented electricity, the telephone, the steam train and the internal combustion engine.  As a result we can now communicate and travel with ease.  More recently, our parents’ generation and indeed our own, have put satellites into space, invented the personal computer, the mobile telephone and Velcro.  A survey done in the 1990s found that the majority of people polled felt that Velcro was the most useful invention of the 20th century.  Interesting. 

A few years ago it was the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first satellite into space and BBC Knowledge aired a programme on this very subject.  It was captivating, not least because it reminded one of how far the human race has progressed in our own lifetime. 
I grew up in Central Africa and if we wanted to call someone in South Africa we had to phone up the telephone exchange to book a trunk call.  We would then be told that there was, say, a 6-hour delay.  So, 6 hours later we would hang around the general area of the telephone, waiting for it to ring.  Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn’t.  Very often the 6-hour delay became 2 or 3 days.   Now, thanks to communications’ satellites, I can phone the United States from my car on the motorway using my mobile phone and I will be connected immediately.  Or, if I want to save some pennies, I can wait till I get home and ‘Skype’ the person I want to speak to in the US, I get connected immediately, we talk computer to computer – and it costs me absolutely nothing. 

As a family, we’ve embraced all this new technology with vigour.  We (i.e my husband and I) get quite excited when we discover that we can do something that we couldn’t do before.  With just the click of a mouse.  Then we say to Dude, ‘isn’t technoIogy cool’, he rolls his eyes and sighs, at which point we tell him about party line telephones, life without a microwave, computer, mobile phone, etc. and writing a letter with no abbreviations, the correct spelling and proper punctuation, that had to be posted.  With a stamp.  At the post office. 

By the time we’ve finished reminiscing he’s left the room, got into his car and is halfway to his girlfriend’s house.

Europe in, let’s say, the 18th century did not have embroidery thread like we have today.  By and large, embroidery was done with wool, what we would today call crewel wool.  These wools were dyed with natural dyes which were not colour fast and therefore, it was not a good idea to wash your completed article because the colours were likely run.  In addition to that, the manufacture of textiles was such that our grandmothers could not be certain that the fabric wouldn’t shrink or distort. 

So our forebears did not wash their embroidery on completion.  Perfectly sensible, although the thought of all those royal and ecclesiastical garments being worn regularly and never washed is rather unpleasant, but we won’t get into that. 

It is now 2013.  We have all sorts of wonderful threads, yarns and wools in an array of exquisite colours.  Any colour you want you can find, and the dyes are colour fast.  If you are using a decent quality product, your colours will not run.  They just won’t. You can soak them in detergent, wash them with Sunlight soap, and even launder them in benzine. 

So, can someone please explain to me how it is that the (not) washing myth is still out there?  Why, if you want to enter a piece of embroidery to be judged by judges from either an Embroiderers Guild or the WI, one of the rules is that it may not be washed?  Somebody I know once asked posed this question to one of these judges.  She was told that it was because stitchers didn’t know how to iron their work after they had washed it.  How patronising.

I’m sure that my life is like the lives of most people in the world today.  It moves at quite a pace.  And the embroidery that I do every evening in front of the telly is my relaxation.  It gives me my daily hours of pleasure and reward.  More often than not my best friend, Neville the Boxer, is lying on the couch next to me and if not, he pops by for a pat.  Which I give him, and which is why I’m always picking dog hairs off my work. 

Although I do wash my hands often like every other person, I have natural body oils that come off on my thread, particularly if I’m using white.  If I’m working on a large project it can take me up to two months.  I put it in a plastic bag when I’m not working, but inevitably it picks up grime.  It’s unavoidable in this world of pollution and domestic workers who think it is an imposition if you suggest that for a house to be properly clean, it should be dusted.  If I didn’t wash my embroidery I might as well throw it away and, to have to work in such a way that it didn’t get, even a little grubby, would take all the pleasure out of the pastime. 

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that if something is bound up by too many rules it puts people off.  Where my generation is concerned, many prospective embroiderers had any future pleasure destroyed in childhood by zealous domestic science teachers, or nuns who had rulers with which to smack offending hands. 

I don’t think that there should be rules that attach to any creative pursuit but if you think that you need to, at least, know what the they are then you must not get too bound up, treat them rather as general guidelines but feel free to break them.  Because, it’s when you break the so-called rules and give your creativity license to fly that you will produce your best work.  The majority of the ‘big names’ out there are precisely those artists that are breaking the rules.  They will not be told what to do, or not do, by anachronistic organizations that are clinging to the past.

That is fortunate because it is those artists that are going to keep embroidery alive and kicking. 

Our children have grown up in a world that embraces a whole lot more freedom than we grew up with.  Elitist is a dirty word. They question and debate things, learnt that whilst they may still respect their parents and those older than them (but only if they earn that respect), they are allowed to disagree with them.  If we want them to embroider, we need to make it less elitist and intimidating.  Throw out irrelevant nonsense so that everyone feels they can at least give it a try. 

And this business of not washing your embroidery must go.

If you think about it logically, with all the dust and grime picked up along the way – no matter how careful you are – no piece of embroidery will have a sheen unless it has been washed.  In fact, you MUST wash your embroidery.  It brings it to life.

And this is how I do it:

·         Rinse it well in cold water to get rid of any lines that I may have drawn with a washout pen. 

·         Soak it for a few hours in tepid water mixed with a teaspoon or two of good detergent.   

·         Swish it around a bit before rinsing it in cold water. 

·        If I find there are marks – perhaps chalk paper lines – that haven’t washed out, I scrub them gently with pure soap on an electric toothbrush.

·        I then rinse again to make sure that no soap or detergent remains, squeeze out the excess water, place it flat on a towel and roll up that towel.

·       I squeeze the towel with the embroidery inside it to get rid of any remaining excess water.

·       Thereafter, I stretch the damp embroidery in a plastic (not wooden, it will stain the fabric) hoop or frame that is larger than the embroidered area and place it in front of an open window, out of direct sunlight, to dry in the breeze.

·        If I have stretched it well in the hoop, I do not need to iron it when it is dry. 

·        If I do need to iron it, I turn it wrong side up on a folded towel and press the back with an iron set on medium heat.

So simple.

I have extracted some of what I have written above from an article I wrote for a local stitching magazine a few years ago.  That article was more polite and less outspoken than what appears here.  Nevertheless, as a result of what I wrote, the editor received a flurry of complaints from various Unions and Guilds threatening to advise their members to cancel their subscriptions to that magazine. 

Oh, the stranglehold.  Which brings me back to almost where I started.  Technology.  In the past, if you didn’t agree with the rules put about by those that like to make up rules, you had no option but to shut up or ship out.  Now, however, you can voice an alternative opinion, get it out there via the internet and in the process, one hopes, provide some useful advice to those who are looking for it. 

Isn’t technology cool?




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A Wonderful Afternoon

South Africa has very little public transport and what does exist is unsafe or unreliable, so we only drive in our own cars at home and we provide our children with cars the moment they have a drivers’ licence, for their own safety.   

Whilst we’re fine with planes and airports we know absolutely nothing about catching trains and even less about reading a train timetable. We cannot read train timetables.  Pathetic really, because when we are in the first world we have to ask the locals for help.  On our recent trip to Europe we got rather good at it.  By the time we left Paris we had the Metro licked and we managed to get ourselves onto the Eurostar fairly easily.  By the time we got to London the Underground was a cinch.  Until we wanted to get out of town.  That required looking up the correct line to take, which station to get to and reading timetables.  And we don’t know how to do that.  With some help we got it right, after a fashion, but even when we had managed to purchase our tickets and were making our way to our destination, we tended to wander around stations looking bewildered. Quite an effort and a lot of confusion.

Some things, however, are worth the effort.  

Our publishers had arranged for us what you might call an “insider’s” tour of the Royal School Of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace.  For those of us that live at the bottom of the world the Royal School Of Needlework has always seemed like the centre of the English-speaking embroidery world.  The far away fountain of all stitching knowledge and a place to be revered.  Mission control, if you will.  For Di, Wilsia and myself to visit the School as something other than mere tourists was very special.

Over the years I have met many people who have done workshops and courses at the RSN and they love to tell you about it.  Their conversation does, however, tend to be a brag and, unfortunately what this does is give their listeners the impression that the RSN is very correct and that the people are terribly stuffy.

I began to realise that this is not the case when I met Elizabeth Elvin in Australia in 2009.  She is retired, but was the Principal of the school for some time.  She is a bundle of fun, completely un-stuffy and really good company.   

Then I met Jenny Adin-Christie at Beating Around the Bush in Adelaide, Australia, last year.  She was involved in the making of the Royal Wedding dress a couple of years ago and that was the subject of the illustrated lecture which she gave at the final function. She could have gone on speaking for hours.  We were enthralled and I, for one, was impressed by her innovation and talent. 

It was, therefore, hardly surprising that from the moment we were met at the Palace reception by Monica Wright, our guide and hostess, till the time we said our goodbyes and stepped back into the snow flurries outside, we found ourselves in stitching heaven.  From the historical treasures that are in their possession, to the work that is being done there today it was a sight for sore eyes.   

The school has just celebrated its 140th anniversary and, that being the case, they must be one of the oldest continuous lines of embroidery knowledge.  They specialise in teaching techniques that are traditional in England, covering mostly goldwork, crewel work, canvas work and whitework.  They aren’t bound by parameters though and many, many styles of embroidery form part of the work being done within those walls.

Apart from mentoring and teaching their diploma and degree students, the ladies and gentleman that work there design and stitch commissions that cover anything from family crests to, interestingly, a monogram used on the cover of a Paul McCartney album. In addition, they do restoration and we were able to see the fine work being done on two wall hangings, hundreds of years old.  The restoration included, not just the stitching, but also the fabric that had deteriorated.  Fine, skillful work.

On leaving the school after our visit, my over-riding impression was of skill, talent, and friendliness, along with a deep respect and pride for what has gone before.   A pride and respect tempered with an awareness of the innovation needed to move forward, to keep the noble art of hand embroidery alive.  

To make our visit even more special, Elizabeth Elvin was in for the day and we were able to meet up with her again.  

Our trip to the Royal School of Needlework was one of the highlights of our European trip.  A friendly and innovative hive of activity in beautiful surroundings.  Just look at the view from one of the studio windows:

Wouldn’t you love to be able to look at that every time you needed to stretch your legs .  

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Hoops and Frames

In my last post, I told you about Darren who has taken over a lot of the work that I used to do in this business, thereby giving me more time.  What this means is that I can finally get back to writing all the rebellious stuff that was my original intention for setting up this blog in the first place.  
So, no more nonsense about half-dressed young men.  We’re all far too old for that anyway – and please no comments along the lines of ‘speak for yourself’.  He’s too young for all of you.  
On with the common sense approach to hand embroidery.

I was watching something or other on one or another cooking programme a while ago.  A whole bundle of famous chefs were asked to name their indispensible tool.  One of them said that he could not do without a sharp knife.  That stuck with me, for whatever reason, and came to mind this week.  For weeks, no probably months, it has been difficult to cut anything in my kitchen – from a tomato to a roast dinner and even a slice of bread.  My normal modus operandi is to know that I should be buying something and then every time I go shopping, I forget.  I get home, say “darn” and another week goes by, until I forget it again.   
The knives were no different and finally this week I bought about eight of them.   I came home, gave the blunt ones to my maid and reloaded the little butcher block thingy with brand new knives.  Every kind of knife that I might ever want to use, which is not that many because I try to leave the cooking to anyone else who offers.  But, when I’m forced to get busy in the kitchen, what a pleasure they are.  I can calmly slice through a tomato, cut a block of cheese without grunting and even look forward to making a sandwich with ease, after months of battling to hack through things.  And, it’s not as if I was bankrupted when I bought them.

If I was ever asked to name my indispensible embroidery tool, the tool that makes the difference between doing beautiful embroidery or making a bit of a mess, it would have to be an embroidery hoop.

For someone who is mildly irritated by the know-it-alls, the ones who insist that the only way to do embroidery is to stick to what was done 400 years ago, I am regularly left gobsmacked by the fact that an embroidery hoop, or frame, is something they seldom mention.  I cannot tell you how many times a person, who makes it clear when she phones me that she is an esteemed member of the local Guild, just so that I know that she is important, comes to me for a lesson and cannot work in a hoop.  Because she has never used one. 

In our part of the world – as I am sure in many other countries – ladies can do courses and sit exams that qualify them to judge embroidery and other crafts at agricultural, or similar, shows.  Some of these highly qualified souls have landed up at my embroidery classes and they can’t work in a hoop either.  One of them had to re-learn chain stitch because she couldn’t do it in a hoop.  She was judging embroidery but had never worked in a hoop!

Apart from leaving me speechless, which those who know me will tell you is something that hardly ever happens, it is these sort of revelations that strengthen my resolve to write this blog.  The Embroidery Police have had far too much influence for far too long.  Along the way they have diminished the confidence of stitchers who needed a boost, judged the embroidery of others whilst, let’s face it, hardly being experts themselves if the hoop thing is anything to go by and most important of all, given the art an elitist reputation that has made many people scared to even try it.

Just this morning two old friends popped in to my studio to pick up a few things.  I showed them one of the designs for my next book.  It is all white and I’ve been working on it for about five days.  With droopy faced dogs all around me and this being our muddy season, it’s already off-white. This happens. 

I pointed this out but said that it would revert to pristine white when it was finished and had been washed.  One asked “but can you wash it?”  Of course I can, it’s only the Embroidery Police who say I can’t.  She was surprised and was of course, just another example of so many people out there who have been controlled by all this nonsense, another person who needs to be guided towards a more common sense approach to what we do and love.

So, after that outburst, back to hoops. 

There are many hoops and frames out there, of all different sizes and shapes.  I’m not going to go into all of them, just my personal favourites. 

The thing about an embroidery hoop is that it is needed to keep your fabric taut.  Apart from improving the quality of your stitches generally, there are specific stitches and techniques that will cause the fabric to pucker if it is not well-stretched in a frame.  These stitches include long and short stitch shading and satin stitch.  Working needle lace, which ultimately attaches to a back stitch row at the bottom and stretches over the area you are covering, will definitely cause your fabric to pull if it is not held firmly in a hoop.

There are few things more vexing than a hoop that won’t keep the fabric taut and I’m afraid this applies to most wooden hoops.  Even if you bind the inner (and outer) rings and tighten the bolt with a screwdriver, the fabric loosens.   That’s an irritant.  As time has gone on I have found myself turning to plastic frames and nowadays, I don’t use anything else.  They give a better grip on the fabric; thereby holding the tension required for better stitching, are less inclined to break, and, because dogs seem to prefer the taste of wood, are less likely to be chewed.  A silly little point but one that is often relevant is that plastic doesn’t upset customs officials at borders.  It doesn’t get bugs in it and doesn’t infringe quarantine laws.

The frame I use most often is the Susan Bates hoop.  The inner ring has a little lip, which is placed at the top.  You place the embroidery fabric over that, put the outer ring in place and tighten.  You must make sure that the outer ring “clicks” over the lip of the inner ring.  As you tighten the bolt on the outer ring you simultaneously tighten the fabric.  When you’re done, a little “dog leg” is created.  This holds the fabric firmly in place and it does not loosen.  It really doesn’t.  I have had great big dogs put a paw into the middle of the fabric and it stays tight.

These hoops come in six sizes from 4 to 10 inch and for ages it has bugged me that I couldn’t get a larger one.  That is when I would have to resort back to large wooden frames. 

Part of the problem here is that I don’t live in the proper world and, even with internet, one doesn’t necessarily see the latest and greatest things, so I was unaware of some recent innovations in the hoop industry.  Fortunately, though, I travel from time to time and when I was at Beating Around The Bush in Adelaide, Australia in April last year, I saw two frames that caught my eye.  The combination of Wi Fi, an Apple gadget and a credit card is a wonderful thing because I had found them on the internet and ordered them before I even flew home, with the result that they arrived in my post box shortly after I returned.  What wonderful contraptions they are and I’m going to tell you about them.

The first is a Morgan no-slip hoop. These wonderous frames are available as single hoops, or as combinations of two different sizes, held together with legs that give you a lap stand with two hoops of different dimensions.  You use the size you need and the other one forms the stand.  Who thought of that?  Whomsoever it was deserves some sort of award.  


The hoops have a groove on the outside of the inner ring and a ridge on the inside of the outer ring, which fits into the groove.  This stops the fabric from slipping once you have tightened the wing-nut.

I ordered the 12/14″ combination before I traveled back from Australia and started using it almost immediately.  Since then I have acquired the 7/9″ combination and used it for a piece that I finished last week. I am about to order the 17″ single hoop for a very large circular design that I want to do.  Unfortunately that size doesn’t come in a lap stand set but, that’s fine.  I now know that they really work and I won’t have to use a slippy-sloppy hoop.  What a pleasure.

These hoops come from the US and if you click on this highlight or those in my description above, they will take you straight to the manufacturer’s website.

The other one that caught my eye at Beating Around the Bush is a Grip and Stitch Frame.   I often work on large rectangular or square pieces and for anything bigger than a certain size, it’s easier to move to a square or rectangular frame.  Huge round hoops are just too cumbersome and I only use them when there is no other option. 

I had never found a rectangular frame that gripped the fabric as well as I would have liked, but this one definitely looked like it was worth a try. 


When it arrived in the post, I assembled the thing and was disappointed.  It seemed so flimsy.  Then I put fabric into it and realised that the flimsiness is one of its advantages.  The fabric keeps it firm and the flimsiness keeps it light and easy to hold.
It is the plastic teeth on the edges that hold the fabric, keeping it tight.  You need to make sure you use a large piece of fabric in case the teeth damage it although, having said that, I used a loose weave hopsack in the frame and when I took the fabric out, the holes disappeared.  So, they don’t seem to be too much of a problem except that I am fairly certain that holes created in silk or tafetta wouldn’t close up.
These frames come from the UK and if you click on this highlight or the one in my description above, they will take you straight to the manufacturer’s website.
Every person has his or her hoop preference and I have given you mine.  You may have hoops and frames that you prefer and you should, of course, use those. All that is important is that you do use a hoop or frame and that you remove the fabric from the ring when you are not working, so that your finished product does not end up with a permanent crease.   
Di van Niekerk,  Trish Burr,  Wilsia Metz and I are off next week to Paris for L’Aiguille En Fete followed by a hop over to England for the Craft Hobby and Stitch International in Birmingham. I will let you know what we’re up to either while we are there or when we return. 
Now that I have Darren of the Dress Code giving me so much assistance in my studio, you’ll be hearing much more from me.

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Darren’s Dress Code

Darren’s Dress Code

Like our Australian friends, we are experiencing a hot summer.  In the part of South Africa where I live, it is also very humid.  Every year we dread the 100 days from New Year to Easter.  They are debilitating.  Last week we had a day that was horrible and everyone in town must have been using every single air conditioner and fan that they had.  That overloaded the municipal grid and caused two long power failures, so we had nothing to blow cool air over us. 

I hate the heat.  I gripe about it all the time.  You can ask anyone who has had emails or conversations with me since the beginning of the year.  They have been one long moan.  And last night I was doing just that with Trish Burr, who had phoned me about something else.  During that conversation I described the horrible day we had last week and told her how Darren, who works for me, had come dressed for work.

Darren is one of Dude’s Chinas.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with Dude, he is my son.  A young man with many Chinas (friends) and they’re all called “Bru”.  Darren has left school and is still deciding what he wants to do with his life, what path he wants to take and what he wants to study.  Last year I had an overwhelming year.  On a particularly busy day in August when I was tearing my hair out because I had too much to do, he was visiting my son and getting under my feet.  I’m not sure what precipitated it but suddenly a light bulb went off above my head.  One that flashed ‘offer him a job’.  So, I did.

The offer was verbal.  I quoted a wage and working hours, but no job description was given.  Other than, “you will be doing whatever I ask you to do”.  Like a wife, really.  So on any one day Darren can be found driving down to the post office in my car to post the days’ outgoing parcels, fixing the garden irrigation pipe that has been chewed by the dogs or weighing and packing a consignment of beads that has arrived.  On the next day, he might scream out to buy bread, update the virus software on my computer and take the dog to the vet.  The following day he will be putting up extra shelves in my studio, fixing a fallen down window-blind in the TV lounge and measuring threads needed for an embroidery kit.  At the end of each day he is properly tired because, as I tell my husband, he’s been working like a woman all day.  Very hard. 

He is a young man who can, not only turn his hand to just about anything, but one who has the ability to anticipate things and to use his not-inconsiderable brain to solve a problem when I’m not available.  To add to all these wonderful attributes, he’s a better photographer than I am.  He now takes embroidery photographs when I need them and does a far better job with my camera that I am ever able to do.  Yesterday afternoon he captured this rainbow over our house.

What a gem.  I’m not sure how I will find someone to replace him when he eventually decides what he’s really going to do with his life and goes off to study.  He is doing all the website orders, sometimes cutting fabric for the screen printers and – believe it or not – overlocking the backing fabric on with an overlocker.  As I am typing this, he is sitting on the other side of the studio packing beads.  We don’t tell that to his drinking mates.

One thing about working here that is different from any other job he will ever have, is that there is no dress code.  We’re rather casual.  The business premises used to be our double garage.  Some years ago I decided that the cars could sleep outside because we needed to have our dining room table back.  I needed more space and so I called in the builders.  Within weeks, I had two rather rudimentary large rooms with the necessary good lighting and electrical points.  Everything was freshly painted but the walls are still rather rough garage walls, the floors are nothing special and we certainly didn’t call in the shop fitters.  We’ve added shelves as we’ve needed them, bought tables and work stations when required, moved in filing cabinets and bookshelves and put a tea table into one corner.  There are extension cords hanging from hooks in the ceiling.  They are used to plug in all of the computers, scanners, printers and sewing machines.  They are also littered with bulldog clips that hold notes and reminders.

The two remaining rooms in that building used to be servant’s quarters and when we decided to move from having a full time live in maid to a daily charlady, they were converted into an office and bedroom for Dude, who had finished varsity and wanted to start his own media business.  I was quite happy to provide the business premises and quite happy to have him living (with his considerable mess) out there, as opposed to in the house which now stays tidy.

A working environment where we get through a huge workload and worry very little about what we wear to do this work.  And Dude, also informal, wanders in from his office next door to steal a cup of coffee or, more often, bum some money and borrow my car (my petrol, not his) to pop out for things that he says are vital to his existence.  

I did have to chuckle, though, on that hot day last week when I saw Darren drive into the gate and get out of his car.  No shoes and no shirt.  Just a pair of shorts which, like all of Dude’s Chinas, was hanging low, with the top of his “boxers” on display.  Logical, because he knows that when it all gets too hot he will help himself to a towel from the linen cupboard and have a dip in our pool.  Then dry off and carry on with his work, refreshed.  Why would he want to overdress?  Particularly if he knows that when the dogs start panting from the heat, I’m going to ask him to help me to hose them down so that they can also cool off.  That always turns into a hosepipe game, particularly for the mad Boxer, so shorts and shorts alone are beyond practical.

Trish and I were having a little giggle over this and we got to wondering if other embroidery businesses that operate from home, do so under similar circumstances.  The thing is that most of us have grown our businesses from hobbies.  Most of us started working from our dining room tables and went from there.  We mused over the fact that most of our customers probably imagine that the kits and packs they have ordered from us, come from elegantly decorated studios, with antique furniture, oriental rugs and tasteful curtains.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our studios are factories, offices, cutting rooms, sewing rooms and shops, all rolled into one.  They are places where we welcome visitors, chat to our children and dogs, drink coffee and generally have fun while we work.  If I’m working when my husband is at home, maybe on a Saturday afternoon, he will bring his laptop out to my studio and work alongside me.  Mine shouldn’t even be called a studio because I don’t do a stitch of embroidery in it.  I draw and write in it, but every stitch that I ever do is done in my TV lounge, in front of my television.  That’s where you’ll find the antique furniture, oriental rugs and tasteful curtains. 

So, having made all of these admissions, we would love to hear if others’ workrooms are equally grotty.


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Suddenly It’s The End Of the Year……

2012 has been a busy year for me, what with the publication of Crewel Twists and trips to Australia, Ukraine and Russia along with trips within South Africa.  I’m looking forward to a family Christmas and a chance to recharge my batteries for 2013, which promises to be just as hectic.
During February 2013 I will be travelling, with Di van Niekerk and Wilsia Metz (our South African publisher), to Paris to attend L’Aiguille en fête from the 14th to the 16th.  I will be giving half-day workshops at this show, teaching a miniature version of the popular Midnight Meander design in my book.  

This will be followed by a hop over the Channel to go to the Craft, Hobby and Stitch International show in Birmingham on the 18th and 19th of February.  At this show – in conjunction with Search Press – Di, Wilsia and I will be presenting a seminar to teachers and designers in England on the subject of taking their embroidery businesses international.  We look forward to meeting up with our French and English friends and customers at these events.

During June and July, I will be teaching at Koala Conventions.  Wherever you are in the world, if you are passionate about your embroidery, this is a go-to event.  The Brisbane event is nine days devoted completely and entirely to embroidery and related needle crafts.  Definitely worth saving up for.  And if you’ve already been to the Brisbane event, consider taking in the beauty of New Zealand as Andy and Wendy are taking it there as well next year.  Go to  to read about it.  At that site there is a downloadable brochure for both events.


Australia and New Zealand will be followed by a hop over to Norway in September to teach at Bitteliten Broderie’s retreat in Stavanger.   I will be repeating the Midnight Meander miniature that I am teaching in Paris, along with the small Jacobean project that is in the image above.   Once again, the Australasian and Norwegian trips will provide a chance to meet up with friends in those parts of the world.
And I haven’t forgotten my friends in South Africa.  I won’t be at Hobby X this year as it is too soon after we get back from the UK and France.  We do, however, plan to be at the IQCA in Johannesburg during early September.  To find out more about this event, visit The first IQCA event was held during 2012 and it was fantastic.  There is no doubt in my mind that it will develop into the premier needle craft event in South Africa, if it isn’t already.

In between all of this, I’m spending most of my time in front of my faithful friend the telly, in the company of my other faithful friend, Neville the glorious white Boxer, working on a new book.  Entitled Crewel Intentions, and due for publication in June 2014, it will continue the theme of breaking the rules.  Introducing yet more textile and needle craft techniques into your crewel work and steering clear of wool, which should please embroiderers with allergies – a very real problem for many of us.

It’s a slow but gratifying process, not least because the rest of my family is quite prepared to take on boring tasks – like cooking the supper and feeding the dogs while I’m lost in stitch heaven.  Apart from the two extracts shown here, it will eventually go on to include designs with beads, crystals, needle lace and much more.

Please do feel free to visit our website over the festive season.  If you want to place orders that is also fine.  We might not deal with them as promptly as we normally do, but you won’t be ignored for too long. 

Thank you for your support and enthusiasm during the year.  I hope you all have a happy and peaceful Christmas and look forward to seeing many of you during 2013.


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Hazel and Di in Russia and Ukraine

Imagine a situation where you have three ageing (and normally sensible) adults sitting on a flight from Dubai to Moscow feeling apprehensive.  None of them admitting it to each other.  The reason for the nerves?  Well, they’ve all grown up hearing stories of the KGB and being sent to Siberia.  To this day, there are reports of girl bands with dubious names being sent out to those frozen plains.  So each of them was wondering what was going to greet them at passport control, worried that just maybe, something was wrong with their visas and they’d be, well who knows what? 
They ‘fessed up to each other once they had got through passport control and chuckled at their naivety because, apart from the fact that they have the best travel agent in the world – one who makes sure that everything falls into place – the Russian and Ukrainian people are the most friendly, generous and hospitable people you could hope to meet, and this includes the bureaucrats.  If you want to rate passport control on a scale of 1 to 10, Russia is probably about a 9 (the missing point being the language difficulty). 
Russia is one of those places that’s on everyone’s bucket list.  We’re curious about it, say to ourselves that we should go there, but somehow never get down to it.  So, when Di phoned me and said that we had an invitation to attend, exhibit and teach at the Masters Golden Hands VI International Show in Kiev, I didn’t have to think twice about it.  We accepted the invitation and within days had decided that, apart from Kiev, we would take in Moscow and St Petersburg as well.  And then my husband said that he was coming too.  All of us knew that it wasn’t going to be like any other trip.  From the embroidery point of view we had no idea what we would find there, but so what.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.   
And what an adventure it was. I’ll get onto the embroidery a little later because first, I want to tell you about the art and craftsmanship in both Russia and Ukraine. Russians (with whom I include the Ukrainians who, until fairly recently, were part of Russia anyway) are very spiritual people. On ever second corner you will find, usually, a Russian Orthodox church. Recognisable by their onion domes and cupolas, some of them up to a thousand years old, these buildings are works of art both inside and out. But here’s the thing. Some of them are less than 25 years old. 


It is well known that religion was banned during the Soviet era, but what is not common knowledge to those of us that live in this part of the world, is that they blew up many churches, monasteries and cathedrals, along with the treasures housed within their walls.  In some instances the relics and treasures were saved, but in most cases not.  Since the demise of the communist regime some of those churches and cathedrals have been rebuilt and in doing so, they have remained faithful to the original style.  And that is what I found most fascinating.  Those buildings, and in particular their interiors, are incomparable.  Not for them modern (read: lazy) art or contemporary, clean (read: boring) lines. 
If you are a Russian artist or craftsman you put adornment next to decoration, cover it with ornamentation, enrich that, embellish it some more and illuminate the whole thing with gilding.  It’s busy, it’s colourful, it shines, it’s exquisite and it works.  I was in my element.
Surrounding these pockets of splendour and not to be ignored, are the features of the Soviet era.  Smoke stacks seen from ornamented bridges, depressing grey apartment blocks and clapped out Lada motor cars juxtaposed with all the bells and whistles of the new era.  Up to date airports, efficient metros and trams, free and fast internet everywhere and, our biggest concern before we left, “bankomats” (ATMs) that default to English, so that we could draw money with our credit cards. 
After 36 hours, Di and I left Peter to his own devices in Moscow and boarded a flight to Kiev.  He followed a few days later.  From the moment we landed in Ukraine we were looked after by the most hospitable people you could hope to find.  Yuri Shumanskyi, his wife Natalia, son Alexei and most of all, his daughter-in-law Tatiana,  did not leave us out of their collective sights while we were there.  Tatiana was our translator and, despite exhibiting her own embroidery at the show she found the time to give us a full tour of the important cathedrals and monasteries on the day before the show started, and to take us to the Caves Monastery on the day after the show ended.  Kiev is one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe and going to places like St Sophia Cathedral or Pechersk Lavra, both about a thousand years old, to be told the history of all the warring tribes, to see where they are now – with less of the trappings found in Moscow and St Petersburg for sure, but such an evolved and cultivated society – was very special.   
Coming out of the St Sophia’s precinct we heard shouting coming from a small gathering in the square.  Tatiana guided us away from the action very quickly and when we asked her what was going on she explained that their elections were imminent and that this was a political protest.  A protest?  No pangas, machettes or knobkerries, no muti and only one bored policeman looking on?  So civilised. 
And so, we get to the reason why we went there in the first place.  The Masters Golden Hands VI International Show is largely about dolls, beadwork and teddy bears.  The show is Yuri’s baby and despite being a fashion editor and publisher, he is keen to promote needlecraft in Ukraine.  From the embroidery point of view, we were there to help him do that. 

The show was much like any other show that you might attend in South Africa.  Boothed stalls with crowded aisles and held at one of the Kiev exhibition centres. 

It was, however, what was being exhibited that told us we were not at home, particularly the dolls and teddy bears.  Creatively and skilfully crafted, it was their faces that were so fascinating. 
Either whimsical and elfin or comical, the artists are not making an attempt to reproduce the human face but, rather, creating the creatures that form part of their folk lore. And very often doing that with humour.

The beadwork, too, is very different to what we do and see here at home.  Like Russian art, generally, it is rich and ornate.  Di and I, along with the Japanese bead masters who had flown in from Japan, were asked to judge the entries in a beadwork competition. 

Some of the entries were what we refer to as off-loom weaving (your peyote, herringbone, and similar stitches), but most of them were bead embroidery.  Jewellery and accessories comprising cabuchons, bevelled crystals, semi-precious stones and glass beads, stitched onto felt or leather and backed with leather. 


The Russians have got it. By that I mean ‘the message’. If you want to produce exquiste art use fine quality materials. Every single entry –literally bar none – was superbly put together and choosing our preferences was not an easy task. At the end of the day we just went with what had the most aesthetic appeal to each of us and it was interesting to note that, by and large, we chose the same entries. Good taste truly is universal.


As we had anticipated, our workshops were smaller than we are used to in, say, Australia.  Tatiana really was a competent translator and some of our students understood English, but having to translate everything for the benefit of those that didn’t understand us, did tend to slow things down, so it was just as well.  With the language problem in mind we had both chosen to teach smaller projects so that we would finish in the allotted time, which we did.  What made the difference though was the fact that stitching is far more a part of that culture than it is of many others, so the ladies could see what we were demonstrating and, being sharp, picked it up easily. 


Russian society is generally more conservative than ours and, consequently, a lot more formal.  It is seldom that a craft show here, or anywhere else for that matter, holds an opening and an awards ceremony – complete with diplomas and bouquets.  This happens in Kiev and whilst it took us by surprise to have to go up on a stage and speak through a microphone, or to have students arriving at a workshop (that they have paid for) with a gift or a bunch of flowers for the teacher, it was just an aspect of what could be called the old fashioned way of doing things.  Something that much of the rest of the world may have lost, and something that I tend to mourn, largely because along with that formality comes treating fellow human beings with respect.  Neither of us are arrogant and nor do we expect to be given special treatment if we go anywhere but, oh gosh, it was so nice to be treated with plain old, common or garden respect.  I think its called manners and Russian society still has it.  So much so that I kept going back to it, kept discussing it and kept bemoaning the fact that it doesn’t happen here.  If anything, the opposite.
And that is why, when we were invited back, we said that we would go again.  So much of what we do has nothing whatsoever to do with making money.  It is to do with common interest, fellowship and making friends and that was there in abundance.
Last week I bumped into an old friend who had recently been on a Russian cruise.  She said that she found it depressing which, of course, was not our experience.  And so it dawned on me how lucky we are to travel the way we do.  We meet up with like-minded people, people who have invited us and are proud to show us their beautiful cities and people who don’t see us as nuisance tourists.  We feel truly blessed.
On the cards next year are trips to France (L’aiguille-en-fete),  Birmingham (Craft, Hobby and Stitch Show), Australia and New Zealand (Koala Conventions), Norway (Bitteliten Broderi Retreat) and a return to the Masters Golden Hands International Show in Kiev.  Watch this space because I’m going to be telling you all about these wonderful events.

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Pens and Potions

When I was a child embroidery patterns came on tissue paper – slightly yellowed, or has my memory become jaded?  The lines were dark blue.  You pinned the pattern into place on your fabric and you switched on your iron to transfer the lines.  Do you remember those?  Do they still exist?  I certainly haven’t seen them around for years.  But that may be because I live far away from the proper world.
If they are still available, though, it won’t help me because I draw all of my own designs.  I sit down with a big piece of paper, a pencil and rubber.  There are times when I just sit and no Muses pay me a visit.  That’s quite often and if nothing comes well, nothing comes and I go and do something else.  But I need to start another book so yesterday I just sat there until something came out of my brain and I was able to put pencil to paper.  It took the better part of an afternoon to get something that I was happy with.  Then I needed to transfer those lines onto paper.
I know that there are all sorts of more acceptable methods that involve pricking the paper and using powders, or using a lightbox and a pencil…………………  But like most things in life and embroidery I do what works best for me.  There is nothing quite like using dressmakers carbon.  Let me tell you how it’s done.
The first thing that I do is take a photocopy of my original drawing as I don’t want to use the only copy that I have. 
I pin that photocopy onto my fabric, place dressmaker’s carbon – ink side down – between the photocopy and the fabric then pin it all into place so that nothing moves when I’m in the middle of transferring the lines.  It would be a disaster if it moved because I wouldn’t be able to line it up again, so those pins are vital.  Before I start transferring the lines I put it onto a surface that has a bit of give so that the lines transfer smoothly.  For this job I usually use my Olfa Cutting Mat.  And then I go over the lines on the photocopy.
The thing about using this method is that you need to press hard because if you don’t you’re going to make no impression at all.  The other thing that you need to do is use a hard writing tool, so a pencil is not going to work.  In fact, there is not much that’s going to work – except for a ball point pen.  The very thought may cause many needle workers to throw up their hands in horror.  But here’s the thing.  You’re not writing on the fabric with the pen, you’re using it to draw over the lines on the PAPER.  And it is not going to work if you use one that has run out of ink because then you won’t be able to see what you have and haven’t done.  So a ballpoint pen it is, and the good old yellow Bic is still the best one there is.

Once you have gone over all of the lines in the design, unpin one side and check that you have transferred everything.  Only when you are satisfied that everything is there should you take the rest of the pins out and remove the drawing and carbon paper, If you’ve forgotten just one line, you won’t be able to put it back in the right place so be careful here or you will have to do some freehand drawing.

And here it is, all the lines transferred and ready to start stitching.  Well not quite.  I almost always back my embroidery fabric with cotton voile.  It provides stability which means that I have a wider range of fabrics that I can use.

I cut a piece that is give-or-take the same size as the embroidery fabric, pin the two together and overlock around the four sides.  This is important.  If you don’t own an overlocker, use a conventional sewing machine set on a zig zag stitch, or turn over a hem and tack it.  If you don’t the edges will fray, they will get fluffy, your threads will catch on them and quite apart from all of that, it will look like something the dog brought in or brought up as time goes on.
What often happens is that I get my newly-drawn fabric into the hoop and discover that my lines are a little too faint.  Not quite good enough for my aging eyes and this is when I commit what many try to tell me is the worst sin of all.  I go over them with a blue washout pen!  See, clear lines:

I like the blue washout pen.  It’s easy to use and it does wash out.  Many people complain that it doesn’t, but that is because they haven’t used it properly.  The trick is to rinse it out with cold water before you wash your embroidery in any kind of soap or detergent.  The other thing that I’m told is that it hasn’t been around for long enough to know whether it will eat into the fabric in, say, a hundred years time.  You know what?  I don’t care.  I’ll be long gone by then and I’d rather make my life easier now.  So, the blue pen it is.
It does, however, bleed on some fabrics so if I’m working on silk I use the Sewline Ceramic Pencil.  Nice tool that.  The PhD (project half done) below is on silk and I have gone over my lines with the Sewline Pencil.

And just to assure you that these things do wash out very easily, here’s the completed project, suitably washed, with no lines visible.
If I’ve transferred a drawing onto a dark fabric and need to make the lines clearer, or if I want to change something while I’m stitching, I use one of the white washout pens.  These haven’t been around for long and are a really worthwhile addition to the needle workers stash of marking tools.  Mine is made by Sew Easy and I know that they are available from Clover as well.  You just need to know that when you are using it, the lines take a while to appear so don’t think it has run out.  It hasn’t.  That’s how it works.  And once, again it does wash out as the little number below proves.

I don’t ever use a pencil.  I did once.  I was doing a bead embroidery project on cream silk using transparent ivory beads.  I used a pencil because the blue pen would have bled.  The result?  The graphite from the pencil got into the transparent beads as I stitched through them and never came out.  Despite the fact that it one of the marking tools that is often recommended, you’re not going to get a recommendation from me.  In my view, pencils are for paper, not fabric. And why would you want to use something that is, in a teenage girl’s words “so last century” when people have slaved in laboratories inventing things that work better?  Doesn’t make sense to me.
We are terribly busy in my studio at the moment.  Preparing, first of all, for the International Quilt Convention Africa which is happening in Johannesburg at the end of this month.  Quilt Convention?  Yes, we need to be there to show them the value of embroidery, even if it they only use it on Crazy Patch.  The other thing that we are madly working towards is a teaching trip abroad.  This is going to involve a couple of days in Dubai, followed by three days in Kiev.  Although that is only happening in October much of the preparation takes place now and what it means is that I don’t necessarily get to posting on this blog as often as I (or you) would like.  I promise though, that I will continue to steal time when I am able to write something that will, I hope, inspire and amuse you.  Till next time……….I leave you with a photograph of just some of my marking tools!