In which I sort of master Needlelace

So thankfully this technique didn’t leave my face stinging with hot tears of frustration like the Bullion knot, but still no cupcake.

I wanted this texture in the top portion of the stem (I believe it’s called a stipe) to have the lacy, delicate texture that you sometimes see in fungi. After reading the RSC Stumpwork book I wanted to learn Needlelace techniques and Single Brussels Stitch was the right one for this piece. I was also taking advice from the RSC Crewelwork book and had planned each section of the piece to be stitched in the order to which they would appear in the front, i.e. the front-most pieces will come last, to make sure they stand out in relief from the prior.

To this end, I realised after finishing the Bullion knot gills, and seeing how raised they were, I needed to first pad the section with some taupe coloured felt to make sure the needlelace stood more proudly than the gills. This wasn’t the simplest thing as I couldn’t easily or accurately trace the shape I needed onto the felt having embroidered around it already, so it was a bit of guesswork, but not too bad.

Fighting against my instincts as always to just bloody well do it, I used my practice hoop to work a few rows. I was using the RSC Stumpwork book as my guide, and I have to say, although the step by step instructions are very clear, it could have done with some extra tips, like the fact that when you start creating the buttonhole stitches of which the lace is constructed, it totes looks like you’ve got it all wrong.

Ignoring this instinct, I carried on and realised I could just make my stitches a bit wider to give myself enough space to find the loops in which to weave into, and resulted in a  more open texture. This technique is only attached to the back fabric on the edges, the rest of it created by knotting and looping into itself back and forth. I was using a blunt tapestry needle.

So, I sort of mastered it. I’m sure that some of the loops weren’t actually picked up or got split. But whatevs. I think it’s pretty.

In which I master the bullion knot

This stitch was a little fucker. I’ve spoken before about my disgusting lack of patience with difficult things, and it was only out of sheer bloody mindedness that I knew this piece would be lacking with out the perfect texture for mushroom fins, that I persevered.

I had a piece of waste canvas hooped up to practice before I did them proper in the toadstool. I was using 2 strands of Anchor cotton, and a Milliners No 10 needle.

I actually have a whole book dedicated to this stitch and little embroidered motifs stitched in it, as well as the technique described in 2 of my new Royal School books. So I was trying it in several ways. In this book:

It recommends using no hoop, as it is a scooping stitch rather than a stabbing stitch, so I tried it on a piece of overhanging fabric I had on my practice hoop. Result: crappy stringy ratty mess.

Then I tried it the same way but in the hoop. Result: crappy stringy ratty mess.

Then I tried it the RSC way, in the hoop. Result: crappy stringy ratty mess.

Then I got upset and threw a tantrum.

Then I tried again and I don’t know what I did but I did it.

I created my loop across the shape, then brought my needle back almost all the way through the first point, creating a vertical pole to which to wrap my coils. Because I followed the advice about using the Milliners needle, as recommended in the Bullions book, I had a nice long surface to get these long knots on comfortably, and an eye that doesn’t widen to pull through. Initially I had a problem with too much tension and not being able to pull the needle through, and I think a needle grip would be helpful if I was using this stitch again, as you do need a firm grip.

In your FACE Bullion knot! I am your MASTER! *maniacal laughter*

Deadly Poisonous Toadstool 2.0

This week I am taking a little break away from teeny miniatures, to stretch my skills a bit. As you know I am always looking to learn new stitches and improve on the ones I have, so a couple of weeks ago I bought these:


Royal School of Needlework Essential Stitch guides. I’ve read them all cover to cover and itching to make some sort of stump-crewel-shaded-hybrid monster. 

If you know my piece Fly Agaric, you know that I worked that specifically to learn and practice stitches I never did before – so in that I tried satin stitch for the first time, seeding stitch, woven spider webs, long and short stitch (badly) and mastered french knots. I always intended to create a series of Poisonous Mushrooms pieces to show my development – just like a traditional sampler – so I’m staging a revival.

Amanita phalloides – Death Cap mushroom

I started off with this fabulous old field guide I found in a book sale last year. Full of lovely hand drawn illustrations.

I used my brilliant transfer pen to transfer my drawn design based on the Death Cap but a bit more simple and graphic, to the Salmanca fabric, which I had pre-dyed in tea to make it look a bit like old parchment or something. This bit is raised band stem stitch, very simple and I like the ridges it produces, a bit like a mushroom grows I think.

I will blog my progress this week!

Rib cage mash up

Rib cage mash up

I have to say this one was a tricky little bugger. However, I got a lot of learns from her. She might be my favorite so far.

First off I decided to work on the sludge coloured linen I used in my Fly Agaric piece, but backed it up with some green polycotton – this helped give me better tension in my hoop as I knew  was going to be adding quite dense stitches. I printed out my little ribs outline after I had modified it to the right kind of thing – enough detail but not too complex. Then I broke out my new iron on transfer pen! Hadn’t used this before, so slightly nervous but basically I traced around the shape onto baking parchment then ironed it onto the linen. The first go it was a bit blotchy so I tried it again and it worked okay (I will use more porous paper next time). It gave me enough of a guide I could stitch around in general sewing thread to give me the final outline. I did start off with stranded cotton in split stitch but quickly realised the shape was way too intricate. See?

Learning all the time.

So, the shape outlined, I then chose a nice hand-dyed pale lilac-pink sort of shell type very fine silk from 21st Century yarns. I chose it because when I initially decided to do a rib cage I thought I might try and silk-shade it, but again, the narrowness of the individual ribs made me reconsider. So this type of thread I thought would add interest and some more unusual colours, and sheen, to contrast with the matte linen.

On the one hand, because I was working through 2 layers of fabric, there was a greater level of stability and accuracy in needle placement compared to had I just used the linen. But on the other, once I got going it was quite wearing on the silk and had to use quite short pieces to minimise this. Overall I’m fairly pleased with the smoothness of the stitches – the colour varigation on the thread means that it highlights where I’ve changed direction. I also added 3 little pairs of french knots for vertebrae spiny processes.

The other tricky thing was actually seeing the guide lines – even though I had stitched them in. I think the size of it (it’s 19mm x 25mm) even under my magnifier was a challenge as the slubbiness of the linen cast a shadow. This led to a ‘spot the deliberate mistake’ situation. She’s a girl. Can you tell why?*

Finally, because the entrance point of the silk into the fabric wasn’t very clean in the end, I outlined just the rib portion in single ply Anchor cotton. I felt like it gave a bit of dimension and depth too.


  • Use a finer weave fabric for small freestyle work – open textures doesn’t allow for enough accuracy

  • I really need single stands of whatever I’m sewing with – better to build up density than wear out the fibre and make a messy finish

  • Use transfer pen to make intricate patterns, but use a porous paper to make the copy so it absorbs excess ink and doesn’t leave a blotchy mark on the fabric

  • Variegated threads are beautiful but highlight changes in stitch direction and even slightly uneven stitching.

Mounted up like this, I gotta say, I do really like her, despite our struggles.

Clearly this is the ribcage of a slightly deformed tiny woman. So, very Mother Eagle really.

*extra rib!