Thursday, 30 September 2010

A is for apple

The final piece of work for a recent embroidery course was to produce an illuminated capital, which I enjoyed designing as much if not more than the stitching.  I've always liked books where the initial letter of a chapter is beautifully illustrated so I spent a lot of time on Google images looking at pictures of medieval manuscripts, and decided to keep to the strict meaning of 'illuminated
capital' by including gold in my design.   I would later curse that decision: sewing french knots in metallic thread is not recommended, and apparently to get a similar effect most people use beads.  I ended up with a combination of both and can testify that the beads are def a lot easier.

Rather than doing my own initial (which would just end up in a box in the loft being jumped on by squirrels), I've made this for my mum's birthday.  I imagine that most people after multiple decades as a parent don't expect home-made presents, but thankfully my mum is not only used to them (she's a frequent recipient of my craft output), she professes to liking them.

So A is not for apple, as my mum predates 'celebrity' names by a couple of generations, but both the making and the giving is keeping me in touch with my inner child.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Smash and grab

It's piñata time again - OH and I have made several piñatas over the last few years for his niece's and nephew's birthdays.  This year we have a pot-bellied penguin (although I seem to have found a camera angle which down-plays the rotundness - not quite sure why I can only manage that on papier-maché, rather than human bellies).

Am v.pleased with this one, although the proof of the piñata is always in the smashing, or more accurately, whether the string holding the piñata up stays intact long enough for a horde of children to bash their way through the papier-maché.  It does seem slightly ridiculous to spend several hours constructing something which is going to be smashed to pieces in a matter of minutes, but I love creating something which goes out on a high.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


Am v.happy with this recent acquisition: original Viyella fabric.  It was kindly given to me by a fellow Embroiderer's Guild member - she in turn was given several lots of different textiles by a friend whose grandfather used to be a cloth merchant.

My calculations suggest that the fabric is probably from the first part of the twentieth century (partly based on the fact that it's a narrow width, rather than the current standard 110 or 140cm wide), and it's none the worse for wear.  For some reason I had thought that Viyella was an American brand (possibly because I associate it with shirt-waister dresses worn by midwest farmers' wives), but I couldn't be more wrong: the brand was founded in Nottinghamshire, in the suprisingly early year of 1894.  The fabric's soft warmth definitely belongs to a pre-central heating era - according to Wikipedia it is 55% merino wool and 45% cotton, and I imagine that a Viyella shirt was a particularly welcome layer on a cold day.  As you can see from the label, Viyella guarantee against shrinkage - a world away from today's 'Dry Clean Only' fashion.

I've earmarked the fabric for a dress (have an idea in my head which I need to translate onto paper).  Just need to summon up the courage to cut into a piece of British textile history.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Octopus Mark II

This blog isn't called Titchy Stitcher for nothing - my OH has been challenging me for some time to crochet a smaller amigurumi octopus than this one which I posted last month.  So, having resisted the pressure for some time (largely because I didn't think I'd manage it and just go cross-eyed trying), I succumbed.  And, just this once, I'll admit he had a point.  This is the result, and I can't quite believe how small it is (penny included for scale).  Although stitching it was definitely hard on the eyes, even in a pale colour, lit by gorgeous Greek holiday sunshine. 

The thread I used was 30 count crochet cotton with a 1.25mm crochet hook (bigger than the 0.75mm recommended but the smallest I had).  OH is still on the campaign for ever smaller amigurumi - in John Lewis today he was v.impressed that they sell crochet hooks as small as 0.6mm and so insisted that I buy every small size which I don't already have.  I'll have to teach him how to crochet as I'm not intending on using them.

The irony of having managed a tiny octopus is that I created it as part of an ongoing project (more of that another time) and now that it's finished I think it's too small for what I wanted.  I'm blaming OH ...

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Making paper beads

I've had a couple of requests for more information about how I made the paper beads, so thought I'd post what I did, what worked and what didn't.

What you need:
  • Paper or thin card
    I use either thick magazines (unfortunately free weekend newspaper ones aren't great) or flyers, or thin (cereal box weight) cardboard
  • Scalpel, ruler & board/guillotine
    anything which enables you to cut long straight lines quickly and easily - scissors would be OK, just a bit hard on the hands
  • Crochet hook
    or something similar to wrap the paper around - if you want a narrow hole in your bead (for instance if you want to string your beads interspersed with tiny seed beads) try a cocktail stick.
  • Pritt Stick or similar glue
  • A handful of clothes pegs
  • Varnish and brush
    I'm currently using wood varnish
  • Wooden skewers
    if you opt for narrow holes in your beads, you'll need lots of spare cocktail sticks for drying them
  • Egg box/disposable drinks cup
    to stick the skewers/cocktail sticks in with drying beads


Cutting paper:
Cut the paper/card into very long but narrow triangles.  The short side of the triangle gives the length of your bead; the diameter will depend on the weight of the paper and the size of your rolling implement.
    A triangle this size, using cardboard and a crochet hook gives a bead approx 1cm dia x 1.5cm long.

    Starting at the widest end of the triangle, start to roll the paper quite tightly around the crochet hook.  No  need to glue the start of the roll, the tension keeps it in place.  Roll until you reach the end of the paper, then use the Pritt Stick to glue the end securely and remove the crochet hook.  Hold the end in place with a clothes peg until the glue dries.  If you're using quite heavy card and the end of the roll is tending to unravel, try curling the end by pulling it against the crochet hook (as if you're curling birthday present ribbon) so that it curls around the bead, and then glue as normal.

    When I have a batch of beads ready rolled, I then varnish them.  I'm currently using wood varnish but it's not as solid as I'd like, so Plan C is to try resin of some description (Plan B was dilute PVA glue, but that didn't work at all, just seemed to sink into the bead - other suggestions welcome!).  I put several beads onto a skewer and use an old (artist's, not decorator's) paintbrush to coat them in varnish.  I then pierce the eggbox with the skewer to suspend the beads whilst they dry (if you're doing beads with narrow holes, use spare cocktail sticks here).  After about an hour, when they're touch dry, I move them on their skewers to check they're not attached to either the skewer or each other.  When the varnish is fully dry, I do another coat.

    For bracelets I use elastic to string the beads - it doesn't need to be able to stretch loads to fit over a hand and there's no need to add a clasp.  I use elastic from a bead shop - something like Stretch Magic, and then do a super firm knot which I Super Glue to make sure it doesn't come undone (without the glue it doesn't stay knotted).  The best knot I've found is a double fishermen's knot - it looks hard but once you've worked out what you're doing, it's not.   Leave long ends on the knot (a centimetre or more) and slide them inside the beads to hide them.
    For long necklaces I've been using waxed thread (from haberdashery shops), largely as I had it lying around and I figured it should be strong enough - the beads are so light there shouldn't be that much wear and tear.  And it just needs a common or garden reef knot, rather than anything more taxing.
    For short necklaces (haven't done any yet, mind), think I'd use waxed thread attached to a clasp.

    OK, that's my paper bead making guide, or as much as I can think of right now.   Feel free to post questions and I'll try to answer them.  Happy (rock and) rolling.