Back to Basics

Some of you may remember that at the beginning of the year I embarked on two embroidery challenges / courses online – Sharon B’s Pintangle (http://www.pintangle.com) and Anne Brooke’s 52 Tags (http://www.annebrooke.co.uk). I have to confess that I am way behind on both having got, I think, about as far as February! However they are purely for my own pleasure and to learn more of the skills so I am doing them only when in the mood. Summer never is good time for me to do much crafting as the evenings are short and the garden demanding. Maybe over the winter I will feel like doing more.

However two things became glaringly obvious very quickly.

Firstly I had no idea there were so many embroidery stitches with so many variations on each – why did it never occur to me that if I could whip running stitch I could try the same thing on others? Or that blanket stitch could go both up and down in the same row? Doh!

Secondly that I had never used an embroidery hoop and could see no purpose to one. I did try once, years ago, and the fabric just slipped all over the place so I gave up. A link from one of the stitches in Pintangle explained that I needed to wrap the inner ring in tape to give grip and that a small hoop is easier to manage than a big one. I bought 2 small hoops and several meters of narrow cotton tape in Cardigan Market, did the wrapping as instructed and now it all made sense! I still find it a bit unnatural but I am getting there.

My old hoop and one of my new ones. I wrapped both to try them and see which I preferred.

Those experiences set me thinking. Every woman in my family could do embroidery. I was told that my paternal Grandmother won prizes for her needlework but she died before I was born. Her daughter and niece had tablecloths they had embroidered, some of which I inherited. But I don’t remember actually seeing any of them doing it. I have no recollection of being taught to embroider. I made a mat with blanket stitch and cross stitch on Aida fabric at school and somewhere along the line I picked up stem stitch and satin stitch. Did I glean it from a book? Was I given a kit for Christmas? Did I start to make something and ask Mum to show me how to do the next bit? I will never know. I am just glad that I have started at the beginning, learning in a structured way to do it properly.

But that linked to another problem I was having – knitting. I had realised that whilst I could knit, did knit, made perfectly acceptable things when I knitted, it felt very clumsy and seemed to involve a lot of letting go and picking up movements. I was sure my Mum did it in a much smoother way but of course she died nearly 30 years ago so I can’t ask her. The embroidery revelations made me recognise that I similarly have no recollection of being taught to knit or of watching her closely to see how she did it. I identified the main problem as being that I was having to take my right hand off the needle to hook the yarn round it, then grasp the needle again to make the stitch. I knew Mum had a way of flicking her right index finger to make the same move. So I have been experimenting and have discovered that managing the yarn with my left hand in exactly the same way as I do when crocheting works for me. It also makes ribbing and any other pattern which involves switching from knit to purl and back a doddle. I have no idea if this is an orthodox technique but it works!

Of course in the process I went back to ‘stick your tongue out and hang onto the yarn as if there’s an overexcited St Bernard on the other end’ stage! Very salutary. I will have more patience with novices now!

By chance I had got a book from the Library on knitting blocks and decided to practice my new method by knitting some of those. I had a box of balls of Aran yarn which I had knitted into a jumper, worn a couple of times, decided I didn’t like, and unravelled so if I made a hash of it I wasn’t worried. The first block I tried was knitted in the round on 4 needles – big mistake! I have knitted loads of socks on three or four needles but there the work drops down and the needles are short. Here the fabric got wider and on the long needles contrived to keep stabbing me with at least one of the needles that was not being used at the time. So then I tried one which was mainly stocking stitch with a simple diamond of lace stitches. Better. Now I am doing what it describes as ‘diagonal pattern’. Fiendish! If I make a mistake (and there have been plenty) it is a devil to take back. I have pulled the whole thing off the needles and started again twice. It is only stubbornness which will get it finished! However I am getting the hang of the technique much better with so much practice.

I wonder what else I will discover I have only half learned?