Monday, January 30, 2012

Like your fabric tight?

I'm fanatical about tautness. Strange but true. I find the tighter my fabric is, the more even and neat my stitching is. If my fabric starts to get floppy I get grumpy.

So needless to say, I've never been a fan of scrolls. I can't stand how floppy the fabric is. I've tried several and never could get my fabric tight enough. I've also tried the little clips you can get to hold the sides taut and those never worked well enough either. Add to that once the project is on the scrolls, it's pretty much there until you finish it unless you don't mind spending ridiculous amounts of time getting it all situated and stretched! So you have to have lots and lots of them if you're a serial starter like me.

I never much liked hoops either. Yes, you can wrap them so they don't leave marks (as badly anyway), and yes they're light and easy to hold - but I use a stand so that doesn't really matter anyway. I just always found that even with a fairly large hoop, the stitching area was too small for my liking. Now I'm not talking about 20x30 stitching area or anything crazy like that, but I like to be able to stitch a couple pages before having to move it around all the time. Plus, I don't like taking my fabric out every night, I'm too lazy for that. Just never been my thing.

Once I discovered q-snaps, I thought I was set. Nice tight fabric (most of the time, until of course they stretch out and you need new ones). Adjustable in tension, at least the way I mount the fabric in mine. Mix and match sizes, from 6x6 up to 20x20. BUT, what do you do when you want to bead? It's all good as long as your project matches one of those sizes, but when you're doing a monster project that's 27x36, like Antique Lace, it doesn't work. Ask me how I know. I know some people say they cover the beads with fabric and put the snap over it. Tried that. Broken beads. Tried lots of things actually, but nothing I was particularly happy with. That was actually what drove me to search for something better. I hate leaving all the beading until the end, but when your frame isn't as big as your project, you pretty much have to. Scrolls are good for beading - but read my comments above. Of course I could bead in hand, but ick. I was ready to throw the project out the window doing it in hand. I really hate it. I ended up using every extender I had to make a q-snap frame that was 11x27, then I could just leave off the bottom clamp and let the fabric hang loose on the bottom while I beaded. That's all well and good but it was still a PITA. With the number of q-snaps I have, I technically could have made them 27x27, but my arms just aren't long enough to reach!!

So I started searching and asking around about other types of frames, and someone pointed me towards these:

This was last summer. After looking at the price and adding in the shipping, one frame was over $100. A little bit of sticker shock there. Just for the frame! No stand, no nothing. 4 pieces of wood (well six actually, there are small dowels that hold your fabric in place). So I wanted to research them before dropping the cash.

After hearing from a couple of close friends how great they were and how much they liked them, I was sold and got Jon to get me some for Christmas. Technically Boxing Day. After a bit of a mix up with shipping (see my last post) they finally arrived today. It was worth the wait and certainly worth every penny I spent on them, including the addtional $26 customs charge - which brought the grand total to just under $150. So yeah, a little bit of an OUCH, but I'm really glad I got them.

Set up takes about the same amount of time as q-snaps (because I fiddle a lot to get the fabric tight). On my first try (I've only tried once so far) it was about 3 minutes from being parts to actually being in my floor stand. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The nice thing is that unlike most scroll frames, you can swap your fabric out as often as you'd like, so if you're a serial starter like me, you don't need a set for each project. You might need different widths for larger/smaller projects, but that's about it. Changing projects is a breeze.

How's the tension? I have never in my life had my fabric THIS tight, even in q-snaps or hoops. It's awesome. Worth every penny. Now I'm saving my pennies to get some more widths!!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Just my luck...

It's been an unlucky week.

Example 1: About a month ago, I ordered a Needle Needs Millenium Frame. They processed the order on December 29. I hadn't gotten a ship notice yet, so I emailed them yesterday. They said they shipped it via Fed Ex on January 4 and gave me the tracking number. I had been checking my account on their site and it contained NONE of this information or else I'd have checked the tracking!! So last night I check the tracking. Fed Ex tried to deliver it on Jan 10 and 11 while I was at work - but I didn't find a delivery slip? They left THAT at the back door. WHY????? The front door is right there!!! Anyway, they're going to re-attempt delivery on Monday - using the FRONT door - and they're going to call when they're in the area to confirm I'm home.

Example 2: I started my model for the Antique Lace Band Sampler. When I ordered materials, the floss and fabric were perfect - the floss was the same colour as the fabric, but a couple shades lighter and in my test stitching it showed up perfectly. The kicker? My fabric came in and it was lighter than the piece I used for test stitching. The floss got here and was darker than what I test stitched with. So when stitching I could see it okay but there wasn't enough pop for it to show in photos. So I've ordered a different colour of fabric. Went really dark with Weeks Almond Bar. That will definitely show up.

Example 3: We only have one car. We've never needed a second because one or the other of us has always been able to carpool to work - until now. The lady who gives Jon a ride to work gave her notice. So we've had to both completely re-work our schedules so that we can both get to and from work. Time for a second car maybe? I don't know. It would be nice, but with gas and insurance SO high, and only really needing it for the odd day, it's not really necessary. Maybe we'll think about it more in spring.

Example 4: As everyone knows, I'm a high count fanatic. I really dislike using lower count fabrics, anything under 34ct isn't likely to get used. So I'll go out of my way to find materials I can use on 40ct and up because that's what I enjoy. So I did some converting for some Mirabilia designs and managed to find beads and metallics that would work for 40ct. Well find is kind of a bad word. They exist, but barely anyone carries them!! I found one site that had everything I need, but the quantities are ridiculous. The smallest amount is 35g per colour. I need like 5 or 10. Overkill? Yep. So I kept looking. Found another site that did 10g packs, had everything I needed. So I added everything to my cart, about $50 worth of beads, and went to check out. $74 for shipping. Give me a break. Not a chance in hell. Found a third site that had everything I needed. Added everything to my cart and went to check out (again) and had to set up an account. Location... Canada isn't in the list. They only ship to UK or EU. ARGH!! I sent a pleading email to her with what I needed to see if she would send to me, she said she'd figure out the amount for shipping and let me know. She doesn't send overseas anymore because Canada Post was too prone to "losing" packages. Tell me about it! If it's an issue, I'll get her to send them to my MIL who can pass them on to me in her next care package.

Example 5: We got rid of our satellite ages ago - we rarely have time to watch it and it was costing $80+ a month. Why so high? Well we wanted the movie channels since that was what we watched most often. But it was a bit much for the odd movie. So over the weekend we decided it was time for Netflix. We were going to buy one of the wireless boxes to receive it on the TV, but Jon figured we might as well spend the little extra and get the blu-ray player with it built in. So on Wednesday, he went to the Source and bought a player that the salesman told him was Netflix ready. We hooked it up, it played blu-ray beautifully, dvd beautifully, then we went to sign into Netflix. No Netflix. We looked up the specs online - NO it DOESN'T support Netflix. So yesterday, he took it back and got a different and might I add, more expensive model (this one had Netflix right on the box) and set it all up again last night. Netflix - check. DVD - check. Blu-ray? Well it was supposed to, but it said that it wasn't supported. So we call tech support. Yes, the player is blu-ray. Try a disc - nope. Try another disc - nope. It would appear that the blu-ray reader in it is faulty. We know the discs work, since we tried them on a different player the night before. So back to the Source again today. Will have to figure something else out though, since they only had ONE of these ones in stock so they'll either have to order another one or we'll have to try yet another player. Might just get another PS3 and be done with it. lol

Example 6: Wednesdays are my guild meeting nights. Tuesday, with just two of us there, we managed to get cleaned up and out before 5:30. Wednesday, the night I needed to get out on time, we got out at... 6:50, even though it wasn't busy and there were four of us and I even had the mountain of dishes done by 5. So I missed my meeting. Again. :( However, I finally put my foot down and said I can't keep up the five day schedule as well as designing. I'm sleeping less than 4 hours most nights trying to scramble and get things done, and as a result I keep getting sick because my body can't take it anymore. 3 days would be great. We compromised on 4 for the time being, and 3 when they hire a couple of new people. So now I have Wednesdays off. Won't miss a meeting again. :) Love my job, it's a great work environment and everyone is a lot of fun to work with, but the hours are killer.

And just to kick me in the teeth while I'm down... Wichelt released a whole load of new colours of fabric. White Chocolate, Black Chocolate, Milk Chocolate and Chocolate Raspberry. Went to the site to place an order for them after seeing them on one of my groups, and they don't come in 36 or 40ct. We never get any of the good colours. :(

This week sucks. Can I have a do-over?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The right needle for the job...

I see this question asked a lot, and I've touched on the subject previously a bit. I figured I'd pass along all that which I've learned over the years from fellow stitchers and my own experience. I'm going to discuss tapestry needles because I have the most experience with these and use them most often.

There are loads of different brands of needles out there. What you use is personal choice and trial and error is the only way you'll know which is best for you. Surprisingly, it's not something a lot of stitchers think about often - they'll often use whatever is close at hand or the ones that come in kits and keep using them until they get lost! The thought of doing that makes me shudder, btw. I'm very particular about my needles now. They are VERY important to my stitching pleasure. A bad needle will be noticed immediately!! I really didn't know what all the fuss was about until I got fed up with eyes breaking and decided to try some other brands.

There are certain things you want to look for in a needle.

First, find one that works well with your body chemistry. I'm acidic apparently, I start to tarnish a lot of brands within an hour or two of using them, even though I wash my hands constantly. I've personally found that Piecemakers and Bohins work much better for me in this regard, they still tarnish but not nearly as quickly as others. I think I've been using my current one for about a week and it's still shiny. I go through them a lot more in summer mind you, sometimes changing needles every day. For some people, gold or platinum plated needles will hold up better. Why is that so important? Well using a tarnished needle will remove that nice smooth feel as you pass it through the fabric and even get to the point of feeling "sticky" for lack of a better term. If it gets badly worn it can also leave tiny metal deposits in your work which may not show now, but on an heirloom piece you want to pass along, they could definitely show up later on and discolour the fabric and threads around them. When your needle starts to tarnish, it's time for a new one.

Next, look for needles that are well made and have a smooth eye. Some brands I've tried have burrs in the eyes which can do serious damage to your floss. How do you know? Your floss should glide through the eye smoothly. If you feel it snagging a lot it's probably catching somewhere inside the needle's eye. This is really frustrating, especially when you've spent a fortune on really nice materials and they're fraying all the time! Test out different brands until you find one that you like in this regard. Again, I've found Piecemakers and Bohins serve me very well and while I do find the occasional needle that snags, it's very rare.

The only thing I wish for from Bohins and Piecemakers is that they made petite needles - I'm a pretty frugal stitcher. I spend a lot of money on flosses and it pains me to have to throw away those little pieces. The shorter the needle, the less you're throwing away. However, I have tried every petite needle out there and have never been as happy with the result so I'll stick with the ones I love.

Now on to sizes. NOT ALL NEEDLES ARE CREATED EQUALLY. There are different sizes of tapestry needles for a reason! Using the wrong sized needle can create a multitude of problems - threads fraying really badly, threads tangling and snarling frequently and frequent knotting are the main ones. What I find frustrating is that more often than not, the stitcher is likely to blame the thread for these problems when often it's not the thread at all but often because someone is using a needle that is too small. Heck, I've even done that, blamed a particular thread for fraying a lot - yet when trying a different needle the problem disappeared. So now I try different sizes BEFORE I start cursing a thread.

A proper sized needle should do several things. It should be large enough to open up the holes in the fabric so that the thread can pass through without being abraded by the fabric. It should also have an eye large enough to accommodate the thickness of the floss you are using without causing even more wear on the thread. There are lots of different sites out there with recommendations of what size to use for what job, but I don't really follow those guides myself. Especially since most of them are solely based on the count of fabric you're using and not on what type of floss you're using. Here's what I was always taught and how I choose the size of needle I want to use.

First, it has to be easy to thread. If the floss I'm using is fairly thick, a #28 just isn't going to do it. Trying to cram a perle or even some of the thicker silks like Silk Mill or a metallic braid into that tiny little eye can be extremely frustrating. If it's a chore to thread the needle, and you're finding that the thread separates a lot or bunches up when you're trying to get it in there, it's probably a good idea to go down a size to a needle with a larger eye.

Second, the floss should glide through the eye while you're stitching. If it's getting snarled up or dragging a lot or even snagging on the end of the eye all the time, it's possible that the eye is too small to accomodate the amount or size of thread you're using.

Last, it should be large enough to open the fabric holes up and smooth their edges. And because fabric weaves can vary from brand to brand, just because two fabrics have the same count doesn't mean you should use the same sized needle for both! For example, 32ct Lugana tends to have smaller holes than Belfast linen, which has smaller holes than Permin 32 ct linen. You'll know you're using the right sized needle when your floss glides through the fabric smoothly - if the floss is dragging really badly, try a larger needle.

It's truly amazing how many problems a different needle will cure. I used to avoid a lot of threads because they frayed too much, or knotted too much, or tangled a lot. I also swore by my #28 needle for everything. It was on the advice of a fellow stitcher that I decided to try a different one and I was absolutely amazed at the difference. Of course some threads still fray, knot and tangle no matter what you try, but it will at least lessen the effect to some degree.

I'm not going to suggest different sizes for different counts - there are a multitude of sites on the net that will give you that information, and they're a good starting point to help you decide what to try first.

With all that in mind, if you always stitch on the same count, with the same threads and the same number of strands, none of this will really concern you. If you're like me and use all different threads, fabrics and counts, then you'll probably want to keeps a wide array of needles in your stitching arsenal!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Life returns to normal

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I definitely did. My biggest regret is that I couldn't go up north to my grandmother's for boxing day to see her open the ornament I made her as I had to work the next day, but I did hear all about it. :) She loved it! She insists on keeping it out year round and has hung it in her china cabinet. Of course I didn't take any pictures of it, but it's the same one that was published in November's Gift of Stitching. Yep, I stitched it twice.

And I gave my brother his Growth Rings. He LOVED it. He spent about an hour studying it and all the different patterns in it. I'm really happy he liked it so much, I never expected that a stitched gift to a guy would go over so well! Then again, he's a decorator/landscape architect, so he's into artistic things.

I finally got some down time to just relax and stitch over New Year's and have been switching projects frequently. It's not that I'm not enjoying each project, I just want to stitch them ALL for some reason. I've logged a lot of stitching hours this past week!

After my ornament finish, I worked on Rose for a couple of days - will likely get back to her shortly. She's due out in Nashville in February, so I suppose I should really. She's stitched on 40ct Lakeside Magnolia with Belle Soie Rosebud and Collard Greens. I find stitching her is very relaxing - the colours are very serene. I've never been a pink person, but this pink is awesome really. 

I then decided on New Year's that I deserved a new start. I've been kitting up designs with stuff I have in my stash, and it was KILLING me not to start at least one of them so I did. :) I ended up starting Long Dog's Rosemarkie. I went with Gloriana Ultraviolet and Purple Night Sky for this one and found that Sassy's 40ct Orchid Petals was the perfect match for them. This one was really hard to put away, but I was getting a little "purpled-out". :) I made some changes to the design as you can probably tell, to satisfy my OCD nature about symmetry.

And I spent a few hours on Ink Circles Turkish Delight. Unfortunately it doesn't get worked on as often as it should, but the threads I'm using for it knot and tangle really badly, no matter what I do. I don't know if it's the 55ct linen which is a pretty tight weave obviously or the HDF threads, but after about 3 hours I was swearing lots so I put it away again. I did get a little done. I figure if I keep putting in a few hours each month, it'll get finished eventually!

And finally of late I've been working on Wiehenburg's Patchwork Serenity. Loving every second of this one. The threads are a little bit fussy, being filament silks, but not annoying so. They're so very glossy and pretty, and again I find the colours very soothing. I'm re-designing as I stitch, since there are quite a few motifs that aren't symmetrical. I'm not sure if they were charting errors or just done that way so the motifs would fit better, but since the motifs overlap anyway I figured I would "fix" them to my liking.

Two days off work now so I plan to get lots of stitching time in. :) Hopefully I can keep focused on Rose and stop daydreaming about Serenity!