Upskilly & Stuff: August

Despite a total dearth of dressmaking this month, I did manage a bit of upskilling: one skill in the area of knitting, and one in the area of embroidery – which are, coincidentally, the two areas I’ve made progress on this month.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that weaving in the ends is the worst part of knitting. There are, it is true, occasional freaks of nature who enjoy doing it, but they’re as rare as a necklace of hen’s teeth round a unicorn’s neck. So if you happen to know one of these creatures of myth and legend, be sure to keep your friendship in good condition, with regular offerings of chocolate, flowers, theatre tickets etc.

Amigurumi Unicorn
Alas, since I do not know one of these fabulous beings, I am stuck weaving in my own ends. Which is why I thought it worth my while, as I worked away on the stripes of my Zipfelmuetzen Bommelschal (26 stripes and counting) to learn how to knit ends in. First I learnt how to knit in the end of the colour I’ve just finished, and once I’d got my head around that I figured out how to knit in the beginning of the colour I’m about to use.

I’m not fantastically good at it yet – I haven’t learned Fair Isle or anything else that involves holding two yarns at once, so there’s a bit of picking-up-and-dropping going on, but I’m certainly getting faster at it. And less prone to mistakes.

The other skill is how to wrap an embroidery hoop, and the reason for learning this is rather odd. There I was, pootling along and minding my own business, when a character suddenly appeared in a book-idea I was mulling over, and she was doing tambour-work.

Guijdouvan-Atelier de broderie (3)
This was something I knew little about – and I still don’t know as much as I’d like – but I was seized with what is marked in the blog categories as a Current Obsession. I had to know more. In the absence of available books (though I do have an old tome with a few black-and-white pages given to the subject), I turned to the internet, and found… less than I would like.

A lot of the modern focus on tambour work is centred on tambour beading, as an haute couture technique. But I am not really interested in beading. For one thing, I object to garments that can’t go in the washing machine; and for another, it would be exceedingly difficult to mess about with beads and sequins on top of a camel. (There is a lot of travel in this book idea, as in most of my book ideas, since most of them sprout out of dreams and my dreams are very travel-intensive.)

Speaking of exceedingly difficult, let us return to the wrapping of the embroidery hoop. Having obtained the basic tambour hook set (three hooks, one handle), I needed a hoop in which to frame the fabric to work on. I swiftly acquired a cheap yet good quality second-hand hoop and set to work.

Cercle de borderie bois
I took the advice of Mary Corbet and wrapped the inner hoop only. I think I tried about four or five times before I was satisfied with the results. I tried some nice blue bias binding, and there wasn’t enough of it to go round. I tried a bit of severed selvage, and that was too frayey. But eventually I got the hoop wrapped with some plain bias binding, and there it was. Not very decorative, but functional.

Here comes the exceedingly difficult part. Tambour work is traditionally done with a hoop or frame on a stand. Which is to say, you need two hands to work it: one on top with the hook and the other underneath with the thread. This leaves 0 hands for holding the hoop. With this in mind, I had made sure to get a small hoop – about the size of a CD. Perhaps, thought I, I could wrangle the thread with the same hand that holds the frame.

No. Which is to say, yes, but only if you’re happy with a speed of about one successful stitch per five minutes. (Answer: no.) Further researches revealed the existence of a sit-on stand (you sit, the hoop stands), with three interchangeable hoops of different sizes. Definitely value for money – and recommended by the Royal School of Needlework, no less.

Stitching frame from the thrifting store near my job
A table stand. Creative Commons images of seat stands are hard to come by.
There was only one problem: my hobby budget would not stretch that far until the end of the year. So I possessed my soul in patience, and waited. And then the stand disappeared from the marketplace where I had found it. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” as the Proverb-master has it, and let me tell you: patient waiting for something which then disappears makes the heart sick too.

But it’s an ill wind, as they say. Looking about to see if the item in question was still in production or if it had quitted this sphere entirely, I discovered that it was available somewhere else that I could get at, and at a much lower price – a price that was lower than the saved-up sum of the hobby budget. The Proverb-master goes on to add that “a dream fulfilled is a tree of life,” and a dream that’s in the post is pretty darn good too.

The little wrapped hoop has been making itself useful in the meantime, with the embroidery of our ‘guestbook’ tablecloth. When people come and share a meal with us, we get them to sign the tablecloth in pencil, and then I embroider over their names before the tablecloth goes in the wash. Not an original idea – I pinched it from the family of a childhood friend. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now – it’s two years today since we moved into this house; two years tomorrow since the worst happened – and I have just changed the range of available colours, to add a bit of variety and interest.

Tablecloth, signature (AM 1995.113.3-4)
This is not our tablecloth, but you get the idea.
I’ve also been knitting away at a couple of projects – mostly the Zipfelmuetzen Bommelschal in the last couple of weeks, as I’ve been sick. If I’m going to share my germs with my knitting, I feel it had better be something for me, not someone else. On the plus side, it’s a great knit for recuperating: round and round you go, with stripes to keep your interest, and occasional decreases to make you feel like you’re getting somewhere.

I also made what you might charitably call theoretical progress on handwork: I got a complete list of the handworks I have on hand and sorted them into types: knitting, sewing, mending (long neglected), embroidery, and quilting (neglected even longer than the mending). I had grand plans for making great strides, but grand plans and repeated URTIs (four in six months!) do not go well together.

How do your handworks go? I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.

What do you think?