Category Archives: Trifles Sampler


It’s been a while since I posted last.  Hectic doesn’t begin to describe it.  Kitchen finish, work-related deadlines, college graduations, and last – a blissful vacation week on Cape Cod in our new beachside condo, full of kayaking, golf, good food, and the active pursuit of doing absolutely nothing.  All in all too many things to accomplish, with too little time to document any of it.

But through it all, a modicum of sanity-preserving handwork has happened: three pairs of hand-knit socks (my default no-thinking project of choice); plus some others.

First, thanks to the generosity of Certain Enablers who shall remain unnamed – a vintage shrug.  I began working on this just before the vacation break.  On US #9 (5.5mm) needles, this one was a quick knit.  At left is the photo from the pattern.  At right is my piece.

coats140_b350 Shrug-2

Those projections on the side are the sleeves.  Obviously, I haven’t seamed the thing up yet.  A bit of pretzel-type manipulation is slated to happen that will result in a T-shaped seam in the back, and the graceful drape of the simple drop-stitch rib pattern curving in the front.  Or so we hope.  I have the piece left on the needle because I haven’t decided yet on whether or not I will be doing some sort of live-stitch seam.  It’s hot and sticky right now – too hot to sit with this tub of alpaca boucle on my lap.  I’ll go back and finish this piece off when it cools off a bit.  I’ll have to rush though, so Target Recipient can take the completed garment off to university with her next month.

Second is also a time-linked project.  The first of two, in fact.  I am edging off the two inspirational samplers I did for the girls, backing them and readying them for simple rod type hanging.  Here’s the first.  I’m hand’ hemming the backing/edging cloth to the stitching ground.  The backing cloth is in one piece, strategically folded to be a self frame.  I’ll baste a length of chain threaded on some thin woven tape in the bottom fold to provide weight, and leave small gaps in the two top corners for insertion of the hanging rod:


The second one will be close behind – the other sampler I did this fall/winter past.  Also finished out for hanging from a rod.  More on that after I’ve laid it out.  In fact, if folk are interested, I’ll use the second one to illustrate the folding and stitching logic required to do this.

And finally, just for fun with no deadline attached (so you know what I’ll be working on tomorrow evening), an Autumn Lace shawl out of some unknown Noro fingering weight yarn, augmented by some Noro Taiyo Sock.  The unknown Noro was also from the same Enabling Anonymous Donor, and was perfect for a project I’d been planning on working up for a long time:


Here you see the first course of leaves (worked bottom half, then top half).  This is not a particularly difficult pattern, but it is an exacting one, with a pattern that has to be closely followed, and that is not within my capability to memorize.  More on this one as it develops.


Based on questions from Elaine and others, here’s a bit more on the thread I’ve been using on both the Permissions and Trifles samplers.

As I’ve said before, my stash came from a small needlework/beading supply shop in Pune, India.  It wasn’t current stock.  The head clerk sent a boy scampering up into the storage attic for a VERY dusty box of odds and ends.  I picked out the best colors left, avoiding pastels, and looking for what high impact/high contrast hues that still remained in quantities of 10+ skeins.  I bought them all.  They were very inexpensive – just a few rupees per skein.  At the then-current exchange rate of 60 rupees per dollar, I think I spent less than $20.00 translated, and came away with a huge bag full, well over 200 skeins divided up among about 15 colors.  Here’s just a sample:

floss more-floss

The name brand is Cifonda Art Silk.  It’s not a spooled rayon intended for machine embroidery.  As you can see, the put-up is more like cotton embroidery floss.  And it turns out that the stuff is still being made, and is available in Australia, and even in the US – although mostly by special order.

The websites that offer this thread vary a bit in description.  Some say it is a 35% silk/65% rayon blend.  Others say it is all rayon.  Contemporary put-ups specify 8 meter skeins.  My vintage stash skeins are a bit longer, possibly 10 meters (I’ll measure tonight).  The large bundles above are actually “super-packages” of ten individual skeins.  You can see the bright red one at the left is broken open, with the single skein labels showing.  On mine, color numbers are written on each skein by hand, not printed.  There can be hue variances between the super-packages of the same color number, so I suspect that special care should be taken to buy all that’s needed at once, so that all is from the same dye lot.

Cifonda’s structure is that of standard floss – six strands of two-ply relatively loose twist.  The individual strands are quite fine, two of them are roughly the equivalent of one ply of standard DMC cotton embroidery floss.  The colors – especially deeper ones like red and indigo – do run when wet, although they do not crock (shed color on hands, ground cloth, or wax when stitching dry).  I would not advise using this thread on clothing, table linen or other things likely to need laundering.  It may be possible to set the colors before stitching using a mordant bath or long water soak, but I don’t have the experience, time, or materials quantity for experimentation.

I am pleased with the way the Cifonda looks in my work.  It’s a bit shinier and finer textured than cotton floss, although it does not have the coverage of the true silk floss I’ve used (Soie d’Alger).  My Cifonda is quite slippery.  Two or more plies held together tend to disassociate and slide past each other for differential consumption, even when using short lengths in a small-hole needle.  I tamed this by aggressive waxing – running the entire length of my threads over a block of beeswax before use.  Since I’m doing linear counted work, any change in color or texture is not noticeable.  Someone using this for satin stitch, long-and-short, or other surface stitches that maximize thread sheen would probably want to wax only the inch or so that threads through the needle.

Like all lightly twisted rayons, this thread does catch and shred a bit on rough skin.  Care must be taken to use needles with very smooth eyes, and to hold the unworked length out of the way when taking stitches, because the stuff snags extremely easily.  My own stash, well aged as it is, contains some colors that are a bit brittle.  The bright yellow I’m using now, and the silver-grey I used on the last sampler are both prone to breaking under stress, and must be used in shorter lengths than the other colors.

I will continue to use up my India-souvenir thread stash, working smaller and smaller projects until it is gone.  But in all probability, I will not seek out the Cifonda to replace that inventory as it is consumed.

Anyone else have experience or hints on using this rather unruly stuff?


It’s done.  All 80+ gears, each with a different filling pattern, worked with well-aged “Art Silk” (probably rayon) purchased for a single rupee per skein in India, on 30-count linen.  The soot sprites (little black fuzzy creatures) playing the part of “Trifles” are in discontinued DMC linen floss, so that they contrast shaggy and matte against the brighter, smoother silky stuff.  I’ve also attached some real, brass gears as embellishments, to add extra Steampunk flavor.


Here’s a close-up of the sprites in process, adapted from the little soot creatures in the movie Spirited Away.


To stitch them I worked totally off count. (Yes, I can do that, too). I outlined the eyes in split stitch using one strand of floss, and placed the eyes’ pupils, using French knots.  Then I worked long and short stitch, encroaching on the split stitch eye frames, to get that spiky, unkempt, hairy texture.  The arms and legs are close-worked chain with two strands, with the little toes and fingers (what of them there are) also in split stitch, but with two strands.  The gears are filled in using (mostly) double running, with some departures into “wandering running” using two strands of the very fine art silk floss; and outlined in chain stitch using three strands of the stuff.  All threads used were waxed using real beeswax, for manageability.

I am happy to say I’ve hit all of the specific design requests.  And there were many:

  • A good motto
  • Steampunk (the gear theme)
  • Something Whovian (the Daleks)
  • Octopodes (dancing in one of the fills)
  • Snails (ditto)
  • Unicorns and/or dragons (ditto, and the winged, serpent tailed, beaky thing is good enough)
  • Anime (the soot sprites)
  • Interlaces (also inhabiting the gears)
  • Autumn colors (brown, gold, russet, silver)
  • Something from India (the thread itself)

The saying itself is particularly suitable for the target Daughter.  It’s one of Mushashi’s Nine Precepts.  The Daleks are from a graph by Amy Schilling, intended for knitting. The narrow border is in my forthcoming book, The Second Carolingian Modelbook. I found all of the alphabets used (there are four) in Ramzi’s Sajou collection. The gear shapes are adapted from a freehand tracing of a commercial airbrush stencil by Artool.  Most of the gear fills can be found in Ensamplario AtlantioThe few that aren’t from that source are recent doodles, and will be made available in time, either as a fifth segment of that work, or perhaps as their own stand-alone sequel.  Ensamplario Secundo, anyone?

Now Younger Daughter doesn’t head off to school until next fall, so I have about a year to add hanging tabs, or back the piece with contrasting fabric to make a scroll-like presentation.  So while the stitching is complete, this piece may revisit String when I decide what the display treatment will be.

On to the next.  I’ve got two more original stitched pieces in queue, with only a general idea of what each one will be, and what styles/designs/colors I’ll use.  Free-fall stitching!  Gotta love the adventure!


After lots of happy chugging along, as you can see Trifles is nearing completion.


I’ve got only eight more gears to finish up, including the two in process now.  Then come a couple of “Trifles,” modeled on the little soot demons from Spirited Awayanother special request from the target recipient.  The hapless little things will be prisoners in the mechanism.


Finally, if there’s room and it looks good, I plan to add some brass watch gears for extra Steampunk flavor.

To answer questions, no – I am not planning this in advance.  I choose the fill and color as each new gear presents itself.  I chose to use four colors as a nod to the (rarely used) four color theorem, which states that any contiguous plane map can be colored in using only four colors, and have no two regions of the same color touching each other.  In my case as a non-mathematician, this was done on a lark, and adds geeky joy. 

I do admit that a little logical thinking has been used to select the optimal color for each gear, in a “If I make this one brown, then this one will have to be gold, and that one must be maroon,” sort of way.  But again I haven’t sat down and plotted my plan of attack, other than to make the juncture point where I finish adding gears around the motto be the narrowest point of the sampler, to simplify any color meet-up issues.

On fills, I’ve tried to mix up densities and shapes, to achieve as much contrast as possible.  So fills based on interlaces abut fills with isolated spot motifs, which bump up against all-over small geometrics, which in turn are next to line-based fills with few or no closed shapes.  I’ve had a lot of fun paging through Ensamplario Atlantio looking for the best choice for each gear.  And I’ve ended up doodling a few more, just for fun.  Here are a couple:

fillings-235-a fillings-236-a

The rather annoyed unicorn is an adaptation of a motif from the open source pattern group exercise I hosted here back in 2010/2011.  I have to say that doodling these is addictive.  Just playing around, I’ve put together twenty more design squares, including those I collected from the Victoria and Albert Museum smock, item T.113-188-1997.  I could easily do dozens more.  Now comes a question, with T2CM now finished and awaiting only resolution of logistical and publication issues prior to general availability,  do I release the new group as a fifth section of Ensamplario Atlantio, or do I go on and start on Ensamplario Secundo?


I just got back from a quick business trip.  Sadly, I came back with a hitchhiker – a bad cold.  But to cheer me up upon arrival was my package from Hedgehog Handworks, with my new Hardwicke Manor sitting hoop frame:

trifles-15   trifles-16

As you can see, I was so excited, I had to try it out right away, even before wrapping the inner hoop in twill tape.  I’ll do that this weekend.

First the specs of my long-coveted indulgence.  There are two joints providing freedom of movement.  Looking at the back of the thing, the first is a slider that regulates height.  The turned barrel at the base of the main vertical has a wooden screw tightener, allowing the vertical arm to be raised and lowered.  Minimum height (pushed all the way in, with the frame positioned parallel to the ground) is 13.5 inches measured from table top to BOTTOM edge of the frame.  Max height on which the tightening screw can be brought to bear is about 18.5 inches. The vertical stick also allows the frame to be rotated left and right, provided the wood screw is loosened to avoid damage.

The second degree of freedom is the y-shaped joint at the top of the vertical stem.  The fixed attachment piece from the round frame fits into the slit of the y-shape, and is tightened by a bolt with a metal wing nut.  (I will probably replace the wing nut with something a bit more finger-friendly in the future).  This allows the frame head to swivel up and down, allowing access to the reverse of the work.

“Orthodox” use position and all of the pix I can find on line show the large paddle piece at the bottom being slid under the left hip, so that both legs sit upon it, and the frame is presented across the user’s lap. Users are also shown sitting bolt-upright on a chair or a sofa.

I’m a bit more relaxed.  My favorite stitching chair is a Morris chair, with wide wooden arms, like mini-shelves left and right.  It reclines.  Instead of sitting upright, I tend to stitch in the reclined position.  I also don’t want to bark the chair’s woodwork with the frame, so instead I straddle the base, with the paddle-bottom underneath my right thigh.  I can adjust the position of the hoop so that it’s perfectly comfortable and accessible in that position.

All in all, I am VERY pleased, although I may need to stitch myself a small bolster on which to rest my left elbow when working with that hand beneath the frame.  The chair arms are too high for comfort, and some support would be useful for extended sessions.  Oh heavens.  A quick project to make something useful that I can cover with MORE stitching.  However will I cope?  🙂

In the same order, I also received some tambour embroidery hooks.  I won’t show them here, but will save them for a future piece.  Hmm…. that elbow cushion…  What do you think?

And finally as a cheer-me-up, Younger Daughter, Needle Felting Maven and all around good kid, saw that I was in need of a small, weighted pin cushion that was presentable to leave here in the library next to my chair.  Although she usually does far more intricate shapes (dragons, tigers, airplanes), she made me a little sea-urchin, weighted in the bottom center with a couple of big rupee coins, for extra sentimental value.  It’s adorable, simple, in colors that match the rug in the library, and at about 1.5 inches across, with the coins giving it a low center of gravity, so it doesn’t go skittering off – the perfect size and weight.


Finally, I have been making progress on Trifles.  As you can see, I’ve got less than a quarter of the surround left to go.  And every single gear uses a different filling.



You know you’ve hit full stride in a project when you think of what to write in a progress post, but have no new challenges, discoveries, tricks, or lessons-learned to report.  All I can do today is show off more gears and cams, with more fillings:

Trifles-11 Trifles-12

I’m continuing up the left side of the motto, then I’ll do the right side, and finish with the top.  I’m having tons of fun selecting fill patterns from Ensamplario Atlantio.  

I had hoped that when I released the thing I’d see more things on line that use its designs, but searching does turn up a few projects:

  • Ben from Tiny Dream Stitchery is doing a sweet sampler,  I really like the layout he’s using.  It’s reminiscent of a formal Renaissance garden plan.
  • Whispered Stitch is making adorable little needlebooks using motifs from the patterns, and offers a tutorial on their construction.
  • And Stitches used the patterns in her rendition of a large group stitch-along project.
  • Rebecca of Hugs are Fun did a name sampler, a striking and innovative idea for using the fills.
  •  Kathy at Unbroken Thread stitched up a spectacular piece, incorporating gold, paillettes, purl, and beads.
  • Miriam did a bunch of nifty key fobs, using EnsAtl patterns along with ones from other sources.
  • Colorize also has a sampler.  She’s picked some of the more complex designs, brave soul!
  • Susan at Tuesday Stitchers used a design in a large departure from the usual, as an embellishment stitch done on gingham in a crazy quilt.  Very cool!

If you know of any others, please post them in the comments.  It gives me immense joy to see the mischief that these designs get up to out there in the wide, wide world.

Sadly, I’ve also found a ton of pirate sites on line, mostly in Russia, who felt it necessary to steal the book and repost it in its entirety.  I can’t do anything about them besides despise the lack of integrity and gutter slime ethics that such theft represents.

The ONLY authorized source for the book is right here on this site. It’s free. Link above, and under the Books tab on every page of String.  If you have downloaded my book anywhere else, you have found a stolen copy. 


As you can see, Trifles is coming along.  I’ve just about finished the first set of gears:

Trifles-9  trifles-10

The next bit to do will be the two sides, proceeding left and right of the established bit, growing up to frame the motto.  I’ll use the same stencil for my basic layout, rotating and flipping it to make the repetition less evident. 

A couple of you have written to me to say that you find the gears rather disappointing – that they are not sharp and mechanical enough.  In fact, the edges of some of them are more gentle, cam shaped rather than toothed, and the teeth do not mesh exactly.

Frankly, I don’t find this a problem, and I don’t care.  The thing will be more representational than mechanistic.  I’m going for the idea of gears here, not a CADD drawing.

I am having fun flipping through Ensamplario Atlantio looking for which fill to do next.  Everything you see here has been done ad-hoc, one gear at a time, with no pre-planning on what design/color to use next.  I’ve used four-color placement principles to avoid having two gears of the same color right next to each other.  I’ve also tried to achieve a nice mix of densities and shapes, with contrast between horizontal/vertical and diagonal elements, all-overs/spaced spot motifs, and between straight lines/curvy patterns.  On the whole I’m pleased.  I’ll add more dark and density to the lower left, next.  Also more gold there in that corner. 

Stay tuned for further developments!


Trifles is moving right along.  Waxing the thread has greatly speeded up production.  You can see my working method:  filling first, then outline to cover up any edge fill irregularities. 

Here’s the gear set now:

trifles-7 trifles-8

I’m having fun picking out the fillings on the fly, trying to vary density, color, and form, so that abutters contrast nicely.  For those who have asked – yes, every filling used so far appears in Ensamplario Atlantio.  I have it downloaded to my iPad.  My favorite sewing/knitting chair is a Mission-style recliner with very wide, flat wooden arms.  I am able to stand the iPad up on one and zoom in on the chosen designs as needed.  Very convenient.

Progress will get a bit less exciting from here on in.  I plan to totally fill the ground around the motto with gears, each worked in a different filling design.  No other colors will be used.  I’m sticking to the deep russet red, chocolate, gold, and silver.  I may or may not add some real brass gears as embellishment.  I may add some small  large-eyed tiny critters stuck in the gearwork, sort of like the soot sprites from the movie, Spirted Away. That’s another of the target recipient’s favorite fandoms.



Back from our annual escape to North Truro, and reporting progress on the recently dormant Trifles sampler, being stitched for Younger Daughter to take with her off to college next fall.  I decided that for my no-longer-little Steampunk (and Dr. Who) fan, instead of working lots of bands, the design for this one would feature gears.  But I had a lot of problems hand-drafting up a nice set of them.  It took a while, but eventually I hit on the idea of using a commercial stencil intended for airbrush work, then filling in the traced gear shapes with blackwork counted fills.

Here’s where I am now:


I’ve finished the main motto and the frame around the to-be-worked area.  Minor brag: Note that having marched all the way around the piece without drafting first and using only counts of the border repeat to stay on target, I ended up even, perfectly aligned.

All of the fillings I will use on this will be from my free eBook, Ensamplario AtlantioThe ground patterns are stitched using two plies, mostly in double running, with lots of departures to accommodate the non-continuous nature of many of the fills.  The outlines are plain old chain stitch, done in three plies of the same color as the gear filling.  I am not taking any special pains to make the cam teeth totally square, or to make them mesh.  I am liking the rounding and imprecision.  Right now I’m thinking of covering the entire piece with gears in burgundy, brown, gold, and silver, relying on classic Four Color Theory to avoid making any two contiguous gears the same hue. Choosing fills for color in addition to density and form is adding a new dimension to this decidedly un-traditional yet somewhat traditional blackwork piece.  And I may insert a surprise Trifle or two, just to emphasize the point.

On execution, I can report that I’ve managed to tame the extremely unruly Indian “silk” (in reality, man-made rayon) thread. 


I occasionally wax the last inch or so of my silk threads to make threading easier and to help ward off “ply creep” – when one ply of a multi-ply threading is consumed faster than the others.  But I usually don’t wax the entire length unless I’m working with linen thread.  However this stuff is hellaciously difficult, shredding and sliding, breaking and fraying, and catching.  Using shorter lengths wasn’t the answer – no usable length was short enough to use comfortably.  So I moved up to waxing the entire strand, and when I did so, most of my problems disappeared.

I am very pleased with the results using the fully waxed threads.  They don’t break.  They don’t escape from the needle’s eye.  They don’t shred.  Both plies are consumed at the same rate.  Double running is nice and crisp.  A major improvement that’s increased the enjoyment factor of a project that might have been truly tedious.


And I’ve wanted an excuse to stitch up those griffon-drakes since I drafted them up for the book.


As usual, I have several projects going at once.  Right now these include the giant green sampler, the pullover I am knitting with a friend (now awaiting total rip-back and restart after An Inadvertently Destructive Incident), and the Trifles sampler I am working up for Younger Daughter.  Although I do not intend to leave my co-knitting pal in the lurch, the last one is the only one with a hard deadline.

I’ve been road-blocked on Trifles for a while.  I wasn’t sure how I would edge it, and what would define the interior space.  I knew I wanted to do inhabited blackwork cogs for the filling, but the one I hand-drew wasn’t working out very nicely; plus getting many different sizes of gears to mesh properly was proving problematic.  So I set the thing aside to ponder.

I’m now done pondering.  My solutions are:

  1. Work a narrow edging around the entire piece, in slightly heavier stitching than the infillings, in order to define the field.
  2. Cheat.  Use a commercial stencil to achieve the gear shapes.  Not only does the stencil present a nice, large field of meshing cogs, it is also calculated to tile properly.

Trifles-4 trifles-5

I found the stencil on line. It’s plastic, and much more durable than any downloaded/paper printed solution.  I  liked the clear differentiation among the shapes on this one, with very little overlap that would require hand-drawing the missing teeth.  Although it wasn’t inexpensive, it will save me an infinite amount of grief.  I will modify the individual gear shapes on the fly – stitching some with full interior detail as presented on the shapes, and some without, making more solid gears.  I also have a little packet of brass Steampunk watch gear shapes, if I decide to add them as an added embellishment.

The narrow edging is yet another design from my forthcoming book, but worked in two colors.  And I will be picking out the beginning of the filled gear underneath the letter “T.”  Once I have the outer edging finished, I will trace the field using the stencil.  Then I will stitch up the gears using fillings from Ensamplario Atlantio, with their edges defined crisply using either back stitch or chain stitch (experimentation will ensue).

On working a symmetrical counted edging without drafting up the entire thing ahead of time – it’s easy on a simple geometrical one like this.  Begin at a corner.  I improvised a corner treatment, where north/south and east/west meet.  Then at the center of the piece (conveniently marked ahead of time by a line of basting), I improvised a symmetrical join, then mirrored the completed stitching previously done.  Eighteen pattern repeats later, I mirrored the improvised corner.  I will continue my march north until I get to the basted center line.  There I will make another decision on how to treat the center and soldier on to complete that edge.  I work that same kludge on the left hand edge.  Since the centers will match top/bottom and side to side (even if they are different) – no one will notice them, and every corner will be crisp. 

As to the thread – I am using the art silk stranded floss I found in India.  I am not loving it.  It’s rayon, and very slippery.  Surprisingly, its tensile strength is less than that of cotton, no where near the mighty nature of real silk.  It shreds, and must be used in short lengths.  In addition, the plies separate and “walk” against each other. I have to use a laying tool to get even these short stitches to look nice.  I would not recommend the stuff, and am glad that I will be using up pretty much my entire stock on this project.