Success! My Sufi embroidered boxes sold well!

Last week I was in Germany, at the Sufi summer school that I go to each year. On the Wednesday afternoon, there’s always a market, where participants offer for sale things that they’ve made, and I took some of the embroidered boxes that I’ve been featuring on this blog.

I was really pleased to sell about three-quarters of the boxes that I took, and all three of the miniature framed pictures. People often sell jewellery, or ethnic-style clothes suitable for dancing, but no-one else was selling anything embroidered.

They have all gone to good homes – some of them, to the homes of senior Sufi teachers, as several people who bought a box told me that it would be a gift for their teacher.

The Dervish design box is one of these – it will be given to a woman in America who is well known for her beautifully graceful dervish dancing (‘turning’).

One of my firends, who is half Scottish and half Australian, bought the box with ‘Allaho Akbar’ in Arabic calligraphy on it – the first box in this series that I ever made.

And one couple bought a  Sufi heart and wings box to put their wedding rings in when they get married next month, which I think is really sweet. 

So, I only have a few left, now, and they will probably be given as either birthday presents or initiation presents to people that I know. Well worth the time it took to make them all, I think  🙂

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Details of the Sufi embroidered boxes

Here are some close-ups of the Sufi embroidered boxes that I’ve been making during the past year (see my previous post for why I’ve been doing this!).

This is my favourite colourway of all the boxes I’ve made, so I’ve assumed other people would agree with me, and made several like this 🙂

The boxes are just right for storing prayer beads in – they measure about two inches by three and a half, by two inches high.

This is an Arabic calligraphy box, showing the phrase ‘Subhan Allah’, which means ‘All glory be to God’.

This one shows the phrase ‘Allaho Akbar’, which means ‘God is greater than all things’. This one was lovely to do, but took ages, as the stitches around the curves had to be placed very carefully, or the design lost the flowing lines. It was done in stem stitch rows, mostly, with one strand of a Stef Francis variegated silk thread. The box measures just over three inches in diameter.

And this one is stitched on duck egg blue Dupion silk, with a pale pink heart and feathers in silver thread, inspired by my friend Lindsay, who just loves all things pink!

This is the whole collection of boxes I’ve stitched:

Arabic calligraphy on an embroidered box lid

During the winter, I’ve been gradually stitching designs onto a selection of box lids. They are all Sufi-themed designs (because I follow the Universal Sufi spiritual path, and I wanted to make a range of stitched items to sell at the Summer School that I go to in Germany each year, in the ‘market’ that is held on the Wednesday afternoon).

This design is based on the phrase ‘Allaho Akbar’ in Arabic calligraphy, which means ‘God / Unity is greater than all things’. I transferred the design onto the fabric using tissue paper with the design drawn on in pencil – then I tacked through the tracing onto the fabric, and ripped off the tissue to leave the sewing thread outline on the fabric. I unpicked these threads as I stitched the actual design. I only traced the main outlines, not the squiggles – I added those by eye, to complete the design.

'Allaho Akbar' text embroidered round linen-covered box with lid

Starting at the lower edge of each motif, I worked stem stitch in rows along the shape, adapting how many rows were necessary as I went. I used a space dyed thread from Oliver Twists – Fine Cotton, shade 004 – which was very smooth to stitch with, and the shading was lovely – very soft colour changes. The little squiggles between the main letters were worked using whatever embroidery stitch seemed right: twisted chain, fly stitch, stem stitch, and French knots.

Close-up of the stitching

The box is about three inches in diameter, and linen-covered on the outside, with a pale matching cotton fabric on the inside. I bought it from Viking Loom of York, who sell a wide range of these boxes, in several shapes and colours (satin as well as linen).

I don’t usually stitch with these earthy shades, but I’m very pleased with how this one came out.

How to use variegated threads for embroidery

This is my collection of skeins of variegated thread of different kinds. They’re beautiful, aren’t they? I buy them wherever I can. I’m particularly drawn to teal-greens and purpley-pinks, as you can see. I haven’t yet been able to track down a really good variegated red, but I live in hope! What you might also be able to deduce from the photo is…..they are all still complete skeins. None of them are started yet. That’s because I have a problem. I can’t think what to use them for. Whenever I start a new project, I pull out the drawer where I keep all these lovely bundles of colour, and I hold them in my hand, and I consider using them – and then I put them back in the drawer, and settle on a non-variegated thread for whichever project I’m starting. The fact is, variegated threads can be difficult to use, simply because they are unpredictable. The subtle colour changes aren’t going to repeat evenly across your piece of stitching, so you can’t be sure what effect that will have. If you use them on a border, for instance, will the changes in the gradations of colour become noticeable in odd places, such as near the corner on one side, but half way along on another side?

However, I’ve come up with a solution.

This year, I have bought a selection of small satin-covered boxes, with padded lids that take embroidery. I’ve decided to do a series of embroidered calligraphy designs, featuring spiritual words in Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, such as ‘Love and Peace’ and ‘Praise be to God’. These designs are perfect for using variegated stranded cotton and silk – and I’ve got lots to choose from! The calligraphic shapes of the letters really lend themselves to being filled in with stem stitch, and the gradual changes in the shades from one colour to another work wonderfully well.

So far, I’ve completed one box – it’s a ‘Love and Peace’ design (in Arabic, it says ‘Houb Salaam’), in the shape of a dove. I used two strands in the needle of a Stef Francis variegated stranded cotton in fuchsia-mauve (shade 37 ) on white silk. The box itself is covered in navy satin, and measures three and a half inches across. It took about four hours to stitch.

Love and Peace ('Houb salaam') embroidered box

The trickiest part was transferring the design onto the fabric, but I used my favourite method, which is a bit time-consuming, but it means there is no chance of getting carbon or chalk on the fabric: I traced the design onto dressmakers’ pattern tissue, then pinned the tracing onto the fabric. Then, with sewing cotton in a shade similar to the variegated thread shade, I tacked through the tracing’s main lines, leaving short stitches on the front and longer ones on the back. This uneven stitching helps with the next stage – ripping off the tissue, to leave the design lines on the fabric, ready to stitch over. The sewing cotton doesn’t need to be removed – I just stitch over it with the stem stitch lines.

Love and Peace ('Houb salaam') embroidered box showing stem stitch and French knot detail