Book review: Willing Hands by Betsy Morgan

I’ve had my eye on this wonderful book by Betsy Morgan called ‘Willing Hands’ ever since it was published in autumn 2019, so it was bound to end up on my Christmas wishlist! Fortunately, the ‘Christmas elf’ knew that this one had to be top of the list of books that would be under the tree. So, I thought I’d do a book review here…

Betsy Morgan has been creating very imaginative sewing sets (‘etuis’) for many years – but for most of those years, her designs have only been available to the public if you attended one of her workshops, as the designs are quite intricate, and it helped to be taught by Betsy herself so that you knew exactly how to put these together. As she lives in the USA, that meant that many people couldn’t get to meet her. In 2019, she retired from teaching workshops, and then she agreed to release some of her designs in book form. This book is the result – it’s got great instructions and photos, and it’s produced by the people who publish Inspirations magazine – the amazing Australian embroidery magazine. So, a collaboration by those two is bound to be good, isn’t it?!

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

It’s a book of 168 pages, filled with hundreds of pictures, both of the charts for the designs (all counted embroidery), and inspirational photos of the finished pieces. There’s also a section at the back about how to assemble each of the pieces in the book. I think it’s a good idea to have the assembly separate from the embroidery instructions themselves.

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

Here are the eight projects that the book covers:

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

All wonderful projects, and very different from each other. You could make all of these, and not get bored with either the designs themselves, or the stitches used (there’s far more than just cross stitch in this book!), or the construction methods.

There are pages and pages of stitch diagrams – you just can’t go wrong if you follow these instructions. If you’re used to Inspirations magazine’s quality, then you’ll be familiar with this layout style, with its very clear photos and good explanatory text.

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

I was particularly interested to see how the Toy Chest Etui was explained, as I have already stitched this one, several years ago. The materials pack that I had then came with lots of handouts of stitch charts, assembly instructions, etc. – and I was unsure as to how successfully that could be explained, without Betsy being there, in book format!!

But reading through all the instructions for this project, I thought that it was covered really well.

There was one small niggle, though. Some of the charts in the book (not just for this project, but it was very noticeable with this one) were printed very small in the book. I remember when I was actually stitching this horse motif, for instance – that the chart I had in my pack had been almost A4 size. The one in the book is printed barely a quarter of a page – almost life-size, in fact (and the design is to be stitched on 32 count evenweave, so that’s SMALL!). Now, that doesn’t have to be a problem, but I think that the publishers maybe had their eye on keeping down the total number of pages in the book to a particular number, more than they had ease of use for the reader at the forefront of their minds! So, squashing up some charts to fill pages by printing them smallish, or splitting charts over several pages to keep every page looking ‘full’ is the end result, and I do think it detracts somewhat from the book, in the end. I’d love to know what Betsy thinks!

Having said that though, it’s still not a big enough ‘downer’ to stop anyone from buying this book – the projects in it are so beautiful, a small chart is not a problem really, if you’re determined to make something  🙂   You could always enlarge the design on a photocopier, if necessary.

Here’s the Toy Chest Etui that I made, with all its wonderful contents. Some of the contents were added as ‘extras’ after the main etui was designed, so the hobby horse, paint box and jack-in-the-box aren’t in the book:

Toy chest etui Betsy Morgan
This is the etui that I love most in the book – I’ve just sent off for the Gloriana silks to make this:

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

It opens out like a little book, and is held closed with a  strap that has a cord pull on it with a thimble purse on the end. The etui contains scissors with a fob and tassel, a thread winder, and a needle book- so cute!

If you love making etui sets, and like 3D projects in particular, this book would be a wonderful addition to your stitching library.

Author: Betsy Morgan

Title: Willing Hands: the counted thread embroidery of Betsy Morgan

Publisher: Inspirations Studios Corporation Pty Ltd

http://www.inspirationsstudios.com

ISBN: 978 0 6482873 6 0

Price: 24.50 GBP in the UK (in Spring 2020)

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Gingerbread Christmas tree by Victoria Sampler 5: the finished Gingerbread tree

It’s finished! The little Gingerbread Christmas tree by Thea Dueck of Victoria Sampler has come out really well, and can now join the other Gingerbread buildings in my village. If you’d like to stitch this too, the chart pack is available from  here.

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

I’m so pleased with this – it’s a great addition to my slowly-growing Gingerbread Village from Victoria Sampler. This is how my little Gingerbread Village looks now.

Gingerbread Christmas Village cross stitch by Victoria Sampler

Thanks for reading my blog during the past year! I hope you’ve enjoyed what I have written about. Have a great Christmas  🙂

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Gingerbread Christmas tree by Victoria Sampler 4: how to assemble the tree

I am making the Gingerbread Christmas tree by Thea Dueck of Victoria Sampler at the moment from her chart pack booklet. The chart pack is available from  here. I’ve now completed all the cross stitch, and added all the beads, so now it’s time to assemble the tree.

Here’s my four completed panels:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

I backstitched a base piece (this is optional if you’re not going to make this design as an etui, but I felt it would feel more substantial with a closed off base).

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

Then I made paper templates of the shapes, that fit just inside the backstitched lines.

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

From those, I made a mount board template for each piece of stitching (i.e. one base, and four tree sides). The square base has pieces of double sided tape on it already, to stick the felt padding onto.

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

For padding, I stuck a piece of oversized felt on each template piece with the double sided tape, then trimmed it down later with scissors:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

The stitched pieces were trimmed to have seam allowances on each side of half an inch:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

Then I laced the stitching over the mount board templates. The points of the tree sides are fiddly to do – the point has to be as neat as possible, so that these will all meet up together and not be bulky. I had to trim the fabric back quite hard, and keep making tacking stitches to hold it all down. I laced from side to side first.

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

The pointy bit at the top is stitched down last:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

Make sure, as you’re stitching down the top, that the mount board template doesn’t get ‘pinched’ and push its way down – the board should stay within the backstitched outline.

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

The final lacing goes from top to bottom, after doing the sides, to hold it all together:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

Then the corners are mitred:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

Each panel then looks like this, with the backstitching just showing at the edges. Then each panel is laced to the adjoining one with Perle 12 white thread, and the base fitted into place last, using the same method:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

Ta-da!!! Here’s my little gingerbread tree, all ready for Christmas!

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

And here’s the base of it, to show how the lacing of the panels is done:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree assembly of cross stitch model

Isn’t it pretty?! I want to get all my decorations out now, to display it with the other Gingerbread buildings that I’ve made.

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Gingerbread Christmas tree by Victoria Sampler 3: stitching sides two, three and four.

I am currently stitching the Gingerbread Christmas tree by Thea Dueck of Victoria Sampler from her chart pack booklet. I’ve completed side one, and now I have been stitching the other sides of this lovely cross stitch design. The chart pack is available from  here. It stands about nine inches high when finished.

The original chart pack instructions show you how to finish it as an opening etui, but I’ve decided that I want it finished NOW! So, I’m going to stitch up all four sides so that it is a closed shape instead, as I’ve seen it done like that on Pinterest, and it looks good. I’ve just got no patience….!

I’m finding it a lot easier to stitch all the white cross stitch for these panels first (whereas, on the first panel, I stitched the green, and then the white), as the white shows up better, so I can stitch it faster. Then I fill in with the two green shades.

The snowman panel has a lot of snow in white on it, obviously! So it was easier to place all the white on that part too, and then stitch the coloured buildings and details. That bargello wave still does my head in with the counting though!

I realised, halfway through doing this side, that I won’t have enough of the main green colour to do all four sides (as I’m using threads from my stash rather than the materials pack that can be bought), so I matched as closely as I could from my stash (Anchor 267). The lesson from this is to buy Thea’s materials packs! They seem expensive at first, but they’ve got lots of special threads in, and all the beads, and if you had to start from scratch it would cost a lot more.  I should take my own advice, really….

Here’s the first and second panels:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree two sides completed

The floral vine along the base of each side is a nice change of pace, after doing all that cross stitching. The panel up to this part is almost all cross stitch, with a little back stitch and some queen stitch for the tree on the left.

As I’d used the wrong green for this part on the first panel, I had to remember to keep on doing it ‘wrong’ for these other panels too!

I repeated the red flowers the same as for the first side…which is wrong too! They should be a different stitch. I must be going doolally, and not reading the chart correctly  🙂 Still, they look nice – you make a base of five spokes, coming out from one central point, and then start at the centre with another thread, and work a kind of stem stitch out along the spokes until they are full.

Gingerbread Christmas Tree wound rose stitch

The next panel was easy to do, as I’m getting in the swing of it now:

Gingerbread Christmas Tree wound rose stitch

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