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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Flowers for Elizabeth embroidered sweet bag: 11 – making the cords and tassels, and it’s finished!!

This is the final post about the ‘Flowers for Elizabeth’ sweet bag project from Inspirations magazine Issue 51. I’ve just got the cords and tassels to make, to complete this lovely project!

To make loops for the tassels, I stitched a row of Corded Coral Stitch along the bottom edge of the bag (as on the top edge – but, again, I wasn’t very happy with this stitch, as it came out rather messy). Part-way along the bottom edge, I made two Buttonhole Bar loops, to hold the tassels.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

The cording for this bag is quite ingenious – you have to make cords that use four colours at once! The instructions on the pullout sheet are clear, though, which helps. I started by making one cord with two of the colours, using lengths 44 inches long of each colour. Then I looped two new colours through one end of the newly made cord, and twisted a second cord (this did mean that with every twist, the already-made cord flips over and over, which seems a bit weird, but just get a helpful person to keep untangling it as you twist, and you’ll be fine!). Then you twist the cords into one and knot the ends. You need to make several of these, in different colour combinations.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

Two lengths of a  pastel-toned cord are then threaded from either side through the orange Buttonhole Bars on the front and back of the bag to form the drawstrings. Another cord is stitched to the sides of the bag, with the knots at the base cleverly hidden by tassels being made over the knots, to hide them. More tassels are made to loop through the Buttonhole Bar loops along the base of the bag. A darker-toned cord forms the long handle.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

So, here it is! Finally finished!

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

This has been a very interesting project to make, and, as usual, a good design from Susan O’Connor.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

It’s not too difficult to make (even the assembly isn’t too bad!).

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

I still think that not including actual designs for each of the letters of the alphabet was a bit of a cop-out, but the back could have been left plain instead, if I hadn’t wanted to design my own.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

It’s a very pretty little bag, and a good replacement for the similar one that I had stolen years ago.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

There’s enough happening to keep your interest all through the stitching.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

And it’s got strawberries!!

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

And lots of sparkly bits!

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bagSo, are you tempted to have a go at stitching this one? Inspirations magazine sell a digital download of the instructions for this sweet bag, so although the actual magazine is no longer in stock on their website, you can still buy the pattern. So, you’ve got no excuse now, have you?!

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Flowers for Elizabeth embroidered sweet bag: 10 – assembling the bag, and shaping the top scalloped edge

Now that I’ve finished stitching the front and back panels for the ‘Flowers for Elizabeth’ sweet bag from Inspirations magazine Issue 51, I needed to do the assembling of the bag. Never my favourite bit, with any project!

The first thing to do was to stitch buttonhole bars on the front and back panels, to thread a drawstring through. These were made in a similar way to needlewoven picots, but with both ends attached to the fabric, so really I just needed to make three thread lines on the fabric, 1/8th inch apart and half an inch long, and then weave the thread in and out along the bar until it was filled.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

I like pictures like this one – it’s the last time it’s possible to take one picture with both sides showing at once!

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

Having trimmed the fabric to the correct size, allowing half an inch for the seam allowances, I then made a lining from olive green silk, to the same size, and pinned around three sides on each one, leaving a two inch gap along the bottom edge of the lining for turning through later. There is a mistake on the assembly instruction sheet here, because it says to start and end your stitching ‘at the marked points’….but there aren’t any! You just need to start and end at the places where the scalloped top edge straightens out at the sides.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

Once I’d worked out the stitch line of the embroidered pieces, I trimmed back the calico lining, to reduce bulk.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

Then I stitched the seam (by hand – I couldn’t be bothered to get my machine out!), and turned it right side out.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

I also stitched the lining seam, then put the embroidered bag inside the lining bag, right sides together.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

I used this template from the instructions to mark the stitchline for the scalloped top on the lining pieces, having tacked lining and bag together temporarily across the top edges. If the lining and embroidered pieces don’t quite match up at this point, go by the front fabric edge when straightening things up, not the lining.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

Then I Back Stitched around the scallops with very small stitches, and trimmed and snipped into the curves up to the stitch line.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

The instructions said to work Corded Coral Stitch along the top edge, which I did, but I really didn’t like the look of it. With hindsight, I think it would have looked better with a beaded edge.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

The finished top edge of the bag.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

Now I’ve just got the tassels and cords to make, and it will be finished!

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Flowers for Elizabeth embroidered sweet bag: 9 – stitching the border, and the initial on the back

This is how far I’ve got with the ‘Flowers for Elizabeth’ sweet bag that I am stitching from the design in Issue 51 of Inspirations magazine. I’ve been stitching the border recently, and the initial for the reverse side of the bag.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

The border is composed of two rows of Interlaced Chain Stitch. It’s a simple stitch to do – you stitch the Chain Stitch line first, and then take a new thread (in a different colour, in this instance), and interlace the new thread down each side of the chains, without going through the fabric, so that the chain stitch ends up looking bi-coloured. It really helps to use a tapestry needle, and not a sharp needle, when doing the interlacing!

It is important to get the direction of the lines of Chain Stitch correct, as when you interlace the sides, it highlights the direction somewhat. I started in the top left and bottom right for each colour of border line, working outwards from those two points around the bag’s edges. That is, I didn’t start in one corner and go all the way round. Does that make sense? Hope so!

Once I’d done the inner border line, I couldn’t resist adding the little sequins, rather than waiting till last. These are tiny ones – only 3mm diameter. I had to buy what seemed like millions to get hold of these at all (from Etsy.co.uk), but they are very pretty. Larger ones wouldn’t have looked as dainty. The instructions called for 2mm sequins, but I couldn’t find those anywhere.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

The outer green border was then stitched like the inner border, so now it’s complete.

I’ve just noticed, as I’m writing this, that I missed describing the little ladybird on the small leaf in the lower left hand corner at the time that I stitched it. That was stitched after the Satin Stitch for the leaf had been done, mainly by eye as I couldn’t mark the shape on the fabric due to the Satin Stitch of the leaf itself. It’s worked in Padded Satin Stitch for the body, with the dots, legs and head in Straight Stitch.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

In the magazine’s instructions, I felt that the next part was a bit of a cop-out. It just says to ’embroider the leaves, strawberries, flowers buds and tendrils in the same manner as the front’. What it doesn’t tell you is that you have to design it yourself! They give you a basic alphabet outline to start with, which needs enlarging, but all the flowers, buds, leaves and strawberries have to be added by you…..

It’s not so difficult for me to design something like that, as I do embroidery designing for a living, but I really think they should have bothered to design the letters, or at least design something generic as well for people who couldn’t design their own.

Anyway, here’s the letter J that I designed for mine:

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

This is only three inches high, so the embroidery has to be quite fine. The strawberries are about 3/8 inch diameter, but I still padded them with two layers of Satin Stitch padding in the same way that I had for the larger ones on the front of the bag.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

The other elements were stitched as on the front, too.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

I’m really pleased with how this turned out – it’s very pretty, but still readable:

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

Seen from this sideways angle, you can see how the padding really makes a difference to this piece.

Inspirations issue 51 Flowers for Elizabeth sweet bag

That’s all the embroidery done. Next up is the assembly…never my favourite part, but I want to see this finished now!

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