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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What I got for Christmas this year…..

In our house, so that we get what we’d really like, we tend to make use of ‘Christmas elves’, who get a note in November with a nice list of ‘possibles’ – sometimes with details of exactly where to get the actual product from, in case the elf isn’t exactly sure!

So, this year, I was delighted, but not altogether surprised, to get some really lovely things for Christmas…

Betsy Morgan Willing Hands embroidery book

This is a book that I’ve been wanting to own since it came out in the autumn – it’s ‘Willing Hands’, by Betsy Morgan. Betsy’s book has 8 projects in, all created in her really artistic style, using cross stitch and other stitches to make lovely etuis. I’ll be doing a proper book review of this one soon.

Lorna Bateman Embroidered Country Gardens embroidery book

This is another book that I’ve had my eye on for a few months – this pretty ‘Embroidered Country Gardens’ book by Lorna Bateman has lots of projects in her delicate surface embroidery style, to make sewing accessories. I can never have too many sewing accessories!! I’ve got the scissor case ready to make up in my stash, but these all co-ordinate with it, so it’s really tempting to get on with it and make them all. It’s obviously a very different embroidery style from Betsy Morgan’s book, but I love the differences between the styles. I’ll be doing a review of this book soon, too.

St Petersburg Fantasy set watercolour paints

This is something new for me – watercolour paints!! I’ve been using coloured pencils ever since Johanna Basford’s colouring books became popular a few years ago, but watercolours always seemed a bit scary. But I’ve decided that I’ll have a go, as these two brands seem really good, and the colours are just gorgeous – very tempting to try. The large palette is by a Russian company called St Petersburg. The brand is White Nights, and this set is their Fantasy Set, as it has lots of bright shades, and very few browns (I don’t like brown!). I’ve also got 12 extra colours added to the spaces that are usually left in the centre of the box, so that I can have more purples than are usually included (you can never have too many purples!).

Metallic paints set

This small tin is very special. These are 12 metallic mica paints from KJDesignByKaren on Etsy- these are really lovely colours, and I can’t wait to try them out. Many people use these for calligraphy, but I’m going to use them for details in my Johanna Basford colouring books.

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Toy chest etui by Betsy Morgan: 5 – the last few toys in the toy chest!

Here are the last few toys that I made as sewing accessories to fit inside the toy chest etui. The whole toy chest and accessories are designed by Betsy Morgan of Willing Hands. They were really fun to make!

This cute drum is only about an inch and a half high. It has wooden drumsticks, made from thin dowel and beads, stitched onto the lid.

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The drum is decorated at the back with soft silk ribbon, laced up the seam, and then tied in a bow.

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The drum is lined with silk fabric. The drum is actually a container for a small cylinder of beeswax, which is useful to wax your threads with before stitching with them (waxing cuts down on static, and controls curled threads). The wax cylinder has metal ends, so that your fingers stay clean!

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But this next accessory is my absolute favourite! It’s a box about two inches square, with counted thread patterns all the way round.

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On the base, I embroidered my initials and the date.

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When you release the loop on the red bead, a little jack-in-the-box pops up! He’s on a spring, and has a ruff made of fine silk ribbon. In the instructions, it said to make the head from a piece of the checked silk fabric, so that it would just be a ball of fabric. I felt that he needed to have a face! So I made him from white cotton, and embroidered his face on once he had been attached to the spring (not easy!). The head is actually a container for emery powder, used to clean needles – to use it, you push the needle in and out of the fabric a few times, and discolouration is removed.

To be honest, I haven’t actually tried using it, although I did fill the head with the emery powder. I am worried that if I did poke needles in and out of his face, he might end up looking as if he’s got a bad case of blackheads  🙂IMG_2658

So, here is the whole toy chest, with all the accessories displayed around it. This took me about four months’ worth of my spare time of concerted effort to get finished. About half of that was the assembly of the pieces.

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It’s a really lovely project to do, and I’m so pleased with it – it’s one of my favourite possessions. It was due to getting withdrawal symptoms from finishing this etui set in 2012 that I decided to start the Carolyn Pearce Home Sweet Home one!

If you ever get the chance to take one of Betsy Morgan’s workshops, do make the most of the opportunity. Her designs are so creative, and her instructions are very detailed.

As I’ve said before in this series of blog posts, Betsy doesn’t sell these items as kits direct to the public, but instead you buy the whole project pack as part of the workshops which she offers, which last from a couple of days to a week, depending on the item being made (of course, you don’t *finish* the item in a few days, but Betsy shows you all the steps you’ll need to do, and you get the chance to practice, and ask questions, and get started at least!). Betsy is from the USA, but has been over to England a couple of times. In October 2016 she will be offering classes as part of the Beating Around the Bush stitching event in Adelaide, Australia, organised by Inspirations magazine.

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Toy chest etui by Betsy Morgan: 4 – needle case and pincushion

This lovely little needle case is part of Betsy Morgan’s Toy chest etui. I made it in 2012. It’s a holder for a packet of needles (which slip between the back sections of the silk lined case).

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The front is cross stitched with variegated silk thread, and the back is checked silk fabric, with a pocket incorporated in the hinge seam.

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When it is open, it looks like a paint box. Isn’t it pretty? The pattern at the end of the initials and date on the inside of the lid is a slot, reinforced with the stitching. Inside the slot, you can keep a flat metal needle-threader. The project pack comes with both the needle-threader and a beautiful enamelled charm of a paint palette, to attach to the end of the cord on the needle-threader.

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This is the paint box seen closed, with the needle-threader just poking out:

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Another accessory in the toy chest is this pincushion, shaped like a book.

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The edges of the ‘pages’ are stitched in rows of backstitch, in white. The cover is stitched in cross stitch and counted thread stitches. Each stitched panel of the pincushion is reinforced with fabric stiffener (a bit like petersham), stuffed lightly, and then slipstitched into a book shape.

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These designs are by Betsy Morgan of Willing Hands, and form part of the Toy chest etui set. She doesn’t sell these items as kits, but you buy the whole project pack as part of the workshops which she offers, which last from a couple of days to a week, depending on the item being made (of course, you don’t *finish* the item in a few days, but Betsy shows you all the steps you’ll need to do, and you get the chance to practice, and ask questions, and get started at least!). Betsy is from the USA, but has been over to England a couple of times. If you get the chance, go and have a look at her other items, and list of course dates on her blog. In October 2016 she will be offering classes as part of the Beating Around the Bush stitching event in Adelaide, Australia, organised by Inspirations magazine.

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