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Finally – The Future Tutors course commences

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The Future Tutors course has finally commenced and over the past week I have attended the first 3 days. These first days were an organised orientation program introducing us (the new students) to the workings of Royal School of Needlework, its Staff, and more generally to Hampton Court Palace.

Future Tutors – Class of 2022

After security passes were issued there were 3 days of tours and introductions to various sections of the school and the many wonderful people who keep the whole place running. There was an interesting lecture on the history and goals of the school from the CEO, and an opportunity to see some beautiful historical embroidered items.

There was a seek peek at the new RSN Faces and Figures exhibition – just before the visit and opening by the Patron – The Duchess of Cornwall. The exhibition has many really spectacular embroideries and I was particularly taken by the detail in many of the Shaded Blackwork pieces.

This little Robin joined us for lunch on our first day.

One particular highlight of the week for me was collecting our crate of Embroidery supplies, as these are the items we will be using for each of our embroidered pieces over the next three years. The crate was full of all sorts of items that any embroiderer would treasure such as slate frames and hoops, scissors and art supplies, tools such as a screwdriver and a stanly knife along with tweezers, mellor, stiletto, pins, and lots of needles. I had a relaxing afternoon unpacking and labelling every item before storing them all away in my allocated work crate.

Needle Books at the ready…

In preparation for the course we had been asked to make ourselves a Needlebook with at least ten pages, and after seeing the package of needles provided in our supplies crate I understood the reason for needing such a large needle book.

In designing my needlebook, I decided to use a book binding technique with a folded fabric spine, in order to accomodate the thickness of the ten wool felt pages. I used a cranberry coloured 28 count linen for the cover and a coordinating batik cotton for the lining and folded spine. Six of my pages are made are made from a pack of Sue Spargo felted wool pieces and I added in 4 more pages from wool fabrics in my stash to make the required 10 pages.

For some reason I had decided to decorate my Needlebook with Caselguidi embroidery. I have no idea why I choose this though I do like the combination of the pulled background ( in foursided stitch) and raised surface work that creates the Caselguidi look – however the embroidery does take a considerable time to complete. The design is my own, though it is based on traditional motifs.

Once I had completed the embroidery on the front, I made up the cardboard book binding, and inserted the pages and linings. I then added labels to each of the pages to help me identify the needles. I had obtained these woven labels a few years ago from ‘Plays with Needles’ on Etsy, though I am not sure if they are available any longer. A magnetic closure, which I found at a local bead shop, finishes of the needlebook and hopefully keeps my needles safe.

Caselguidi design on the front cover

Magnetic closure

Each page labelled.

After a few wonderful introductory days, the coursework starts in earnest this week!

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Boxing up the Whitework Ship

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The second RSN short course that I had enrolled in – just for a little recreational holiday stitching – was Advanced Box Making with Heather Lewis. This 2 day course was conducted over a Saturday and Sunday in mid August at Hampton Court Palace.

Creating fabric covered boxes – usually incorporating embroidery – is one of the techniques that the RSN offers as an option on their Diploma. Heather Lewis, our tutor, has been working at the RSN for almost 20 years in a variety of roles across both Studio work and tutoring, and she has significant experience in box making. She is actually now in the final stages of preparing to release a book on Box Making, and she brought along a number of her beautiful boxes to inspire us.

Fabric hinge on Purple box by Heather Lewis.

This was my first attempt at making this type of stitched box and for this advanced class we were encouraged to design our own box that would incorporate both a drawer and a hinge. I decided that I would also like to incorporate the Whitework piece that I had worked earlier in the month. The little Ship motif in Rachel Doyle’s design led me to selecting a navy coloured outer fabric with small anchors printed on it.

My fabric choices

The fabrics we used for our boxes were standard quilting cottons, as these hold up well to being firmly pulled and stitched around the cardboard forms. There was a lot of curved needle stitching in this piece, and lots of math/calculations working out exactly how to make all the pieces fit together.

My box making in progress

I am happy with how the whole box eventually came together – though I do need to pay more attention to mitred corners and ensuring to that the drawer fabric pattern matches and fits seamlessly into the front.

I was really happy when I found these really cute little Anchor charms in a bead shop in Kingston to use as drawer pulls which I think helped to finish the piece off nicely.

The Future Tutor course starts this week – Can’t wait for the adventure to start!

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Day trip to Exeter Cathedral for a special Embroidery exhibition

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With our little cottage is starting to feel more like home, we decided that the time had come to plan a day trip to get to see a little more of this part of England, especially with my course commencing in less than two weeks. The RSN had advised that some of their collection pieces were on display at Exeter Cathedral – alongside a display of some of the Cathedrals own vestments – so a day trip by train to Exeter was planned.

Exeter Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful building, commenced in medieval times, added to over centuries, with some elements repaired after bombing in WW2. There was an Organ recital underway as we made our way around the embroidery exhibition and the sounds were heavenly.

That soaring ceiling

Carved Acorns

Exeter Cathedral

Ecclesiastical Embroideries

The RSN pieces on display had been chosen with an Ecclesiastical theme – with many samplers of church related motifs, a few stoles, and some beautiful silkshading and goldwork on banners and alter frontals. It was wonderful to be able to see the fine detail in many of these pieces, which were displayed throughout the cathedral.

Exhibition Highlight

For me the real highlight of the exhibition was seeing six of the Litany of Loreto Embroideries. These pieces are very finely worked gold and silk framed embroideries, and seeing them in person surpassed anything I had read about them. I was able to closely observe the stitching and the work on most of the pieces. Photos of embroideries – particularly of Goldwork – simply do not give you a true representation of the beauty of the glistening gold and shining silk, however I thought I might share a few of my photos with you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

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Moving in and getting on with Embroidery

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From my last blog post you will be aware that I was super excited to have been offered a place by the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) on their 3 year Future Tutors course, and that taking up this offer involved packing up my life in Australia and moving to the U.K. to follow my dream. The planning and preparation for the move had taken over from everything else in my life for the last few months, and has been a huge effort, greatly supported by family and friends, with lots of tedious admin, some sheer physical hard work, and a little luck, but now its done.

As of this week we have finally settled into a cute little cottage in the village near Hampton Court Palace. The Future Tutors course will actually commence in early September so, just to keep my embroidery hand in, I decided to take a couple of recreational stitching day classes at the RSN during the second half of August. Fortunately this plan allowed me to have a break from assembling all the Ikea bits and pieces we purchased to furnish the cottage in order to make it our home for the next 3 years!

Being at the RSN also enabled me to catch up during lunch time with some of the lovely girls I had met in class last year – they were there all completing their Goldwork intensive classes. Really lucky to see the beautiful Goldwork work being done by Sonja, Louisa, Marlous and Caitlin.

Rachel Doyle – Sailing kit

My first RSN day class was with the lovely tutor and designer Rachel Doyle. The class piece was her gorgeous little “Sailing” boat design in Pulled Whitework. I first saw this design pop up on the RSN Facebook site when they were advertising the next batch of day classes and immediately knew that this was one I would love to try. I was also fortunate to have had Rachel as a tutor previously when doing Canvas Stitches classes, and I knew her designs and kits were really special. I briefly in a previous post about another of Rachel Doyle’s kits ‘ The Wool Rack’ that I completed last summer.

It was a lovely day to be at the Palace with the summer sun shining after a few grey days. For me it felt like I was returning home – the lovely RSN course managers Noleen and Hari are so welcoming – and Rachel had the room beautifully set up ready for the class of 12 eager students. See all those Purple bags!

In Class at RSN Hampton Court Palace

The best thing about taking a day class at the RSN is that you can simply turn up and everything is supplied – however I still need to remember to take my close up stitching glasses!

My stitched pulled work – Rachel Doyle’s design and kit

I did manage to get this piece finished and in my next post I will show you what I plan to do with it.

I am loving being back in the U.K.

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My Amazing news – which hopefully explains why I haven’t been posting for a while.

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I realise that it has been some time since I updated my ongoing embroidery story. I have been doing some stitching however a couple of other activities have kept me from posting for the last couple of months and I now have some Really Good News that I am very excited about.

What have I been up to?

After returning home from such a wonderful stitching experience at the Royal School of Needlework, I realised that what I really wanted to do was return to the RSN to do more – that is more embroidery classes, more designing, more fun with threads, and most especially more learning in that beautiful setting at Hampton Court Palace – it really is a magical place.

While at the RSN I had investigated the Future Tutors course – which is the full time 3 year course that trains students to become tutors in all of the techniques taught by the RSN. The course was described to me by current students as ‘intense’, ‘demanding’ and ‘like doing the intensive classes for three years straight’, and a real emotional, physical and mental challenge.

Another daunting aspect of this course is the application process – I would need to submit a written application accompanied by a portfolio of my work, and from the application pool a limited number of applicants would be selected for a stage one interview – which would be a full day, group work interview. After this a smaller number of candidates would be offered a second round interview. Following the second interviews approximately 4 candidates would be offered a place on the course.

So, after much dithering about my ability to actually do this, I adopted a ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’ attitude and decided to apply. I sent off the submission and portfolio in February and found out in late March that I had been successful in gaining a first round interview – in the U.K. After a very quick trip over to the RSN – the gardens were beautiful as spring was just bursting out – and a full day group interview, I came back to Australia hoping to hear that I made the second round. The notification did come for a second interview and following this, in the most amazing email, I was offered a place on the 2019 course!

So I will be commencing on the Future Tutors course in early September 2019, and I hope to be able to continue to post occasional updates on this blog as I progress on the course.

Spring Daffodils in the Wilderness Garden.

Recent Stitching

My recent stitch work has been exploring Slow Stitching in a class led by Lisa Mattock. I have turned the larger piece I made into a zipped compendium, and the second piece into a needlework tool folder. I had a fun weekend assembling and stitching these pieces which had started the day as bits of damaged doilies and hand made lace. The workshop was hosted in a beautiful new venue (Lewington Studio) in the countryside near Brisbane. This was a delightful and very relaxing weekend with great company and amazing food.

Needlework tool folder.

Prior to this I had taken two classes organised through my local Embroiderers Guild with the wonderful Alison Snepp. Alison is a very professional and personable tutor and her classes are brilliant, so I am sad to hear that after many years she will finish teaching embroidery later this year, though hopefully this will give her the opportunity follow some of her other interests. I have promised myself to finish both the Couturiers Chatelaine and the Mamluk purse in the next couple of months.

So for now it is back to the sorting, disposing, downsizing, planning and packing as we hope to depart for the U.K. in early August. So much to do …..

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Resuming real life, with space for stitching.

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End of Year Update

Since arriving back in Australia after the most wonderful 3 1/2 months on the  2018 RSN Stitching adventure and then enjoying an additional month in the USA touring and generally unwinding, I have been hit hard with the reality of returning to real life. Getting back into the routine of my job with early mornings and late evenings and frequent interstate travel has been interesting and I have had to have some stern talks to myself to build enthusiasm. The short Christmas break that I am currently enjoying has been very timely as I am using the space to think about how to incorporate more stitching time into 2019.

Back to Stitching

On the embroidery front I have been busy setting up a space where I can continue to stitch in the way I became familiar with during my RSN classes – that is using a strecher frame across sturdy trestles, with a good light and my tools within easy reach. My first task has been to build a set of trestles. I used some of the ideas posted by Marlous over at Stitching Sheep  along with some of the experience I gained by using various styles of trestles at the RSN over the Summer. I have now completed the build and just have to do a final coat of paint. I am so happy to have these trestles that I have already started to use them for stitching.

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Latest Embroidery

I have been embroidering  some Goldwork pieces to take to the end of year breakup at my local Embroiderers Guild. For a Challenge we had been asked to create a card to celebrate a Golden 50th, using a challenge pack that included small pieces of goldwork metal threads and gold Lame fabric. We could add extra to the pack but had to include the elements in the pack. The included fabric was particularly difficult as it started fraying as soon as you touched it. 

I designed two cards, one a goldwork dragonfly and one a butterfly and flower, as I wanted to try using the Lame in two different ways – as a border and as part of the design. In the end I think the Dragonfly where I fused down the fabric was the more successful use of the Lame.

My guild had also asked members, as part of our 50 year celebrations, to interpret a design by one of our founders Mabel McAllister – a piece called Mabels Cat. Since I had my goldwork supplies out, I decided to also do this piece in Goldwork techniques while also taking the opportunity to try out some coloured metal purls. I was happy with the interpretation though my cutwork needs more practice. 

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Mabels cat – photo of original and my Goldwork interpretation


Now I will enjoy Christmas and immerse myself in reading my new Embroidery books that my husband saw on my very obvious Christmas wish list, and get ready for the New Year.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.


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RSN Diploma – Module 2 – Appliqué

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Appliqué is a technique that many embroiderers will be familiar with, especially if quilting also features in your stitching repertoire, however the RSN Diploma Appliqué Module takes this technique further into some specific elements and focuses on dimension and edges.

The brief for the Appliqué module explains that the RSN is looking for the embroiderer to be able to smoothly apply fabrics over a variety of padding types e.g. carpet felt, string padding, pelmet vilene, wool felt etc and then deliver finished edges on each element of the design. The embroiderer is free to embellish their work with threads, beads and wires etc. but needs to be careful that they are delivering an Appliqué piece and not a stumpwork. The use of a wide variety of materials is encouraged.

With all of the above in mind I approached this Appliqué module with some trepidation as I had a limited time, along with a determination to enjoy the freedom to use a range of fabrics, fibres and techniques. For my design I wanted to still incorporate the signature Oak leaves and Acorns and so my version of a Green Man was born.

Background

While many RSN students piece their background for this module, often using applique edges, I had taken a photo of a special tree during my visit to France and I wanted to incorporate this photo into my piece. The tree was growing in the military cemetery near Lille where my husbands Great Uncle was buried during WW1, and I imagined that I could see a face in the bark of the tree. I was able to find a business in the U.K. called  PRINTFAB who printed my photo onto a fat quarter of good quality cotton fabric and this became the background to my appliqué. I love how this turned out and hope I can use the approach again in a future work!

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Face in the tree. Background print.

Padding

Working out the layers and types of padding and where to use each was the next step. Carpet Felt padding was new to me and I found there were really good instructions in the RSN Applique book by Kate Cross. Building up the carpet felt, which I did on a seperate hoop, gave the nose and eyebrows good height. String padding the lips was a little more challenging, though in the end I was happy with how they shaped up. Layers of wool felt brought dimension into his face, and additional wadding elevated some of the leaves across his cheeks and forehead.

Edges

One of the key requirements of RSN Appliqué is that there must be a variety of edge finishes used. I was able to use some of the leftover background fabric with the tree trunk print to make turned edges over the nose, lips and eyebrows. The leaves gave me the space to do embroidered edges such as buttonhole and long and short (his beard). Some of the fabric leaves have couched and corded edges, while leather and vinyl leaves allowed me to have raw edges.

Embellishments

I found some wonderful large and slightly oval shaped beads during that same visit to France and, after wrapping the tops with gold twist, these became the large acorns which I sewed to the piece. Other small beads were added, along with stitched tufting and french knots, and all combined to give his face texture.

Finishing

I felt that I could have continued to add a lot more embellishment to this work however time was against me as our boxes had to be packed so they could be shipped back to Australia, and the frame this piece was worked on was one of the things that had to go, so I had to get it off the frame and mounted. Also I had to keep reminding myself appliqué not stumpwork!

The RSN allows you to choose how you would like to present your Appliqué – either via traditional mounting over card or as a soft wall hanging – I chose traditional mounting. I did think later that this decision was shortsighted as this piece is 32cm on each side and took ages to mount via the RSN required method. I am however very happy with how the finished piece has come together, and I think it looks somewhat like my original design drawing .

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End of the 2018 Embroidery Adventure 

My appliqué piece was finished and submitted less than 24 hours before we flew out of the U.K. and this also brings my 2018 RSN Embroidery adventure to an end. Completing 6 RSN Certificate & Diploma pieces in 12 weeks has been an effort, and something I never thought I would have the opportunity to do, and it has also the most wonderful time ever.

Thanks must be given to my wonderful husband for his support, meals, washing, ironing, packing my lunch, carrying my bags and generally keeping me sane.

I do hope to get back to the Royal School of Needlework next year so keep your fingers crossed for me – I still have 4 more Diploma subjects to do!.  In the intervening time I will continue to embroider and update you on progress via this blog.

Now holidaying in the USA!

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RSN Diploma – Module 1 completed

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Finished

I was privileged to be able to view some wonderful Canvaswork pieces during the Royal School of Needlework – Animals in Embroidery exhibition and as a result I have actually come to a much better appreciation of the complexity of this technique. The texture that can be achieved through a wide variety of stitchs is remarkable. It is a real pity that Canvaswork does not photograph very well as seeing the dimension and texture that can be achieved in real life has totally changed my opinion of it.

Canvas Stitches is the alternative module that you undertake either in the RSN Certificate or the Diploma, depending on which certificate technique you first choose (Blackwork  or Canvas). Having done certificate Blackwork, Canvas Stitches became my first Diploma Module.  When choosing the design for this piece I did a lot of thinking about whether to continue with the Oak leaves and Acorns theme that I had followed throughout my Certificate pieces or to move onto other images and options. In the end I decided to stay with my established theme so the all of my pieces would ‘hang’ together when displayed. The RSN brief recommends landscapes or water scenes as good for this technique, and the tutors advise against images with strong straight lines (including diagonal) as the nature of canvas is to produce blocky images. While most students will work from a photograph and try to recreate the image as closely as possible, I was keen to develop my own designs for my diploma modules and so this design was born.

My ‘Frog on a Windowsill’ certainly has to be my most travelled piece as I have worked on it at three different RSN schools – in Durham, in Bristol, and at Hampton Court Palace. The tutors in each of the locations provided great advice and each influenced different aspects of the final piece. Tracey Franklin made brilliant choices in the blended sky/mountain background colours, Deb Wilding had great suggestions on stitches that would give the frog his knobbly texture, Lisa Bilby was able to point out areas that shading would bring to life, and Rachel Doyle is an absolute star at problem solving. I think in all, as I moved around RSN venues, at least 10 tutors provided input to the piece and I feel enriched for having their support.

The personal learning that I take from this piece is that if I were to do the certificate over again I would actually choose to do Canvaswork first in the Certificate as I think the process of choosing and blending threads for this technique provides a really good grounding for being able to really see the colours needed in Silk Shading. This is only my opinion of course based on my recent experience of doing both techniques.

Another lesson I have learned in this module is the benefit of keeping the working piece very tightly stretched on the frame. Due to all the travel I had been at pains to be particularly vigilant with regularly tightening up my framed work and I was able to reap the benefits when taking my canvas off the frame to find that it had remained reasonably square. This made the mounting process just that bit easier though believe me that Canvas is a difficult fabric to mount well and very hard on the fingers!. Finally my Canvas Stitches is finished, mounted and submitted for assessment.  On to the next module – Appliqué.

 

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RSN Diploma Module 1 – Canvaswork

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Undertaking the Canvaswork Module has been both a joy and a pain so far. I explained in an earlier post how I came to take on Canvas Stitches as my first module in the Royal School of Needlework  Diploma, when usually Appliqué is recommended as the starting module for this qualification. On the one hand I have enjoyed the process of working through selecting and blending threads to bring my project to life. Now that I have a better understanding of the types and qualities of some canvas stitches, I have even enjoyed the process of selecting stitches to convey the elements of an image. On the other hand I have not particularly enjoyed the sheer drudgery of have to fill ever single hole in the canvas – which is a definite requirement for this module.

Thankfully the piece is reasonably small. The module brief suggested it should be no bigger than 6 * 8inches and I have followed this suggestion. However that is still leaves a lot of surface to be stitched when all canvas threads must be covered. Ensuring good coverage means having sufficient strands of thread in the needle to fill the spaces – for example a lot of the areas I stitched  in stranded cotton required at least 10 strands in the needle. The technique chews up a lot of thread, and sampling stitches on the side of the work has been really useful.

The Canvas has 18 Threads per Inch (TPI) and is a reasonably stiff canvas with a rough surface as I found out on the first day when I accidentally dragged my knuckle across the underside of my piece while tensioning and took a layer of skin off the back of my knuckle joint. I learned to be a little more cautious of canvas after this incident. Having silicon thimbles for both protection and to grip the needle has been invaluable.

Once again the skilled RSN tutors have been really helpful in guiding me forward and on the whole I am happy with how this piece is coming together. I have used a range of threads; stranded, wool, silk, linen, metallic to name a few and think I have managed to achieve good texture on the bullfrog. I also wanted to convey the vibrant colours and semi transparency of Autumn leaves against an early Autumn clear sky and I think this has worked fairly well.

There is still work to be done on this piece but time is running out and mounting day approaches. I am now finishing all of the surface stitching including the twig stems that will hopefully bring this ‘Frog on the Windowsill’ piece to life.

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Autumn leaves

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The secret to protecting stitching Fingers

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One of the questions I have been asked most often throughout the 12 weeks of this Stitching adventure is, “how have your fingers coped with all that intensive stitching” or “surely you must have holes in your fingers by now”.

As many stitchers will know it can be very difficult to continue working when your finger tips have been pricked multiple times, or a hole has formed where your finger has been pierced by the eye of your needle. Once the hole is there then the back of the needle seems to unerringly find the same sore spot over and over. Then there is also the constant fear of getting blood onto your work!

After lots of research and trial and error the answer for me has been thimbles – but not just any thimbles these amazing little Clover silicon thimbles. Many thanks are due to my friend Louise from New Zealand for introducing me to these gems.

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Clover 57- 371 (16mm) Thimbles, 2 per pack.

 

I have worn two of these thimbles – one on the middle finger of each hand – since almost the start of my 1st RSN intensive class some 12 weeks ago. They have saved my fingers and I do not have any holes or sore spots at all. The two original thimbles are now showing significant signs of wear, so I have just moved onto a new pair in the last week.

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12 weeks constant wear on the two thimbles on the right. New thimble on the left of the picture.

I will admit to being a ‘sometimes’ thimble wearer in the past; I would resort to one when I was having difficulty pushing the needle through the fabric. My thimble of choice has usually been an open top Tailors Thimble as I tend to push the needle with the side of my finger. In more recent years I have used silicon thimbles of various types, but these Clover thimbles which come in two sizes (16mm is the largest) are the clear winners.

They are so comfortable that I often forget I am wearing them and head off for lunch with my thimbles still on my fingers. They also have the added advantage of offering a little more grip on the needle as you are drawing it through the fabric, which has proved invaluable with canvas work.

They may be difficult to find but are really worth the search!

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Clover 57-371 thimbles – Comfortable and lightweight