Everyone's gone plum crazy this year -- not in the way you might think (though with the world's affairs the way they are you might be forgiven for thinking so) but simply with those glorious shades of cranberry, eggplant and dark cherry, a harvest of lovely colors which has suddenly come into our lives. Besides plum, there are all the beautiful combinations of muted colors which go with it: teal blue, rust, lavender, silver gray, and warm beige -- really the colors of antique Scottish plaids or misty landscapes in England.
At a recent Embroiderers' Guild Show in London, I saw a magnificent hand-painted silk vest, matching purse, jacket and hat in mauve, gray, lavender and plum, each piece decorated with three-dimensional dogwood blossoms. The petals were first securely edged with machine oversewing in zigzag stitch, then each overlapping flower was attached to the background with silk French knots in the center.
Another feast for the eyes was a flight of butterflies, each one in printed cotton fabric in the most delicious shades of raspberry, pumpkin and claret. The butterflies were first machine-outlined, then cut out and joined with a network of narrow ribbons to make a lacy open-work panel to hang against the wall from a single rod.
Once you become aware of this different color palette, you can use it with all kinds of techniques for an exciting new look this fall. Ignore for now the brilliant reds, yellows, royal blues and kelly greens. Instead, zero in on the browns, grays, whites and antique golds. You don't have to buy a whole heap of expensive new shades; just ruffly through your work bag and rearrange things a bit. Pick out all the shades of one color, shading from deep cranberry to pale lavender, for instance, throw them on the floor and see how they look together. If they seem happy there, they are bound to be harmonious in your needlework design.
Remember, you can combine textures as well -- leftover mohair from a sweater, threads of shiny white perle cotton, worsted and Persian wool can make a really stunning effect.
That's what my friend Phoebe Hart does when she makes her beautiful needlepoint rugs, working with "thrums" -- the leftover yarns sold by the bag by carpet manufacturers in England. Because they are designed for the floor, the colors are muted, but glow when Phoebe makes her exciting combinations -- white, cream, silver gray, mauve, plum, olive and brown, for instance -- often combining shades in the needle for softer blends.
So, whether you buy new wools or persuade a local carpet dealer to sell you leftovers, or raid your sewing box or knitting bag, don't forget those subtle, different color combinations that will give a whole new look to your needlework this fall.
Q. I have 13 balls of 100 percent nylon (crimp set, three-ply fingering yarn) that I would like to make into a sweater or dress. When I suggest this to sales people they say, "Don't waste your time; nylon sags too much and will not keep its shape." Isn't there anything I can combine with this yarn to make it hold its shape?
A. You are fortunate that the yarn is of fine fingering weight and is textured too. It's perfect for combining with another type of yarn, such as smooth wool or a quality acrylic blend that has good "recovery." That means the yarn will spring back into shape after being stretched. Choose a sports or fingering weight for a fine, close stitch, or a four-ply worsted for a bolder design. Many of today's sweaters are knitted or crocheted with two types of yarn held together, so you should be right in style.
Q. What kind of batting should I use for my first quilt: cotton or polyester? I was all ready to begin with polyester when an old quilter told me cotton was the only thing to use. What do you suggest?
A. Well, chances are your stitching will be a bit bolder on your first quilt than on your next 20. So start with a polyester batting since you only need to work the rows of quilting 2 to 4 inches apart to hold it firm. Your old quilter is right; cotton is perfect for a flat, smooth, beautiful quilt, but your rows must be stitched no farther apart than 1 to 1 1/2 inches to keep it in place.