Spring 2024: Google ended its email subscription service in 2021. I believe I've found a replacement, but haven't had time to test it. I have been stitching a little bit here and there and have some posts ready for when the email subscription is active again. Fingers crossed, I'll have time to rouse this blog out of its dormancy sometime this year.

14 September 2019

A Fan-tastic Old Kit

I learned to embroider by working commercial kits. I have a few favourites and I recently saw one of them come up for sale on ebay.

Close-up of one of the fans from an old commercial crewel kit

The kit is called Golden Age Fans and was produced by JCA/Elsa Williams in the mid-1990s. It's stitched with relatively thick commercial kit crewel wool.

Vintage commercial crewel kit depicting colourful embroidered fans

Out of all the kits I've stitched, this one is really special. It's the first instance of me beginning to get the hang of shading although I didn't know it at the time! I can look back at it now and see where I started, but at the time I was still trying to make this awful long and short stitch diagram actually work to achieve shading:

Diagram depicting how to do long and short stitch from a vintage commercial crewel kit

I still see variations of this diagram show up in contemporary projects and on websites and it is not a good way to learn how to shade. Shading needs randomness, not uniform stitching!

I started embroidering when I was very young and I learned all of my initial stitches from these kit diagrams. On top of that, I'm left handed and the diagrams are created for righties. Sometimes, I'm surprised I can stitch at all!

The kit had three elements of which I've become quite fond: shading, 'goldwork', and beads. I think it's the first time I did a bit of goldwork or at least couching down some metallic thread. It's probably also the first embroidery I did that was embellished with beads. All in all, it was a very satisfying project.

Here's a bit of the 'goldwork':

Close-up of a green tassel with metal thread (goldwork) embroidery from vintage commercial crewel kit

The beads were fun, too.

Close-up of purple fan from Golden Age Fans, a vintage commcerical crewel kit that included beads in the design

However, it's the shading on this garland of leaves that's the most special thing to me. I finally started to get it!

Close-up of thread painted leaves on vintage commercial crewel kit

Interestingly, on the fan holder I was still attempting to make the long and short stitch diagram work. I tried so hard to make the stitching perfectly uniform, just like the diagram. Ugh! Fortunately, on the leaves I started achieving an actual blend. I didn't realise it, though. In many subsequent commercial kits that I stitched, the shading is poorly done. It took a few more years for the technique to lock into my brain. Perhaps the leaves were an accident!

Close-up of pink fan from vintage commcerical crewel kit

It was a lovely kit to work, one of the first projects I did where I was sad when it finished. I liked the fans enough to frame them and I see and enjoy them everyday.

The kit is currently up for sale on ebay. It's a bit pricey (and shipping is extra).

Vintage commerical crewel kit, Golden Age Fans, for sale on ebay for nearly $250!


  1. It's a very pretty piece!
    I too tried long and short stitch a long time ago. I found those old stitch diagrams misleading and was I very disappointed by the results.

    1. That long and short diagram caused me to waste a lot of time when I was younger. I feel for anyone who tries to replicate that diagram expecting any sort of reasonable shading!

  2. A very pretty piece and nicely done ! I love Esla Williams Company kits too and have done a few of the vintage ones . I also treasure a few of her books on my bookcase :)

    1. Thank you. When I was stitching commercial kits, Elsa Williams kits were among my favourites (Bucilla was another). I have several JCA and original Elsa kits in my stash. I hope to work some of them.

  3. What wonderful memories your article brought back. I tried to find the my first embroidery pattern online, but to no avail. It probably was a Dimensions kit (or something similar) with the wording "caring is the art of sharing, sharing is the art of living, living is the are of loving, loving is the art of caring". My mother did do all kinds of handwork, mainly crochet, but with 5 small ones, a few minutes to teach was a novelty. So kits would be the way to go. I would save my money, and buy them. The other kits I bought were needlepoint (canvas). I still remember doing a rose kit while travelling in the car. These remain, to this day, my two favourite methods of handworks. Like you, looking back at the work I did on my own as a teen and then forward to this day, at 72, I am truly amazed at my beginnings...and perseverance!!! Joanne

    1. I am glad you enjoyed the article. It's fun looking back at old projects, especially the ones that turned out well. I have an even older piece where I had absolutely no idea what I was doing shading-wise. It's framed on my wall to remind me of how I've improved! :-)

  4. I really enjoy seeing your needlework projects. Nicely done!!

    1. Thank you, Jean! With all the goings on in life currently, it's nice to escape into embroidery even if I don't have much time to actually stitch at the moment.