Historiana blog: stories behind the jewellery and cross stitch designs

Welcome to the Historiana blog. Here I share a little more information on some of my designs, and other interesting snippets from my collection of books and images.

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  1. DMC floss sample magnetic boards

    The DMC colour chart with the real floss samples is a thing of beauty, but you can’t move the samples around to hold them next to each other, to see what works. So I came up with this idea. It wasn’t a quick job - turns out that sealing the sides of the samples with glue is the really time-consuming part. But if someone is going to spend hundreds of hours on a cross stitch piece, I can spend a few hours making sure that the colour choices are good, and accurate! Also, you can do most of this job while watching <your film & TV provider of choice>, once you get the hang of things. The only thing I haven’t figured out yet is how to store them, so I need some sort of case or box; they absolutely need to be stored away from the light. If you want to make your own, here’s how I did it.

    You need:

    • A DMC floss-samples colour chart (NOT the printed colour chart*)
    • Magnetic sheets (I used flexible A4 magnetic sheets from The Magnet Shop via Ebay)
    • A receptive metal surface (I used self-adhesive A4 rubber steel ferrous sheet, also from the Magnet Shop)
    • Stiff card; I used mount board, A4 size. I ended up with 7 boards of samples. Also it’s good to have a couple more boards, for using as colour-mixing palettes.
    • Glue for sticking - I used Bostik all-purpose glue to stick the strips of floss samples to the magnetic sheet
    • Glue for sealing - I used Diamond Glaze to seal the sides of the samples, as it is more fluid and easier to manipulate than Bostik or UHU. Mod Podge might also be good for this, or PVA.
    • Craft foam (I used 5mm ‘cosplay foam sheet’, from Ebay) or some other material to form a border round the edges of your boards. You could use thick corrugated card, for example.
    • Good scissors, medium or large
    • Craft knife
    • Cutting board
    • Metal ruler, useful but not vital

    Floss sample glued to magnetic backing

    Ideally you should make the boards first, so you’ll have somewhere to put the samples while you are processing them. Take your self-adhesive magnetically receptive sheets and attach them to the stiff card. If they’re not aligned quite straight, don’t worry, you can trim the edges with a craft knife and a metal ruler.

    Now cut strips of craft foam (or some alternative) and glue them along the edges of the boards. I used a metal ruler, laid on its side against the edge of the board, to shunt the strips up to so they would be straight and flush to the edge. I did the long edges first, let them dry for several hours, and then did the shorter ends. The point of this border is to stop samples getting knocked off the edges of the boards, which happens all too easily.

    Now, cut up the DMC chart! I cut out each column of colours as a single piece, along with the identifying numbers attached, of course. Do NOT cut off the numbers, this would be VERY BAD!

    You should now have 25 columns, if I counted correctly, plus a couple of additional special threads (metallics, neon & glow in the dark).

    I glued each column onto the magnetic sheets. Be really sure you are gluing onto the correct surface, because only one side will stick to metal, and you want to glue the samples to the other side. Test before you glue! You can crowd them together, just leave enough space for a craft knife to pass between them. Make sure the entire back of the column is coated evenly with glue.

    After they have properly dried, ideally the next day, you can cut out each column - a craft knife is best for this. Now you can start cutting the colours apart. I found a good pair of large scissors best for this; you can try with a craft knife. Either way, cut down the middle of the white threads that separate each colour. It’s a bit alarming at first, but it gets easier.

    To seal the samples so the thread doesn’t unravel; first of all, pull off, or snip, any tufty or loose thread at the sides. Small tufts can be smoothed down with the glue. I used Diamond Glaze, as it is quite runny and easy to manipulate; an attempt with Bostik all-purpose glue was disastrous as it is too goopy and you get strings of glue, which is not ideal. A cheaper option would be PVA, slightly watered down if it’s too thick, or possibly Mod Podge (I’ve never used it, but I gather it’s like PVA).

    Sides of samples sealed with glaze 

    When you lie the sample down to dry, beware it might stick to whatever it’s lying on. If using your magnetically receptive boards, place a protective layer on them first - e.g, waxy paper that they will peel from easily if they do get stuck (the waxy peel-off paper from the self-adhesive magnetically-receptive sheets was perfect for this!) Or you could use clingfilm (saran wrap), or a piece cut from a plastic bag.

    That’s it!

    A rough idea of the cost:
    DMC chart: £28.20
    Magnetic sheets, for pack of 10: £11.90
    Receptive sheets for pack of 10: £14.95
    Foam, for 100 x 50cm: £5.49

    = £60.54

    - though that is a bit over, as I have most of the foam left, and several magnetic and receptive sheets. I already had the mounting board to use as the card backing. 

    *on the subject of the printed chart: I don’t really recommend it. Most colours are fairly representative but it doesn’t convey the deeper shades very well. E.g., DMC 814 is a beautiful deep dark berry red, but on the printed chart, it looks dark magenta-brown.

    Foam edging on the magnetic boards

  2. Some pretty illustrations from ‘Floral Emblems’ by Henry Phillips, 1825. This was one of the principal ‘floral dictionaries’ used by enthusiasts for Victorian ‘floriography’, or ‘the language of flowers’. It appears that this Victorian craze developed partly from Ottoman customs, which were initially imported to Britain by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who lived in Turkey as wife of the British Ambassador. British culture also had a history of floral symbolism, as referred to by Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet; but the idea of sending coded messages using a more complex system of flower-meanings, came from the Ottoman custom. To quote from Henry Phillips: “It is observed by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, that in Turkey, you may through the assistance of these emblems, either quarrel, reproach, or send letters of passion, friendship, or civility, or even news, without ever inking your fingers, for she says, there is no colour, no weed, no flower, no fruit, herb, nor feather, that has not a verse belonging to it.” 

    The entire book is available online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/30410#page/11/mode/1up

    Robin & leaves, Floral Emblems


    Floral Emblems bouquet Historiana Designs


    Ewer, Floral Emblems


    Poetry & Painting - Floral Emblems

  3. I photographed this beautiful head at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples - which I very highly recommend. Top tip: go early, go often. Due to staff shortages, some rooms may be closed at any given time. I visited 3 times in one week and never did get to see one room of the garden frescoes from Pompeii, though if I were more of a morning person, I might have succeeded. The earlier you go, the better your chances. But even if you can't see everything, it is a phenomenal museum which is worth as many visits as you can give it. 
    This head of the Omphalos Apollo came from Baia, a Roman seaside resort on the north side of the Gulf of Naples, and is a Roman copy of a Greek original dating to about 470 BCE. The original Omphalos Apollo may have been mis-named; it was associated with an ‘omphalos stone’ base which was found nearby, but is not now considered to have belonged to the statue. 


  4. santorini_lady

    I've been posting interesting images and snippets to Instagram for some time; it's a format that works well for concise content. I post the same content on my Facebook feed, although I also intend to share some more personal material on Facebook as I go along, telling more of the story of how I research & create my pieces, and sharing news about markets and outlets. If you'd like to follow Historiana on either of those platforms, please click on the icons on the site footer. I also share the posts in truncated form on Twitter (likewise, access via the icon).
    However - I realise that not everyone wants to mess with social media, and they are necessarily quite brief posts. So, I'm going to be replicating some of that content here on my blog, generally in longer form and with more images - feel free to follow me for some colourful, intriguing content! I spend a lot of my time digging around in interesting corners of the internet, reading, visiting museums, and generally following my own magpie tendencies - that's how Historiana came about in the first place - and many of the gems I find are shared here. Paintings and prints, scientific nuggets, natural history, museum highlights, people from history, quirky illustrations, photographs, and plenty more - variety is definitely the spice of life, in Historiana's view. I'd also be delighted to read your comments, so if you have any queries or observations, please do add them. If you prefer to contact me directly, please use the contact page. 

    Best wishes,

    Helen Historiana.

    p.s. The image I use as my avatar is from a reproduction of a Minoan fresco depicting saffron gatherers, from the ‘Xeste 3’ house at Akrotiri, on the island of Santorini, dating to about 1600 BCE. I do love the Minoans.