It’s done.  All 80+ gears, each with a different filling pattern, worked with well-aged “Art Silk” (probably rayon) purchased for a single rupee per skein in India, on 30-count linen.  The soot sprites (little black fuzzy creatures) playing the part of “Trifles” are in discontinued DMC linen floss, so that they contrast shaggy and matte against the brighter, smoother silky stuff.  I’ve also attached some real, brass gears as embellishments, to add extra Steampunk flavor.


Here’s a close-up of the sprites in process, adapted from the little soot creatures in the movie Spirited Away.


To stitch them I worked totally off count. (Yes, I can do that, too). I outlined the eyes in split stitch using one strand of floss, and placed the eyes’ pupils, using French knots.  Then I worked long and short stitch, encroaching on the split stitch eye frames, to get that spiky, unkempt, hairy texture.  The arms and legs are close-worked chain with two strands, with the little toes and fingers (what of them there are) also in split stitch, but with two strands.  The gears are filled in using (mostly) double running, with some departures into “wandering running” using two strands of the very fine art silk floss; and outlined in chain stitch using three strands of the stuff.  All threads used were waxed using real beeswax, for manageability.

I am happy to say I’ve hit all of the specific design requests.  And there were many:

  • A good motto
  • Steampunk (the gear theme)
  • Something Whovian (the Daleks)
  • Octopodes (dancing in one of the fills)
  • Snails (ditto)
  • Unicorns and/or dragons (ditto, and the winged, serpent tailed, beaky thing is good enough)
  • Anime (the soot sprites)
  • Interlaces (also inhabiting the gears)
  • Autumn colors (brown, gold, russet, silver)
  • Something from India (the thread itself)

The saying itself is particularly suitable for the target Daughter.  It’s one of Mushashi’s Nine Precepts.  The Daleks are from a graph by Amy Schilling, intended for knitting. The narrow border is in my forthcoming book, The Second Carolingian Modelbook. I found all of the alphabets used (there are four) in Ramzi’s Sajou collection. The gear shapes are adapted from a freehand tracing of a commercial airbrush stencil by Artool.  Most of the gear fills can be found in Ensamplario AtlantioThe few that aren’t from that source are recent doodles, and will be made available in time, either as a fifth segment of that work, or perhaps as their own stand-alone sequel.  Ensamplario Secundo, anyone?

Now Younger Daughter doesn’t head off to school until next fall, so I have about a year to add hanging tabs, or back the piece with contrasting fabric to make a scroll-like presentation.  So while the stitching is complete, this piece may revisit String when I decide what the display treatment will be.

On to the next.  I’ve got two more original stitched pieces in queue, with only a general idea of what each one will be, and what styles/designs/colors I’ll use.  Free-fall stitching!  Gotta love the adventure!


After lots of happy chugging along, as you can see Trifles is nearing completion.


I’ve got only eight more gears to finish up, including the two in process now.  Then come a couple of “Trifles,” modeled on the little soot demons from Spirited Awayanother special request from the target recipient.  The hapless little things will be prisoners in the mechanism.


Finally, if there’s room and it looks good, I plan to add some brass watch gears for extra Steampunk flavor.

To answer questions, no – I am not planning this in advance.  I choose the fill and color as each new gear presents itself.  I chose to use four colors as a nod to the (rarely used) four color theorem, which states that any contiguous plane map can be colored in using only four colors, and have no two regions of the same color touching each other.  In my case as a non-mathematician, this was done on a lark, and adds geeky joy. 

I do admit that a little logical thinking has been used to select the optimal color for each gear, in a “If I make this one brown, then this one will have to be gold, and that one must be maroon,” sort of way.  But again I haven’t sat down and plotted my plan of attack, other than to make the juncture point where I finish adding gears around the motto be the narrowest point of the sampler, to simplify any color meet-up issues.

On fills, I’ve tried to mix up densities and shapes, to achieve as much contrast as possible.  So fills based on interlaces abut fills with isolated spot motifs, which bump up against all-over small geometrics, which in turn are next to line-based fills with few or no closed shapes.  I’ve had a lot of fun paging through Ensamplario Atlantio looking for the best choice for each gear.  And I’ve ended up doodling a few more, just for fun.  Here are a couple:

fillings-235-a fillings-236-a

The rather annoyed unicorn is an adaptation of a motif from the open source pattern group exercise I hosted here back in 2010/2011.  I have to say that doodling these is addictive.  Just playing around, I’ve put together twenty more design squares, including those I collected from the Victoria and Albert Museum smock, item T.113-188-1997.  I could easily do dozens more.  Now comes a question, with T2CM now finished and awaiting only resolution of logistical and publication issues prior to general availability,  do I release the new group as a fifth section of Ensamplario Atlantio, or do I go on and start on Ensamplario Secundo?


A couple of people have written to me saying that they’d like to do an original inhabited blackwork piece, but don’t want to do the traditional Elizabethan scrolling flowers, or yet another chessboard.  They are hesitant to draft up their own main design, and are unsure where to start.  They have asked for some leads on places where they can find drawings particularly suitable for or adaptable to use with counted fills. 

I present some suggestions.  Mind you – none of these are endorsements or product placements, and are intended as a first step for gathering inspiration.

1.  Coloring Books. They come in all flavors from very simple line drawings aimed at kiddies, to complex pieces targeted at over-stressed adults.  What you want are ones with large enough spaces for the patterns to play.  A mix of large and small areas to fill is ideal because it will allow use of fills of various complexities and densities. Given the vast diversity of what’s available now, a coloring book project can be anything: a kid’s cartoon character, a historical vignette, a Alhambra-style geometric, a complex mandala, something relevant to your faith, a detailed bit of nature drawing, or a cheeky paisley.  Dover has a particularly lush collection of coloring books, many of which contain designs that would appeal to an adult.


2. Stained Glass Patterns. These are especially easy to use for blackwork because of the limits that handling tiny bits of glass impose.  The drawings tend to have bold outlines and large, flat fill areas. 


3.  Maps. Proud of your country, home state, county or city?  All of those nifty borders outline areas just waiting to be stitched.  Collections of clip art for classrooms and teachers contain some of the simplest, most clearly defined examples.


4.  Wallpaper Samples.  The all-over designs of some wallpapers present excellent opportunities for the use of fills.  There are hundreds of collections on-line that can be combed for inspiration.


5.  Antique Ironwork.  Grills, meshes, fences, and guards are like iron lace.  With lots of “white space” between the bars, just waiting for embellishment.  I took some photos of ironwork at the V&A that show what I’m thinking of.


6.  Architectural Drawings and Plans.  There are tons of illustrations of houses and other buildings (also lots of photos).  For example, I’m drawn to pix of Craftsman era bungalows.


7. Patchwork Quilting Patterns.  There are thousands, some appliqué, some pieced (both geometric and crazy-work), all perfect for this type of stitching.  Again, there are thousands of these available on-line both paid and free.


8.  Stenciling Designs.  These are produced in several scales.  There are large ones intended for use in interior decoration, often as borders or furniture accents.  There are also smaller ones intended for finer airbrush work, like the one I’m using for my Trifles sampler.  In any case, a quick Google search turns up plenty.


9. Mosaic and Tile Patterns.  Like stained glass, these often need little or no resizing because the tesserae (mosaic tiles) are just big enough to use as stitching blocks. Here’s a pile of regular layouts.


10.  Lace Samples.  Many designs intended for lace can be adapted as blackwork outlines.  For example, the looping patterns intended for traditional Battenberg could be in-filled using counted geometrics, with the outlines themselves either being stitched, or applied over using soutache cord or a narrow tape or braid.  Here’s what I mean.


These are just a few ideas off the top of my head.


I just got back from a quick business trip.  Sadly, I came back with a hitchhiker – a bad cold.  But to cheer me up upon arrival was my package from Hedgehog Handworks, with my new Hardwicke Manor sitting hoop frame:

trifles-15   trifles-16

As you can see, I was so excited, I had to try it out right away, even before wrapping the inner hoop in twill tape.  I’ll do that this weekend.

First the specs of my long-coveted indulgence.  There are two joints providing freedom of movement.  Looking at the back of the thing, the first is a slider that regulates height.  The turned barrel at the base of the main vertical has a wooden screw tightener, allowing the vertical arm to be raised and lowered.  Minimum height (pushed all the way in, with the frame positioned parallel to the ground) is 13.5 inches measured from table top to BOTTOM edge of the frame.  Max height on which the tightening screw can be brought to bear is about 18.5 inches. The vertical stick also allows the frame to be rotated left and right, provided the wood screw is loosened to avoid damage.

The second degree of freedom is the y-shaped joint at the top of the vertical stem.  The fixed attachment piece from the round frame fits into the slit of the y-shape, and is tightened by a bolt with a metal wing nut.  (I will probably replace the wing nut with something a bit more finger-friendly in the future).  This allows the frame head to swivel up and down, allowing access to the reverse of the work.

“Orthodox” use position and all of the pix I can find on line show the large paddle piece at the bottom being slid under the left hip, so that both legs sit upon it, and the frame is presented across the user’s lap. Users are also shown sitting bolt-upright on a chair or a sofa.

I’m a bit more relaxed.  My favorite stitching chair is a Morris chair, with wide wooden arms, like mini-shelves left and right.  It reclines.  Instead of sitting upright, I tend to stitch in the reclined position.  I also don’t want to bark the chair’s woodwork with the frame, so instead I straddle the base, with the paddle-bottom underneath my right thigh.  I can adjust the position of the hoop so that it’s perfectly comfortable and accessible in that position.

All in all, I am VERY pleased, although I may need to stitch myself a small bolster on which to rest my left elbow when working with that hand beneath the frame.  The chair arms are too high for comfort, and some support would be useful for extended sessions.  Oh heavens.  A quick project to make something useful that I can cover with MORE stitching.  However will I cope?  :)

In the same order, I also received some tambour embroidery hooks.  I won’t show them here, but will save them for a future piece.  Hmm…. that elbow cushion…  What do you think?

And finally as a cheer-me-up, Younger Daughter, Needle Felting Maven and all around good kid, saw that I was in need of a small, weighted pin cushion that was presentable to leave here in the library next to my chair.  Although she usually does far more intricate shapes (dragons, tigers, airplanes), she made me a little sea-urchin, weighted in the bottom center with a couple of big rupee coins, for extra sentimental value.  It’s adorable, simple, in colors that match the rug in the library, and at about 1.5 inches across, with the coins giving it a low center of gravity, so it doesn’t go skittering off – the perfect size and weight.


Finally, I have been making progress on Trifles.  As you can see, I’ve got less than a quarter of the surround left to go.  And every single gear uses a different filling.



We’ve all read about two stitches that are most commonly used in linear styles of counted stitching. 

First comes double running stitch (aka Holbein stitch, Spanish stitch, and punto scritto, among others).  Pretty straightforward and well known, it can be used with care to produce works that are absolutely identical front and back, although meticulous double-sided implementation isn’t mandatory unless there’s specific need. 

double-runningDouble Running.
Front and back are identical


Back stitch is the other big technique used for linear counted work, with lots of historical examples.  If anything its even more well known than double running.  Its appearance is different front and back.  On the front, it looks exactly like double running.  But on the back, a much heaver and thicker line is produced.  Depending on the care of the stitcher and the thickness of the thread it can look like outline or stem stitch if the needle is introduced (uniformly) above or below the previous stitch on the reverse; or even chain or split stitch, if the needle splits the previous stitch on the reverse.



Back Stitch.
Looks the same as double running on the front (top), but different on the reverse.

Now, why would one pick one technique over the other? 

Sometimes it’s a good thing to try to economize on thread use.  Back Stitch uses about a third again as much yardage per distance embroidered than does Double Running.  Therefore, if I wanted to conserve thread I might opt for Double Running over Back.  Double Running is also the stitch of choice if double-sided presentation is a necessity, or if the fabric is so sheer that the heavier reverse side of Back Stitch might show. 

On the other hand, Back Stitch can be much easier to work, especially on long runs that can befuddle even those familiar with the there-and-back-again logic of Double Running.  In Back Stitch, there is no retracing of the path to fill in every other stitch.  Work proceeds logically down a single path.  Branches mean starting a new thread, rather than departing from a baseline and working back to it.  Many people prefer the “I’m here” certainty of Back Stitch to the puzzle path approach of Double Running.

So I present this stitch hack – one known to just about every counted stitcher, although few would admit using it openly.  I will arbitrarily call it “Wandering Running Stitch.”  I am sure this is an “unvention,” and I’ve just promulgating something that’s already described under another name.  For example, I would not be surprised to see this documented as a technique for quickly stitching durable seams in plain sewing. 

Both a bit of heresy, and a chimera of sorts, Wandering Running Stitch neither plain Double Running, nor is it true Back Stitch.  Advantages are that it looks like Double Running on the public side of the work; uses the same amount of thread as Double Running; and avoids now-how-do-I-go-back problem.  It’s main disadvantage is that like Back Stitch, the reverse side looks different from the front.  In this case, the reverse shows a discontinuous, dashed line of double-thickness. The overall effect is a bit heavier on the reverse than is plain Double Running, but is not as massive as Back Stitch. 


wanderingWandering Running Stitch
Looks like double running on the front, but leaves spaced, doubled dashes on the reverse. 



All three methods, for comparison.  Front sides on left, reverse on right. 
From top down – Double Running, Back Stitch, Wandering Running

The following sequence illustrates the stitching order.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Now.  How to use this hack. 

First off, it’s not for reversible work.  Nor is it for use on pieces sent to juried panels, where rules favor the use of traditional/historical stitches, and the state of the back side.  There is NO precedent for or documentation of using this stitch in history that I know of, so I would not advise it for SCA pieces destined for Arts & Sciences competitions.  However, for single sided work, or lined pieces, or items done for your own pleasure, or a project to help you get into the swim of a style that has frustrated you in the past – why not use an unorthodox approach if it makes life easier?

Because the active area is always at the needle with no half-worked baseline to retrace, Wandering Running would be especially good for stepped or continuous line patterns with no branching.  It would be very useful to people who stitch in hand without a hoop or frame, and also for those who use a particularly small or round frame.  In both cases, there’s no moving back over previously stitched paths, making it easier to tension in hand; or minimizing the need to remove and relocate a small hoop to revisit prior paths.

I think Wandering Running will be especially useful for people who have given up on blackwork because they find double running logic daunting, and have problems remembering where the baseline of their design is, or what direction they were heading.  I also think that people who have tried Back Stitch instead of Double Running, but who were displeased with the heft or thickness of the reverse side might also find this technique interesting. 

Another use is in completing the filling patterns used in inhabited blackwork, which are often not entirely suitable for full reversible treatment in the first place.  I occasionally resort to Wandering when I’m working a filling into an oddly shaped area, and need to advance the working thread.  I will plan out my path of attack and use Wandering to “walk” my working thread to the new area to be completed rather than ending off the thread and re-starting in that location. 

In addition to the uses above, Wandering Running can be employed to render complex linear designs, in combo with more traditional Double Running.  I can see using Wandering on the main baseline, moving along it until one encounters a side branch, then veering off to complete that side branch using traditional double-running methods, and returning to the baseline to continue on to the next point of departure.  The biggest difference between this and a full Double Running treatment of the same design would be no “dashed line” of semi-completion along the baseline, making it easier to see where along the design path one is. 

So.  Have you seen this hack before?  Does it have a name?  Does it have a place in your repertoire, or does the merest thought of such heresy inflame you to the point of whipping out your Embroidery Voodoo Dolls* and using poison-tipped #24 tapestry needles to condemn me to my fate?


[*If demand is sufficient, I will consider sharing a design for Embroidery Voodoo Dolls.  Suggestions for appropriate historical periods of attire for EVDs will be considered.]


Aside from the weakness for yarn common to all knitters, I don’t often spoil myself buying things for my own use.  But given just a nudge, I have given in and have treated myself to two things:

A Hardwicke Manor sit-on round frame (aka a fanny frame), and a tambour needle set (not shown in proportion to each other).

fanny-frame-L   TL000001_L

I’ve wanted to try the round sit-on frame for quite a while.  I like using my flat frame on its holder.  Doing so allows me to position one hand above and one hand below the work, and stitch more efficiently, without needing to conjure a third hand to hold the frame in place. 

For smaller pieces in non-fragile threads and stitches, I do prefer to use the smaller hoop though.  But using it does raise those same third-hand issues.  I am eager to experiment with the sit-on, and hope that I don’t miss the agility of being able to rotate the hoop in hand for optimal stitching direction at the same time as I appreciate having both hands free to work.

A fixed position frame is one of the things that enables use of a tambour needle.  Again, one hand uses the needle on one side of the work, the other is positioned on the opposite side, and feeds thread to the hook, using up my quotient of hands before holding the frame in a convenient position is achieved. 

I looked for a tambour hook in India.  One would think that given the staggering array of tambour-produced textiles there, finding one would be easy.  Indian Ari hooks are (in theory) slightly longer and finer in diameter than hooks made for the Western market.  Sadly, I never saw one myself.  In my region there were few shops that offered needlework supplies, and the ones that I found catered to ladies of leisure rather than people doing embroidery to make a living.  Clerks in those shops either didn’t understand what I wanted (although I was armed with the correct name and drawings); or they didn’t carry them because they were “working” rather than “leisure” tools.

What sort of things are embroidered using an Ari?  The overwhelming majority of stitched textiles offered in traditional crafts markets.  Not all – running stitch quilting, satin stitch, poorly done Shisha, and pattern darning were also present, but tamboured pieces that looked like chain stitch predominated, especially in the better quality works that interested me most.  Here’s a smattering of what we brought back:

afterchair rug-2 (1) dodos jacket-1

The cushion cover on the left that we had made into the chair seat is densely stitched in wool on a cotton backing.  I believe it’s from Kashmir.

Also from Kashmir is the rug in the center.  Yes – that’s 6’ x 9’ (1.8 x 2.7 meters), totally stitched in tamboured cotton, with no ground showing.  I had it professionally cleaned when we returned from India because it had been in daily use there.  I’m not sure where we will eventually put it, so it’s rolled up in safe storage right now.

The third thing is our Dodo Curtain – a large cotton panel covered in tamboured metal threads, with probably man made silk (rayon) accents and paillettes.  It’s covered with roundels featuring this bird, giving it a very Medieval appearance.  I have plans to back this cloth with linen, then hang it as a portiere curtain between my living and dining rooms.  We got this piece in Agra, but its ultimate province of origin wasn’t noted.

The jacket is also Kashmiri.  It’s fine Pashmina, entirely tambour-worked using the same fiber.  Even the plackets and hems that look like trim are densely packed tambour chain.  This is probably the most extravagant thing The Resident Male bought for me on our stay, and wearing it makes me feel like royalty.

A side trip into literature and symbolism for those who wish to hang around for such things:

Some folk have told me that my curious dodo hanging may show the Garuda Bird, the king of birds, champion of justice, and celestial mount of Lord Vishnu, but I am doubtful.  The noble Garuda is usually shown in with wings outspread, robust and fearless, often with a human face and limbs. 


These big-beaked, comfortably round, bald birds, if not dodos, may represent vultures. 

There are several vultures in Hindu epics.  One is the mount of the deva Shani, revered as a teacher and righteous judge, punishing evildoers and betrayers.  But Shani’s mount is rarely pictured alone.  Other famous vultures in the story cycles appear in the Ramayana – two brothers, Jatayu and Sampaati.  They figure in several tales, including one that echoes aspects of the Icarus myth, with Jatayu flying so high he was seared by the sun, but rescued by his loyal and courageous brother Sampaati who used his own wings to shield Jatayu from the sun’s fury.  Unlike Icarus, Jatayu survived, and is not a symbol of the folly born of overconfidence.  Jatayu also plays a supporting role in the story of Sita’s abduction by the demon Ravana, flying to Rama with news of Ravana’s escape route. 

One last possibility – dodos were giant flightless parrots.  If these birds are parrots, we veer off from justice and bravery into the worlds of compassion and love. 

Origin stories vary, but Sukadeva was a parrot, and pet of the gods, particularly befriended by Krishna, who showed mercy and compassion to it when Sukadeva fluttered away from his mistress Radha.   I’m not clear on the relationship between that story and others, but Sulka the parrot is often painted in henna on the feet of brides, in recognition of his service as the sacred mount of Kamadva (also known as Mandan and Mara) the god of sensual love.

While not as lofty as Garuda, if my dodos are the vulture brothers, they are still exemplars of bravery and self-sacrifice.  However, if the bird shown is Sulka, the connection with love might make my curtain more apt for the bedroom than the dining room.


You know you’ve hit full stride in a project when you think of what to write in a progress post, but have no new challenges, discoveries, tricks, or lessons-learned to report.  All I can do today is show off more gears and cams, with more fillings:

Trifles-11 Trifles-12

I’m continuing up the left side of the motto, then I’ll do the right side, and finish with the top.  I’m having tons of fun selecting fill patterns from Ensamplario Atlantio.  

I had hoped that when I released the thing I’d see more things on line that use its designs, but searching does turn up a few projects:

  • Ben from Tiny Dream Stitchery is doing a sweet sampler,  I really like the layout he’s using.  It’s reminiscent of a formal Renaissance garden plan.
  • Whispered Stitch is making adorable little needlebooks using motifs from the patterns, and offers a tutorial on their construction.
  • And Stitches used the patterns in her rendition of a large group stitch-along project.
  • Rebecca of Hugs are Fun did a name sampler, a striking and innovative idea for using the fills.
  •  Kathy at Unbroken Thread stitched up a spectacular piece, incorporating gold, paillettes, purl, and beads.
  • Miriam did a bunch of nifty key fobs, using EnsAtl patterns along with ones from other sources.
  • Colorize also has a sampler.  She’s picked some of the more complex designs, brave soul!
  • Susan at Tuesday Stitchers used a design in a large departure from the usual, as an embellishment stitch done on gingham in a crazy quilt.  Very cool!

If you know of any others, please post them in the comments.  It gives me immense joy to see the mischief that these designs get up to out there in the wide, wide world.

Sadly, I’ve also found a ton of pirate sites on line, mostly in Russia, who felt it necessary to steal the book and repost it in its entirety.  I can’t do anything about them besides despise the lack of integrity and gutter slime ethics that such theft represents.

The ONLY authorized source for the book is right here on this site. It’s free. Link above, and under the Books tab on every page of String.  If you have downloaded my book anywhere else, you have found a stolen copy. 


As you can see, Trifles is coming along.  I’ve just about finished the first set of gears:

Trifles-9  trifles-10

The next bit to do will be the two sides, proceeding left and right of the established bit, growing up to frame the motto.  I’ll use the same stencil for my basic layout, rotating and flipping it to make the repetition less evident. 

A couple of you have written to me to say that you find the gears rather disappointing – that they are not sharp and mechanical enough.  In fact, the edges of some of them are more gentle, cam shaped rather than toothed, and the teeth do not mesh exactly.

Frankly, I don’t find this a problem, and I don’t care.  The thing will be more representational than mechanistic.  I’m going for the idea of gears here, not a CADD drawing.

I am having fun flipping through Ensamplario Atlantio looking for which fill to do next.  Everything you see here has been done ad-hoc, one gear at a time, with no pre-planning on what design/color to use next.  I’ve used four-color placement principles to avoid having two gears of the same color right next to each other.  I’ve also tried to achieve a nice mix of densities and shapes, with contrast between horizontal/vertical and diagonal elements, all-overs/spaced spot motifs, and between straight lines/curvy patterns.  On the whole I’m pleased.  I’ll add more dark and density to the lower left, next.  Also more gold there in that corner. 

Stay tuned for further developments!


Trifles is moving right along.  Waxing the thread has greatly speeded up production.  You can see my working method:  filling first, then outline to cover up any edge fill irregularities. 

Here’s the gear set now:

trifles-7 trifles-8

I’m having fun picking out the fillings on the fly, trying to vary density, color, and form, so that abutters contrast nicely.  For those who have asked – yes, every filling used so far appears in Ensamplario Atlantio.  I have it downloaded to my iPad.  My favorite sewing/knitting chair is a Mission-style recliner with very wide, flat wooden arms.  I am able to stand the iPad up on one and zoom in on the chosen designs as needed.  Very convenient.

Progress will get a bit less exciting from here on in.  I plan to totally fill the ground around the motto with gears, each worked in a different filling design.  No other colors will be used.  I’m sticking to the deep russet red, chocolate, gold, and silver.  I may or may not add some real brass gears as embellishment.  I may add some small  large-eyed tiny critters stuck in the gearwork, sort of like the soot sprites from the movie, Spirted Away. That’s another of the target recipient’s favorite fandoms.



Back from our annual escape to North Truro, and reporting progress on the recently dormant Trifles sampler, being stitched for Younger Daughter to take with her off to college next fall.  I decided that for my no-longer-little Steampunk (and Dr. Who) fan, instead of working lots of bands, the design for this one would feature gears.  But I had a lot of problems hand-drafting up a nice set of them.  It took a while, but eventually I hit on the idea of using a commercial stencil intended for airbrush work, then filling in the traced gear shapes with blackwork counted fills.

Here’s where I am now:


I’ve finished the main motto and the frame around the to-be-worked area.  Minor brag: Note that having marched all the way around the piece without drafting first and using only counts of the border repeat to stay on target, I ended up even, perfectly aligned.

All of the fillings I will use on this will be from my free eBook, Ensamplario AtlantioThe ground patterns are stitched using two plies, mostly in double running, with lots of departures to accommodate the non-continuous nature of many of the fills.  The outlines are plain old chain stitch, done in three plies of the same color as the gear filling.  I am not taking any special pains to make the cam teeth totally square, or to make them mesh.  I am liking the rounding and imprecision.  Right now I’m thinking of covering the entire piece with gears in burgundy, brown, gold, and silver, relying on classic Four Color Theory to avoid making any two contiguous gears the same hue. Choosing fills for color in addition to density and form is adding a new dimension to this decidedly un-traditional yet somewhat traditional blackwork piece.  And I may insert a surprise Trifle or two, just to emphasize the point.

On execution, I can report that I’ve managed to tame the extremely unruly Indian “silk” (in reality, man-made rayon) thread. 


I occasionally wax the last inch or so of my silk threads to make threading easier and to help ward off “ply creep” – when one ply of a multi-ply threading is consumed faster than the others.  But I usually don’t wax the entire length unless I’m working with linen thread.  However this stuff is hellaciously difficult, shredding and sliding, breaking and fraying, and catching.  Using shorter lengths wasn’t the answer – no usable length was short enough to use comfortably.  So I moved up to waxing the entire strand, and when I did so, most of my problems disappeared.

I am very pleased with the results using the fully waxed threads.  They don’t break.  They don’t escape from the needle’s eye.  They don’t shred.  Both plies are consumed at the same rate.  Double running is nice and crisp.  A major improvement that’s increased the enjoyment factor of a project that might have been truly tedious.


And I’ve wanted an excuse to stitch up those griffon-drakes since I drafted them up for the book.


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