As folk here knew, I’m one of the 57 contributors to the Ripple group-knit yarn bomb project, sponsored by the town’s art entities – the Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture, the Arlington Cultural Council, and Arlington Public Art.
Artist in Chief Adria Arch and Project Leader Cecily Miller did a fantastic job herding us cats (distracted as we all were by balls of yarn). At the project’s reception on Saturday we learned that a tiny whisper on Facebook netted them 70 volunteers, 57 of whom stuck with the project and worked with the palette and overall direction they established, to create individual pieces to clothe the trees in the bike path grove that Adria and Cecily picked out. The original plan was to garb about 6 or 7 trees. I believe the final count was something like 14 were outfitted.
And clothing the trees wasn’t easy, either. With constraints against harming them or affixing the pieces using tacks or staples, Adria and Cecily worked out an ingenious suspension system that relied on Velcro bands around the tree trunks, and used plastic cable ties to hang the knitted and crocheted pieces in place. The installation is to be temporary – up for just a few weeks – so there are no concerns about girdling or constricting the trees.
Even with the suspension system worked out, there were more challenges. The grove is located on a steeply sloped bank in between the Minuteman Bike Path and the town’s Spy Pond athletic field. The grade there is steeper than 45-degrees, making moving from tree to tree almost an act of mountaineering. Adria and Cecily engaged a local tree company to help. The arborists used ladders and climbing tackle to get 20 feet up on the trunks, to hang the artwork.
The result? Magical. In a dark area with dense canopy, colors bloom!
Amusingly enough, after these pieces were all installed, someone (as yet unknown) came by and added adorable mushrooms – as if the art has spontaneously reproduced:
Which pieces are mine?
These two. I’ll leave you the fun of spotting them among all of the others.
All in all, a ton of fun. Thanks to the organizers, the sponsors, and to my fellow crocheters and knitters. Also thanks to dear family friend Jean Clemmer, who would send holiday presents to the kids using yard-sale yarn as dual purpose “packing peanuts” and as a gift to me. Over the years I’ve used it to make Fishie Hats for my daughters, nieces and nephews; baby blankets for friends and family; and donated lots of it to Seniors’ day activities programs, and elementary school crafts closets. Some of the last of it went into these two pieces – the green, pale yellow, and lighter orange I used along with the group-issued blaze orange, magenta, pale turquoise and white.
Photo credits for all but the last two shots go to Alexandra Salazar, who unlike me, knows which end of the camera is which.
It’s the end of an era here at String Central. The sadly mangled, diseased, and ant-ridden street tree, a Norway Maple, in front of our house has been taken.
Here you see him before, in his final sickly days, already bearing The Dreaded Green Spot from the town arborist, marking him for terminal harvest.
When we moved in Tree was already teetering in health, with an extensive ant colony and other ailments. We did the best we could by him, and for a while at least, he did look a bit fuller and happier. But while we were out of the country in India, the utility company did some really horrible pruning, topping him and leaving the severed main trunk to rot. Although squirrels made their home in the resulting hollow, from that time Tree declined. Quickly.
Here’s today’s result, pix from Elder Daughter, who was on the spot (so to speak):
While it’s sad to lose the shade, we really haven’t had any in a couple of years. Plus Tree was dropping branches, and wobbled with a strong push – not a safe state in which to be.
With luck next year the town will remove the stump, and we will be able to file our request for Son of Tree.
Ok, I know it’s been a while. Where have I been?
Working on several projects, two of them in major Stealth Mode.
Stealth Project #1 is a baby blanket. That much I can say. I can also say that the recipients are family, and they have specifically requested cotton and pink. I’ve done something original, an improvised pattern, and it’s done. But I won’t post pix here because family does visit this page and I want the finished object to be at least a bit of a surprise.
Stealth Project #2 is for my Stealth Apprentice. She’s starting up an Etsy business, hand-dyeing silk embroidery thread using researched historical dye recipes. She’s busy perfecting her products, and I’m her Beta-Tester-in-Chief. I won’t show the sampler where her products are being play-tested against standard DMC cotton floss, but eventually we will break Stealth Mode and post details and links.
Project #3 is a volunteer effort. I’m one of many people in the Arlington Knitting Brigade, a town Council for the Arts project that is working to do a yarn-bombing installation on the public bike path that bisects the town, for display in September. The group provided acrylic yarn in orange, light turquoise, white, and fuscia, with permission to eke out that lot with stash colors, in order to make a piece that’s 2×5 feet – knit, crocheted, in macramé, weaving, whatever. I’m woefully behind, but getting there. As you can see I’ve chosen a rather chaotic mix of crochet and knitting. Younger Daughter says that the thing has a look that reminds her of the classic kids’ game Candy Land:
I am going to have both aggressive blocking and a TON of ends to finish!
For the record, my piece goes at the very top of one of the trees, far from eyes that can see the questionable bits.
Project #4 is yet another pair of socks, the latest in my constant stream of briefcase projects. I carry a pair of socks on the needles with me just about everywhere I go, working on it in stolen moments while waiting for appointments, getting the car inspected, waiting for a movie to start, or standing on lines at post offices or ticket counters.
This pair is in Plymouth Neon Now, worked toe-up with a short rowed heel, on US 00 (1.75mm) needles. It’s 76 stitches around (19 stitches on each of four needles), with an improvised texture pattern on the cuff. The feet are totally plain – I find that is the most comfortable inside my shoes. I started this pair in mid July, and finished last week while waiting at the optometrist. Needless to say, I immediately cast on for the next pair.
I’ve gotten lots of questions about blackwork, my methods, and products over the years. Some more than once. I’ll try to round some up and answer them here, for ease of reference. Feel free to post more in the comments, and if I have useful advice, I’ll answer them at a later date.
It looks so perfect! Do you make mistakes?
Lots. Continually. Sometimes at the same place in a design repeat, again and again. But for the most part, I carefully pick them out, using my needle tip, a really good pair of sharp tweezers, and if needed, something sticky (like blue painters’ tape) to tidy up any remaining surface fibers.
I find that clipping a few key stitches on the front, then withdrawing the snippets from the back leaves the front of the work a bit neater, than does doing all of the removal from the front.
Do you stitch guidelines to help with counting?
No, I don’t. Or not in the way the asker probably means. I don’t establish a grid over my entire ground cloth, but I do usually run a basting thread (but not in specific count) along the extreme edges of my stitching area, and at the center (both laterally and longitudinally), so I know where my margins and center are. For example, as I began my forehead cloth, you can see the line below the growing stitching that marks the boundary of my work (in this case, instead of stitching directly up to it, I decided to stitch no closer than three units of it); plus the diagonal that bisects the established bit. That line marks the center.
Sometimes on larger projects I might mark lines that divide my ground into quarters or thirds, too. It depends on the size of the project and what I am doing with it.
One thing to note – I have never stitched from a fully complete graph that shows the entire project. Yes, I know I published one here, but I am a “bungee jump stitcher” and more often than not, pick my patterns on the fly. The exception is of course, lettering. I do graph out my words or phrases, to work out problems in word or letter spacing, or to find the center of the motto (if I want the motto centered when stitched).
Then how do you keep things aligned?
I start from the center, as seen above, then work either right or left until I get to my desired width. Since most of my work is either a straight, or left-right or up-down mirror image or bounce repeat, I then go back and fill out the strip or pattern in the other direction, taking care to end at the same point in the repeat as the first edge.
Do you ever draw in or otherwise mark your designs?
Yes, but mostly for inhabited blackwork, not strapwork. Inhabited blackwork is the “outlines plus fillings” subtype. Strapwork is the substyle that produces long bands often used to edge household linens or garments.
I’ve used a couple of methods to establish outlines for fills. First, there’s simple drawing. Here, I’ve taped my line drawing to a window, with the ground cloth on top, prior to tracing the design onto the cloth using a pencil. You can just barely make out the outlines in the in-process shot.
And here I have established my design on the count, using small cross stitches to create the outlines for the shapes to be filled in. I finished off those heavy lines by overworking them with a nice, solid chain stitch because I wanted prominent outlines. I could have basted or done a lighter line of stitching instead. I’ve done that to make pounced chalk less transient, but I don’t have photos of in process works that employed chalk plus basting.
Do you ever work in multicolor?
Sure. Lots. Here are a few. Starting at the left top: From 1973, in high school, prior to my involvement in the SCA – a happy mash-up of sampler bands, still unfinished; small stitched Moleskine type notebooks covers done as an East Kingdom largesse donation in 2012 (I wonder if they ever were received, and to whom they were given); a band sampler as engagement present circa 1985 or so, for a friend whose wedding plans expired prior to completion of the sampler, which explains that one still being unfinished; the Trifles sampler, done about a year ago, as a perpetual nag for Younger Daughter to take with her to college; and the Permissions sampler done as a present for our Denizen, the same year.
Stitching Equipment Tips?
These recommendations are specific to the way I work. But my comfort level is not the same as everyone else’s, so if you do it differently, you are not wrong.
A frame helps. Preferably a hands-free frame. I like stiff tension on my stitching ground, so I prefer a nice, tight frame. But I stitch the fastest with one hand over and one hand below my work, so I am happiest with one that doesn’t require me to grow a third hand to hold it. My faves are my Millennium flat scrolling frame, held securely in my ancient Grip-It stand (I had to replace the bolts of the original to accommodate the Millennium’s thickness), and the Hardwicke Manor sit-upon round frame.
If I am using a round frame, hand held or sit-on I ALWAYS pad at least one of the hoops with twill tape, stitched securely down on the hoop’s inside. This increases grip, and protects stitches that are “hooped over” after they are laid down.
Since I am usually working on the count on relatively fine grounds (I prefer 32+ threads per inch, with 38-42 being my sweet spot, and 50+ just to show off), my stitches are usually short and not prone to damage from a round hoop. But if there is any doubt at all, I haul out the big boy and work flat.
Needle choice can avoid headaches. For this sort of work you want a blunt tip needle to avoid splitting ground cloth threads. You want the needle to glide between them and not force them, to avoid disarranging the ground threads more than needed to accommodate passage of the stitching thread. Many people use tapestry blunts, but for the gauges I work with, often with just one or two strands of floss or thread, I find the large holes in tapestry blunts to be annoying. The threads slip out all too easily. So instead I use these ball-point needles, intended for hand sewing on polyester knits. They are relatively easy to find in sewing stores where they are usually grouped with the regular (not embroidery) needles.
Wax. This is a love-it or hate-it issue. I love it. I almost always run my thread through beeswax prior to stitching. It strengthens threads, avoids fuzz and shedding, makes threading and maintaining even thread feed on multi-ply floss better, and makes them glide through the ground. Yes, even silk. Since my chosen style of stitching uses extremely short stitches, the sheen of silk over a long run (like in satin stitch) is minimal at best. If I think that the wax will have an effect on the final product, I may only do it lightly, or restrict waxing to the final two inches that will be threaded through the needle, but I still do it. I keep one lump of beeswax for light color threads, one for darker colors, and one for black. Threads do shed or crock onto the wax, and using several little blocks keeps the lighter colors clean. And it must be beeswax. Candle wax doesn’t have the same properties, and can stain.
Rarely. It’s a noble party trick, and useful for handkerchiefs, cuffs or collars viewed from both sides, but even historically, not always done. There are paintings that show different stitching patterns on the inside and outside of a collar band.
I do tend to use double-sided logic for most, but not all of my linear stitching. I find it saves thread, and I prefer the look and feel of the finished product. I’ve done some tutorials on how to determine baselines and stitching order (read from bottom up). I also confess to abject heresy if my pathing needs the jump and the final presentation form allows it.
Most designs have several possible stitching paths. Which one I take can vary from repeat to repeat, depending on how much thread I have left on my needle, where I am headed after the current bit, or even plain old experimentation. The path planning for me is very relaxing, and I rarely get lost or paint myself into a corner because I use tricks to idiot proof my path (being the biggest idiot stitching on my work at any time).
Yes. Here are some rules. All are occasionally broken, but for the most part they govern my path planning:
- Never go off on a long limb, establishing a very long line of stitching that branches off the main work. 90% of the mistakes I make fall out from this, especially if lots of diagonals are involved. I prefer to proof my work, by trying to do it by section adjacent to or in line with prior work. I constantly refer back to the established stitching to make sure I am not off count.
- There’s no reason to fret about having enough thread to make the return journey. Many people stitch double running out in one direction until half their thread is used, then do the second pass, filling in the remaining stitches on their way back to the starting point. But they often run out and have a section left over to complete using a second thread. Instead of there-and-back-again, I head out in one direction, taking all detours, until my thread is used up, then rethread the needle and start again from the beginning point to fill in the every-other stitches. And (gasp) there’s no shame in using TWO THREADED NEEDLES, leapfrogging yourself an inch at a time if that helps you keep your place.
- In general it’s preferable to take every detour as it is passed, especially if it’s a branching dead-end. If I run out of thread during a detour, I pick up again from that point and complete the detour to return to the baseline, rather than starting the next pass from the baseline itself. That way I don’t get stuck in cul de sacs.
- If there’s a joining that you don’t want to take as a detour, and it hooks up to the main design elsewhere (it’s not a branching dead end), it’s a good idea to work a stitch or two out on it, so there’s an attachment twig. When you come by later from the other direction, it’s lots easier to align with that twig than it is to judge proper place against an unbroken baseline.
- Those little spikes and shading lines that radiate from a baseline in the more complex designs are your friends. They make counting much easier. Work them on the first pass and use them as part of the proofing process.
- If you are using an even number of floss strands and thread grain isn’t a problem (and for most of short-stitch linear work, it isn’t) minimize knots by cutting your length twice as long as you need, folding it in half and waxing all but the loop just formed, and on the first stitch, catching the loop made to secure your end.
- If you are using an odd number of strands, or thread grain is an issue, and you don’t want to make a waste knot (which I rarely do for this kind of work), make a secure knot at the end of your thread, then use your needle to pierce the strand just below it, catching the thread in the same manner as #6 above. Your knot will be secured and will not pull through to the presentation side.
- Stitching over 2×2 threads is easiest. 3×3 and 4×4 are also doable, but look better on grounds that are at least 40 threads per inch. You can tame a skew ground – like a piece of inexpensive linen or linen look alike NOT sold as even weave – by stitching over an uneven count. If for example, your ground has more stitches north-south than east-west you might stitch over 3 threads in the north-south direction, but 2 in the east-west direction. This does make a project more exacting, and I don’t recommend it for someone who is just learning stitching logic.
More questions? Ask away!
And here it is:
The finish was very simple.
First, I made the ties. I used some of the leftover ground cloth – the area left unworked because it was too close to the edge for easy application of my hoop frame. I cut two long strips, about 14 inches long x 1 inch wide. (One strip is set aside to make the ties for the second forehead cloth). I finger-pressed down the two ends, then folded the strip in half longitudinally, again finger pressing to set the center fold. Then I folded the two long raw edges down to meet in the center. I pinned the strip and did a tiny overhand stitch hem to fasten it in final configuration. This website shows a handle folded with the same logic I used for the ties (minus folding in the ends first). Finally I cut the strip in half to make the two ties shown. I used linen thread, so the sew-up is extra invisible.
To line the piece I used preshrunk cotton muslin. Were I concerned with total artifact level authenticity, I might have opted for handkerchief weight linen, but that level of re-creation isn’t my concern.
I cut a muslin triangle slightly larger than my forehead cloth for ease of stitching, and pinned my cloth to it with the finished side inside. I positioned the two laces inside the resulting “sandwich” with their cut ends protruding slightly at the two corner points. Then using my linen thread, waxed, I did a hand back-stitch all the way around the perimeter, leaving a three inch gap on one of the non-hypotenuse sides, adjacent to one of the laces. I made sure to fasten the laces in securely with extra stitching. After the hand sewing was done, I trimmed back the muslin seam allowance somewhat. Then I turned the whole thing right side out and pressed it, before closing the gap with some more invisible overhand hemming.
Yes, I could have done the sew-up on the machine, but it was actually easier to do it by hand, so I could ensure my seaming was right on the edge of the countwork embroidery. Others may be more accurate with their sewing machines than I.
Now – as to the stuff on the rest of the cloth. Obviously there’s Forehead Cloth #2, which I am finishing out right now in exactly the same way, plus the doodle sampler, also done. Since the edges on that are so irregular and on one side – so narrow, I will have to edge that out with some sort of mitered or butted edging cloth, then either frame it or make it into a hanging. More on this sampler in a later post.
More answers to inbox questions:
Is wearing this headcovering a religious obligation?
No. I made it because I need to keep the hair out of my eyes in the wind. I wanted something a bit nicer than a bandanna, just for the fun of wearing something a bit nicer than a bandanna. I respect those who wear headcoverings out of obligation, but that wasn’t my intent.
You’re SCA, why aren’t you going to enter this in an Arts & Sciences competition?
First of all, I’m only borderline active these days. My heyday was AS VIII-XVI, roughly 1975-82. Even in the SCA, I’m an artifact of the past, and have no energy to engage in the current organization at competition level. But I still adore historical stitching, and as you can see, try to do it as often as possible. The challenge of making a “dual world” piece – one that I could if I so desired, wear to an event, and that I could ALSO wear in the non-SCA mundane world was sufficient challenge for me.
What materials did you use?
Ground cloth: Big box store even weave linen – probably a linen cotton blend although it was not so marked. 32 count, more or less. The brand name was MCG Textiles. I do not recommend it: Slubby, surface matting, thick/thin threads that skewed the count in some areas but not others.
Embroidery thread: Black filament silk, four ply, hand dyed using logwood and iron (historically appropriate recipe and method) from the Golden Schelle Etsy shop. This piece uses the entire 4-ply thickness, others use one or two plies. The proprietor is a small batch dyer, so goods are available intermittently. Some minor crocking on my beeswax, but none on my hands, and only minimal residue in those inevitable spots where I had to pick-out and redo errors. Very smooth hand, strong, and un-fuzzy finish, stitched up neatly and quickly. I like this stuff more than commercial silk floss (like Au Ver A Soie), and hope the dyer makes LOTS more.
Hand sewing thread: DMC 100% linen embroidery thread from my stash. A discontinued and lamented product.
Lining fabric: The best grade of 100% cotton muslin available at my local fabric shop. Nothing special. Washed and shrunk prior to using.
No pattern in particular for the cloth itself. It’s a right triangle. I noted that historical examples ranged from around 13” to about 18” across the hypotenuse. This one is 17” in that dimension. The other one that I am finishing out now is about 15”. If I had a do-over, I’d make the thing an inch smaller because the points just meet at the nape of my neck. Tying would be neater and easier if there was a bit more room to do it.
The stitching pattern is an original adaptation. I tool a strip design appearing on a sampler in the collection of the V&A museum and played with it, transforming it into an all-over. The original is in TNCM, the adaptation will be in T2CM.
The idle moments bit that’s taking place on the ground cloth area NOT used up by my two forehead cloths has taken on a life of its own. Frankly, it started out as a delaying tactic – stitching was too much fun to stop and tend to finishing the two now-completed kerchiefs. But it has become more than that.
I started out with another large-fill design, of the scale that rarely gets used in inhabited blackwork work. The motifs are just too big to fit into any but the absolute largest areas in a standard dark outline, fancy fill project. But they are on the scale of the regular fills shown in rectangular areas at the bottom of the famous Jane Bostocke sampler. So why not?
This top fill (for the time being) is quasi-original. I drafted it up, based on this linear design, appearing on another oft-cited sampler, the V&A’s T.14-1931.
I’ve used that design as a teaching piece for years. It’s in TNCM, and a tutorial on double running stitch logic featuring this design, complete with a chart for it is here. For this piece I used the center motif, rotating it fourfold, and elongating the “stems” into a grid with a secondary motif. I stitched it using two plies of the four-ply hand-dyed silk floss I am using.
The next bit was the motto, described in the last post, so I won’t reiterate here.
Just below the motto is another motif that will be featured in the sequels to TNCM – a scrolling grapevine, with very angular, striated branches sprouting off more organic and woody trunks. I wrote about it here before. The space for it was too small to show the entire repeat, so I focused on the center bit, which left the gnarled fat branches off. Again, this is stitched using two strands of the silk.
Below the grapes is a curious design, also from the TNCM sequels. Although it’s shown in the book without a fill, I chose to execute it with one here. The design is entirely mine (one of the few totally unsourced pieces in the collection). On this one I experimented with thread thickness. All of the stitching is double-running, but the heavy outlines are worked with the full four-strand thickness of the floss. The flowers are done in two strands, and the radial symmetry stepped fill is done in one strand.
After this comes another narrow strip pattern across the top (I can’t abide wasted space); plus a narrow border to frame the entire area. The border and possibly the narrow top strip will be done with thread from a second batch of black silk, also hand-dyed with a historically appropriate dye by my Stealth Apprentice. The goal is for me to “beta test” her output, and report back on the stitching qualities of each of the slightly different recipes.
As for the sequel(s) to TNCM – yes. I am working on them. Yes, it’s going slowly. It’s intensive, and having finished the whole book, having to rip it apart and remake it as two or three smaller volumes is proving more problematic than I thought. Some pattern pages need to be re-composed, patterns with cross-references in their historical profiles have to be sorted and kept together to avoid jumping between volumes; the intro material needs to be re-written so that it appears in balanced (and relevant) quantities across the volumes. Indices and referenced bibliographies entries have to be properly assigned to appear in the same volume as the patterns to which they are linked. This is taking time, and frankly, after a whole day of heavy editing for my professional job, sitting down and doing the same thing at night is slow going.
Why am I re-editing and cutting the thing apart? Affordability. Right now at a heavily illustrated 184 pages, including historical essays, how-to material, 75 plates with over 200 individual designs, research discussions, the bibliographies and indexes, for electronic publication, the break even point would put the per-copy cost in the neighborhood of $175, and even more for on-demand paper copy printing. That’s flat out too much. I am hoping to offer smaller books at a more accessible price point.
So apologies. They are coming. Slowly.
Waaayyy behind on my blogging, I’m now not only finished with the stitching on the first Forehead Cloth, I’m finished with the second one, too.
Because I have only a limited supply of the excellent hand-dyed thread, and the first triangle had a voracious appetite, I decided to work the second both smaller in size, and with only two plies of the four-ply silk floss. I am not sure that the thread maker intended it to be used stripped into plies, but with patience and gentle encouragement, I was able to do so with minimal tangling and no losses. Gentle finger spinning counter to the direction that the plies were assembled helped, as did tension on the strand while separating. And it worked! I have more than enough to finish, as you will see below.
On the design – I went through a couple of iterations. I started with one from my forthcoming book:
I liked the larger motif, but not the smaller one. It has a very prominent cross, and while it might not have been so apparent when a large area was worked, I noticed it. I am not comfortable wearing crosses, so I drafted up a new companion motif to use in its place. You can see the old one just peeking out at the top of the photo below, for comparison.
I liked the visual balance of this one better. While I lost some of the light/dark checkerboard effect of the original, I gained an interesting play of curves and frames. Considering that this pattern conforms to the 45-deg/90-deg/180-deg composition rule found in just about every historical piece of linear stitch count-work (“Knight’s Move” two-over-one up stitches are exceedingly rare), seeing curves at all is almost an optical illusion.
Here is the final, plus a bonus doodle on top, which I’ll discuss in a bit:
After I finish the bonus bit on top, I will remove the basted guidelines, gently clean my stitching, and draft out the lining and strings. I’ve got some pre-shrunk muslin I’ll use as the lining. I may use a length of this even weave, folded or rolled into a quarter-inch strip for the ties. That appears to be the treatment most like the extant historical pieces. The other option is using some purchased woven tape, which I think would look clunky and mismatched, by comparison. In any case, there is no needle lace trim, adornments on the tie strands, or other embellishments for these. I suppose I could add paillettes to this one, but I’ll save that bit of effort for a future matched coif-cloth set.
On to questions from my inboxes:
You said you proof against established work. What do you mean by that?
I cue my work off established, stitched areas. Unless there’s no way around it, I rarely establish a very long outline or outlying branch teetering off into as yet unstitched territory. I tend to bend my working logic so that I am usually stitching relatively close to finished bits. That way I can easily confirm that I am still on-count and parallel to the rest of the piece. If I am off, it’s almost invariably because I missed count on a diagonal, going over or up an extra thread (sometimes both). I can reduce the chance of error if I do that diagonal by eyeballing a one-stitch horizontal or vertical displacement from an established grid point, rather than making the diagonal with no point of nearby reference. In this way I am constantly checking my work for “true.”
Another way to proof off established work is to work attachment point stitches when they are encountered, if I intend on finishing up that divergent design segment and making that meeting later on from another direction. It’s much easier to see and meet up with a little “twig,” and to spot potential deviations early on, than it is to meet up with a solid line of stitching, where identifying the individual stitches can be tricky, later on.
What thread are you using/Where did you get it?
I got it at Birka – four ply filament silk hand dyed using iron and tannin (full disclaimer here) by my Stealth Apprentice. She is launching a small venture producing historically inspired Roman jewelry, plus embroidery threads and ribbons dyed with historically accurate materials and methods. I am helping by being an early customer, sponsor, and “beta tester” for the threads.
Now on to the doodle.
That little lump in the hand-held frame above the two triangle-shaped forehead cloths… What the heck is that?
It’s a doodle. I had thread and ground fabric left over after I finished the two cloths, so I decided to just aimlessly stitch away, trying out some of the larger fills or smaller all-overs that rarely have scope to come out and play (like those on the forehead cloths themselves). This particular design is from my free collection of fills, Ensamplario Atlantio. No plan here, just idle stitching while the ground is still in one easy-to-handle piece. Along the way over the past week or so, my doodle has decided it wanted to bear a motto and become a mini-sampler. So here is progress to date:
I’m not sure what will be below the motto, but whatever it is will keep me doodling for another week or two. For those who want more info, the alphabet I used is here.
As you can see, progress on the first blackwork forehead cloth has been quite swift:
I have just two corners left. Although I have been using my sit-upon tambour (round) frame for this project, I will now switch to a hand-held hoop. That’s because it’s significantly smaller, and better able to get close to the edge of the cloth.
On thread consumption – I started out with a 100-yard skein of the hand-dyed filament silk. What you see here is the entire thing. Every inch. Luckily, I have another and will use a bit of it to complete.
Here are some more answers to questions posted here and other places where I’ve shown this piece.
What does the back look like?
Pretty much the same as the front:
That’s because I’m primarily working this in double running stitch, which the assiduous can make entirely double sided. I am not bothering (note the presence of Evil Knots) because this cloth will be lined.
How do you keep your knots from pulling through?
I never just make a knot, then push my needle up through the ground cloth, trusting entirely on the bulk of the knot to keep the stitch in place. I either knot around a bit of established work, or if no previous stitch is handy, I make a knot at the end of my thread, stitch up, then down again leaving about an inch not pulled through to the front. Then I use my needle to pierce the working thread. I gently pull the thread into place, snicking up that inch of extra, and manipulating the just-made noose-join so that the knot isn’t in peril of being pulled forward. Yes, I could make a waste knot on the front, then trim the thread back in a more traditional method, but in this case at least, the thread is prone to shedding color, and I prefer not to make a mark “outside the lines.”
On the terminal knots, I run the thread under an established stitch and do what amounts to a double hitch knot, then use my needle to pierce the newly made knot, pulling the thread tight. This acts as a second lock and prevents unraveling or pop-through.
How do you determine your double-running baseline in a complex design like this?
I know I’ve written extensively about finding the baseline, but in this case, there isn’t just one stitching logic. There are many, and they are all situational. Do I want to go “out and back again” so that the active end of my line of stitching ends up near the point of origin? Do I want to just head out in one direction until I run out of thread, then follow up with a second strand, filling in my every-other-stitch? Do I want to establish the location of a design element, then go back and fill in detail later; or do I want to do every detour and departure on the first pass, leaving only a minimal amount of work for the second pass? How much thread is left in my working strand? Lots? Just a little? All of these thoughts combine and influence my path planning. I can say that the stitching logic in no two of these repeats was identical – it was all done to optimize the remaining thread, cover the design without omissions, and to make counting and alignment as easy as possible; and the mix of those factors at any one time varied wildly.
However there is one thing that ended up being of great help in keeping everything properly lined up and accurately on-count. When I have a T-intersection, on the first pass I include the “attachment stitch,” so that when I come back and link up to that segment, the exact spot is easy to find. Otherwise, if I continued straight along the top of the T, when I came back later and had to add the vertical, it would be harder to know if my alignment was correct; if the new addition had synched up correctly to the prior work.
You can see this in several places on the snippet above. Look at the heavy stacked diagonal at 1:00. On its base, where it joins the circular plume-flower medallion, I’ve left a little vertical hanging off the foundation 1×3 rectangle. That’s an attachment point. As I near it on my next stitching pass, I can cue off it to proof my work as I go, and know that I am on target for an absolutely aligned attachment point. That’s also why I have those little barbs sticking out on the base of the as-yet-to-be-stitched diagonal at 5:00.
What are you going to do with the rest of the cloth?
It would be a shame to cut out my completed triangle, leaving a difficult to handle remnant. So I am going to stitch a second, smaller triangle opposite this one, leaving cutting room between them. After I’ve finished #2, I’ll assemble both forehead cloths. Not sure what motif to use on the second one, but likely it will be less dense, because I have less thread.
What are you using for the ground? Do you like it?
I’ve had this piece of MCG Textiles even weave in my stash for at least a year, maybe two. It was the last bit of 32-count linen ground on the shelf at a local JoAnn’s big-box crafts store. I do not recommend it.
I have to say that I’m spoiled by higher quality linens at this point. I am finding too many irregularities – thick/thin threads, slubs, surface matting, and the like, that are affecting the look of the finished project. There’s one area in particular that drove me crazy – a segment of a few inches in which every other thread was super narrow. Countwork there was not fun at all. In addition, it’s not really an even weave. There’s a distortion if you compare north-south to east-west. (I can’t tell which is warp and which is woof because the bagged segment had no selvedge on it). I grabbed it off the top of the stash when I started this because it was a nice coarse count, the size of the piece was suitable (minimal waste), and I wanted to begin quickly, without ordering or hunting for materials.
This is working up to be a quick stitch:
I attempt to answer questions submitted via email and on-line. If you have other questions, please feel free to post and ask. There are no secrets here.
Where/what is this pattern?
It’s one of the many designs in T2CM. It’s quasi-original, based on a 15th century strip pattern from my all time fave V&A sampler, the famous (and infamous) T.14.1931. I presented the strip in TNCM, but here have morphed it into an all-over. There are only two designs in T2CM that revisit some aspect of a pattern from the first book. This happens to be one of them.
Here is the original historical design in strip form, as worked on my Clarke’s Law sampler:
What stitch are you using?
Mostly double running, with short hops in “Heresy Stitch”. But I’m not being slavish about the double-sided/double running protocol. I am using knots, and I am strongly considering a muslin lining for my forehead cloth. I think it will help it wear better, by reducing stress on the ground fabric. Therefore, with the back well hidden, I am under no pressure to do a perfect double-sided parlor trick. That being said, I do tend to stick to double sided logic for best thread economy and minimal show-through.
What thread and ground are you using?
The ground isn’t fancy – it’s a prepackaged linen or linen blend even weave, with a relatively coarse thread count of 32 threads per inch. It is stash-aged, and parted company from the packaging long ago, so I am not sure of the brand name it was marketed under, or the retail source. I’m stitching over two threads, so that’s about 16 stitches per inch. I tried stitching over three, but thought the look was too leggy.
I am using a special treat thread – a small batch hand-dyed silk from an SCA merchant. I got it at Birka, and I hear it will be intermittently available at the Golden Schelle Etsy shop*. The thread is dyed with iron, tannin, and logwood, and is a warm black in color. In thickness it is roughly equivalent to two plies of standard Au Ver A Soie D’Alger silk, although it is not a thread that can be separated into plies.
Do you wax your thread?
Yes. For double running stitch work, even in silk, I wax my thread lightly with beeswax; paying special attention to the last inch for threading through the needle. While I would not as a rule wax the entire length of the silk for work that depends on sheen (like satin stitch), at the very short stitch lengths used in double running, loss of sheen is minimal. Waxing keeps the thread from fuzzing against itself as it is pulled through the same hole more than once, and (if you are working with multiple strands) minimizes the differential feed problem, without resorting to using a laying tool – which I find tedious for such short stitch lengths. Others adore laying tools, so use of them is a matter of personal preference.
What needles do you use?
I favor a rather unorthodox choice for single strand double running – ball point needles intended for hand sewing on tricots and fine knits. They have a nice, rounded point, that slides neatly between the threads of my ground fabric, and a small eye. Blunt pointed needles intended for embroidery often have large eyes, which make thread management for a single strand unwieldy, allowing it to slip out of the eye too readily.
How do you know when to “go back again” in double running?
A lot of people think that working double running means you head in one direction, then turn back and retrace your steps. They carefully calculate the length of their stitching thread, and when they get to the half-consumed point, turn around and go back. This works, but tends to cluster thread ends. If you cluster your ends you end up with (for double-sided work) a large number of ends to hide in a very small space, or (for single sided, with knots) an untidy zone, with many knots and ends in the same place, which can show through to the front.
Instead I just keep going. I use up my length of thread, following my stitching logic, headed in one direction. Then I begin a second strand,staggering my starting point from my original start, first filling in the previously stitched path, and then extending the design further. Since I tend to do offshoots and digressions as I come to them and these do eat more thread as I trace them out from and then back to my main stitching line, I rarely have more than two ends at any one point in my work, and those two-end spots are widely distributed, rather than clustering in one small area.
How do you determine the baseline and stitching logic in an all-over?
There’s a little bit of catch-as-catch-can, but the basic concept is dividing the work into zones. In this piece the zone is flexible, and can be centered on either square area bordered by the spider flowers, connected by the twisted framing mechanism; or on the smaller area defined by the “root zone” of those spider flowers, again connected by the twisted framing. I go around either one of those, hopping between them as needed. In either case, the small center elements – the tiny quad flower, or the quad flower with the elongated tendrils, is worked separately, with no jumps back to the main motif.
And speaking of that tendril-flower – I am not entirely happy with it. I may pick it out and draft something else to go there. For the record, the nice, large square it inhabits would make a nifty place for initials, heraldic badges, whimsical creatures, original motifs, or other personal signifiers.
Why are you using a round frame?
Because I have two flat frames and one round (tambour) sit-on frame, in addition to several round in-hand hoops. I have works in progress on both flat frames, and don’t want to dismount them to do this quickie. My tambour frame has a padded bottom hoop, and when time comes to move the fabric and squash bits of just-done embroidery, I will pad the work with some muslin to protect it on the top as well as the bottom side. Again, working short stitches with no raised areas – even in silk – makes this a less risky proposition than it would be for other stitching styles.
Can I see the back?
In the next progress post I’ll include a shot of the back.
* In the interest of full disclosure (and the no-secrets here thing), the un-named proprietor of Golden Schelle is my Stealth Apprentice. Shhh. It’s a secret.
Yet another post only a stitching/historical clothing geek would love.
What were they? Why do I care?
Forehead cloths were triangular kerchief type items, often matched with a coif (a close-fitting cloth hat) produced during the 1500s and 1600s. Some still exist today in set with their coif, some are separate – possibly parts of sets, now orphaned over time. They appear to have been quite popular based on survivals, and surprisingly for a popular item – how they were worn is not an entirely settled issue.
Blackwork forehead cloth in collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art
British, last quarter of 16th century – roughly 14.5 x 16.5” (36.8 x 41.9cm)
Some suggest forehead cloths were worn underneath the coif, tied or pinned firmly behind the head under the wearer’s bunned-up hair. In this configuration, the cloth would keep the hair contained, and provide a firm foundation on which to pin the coif itself. Having worn coifs and hoods of the time, this is very logical to me, and makes perfect sense.
Others suggest that the cloth may have been worn over the coif; or even instead of it, for sleeping or indoors-at-home informality. I do note that in coif-cloth sets where metallic or linen lace trims the coif, the accompanying forehead cloth is rarely adorned to match. This makes sense if the cloth was worn under the coif, but would be odd if it was worn covering the coif’s fancy trim. Were they ever worn alone? No one knows…
What we do know about forehead cloths is that they come in as many stitching styles as do coifs – blackwork, other monochrome, polychrome, counted, freehand stitched, fancy with metallic threads and sequin embellishments or plainer; standard Elizabethan/Stuart era scrolling flowers and vines (with or without insects and birds); all-over repeat or geometric patterns – you name it. Some. like the one below, even look like they are remnants of larger embroidered items, cut down and re-used.
Stippled blackwork forehead cloth from the Victoria and Albert Museum
About the only thing I haven’t seen yet is one that is mostly plain ground, stitched just along hypotenuse edge rather than being entirely covered with pattering. Some cloths (like the first two above) have small tie strings, some are just triangles, with no tabs, ribbons, or strings (although those may have become disassociated over the decades).
Now, why am I so interested? I rarely get to SCA events these days, and don’t have an outfit (or a finished coif) to match a forehead cloth.
I want to make one for mundane day-to-day, modern wear.
I like wearing a bandanna or kerchief to keep my hair out of my eyes, especially during “down times” on weekends, or when we visit windy Cape Cod. It strikes me that a purpose-built forehead cloth would serve well, and be a bit more distinctive than a plain old paisley bandanna. Being small, it would not be onerous to stitch, and would be a fun thing to adorn with one of the larger all-over or infinity repeats that I’ve charted over the years.
I’m laying out the size of the piece now, basting my dimensions onto ground cloth. More news on this as the project develops.