DOUBLE RUNNING STITCH LOGIC 104 – A REVIEW

Based on private notes of inquiry and discussions on various historical needlework-related boards and forums of late, I see that people are still confused about the working logic of linear stitching.  In specific, how to determine if a design can be worked entirely two-sided.

First off – the two most popular historical methods for working thin linear designs are double running stitch and back stitch.  The big difference between the two is the appearance of the reverse.   Done meticulously, with care paid to invisibly terminating threads, double running stitch is almost indistinguishable front and back.  Almost because a few people do produce a slight difference due to differential thread tension on each of the two passes required to produce a unbroken line, but that difference mostly settles out over time.  Back stitch on the other hand produces a public side very much like double running, but the reverse of the work is heaver, and depending on the stitcher can look like outline or stem stitch, or even like a split or chain stitch if the needle pierces the previous stitch as a new one is made.  Of necessity in back stitch there is twice as much thread on the back of the work as there is on the front.

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Double Running.
Front (top) and back are identical

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

Double running stitch takes two passes to accomplish because it first lays down a dashed line, with the spaces between the dashes being filled in on the second pass.  A back stitch line is completed in one pass, with no need to revisit areas previously stitched to complete the line.

Many people prefer back stitch because there IS no going back.  They like the certainty of knowing exactly where they are at all times, over the pretzel logic of calculating how not to be caught in a cul de sac while retracing steps in double running.  Personally, I prefer double running, and follow double running logic even if the piece I am working will not be seen on both sides.  I find that path planning to be fun, and I appreciate thread economy, especially when working with more costly or difficult to source hand-dyed silks.

But for some one challenge of double running is knowing which designs can be worked in that stitch such that both sides can be made totally identical.

It’s easy.  Any design that has no “floating elements” is a prime candidate.  If true double sided is a total goal (including invisible termination of thread ends), any piece that has a floating element large enough to allow that burial is also a possibility.  It doesn’t matter how complex a design is, so long as elements are all branches and detours off of one or more main baselines, they can be stitched double sided.  And yes – there CAN be more than one baseline in a design.  More on baseline identification is hereThe logic of following detours and returning to the baseline is hereHow to break up a large design into several smaller baselines is here.

Identifying floating elements

That’s easy.  They are any ornament or detail that is discontinuous from the main line of the design.

Here are several that I’ve done in double running, based on one or more continuous baselines, with no floating element deviations.  In these designs every part of every work is attached to every other part, at one or more points.
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The last one has additional embellishment in long-armed cross stitch, and the final one includes two edge borders, each done as their own “line” separate from the main motif.

By contrast, here are several that have those “floating elements” called out.

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The knot element in the all-over at left is not attached to the main pomegranate frame.  It is however just large enough manage thread-end-hiding.  So while its presence makes this a tedious and difficult pattern for double-sided double running stitch, it is not a deal breaker.  However those little accent diamonds are deal breakers.  Too small to hide the ends, and detached from the main design.   The ladder element in the arms of the repeat at right is broken from the main design, and is too small for end-camouflage.

There are often short lines or sneaky little floating accents hidden in both simple and more complex repeats.  Strawberry pips are notorious for this, although I haven’t any stitched examples to hand:

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My dragonbeast, however lovely, has quite a few floating elements, making him a problematic choice for a fully double-sided work. (Eyes and faces are almost always difficult).

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And this bit, stitched from a Lipperheide book, is the absolute poster child for discontinuity.  I didn’t mark them all, but you get the idea.  The spaniel and possibly that center bundle thing are the only bits large enough in which to bury the ends, if a fully two-sided result is desired.

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Here’s a tricky one.  Look closely at the bit on the left.

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It looks continuous, but it’s not.  There are in fact FOUR separate double-running baselines, AND a discontinuous element in the motif.  He’s in the red circle on the right.  Like the round knot in the first example this might be done double sided, provided that the stitcher was willing to terminate separate ends for that relatively large floating element.

So in short – it doesn’t matter how complex a design is, so long as all elements are continuous it CAN be stitched fully double sided, in double running stitch.

FRACTURED SYMMETRY and TEMPLE OF BEAUTY

Today I brag not about my own products, but about those of the Resident Male.

Friends and family who know Fernando know that he has been writing for as long as I have known him.  His first letters to me were filled with tales of his own devising.  Over the years he’s continued, writing short stories, novellas, and longer works. 

I have had the joy of being his Audience of One – he reads them to me as they develop, and I hear his voice on every page.

Now you can read them, too.

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In his own words, from the book’s blurb:

Blair MacAlister is an expert at Judo, a credible AI hacker, and a certified pilot of craft atmospheric and interstellar. Her favorite weapon is sarcasm, or failing that, her ever-present blaster. Her boss is Terendurr the Black Stone: technical wizard, expert in the ethnography of myriad races, fancier of rare foods and wines, and even rarer fractalites. An Entharion Quadromorph, exiled from his homeworld and under constant threat of assassination, he is also somewhat irritable.
Together they investigate mysteries based on science, in a setting that brings them into contact with all the main races of Civspace: The mysterious Junn, the affable but biologically intense Raylics, the chaotic and powerful Oro-Ka, the commercial minded Keret, and the cynical Phair. At the center of their cases are transformative genetic therapies, unlikely fossils, the linked neurology of symbiotes, and more.

I am biased of course, but Fractured Symmetry is a strong collection of short stories and novellas about the same investigative team; mysteries that turn on both points of science, and insight into individuals and cultures.  It’s got action, adventure, aliens both threatening and endearing, devious antagonists, and a kick-ass heroine.  Plus a goodly dash of sarcasm and wit. 

It’s available from Amazon for download for Kindle readers on all devices (including KindleUnlimited); and in hard-copy paperback.

He’s also got another collection of short stories on Amazon, also available for Kindle readers and on KindleUnlimited:

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The Temple of Beauty is a bit more of an eclectic story collection. Its stories are retro-inspired, and include both SF and fantasy, ranging across a wide variety of tones and subjects.  More aliens, stealthy killers, high camp wandering heroes, and the clash of class and ideals.  Some played for ironic amusement, some less flippant. 

So, if you are planning an Icelandic style book-Christmas, looking for something to entertain and amuse, or planning a mobile book-hoard to get you through holiday travel and visits, please consider adding these.  I guarantee you’ll have a great ride, even if it isn’t on a giant saber-toothed rabbit.

CORDAGE FILET AND FINISHES

Over the holiday weekend, I found myself between projects, with a yen to play.  The summer adventure in yarn-bombing was the first time I’d touched crochet in years, and left me hungry for more, so I decided to try something off-beat.

I had a large cone of a rather industrial heavy cotton cordage.  It’s about worsted weight equivalent in thickness, but is much, much denser than regular cottons of that weight offered up for hand-knitting.  I got it at the old Classic Elite mill end store, when it was still co-located with the mill itself, before it moved into a location a few doors down from the mill, and long before it migrated down from Lowell.  I’ve used this yarn to model various lace knitting problems, relying on its size and durability to help me figure out the problem section before I tried the same bit in the fragile lace yarn being used for my main project.  But I’ve always wondered what else could be done with the stuff, so I decided to experiment. 

My first thought was a market bag, done in filet.  So I picked out a simple 35 unit square from Dupeyron’s Le Filet Ancien au Point de Reprise VI, itself an on-line offering in the Antique Pattern Library’s filet crochet section.  It quickly became apparent that my gauge with a 3mm hook for this yarn wasn’t square.  I didn’t like the look of it for this style with a larger hook (filet should have a strong contrast between the solid and meshy areas), so I kept going, in spite of the skew.  In a fit of serendipity, while my finished proportions were way off for a bag, and I doubted I would have enough yarn for an effective throw, what I ended up with was perfect for a placemat (mug shown for scale).

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This crocheted up quickly, in one weekend.  I plan on doing as many more as my cone of string will allow.  A set of four for sure, probably six, and remotely possible – eight or four plus runner.  Oh.  With the wealth of 35×35 squares in the book above, each mat will be a different design.  Mostly mythical beasts.  Possibly some other motifs if I tire of those.

And I also have several finishes to report.  The most important is to finally post the baby blanket knit for new niece Everly, born to Jordan and Paul (the Resident Male’s brother) last week.  I had finished it some weeks ago, but I hesitated to post pix lest I spoil the surprise.  Yes, I did end off the ends and wash it prior to sending.  🙂

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A home-grown pattern, based on the Frankie Brown 10-stitch garter spiral concept, and an original edging previously posted here.  It’s knit in Bernat Handcrafter cotton (pink and cotton were special requests), a washable worsted weight yarn.

The other finishes include two pairs of socks.  Younger Daughter’s Bee Socks, plus a pair of “briefcase project” socks of my own. Pix of those when they are out of the wash, having already been integrated into our wardrobes. 

There’s also this scarf for me.  This one is based on Sybil R’s Little Rectangles pattern.  I changed the proportions of the blocks a bit to better suit the very short color segments of the Madelinetosh variegated merino fingering.  Note that the original called for two skeins of yarn (about 780 yards/722 meters), but my variant (about 5 inches x 80 inches/12.7 cm x 203 cm) used every scrap of just one skein, making it a spectacular but economical gift item.  Gauge is about 9 stitches = 1 inch; each little block is about 1” x .75 inch. 

Apologies for the blurry photo.  Artificial lights at dawn aren’t my forte.  The second detail shot is not color-true, but shows the garter construction a bit better.

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STARTS AND FINISHES

A couple starts and finishes here at String Central.

First – a scarf for Elder Daughter.  She favors autumn colors, and the last scarf I made her about five years ago was due for a replacement.  I had a ball of Zauberball Crazy in my stash, that was way too nice to waste on socks that won’t be seen.  Something that demonstrative is better out in the open rather than hidden away in shoes.  But she wanted a strip-style classic scarf, not an abbreviated shawl or wing-shaped piece, so one ball of fingering weight yarn wasn’t going to be enough unless the chosen stitch was very lacy.  But it’s hard to make the color gradations pop in a lace design…

The most obvious thing to do is to eke out the fancy multicolor yarn using a solid – either a component color of the multi, or something contrasting.  So I went stash-diving.  And I came up with another problematic yarn that fits the mission envelope.  Lister Lavenda fingering weight 100% wool, circa the late ‘60s.

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How do I come by such a superannuated yarn?  Easy.  I stole it from my mom.

To be fair, “stole” is a bit of exaggeration.  She let me have it, from her own stash.  My mom has been a prolific and talented knitter as long as I can remember.  She tried many times to teach me when I was a kid, but I didn’t actually pick up needles until after I was out of my own.  BUT I did crochet quite a bit as a kid and teen.  Mom let me stash dive on occasion.  This particular mustard color wool was part of a vest project she began for my dad, long, long ago.  I’m not sure why it was never completed, but mom had a huge bag of the stuff, well over a dozen little one-ounce pull skeins.  I adopted them and have used them slowly over the years.  Pretty much any gold/mustard yellow accent in anything I’ve knit from fingering weight has been mom’s Lavenda.

The yarn itself is quite nice, a bouncy, spongy 100% wool,, but fragile.  It fulls if you so much as look at it with damp, warm eyes.  It rubs through in socks all too quickly, even when reinforced.  So scarves and hats are the best use.  I had four skeins left, a bit over 100g, all told.  About the same amount as the one Zauberball.

I used a free pattern on Ravelry, Christy Kamm’s ZickZack Scarf.  I used 3.0mm needles (about a US 2.5), and did the recommended eight repeats of the 12-stitch garter stitch pattern. swapping the multicolor and mustard yarns every other row (each garter stripe).  Every row was the same – as such it was the perfect totally mindless piece to work in the evenings, even while watching subtitled movies.

Here are the front and back:

zauberscarf-front zauberscarf-back

Note that they are close, and both are pleasing, but they are not identical.  Nor could they be.  Garter stitch produces identical TEXTURES on front and back, but when you change colors, the appearance of the row is different front to back.  If I had knit 3 rows of multi, then 3 rows of solid, the two sides would look more alike, BUT I’d end up having a lot of long floats up or ends to work in because my other-color yarn would always be on the wrong edge of the work when I went looking for it to change.

And the finished piece:

zauberscarf-finished

Lessons learned:  If I had to do it all over again, I’d only do six or seven repeats across, to make the thing just a bit narrower, but longer.  The recipient loves it, but I prefer narrower scarves.  Also, the design benefits from not being worked loosely.  If you attempt this one and are a loose knitter, go down a needle size or two for best effect.  All in all though, I’m quite happy with the piece, and offer thanks to pattern source Christy for thinking of adapting this traditional heavy-knit blanket zig-zag to a light weight scarf.

And the other start – Bumblebee Socks for Younger Daughter

This project also started off with the yarn.  Long time pal Wendy has embarked on a yarn dyeing venture.  She brews and experiments, and when she’s accumulated enough inventory, offers it up on line or at knitting festivals, via Facebook or her Etsy page, under the “Strings N’’Strands” imprint. As such it’s sporadically available but worth waiting for.

Last month she posted that she’d just finished dyeing a black/yellow combo, and posted pix.  It sang to me:

bee-yarn

Younger Daughter has a thing for bees.  She adores them, and advocates for bee-preservation causes.  This yarn would be perfect for a pair of socks for her. 

So, a new conundrum.  How to use a variegated to best advantage in socks?  Not every hand-dyed variegated works out well in-project.  Sometimes the colors flash in an inopportune way.   Sometimes they don’t flash at all, and end up muddy.  And how to work in the bee theme….

After some experimentation, here’s the end result:

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Entrelac!  The little entrelac segments are like a scrum of fuzzy, striped bumblebees.  And the periodicity Wendy dyed in worked out perfectly, making a nice, even self-stripe on my toe-up foot.

For the record, this is improvised as I go.  I’ve knit several entrelac projects at this point, both in the round and flat, so I’m pretty comfortable with the base concept.  It does tend to be less stretchy than flat stockinette, so some fudging of count was required, but it all worked out.

This particular pair of toe-up socks uses a Figure-8 toe, and short-rowed heel.  I am knitting on five relatively large US 0 needles (four in the work, one in hand) – on 72 stitches around (18 stitches per needle).  I worked my standard no-think sock until I was two rounds past the heel, then broke into entrelac on 6-stitch groups.  Although the math works out perfectly to have six entrelac pattern units , doing so makes a tight ankle (see above), so I fudged my start-up triangles to end up with 7.  That’s working out quite nicely, to make a comfortable, not quite slouchy sock.

I’ll continue on this ankle part until the sock, when folded in half along the heel diagonal that part is equal to the length of the foot, then I’ll do 20 rounds of K2P2 rib to finish. 

Thanks Wendy!  Your yarn made this project, and will go on to make Younger Daughter buzz with joy.

RIPPLE!

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!

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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:

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Which pieces are mine?
These two.  I’ll leave you the fun of spotting them among all of the others.

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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.

THE DREADED GREEN SPOT

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.

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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):

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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.

EARTH TO STRING, COME IN STRING

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:

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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.

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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.

ASSORTED BLACKWORK HINTS

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Double sided?

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.

BUT

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).

Tricks???

Yes. Here are some rules.  All are occasionally broken, but for the most part they govern my path planning:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!

FINISH! FOREHEAD CLOTH #1

And here it is:

cloth-done   cloth-done-2

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.

Here’s the whole piece of ground cloth, with all stitching completed, showing the portion I cut off to make the ties:
wholecloth2

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.

Pattern?

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 DOODLES CONTINUE

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

heart-strip

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.

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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.

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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.