A WEALTH OF POSSIBILITIES

Progress and some potentials to report. First the progress:

I’m closer to finishing the initial seaming of the eyeball squares for the bolster cushion. Here are all of them. The group indicated by the yellow brackets on top is the front. It’s 12×4 units, all sewn together. The group in the yellow brackets at the bottom of the page is the back. I’ve just begun sewing the last course of 12 onto the other three.

Then there are the loose piles between the front and back, and to the right of the back. Those are the squares that will make up the sides. That’s another two strips of 12, and two strips of four. After I finish the seams on the back I will assemble those strips. After that will come an orgy of darning in ends. Once all six pieces are neatly finished off I will begin final assembly. I intend to sew the side strips in sequence – long-short-long (leaving one short side out briefly) with the same slip stitch method I used for the front and back. But when I unite the side strips to the front and back I will use a knit-based method rather than a crocheted one. I intend to use knit-on I-Cord edging as my seaming method, to make what will look like a piped edge, to make a green “frame” for the front and back. Somewhere along the way I will introduce a hand-stitched zipper into one short end, which is the reason for reserving that last short side.

I’ve done the I-Cord edging before to excellent effect on pillows. The one in front uses it. (I won’t be doing the free-loop corners though on this piece.)

This is the general look I’m aiming for. This is a bench-type cushion I built and covered for a storage settee that’s now on our enclosed front porch. This piece was sewn, and that corded piping was introduced with it was seamed together.

For the record, this cushion was built in the same way I intend to build the eyeball bolster – a slab of foam, wrapped in quilt batting, seamed into a permanent cover. But the eyeball bolster will have an additional removeable inside cover between the crochet and the permanent cushion. Crochet by its nature is rather see-through, with lots of small holes. The inner, removeable cover will be a heavy black cotton duck or canvas. Removeable just in case something is spilled on the bolster. It along with the decorative crochet cover will both be washable.

So even though I am almost done with eyeball assembly there’s still a lot of work to go on this piece.

Now on to other possibilities.

Thanks to the generosity of a long time friend, I find myself in possession of a set of twelve magnificent linen napkins. Never used. I had lucked into a similar but well-loved set of twelve at an estate sale this summer. I now have double the possibilities. First, both are eminently stitch-able:

The unused napkins are on the left, and the well worn ones are on the right. Counting threads and doing the math for the Penny Method the approximate thread count for the new set is roughly 40×40, and the old set is about 38×38 threads. Small, yes, but not impossibly so.

Now what to make….

I have many thoughts on this. First is the obvious, just embellishing one of the sets for obvious use as napkins. I’ve thought about doing a set with a big initial S in one corner, but each done in a different antique alphabet. This is a prime source for alphabets as magnificently ornate and over the top as anyone could desire.

The second possibility is a pieced tablecloth. There are all sorts of Renaissance examples of tablecloths and devotional pieces pieced together, some probably re-using earlier stitched fragments, others purpose-done. Some unite countwork pieces with darned net strips, others combine cutwork and other contemporary embroidery forms. Much to think about here and a lot of potential learning.

A third possibility also looms, for the well-used napkin pile. I have wanted to stitch a peasant style blouse for myself, using some of the more outre strip designs in my personal collection. Like dinos, for example. I am not quite sure how I would go about it, but I think with cleverness I could get a square yoke out of one or two napkins, a gathered body below that, and full 3/4 sleeves, also gathered. I have to mock this idea up with tissue paper to see if I have enough yardage, but I should.

I guess the moral of the story is that retirement is not idleness!

A BUSY DECEMBER

One of my periodic “where did I go” posts, reporting on everything and sundry that kept me from regular blogging.

Baking

First because I know there are cookie fiends out there just waiting for this year’s round-up, I present Cookie Plate 2022, arranged on the fused glass bison presentation dish given to us by my sister and brother in law. I use it in tribute to the resilience of my Buffalo, NY family and friends, enduring their second (and twice as bitter) lash of winter weather since Thanksgiving. May the lights and heat stay on and may the driveway finally learn to shovel itself!

Starting from the yellow and blue stars just above the bison’s head we have:

  1. Keto cutouts. I used this recipe this year, no “real” flour or sugar. I did make two enhancements, though. I put finely grated lemon zest in the cookie batter, and mixed the icing using powdered monkfruit based sweetener with lemon juice (and a dash of food coloring). Light and lemony. This dough worked relatively well for the simple star shapes, but it’s a bit on the cakey and fragile side, and would not be at its best if used for a cookie cut with an elaborate design, or with one of the plunger-style cutters that also embosses an impressed design. The icing too was a bit harder to handle than the confectioners’ sugar standard.
  2. Mexican Wedding Cakes. I subbed the monkfruit sweetener inside and used about a third almond flour in place of the regular all-purpose flour in this recipe, but dusted with confectioners’ sugar because the substitute doesn’t do that well for dusting. So I’d call these slightly slimmed down, but not keto.
  3. Keto peanut butter cookies. Last year’s recipe turned out rather poorly, so I tried a new one this year. Better results. Still a bit cakey-crumbly, but the taste and texture are better.
  4. Earthquakes, the name by which what most folk call chocolate crinkles are known in this house. Again not much seismic cracking this year, but the brownie-bite taste and texture were spot on. The usual recipe. Full octane – no slimming.
  5. Cinnamon bun swirls. This one is a specialty of the Younger Offspring. Clever fingers and exacting methods make those mathematically perfect spirals. These instructions but we skip the recipe author’s icing, The cookies are sweet enough as-is. Hint for avoiding the flat-tire look – slide the long rolls of this refrigerator cookie dough into the cardboard tubes from paper towels. They firm up nicely round without flattening that way.
  6. Triple Ginger White Chocolate Chip. My own invention. I love these, even though they are not chocolate. 🙂 I did slim these down a bit by using monkfruit brown sugar replacement instead of the real stuff. But the white chocolate chips probably make up for that little bit of virtue.
  7. Bourbon Balls. A family standard that I’ve made every year since I began baking holiday cookies from recipes more or less like this one. Since they start with crushed Nilla wafers and have a cup of bourbon in them they will never be full keto, but I did slim them a bit with sugar substitute. Note that these are also good with many other nut/cookie/liquor combos, with or without the cocoa. Chocolate wafer cookies/pecans/Chambord. Almond biscotti/almonds/amaretto. Nillas/hazelnuts/rum. One hint – they improve with long curing. Make these up right after Thanksgiving and put them in a tightly sealed tin. Then hide them until the end of December. Your forbearance in not gobbling them down right away will be rewarded.
  8. Jam thumbprints. Another contribution of Younger Offspring. This time the clever fingers fashioned heart shape wells, which were then filled with raspberry jam. A very buttery and light shortbread compliments that fruity goodness. Full octane. When I extract the recipe from the cookie artist I will post it here, but by the time this last cookie was baked, I was distracted and didn’t make a note of the source.
  9. French cocoa macarons with almond buttercream filling. Oh so good, and oh so sinful. Again Younger Offspring steps up to bat with authentic technique off a memorized recipe. Even the almond paste-based buttercream was extemporary. Obviously the Padawan has far surpassed the teachers.
  10. Chocolate chunk. This one started with the traditional old school Nestle’s Toll House original recipe (the one that still called for 1/8 tsp of water). No slimming and no nuts in this one, but about a third of the weight of chocolate chips was replaced by Trader Joes’ Cocoa Nibs. The remaining chocolate was chopped cold, making lots of chocolate dust, and tiny fragments. That really helps the flavor distribute itself throughout the whole cookie. The big hint on this one (aside from chopping) is to fridge the batter overnight, and roll it into uniform size balls rather than employing the two spoon/drop method. Much more uniform results.
  11. Yes there are 11 this year. We couldn’t cut a family fave to make the goal of ten. My Oysters. A simple hazelnut spritz with whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache filling. Slimmed a bit by using monkfruit sugar instead of about half of the regular white sugar, and a third almond flour instead of 100% all purpose flour, but it’s hard to call these virtuous.

I also made a keto lemon-chocolate swirl cheesecake, with a hazelnut/almond flour crust. I forgot to take a picture of that, and now it’s gone.

Not Baking

Aside from cookies, I had some knitting and crochet projects going.

First, as a favor to my mom, an old school knitter from the days of Knitting Ladies who sat by your elbow throughout design selection, customization, swatching, and execution to gauge. I didn’t do those earlier stage support functions but I did do the last and most important one – finishing. Taking the individually full-fashion knit pieces, seaming them together and adding final details like collars. Mom had completed but had not assembled two sweaters, intended for my nieces. I helped those projects over the goal. Both are adult size. Now that they’ve been bestowed, I can break silence and post them here.

Also with almost all of the squares complete, I have begun assembly for the I’ll Be Watching You sofa cushion.

More on this as I get more strips put together. Note that some rethinking happened. Due to color assortment challenges, we added two more units to the mix to make 12 individual color layouts, and upped the cushion width from 11 to 12 units. Needless to say that required a few more squares than I originally planned.

Other Accomplishments

Let’s see. I visited my mom in Florida the second week of December. We had a good time together, and even managed to hijack the Palm Beach area family for a dim sum brunch over the weekend. Why I have no pix from the week, I don’t know. I guess I tend to live the moment and not document unless I’m a spectator. But I think the visit was appreciated, productive, and satisfying. Next time I promise to be a better chronicler.

As spectator, I cheered on The Resident Male as he prepared an epic feast for Christmas Eve. His menu is here. When Henri, our Guest of Honor emerged from the oven, he had celebrity status. Everyone documented him.

We also went to see a performance of The Boston Pops. It was a delight.

And as usual, we maxed out on holiday festivity, aside from food and drink. We lit candles (hard to see the fully illuminated menorah due to frost on the window). We did the tree. We had the fun of opening presents from each other. This year abetted by Fernando’s mom Carm, who is happy to be away from Lackawanna and the worst of the weather there.

EYE WITNESS TO PROGRESS

So. How is that eyeball cushion coming along? Faster than I expected.

Behold 90 of the completed 102 squares – that’s nine each of the 10 color combos. In total I will need 118, so I’m only about a week out from having them all. The designated recipient is here for a holiday visit, and with luck we will find time to do a placement for the front and back. That’s four rows of 11 squares across. I’ll take pix (just in case) and pin up the four courses, noting the order of the four. The back of the cushion will duplicate the front, and I will use up the rest to make the side edges, finishing out in a large rectangular block.

My plan is to slip stitch them together, assembling the strips of 11 as required, then slip stitching the long strips together for the two primary front and back sides of the bolster. Once I have the front and back, I will slip stitch together two more rows of 11, plus two of 4. However, instead of using slip stitch again to unite the front and back with the sides, I plan to make “piped” seams using I-Cord, knitting them together instead of crocheting. I’ve done this several times before, and the result is worth the effort. I’ll probably do that on something like US #2 or #3 DPNs (between 2.75 and 3.25 mm), I have some between sizes sets in that range, so I can experiment until I find the best fit.

I plan on using a zipper around three sides of one of the short ends, so the crocheted cover can be removed for washing. In any case, once I have the crocheted layer done and have an exact final measurement, I will build the inner bolster cushion (thick semi-rigid foam wrapped in quilt batting), encase it in a permanent inner cover (an old worn out bedsheet, repurposed), and sew a zippered “fashion lining” (black duck or cotton canvas). I need that lining because crochet isn’t uniformly dense, and there are little holes in the corners. I’d prefer they be backed by black, and whatever that black is – it should also be able to be removed for washing. So even when the crochet and knitting on this is done, the project itself will still be an ongoing effort.

Wish me luck. It’s been a while since I did a major cushion project, but this is much simpler than the knife edge, piped trim bench seat I did before. I’m sure this construction is not beyond me, but luck is always welcome. 🙂

In other news, like so many others we of Casa Magnifica had our own Thanksgiving celebration. Pies, turkey, sides, and the like. Just two pies this year due to it being a small crowd (pumpkin and chocolate pecan). And I share pix of The Resident Male tending to our turkey, which due to his care, skill, and watchfulness, was superb. Younger Spawn contributed to Pie Perfection again this year, crafting a pecan vortex of deliciousness, and an on-point pumpkin presentation, and along the way making a few key improvements to the basic recipes. I will be making additional notes on those soon to preserve those flashes of inspiration.

Oh, one last minor thing. If you have been following me via Twitter, apologies. I’m afraid that’s over. I no longer have a presence on that platform.

ON CHARTING

Folk have asked me how I can redact designs from photos. I try to reply, with specific examples from a new-to-me design I just charted up this morning.

First credit where credit is due. This artifact is a work bag in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine arts, accession number 12.52. Below is their photo of the thing from the page linked in the last sentence.

The museum’s attribution is Italian or English, from around 1600. It’s part of the Denman Waldo Ross Collection, which means it was probably collected before 1900. The description further says it’s done in red silk on white plain weave linen, but does not say if it was done in double running or back stitch. No photos of the stitching’s reverse are shown, although there is a note that implies that when the piece was made up into a bag, a coarser grade of linen was used for the presumably unstitched back side.

The regularity and angles immediately signal to me that is was done on the count. Also that the ground cloth’s weave is not quite even, with a few more threads in the horizontal-appearing direction, than in the vertical. I can tell that from the large center flowers, which although they are quadrilaterally symmetrical, appear to be a bit squished side to side.

First, some base assumptions.

  • Modern blackwork and its expanded vocabulary aside, historical examples employ only straight lines, right angles, and 45-degree angles.
  • Stitch length units are regular, and are constrained to multiples of a single whole unit, either on edge or on the diagonal. Yes, there are some artifacts with instances of half-unit stitches, but for the most part they are extremely infrequent in foreground design. They do appear sometimes in voided work, to help the stitcher cozy up to the outlines of their previously laid down foreground design.
  • Gaps between stitches in a continuously linked design will be the same multiple of the base unit. There are no “floating islands” in this piece. Every bit is straight-line attached to every other bit, and therefore must be on the same base grid.
  • Not every iteration of the original is assumed to be spot on accurate. Imperfections in cloth, and stitchers who let mistakes remain or improvise their way out of a mistake can make the creation of a final normed chart a matter of adjudicated compromise, comparing as many of the iterations of the pattern as appear on the piece and deducing the most likely original pattern drafter’s intent.

It’s pretty clear that this photo, while quite good, isn’t the best. Individual stitches blur together. Angles are not always crisp, and the threads have aged over the centuries. Still the base logic and standard shapes that can be formed using the assumptions above remain. I’ve charted hundreds of these, and have a pretty good grasp of what can be done with those shapes, but even if you have fresh eyes and haven’t done this before it’s not impossible. Think Logic.

So. Where to start? That’s easy. At the center.

That big rosette must start at the center with a square of four units. We know that from the little Y units that grow out of it. Heart shape units are pretty common in this work, and it’s also easy to deduce that these must be an extra unit tall so that the center vertical of each ends up one unit above those same Ys. That makes the diagonals linking the center square to the edges of the centermost heart flower two units long.

(An aside: the distortion produced by the less than even ground is evident when you compare the original and my true-square chart.)

The next thing I added was the simple hearts that grow out of the four cardinal directions. That establishes the height and width of that motif. I decided these hearts had flat rather than pointed top corners after looking at several spots on the original, and seeing that to achieve the height as seen, pointy corners would have been too tall – the divot at the center of the heart would not be in proper proportion otherwise. After that I played with the surrounding petal shapes, noting which straight lines were preserved, and noting the parallel size of the right angle juncture where the center heart petals meet with the size of the elongated diamonds that link the center rosette to the smaller flowers. Those have to be two units at each end. And so I filled in the rest of the rosette and those connecting links.

The only thing remaining to create the flower framing motif was to graph out the little blossom. Comparing the corners of those petals it was pretty clear that they WOULD have to be pointy to make the motif congruent with its own center square, which is clearly the same size as the larger rosette. Easy. So is chaining two together to make the inter-rosette connections. The only thing I had to watch for was the direction of those little leaves sprouting on the side. Those had to mirror around the center. A simple matter of copying and pasting, with flips as needed.

The chart at right is pretty much the entire logical repeat for the floral frame (click on it if it truncates on your device). Now for the harder part. The stemmed sprig of hops? grapes? whatever? is NOT symmetrical at the bottom. For that we have to rely on alignment with the wonderfully and conveniently regular floral frame.

Yes, this part is harder, and sometimes takes quite a few trial-and-error iterations before I hit on the logic of the original. In this case it wasn’t that difficult. Although it’s not possible to count stitches in the photo, our base assumptions and our clearly defined frame made it rather easy. I look for alignments and spacing when compared with the frame. For example, if you compare the red alignment lines on the photo of the original to my chart, you see I hit all the bases. There are lots more points of alignment and extrapolation than just my few red marks. And yes, long familiarity with the shapes and curves possible does make it a bit easier.

You can also see in the original that the curlicues do not always “lay flat.” Some have fallen victim to age and loose stitching. In most cases I had to sift through multiple instances of the repeat and come up with a best guess. And in this photo is one thing I often add – a deliberate interpretation that’s a tell-tale, so that I can spot unauthorized reproductions of my charting, even when others claim to have charted the same original on their own. (Don’t laugh, this does happen. Mapmakers still do this to spot knockoffs, too.)

Thankfully the upper part of the sprig is symmetrical. I use the same alignment and spacing methods to fill in the tightly packed flower/fruit shape and the lily-like finial on the top. The best part of that is once I’ve got a good stab at half, I can cut and paste with mirroring, rather than doodling in every line segment.

And the whole thing together – click here for an easy to download, save and print PDF. Note that a full size page version of this design is also available in the permanent free embroidery patterns collection tab, scroll down to the linear patterns section.

As with all my charts, I copyright my own graphed interpretation, with no claim on the parent object that inspired it. I make this chart freely available for your own personal use. If you intend to incorporate my charting into your own design, and especially if you intend to sell that design OR if you wish to use this to produce items for sale or fundraising purposes – you are requested to contact me before doing so.

GALLERY OF APPRECIATION

I adore it when I see projects folk have worked up from my designs. I’ve shown off a smattering of them here on String under the tag “Gallery” on the categories list, but I have fallen behind of late. I will try to be more timely posting these fabulous finishes (and works in progress), as tribute and thanks to the creative people who have returned joy to me.

Right now I have several such submissions lurking in my email inbox. Apologies if you have sent photos to me that haven’t appeared yet. It’s a big inbox, and I am combing back, looking for the flags. Names and photos appear here with the permission of those who sent them. I also have some requests out to folk who have sent me photos, but from whom I do not yet have express consent to post. And if you’d like your work to appear here in a subsequent gallery post, please drop me a line. My Gmail address is kbsalazar (in the usual email format).

So in no particular order other than my stumbling around in the dark, I present the first of what I hope will be a renewed series of proud pieces.

The Second Carolingian Modelbook

Sent in by Alex Logsdon, a genuine original composition featuring many motifs from T2CM, selected, snipped, and arranged in true “bungee jump stitcher” mode – picked on the fly and fitted to the space available. There haven’t been many finished objects from my latest book, and this one made my heart sing.

(c) Alex Logsdon, 2022, appears here by permission

The New Carolingian Modelbook

Elaine Cochrane is working on a big purple band sampler, and has included in it some strips from TNCM. Elaine is also choosing designs on the fly in bungee-jump mode. I love seeing her piece evolve with the addition of each new bit.

(c) Elaine Cochrane, 2022, appears here by permission

Ensamplario Atlantio, Volumes I and II

It’s hard for me to separate out the fills in the two volumes in the EnsAtl series. With only a few exceptions, even I can’t remember which ones are in which book. V Louise Behrman is working on a couple of projects using the patterned fills from the books. One is a lovely bit of inhabited blackwork – panels for a casket (a small fabric covered keepsake/display box), the other is destined to be made up into an adorable needle book (a small fabric folder to keep needles safe, dry, and at hand). Both images below are (c) V Louise Behrman, 2022, and appear here with permission.

Epic Fandom Stitchalong – Adaptations

Long time friend and occasional SCA mentor Robert Himmelsbach was a stealth beta tester for some of the bands appearing as part of Epic Fandom. He used the dinosaur strips to make collar and cuff ornamentation for an otherwise historically accurate Renaissance era shirt, proudly proclaiming his ancient lineage and participation in that group’s pre-history (provided you look closely enough at his outfit). He is intending the pirate strip for a second shirt.

Links and/or info about the books mentioned are at the “My Books” tab above. The Stitchalong also has its own tab, above.

MORE BEHOLDING

Progress on the I’ll Be Watching You cushion. I’ve got six basic color combos done, as specified by Younger Offspring (the co-designer and recipient). We are in consultation right now about whether there need to be additional color arrangements of the lime, celadon, russet, and white – black being in stable placement across all the squares.

As often happens, when I started I had a general idea of what I was going to do, but now that things are underway, ideas are coming together. Here are some thoughts.

  • I experimented with three crochet hooks in various sizes and styles ranging from 2.75 mm to 3.25 mm. The best results were with the Clover 3.25 mm. That’s what I used to do the set above.
  • Crocheting in to end off as I progress is absolutely the right way to go. Every square has eleven concentric rings. That’s 22 ends per motif, or with 118 squares – 2,596 yarn ends to deal with. I don’t want to think about the pain if I left them until the very end. Right now each one only has the green tail from the final ring. Those of you who have received granny square throws and rejoice in their riot of color, know that someone loved you enough to deal with all of those bits.
  • The black is slightly heavier than the other colors. But because every square has the identical use and placement of black, there is no differential effect on overall square dimensions.
  • Both yarns are acrylic. There’s some rippling, as is common in crochet. I may have to “kill” the yarn – pinning them out and using steam and possibly pressure to set the fiber permanently in order to get rid of those undulations. It’s a bit more savage than blocking 100% wool which does relax each time it’s washed. “Killed” acrylic never bounces back. Before I commit to doing it however, I will try the method out on one of the experimental squares I made. Although it’s not the same dimensions as these keepers, it does have the rippled edges that these do, and will make a good test subject.
  • For final assembly into the full bolster I will probably do mattress stitch in the neon green to unite the green outer rims. BUT my plan is to make a square edge cushion, so I am thinking of using knit I-Cord to seam the front and back of the cushion to its edges, to make the equivalent of a piped edge. This would also be in the neon green, and will disguise a zipper at one end so the cover can be removed and washed.
  • Because there are gaps in the crochet where it would show through, I will be making a second cover for the cushion, probably out of pre-shrunk black cotton duck or light canvas. That will also have a zipper for easy removal and washing.
  • The bolster at the center of this also needs to be constructed. I am thinking of using a single piece of dense upholstery foam, cut to size and wrapped with quilt batting. Not sure if yet a third cover will be required to keep it all in place inside the black cotton cover. But if there is, it will be something like inexpensive muslin, and permanently sewn (no zipper).

Because progress on this thing will mostly be just adding to a tottering pile of completed squares, I will probably hold off additional blather until something significant happens. Otherwise visits here would be like watching grass grow.

KEEPING AN EYE ON CROCHET

It’s Spooky Season, and I celebrate with a slightly off beat bit of crochet. This is the first block of many, destined together to become a long bolster cushion for a sofa.

Younger Offspring whose apartment décor sits at the junction of vintage, Goth, mid-century modern, and exuberant and individual artistic expression has requested this and picked the colors. I provide the manual labor, and enjoy the fun of the journey.

The pattern chosen is Granny’s Eye, a paid pattern available via Ravelry. The yarns were chosen for value and wash properties. The black is KnitPicks Brava Sport, with a native knit gauge of 24 stitches = 4 inches (10 cm). The other colors are all Herschnerr’s 2-Ply Afghan Yarn. Although it has the same gauge, it is not as dense as the black, and has a more airy hand, sort of like vintage Shetland sport yarn. As a result it’s an unruly crochet, with the strands separating and shredding – very difficult to get a clean “grab” on them when forming the stitches.

I am using a 3.0 mm hook, to make squares that are 4.75 inches (12 xm) across. Preliminary calculations are that 11 x 4 units for the front and back, plus a squared side edge of one unit all the way around yield a finished cushion dimension of 52.25 inches x 19 inches x 4.75 inches (132.7 cm x 46.3 cm x 12 cm). That means I have only 117 more to do. I may experiment with a hook one size smaller to see how I like the density. I want it as tight as possible for this use. If so, my size/number of units calculation will have to be redone. In any case, there are going to be a lot of eyeballs in my immediate future.

Oh – that forehead cloth I’ve been working on? I’ve put it aside to get cracking on this bespoken project request. I’ll go back to it as soon as I can.

Being craft-multi-dexterous means that I can cycle among knitting, embroidery, and crochet (and sometimes sewing) and so avoid boredom or falling into a creative rut. Highly recommended. 🙂

UPDATE:

I’ve now experimented with hook sizes and styles. I most prefer a Clover 3.25 mm hook with its soft, wide grasping handle. For some reason the 3.0 mm hook I have from a set of mutiples must have an unusual alignment for throat and hook end, because I can’t pull it through a stitch without it catching. I can get the same gauge with better tension using the more comfortable Clover model. On to mass production!

FIELD OF FLOWERS FOREHEAD CLOTH

My quick project gets off to a flying start. I’m about 20% done already. I started out with my hand-held 6 inch hoop to get close to the irregular corner of my linen scrap, but now have moved back to the larger 8 inch sit-upon.

The pattern itself is an original doodle destined for the next volume of Ensamplario Atlantio (as usual, no ETA on its release yet, but I’ve got the first 8 pages done). It requires a bit of attention, the diagonal columns connecting the saltire flowers carry twists in various directions, depending on where in the design they are, but overall the pattern itself is more repetitive than difficult. So to up the interest factor, I’ve transformed my original strip/border/edging layout into large, interlocking hashmark-shaped motifs, and am working each one in a different color. The final will have a patchwork meets jigsaw puzzle effect, kind of like a kid’s puzzle mat.

The other item of interest in this one is the thread. After reading about how others were using Sulky, a single ply hard twist thread intended for both hand and machine embroidery, I decided to give it a try. The ground is roughly 32 threads per inch linen, give or take. I am using a double strand of Sulky 30 weight.

First impressions are quite good. The 500 yard spool put-up is very convenient, as is not having to separate plies as with floss. It works up very quickly in linear stitching – the hard twist, firm nature of the thread eliminating the occasional snags and catches that can slow down softer, more friable floss and silk, when stitching with one hand above and one below. It also is amenable to being used in much longer lengths than regular embroidery floss. Longer thread length means fewer stops to end and begin new threads, so that speeds up stitching a bit. And it makes very crisp lines and corners. The hard twist paired with a blunt point needle makes the junctions where stitches cohabit easier to keep clean. There’s far less chance of a split stitch when stitching back up or down through a hole that is already used by a previous stitch, even when using (near) evenweave linen. I also like the way the dense, round thread keeps its “height,” with the stitches standing proud of the surface, rather than splaying out like floss strands do. Of course that means that floss strands provide better coverage for other types of stitches, but for linear work, clean lines and sharp corners take precedence. I try to capture the “depth” of the stitches below.

On the down side, I do note that colors do crock a bit onto the ground cloth even though the thread is not fuzzy. This is mostly evident when mistakes are picked out. Hints of the previously stitched color remain. To be fair, floss does this too, with the added annoyance of more stray fibers. My Silly Putty kludge works well enough on the color halo left when picking out Sulky, though.

So in my opinion Sulky 30 (double stranded) on 32 count linen is a good pairing. I will continue to explore its use, and report back on wash properties and durability. I would even go so far as to recommend it for folk who are interested in trying double running stitch on medium to high count evenweave. I think the properties outlined above would make it easier for those just starting out on their own blackwork journeys to achieve superior results.

Please note that I pay full retail for the materials I use. I do not accept freebies in exchange for reviews, nor does String participate in product placement schemes. Opinions here are entirely my own.

DIZZY GRAPES DONE!

A finish. I began at our Cape place around 14 July, and finished last night at the Cape place on 25 September, about 73 days of stitching, working an average of about 2 hours per day.

To recap, this was a vintage dresser scarf, clearly cut down and re-edged from some older piece of linen. It was very well washed, and although it had no broken warp or weft threads, there was a lot of blooming, where the linen breaks down a bit, with threads fused together and some slubs. The count wasn’t consistent, with some threads being much thicker than others, but spot measurements ranged from 28 to 34 threads per inch, mostly averaging out to between 30 and 32. It was ever so slightly skewed, but no where near as badly as other non-evenweave grounds I’ve worked lately.

The pattern has two parts – the main field which I redacted from a 17th century Italian cushion cover held in the Hermitage Museum, shown below (Accession T-2736 in case the link breaks). The companion border I doodled up myself.

Amusingly the skew count of the ground used in the original is greater than the skew of my vintage linen. You can see that clearly in the smaller motifs which chart out as squares, but appear taller than they are wide. Also my redaction norms the spacing of the motifs, which in the original does vary by quite a bit. But I preserve the “creep”. Look at the partials around the edge of my piece. They rise from/sink into the static edge line, each iteration of the swirl being offset from the previous one by a stitch or two in each direction. You can see the same thing on the original.

I stitched the design in garnet cotton (DMC #815). It took almost all of seven skeins. I worked the linear bits in double running, and the solid bits in a variant of Italian four sided cross stitch (basically cross stitch, but in a box). The version I chose is NOT double sided, instead it produces a grid on the reverse. The only reason why I chose that version is that I hadn’t attempted it before. I have no historical reason to pick it over the more usually done fully two-sided version. The full double sided version is more or less the same stitch that forms meshy totally overstitched grounds, but done “gently” as surface stitching, and not pulled to the max to both totally encase the ground threads and produce the characteristic mesh ground found in so many museum artifacts. Here’s my back showing the grid structure of my single-sided interpretation.

On the whole I am quite pleased. My goal of making a splendid runner for our sideboard has been achieved, and I can retire the old, ratty placemat that’s there now. It’s The Resident Male’s favorite spot for opening bottles of wine, and now he can do so in a style appropriate for a Renaissance princeling.

Things I would do differently. Hmmm…. I now wish I HAD done the solids in the reversible variant. Not because I want to have a true double-sided piece, but because I want to play with the challenge of that stitch some more. (Additional future experiments are warranted.) I’m also not entirely pleased with leaving the original dresser scarf edging on this. For one, the non-rectangular nature of the cloth is more evident with my on-grain, symmetrically sized stitched area. It bothers me. But consensus seems to be to leave it alone. So I will. For now at least.

And so I move on to an interim project. I have a wild departure queued up for my next big thing, but the materials to do it aren’t here yet, so I digress.

I want to make another forehead cloth. I really enjoy wearing the two I did a few years back. They are more fun than bandannas or scarves, and do a good job of keeping the hair out of my eyes. I have a piece of linen scrap I am considering. It’s very densely woven though at about 32 threads per inch, and I am not sure that it will show off my chosen design to good effect. (I do have an airier alternative, but I prefer the look of the scrap.) I don’t remember whose leftover this is, but send thanks again to The Anonymous Donor. As you can see I’ve plotted out the corner of my triangle.

There is plenty of real estate on this piece of spill, left over from Anonymous Donor’s sewing project. I’m aiming to make something midway in size between the two forehead cloths I already have. Something in the range of 14 inches for the non-hypotenuse sides.

Shameless plug department: These two pieces have been worn heavily and washed without mercy for the past three years, as can be seen by the frayed ties. But look at the stitching, it’s as good as the day I finished. I did it in the stranded silk thread hand dyed by my apprentice using a historical recipe. NO fading, no breakage in spite of the ground’s distortion from being stretched in wear. No harm to the ground beneath the stitches from the dye used. It’s a small batch item, and not always available, but when it is, it’s worth it. Highly recommended.

Back to the project at hand. I will be stitching a rather dense design I recently doodled up. I’m working on Ensamplario Atlantio III, and that pattern will be part of it. And I will be trying out Sulky thread, a spooled mercerized single strand cotton sold for hand and machine stitching. Possibly in polychrome. I have black, red, blue, and green, so I have scope to play.

More on this one as it develops, of course…

HORN TOOTING

We’re now in the run-up to the holiday gift-giving season. New folk reading here may not realize that in addition to stitching I also knit. And I have dabbled in knitwear design in addition to embroidery design. I didn’t pursue knit design intensely because selling patterns to publications and yarn houses requires adherence to deadline, production of the photographic model, working up a wide range of sizes, and use of yarns/colors I did not always favor. But I have released some patterns over the years that make excellent, quickly made gifts. Many of those are here on String-or-Nothing, and are free downloads. Here’s a round-up of them.

Chanterelle

Chanterelle is a scarf requiring just one skein of variegated or self-striping fingering weight or sock yarn (aka 4-ply). For me it’s like potato chips, hard to make just one because every ball produces a different and unexpected result.

The flag scarf was especially surprising. That one was from a stash-aged ball of Schoeller and Stahl’s Fortisimma Socka Color, #1776. I gave it to a friend who wore it to cheer on her kid in an international sports competition. By contrast the glowing purples creams and blues next to it was worked up from a single ball of Schoppel Zauberball Crazy Colors.

Other notes on knitting this one up include that it uses US #5s, making it less dense than the same yarn knit into socks, and that blocking is NOT recommended. You want to preserve those gentle curves.

You can download the pattern PDF directly here, and also find it under the Knitting Patterns tab, at the top of every page here on String. It also has a Ravelry page so you can see what others have done with the thing.

Kureopatora’s Snake

Not everyone loves working with fine yarns. Here’s an alternative.

This was the original expression of the idea I adapted into Chanterelle. It’s exactly the same pattern, but designed for a heavier yarn. Noro Kureopatora was a DK, and one of the first wildly variegated yarns I ran into and this one evolved from idle play with some leftovers from another project. This pattern works well for DK, Worsted, and Aran weight (native label gauges of 22 to 18 stitches over 4 inches or 10 cm). At DK gauge on a US #6 one scarf needs about 250 yards of yarn. A bit more for the heavier gauges or for a wider scarf.

Kureopatora’s Snake can be downloaded here, or found under the knitting patterns tab I mentioned before, and a Ravelry page.

Kombu

Kombu, named after the Japanese name for Kelp, also features gentle undulations, but it’s a lace patterned piece that starts with a small bit of edging. The main body is picked up from the edging and knit up from there. The same edging is used left and right – worked simultaneously with the scarf body. When the desired length is achieved, the same edging is worked across the live stitches of the top. I’ve done it several times in DK, sport, and worsted weight. It’s dreamy in luxury fibers, and just as nice in inexpensive yarns and even cotton. Pick something that’s not too fuzzy for this one though, the drama is best seen in a yarn that shows crisp stitch definition.

The blue one is in Marks and Kattens Indigo Jeansgarn, a guaranteed to shrink and mellow DK weight 100% cotton. The grey is in a cashmere blend. The red is a stash-aged nubbly worsted weight cotton/wool blend – possibly a mill end from Classic Elite circa 1997. It even looks good in a variegated, although truthfully I prefer the solids for this one.

Click here to download Kombu. Like the others it’s on the Patterns tab, although that page also has a link to a German language translation of the thing. Kombu also has its own Ravelry page.

Spring Lightning Lacy Scarf

This one is a bit more of an involved knit that the ones above. It’s more open, worked in lace weight yarn and like all lace requires savage blocking. I’ve done it in white and black. I don’t recommend the black sequin bearing mohair, but the white alpaca/wool blend from a small farm boutique producer was a delight to knit.

For this one the center panel was completed first, and then the edging was knit along the ends and sides after the center was complete.

Spring Lightning is here for direct download, and is also on the Patterns tab. It too has a Ravelry page, although so far I’ve been the only one to attempt it.

Darth Scarf

Back when the Resident Male was running every day he asked for a scarf that wouldn’t flop around. I took a really soft alpaca wool blend, a worsted weight, and using a simple Shaker rib, knit him a deeply corrugated tube to wear as a gaiter or cowl-style scarf. He named it because in black the ribbing pulled up over the nose and mouth looked vaguely Vader-like. This one is a very quick knit and uses about 300g of yarn.

Sadly, I really don’t have a good photo of it. Think of a deep, thick turtleneck, divorced from the rest of the sweater.

You can download Darth Scarf here, and on the Patterns tab. Its Ravelry page is here.

Knot A Hat Earwarmer Band

This one is still a favorite of mine. It’s my go-to for heavy outdoor labor in the winter, being warm enough on the ears, but not a sweat-inducing box for one’s head. It has however inspired quite a bit of creativity, with folk adapting it to be a dome-shaped hat or cornered toque by continuing to work a solid color crown after completing the stranded colorwork section. My own is double sided, but not double knit. After I finished the knotwork pattern, I did a couple of turning rows in purl, then did the same width in simple stripes of the two colors. When I was finished I turned the striped section inside and seamed it to the cast-on row.

The knotwork design isn’t Celtic – it’s adapted from “Opera Noua composta per dominco da Sera detto il Francoisino,” by Matteo Pagan and Guliemo da Fontaneto, a modelbook published as a resource for embroiderers, printed in Venice in 1546. The same design appears in several other similar works from that general timeframe (pattern sharing and pattern piracy are not new phenomena).

Knot a Hat is written for a 4-ply yarn. Something a bit loftier than standard hard-spun classic sock yarn would work best. It would be an excellent vehicle to show off the gorgeous hand-dyed fingering weight yarns produced by smaller, independent dyers.

Download Knot a Hat here. Or grab it from the Patterns tab, above. The range of adaptations into a true hat are on the Ravelry page. To see them go to the sidebar “About This Pattern” box, and click on the line “19 Projects in 110 queues”.

Socks

Socks, I got. Lots of socks. In everything from light fingering (3-ply) through Aran weight (12 ply). I even have a sock lapel pin knit from reinforcement thread. But I do specialize. My socks are all done the same way though – toe up with a figure-8 toe, a plain foot, and a short rowed heel. Then Something Happens for the ankle part (lace, ribbing, textured stitches, stripes, stranding, whatever tickles my fancy), and ended off with simple ribbing at the top. I usually try to use K2P2 ribbing for the cuff, but I enjoy trying to mate it organically with the texture pattern below, so it’s occasionally eccentric, with bits of K1P1 in there.

I know folk are hesitant about the figure-8 toe, but I don’t find it a burden. Use any toe you prefer. Also note that while I write for DPNs, it’s easy to do all of these patterns on two circular needles, or using the Magic Loop method. And since the heel is totally symmetrical, you COULD start and knit cuff down, and end with a traditional toe. In any case, these patterns are VERY easy to modify and adapt to use your choice of ankle treatment.

These are all representative of my production, and not all of them are drafted out in specific. They all follow the logic of the posted patterns, though. Firefighters Socks are done in heavy worsted/Aran weight yarn. Simple Toe Up Socks are in DK/light worsted. Jelly Bean, See Saw, and Pine Tree are in standard sock yarn. Impossible Socks are also in standard sock yarn in spite of the very fine gauge. And the Teeny Red Sox Sock is in reinforcement yarn. Instead of posting direct links to each of these sock patterns, I will just send you to the Sock section of the Pattern page. There are also several eyelet or texture patterns in the last section of that page that I’ve used on those socks. Most of the sock patterns also have Ravelry pages, but listing them all would also be confusing.

And More

There are lots more things to play with on the knitting patterns tab. If you are a quicker knitter and looking for a larger gift, there’s a kid’s poncho, a child-size faux chain mail outfit, several blankets – some knit in motifs and seamed together, others knit in one piece, several hats including one for Revolutionary War era re-enactors, and a backwards-engineered Bolivian Ch’ullu, a lace blouse and a knit jacket, plus mittens, wrist warmers, and texture/lace stitches. And my full Ravelry Designer Page is here.

So happy Holiday Gift Knitting! May neither time nor yarn run out before your chosen day of gift giving.

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