Well, with luck this mini-series will be useful to someone out there. There is someone out there, right?

Continuing from the last post, now that we’ve figured out that our design can be worked double sided, and we’ve identified the baseline, how do we go about the stitching? What logic can we follow to ensure that no areas of the pattern are orphaned, and that all lines are covered?

The method most often followed is the baseline method. The other I’ll call “accreted section” and deal with it in a later post.


I find baseline to be pretty easy – nearly foolproof, provided the stitcher can remember the nested logic of detours-within-detours encountered along the way. Some stitchers keep a paper copy of the design, and overtrace it to keep track of where they’ve been. Some use a paper copy to try out their logic before committing needle and thread. I have to admit I do neither. I just go for it.

Let’s look at this pattern. It’s from my very first booklet on Blackwork, a hand-drawn photocopied piece done in my teens and distributed entirely within the SCA. I know I got this particular design from a historical source, but my original annotation wasn’t complete enough for me to include in later books or in fact to find the source again, so this design has sat on the shelf ever since. I’d consider this one to be a pattern of intermediate complexity, but well within the reach of most beginners (click on pix below for enlargements).


To parse out the stitching logic, let’s look at a half repeat. I’ll illustrate the entire stitching path for one half repeat. The logic to complete a whole repeat is very much the same. In the pix below, green indicates my first pass of double running, and blue marks a return path, in which I retrace my steps. The first stitch and its direction in any pass or return is marked by an arrow. Click on any of the drawings to enlarge. And please keep in mind that the method below is just one of a huge number of possible paths through this particular pattern. Path planning and trying out different strategies is what keeps this style of stitching fresh to me. Which is to say there’s no guarantee at all that I work every repeat in exactly the same manner. YMMV.

To work this design double sided, I’d start along the baseline leaving at least three inches of thread extra on the back (no knots). I find it helpful to wind the excess around a pin placed in an inconspicuous spot. I travel along the baseline (1) in double running stitch until I encounter a branch. My preferred logic is to then follow the branch to its end, then turn back and fill in the “every other” running stitch, to eventually return to the baseline (2). Then I continue on to the next branch decision and follow that detour (3).

In this case I’ve gotten to the first of the double bracelets on the main stem. Unless a branch is a turn left only branch, given a choice, I tend to turn right. Gamers, the mathematical and those who study behavioral sciences or robots/autonomous navigation will recognize this – it’s a classic. Any maze can be successfully navigated by putting one’s hand on the right hand (or left hand) wall, and following it, without taking one’s hand from the wall. The path traced may not be the most efficient, but sooner or later, the wall-hugging, maze-wandering mouse, robot, or high school topology student will emerge from the exit.

So here I am at the top of the brackets. I could continue down and wander around the bracelets, or I can turn right again and follow the main stem back to the half-heart motif on the left edge of the swatch area. I take a right hand turn from my line of travel, and stitch back up to the main motif (3). When I get there, I notice one little tiny detour – the single stitch between my current line and my starting point. (4) makes quick work of that. Then I continue around the necklace at the base of the heart motif. Again I turn right (5), then double back on my path and continue down and around the wing at the base of the heart (6).

After completing the first pass at the base of the heart and ending up at my “bounce line” – the centermost point of the strip repeat – I do a mini-step back to the heart’s outline (7), then I continue around the heart’s perimeter, eventually reaching the detour point to complete the small inset detail in the heart’s center (8). Again I stitch to the bounce point, and then return to the heart’s perimeter (8).

Once I’m back at the edge of the heart, I can do the antenna that sticks up from its top (9). Heading back from there turns out to be a long run all the way back to my baseline, filling in all of the “missing” stitches to complete the first half of the left hand heart motif (10). Now for a minorly tricky bit – one that folk unfamiliar with double running stitch logic occasionally miss – the little detours that fill in the bracelets around the stem. It’s easy to miss stitches in these, and very easy to get lost, not remembering which way to turn next. We’ll step through.

The first bit is to progress along our baseline. The initial stitch is marked with the arrow. I work it, then the two stitches along the bottom of the upper bracelet, followed by the stitch that completes the three that define the top of the bracelet (12).

Time to head back to the baseline, but it’s not very far away. One stitch brings us back to it (13). On the next step because it’s extra confusing, I’ve marked two stitches with arrows. First I head south from the upper bracelet, then work around the lower one (14). There’s now one stitch left to finish defining the box between the two bracelets. I take that one stitch (15).

Now I’m ready to return to the baseline again. A couple of quick stitches takes me there (16). If you look at the work now, you’ll see only one “unfilled” path through the two bracelets area. That’s the path of our baseline. All of the other stitches have been completed, and none are orphaned, unworked. Now to progress along the baseline again. I detour for the little side curl, worked there and back again style just like I did before (17, 18) landing me back on the baseline again.

The logic should be a bit more obvious by this point. I progress along the baseline, making a detour back up to complete the outline of the stem unit (19). And back again to the intersection just below the necklace at the base of the next heart flower (20), and up around it (21).

Now I move on to the wing section that defines the lower edge of the flower (22). As before, having hit the center point, I head back to the outer edge of the heart (23), then continue around the heart’s perimeter, and down into its center detail (24).

Almost done now, there’s just heading back out to the edge of the heart (25), and doing the first half of the antenna (26). Our grand finale is here! Starting at the antenna, we work all the way back around the heart’s edge, and then all the way back to the beginning of our pattern, following the established baseline. At this point there’s no more counting, just following the snail trail laid down before (27):

It’s done! The entire half repeat – worked 100% two sided in double running stitch, with no little orphaned areas left unstitched. We worked through the baseline concept on a pattern of moderate complexity, stitching along detours as they present themselves, always returning to the baseline before moving on, and leaving one long final unifying run along that baseline to finish off the pattern. Yaay!

O.k., some of you ask. “Smarty pants, that all works great for the half-repeat shown above, but what about the full repeat?” I answer – the logic is the same. With the exception of the antenna which needs to have both “ears” worked one after another the first time they’re encountered, the stitcher can follow the “to the center” logic above, verbatim, or can work each heart flower as an entire unit when it is first encountered, following around its entire perimeter up to the point of return to the baseline before doubling back around the heart to arrive at the original spot of departure from the baseline.

If you’ve got questions about this logic, please post them. I’ve already gone on long enough for one post. The next post will be on the accreted section method and when to use it or the baseline approach. The series will end with how to finish off ends invisibly for double sided work. Hope this is helpful!

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4 responses

  1. That’s a lovely explanation, and about as succinct as it’s possible to be under the circumstances.

    One little quibble: not every maze can be solved with the right-hand rule. These days they sometimes design mazes such that parts of the maze are not continuous, and these you cannot solve that way, just like having separate bits means it can’t be done pure double-sided.

  2. […] 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” […]

  3. […] CAN be more than one baseline in a design.  More on baseline identification is here.  The logic of following detours and returning to the baseline is here.  How to break up a large design into several smaller baselines is […]

  4. […] Double Running Stitch Logic 102 – Working from the Baseline. How to follow one, step by step. […]

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