We’ve all read about two stitches that are most commonly used in linear styles of counted stitching.
First comes double running stitch (aka Holbein stitch, Spanish stitch, and punto scritto, among others). Pretty straightforward and well known, it can be used with care to produce works that are absolutely identical front and back, although meticulous double-sided implementation isn’t mandatory unless there’s specific need.
Back stitch is the other big technique used for linear counted work, with lots of historical examples. If anything its even more well known than double running. Its appearance is different front and back. On the front, it looks exactly like double running. But on the back, a much heaver and thicker line is produced. Depending on the care of the stitcher and the thickness of the thread it can look like outline or stem stitch if the needle is introduced (uniformly) above or below the previous stitch on the reverse; or even chain or split stitch, if the needle splits the previous stitch on the reverse.
Looks the same as double running on the front (top), but different on the reverse.
Now, why would one pick one technique over the other?
Sometimes it’s a good thing to try to economize on thread use. Back Stitch uses about a third again as much yardage per distance embroidered than does Double Running. Therefore, if I wanted to conserve thread I might opt for Double Running over Back. Double Running is also the stitch of choice if double-sided presentation is a necessity, or if the fabric is so sheer that the heavier reverse side of Back Stitch might show.
On the other hand, Back Stitch can be much easier to work, especially on long runs that can befuddle even those familiar with the there-and-back-again logic of Double Running. In Back Stitch, there is no retracing of the path to fill in every other stitch. Work proceeds logically down a single path. Branches mean starting a new thread, rather than departing from a baseline and working back to it. Many people prefer the “I’m here” certainty of Back Stitch to the puzzle path approach of Double Running.
So I present this stitch hack – one known to just about every counted stitcher, although few would admit using it openly. I will arbitrarily call it “Wandering Running Stitch.” I am sure this is an “unvention,” and I’ve just promulgating something that’s already described under another name. For example, I would not be surprised to see this documented as a technique for quickly stitching durable seams in plain sewing.
Both a bit of heresy, and a chimera of sorts, Wandering Running Stitch neither plain Double Running, nor is it true Back Stitch. Advantages are that it looks like Double Running on the public side of the work; uses the same amount of thread as Double Running; and avoids now-how-do-I-go-back problem. It’s main disadvantage is that like Back Stitch, the reverse side looks different from the front. In this case, the reverse shows a discontinuous, dashed line of double-thickness. The overall effect is a bit heavier on the reverse than is plain Double Running, but is not as massive as Back Stitch.
All three methods, for comparison. Front sides on left, reverse on right.
From top down – Double Running, Back Stitch, Wandering Running
The following sequence illustrates the stitching order.
Now. How to use this hack.
First off, it’s not for reversible work. Nor is it for use on pieces sent to juried panels, where rules favor the use of traditional/historical stitches, and the state of the back side. There is NO precedent for or documentation of using this stitch in history that I know of, so I would not advise it for SCA pieces destined for Arts & Sciences competitions. However, for single sided work, or lined pieces, or items done for your own pleasure, or a project to help you get into the swim of a style that has frustrated you in the past – why not use an unorthodox approach if it makes life easier?
Because the active area is always at the needle with no half-worked baseline to retrace, Wandering Running would be especially good for stepped or continuous line patterns with no branching. It would be very useful to people who stitch in hand without a hoop or frame, and also for those who use a particularly small or round frame. In both cases, there’s no moving back over previously stitched paths, making it easier to tension in hand; or minimizing the need to remove and relocate a small hoop to revisit prior paths.
I think Wandering Running will be especially useful for people who have given up on blackwork because they find double running logic daunting, and have problems remembering where the baseline of their design is, or what direction they were heading. I also think that people who have tried Back Stitch instead of Double Running, but who were displeased with the heft or thickness of the reverse side might also find this technique interesting.
Another use is in completing the filling patterns used in inhabited blackwork, which are often not entirely suitable for full reversible treatment in the first place. I occasionally resort to Wandering when I’m working a filling into an oddly shaped area, and need to advance the working thread. I will plan out my path of attack and use Wandering to “walk” my working thread to the new area to be completed rather than ending off the thread and re-starting in that location.
In addition to the uses above, Wandering Running can be employed to render complex linear designs, in combo with more traditional Double Running. I can see using Wandering on the main baseline, moving along it until one encounters a side branch, then veering off to complete that side branch using traditional double-running methods, and returning to the baseline to continue on to the next point of departure. The biggest difference between this and a full Double Running treatment of the same design would be no “dashed line” of semi-completion along the baseline, making it easier to see where along the design path one is.
So. Have you seen this hack before? Does it have a name? Does it have a place in your repertoire, or does the merest thought of such heresy inflame you to the point of whipping out your Embroidery Voodoo Dolls* and using poison-tipped #24 tapestry needles to condemn me to my fate?
[*If demand is sufficient, I will consider sharing a design for Embroidery Voodoo Dolls. Suggestions for appropriate historical periods of attire for EVDs will be considered.]