A few of you have asked about the doodle napkins – a set of eight, all coordinating, but each one different. With six now stitched and number seven on my frame, I attempt to answer.
A while back I wrote about the pre-finished napkins and tablecloth I bought from Wayfair. While I note that neither the KAF Fete napkin set nor the Toscana tablecloth is still in their inventory, there are several similar products available from them and from Target, Overstock, Amazon and other sources.
Be warned! Prewashing these is an absolute necessity. They are linen-look cotton, or linen/cotton blends, and can be expected to shrink appreciably. So toss them in a nice, abusive load – like a hot wash with some other light color towels or sheets, and have at it. Compare them when they emerge, and if some are not quite as shrunken as the others (as happened to me) run them through again just to be sure.
My almost even weave napkins firmed up quite a bit, becoming even closer to a true even weave count, which was a surprise. But I didn’t change my plans for all of that. I always intended to work my stitching along one edge only, eliminating the need to turn corners, or worry about skew counts. I’d present them at table as shown, folded in quarters.
Now. How to begin…
First, I had to have designs. Simple for me. I am drawing mostly from my forever forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook, playtesting more of the designs, and using the experience to flog myself towards getting over the hurdle of publication. I’m working directly from those pages, and am not bothering to rechart anything specifically for this use. Not even the narrow companion borders (more on this below).
I am also being quite cavalier with layout on the napkins. They are pre-hemmed. I am trying to use the same north/south orientation for all of them, keying off the placement of the brand tag on the back, but I am examining the two candidate ends closely, to pick the one that is the most “true”. By that I mean the one whose hemming runs closest to being true on the count. There are a couple of napkins that are hemmed slightly skew, and I wanted to make the stitching on them look to run as parallel as possible to the edges.
OK. With my chosen side to embellish identified, I folded the napkin carefully in half, and used a pin to mark the center point. Then I measured in from the inner edge of the machine-stitched hemming detail, and placed another pin perpendicular to the first. I admit I eyeballed the first one, then just used it as the paradigm for placing the second pin on the subsequent napkins (no actual measuring tape was involved). Pin placement is shown below, with the napkin mounted on my sit-on hoop.
Once the center point and work boundary are established I begin. That’s it. No basting guide lines, no other prep. Just grabbing my threads and going. I admit that others may enjoy working with basted guidelines, but for something this small, where the only point of reference is the center, I don’t bother. Feel free to castigate me for lazy prep.
Threads… Hmm. Which did I use?
The red was easy. When we were in Paris, I bought a box of Sajou four-strand cotton embroidery floss in red. I had always intended on using it for a set of napkins. I had bought linen there, too, but decided that I wanted to use that linen for other pieces that would be less “endangered” by gravy than dinner napkins.
The Sajou Retors du Nord cotton floss is put up on cards of 20 meters. I am using a red, #2409. I started with a box of five cards, and have used about half of my yardage on just the four napkins. For the green napkins, I’m using plain old DMC cotton six-strand floss in #890, in standard pull skeins of 8.7 yards (just shy of 8 meters). I am stitching with three plies of each thread, even though the Sajou is a tiny bit thinner than the DMC. I am enjoying using the Sajou because it is finer, shinier, and smoother, but I am simultaneously disappointed in the maker’s quality control. Each of the three Sajou cards I have used so far has had component plies with knots, shredded sections, or snags – where the individual plies are kinked and not all of the same length in a given span of thread. While the DMC thread is more matte and a bit rougher in finish, in over 50 years of using it, I have never run into a less-than-perfect skein. It’s possible that I bought a box of Sajou made on a bad day, but three out of three cards with faults is not what I expected.
OK. The thread is ready, I’ve got my main design in hand, I’ve got the napkin mounted on my frame, with the center point and top limit of my design marked. Now what?
Starting at the center (red arrow above on Napkin #7, showing the point indicated by the now removed pins), I begin playing with one of the narrow edgings – usually something less than four units tall. I pick one from the book, or I make on up on the spur of the moment. In this case, I’m using a pretzel edging of my own devising, also in T2CM.
Using a separate thread for the companion edging, I work three or four repeats off in one direction – usually to the left (for no reason in particular), then I move the working thread out of the way (sometimes winding the excess on a temporary pin), and using another thread, begin my main motif strip – also working out from the center, stitching over a 2×2 thread grid. In the example above, the weird double leaf meander. The threads trail off at the upper left because I don’t want to re-position my hoop until I absolutely have to. Once I move it over, I’ll take each of those stragglers up in turn, and use it to completion.
After I’ve gotten a bit laid down, I re-evaluate the narrow companion border. If I don’t like it, I pick it out and work another of the same width. Once I’m happy with it I also work it below the main motif. It’s obvious in the photo above, that I tried out the pretzels, liked them, and went on to stitch up my first length of thread in the strip of it above the main motif, and am now working on its sibling, below.
After I’ve gotten my design established continue on, happily, working my main motif, and eking out the companion borders as I go along but lagging a bit behind, until I’ve stitched the main motif close enough to the end. Once a full repeat of my main motif is on the fabric, I rarely refer to the printed pattern again, working instead from the already-stitched bit.
When I get to the leftmost edge, I take up the companion borders again and improvise a corner turn for them. If I’ve kept count true the upper left and lower right corners should be matches, as should the lower left and upper right. Or if I’m very lucky, all four will match. Or if my improvised corner is looking awkward, I’ll just butt the ends. In any case, I am not agonizing about the corner treatment. I’ve seen enough period artifacts where it’s clear that the historical stitcher didn’t invest much agony in them either. (When I’m done with all eight napkins, I’ll post on improvising the corners, because this note is getting too long.)
As to which patterns to do on the next napkin, or what to use on the coordinating tablecloth – it’s all whim. For the tablecloth, I will probably pick one or more of the largest all-over designs from my books, either to work as a large rectangular medallion in the center or three evenly spaced smaller areas, but I won’t be working strips around the entire perimeter, nor will I be working stripes across the whole width of the table. And that’s the only advance planning I’ve done so far.