Author Archive: kbsalazar

THE EPIC FANDOM BLACKWORK SAMPLER STITCH-ALONG INVADES!

Well, having been encouraged and enabled by The Enablers group on Facebook, I’ve finally released the secret project I’ve been working on, and can now post my progress to date.

The Epic Fandom Blackwork Sampler is a very large piece, intended to be stitched by and/or for Epic Fans. It includes strips close to the hearts of many niche interest groups, and will please those who love giant robots, dinosaurs, Dr. Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, retrofuturism, classic bug-eyed monster invasion flicks, snakes, and much more. These theme bands alternate (more or less) with bands that are more traditional in composition, although everything in this project is original.

I have NOT made this a mystery stitch-along because it’s a bit more complex than most, and folk should know what they’re getting into before they commit time and resources. I’ve established a page here on String just for this stitch-along (SAL). Project components will be posted to The Enablers, and will be echoed here on time delay, at intervals over the coming year. Four weeks will be allotted for the larger, more complex strips, and two weeks for the narrower/less complex ones. I am also posting intro material on estimating fabric sizes and thread requirements, so folks can prepare. The first half of that information is on the SAL page, too as of today. More will join it tomorrow. The first pattern band (Giant Robots and Kaiju) will debut on 3 August on The Enablers, and on 18 august will appear on my SAL page, here on String-or-Nothing. The entire project will continue well into 2022.

Not only is this NOT a mystery stitch-along, I want to foster creativity, and am SO looking forward to what mischief can be accomplished based on this offering.

  • There are panels that are designed to accommodate voiding – filling in the background behind the motifs, although those panels can stand alone and read well without it. The optional voiding can be done after the foreground stitching is complete, so no decisions to commit to it need be made when the stitcher starts a band with the voiding option. More info on voiding and the many ways to do it will be provided before those strips break.
  • There’s no requirement to do the entire thing in a single color, even though monochrome is far more common in traditional blackwork than polychrome. Color choice and placement are entirely up to the individual stitcher. Some options include but are not limited to:
    • Each strip in its own color
    • Alternating colors between strips
    • Using variegated (with back stitch) for one or more strips
    • Picking out design features for color highlights (like I did below).
    • Working one repeat of a multi-repeat in a contrasting color, so it stands out.
  • There’s also a strip intended for customization, to allow signing, dedication, dates, a motto, or inclusion of optional motifs. A design worksheet with alphabets and measured areas will be provided when we get to that one.
  • If side borders are desired, go for it, but I am not furnishing those (top and bottom borders would be more difficult to add because my composition isn’t a clean rectangle).
  • And last of all, if someone wants to skip a particular panel, or wait until their favorite arrives and work only that one – that’s ok, too. But I won’t be releasing anything ahead of schedule or to special request. If you want a future band, you’ll have to wait breathlessly along with everyone else.

Here’s my own rendition of the thing, to date. This is just the first nine out of the total nineteen strips and some of those are partial. I went for polychrome because I rarely get a chance to do that. I’m using six colors, although you are seeing only five right now. There are light and dark shades of red, green, blue, and yellow. The light yellow will be used in the future for voiding and detail, but I haven’t stitched those parts in yet. You can also see partial voiding in the Pirates strip (#3). I will go back and finish that for the entire band, and eventually fill in the dice on the gaming band and add their pips, but I wanted to lay down as much of the rest of the piece as quickly as possible because I got a late start on it.

Depending on the reception of this piece, there may be follow-ons. So if your favorite fandom isn’t included, there’s always hope.

Oh, and if you are worried that you’ll make mistakes because it looks complicated – don’t worry. I have left mine in, including a quite massive one on the pirate strip. I bet that unless you hunt for it, you’d never notice.

Joining in? Please do. I so adore leading folk astray. šŸ™‚

I AM FAMIS

Many years ago, when Elder Offspring was small, Lotus Development (her dad’s employer) offered a spring break day camp for employees’ children. The Boston Globe covered the new benefit, and posted an article with photos of the camp’s day trip to the Boston Museum of Science.

She taped the page on her door, with big label in red crayon that read “I AM FAMIS!.”

I recently found that page, minus the sheet of notebook paper with the annotation.

Well, now I am FAMIS, too.

Brinda Gill interviewed me a while back for this article, posted today to the Selvedge Magazine’s blog.

I am very grateful to Brinda, but still parsing the feels about tooting my own horn.

YARN WEIGHTS – YET ANOTHER RANT

Although I’ve mostly been stitching of late, and my old yarn review/knitters’ advice board/pattern website WiseNeedle that lasted for 13 years is but a distant memory, I have not given up knitting. I keep a sock project or two going at all times, and consult for my mom as her remote “knitting lady.” The patterns from WiseNeedle can all be found here, as can some of my advice, hints, and rants from the past, although the WiseNeedle question-answer board is gone. But of late I’ve seen quite a few complaints on knitting forums about yarn weights – confusion, botched projects, and misapprehension. I chime in and try to help.

First of all, the universal yarn weight system introduced by the Craft Yarn Council around 2004 continues to sow havoc. It’s misguided, untrustworthy, and has destroyed many knitters hopes and aspirations. To recap, this was the system that divided all yarns into numbered groups, initially 6, now expanded to 8:

The yarns within these groups are not instantly substitutable for each other because the definitions are overly broad. Here’s a breakdown:

Group 0Group 1Group 2Group 3Group 4Group 5Group 6Group 7
Type of
Yarns in
Category
Fingering,
10 count
crochet thread
Sock,
Fingering,
Baby
Sport,
Baby
DK,
Light
Worsted
Worsted,
Afghan,
Aran
Chunky,
Craft,
Rug
Bulky,
Roving
Jumbo,
Roving
Knit Gauge
Range* in
Stockinette
Stitch to 4 inches
33-40 sts27-32 sts23-26 sts21-24 sts16-20 sts12-15 sts6-11 sts6 sts and fewer
Recommended
Needle in
Metric Size
Range
1.5-2.25
mm
2.25-3.25
mm
3.25-3.75 mm3.75-4.5
mm
4.5-5.5
mm
5.5-8
mm
8-12.75 mm
12.75 mm and larger
Recommended
Needle U.S.
Size Range
000-11-33-55-77-99-1111-1717 and larger
Crochet Gauge
Ranges in
Single Crochet
to 4 inch
32-42 double crochets21-32 sts16-20 sts12-17 sts11-14 sts8-11 sts5-9 sts6 sts and fewer
Recommended
Hook in Metric
Size Range
Steel 1.6-1.4mm;
Regular hook 2.25mm
2.25-3.5
mm
3.5-4.5
mm
4.5-5.5
mm
5.5-6.5
mm
6.5-9
mm
9-15 mm15 mm and larger
Recommended
Hook U.S.
Size Range
Steel 6,7,8; Regular hook B-1B-1
to
E-4
E-4
to
7
7
to
I-9
I-?9
to
K-10 1ā„2
K-10 1ā„2 to
M-13
M-13
to Q
Q and larger

(source: Craft Yarn Councilā€™s http://www.yarnstandards.com/weight-system.html)

To be fair, there are all sorts of caveats on this chart at the original site that include “Guidelines only,” “…always follow the gauge in your pattern,” and more. Even so, it’s wildly misleading.

The core of it (Groups 1-6) were created at the time that the industry thought that busy women had less time to knit and appreciated projects that finished up quickly. To compensate the “gauge creep” move was led by big craft yarn makers. Yarns that were formerly labeled Aran or Light Bulky were rebranded as Worsted, with the idea that fewer stitches per inch would make the projects zip along, This was especially evident among makers of mass market acrylics, and the heritage of that movement is seen in the groupings above. In fact it’s hard today to find a true worsted weight Worsted because most yarns labeled “Worsted” knit up to Aran gauge.

Now in a reversal because fiber of all types is getting more expensive, many makers are “slimming down” their yarns to keep project price points more attractive – less fiber = lower per skein price; and thinner yarns are now creeping into designations formerly reserved for heavier ones. This has resulted in a new round of confusion, once again long loved patterns no longer produce the same results as they did with yarn of prior years.

Regardless of yarn size fluctuations the basic flaw of this chart, however footnoted and expanded, remains. The yarn categories cover wide ranges of gauges, and are unsuitable as type descriptors or as guides for determining suitability for interchange.

Now. What is more useful?

Easy. The ancient Ply System.

Now note this as absolutely nothing to do with the actual number of plies a yarn contains. You can have a fat single, or a multi-ply extremely fine yarn. The ply system is based on comparison of the strand thickness of the yarn being described to a canonical batch of yarns that can be made by combining one or more strands of a mythical standard thickness yarn. That system has far more specificity to the standard gauges on yarn labels, and along with those gauges plus yarn fiber and loft (how airy or tightly twisted/dense the yarn is), is far more likely to result in good substitution choices. It also is a good guide for what happens when you double your yarn. In fact, the popular yarn weight “Double Knitting” (DK) refers to a yarn that is twice what used to be called “Knitting.” Knitting was the equivalent of today’s fingering or sock yarns. Two strands of fingering are still roughly the equivalent of today’s DK.

Ply System NumberTraditional NameStandard Knitting Gauge over Stockinette
(4 inches/10 cm)
CommentsĀ Typical Examples
(off the top of my head)
1Cobweb No consistent close knit gauge – used with variety of larger needles to maximize airy look.Ā Jamieson & Smith 1ply Cobweb
2Lace  No consistent close knit gauge – used with variety of larger needles to maximize airy look. Lopi Einband; Rowan Fine Lace; Jamieson & Smith 2ply Lace Weight
3Light Fingering/Baby32-36“Baby” on the label is now near meaningless because in modern use it designates yarns in pastel colors and easy care fibers, regardless of gauge. Brown Sheep Wildfoote; Peter Pan 3 Ply Baby; Red Heart Its a Wrap;
4Fingering/Sock28-32 Cascade Heritage Sock; Regia sock yarns; Opal sock yarns; Lang sock yarns
5Gansey26-28Ā Frangipani 5 Ply; Upton Guernsey Wool;
6 Sport 24-26Ā KnitPicks High Desert Sport; Herrschners 2 Ply; Lion Dotted Line
7   Not used 
8Double Knitting22 Rowan Felted Tweed DK; Berroco Comfort DK; Wendy Supreme DK;
Lion Ice Cream;
Herrshners Baby Yarn
9   Not used 
10Worsted20 Cascade 220; Plymouth Encore; Germantown Worsted; Plymouth Pima Rino; Sirdar Country Classic Worsted
11   Not used 
12Aran/Triple Knitting18 KnitPicks Muse. Herrschners Worsted 8; Red Heart Roly Poly; Lion Crayola; Caron Simply Soft; Tahki Donegal Tweed
13   Not used 
14Bulky/12-16 Plymouth Encore Chunky; Cascade 128; Lamb’s Pride Bulky; Lion Re-Tweed
15   Not used 
16Super Bulky8-12 Ā Malabrigo Rasta; Plymouth Encore Mega

Now again – caveats on density, fiber choice, and construction. Some examples:

  • When worked, a tightly plied and twisted yarn will have a different drape than a fat single ply yarn, even if the fiber composition is the same.
  • A 90% wool/10% acrylic blend will have a different feel than a 10% wool/90% acrylic blend. For best equivalency try to match fiber composition/mix proportions.
  • And a cotton yarn and a wool yarn of equal weight will behave differently – enough differently to generally not sub one for the other without taking the extra mass and lack of elasticity of the cotton when compared to wool of equivalent size.
  • In a delightful bit of industry internal obfuscation the term “worsted” in addition to being a yarn weight category also is used to describe a style of spinning. But not everything that’s labeled Worsted conforms to that specification.
  • Some yarns can be knit down or up in gauge. For example a lofty 100% wool Aran with a “native gauge” of 18 st = 4 inches/10cm might also be able to be knit at worsted gauge 20 stitches = 4 inches/10cm. The drape will be different but it may be satisfactory for some purposes. Note that NOT ALL YARN can be manipulated this way, and lumping many adjacent weights into broad and misleading groups is just asking for trouble.

To sum up, please people, look beyond the CYC Yarn Group designation. Look at gauge, fiber, and density. And take guidance from these older systems. They were created by people who knew their wool and fiber, and there still is a lot of wisdom in them.

EVERYTHING’S IN MOTION, NOTHING IS FINISHED

Where have I been? What have I been up to?

Long time readers here know when posts go few and far between, I’m very busy. But what’s up?

Several things, in fact.

The basement rehab project continues, after a month delay to ensure all asbestos was properly removed. The team is now up to rebuilding the walls, and roughing in the fixtures for the half bath:

At left is what will be our pantry/storage alcove. Eventually the freezer now in the furnace room will go here, along with freestanding shelving. In the center is what will become a tiny but fully functional half-bath. And at right is the view down the length of what was the basement bonus room and my office and needlework library, but will become our TV room/exercise area. That heavy brick bit is the foundation for the two fireplaces above. It was awkwardly paneled in before, and the alcove next to it was one of those oh-so-common tacky 1960s-era home bars. I had repurposed the bar shelving as my library. Sadly the partially and strangely painted brick will be much easier to repaint than it would be to strip, so we’ll probably be doing that, but we won’t be enclosing it.

I find myself knitting less and stitching more lately, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up knitting entirely. I started a new pair of “briefcase socks” even though I am no longer going to work or carrying a briefcase. But they are handy to have to work on between other projects, and for relaxing on the beach when it’s too windy to haul out the stitching:

Standard toe-up construction but a bit less fine than my usual socks. This pair is only 80 stitches around on US 00s. I’m using a standard wool/nylon sock yarn using a set of 5 DPNs. The toe is the maligned figure-8 toe (fiddly but I prefer it) followed by a dead plain stockinette foot. I find a low-texture foot more comfortable in the shoe than one with patterning, so I don’t begin the fancy part until after the short-rowed heel is finished. Toe up works out fine for me because if I did that fancy ankle part first I’d never slog through the ultra-boring foot. All of my free sock patterns use this style of construction and are very easy to adapt to two-circs, but feel free to swap in any other toe you favor.

I’ve been working on T2CM – combing through and readying it for final pub. No ETA yet, but I’ve done a ton on it, removing both written and drafted typos, correcting bits to coincide with research developments, and the like.

And in stitching… Well… RUN FOR THE HILLS! IT’S COMING!!

It’s driving me nuts that I can’t do more than tease. But soon…

Back story: I fell in with a crowd of Enablers who egged me on to design a massive band sampler for a free communal stitch-along. It’s not a historical piece. not by a long shot. Instead it’s a celebration of fandoms and nerdy/geeky culture in general – done in an inclusive spirit, to unite many communities in our common joy. The project will premiere in the sponsoring Facebook group, and be echoed here on two-week delay. We’ll be posting advance info on suggested supplies by the end of June/beginning of July, and the component strips will be released periodically starting in early/mid August. And who knows. I couldn’t cover EVERY fandom in one project. If folk find fun in this project there may be crowd calls for inspiration to do follow-ons, so even if I’ve not included your particular darling in the first set, future stand-alone strips or even whole projects may happen, too.

BAGGED UP AND READY TO GO!

A finish! The mini-bag kit I savaged and repurposed to feature my own choice of stitching is now complete, and can be sent to the recipient.

To recap, in order to have better access for my hoop I unpicked the side seams of the evenweave decorative layer, and of the heavy cotton twill lining. The evenweave had no seam at the bottom. The twill lining was left with the bottom unseamed. Earlier in the process the bag could be splayed out flat, with only the bit of seaming at the top surviving – where the lining and evenweave were sewn together with the red handles. Here you see it draped out and in the hoop.

When I finished both sides, I sewed it back together by hand – my sewing room and machine being off limits due to the big basement rehab project. First I sewed the lining using back stitch. Then I attempted a fancy decorative openwork seam in black to reunite the two sides of the evenweave.

It didn’t work.

It looked rather Frankenstein-like. Of the stuff of nightmares. So I covered up the buttonhole stitch based seam with three rows of reverse chain, done with a whole 6-ply strand of my linen floss. The first row of reverse chain went down the openwork bit at the center of my former decorative seam, and the other two courses went left and right of that, hiding the bits that encroached into the body of the bag. Which is why there’s now a thick black stripe along both sides of the thing. Not an optimal solution but the best I could do right now.

And on to the next project.

This one I have to admit I am posting as a tease. I used time over the past pandemic year to design a free stitch-along. It’s a rather large and complex stitch-along, with a distinctly nerd-world/fandom theme. It will be released on The Enablers Facebook group, and also here on String, on a two-week delay, starting sometime in August. I will be creating a new page here on String to host it. Beta-test stitchers from that group have been working on their pieces to proof the design and confirm the directions, and their efforts have been much appreciated. The thing will NOT be a mystery stitch-along (folk should know what they’re in for before they commit), but it will be released one panel at a time, with periods between releases pegged to the complexity of the individual panels.

However, until now I haven’t started my own rendition. I won’t spoil the surprise, but as I warned – I will tease here.

Obviously not a historical redaction (for a change), and that’s going to be part of the fun.

PENDING

Some movement here at String Central, but not as much as I would have liked.

First, on the Great Basement Rehab, we are in hiatus. This being an old house, of course they found asbestos. Which we expected. Not friable, immediately dangerous asbestos, but materials that would be of hazard to the crew doing demolition. Most notably, in the adhesive that sticks down the floor tiles in the old sewing/craft room, and in some intact cladding around various pipes. Some of those pipes may be moved, and others will be less bulky to encapsulate if the cladding were absent. So it all goes. Unfortunately due to demand, the earliest the asbestos remediation team can deal with us will be the last week of May, so for the past week or so until then, nothing will be accomplished.

Except cleaning. The demo team was able to do quite a bit of wall removal down there. Some of the walls were old lath and plaster, which make a TON of dust. In spite of taping over the door to the basement with a plastic airlock, a ton got upstairs, all the way in fact to the second floor. It infiltrated through various holes in the floor around the pipe penetrations of the hot water radiator heating system, in between floorboard expansion voids, through the seams between mop boards (baseboards) and floors, and through the required vent to bring extra air to the kitchen (a code mandate for the gas stove/high capacity exhaust vent in the kitchen).

It took four moppings to remove that stuff from the bare wood and tile floors, and many vacuumings to see the original color of the rugs again. I’m still cleaning/washing every other surface and soft item – behind furniture, inside the kitchen drawers and cabinets, linens in the linen closet, behind books. Even the formerly clean socks in my sock drawer will benefit from a no-heat air tumble in the dryer. Right now I am concentrating on high traffic/high touch and food-prep areas. When construction resumes there will be more dust, so there is no point in going nuclear on what’s there now only to do it again in June/July.

To illustrate the dust that accumulated in just two hours, I moved this cork trivet from the place I had put it earlier that morning.

Yes, that’s a collection of little plastic bulls from Sangre de Toro Rioja wine bottles. An everyday plonk enjoyed here as a sentimental favorite, often enough over the years to have accumulated a herd.

On the stitching front, I’m well into the second side of the small tote bag project.

Here it is mounted on my sit-upon hoop. You can see that the bottom of the bag is just a fabric fold – no square box bottom. When I picked out the side seams of the evenweave there was no join at the bottom. However the lining will need a bottom seam. Prior to my surgery, the side seams of the lining only extended halfway down, and its bottom was unsewn – in a futile attempt to make stitching on the evenweave outside easier.

The design is yet another one from T2CM, but this one is original, loosely based on historical aesthetic, but with no point source or specific inspiration that’s been adapted. It’s a slightly eccentric framing interlace (the bits framing the tumbling lilies are just a bit taller than they are wide), I’ve worked it before, also with stairstep voiding, but done monochrome, with a different directional treatment, and without the concentric rings in the inner circles:

Note that last time I also used single ply for the fill and two plies for the interlace, but in the older bit the flowers were also done in one ply.

I’m about a third finished with this side. The rest is just “wash/rinse/repeat.” The next challenge on this piece will be the re-seaming. I will finish the lining on the sewing machine, but I intend on working some kind of decorative seam treatment on the evenweave outside layer. What it will be is as yet undecided.

GOODBYE, 1960s DUNGEON!

At long last, the basement rehab project kicks off tomorrow.

We have lots of room down there, but we haven’t done much to it beyond replacing the rotted-out windows since we moved here about 16 years ago. The kids had a rec-room/TV room down there. The ugly 1960s bar was repurposed as my needlework and knitting library, with books on all of its shelves. My desk was in the opposite corner of the room next to the bulkhead exit. And we used the former summer kitchen as the craft and sewing room, where projects could happen without occupation of the dining room table. However, we made do with the peeling paneling, the dampness, the loose/cracked floor tiles, scuttlebugs and the occasional mini-flood, and the precarious dropped ceiling. BUT NO MORE!

Here are the official before-pix, courtesy of The Resident Male.

And here’s the current layout and the plan, both in approximate proportion, but not dimensioned. Current on the left, plan on the right.

The utility room and the former coal cellar (now our wine room), both in black, are not going to be touched. And we are only changing the wall layout to enlarge the toilet-in-a-closet into a bona fide half bath, with a hand washing sink. The stairs will be rebuilt somewhat along with its railing.

The office/family room on the left will remain one large room, but the existing dismal bar will be ripped out and the entire area will be repurposed into an exercise area and a family room type area with a TV. The black shape that intrudes into it is the foundation for the two fireplace hearths on the first floor. That will stay. The walls in this room will be a wood-alike wainscoting to chair rail level, with wallboard above, probably in two shades of pale grey. Flooring throughout will be vinyl plank, in a darker grey. The door will also migrate a bit from its current location, just because it’s not very convenient right now.

The strange waste area behind the stairs (in green) will become an open pantry, with shelving. The freezer currently in the utility area will be moved there, too.

The craft room will lose its two non-functional sinks, and gain a working tub sink. There will still be plenty of room in there for my layout table, and for some storage units along the wall to hold my stitching and knitting supplies. The beadboard walls in here will be kept, but repainted. We’ll also lose the hideous and crumbling dropped ceiling. I’m not sure what replaces ceilings everywhere, but it will NOT be those.

Lighting will be updated throughout, as will the heat in the family room/exercise area (the craft room wasn’t heated before and I never noticed the lack). The bulkhead to the outside will be replaced. Its exterior wood hatchway is decades old, possibly as old as the house, and is thoroughly rotted out. A nice, weather/water-tight hatch would be a great benefit.

Where will my needlework library (the former tenant of the bar shelving) and my desk go? Upstairs to one of the kids’ bedrooms. A minor benefit of being an empty nester is the sheepish colonization of the former in-house territory of the now independent Client States.

I am so looking forward to having a clean, dry, and bright space to enjoy down there!

Now to await tomorrow’s delivery of the dumpster, and commencement of demolition! I will post updates as we go along. Be prepared to share our surprises. There is no such thing as updating a 110 year old house without unwelcome surprises…

EXPERIMENTS AND ADAPTATIONS

As an in-between, quick project, I’m working on the small tote bag – the piece on the bag body I salvaged from an old DMC cross stitch kit. I’m using yet another design from T2CM, but I’m playing with it a bit.

First, there is thread choice. Note how the black is thicker than the red, more matte, and a bit rustic-slubby. It doesn’t make factory-precise lines. It’s not cotton floss. It’s two strands of linen from a line of DMC six strand linen embroidery floss, discontinued about 7 or 8 years ago. My local independent crafts store had a small quantity left, and I bought it all out in 2016 or so. I don’t have very much of it, not enough for a large piece, for sure, and being discontinued, there is no more to be had.

Experimenting with it I have found that it needs to be used in much shorter lengths than cotton, needs a relatively thick needle compared to the ones I would use with cotton or silk on the same count ground, and performs best when very heavily waxed. That’s because the linen is surprisingly friable, and abrades heavily from the action of stitching. This is not stuff to be “sewed” – it has to be stabbed up and down. It is also stiffer than cotton or silk with a notable bend radius, and special care in tensioning stitches is needed to keep angles from distorting the weave.

The single-ply red by contrast is thinner, silkier, and easier to stitch. It’s plain old DMC six strand cotton floss, color 815 – the closest match I had to the color of the bag’s “built-in” cotton twill handles. Note though that there is minor thickness variation in the single red strand, but I bet you would not have seen it had I not pointed it out.

On to the design.

This particular zig-zag flower stripe is in my ever-forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook. It’s adapted from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston holding, accession 99.178. It’s one of my favorites because the original artifact has a VERY evident mistake on it. Well, evident to me at least. Can you spot it?

Good eyes if you have! The repeat is not quite symmetrical up and down. Look at the valleys – the V bits below the paired flowers. There are two different treatments for the foliate curls there. A “fat end ” one that curls back towards the zig-zag stem, and a “skinny end” one that curls back towards the center. The first three strips all are in the same orientation, with the “skinny end” curl on top. But that bottom one is upside down in comparison to the other three – in it the “fat end” curl is on top. It drove me nuts when I was trying to work out the pattern. Someday I want to use this ones on the sleeves and bodice of an 16th century Italian camica. I think It would be perfect for that….

Now on to my adaptation of the design for use on this specific piece.

I have moved the zig-zag stripes much closer together than the original because of the size of this very small carry bag. I’ve changed the direction of the striped “collar” around the terminal buds on the lower strip, just for fun. And I’ve introduced the step-fill between my strips. The heaviness of the double strand, rather rustic and slubby linen mates up well with the feel of the original; and the contrast between the step fill (mirrored along the center line for each up-down repeat) done in the smoother, more delicate thread adds interest.

Now. Is this a historically accurate use of the design? If I was to be totally textbook, have to say no, even after discounting its use on a contemporary tote-bag, worked in modern materials.

Yes, the flower zig-zag has a clear source. Yes, designs with voided grounds were worked at the time. Yes, designs with outlines in one color and the ground covered in another are not unknown. And Jack Robinson (the UK’s late and lamented blackwork master artisan) in his book noted the use of varying thread thicknesses on a single project.

However, I have not yet seen an artifact with a stepwise fill as a voided ground (square mesh yes; diagonal mesh, yes; diagonal zig-zags, yes). I have not yet seen a voided artifact with a ground that’s mirrored. And I have not yet seen an artifact with an all-over repeat of this type, worked with a voided background.

Do I care? Not particularly. I have no intention of entering this before any juried panel. It’s a doodle, for the sheer fun of playing around with the design. And it will eventually be a gift for someone special.

VOIDED PIECES AND OUTLINES

First, thanks to Callie of NotAnotherCostumingBlog for this question, which takes me tumbling down another chasm, dragging all of you along with me. Callie asks,

“…do you have any tips for converting patterns charted for LACS to charts for double running? I seem to have a bit of a mental block about it and the best idea Iā€™ve got is to print them out, estimate where the lines would be instead of blocks, draw those on, and then transfer them to clean graph paper. I have a lot of patterns that I would really prefer to work linearly because it is so much faster but Iā€™m not yet at the point where I can look at a block chart and just mentally convert it.”

I break down the answer into several parts, and try to respond to each.

Outlines in historical examples of voided stitching

Were historical voided pieces worked with or without outlines? The answer is “Yes.” There are some with stitched outlines and some without, and the presence of stitched outlines does not correlate neatly to the technique used to fill in the background. In addition, there look to have been voided pieces that used drawings as their “outlines” – working the fill right up to and sometimes over those markings, which seem to have (mostly) been stitched.

The one thing about outlines in these pieces that is different from their use in modern needle-painting style cross stitch is that in the historical works, close inspection shows the dense coverage stitching (of whatever type) encroaching on the linear stitching. This says to me that the lines were worked in one of two manners:

  • laid down first, and the background filled in later (the most common approach, especially for meshy or long-arm cross stitch fills; also logically on the pieces where the fill leaves a unworked “halo” around the linear stitched foreground, as in the lowermost right example of the first group below)
  • Stitched at the same time as the ground behind (more usual for square fill as in the lowermost left example of the first group below)

Modern cross stitch pieces generally direct the stitcher to finish the ground areas, then go back and work the linear bits on top of them.

Historical examples of voided work with counted outlines:

Historical examples of voided work without counted outlines:

Historical examples of voided work with (probable) outlines drawn freehand, then stitched.

Another thing that can’t be determined is whether the historical embroiderers finished ALL of the outlines first, then went back and did the fills; did them section by section; or if in fact the SAME stitcher did both. I can well envision a large group project like a set of bed hangings, where someone proficient in laying down the outlines did that, copying from a chart or a previously stitched piece; with a team following on behind filling in the voiding.

Being a team of one myself, I tend to work section by section, defining my outlines, proofing them, and filling in the voiding – then leapfrogging on to the next bit.

Representing outlines in modern charting

In my own work, if I’m redacting or adapting from a piece that has evident outlines, I use a specific convention for charting. I employ the same dot-and-line method I use for plain un-voided linear work, but flood-fill a portion of the background to indicate the areas to be filled in with stitching after the outlines are completed. The sample bit I worked up for a previous discussion on charting methods (derived Kathryn Goodwyn’s redaction) illustrates this method (left). If the piece had no outlines or was charted from a graphed original or a historical piece in a medium that did not show outlines (some lacis, buratto or other darned-mesh type pieces), then I use the standard square in box technique (right) although usually without the red line 5-unit notation and count, which I tend to do mostly for use for knitting. Both my The New Carolingian Modelbook and its forthcoming sequel The Second Carolingian Modelbook include linear unit and block unit sections.

There’s one other style I use on rare occasion, mostly for linear pieces that include large, dark areas, and whose edges are defined not by prior outlines, but by half cross stitches worked at the same time as the fully covered internal areas. This spider panel from Ensamplario Atlantio II is an example – note that the ultra-dense spider is done in boxed cross stitch (aka 4-sided cross stitch), with half cross stitches to smooth out the outlines.

Conversion from voided chart to a linear chart

This is something I hadn’t considered doing before. It presupposes a finished chart in the block unit style.

First, I have to apologize. I don’t use commercial charting software, relying instead on a homegrown solution based on the freeware drafting program, GIMP. (I offer a free tutorial and templates for my method elsewhere on this blog.) You could do this with a photocopying machine and a pencil, but please bear with me.

Let’s use the bunny seen above, which I previously charted and made available for free download as a PDF.

The approach is pretty straightforward, but there are no shortcuts. Take the chart you want to convert, photocopy it, and pencil in your adaptation over the established boxes. Or regraph it as I did, then use an outlining tool manually, box by box, to smooth the edges until you get a look you like. You will want to take liberties with the diagonals, instead of outlining every 90-degree intersection (although that’s a clear alternative). You may also wish to add details, like the toes, nose, eyeball, and ear openings. That’s also a design choice and up to you.

Finally, please note that I do not use “knight’s move” stitches (two units over, one unit up, to make a 30/60-degree angle). That’s a conscious design decision on my part. They are absent from 16th and 17th century artifacts with the rare exception of when they are used to form eyelets, or in later 18th century works – solid blocks of stitching radiating from a central point. I’ve not yet found a single 16th or 17th century voided or linear work artifact that employs knight’s move angles. They are a great addition to the charter’s tool set for sure and can be used to expand the stitcher’s design vocabulary. But they are also a clear indication of modern design aesthetic, so I leave them to other modern blackwork designers, and limit myself to 90 and 45-degree angles exclusively, even in my contemporary “nerd-culture” pieces.

So there’s the long answer for Callie. She is absolutely right. The solution is as she suggested in her question. If you need to draw it out before hand rather than adapt on the fly, you will need pencil and paper (or a charting design drafting solution) and I know of no shortcuts.

AT LONG LAST, LONG GREEN IS DONE

Not quite a record for the interval between commencement and completion, but close – but after years of languishing, my long green sampler is complete, signed and dated.

I used Au Ver a Soie’s Soie Alger silk thread, 40×42 count linen (you can see the slight distortion), and began it on 11 Feb 2012. I employed several stitching techniques including double running stitch, long armed cross stitch, plain old cross stitch, Montenegrin Stitch, and Italian four-sided cross stitch (pulled very tightly to achieve a meshy effect, and worked at two scales) . All of the designs here except the top one will be appearing in my ever forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook. The top panel is from The New Carolingian Modelbook.

Long Green will languish again for a bit before I finish it off for display. Given that there is only about an inch of fabric at the bottom, due to the unfortunate destruction that happened over the years the thing sat waiting for me to resume stitching, I do not have enough fabric to frame it on a stretcher. And I really don’t want to frame it with a mat. With a stitched area of 10.5 x 34 inches (26.7 x 86.4 cm) that would be a very awkward and expensive piece. With the sewing machine out for the duration until our basement remodel is complete, I’m shelving this and moving on.

So. What to do next?

A couple of weeks ago I ran into a small DMC tote bag kit on our town’s freecycle/reuse/give-away exchange. I snatched it up. Although I didn’t want to stitch the rather boring roses intended, the kit with its big-as-logs 32 threads-per-inch evenweave was perfect for other counted work.

The bag itself was 90% assembled, and fully lined. There was an unfinished area at the bottom of the lining to allow access to the inside of the bag, to make working easier. But it was insufficient. I tried, but was unable to either hoop or work in hand as the kit stood. So I separated all of the side seams and laid the whole bag out flat:

I basted guide lines at the longitudinal center of the bag, and a half inch all the way around the edges. The total stitching area is two sides, each about 8.75 x 10 inches (21.6 x 25.4 cm). I am unsure if I will work just one design on this, front and back; or if I will do something different on each side. But the intent is to stitch, then use a decorative seam stitch on the visible parts, and a less fancy treatment on the heavier white twill lining, which won’t be very visible after the whole bag is put back to rights.

This being a rather small project, it doesn’t fit nicely in my sit-upon hoop, so I am working it in my hand held 6 inch (15.24 cm) hoop. Slow going compared to the two-handed approach I prefer, but even so this should be done quickly.

Here’s what I have so far. Two strands of standard DMC 310 black. I wanted the outlines heavy and prominent because I am considering working an open voided ground in a second color behind. At least for this all-over. And yes, it’s yet another T2CM pattern.

And finally it being eating season, both with first-run and leftover bounty, to celebrate the end of the Passover season, I transformed our leftover pot roast into a rather curious family specialty. Meat blintzes. It’s the standard blintz crepe outside, but with a mix of finely chopped leftover cooked pot roast, any remaining potatoes and carrots or onions that cooked with the roast, a handful of cooked rice, and just enough leftover gravy to keep the filling moist inside. I know of no one else who had this way of eking out an extra dinner in this manner. I suspect my grandmother or one of her sisters faced with hungry kids and a quarter pound of meat, made virtue of necessity, and passed their discovery down to me. There’s no real recipe here – it’s just doing the best with whatever leftover meat and sides are available.

So now I have about 3 dozen in the freezer, to be defrosted and pan-sauteed to finish prior to serving. Obviously these are not intended to be accompanied by sour cream. Instead, as a quick to fix/light dinner course they are usually preceded by a big bowl of chicken soup (also pre-made and stowed away against need), and are accompanied by a vegetable side dish.

If you are looking for the recipe for the blintz skins/crepes and a more traditional mixed cheese filling, it’s here. Just to be evil and make you extra hungry, I leave you with what they look like during the final sautee: