Too much stitching left to do. Too little thread. With about a quarter of the stitching remaining I have a problem.
I am using thread I brought back from India. I found it in a shop in the old shopping district in Pune. They specialized in crafting materials, especially beads, pre-embroidered pieces, knitting yarns, and other goodies. But they had a few skeins of what looked like silk floss in one of the display cases. I pointed at it and asked the shopkeeper if he had more. He sent a little boy up into the storerooms, and he came back with a very dusty and crumbling cardboard box full of odds and ends. All of the same type of thread (which turned out to be “art silk” – rayon) but all of very limited quantity. I picked out all of what remained in non-pastel colors, including several multi-skein hanks of deep red, and bought it all, for an astonishingly low price.
As you can see there’s a pile of crimson there. What remains of that pile now is much less –
The wound bobbin in the middle is what I’ve been using (with a caveat). It’s Cifonda Art Silk color number 145. So is the hank on the left. The hank on the right is color number 144. It’s in the same continuum, but a click lighter. At the bottom is flaming cherry red 530, not even close.
The caveat on the bobbin? It’s holding two skeins of 145. Underneath is New-145. On top is Old-145. I wound off the new one, then after stitching the bit below, went on a Wild Hunt, and found one last remaining skein of Old-145. You can’t see the difference between them, right? Neither could I until this happened.
I bet you can see it now. Leaf #3 and part of the interlace below it stands out. I stitched it with the New-145. It’s redder, more garnet in tone than the established work. Clearly the same color number, but a different dye lot (even though dye lots are not labeled ). Even if I could get more of this stuff the chance of matching color with my very-well-aged stock is practically nil.
I will finish out as much as possible with my last skein of Old-145. I may or may not pick out this leaf . Still thinking on that… And also thinking on how to finish out the piece using only what I have on hand. Go for New-145? Go lighter with 144? I’ve seen historical pieces whose stitchers faced the same problem and blithely ignored it. Which is what I will end up doing, one way or the other…
Lest anyone think I’m on vacation, not so. Yes, we ran away to the beach place this three-day weekend past, but in this work from home era, we worked from there, and prepped the place for our booked guests in compliance with the state COVID-era short term rental requirements.
Still, even though it wasn’t all for fun, on Sunday I did get the chance to stitch on the beach. I adore it, even though the intense sunshine can lead to “white out” conditions on the linen, making thread counting difficult.
As for how far I’ve gotten so far – I’m just starting on the third corner:
Excuse the wrinkles – I don’t iron until the very end.
You can see the diagonal “spine” of the mitered corner. A snail will squeeze itself in underneath the rightmost tumbler’s feet. I will wrap the plume edging up and around the corner, too. You can even see the start of the double border with extra knot on the inner edge of the rising strip-to-be.
I wish I had grand new insights to share on this piece, but being in the home stretch, I’m fresh out. This is also always the most dangerous part of a project for me. I’ve figured out all that’s new, and all that’s left is perseverance – dogged execution of the known until completion. It’s the point where I often wander off to do something novel and interesting, with the promise of new challenges.
So, if you have any questions about working these long repeats, keeping place in them, how to draft them up, or pretty much anything else, feel free to ask. Now’s a good time to engage my attention. And I’ll thank you for keeping me on track and marching in time with my bois.
And we march around the perimeter, making skeleton after skeleton.
I’m just shy of half-way now, and I had to extend a tendril out to that point to make sure that I’m hitting my center mark. And I did!
As you can see comparing the blue line on the photo and the red line on the snippet of my chart, I’m spot on for alignment – not even a thread left or right of my center line.
One question I keep getting is how I maintain my location and ensure everything is in the correct spot without pre-gridding my work (without basting in an extensive set of guidelines to establish larger 10 (or 20) unit location aid across the entire groundcloth). I generally reply, “By proofing against established work,” but that then generates the second question. “How?”
So I attempt to answer.
For the most part I almost never work on fully charted out projects, with every stitch of the piece carefully plotted in beforehand. I compose my own pieces rather than working kits or charts done by others, and as a result I never have a full every-stitch representation as my model. My working method is to define center lines (and sometimes edge boundaries), but I pick strips or fills on the fly, starting them from my established centers, and working from smaller charts that are specific to the particular motif or fill that’s on deck. However, if lettering is involved I am more likely to graph that part out to completion prior to stitching, to ensure good letter and line spacing. (Leading, spacing, and kerning are close to my heart both as someone whose day job deals in documents, and as a printer’s granddaughter.)
For this project I DID prepare a full graph to ensure the centered placement of my very prominent text motto against the frame. I also wanted to miter the corners of the frame (reflect on a 45-degree angle) rather than work strips that butt up against each other, AND I wanted the skeleton repeat to work out perfectly on all four legs of the frame. To do that I had to plan ahead more than I usually do. (Note that the repeat frequency of the accompanying smaller edgings are different from the skeleton strip, so I also had to “fudge” center treatments for them so they would mirror neatly – another reason to graph the entire project).
But even with a full project graph available against which work, I didn’t grid – I worked as I always do, relying on entirely on close proofing as I go along.
The first step is a “know your weaknesses” compensation. To make sure I am on target I almost never extend a single long line ahead of myself, especially not on the diagonal because I make the majority of my mistakes miscounting a long diagonal. Instead I try to grow slowly, never stitching very far away from established bits, so I can make these checks as I work:
- Does the stitching of my new bit align both vertically and horizontally with the prior work? Am I off by as little as one thread? Am I true to grid?
- Is my new bit in the right place? Does the placement of the design element align with what’s been stitched before? For example, in this case, is do the toes of the mirror imaged bois back to back to the pomegranates match in placement in relation to each other and to the bottom of the pomegranate’s leaves?
- Am I working properly to pattern? It doesn’t matter if I am using a small snippet with just the strip design or fill that’s being stitched, a full project chart, or (as I am now) using prior stitching as my pattern – copying what’s been laid down on the cloth. Am I true to my design as depicted?
As I work, I constantly proof in these three ways – checking to make sure that my work is true. And if I discover a problem, I trace back to see where I went wrong, and I ruthlessly eliminate the mistake. For the record – there’s nothing to be gained by letting off-count stand in the hope of compensating later. Trust me – you’ll forget, mistakes will compound on mistakes, and you’ll end up wasting even more time, thread, and psychic energy on the eventual fix.
I hope this explains what I mean by proofing as you go. I know for most of the readers here, this will be second nature, and they won’t have thought of it as a disciplined approach, but for newer stitchers the old maxim “Trust but verify” should become a mantra. Verify, verify, verify. The sanity you save will be your own.
Finally, for Felice, who doubted I was using double running stitch for such a complex project in spite of the in process photos that showed the dashes of half-completed passes, here’s the back.
Yes, I do use knots for work with backs that won’t be seen, but I do it carefully so that the knots don’t pull through. Point and laugh if you must, but I reserve the right to ignore you.
I’m finishing up the second corner on my sampler, and beginning the strip across the bottom of the piece, headed for the bottom center, then on to the third corner.
It’s going faster now because I’m free of the chart. I’ve (mostly) memorized the design now, and have ample reference stitching to refer to if I need reminders. The remaining two sides are just mirrors of what’s there already – with the corner and both centers established, there’s nothing on the chart that I haven’t already worked.
Questions from my inbox:
Why aren’t you working on a grid/why haven’t you basted guidelines every ten stitches so you can keep your place?
I don’t need to, although I do have two basted guidelines that mark the center of the piece, one north/south, and one east/west. I proof carefully of established stitching. That’s why you never see a long run “out in front” of the design as I work. For me, that’s a recipe for disaster.
I AM working in double running stitch. You can see the baseline for the bottom plume border in process. I will keep going in this direction until I finish this piece of silk. Then having established the bottom border (note that I work the branch from which the plumes bloom as I go), I’ll switch to the center strip and do more of the skeletons. When I catch up, I’ll hop up to the top border and do more of that. The whole design progresses more or less evenly across the design, keeping pace with itself as I go.
Why are you working left to right?
I’m right handed, and stitch with my right on top and my left below, using (in this case) a sit-upon hoop so both hands are free for stitching. I keep a very bright light over my left shoulder. By working left to right, I can see the previously worked bits (they are not covered by my right hand), so I can keep check on alignment of the new stitching, plus there is no shadow from my hand or shoulder occluding the work in progress. And when I start not at the left or right edge of my piece, but at the center, I often flip my work upside down, so I am also working the second half of my strip from left to right. Were I left handed or favored my left hand for the top when working two-handed, I would probably work from right to left, with the light over my right shoulder.
Can this piece be done double-sided?
Yes and no. Right now it can be done mostly double-sided in double running stitch (aka Holbein Stitch, or Punto Scritto). But not entirely. The skeletons and the pomegranates are their own units, large enough for burying the ends invisibly on the reverse. Not so the snail – he’s rather small and would be difficult to stitch on his own, with invisible starts/endings. There is also the problem of tiny isolated elements. The eyes are the most obvious example, but the plume border has that little skew two-box spot at the base of each plume, plus a floating square in one of the lobes of the plume.
If I were to set this up for totally two-sided work, I would run a single unifying baseline across the entire bottom of the piece, and adding a stitch to tie the ribbons held by the skeletons to the side curlicue of the pomegranate. I’d also add a brow line to the skeletons, and anchor down the floating spots in the plume flowers. The red stitches below show the general idea:
With the red additions, all floating elements have been locked into the main trace. There are no islands left, large or small. The bois can now be done entirely double sided. And if contemplating another design with isolated bits, similar additions will render it likewise. (The astute will note that this doesn’t contain the snails in the as-stitched piece – I improvised them on the fly, and never bothered adding them to my quick and dirty project chart.)
Why didn’t I do this in the first place? It didn’t occur to me, and I like the rather puzzled look of the browless, wide-eyed bois.
Where can I find the pattern?
Look here for the broadside that contains the dancing skeletons and plume border, plus the reason why I don’t think they are morbid or creepy. And if you want to see all previous posts on this project, here’s the link.
One observant reader noted the skeletons and pomegranates and suggested a Cerberus (three headed hell hound) as the logical thematic accompaniment. Not a bad idea, and more grist for my imagination mill. Thanks!
Questions, comments, derision, criticism, suggestions? Send them in either in the comments here, or to the contact address alluded to in the About tab, above.
See this egg?
It’s the one on my face. And deservedly so.
A quick recap:
- I’m working a project on skew count linen – with a different number of threads in the warp and weft. – Confirmed, that’s a fact.
- If a design is worked on such a ground, it will be compressed – shorter in the direction that has the higher count, and stretched out in the direction that has the lower count. – Again confirmed. That’s also true.
- I counted my threads, and planned out a design that featured “padding” on to compensate for anticipated compression, so that the difference between the proportions of the strips going across the top of my work, and down the side of it would not be so evident. – Yup. I did that, and I like the extra wide knot strip that I doodled up to use there.
Major snafu. I did not properly record my count/measurements and reversed them, attributing the denser count to the wrong direction. Instead of the new strip ending up with squatter, flatter skeletons after I rounded the corner, close comparison shows the new bois to be leaner and lankier than the ones previously stitched. Even more embarrassing, I did not notice the problem until I had a fair bit worked up.
So it goes.
Obviously I have a good lesson-learned on this one to add to my roster of mistakes as teaching moments. And I’m not going to go back and rip anything out. (I may have a second lesson on finite stash supply vs. thread consumption rates to painfully experience, too.) So my piece stays as is, and I get to look like an idiot in front of everyone. While this isn’t going as planned, and I did make a giant mistake – it’s not totally fatal. I declare myself just a tiny bit sadder, but wiser, and will keep soldiering on.
You may point and laugh now.
Having gone on and on about straight repeats as my bony bois march across the top of my piece, we have now come to the first corner.
Thankfully, my count is spot-on and everything is in place.
But why did I start with the strip of skeletons doomed to dance upside down? Because I knew that I would probably make some tiny adjustments to the design as I went along. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the closest point of the work, and the most logical part – that’s always the strip across the bottom, where the motifs are all right-side-up.
It’s unlikely that any small tweaks would be noticeable in the upside-down part at the top. So being too lazy (and waaay too short of thread I can’t replenish) I started there, knowing that I would not be ripping back vast regions to norm those tweaks.
Closer up, in a more normal orientation:
My last post discussed the non-historical use of the same framing element on either side of a mirrored repeat with horizontal directionality. Here’s another feature of this strip that’s not often seen in museum artifacts – the mitered corner.
The majority of corner treatments in surviving historical fragments have butted-up or improvised corners. Carefully plotted mirror images across a diagonal (mitering) are quite hard to find. But I decided to do one anyway. You can spot the diagonal running through the center line of the rightmost internal knot, down through some leafy bits, and into a flower-like shape. I’ve also established the beginning of the 90-degree flipped border, with the upper part of that skeleton plus the first pomegranate underway.
I’ve also rounded the outside corner. In a serendipitous happenstance (I can’t claim I planned it ahead of time), the width and height counts of my marching plumes are equal, so I was able to fudge the corner with one last plume on a long stem.
Side note: At this point I really don’t need to refer to my printed pattern any more, I am mostly working off prior stitching, with occasional glances back at my chart to make sure all is aligned and true.
But that inside edging – it’s different. I’ve introduced another element, playing with the eternity knots and tying them into the plume strip. I did this because the thread count of the warp (the threads that stretch up-down in the detail photo) is denser than the thread count of the weft (those that go across in the detail photo). The closer together the threads are, the more compressed the design will be in that direction. My skeletons marching up/down the sides of my piece will end up looking ever so slightly shorter and chunkier compared to their more lanky brothers that tumble across the top and bottom. BUT I can draw the eye away from that difference by adding the additional knotwork strip.
So it turns out that my design is all about insouciance, breaking historical composition precepts, and visual deception. Still for all of that I think that its look is more closely aligned to the aesthetic of historical blackwork rather than more modern pieces. Just my opinion, feel free to differ.
Class Handout Page
And for having the patience to read down this far, here’s another present. I was going through some older files and came across this class handout page. I’ve taught several workshops using it. The last one I came equipped to do was for a public SCA demo in Rhode Island, although the circumstances and attendees made just sitting and chatting about the stitching a better option. Still, I did update the handout, and it may as well be of use to someone.
The patterns are (more or less) ordered in level of complexity, and are intended to be a self-tutorial in double running stitch. When I teach I provide the page below, a strip of Monk’s cloth and length of standard embroidery floss and needle, plus an inexpensive hand hoop (if I have some to spare). Depending on prior experience, stitching proficiency, confidence level I encourage the participant to select one of the designs from the leftmost two columns, to try out face-to-face in the workshop. Then I encourage everyone to use the rest for self-study at home.
For self study, what I suggest is to just grab a piece of cloth and begin – no need to plan an intense, composed sampler. Pick a point anywhere on your chosen ground, then starting at the spot in the upper left column where you feel comfortable, continue down that column to the simple acorns. Then keep going. The next design in the complexity sequence is the flower spring at the top of the next column. Go down that column to the folded ribbons.
After that, I’d suggest attempting the birds at the bottom left. From there the vertical star flowers, then the knots, four-petal flower meander, and the design immediately above the title. Once you’ve done all that the remaining four intermediate patterns on the page should be well within your grasp (the heart flower all-over, fancy acorns, geometric strip, and oddly sprouting peppermint-stick squash blossoms).
Of course you can be totally random and just use these designs as you will. No need to march in lock step with the protocol, above.
Download this handout in PDF format from my Embroidery Patterns page. It’s the last one listed (click on the thumbnail there to get it, then save it locally).
As ever, if you stitch up something from any of my designs, please feel free to send pix. I always get a big smile out of seeing you having fun with the pattern children. And if you specifically say so and give permission to re-use your photo, I will be happy to post it here and index it under “Gallery”.
The repeat on my Dance strip and corner is a bit unusual, and seems to be causing far more problems for stitchers than I anticipated. I designed it so it could be used both as a straight repeat and as a mirrored repeat, but that appears to be the source of the confusion. I’ve talked about the types of repeats and symmetries before, but I will recap briefly.
Here are some basic types of strip-pattern repeats:
- A straight repeat is one in which each unit is repeated “as is”. It is not flipped or mirrored, but marches on like the first line of Rs.
- A mirror (aka bounce) repeat works like the second line of Rs. There are two center lines, and the design mirrors itself between them.
- A meander, the design elements both mirror and flip.
- One-directional meander with mirroring but no flipping.
- One directional meander with flipping but no mirroring. (No example to hand).
- A tumble, the design elements rotate around a center point. (No example to hand).
There are other ways to construct a symmetrical repeat that elaborate on the tumble, introducing further mirroring or flipping, however I will say only the first four methods above are represented in European embroidery styles prior to around 1700, with types #1-#3 being by far the most common, and #4 being rare, but not unknown. And I can’t lay hands on a good example of #5. I haven’t done a comprehensive survey to determine when tumbles (#6) or their more complex derivatives begin to manifest but I can’t say that I recall seeing them on a museum artifact in the time range I pursue.
I also note that patterns can also include more than one type of symmetry, and layered symmetry pieces can become quite complex. There’s more on that in the earlier (and longer) post on repeats I mentioned before.
Now back to the pattern at hand. Here is the basic unit that makes up The Dance.
Notice that the three bony bois cavort in a playground defined by the center of the framing pomegranates. This unit can be combined to make a strip in one of two ways – As a straight repeat (#1), or as a bounce repeat (#2)
I’ve added the blue arrows to help identify the difference. Look at the fellow lolling on the ground. Above, he’s always facing the same direction. Below, he’s facing his mirror image.
To have a Type #2 bounce repeat that uses THE SAME framing device for both bounce points is at best extremely rare. Most use different devices as the two separators, like this little dolphin repeat from my ever-forthcoming book.
Now. What does this mean? Less authenticity, but more versatility. My current project uses the Dance centered around a single project axis. I use mirroring at ONLY the very center of my piece, with runs of straight repeat left and right until they meet up with a corner. Why? Why not? I liked the look:
But if I were working around a piece with a fixed circumference, like on a strip that was to be seamed into cuff, and there was not room for an even number of repeats, I might appreciate the ability to use an odd number of repeat units (along with type #1 symmetry), to better fit the area to be stitched.
I hope this helps.
Finally. After nine long years since the design challenge was issued and I responded with a pattern for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a finish has been spotted in the wild.
Special thanks to stitcher Zelda Doyle, who had fun with the thing, then posted the result on Facebook and made my day. This photo is hers, of her own work, and reproduced here by permission. The chart for His Noodly Glory is here.
Have you done something fun with one of the pattern children and wish to add to our Gallery? Please let me know.
Continuing on and finishing up the parade of past completions, misses, and items still languishing unfinished in the ever growing midden next to my favorite sewing chair, we arrive in near recent times.
In the last post in this series I mentioned sending Elder Spawn off to college with a bit of nagging to hang on her wall for continued parental admonishment. Well, it worked, so I did it again for the younger in 2015.
The request for the Trifles sampler included a laundry list of relevancies, including an overall steampunk theme, with nods to anime and Dr. Who, and at least one dragon or unicorn. I found a relevant precept in Book of Five Rings, then hit all the bases, and along the way playtested a lot of the fillings in Ensamplario Atlantio, plus many that ended up in Ensamplario Atlantio II. I particularly like the soot sprites caught in the mechanism, quoted from Spirited Away. This one was done with some of the faux silk floss I found while we were in India, on 38 count linen/cotton blend. It’s finished as a hanging banner.
Lessons Learned: This was the piece that taught me the joys of beeswax. The “art silk” is very fine but also very unruly, and being quite old when I bought it, can be friable. Waxing held it together, eliminated differential feed of the two plies, and kept me from piercing it prematurely as I stitched with one hand above and one hand below the work.
In 2015 we had an extended stay guest – a friend of Younger Spawn who spent the senior year of high school with us prior to graduation. She needed a send-off inspiration, too. But instead of imposing parental nagging on her, I asked her for a favorite saying she might want on her wall. She suggested this Grace Hopper classic. More tryouts of T2CM patterns ensued. This was also done in the art silk I used for the Trifles sampler, but on 32 count linen/cotton blend.
Lessons Learned: I used this one to experiment with color and open-voiding (squares, diagonals or zig-zags instead of solid fills or meshy stitch). It’s all double running, and like most of my pieces, wasn’t designed for dual sided display, so the color changes didn’t mean that I had to bury all of those ends. I rather like the playful brights I used on this one.
Shhh. But the secret is already out. In 2016 I took my first apprentice. Although my blackwork journey had been recognized inside the SCA with a Laurel award (the group’s high honor for achievement in the arts), it predated the establishment of apprentices as a concept (kind of like squires to knights, but not for martial prowess). But neither my apprentice nor I are good at formal statements, so we kept it under wraps and very free-form. Instead of giving her a green belt, I gave her a long strip of linen, with a belt embroidered at one end – the idea being that she could use the thing to experiment with stitching, painting, printing, dyeing, whatever. I think this is on 32 count linen in Au Ver a Soie silk, but I don’t remember. She’s gone on to make me quite proud of her explorations and achievements in historical arts and sciences (but we are still quiet about the whole thing).
Lessons Learned: While the plain old cross stitch that made up the lettering is not double sided, the belt mostly is. I learned once more what a pain in the neck burying all those ends can be.
In 2017, tired of having my hair blowing in my eyes in the wind and bored with bandannas, I decided to make two forehead cloths – a kind of kerchief popular in the 1500s and 1600s. And yes, I wear them with modern clothing, not re-enactor wear.
In a happy coincidence Stealth Apprentice was busy dyeing embroidery silks with historically accurate ironwood dyes, and asked me to try them out to see if texture, “stich-ability,” strength, or colorfastness in the wash were issues. I’m happy to report that her threads were prime. Both pieces have been through the wash multiple times, and both still look as good as they day they were finished. I made two cloths (only one pictured complete with ties), and while I was at it and abhor wasted space, I finished out the 32 count fabric with a doodle sampler of “Persist.” All of these designs are in T2CM. The darker triangle was stitched with two strands, and the other pieces with one strand.
Lessons Learned: Yes, there’s very little area between the two triangles. I cut neatly between them to separate the pieces, then lined them with well-washed muslin, and made some of the waste fabric into the ties. BUT notice the doodle sampler. It’s awful close to the kerchiefs. Too close. I haven’t finished out this mini-sampler yet, but to do so I will have to border it all the way around with fabric, then affix the entire thing to some some sort of frame, or into a little banner. I should have started that piece closer to the leftmost edge of the cloth. Oops.
This one is probably the most ambitious piece I’ve ever done. Silk, and Japanese gold, with 2mm paillettes, on 40 count linen, and finished in 2018, I loved every minute of my two fishies. The indigo silk was also dyed by Stealth Apprentice. The green is more of the Au Ver a Soie. All counted fills are done in one strand; the darker outlines are worked in reverse chain stitch with three strands. The whiskers are split stitch and the eyes are satin, both done with two strands. The gold is couched down and the paillettes are affixed with one strand of yellow faux silk (more of my India stash). The counted patterns are mostly in Ensamplario Atlantio II.
I spent a lot of time carefully considering (and sometimes picking out) the fillings. I was aiming for flowing mobility, a suggestion of scales, and glimmer under the the water’s surface. While the fills are all strict and regimented geometrics, offsetting them, and picking ones with strong diagonals and curves helped avoid the blocky, heavy look that many projects with fills fall into.
No, no one in this house gives credence to astrology – it’s not a Pisces depiction. The back story is that the Resident Male described a cloth with two fish embroidered on it in one of his early stories. I made it so. (Pun intended).
Lessons Learned: I haven’t put my hand to couching metal threads in other than the most trivial way since that silver horse pouch in 1975. I re-learned a whole suite of techniques to manage it, including plunging and finishing off ends, forming the curves and tensioning the gold as I stitched it down, how to increase or decrease the distance between the couching stitches to achieve the desired radius, and how to keep two unruly strands of the stuff side by side and not flopping over each other for best effect.
I’m beginning to run out of wall space. In 2019 I decided that I needed to stitch up some napkins – quick and dirty because they will undoubtedly get dirty quickly.
I wanted something fast to stitch that could endure harsh laundering. So I took a chance and ordered some pre-finished “rustic look” napkins and coordinating tablecloth. They’d be useful for my holiday table whether or not they were stitchable. And I lucked out. This is plain old DMC floss on big-as-logs 26 count poly-cotton napkins, and 28-count tablecloth. More or less – none were exactly evenweave when they started, and no two napkins ended up as the same size after pre-shrinking. But I don’t care. I had fun testing out more T2CM designs, and no – while I took pains to work double running and used the catch-loop method to begin each strand, I did not end off invisibly. There are tiny knots on the back of the napkins. So far no guests have turned them over to tsk, tsk.
What about stains you might ask? I don’t care. The napkins were quick and cheap enough to replace if they are too far gone. Note that the eating areas of the tablecloth are NOT stitched. If the thing gets damaged, I can always cut out the center part and apply or insert it into another one. Or not. “Look, here’s the gravy stain from 2023” sounds like it would be a nice bit of nostalgia ten years after.
Lessons Learned: There is no such thing as uniform shrinkage. Ever. Also a tablecloth is big. I ended up using my sit-upon frame to work the center, gathering up the ends of the tablecloth into two pillowcases to keep it clean. That worked well. Oh, and I hate ironing, so don’t expect to ever see this smooth and linen-press pristine.
It’s an addiction. I just can’t stop, so I plunged on, working up three of my favorite strips (and an edging) from T2CM. My Stupid Cupid doodle was done in June/July of 2019, on a piece of craft store 32 count linen/cotton blend, in DMC floss.
Lessons Learned: I ended up going back and editing my book pages on two of these designs because I hadn’t normed the repeats uniformly. My take-away is that it’s ALWAYS good to playtest a design rather than just trusting that one’s initial drafting is perfect.
Finishing out 2019 I thought I’d do up a cushion for my living room sofa. Well, maybe not a cushion. This is more of that faux silk, plus green Au Ver A Soie on 38 count linen. See all of that accursed satin stitch? It took only a couple of nights of working on it before I decided that if ANYONE sat on it with studs on their jeans pockets, I’d have a meltdown. Yet another piece destined to hang on the wall, I guess.
What you see here is the center third of my Leafy Multicolor – a piece very closely based on an extant artifact. I intended on making quite a large item, but the rather large leafy edge would only be on the top and bottom (as displayed in final, not as stitched). Have I mentioned that I detest satin stitch?
Lessons Learned: I really hate satin stitch. Especially in silk or faux silk with a laying tool. This is still on my frame. Everything I’ve done since is escapism because I HAVE to finish this one. But that satin stitch… Shudder.
The book cover project 2020 was a welcome break from you-know-what. It came about after some queries about how to make the book covers I had done back in 2012. I had a book, I had DMC floss, I had 30-32 count cotton craft store even weave, and I had patterns. Why not? So I wrote up the whole thing, from the initial planning stages all the way to the finish, so others could do their own. No idea if anyone will, but I hope someone does.
Lesssons Learned: No one is perfect, least of all, me EVEN when I am trying so hard to be because others are following along. I made a measurement mistake midway, but it all worked out. And going back to the first bit of almost-voiding with a red foreground and a yellow background I did on the Permissions sampler, above – I still like the loud and cheerful look.
And that brings us up to the current piece. I’ll tease that one here, but I save the Lessons Learned for when I’ve fully grasped all of the mistakes I’ve made on it to date.
Thanks, all for the kind reaction to the last post in this omnibus series. Thus emboldened, I blather on.
The New Carolingian Modelbook came out in 1995. As mentioned before, it started as my working notebook collections of designs redacted from book photos, microfilms of early modelbooks, and sketches of artifacts, then grew from there. Although it was well received, I didn’t get much recompense for my 13 years of work – the publisher only paid royalties on the first 250 books out of 2,000, and ran off with the rest. But I didn’t stop collecting patterns. As originals and artifact photos became increasingly accessible, I kept at it, trying to transcribe designs, norm repeats (artifacts rarely are stitch perfect, and often need to be averaged out – blending all variants and mistakes into one representation), and most of all – collect specific citations and links. This material is the core of my ever-forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook. And along the way, starting around 2010, I couldn’t resist trying out what I had found.
We left off last in the 1990s at the start of my blogging career, so my projects are a bit better documented. As before, I zigzagged between knitting, crochet. I tended to knit more around the time my two spawn were born, and for a while thereafter, and then return to stitching when they were around kindergarten age. For most of the early 2000s I was consumed by knitting and with running the wiseNeedle website with its collection of crowd-sourced yarn reviews. But eventually I began stitching again.
Elder Daughter went off to college in 2009, equipped with this bit of parental nagging. It is about 14.5 x 18 inches, worked on 30 count linen in Danish Flower Thread. Note the debut of the little skull and bones hiding amid the flowers from my Buttery interlace. The graph for the center phoenix is also here.
Lessons Learned: Around the time this was done with the help of Elder Daughter and others, I had figured out a new software solution for linear graphing because the method used for the phoenix wasn’t suitable for publication, and the hardware/software used for my previous work was now obsolete/unavailable. I started consolidating my doodles from various notebooks, backs of envelopes, and marginalia to better learn the methods and quirks of my GIMP-based custom drafting solution. Those experimental notes are what became Ensamplario Atlantio, and all graphs/charts I’ve done since have used the GIMP drafting method.
Fresh off the last piece I still had the itch to stitch. I did this part in homage to the Hitchikers’ Guide, part as appropriate decor for my office workspace (by trade I’m a proposal manager in high tech – deadlines and panic are my stock in trade). And possibly part because as parent of a new college student let loose on the world, I needed reassurance. It’s about 8 inches across, and was done in DMC cotton floss on 32 count cotton/linen blend. The bead border chart has been up on String for a long time, but I’ve also recently released a free full-graph pattern for this piece. Enjoy!
Lessons Learned: I was still experimenting with graphing out the lettered part ahead of time. Previously I had just guessed. This was also the first piece with a border I started in the corners rather than at the center, so that any “fudging” could happen in the center. While the north south bits of the frame worked out evenly, you can see the improvised bar in the center I inserted when it became clear that my bead repeat would not fit. And I bet you would never have noticed it if I hadn’t pointed it out.
Continuing the SF theme into 2010, I did this piece, featuring a quotation from noted author Arthur C. Clarke. It’s the first one to have designs from The Second Carolingian Modelbook (T2CM) on it, along with patterns from my earlier books. The new bits include all the full width designs between “ADVANCED” and the adaptation of Bostocke’s strawberries at the bottom. The narrow bands left and right of the wreath and column are a mix of older and newer designs. This one also hangs in my workspace now, to the confusion of my (mostly non-SF loving) coworkers.
Lessons Learned: I had a lot of fun with this one. I played with multiple thicknesses of thread and density of design, along with the two colors, and enjoyed balancing the effects that could be achieved with that limited group of variables. The strips are a mix of one and two strands of standard DMC floss. The solid ground voided strips are all in LACS, as is the foreground stitched daSera repeat from TNCM at the very top. I was particularly pleased with the hops panel shown in the detail. The design was done in two strands, but the (non historical) ground behind it – the diagonals worked mirrored – was done in single strand.
By 2012 I was full throttle on pulling together a sequel to TNCM. Drafting and writing for The Second Carolingian Modelbook (T2CM) was off and running. And of course I had to playtest the designs as I went along. Most of these (with three exceptions I worked from Lipperheide) are in the sequel. The big black sampler is done in silk on 36 count linen. The stitching area is about 24 inches across. Understandably it took me about 13 months to finish, and will be on the cover of T2CM. It was an eventful year, that included Younger Spawn’s appendix adventure, and the demise of my all-volunteer wiseNeedle independent website, out-competed by Ravelry and other paid-advertiser info sources.
No new stitches to speak of in this one but I did use long armed cross stitch on the panel at the very bottom, the oak leaf and acorn bit, and in the spot fillings for the “beads” in the wide meander just below the lion/dragon beastie. The texture it produces when massed has a very plaited appearance compared to plain old cross stitch.
Lessons Learned: Composition and balance work better if you impose a tiny bit of order on the chaos. I basted in several guidelines, dividing my total piece up into several zones. Although I picked them on the fly with no real advance planning, worked my individual panels and strips inside those zones, making sure to ground the piece at the top, bottom, left and right with darker, denser designs.
2012 marked the start of Big Green, done in silk on 50 count linen. Unlike the ones above, he is still unfinished. The designs on this one are entirely from T2CM. I WILL go back and finish this piece, but other things have gotten in the way. I took it with us for our sojurn in India, but between the heat and lack of a good spot to sit and stitch, I never got much further on it. Also the meshy technique is amazingly time consuming. One two-hour evening will produce a patch about the size of a quarter. One thing to note about the meshy stitch – I now know why it has survived on so many pieces even when the surrounding linen is long gone. It’s amazingly dense, near indestructible, and I can say truthfully – impossible to pick out. By contrast surface voided work is fragile, catching and degrading with abrasion, washing and wear.
Lessons Learned: I have been using this piece to experiment with stitching techniques. The interlace (first detail) uses Montenegrin Stitch. The straight runs were pretty easy, but without the most excellent Autopsy of the Montenegrin Stitch by Amy Mitten, the bendy bits would have driven me insane to figure out. And the big voided repeat where I stalled out (a stitching family I’ve nicknamed “The Lettuce Repeat”) is done in the tightly pulled meshy technique so common among voided artifacts. I had first tried out a different pulled thread technique for the topmost design, but the effect was nowhere near that of the historical pieces. But at maximum tension Italian Four Sided Stitch, based on the technique in Christie’s Samplers and Stitches (1920) was spot on. But it has to be done in silk because cotton isn’t strong enough to stand up to the force required to achieve the solid mesh. (My previous reference to the stitch was based on another edition of Christie’s work, now no longer accessible on line). And it’s (relatively) easy to hide ends while working it – burying them in spots that will be totally overworked later.
That 2013/2014 stay in India necessitated a scouting run to find housing and schools in May of 2012. I needed something small and portable to do on that trip, so the first two book covers were born. I worked these from T2CM patterns on 30 count linen/cotton blend, using DMC floss. They were small Moleskine-look-alikes, and were donated to the SCA East Kingdom’s largess program, to be given as small gifts by the seated royalty. Although I put notes in each one hoping that the recipients would get in touch, I have no idea where these ended up. Still, they were quick stitch pieces and fun.
Lessons Learned: While I have always known that stitching is a wonderful icebreaker, especially during International travel, at this point I had no idea that Kasuthi existed. It’s a traditional Indian stitching style and very close cousin to Blackwork’s precursors. A lady in Mumbai airport remarked on the black and red book and asked where I had learned to do it. That sparked yet another flurry of research.
Most of my production in India was knitted, largely lacy pieces. I did a couple of test knits of pieces designed by the generous and well-followed MMario, now of blessed memory, and a couple of other bits of my own design. I had many knitpals in Pune, whom I had “met” via Ravelry prior to our arrival. That kept me more or less in that craft, but I did do some small excursions into stitching. One was the red Ganesh cloth, above. I stitched it in 2013 as a new-house gift for the parents of our driver, Rupesh. I do hope it has brought the family the intended luck. This one is pretty well documented here on String, including the source of the outlines and Ensamplario Atlantio fill numbers for all of the motifs I used. It’s done on a not-so-even weave 32 count cotton/linen blend, in DMC floss.
Lessons Learned: The Italian hem stitching I used to finish off the cloth neatly actually took more time to do than Lord Ganesh himself. But I liked it, and filed that family of stitching away for future reference. Someday.
In 2013 I tried my hand at Kasuthi. This little motif is a traditional one, and is worked entirely in double sided double running stitch. It’s on a relatively coarse 28 count cotton, also in DMC floss. My main reference for Kasuthi was Karnataki Kashida by Anita Chawadapurkar and Menaka Prakashan. It’s in Marathi, but friends helped out by reading bits to me in translation. Here’s a post I did on the style.
Lessons Learned: I had originally intended on making a set of napkins, but when I washed this piece, the oh so carefully ended off threads, so well buried and invisible here, did fluff up a bit. So I scotched that idea.
Also in India, just before we left in 2014, I started this piece, with the intent to make a pouch for my stitching tools. The cloth is a standard linen dish towel, bought at a local supermarket. The thread is also linen. It remains unfinished.
Lessons Learned: While this ground started out as a very stitch-able 32 count more or less even weave, tossing it in the washing machine shrank it in unexpected ways. The threads in one direction ended up being about 30 across. Those in the other direction ended up something closer to 42, so the dimensions of the thing deformed. But undaunted I tried to stitch anyway, working over 2×3 threads. But the smaller threads were very hard to see, and the linen thread frayed beyond belief (this was before I learned to use beeswax). It sits in my Chest of Stitching Horrors(tm), never to be completed.
This takes me up to around the time we returned from India, in 2014. And I’m not done yet. If interest has continued, I will do one more of these, to finish out up to the most current things on my frames.
This post is to answer Susan and Michelle, who asked how long I’ve been doing counted stitching and blackwork, and who wanted to see some of my other pieces.
At the risk of tooting my own horn, here’s the story. More or less. Over the years, I’ve cobbled together a few publications (some still unfinished); given away many pieces; started more projects than I’ve completed; and wandered away to and back from knitting and crochet. Please indulge me as I reminisce. I promise to put in lessons-learned as I go along to make it bearable.
All of these are original compositions of found and/or original motifs. I haven’t done a counted work kit or pattern designed by someone else since I was 12. It looks like I don’t often finish, which while it has some truth to it, I’ve given away many of the completed pieces, so what I have in my stash to show off are the unfinished bits.
The first counted project I did that’s not plain old cross stitch and is in the greater continuum that includes blackwork (that I still have) is a sorry, unfinished sampler I began in high school, circa 1973/74, continuing on and off up to January 1975. There are double running bits in it – among the very first I ever did. Most of the designs I cribbed from photos of band samplers and traditional pieces – taking magnifying glasses to the teeny and blurry photos of historical or ethnographic pieces in general survey embroidery books and books on samplers. It’s probably on 28 count even weave, using Coats & Clarks floss. Colors were haphazard at best – I used what I had at the time, and din’t plan much in advance.
Lesson Learned: A glimmer of the sad truth that while I am a starter, it’s much harder to be a finisher. I suppose I could go back and add in the tree and animals I originally intended. But there are so many other things I want to finish off first.
By the spring of my freshman semester, I found the SCA – an organization that advocates the hands-on exploration of the arts, sciences, and entertainments of pre-1600 cultures. That put the nail in this piece (being a mishmash of post 1600 band sampler patterns), but I found an inspiration. I had need to make a favor for a certain individual with a Spanish persona. So I zigged sideways and back in time a bit to blackwork, stitched over the summer of 1975. It’s the project that killed the sampler, above.
The only information I had on blackwork during the summer I stitched this was a tiny thumbnail photo of the Faulklands Cushion in Mary Thomas’ Book of Embroidery. I drew the leaf shapes and my device, and did diapered fillings freehand, on muslin. There’s also a bit of needle lace around the edge, with points at the corners – everything now dirtied and tattered by use. (The silver horse is couched and surface stitched – it’s a pouch, also a present for the same person.)
Lessons Learned: In retrospect – research. Learn and do, not the other way around. There is a lot about this piece that’s flat out wrong, but my heart was in the right place (and also properly given). Also far more people were interested in learning how to do blackwork than the couching, or in a bit of needle lace I was also working at the same time.
The next bit of blackwork I did was after I did a bit more investigation into the style, both for my own edification, and because I wanted to encourage others to do historical stitching, and to do that, I needed to know more about it first. This piece started out as a cushion cover or possibly a tablecloth but within three days of the start, turned into an underskirt for my coronation dress (started just before the crown tourney, October 1976, worn in April 1977). Major thanks for the inspiration to do this piece go to Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn, who gave me Bath’s Embroidery Masterworks book, which in turn furnished the rough outline of the coiling fruits, flowers, and leaves.
The original dress is long gone, but I still have this Melton wool monstrosity with the entire panel – still a squared off (I never cut off the side bits). There are some small stitched areas you can’t see here, hidden inside the skirt, but the piece was never completed as a full rectangle. It’s worked on a sale faux linen coarse weave tablecloth my mother found on a department store sale table. Probably at something like 30 threads per inch (about 15 stitches per inch). This one is more accurate – diapered fills on the count, heavy twisted chain stitch outlines, satin stitched berries.
A bonus – I wrote a paper on the style and also submitted the piece for credit in my Sophomore year art history course, so not only did I have an SCA coronation dress, I got two As for it in mundane life.
Lessons learned: Stitching to deadline does suck some of the fun out of the project. My double-deadline (our coronation and the associated schoolwork) come to mind every time I look at it. It’s also an excellent reference piece, because I can look at each leaf and know exactly which class and lecture I was sitting through while I was stitching it.
The next thing I attempted was a coif, circa 1979 or so. For some unknown reason I wanted to use muslin as a ground. It’s about 70 or so threads per inch, done with super fine handsewing thread – roughly 35 stitches per inch. I never finished (obviously). This little bit was donated to the East Kingdom Doll Project to better equip my tiny effigy.
Lessons Learned: It’s good to be ambitious, but to be overly so isn’t worth the effort. The teeny-tiny stitching here is largely wasted. At this scale it’s so small that one has to be six inches away to make out any detail.
After this came a series of small pieces, given as gifts, plus works in other embroidery styles. I also issued two booklets of designs for blackwork, hand drawn and photocopied. And I learned to knit. The next piece I still have is this sampler, made circa 1983, in part to remember my father and his favorite saying. It’s DMC floss on a plain linen table runner found in a church rummage sale discard bin.
Many of the designs on this one were in my hand-drawn booklets. But shortly after this I became increasingly rigorous in my documentation. My early notes were lost in an apartment move, and I had to begin again from scratch. This collection bridges that period and moves from my rather more scattered previous inquiries to more of what I am doing now. Note that the sunflowers and hearts on my ’74 piece are here again, just above my signature. There are also four designs on this that I sketched from a missionary’s collection of Chinese designs, collected in the 1890s. I ran across those notes while working as an intern at the Harvard Peabody Museum, circa 1977-1978. A few of the better documented bits made the cut and ended up in The New Carolingian Modelbook (TNCM).
Lessons Learned: Large and done on the fly (added design by design, with little advance planning) I discovered I liked the adventure of “bungie-jump stitching.” Looking back now I am not entirely pleased with the balance of the composition. But it includes a few well-loved motifs and still hangs proudly on my wall.
Next up were a few play test pieces of the designs that were in my earlier hand-drawn booklets that later became the core of TNCM. These were done in the 1980s and 1990s.
The piece above is a bit from a sampler intended as a wedding present for a friend whose engagement sadly ended before the sampler was finished (circa 1985). It’s done in DMC cotton on 32 count linen. I still have it and it’s still not complete, due to some vague association with the unfortunate end of the inspiring romance, and not wanting to tempt fate.
Lesson learned: Don’t pour effort into something that depends entirely on circumstances out of your control. Also, picking a limited color set and sticking with it provides a lot of unity in what might otherwise be a very scattershot work.
These shameless mermaids that got an honorable mention award at Woodlawn Plantation. I stitched them in 1988, Au Ver a Soie Silk on 36 count linen. I like that I didn’t center the motif on this one.
Lesson learned: It’s surprising what will offend people. The prize committee pinned the ribbon over the bust of one of the mermaids, and put a post-it note over the other. And then hung the thing alllll the way up near the ceiling of the main room, where no one could peek under.
“Think.” Done for the husband in 1989. DMC on 32 count linen around 1989. The leafy log panel (in TNCM) looks familiar? Scroll up – it’s also on the wedding sampler, but there in multicolor.
Lesson Learned: Visual density of small designs can be overwhelming. I always loved my original briar rose tangle – the corner design surrounding the lion, but only on paper. I’ve never been happy with it stitched up. The detail is entirely lost.
Circa 1990 or so I began work on my Forever Coif. Silk and silver, on 50 count. It’s still on the frame. It was intended to go with a reworked dress that featured the underskirt panel shown up at the top of this tirade. But it was not to be.
The fruits and flowers in the standard strawberry frame are original. I’ve lost the notebook where I had additional motifs doodled up. To finish I will have to think up new ones.
Lesson Learned: I’m still lousy at finishing. Eventually I will. But not as a coif – probably just as a rectangle, and wall-mount. Also, don’t design in a medium that doesn’t allow easy back-up. After this project I switched to drafting on the computer, exclusively.
“Do not Meddle in the Affairs of Wizards, for they are Subtle and Quick to Anger.” For the husband, in 1995. DMC on 36 count linen One of my faves, with several TNCM designs. This is also the first piece I did that used long-armed cross stitch (LACS) both for foreground in the daSera knot in the center, and background on the bottom motif that looks like an S designed by a Renaissance era Dr. Seuss. More reuse of bits on this one, too, including a scalloped edging (below “wizard”) that’s also on the very first piece on this page.
Lesson Learned: People are easily mystified when you break your words up in a non-standard manner. Also, LACS is lots more fun than plain old cross stitch.
Partially finished shot of a large leafy repeat that’s shown in TNCM. I did finish this but have no pix of the final object. Given to a dear friend after completion circa 1996. Danish Flower Thread on 38 count linen, and more LACS.
Lesson Learned; Take more photos.
Two “try out” pieces, just playing with no intent to finish either one. Upper one in linen thread, lower one in Danish Flower Thread on 38 count linen. The grounds on the voided strips are all long-armed cross stitch.
Lessons Learned: A lot. Neither of these grounds are true even weave. I was playing with how skew weaves distort designs. The one on the bottom is counted over 3×2 threads to make up for it.
This just takes me up to 1998 or so and I’ve skipped lots of pieces for which I have no photos, but this post is getting long. I guess the main lesson learned is that practice and perseverance help in any pursuit, even the most trivial. If people are interested, I’ll keep going.