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.
UPDATE: The Dance is now available as an easy PDF download via the Embroidery Patterns tab, above.
More free patterns. My stress abatement in this time is to doodle and design in addition to working on my own stitching and knitting. The designs below will eventually be part of a future work, but for now, I am sharing it as a broadside, so others whose stress abatement is stitching have ample food.
But before I present the pattern, some discussion. The main strip in this broadside mini-collection started out as a special request for a Danse Macabre design. I did it up, with some personally significant secondary motifs also requested, and delighted the recipient. But I wanted to play with it a bit more. I’ve changed it up somewhat, removed or changed the personal bits, and added a corner and secondary framing strips. And then having a partially empty page and an abhorrence of wasted space I just kept going, adding an unrelated border pair featuring swords and dart-like shapes, and as a lagniappe, a lemon meander. All are of my own design. The inspiration for the main strip will be evident in a moment.
Back to the Danse Macabre – that’s an allegory image from the 1400s and early 1500s. It’s something that appears in both religious and secular works, and is usually interpreted as a strong caution that no matter one’s station in life, wealth, or age – life is fragile, and all should be mindful of both mortality and the transitory nature of human vanity and pleasures.
But I have to say that I reject that morbid and moribund classical framing.
Instead, and in the current context, I look around. I hear about neighbors doing what they can to help each other. I read about people with talents – musicians, actors, artists of all levels of fame and proficiency – sharing what they can of themselves to enhearten, inspire, and entertain a frightened world. I witness the bravery of front line first responders and medical personnel, and the selflessness of many people in vital industries. I see many more small acts of kindness than I do malevolent and spiteful actions (although those latter ones do affect far more people proportionally per incident).
Now I see those dancing skeletons differently. They dance in defiance of mortality. They celebrate life in the face of danger and death. Living for others, to protect the lives of others, is the ultimate act of rebellion against an implacable enemy.
So, for all reading this, don’t break discipline. Keep away from others as much as possible. Heed the calls to do your part for community health. And if you are so inclined, feel free to stitch my Dance, with the joy with which I present it.
I make this file freely available for YOUR OWN PERSONAL, NON-COMMERCIAL USE. (NOTE: CHART IMAGE UPDATED ON 22 APRIL 2020)
As with my other offerings of late, this is “good-deed-ware.” Pay this gift forward by helping out someone else in need; phoning or getting in touch with a family member, friend or neighbor who could use a cheerful contact; volunteering time or effort; or if you can afford it – donating to one of the many local relief charities or food banks that are helping those displaced from work.
Finally, some notes on the patterns. In true historical style, the lesser framing borders have absolutely NO count relationship to their larger main motifs. This means that a square or rectangle of the Dance, which will meet up neatly at the corners provided full iterations of the repeat are used, will NOT be neatly framed by the plume flower or inner band, with the corner of the plume band guaranteed to present as shown. The same thing goes for the swords and companion darts. THEREFORE, I strongly suggest working the main band first to establish the width of your project. Then starting the companion border from the corners, and working it towards the center MIRRORING the corners and the direction of the plumes (or darts). When you get to the center of the work, fudge it.
The easiest way to fudge is to stop with the last full presentation of the plume or dart, symmetrically on the left and right of the center, then place a box in the “leftover” area around the center line. You can fill that box with your signature or a date. Or you can design a little supplemental motif to fill that space. And if all else fails, write to me or comment below with your problem area’s count, and I’ll see if I can help.
Stay safe and stay busy. And above all stay well!
I’ve finished all of the stitching on the book cover project, now on to turning the flat piece of cloth into the finished item.
Although I am a teensy bit disappointed that my centering efforts on the leafy side did not pan out, I think you can see that my guess was correct. Given the eccentric nature of this slow-descent repeat, it’s not obvious at all.
An interesting thing happened – density of color. The yellow used on the front and the back are the same – same color number, even the same skein. But the diagonal diamond voided fill used behind the leaves is more dense than the lattice weave used with the swirly flowers. And the swirly flowers, having nice dense centers and connector leaves show the red as being more intense, too. The colors present differently depending on the stitching designs chosen. Close diagonals will appear visually more dense and darker than stitches done “with the weave” – horizontally or vertically.
While density differences do manifest in monochrome, they mostly present as grey scale from a distance, or in some blackwork substyles – something akin to the cross-hatched lines that are used to indicate depth and shadow. But in polychrome it works a bit differently. Individual colors – the same colors in fact – will pop or recede, or even intensify, depending on the closeness and orientation of the line segments on which they are used.
Making up the Book Cover
Well, for me at least the fun part is over. Now for the less interesting but no less exacting half of the project – turning this flat piece of cloth into a book jacket.
As you recall, we have the flaps all neatly defined by basted lines. These I will just turn over, not bothering to finish off the raw edges. They will be well concealed once the thing is sewn together, plus the added bulk of a turned or rolled hem would distort the lie of the stitched part of the cover.
First I flipped the thing over, with the “good side” down, so I could fold my flaps to the back. I set the creases along the stitching lines and the basted guide lines, setting them with my iron. It’s easier to do if you finger-press first to get the precise fold line, then follow the finger-pressed creases up with a warm iron. (Ignore the blue ironing board cover stained with the ghosts of projects long past).
I started by setting the folds on the top and bottom edge, and then the left and right sides.
Then I trimmed off some of the excess fabric at the top and bottom. I didn’t bother trimming the left and right because there really wasn’t much to trim.
The next step was to fold everything in, and remove some of the bulk in the corners – note that I did not trim it all.
At this point with lots of nice, crisp creases in place, and no further need for the markings, I teased out all remaining bits of lavender basting thread.
On to the corners, to make them a bit sharp. There are other ways to do this, but origami-style “squash folding” to make a mitered corner is the simplest. I folded the corners in, ironed in the creases and pinned them for hand-tacking. And while I had the pin ball out (the needle-felted pin-puff is a treasured gift, made by Younger Spawn), I pinned the flaps to the body, although I will NOT be stitching them down..
And the last bit of prep was the stash-dive for a bit of red ribbon. That I will sew to the inside of the cover. It’s just long enough so it can be teased out to either the top or bottom, and will serve as an effective placemarker regardless of whether my recipient chooses the flower or the leafy side as the front cover.
Now off to do all of the tacking. The next post will cover sewing the end flaps in, to make the pockets into which the book covers will be slid. Before writing that bit up I want to experiment a bit, because I’d like those seams to be neat, and if possible – visible, and in green. We’ll see if that works out or if I punt and just stitch in the plain white sewing thread I am using for tacking and affixing the ribbon.
OK. Now that I’ve armed a whole bunch of people with a wealth of counted all-over designs – what to do with them?
Pretty much anything you want. While samplers are the most common, there are lots and lots of things you can make that don’t involve using up precious wall space. Pincushions (either plain square or rectangular pillows, or fancy biscornu); pillow or cushion covers; napkins, doilies, and tablecloths; kerchiefs (aka for the historically-minded – forehead cloths); tray or coaster inserts (using pre-made items intended to showcase a piece of stitching or painting); zip or tied pouches or folios of various types – jewelry or lingerie rolls are examples; slip-in cases for sunglasses, phones, or tablet devices; small rice or lentil-filled handwarmers or heating pad pillows (warmed in the microwave, for gentle comfort or cold fingers); greeting cards or festive ornaments; all are examples of things that might sport your stitching.
But I want to revisit one project in particular – the book cover.
Making a Slip Cover for a Small Notebook
This is a general logic recipe for making a reusable slip cover in for a small notebook, using the same method as the standard brown-paper-bag covers kids of earlier eras employed to protect school-issued textbooks. The basic logic can be adapted to cover any size book. I’ve written this with special steps for counted embroidery project, but any fabric or stitching style can be used.
In this particular case I covered two small pocket notebooks, roughly equivalent in size to Moleskines, but of a far less expensive make. They are about 3.5 inches wide, by 5.5 inches tall, and roughly 0.5 inches thick across the spine (about 8.9 x 13.4 x 1.3 cm). They came with an elastic cord to keep them closed/mark one’s place, and were about half as expensive as the fancy name brand ones.
I wanted to know how big a piece of fabric I would need. Having measured a notebook, I did a mockup of the cover, drawing the shapes to size on a piece of paper to make my pattern. I used a brown paper grocery bag to do my layout and mockup (fitting it onto my target notebook to make sure it all worked. That pattern is now long gone, but here’s the logic I used. I strongly suggest making a mock-up and “dry fitting” it before you begin the project, just to make sure that the dimensions work. Note that some books have thicker cardboard covers or heavier spines than others, and may require a bit more “wiggle room” to be added to the measurements below – even if the books have the same general dimensions as the ones I used. If your book is significantly larger than mine you may want to increase the depth of the flaps all the way around. But you should not need to add more than the indicated amount beyond the stitching area (the red rectangle below). The overage of the grey area is just there to provide purchase for a hoop or frame.
Note that I’ve allowed a little bit of extra width for the spine, so that there is enough slack for the book to open and close properly. I’ve also allowed lots of extra room around the stitching area, to accommodate use of my hoop or snap frame. You can use a smaller piece of cloth closer to the dimensions of the book cover itself if you like, but be aware that frequent repositioning of the hoop to get close to the edges is a pain in the neck, and all of that tugging and yanking isn’t good for your threads or ground either. And if you’re mounting this on a flat or scrolling frame, tensioning the sides and ends very close to the stitching area can lead to distortion, so having a bit of extra room for the stress to even out is also good.
For my standard size pocket mini-notebook, I’ll need a piece of ground fabric that’s about 13.25 x 11 inches (33.7 x 27.9 cm – all metric measurements are rounded off). If I intended to hem my edges of my entire ground cloth prior to starting (as opposed to whipping or serging), I’d add a half inch all the way around to this measurement.
Selecting the Fabric
What type of fabric? Well, whatever you enjoy working. This project will be a tiny bit easier to lay out on even weave, but not overly so. You can use Aida, Monk’s Cloth, Fiddler’s Cloth, Hardanger, in whatever count is most comfortable. But the count you select will also be key for what design you select. The lower the count (fewer stitches per inch), the larger your finished iteration of the design will be and the fewer repeats of it will fit in these designated spaces. If for example you want to stitch 11 count Aida, our front cover – only 3.5 inches wide would mean your total stitching area is about 38 stitches wide (rounding down). A repeat of say 8 stitches across would appear 4 full times plus some fragment at left and right (more on this later). A repeat that’s 14 stitches across would show in full only twice, with a fragment at the left and right sides.
Why would layout be easier to do on even weave as opposed to Aida or one of the others? Because you can determine the center point more accurately on even weave. In one of the purpose woven grounds with their well established holes (and especially in the fewer-stitches-per-inch sizes), the centermost line of holes may be off the exact center of the piece just a teensy bit, and may be enough to annoy you.
One last suggestion – whip, or serge your edges after you cut your fabric to size. Some people use tape. I don’t recommend it because of the adhesive residue.
Marking the Fabric
In this type of project, where we don’t intend to graph out every single stitch beforehand, knowing where the edges and center lines are is very important. Some people use water soluble markers or pencils for this. I’m old fashioned. I would baste. Some people are very specific in technique, taking each basting stitch over 4 or 5 stitch equivalents to aid in counting, but I’m pretty haphazard. I just establish my lines and don’t try to make my basting stitches even.
To transfer the dimensions of the diagram above to my cloth, I’d start more or less in the center and measure out from there, basting in lines, probably in a couple of colors. I use plain old sewing thread; spools of thread inherited from my grandmother – 100% cotton, in pale pastels, too fragile for use in seaming, but perfect for this. I’d outline my stitching fields using one color (the heavy red lines on the diagram). Then I’d mark the center lines both north/south and east/west (the thin blue lines). You may find that you have either a line of holes or a full stitch at the very center of your front cover, back cover, and spine. Decide now if you are a perfectionist or not, and if your purpose woven cloth forces you to mark at one side or the other of any center column/row of stitches, which side of the center you have marked. More on this below.
There’s no strong reason to mark the no-sew flap areas at this point, but they are on the diagram so you know they exist, and their width should not be forgotten.
Choosing your Design
Elsewhere on the site you’ll find books and books of fills and other patterns. Thumb through. Pick something that appeals to you, that’s a good fit for your chosen ground fabric’s count. BUT also be aware of the Center Problem.
Some patterns have a specific center line. They have even repeats – 4 stitches, 8 stitches, 22 stitches – whatever. Each repeat is an EVEN number of stitches. These repeats mirror evenly left and right of an line. Other designs have ODD numbers of stitches in one repeat – 5 stitches, 9 stitches, 11 stitches – again any number but an ODD one. That means that there is a center stitch in these designs. Here are examples:
The wavy plumes (shown in two variants) are an EVEN 14-stitch repeat with a specific center line. The framed pears is an ODD 15-stitch repeat. It’s center is the X unit where the four pear stems meet.
Why does this matter? If you are a perfectionist using Aida (see above) and the center of your area to be stitched is in the middle in between two columns of holes, look for an ODD stitch repeat. If the center of those areas work out neatly to align with a column of holes pick an EVEN stitch repeat.
Now you know why I mentioned that layout on even weave is easier. Not being forced into using specific hole locations makes fudging that center line easier and if your heart is drawn to either an odd or even repeat, any finagling you might do to make placement will be less obvious.
Choosing Thread and Stitching
Here I am of less help, especially for folk using Aida. I can tell you that on 32-38 count linen (16-19 stitches per inch) I usually use one or two plies of silk or cotton floss. 40-50 count linen (20-25 stitches per inch), I use one ply. And that I run the thread through beeswax prior to stitching. If you are using a lower count ground I’m afraid you’ll have to experiment to see whether you like 1, 2 or 3 plies the best.
In any case, no matter what your ground is, your basted lines will tell you exactly where the center of your area to be stitched is. Find the center of your chosen pattern, and start from there. Double running or back stitch – even heresy stitch – it doesn’t matter. Start in the center and work your way out. You can choose to work the ENTIRE stitched area – front cover, spine and back cover as one unit, and start in the center of the spine. Or you can work the front and back covers either identically or different; and leave the spine unworked, or treat it in another manner (perhaps a narrow border, solidly covered with cross stitches, or anything else you dream up). There is no wrong here.
When you get close to the basting line that describes the edge of the section you are working on pause. Decide whether you want to continue the design right up to the edge, or if you want to stop (possibly at the natural edge of your repeat, or at some unobtrusive place in it) and save the remaining area to do a border. That’s what I decided to do on my two sample books above. Any narrow geometric band – even just parallel straight lines – can be used to frame the center design and draw the eye away from truncation of the center design.
Finishing the Piece and Assembly
Once everything is all stitched, you can do a gentle wash and iron (nothing with big agitation, harsh detergent, or high heat). Or not. It’s up to you. Now is the time to draw or baste-mark those extra flaps. If you are going to serge them you can mark them and cut to exact size. Note that the ONLY places where secure edge treatment is mandatory are shown in green below. I strongly recommend hemming for those, although serging will work in a pinch. The other edges can be fray check secured or even left plain (they’ll never see the light of day again). Personally, I mark the flaps, and cut leaving a quarter inch seam allowance for the green bits that I turn back and hem, doing a veeerrrryyyy careful diagonal cut at the corner where the front and back inner flaps meet the top and bottom flaps. When I turn back the outer points of the front and back inner flaps and hem them down, I cut off the triangular excess to reduce bulk.
The top and bottom flaps do not need to be stitched down. Ironing them flat is enough. The final step is folding in the back and front inner flaps and stitching them to the front and back, along the edges of the book. This leaves a neatly edged pocket that will slide over the book cover. If the book cover doesn’t fit, feel free to snip it just a bit so that it slides in nicely. No one will ever know.
One last refinement. Many of these books come with an elastic loop that can be used to hold the book closed or mark a page. It’s useless in this application. I snip it off the book prior to fitting the cover. Instead, to serve as a bookmark, I stitch on a length of narrow ribbon, attaching it at the little red dot marked on the diagram above.
OK. Now armed with the basic how-to. Let’s see what you can come up with yourself!
OK. Here’s the post folks have asked for. Warning. It’s long.
I don’t claim this to be totally inclusive (I’m always stumbling across new-to-me things as I browse museum on-line photo collections), but it’s a start. Feel free to comment with additional examples.
There’s been lively discussion on what stitches and techniques were used for the backgrounds of voided works. I’m going to try to present as many examples as I can.
To start – voided pieces are a family of works that feature a more or less uniform background treatment that leaves the main design of the piece plain (or minimally worked. It results in a visual “reverse silhouette” look. There are many manifestations of this aesthetic over time. One widely known subset is Assisi work – a simplified but charming 19th century revival inspired by earlier Renaissance era embroideries. The revival used cross stitch (aka “plain old cross stitch” or POCS) ornamented by back or double running stitches. Earlier styles were more varied.
One of the most common treatments was a tightly pulled four-sided stitch, worked to completely cover the threads of the woven ground. None of the ground threads were cut – they were just bundled together, making an extremely durable net-like texture. How do I know it’s durable? I’ve stitched some, made a mistake, and found it absolutely impossible to rip back or deconstruct (perhaps that’s why so many fragments of it exist, even after the towels, pillowcases and other linen they adorned have frayed to death).
The border above is in the Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1896.112, and is attributed to Italy, in the early 1600s. I believe the outlines were established first, in either double running or back stitch, and then the background was filled in, working right up to and in some cases, encroaching on those outlines. Close examination of the photo where the outlines are broken shows no cut ground threads, just distortion. The “wing shapes” in the connecting meandering branches are very amusing to me. I know from experience that working in closed areas is challenging. it looks like the stitcher saved some time and effort by drawing a diagonal between the bud and the side sprig on the branch, and just not filling in between them.
Here’s another example, Italian, but undated, resident in the Harvard Art Museum collection (accession 1916.388). Also outlined with the meshy stitch worked up to the outlines. Note that companion edging though. I can’t tell for sure, but the branches that little leaves grow on at least may be cross stitches. Not sure about the leaves themselves. On this one it’s very clear that the ground cloth threads are bundled, not cut.
Here is a variant – a similar tightly stitched mesh, over a somewhat coarser linen ground, BUT in this case the stitcher did NOT establish an outline and then fill in the background. The piece is most definitely done on the count (not on a freehand outline), but the only stitching that established the motifs is the background mesh. This bit is also from the Cooper Hewitt (accession 1946-42-9a), dated 17th century, but has no posted place of origin. One other thing to note is a bit of directionality in the mesh. Mesh can be worked either on the diagonal or back and forth across succeeding rows. In this case the stitcher did the latter. But it’s NOT long armed cross stitch. It’s still the tightly overworked mesh.
This variant of meshy was done by someone who didn’t encroach on the established outlines. Instead this stitcher left a “halo” of unworked ground around the foreground motifs. There is no companion line on the outer edge of the halo area – the mesh stitch simply starts. I’ve mentioned this piece before in my series on long-lost siblings, and it’s in the Harvard Art Museum (accession 1916.377), but bears no date or location notes.
Here’s a piece that the holding institution claims was done by withdrawing threads, but the detail photo at left (a section where the red stitching has been lost) clearly shows the distortion of groups of 3×3 threads, with no snips or darns. I maintain that this is the pulled meshy stitch, too. Another Cooper-Hewitt sample (accession 1971-50-90), Italian from the 1500s. Love that needle lace edging detail, too!
Cut and Withdrawn/Overstitched Mesh
What about withdrawn thread work, where threads are snipped or turned back and the edges secured, with the remaining scaffolding overstitched to make a meshy background? I’m pretty sure it exists, but I need to find a well documented and clearly photographed sample that explicitly shows the snipped rather than distorted threads of the ground fabric’s weave. Have a reference? Feel free to share it in the comments. If a good one shows up I’ll edit this and include a cut thread heading and photo here.
Long Armed Cross Stitch (LACS)
Another popular ground treatment was long-armed cross stitch. This produces a distinctive almost braided texture when worked back and forth across the piece. The piece below is in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1971-50-100 ), with a provenance of Spain, of the 16th-17th century. Again the main design is outlined with back or double running stitch, and the background is filled in later. Note that the stitcher kludged this a bit where the rows of LACS meet up with angles, and that POCS is used for edge ornamentation.
But again, working with an linear outline is not mandatory. Here’s a jaunty falconer on his mount. He is also worked in LACS, but without the double running or back stitch outline, in spite of the complexity of the design. And yes, there ARE some plain old cross stitch bits in there. Much of the surface detail in the otherwise unworked foreground areas are done in POCS. I’d even entertain an argument that outlining was also done in POCS, but is mostly disguised by encroachment of the background LACS. However, the bulk of the background is clearly LACS. You can find this piece in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1904-17-4), dated to the 17th century, no provenance. I do wonder about the dating though. The design seems a bit “modern-revival” to me, unless there was a nostalgia movement in the 1600s that presented folk in “antique dress.” Also that cross stitch for outlining thing is very, very rare. (I’ll wait for the experts on dating to chime in on this one.)
More long-armed cross stitch – but more tightly pulled. It’s not true meshy – the plaited like texture and 1×2 crossings are still evident. This time with outlines. In green. This Italian piece is from The Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1937.779), and is dated from 1500s/1600s or so.
Another one just for fun. Clearly LACS-like, and you can make out that 1×2 cross on the very uniform top legs. From the uniformity of those legs I think that this piece was not worked in stitch-by-stitch mode (the standard way of working LACS, but as an entire row, with the stitcher first laying down the “short legs” and then covering them by a second pass working just the “long legs” in the opposite direction. This supposition is borne out by the way the successive rows cross. Note that there has been absolutely no effort to keep the successive rows of LACS either alternating left to right as is done when it’s worked in the usual manner, or all aligning in the same direction. Instead the rows “bounce” when they encounter an obstruction, and do so in a way that’s congruent with the in-two-passes approach. Obviously this one has outlining done in a different color, and the ground done in a very atypical yellow. Sprightly, even with the massive loss of the now blue/green thread. It’s from the Cooper-Hewitt collection (accession 1971-50-77), and dated to the 1500s (no provenance.)
There are a few pieces that use an effective but simple fill. The final appearance is that of boxes. The samples I have seen have all been double-sided, and from the pattern produced by unevenly dyed or faded threads, I suspect most of them were worked in double running on the diagonal. No proof though without picking one out, and that would be heresy. This piece is from the Philadelphia Museum (accession 1894-30-116). It’s Italian, of the late 1500s. In addition to the boxed fill the foreground is ornamented with cutwork, which makes it a double-curiosity. On some of these the outlines of the motifs are also done in double running. In others, in back stitch (or possibly very neatly done outline/stem stitch), so that the reverse presents a heavier line defining them. Whether or not those who first used these considered the heavier outlined side the public side is something we may never know.
Here’s the most well known sample of the boxed substyle – the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s apron (accession 38.19.8) – Italian, 16th-17th century. This one doesn’t use outlines to define the motifs. The edges of the box ground units themselves define the edges of the foreground motif.
Here’s another example of the squared filling style (with outlines). This piece is from Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, in Brussels (accession T.1578), and is dated to the 1500s. It combines variants of two of my favorite designs, the “lettuce” pattern on the left, and another that shows up again and again on the right. Both of these designs turn up in other voided and un-voided presentations, with meshy or LACS as the ground treatment. Or none at all. Variants of these two will be in my ever forthcoming book.
Plain Old Cross Stitch (POCS)
Yup. You had to peek to see what I would say here. Sadly, although I’ve examined hundreds of samples of voided pieces, I have found none with a ground worked in plain cross stitch until the mid/late 19th century revival of that style. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any – just that I haven’t stumbled across them yet. Got one? Feel free to send the reference to me. I’d love to find one and add it to the greater family.
But here’s a prime example of the most complex end of the revived style. These two designs have clear Renaissance era precursors (well, close at least – maybe not exact pedigrees), but are rendered using POCS, with and without linear outlines. This is from The Antique Pattern Library’s copy of Album des Broideries au Point de Croix, compiled by Therese de Dillmont, probably an edition of the 1880s,
Other Modern Treatments
I can cite no historical precedent for these treatments – I admit, I was just riffing on the squared box theme. But they do work and are interesting. These are my own: diagonals, diamonds, and steps. I like the mirroring on the diagonals in the top sample, the second one has all of the diagonals going in the same direction for the entire strip. All of these are worked on designs for which I have citations, and that have or will appear in my books.
UPDATE – Diagonal Cross Hatch
No research is ever “forever.” New things are imaged or otherwise rise to attention. Therefore there is little point ever saying “they never did it that way.” But one can always say “I haven’t seen that yet.”
Well now I have. For at least one of my modern interpretations. Note that third item under “Other Modern Treatments” above – the leafy meander with the yellow diagonal cross-hatch. Well, lo and behold; here’s a historical example.
This is a fragment in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Accession 1971-50-108. It’s dated 15th or 16th century and attributed as German. It’s pretty clear that these are whole stitches, worked within a double running stitch or backstitched outline – exactly as I worked mine, with whole diagonals that intersect, not “checkerboard spaced” plain old cross stitches whose crossed centers make up every other intersection.
Now I do think the museum dating is a bit off, it’s probably 16th or 17th century, but there’s no doubt about it. We have solid artifact basis for diagonal cross hatch.
And who knows what will turn up next….
Folk who play around poking into historical styles of counted work often note far flung similarities and make wild conjectures about cross-pollination, imported influences, and neighbors-in-commerce catering to each other’s markets. I’m no different. But I try to contain myself. Still sometimes things present at just too convenient a time or place to NOT raise eyebrows, and make one wish one had the time for real academic research.
Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum houses several artifacts that make my heart flutter.
Where did the style of inhabited blackwork come from? By inhabited blackwork, I mean the style characterized by heavy outlines and geometric fills (ok, sometimes they are freehand, and are not always counted). My old coronation dress underskirt is a classic example.
The style hit big time in Tudor England, cloaked in vague associations with Moorish styles imported from the Iberian regions. There were certainly monochrome or limited palette pieces done before then, scrolling leaves/flowers worked with outlines, and certainly things done on the count. But all of those elements together? And where are “ancestral pieces” in Spain? What can we point to as a seed of the style?
Apparently there isn’t much. Some folkloric associations with Queen Catherine of Aragon, and “general knowledge” but not a lot of actual items that are clear ancestors of the Great Tudor Blackwork Explosion.
That’s where the Ashmolean’s Newberry Collection of Islamic Artifacts comes in. Dating is not very precise, and the provenance is Fustat, Egypt, where many fragments were found, preserved by the dry climate and fortuitous funerary customs. There are lots of bits there that look like the precursors of double running strapwork – bands of repeats done stepwise, that look a like the famous Meyer bands in the Holbein painting.
But there are also these.
Ashmolean Jameel Centre Newberry Collection, “Textile Fragment with leaves and squares”. Egypt, Fustat. 10th to 15th century. 6 x 47cm (warp x weft approx 18 x 19 thread count/cm) Accession EA1993.222
Ashmolean Jameel Centre Newberry Collection, “Textile Fragment with scrolling vine leaves, flowers, and leaves”. Egypt, Fustat. 10th to 15th century. 6 x 47cm (warp x weft approx 18 x 19 thread count/cm) Accession EA1993.223
These are not Spanish, but they are from a part of the greater Islamic world. They are not monochrome. Being rather broadly dated they only vaguely inch up to the period of inhabited blackwork’s rise to popularity (The 1400s are not the 1500s).
BUT. What we do see here are scrolling leaf and flower forms, with prominent outlines, and simple geometric/abstract fills, with a strong stylized (as opposed to representational) iconic feel. They would have been thought to have vague Moorish associations at the time blackwork arose.
Did works of this type make their way across the entire length of the Mediterranean to Spain, and by extension – to England, to influence the style we know so well? Trading and travel were robust, so it’s not an impossibility. Remember, we have no way to know for sure.
You have to admit though, it’s a juicy bit of speculation…