Category Archives: Embroidery


In the last post I started a method description on working a large project without having to do a full chart of the entire design. I’ve now finished the first end and am starting on the second, so I continue the discussion.

I worked both the top and bottom borders to the same logical stopping point. Since I had begun both of them aligned to the exact center of my piece and was careful to follow the design exactly, the ends of both lined up. More or less. There’s actually one FEWER unit one one end of the top of the end strip than there is at the bottom. But I also bet that without knowing it was there, zooming in and looking for it, you would never have noticed. Again, a variance but not a fatal error, and far less egregious than the errors I’ve spotted on historical pieces.

There’s a lot of “white space” to the right of the stitching, but bear in mind that the opposite side is the one with the wonky end has less free space to play around in (it’s not just photo foreshortening, it’s really not parallel to the edge line I based on the true grain of the fabric). So in order to leave enough room even at the narrowest point, I have allowed for more “waste ground” on the more generous edges. I also am not sure exactly what I will be doing for the border yet. I was thinking a simple hem and some needle lace (picking up something I haven’t done in decades), but there’s also the temptation of a withdrawn element Italian style hemmed edge. And I may just leave all such elaborations off for a bit, to mull it over some more and possibly rehearse those very rusty techniques.

Anyway, back to the stitching at hand. Note also that in the shot above, I was working the bottom border out to the left, to the exact same stopping point as the edge on the right. I continued and finished both long side borders. So it was on to the second short side.

In the photo below the piece has been flipped so that the bottom in the shot below is now at the top. But where to place that second border?

Since the left and right ends of both long side strips end in exactly the same place, it’s easy. I went over to the finished work, determined that the “collision line” where the border meets the field pattern aligns with the curly end of one of the little sprigs that grows up from it. So I found the corresponding point on the second side and began the first pass of double running down it. I didn’t do the whole side, because I know I’ll be working those curls and sprigs eventually, and rather than risk a massive miscount due to the long run between those sets, I would prefer to work the larger floral border, then fill in the little secondary one once that’s been finished. But I DO need to know where the collision line is so I can fill out the truncated edges of my main field design.

I will probably begin the large border again from the center, although since the end points of my other short side border are known, I could just mirror those. We will see where whim and fancy take me. At this point, all of the known issues have been worked out, mitigated, or blissfully ignored. It’s just dogged completion of the motifs and borders from now on.


Last year I mentioned using a retractable badge holder to help corral my scissors at the beach.

I clipped it onto the straps of the drink holder of my beach chair. That worked so well, I’ve been looking for ways to do something similar at home. I tried clipping the things to me or wearing my old work lanyards. Too fussy. My favorite stitching chair is wood and leather, with no good clipping spots on it. But I’ve been working this current project on my Hardwicke Manor sit-upon hoop/stand combo. It has a nice, long screw clamp. The clip jaws of one of my badge holders fits exactly on the exposed screw.

While I’m showing the thing holding my favorite scissors and laying tool, with both lapped in front of the work, in actual play the angle of the badge head suspends them behind and away from the fabric, so catching isn’t a hazard. I love the convenience of not fishing around for often-used tools, and the fun of repurposing these tiny work albatrosses for greater ease.

Oh, and on my big flat scrolling frame, remember those penny size strong magnets I glued to the uprights? They hold the badge leashes quite securely, too. So I have the advantage of tools-to-hand on my flat frames, too.


A couple of people have sent me private notes asking about how I go about designing a larger project without graphing the entire thing. I attempt to answer, using the current Dizzy Grapes sideboard scarf/placemat as a possible approach.

It’s true I didn’t know how I was going to proceed when I began this project. I had a graph for the main field repeat, but only one iteration of the design, but not a chart for the entire area that design would inhabit. I didn’t have a border (yet). I had a piece of cloth of dubious cut and unknown count, and I had picked a thread well represented in my stash, with known easy-care laundry properties. I knew I wanted to make a large placemat type sideboard scarf, as big as attainable given the materials on hand.

The first thing to do was to figure out the largest possible area I could stitch on my unevenly hemmed ground. Leaving a bit of a margin around for easy hooping, I took plain old sewing thread and basted in a to-stitch area, with a bit of a margin. In doing this I discovered that the person who had reclaimed this bit of antique linen and done the crocheted edge treatments had a rather liberal interpretation of rectangles in general. Once my edges were basted in, I used simple measure/fold to determine the center lines, both north/south and east/west. Those were basted, too. Here’s that first step:

I also determined the thread count of this well washed, buttery soft vintage linen. It averages about 32 threads per inch, but is quite uneven, ranging from 28 to 34 in places, but didn’t dwell on that beyond satisfying myself that there was enough “real estate” inside my designated area to accommodate at least two full repeats of my chosen design across the narrow dimension.

Having the dead center of the piece determined, I chose a center point on the field design. I could have used the center of the smaller motif. That would probably have been easier, but I wanted the large rotating floral shapes to dominate instead of the largely unworked area surrounding the smaller motif. That was a bit tricky because the motif has a square unit in the dead-center, but I worked that straddling my basted center mark. Then I began working, snipping back my basted center guides as I went. (From here on the piece is shown rotated, with the narrow dimension north/south and the wide one east/west).

The shot above shows that first center motif in process, with the center guides being snipped back as the work encroached.

From there it was a simple matter of adding more floral motifs and the smaller X motifs they spiral around. Then after a group of four florals were complete, defining the space between them, centering the free-floating X in that area. Here are shots of those two processes. Note that as a Lazy Person, instead of tedious counting in from the established stitching, I used temporary basting to determine the centerpoint for the free-floating X motifs.

How did I know where to stop? No clue initially. I figured I’d get as close to the edge of my defined real estate as I could with full motifs, then pause to assess. It’s clear in the left photo that another full cycle of the repeat would not fit neatly between the established work and the basted guideline. But that area is also a bit wide to be entirely border. The proportions would be off. Plus that small X motif in the center bottom looks odd without at least a partial snippet of the floral motif spinning off its bottom leg.

So I did a rough count of the width left and decided I wanted a border that was about two inches wide at its widest (about 5 cm). Back to the drawing board to draft out something that complemented the design, and was somewhere around 30 units tall. I doodled up a couple of possibilities before settling on one. One strong consideration was the use of an inner line to contain the field pattern, so it had something even against which to truncate.

Once I had my border in hand, I decided that a bit of the center flower in its repeat could scallop below the basted edge line, so allowing for those 6 units, I counted up from my basted edge guide, and beginning at the center point I started the border of the first side. Then I worked right and left until I got to the edge of the “uncertainty zone” – the area as yet unworked at the left and right of the piece. Here’s the first side’s border in process.

As I established the border’s top edge (that field containment line), I went back to the main field, and worked the truncated snippet of the floral motif to fit. You can see that first snippet in the photo above.

Now on to that second side. But I had a cheat! Instead of starting it by counting down, I looked at that center floral snippet on the first side. Then I worked the floral snippet on the opposite side to the same point. That established the containment line on the second side, and I began the border at the center of the second side, working out to the left and right.

Now on to the ends. You can see now that I’m making these decisions on the fly. When I started I had no clear idea of what I was going to do beyond “Field. Border. Big.” I’m handling the problems and decisions as they are encountered, with minimal fretting about perfection along the way.

I chose to do butted borders on this piece. Neatly mitered, squared, or fudged border corners do exist on historical pieces, but they are in the minority. Even though my self-designed border isn’t particularly period representative (those repeating centered units with their own bounce repeat, as opposed to simple twigs all marching it the same direction), I wanted to use a non-mitered corner. I could have ended each off, designed a separate corner square, but I didn’t want to introduce another design variant – the border was already too busy.

Where to start that side border? What happens to the longer top and bottom borders? Do they just end or should I try to end at a visually logical place? Well, I chose the latter. I kept going on the bottom border to the right until I ended at the center of the bounce repeat. It’s just a few units shy of my designated basted edge. Not a lot of waste there. And knowing the height of the border, I established my north-south containment line.

You can see that I’m working on the first of the two spin-off floral sprigs along this side. When that’s done I will go to the centerpoint of the right hand edge and begin working the border from there, headed back to the corner shown. The side borders will end where they end. They will truncate oddly for sure, but having made the bottom and top congruent, what is on the sides, will be what it is. The side as a whole however should truncate in the same spot where it meets up to the border on the top. But no one is perfect. If it’s off by a unit or two, I will have accomplished the same degree of precision as most of the Ancients. They weren’t perfect either.

Stay tuned! The Grand Excitement of seeing the final product remains; and with it how things meet up, how close to symmetry I achieve, and how any as yet unknown problems are solved. And that’s before I decide how I’m going to edge and trim the piece out. Needle lace and/or a withdrawn/pulled element hem are both possibilities I haven’t yet ruled out.

So there you have it. Another adventure in bungee-jump stitching – starting a project with little or no detailed planning, no full project chart (just a partial chart showing the minimum needed), and no clear idea at outset on handling challenges encountered en route. I hope sharing this process inspires folk to take up their own self-composed projects.


Back when we were doing the expat stint in Pune, India, I wrote about Kasuthi (aka Kasuti, Kashida), a blackwork cousin that deserves to be better known by Western double running stich aficionados. I recently stumbled across another sample of related stitching, this time from a bit further north.

The Hazara people, mostly in Afghanistan, but also present in Pakistan practice an interesting and related form of linear geometric stitchery. It’s hard to date beyond “traditional,” and given current geopolitics, deeper investigations are unlikely. But here is the limited info I’ve found, plus some examples, and some sources of additional information.

The Hazara are known for several forms of stitching, mostly but not exclusively counted styles using satin stitch, straight stitch, double running stitch and cross stitch, and is better known for phulkaris (large shawls often worked in geometric, counted straight stitches). These double running stitch pieces in particular are probably made by women of the Wardak Hazaras, who live mostly southwest of Kabul. This style is usually worked in cotton or silk on linen or cotton grounds. These double running stitch pieces are often finished out as small mats, bags, shawls, prayer cloths, and other covers.

First is the artifact that piqued my interest.

This is piece in the collection of the George Washington University Museum, Accession T-1240. They note it’s provenance as being Hazara from Afghanistan, probably sometime between 1880-1920. That mushy date range is the earliest and although it’s only semi-hard, is the only date I’ve seen for this style. Note the fields of diapered patterns stitched on the count on a not-so-evenweave ground. The designs skew east-west compared to north-south due to there being more ground fabric threads per unit measurement in one direction than the other. But skew or not I love the repetition and color usage. So I went looking for more.

This artifact is probably the best represented on line for the style, and shows up in most on-line photo collections of Afghan embroidery, although not always with attribution. It is nicknamed “The Snowflake Shawl” and was collected by Jania Mishra, the author of the art blog/sales gallery Woven Souls. She places it as Hazara, but does not opine a date. Still it’s clearly antique/vintage. Her write-up includes lots of close-up photos, and notes the relationship of this style of stitching to mathematical theory. Pop by her blog to truly admire the diverse detail of this piece.

More examples. On the left is a bandanna size prayer cloth that was sold by a textile/rug auction dealer, and on the right is what’s described as a Hazara napkin in the Galerie Ariana ethnic textiles sales site. (No affiliation with/endorsement of these sellers – I find dealers’ on-line photos and attributions an occasionally useful research supplement, although not all dealers’ listing data are of the same quality.)

What can we conclude about dissemination and influences?

Very little.

Double running is one of the simplest, oldest and most ubiquitous of stitches. The scholars of Kasuthi posit a vague “Persian origin” before adoption, mention of in literature, and refinement of the style in the Deccan area Chalukya dynasty courts of the mid 500s to mid 700s, and that dynasty’s later resurgences through the end of the 1100s, culminating in the disciplined style and vocabulary of traditional motifs that are known today through surviving examples dating to the 19th century. Overland trade routes have connected Northern India and Afghanistan and beyond going back to antiquity. The the flow of both peaceful and aggressive contact is also well known, as is historical trade that connected the northeastern African coast with India. Egypt’s Fustat region is another area where visually similar double running stitch artifacts from the Mamluk era (1200s-1500s) are found.

Is this another survival of some sort of time-lost tradition that also gave rise to Kasuthi, the Mamluk works, and by extension over time and geography (and by direct quotation noted by others as well as myself), the stepwise and geometric designs found in early European modelbooks at the dawn of the popular print era (early 1500s), and on to early European blackwork and strapwork? It’s tempting to speculate so, but we have absolutely no proof.

These Afghani pieces could also have been a product of later cultural influences, as waves of association washed back and forth along time’s shores. But the clear correspondences, whether they can be affixed to defined family tree, or are just casual correlations due to the limits of geometry and the simple stitching style itself, are to me are a source of endless fascination.

Here are a couple of sites with additional information on Hazara embroidery in general:

Source material for the Mamluk styles mentioned

And there are more traditional regional counted styles to explore in this area of cultural confluence. I promise to keep digging.


Sometimes it feels like everything I see is fraught with stitching purpose.

Yesterday Younger Spawn and I went to the local Burlington, MA H-Mart, for a general restock of kimchi, various sauces, and condiments since the options in Troy, NY for such things are less abundant and can pose a logistic challenge in an area with so little public transportation.

While we were shopping we wandered the housewares aisle. I’ve found all sorts of useful stuff in there, including the hand sickle we use to keep our giant grass in check. This time was no different.

I stumbled across a display of small mesh cloths of various sizes. If it is to be believed, Google Translate tells me this stuff is called Isambe Bozagi or Bojagi (various transliteration/translation platforms render it differently), and then translate it variously to hemp cloth (middle), and burlap (Chinese). But it’s clearly marked as cotton, and of domestic Korean manufacture.

Product information says that it’s about 33 x 34 cm and hemmed. That it’s food-safe, essential for steaming (especially dumplings, and sweet potatoes), can be used to cover food in the summer, and is used to strain soy products (possibly making tofu), and soups. It also says to wash separately and dry thoroughly before use.

All well and good. I do steam things on occasion and it might come in handy. But what caught my eye was the weave. I think it’s sideways in my penny photo, but note the doubled thread in one direction (probably the weft). That’s not unlike the woven ground used for Buratto embroidery – a stitched and darned form popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, stretching on to the 18th century. It’s a cousin to other better known darned mesh works done on knotted netting grounds or on withdrawn thread scaffoldings, but in Buratto’s case the ground was purpose woven as a mesh.

Here’s a bit in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (Accession 076261 in case the link breaks) – 16th century, Italian. The ground is linen, not cotton, and the stitching is silk. The piece is about 13×4 inches (33×10 cm).

My Korean kitchen cloth’s mesh count is roughly 16.5 x 15 meshes per inch. Just a little bit finer than this, which is about 14 meshes per inch (counting height of the snippet and dividing by 4). And although it’s hard to make out, the structure can be seen in this ultra close-up.

There are places you can find buratto style grounds to stitch. Those resources are usually quite a bit more expensive. If you happen to have an H-Mart in your area (and they are a national chain here in the US, with more popping up every year), you may be able to luck into this wildly inexpensive cloth. It’s not perfect, but at the price it’s a wonderful tool for experimentation. I’m penciling playing with this stuff into my dance card, probably for some time next year, and may go back and get more.

Bonus Eye Candy and Background

Just for fun, here are some more examples so you can see the breadth of expression of this stitching family. There is a lot of variety in works done on buratto. Monochrome was common. Polychrome was common. Dyed grounds were common. Geometrics and florals were both common. Also the style went through several revivals, and was particularly prized during the “Indiana Jones” era of textile collecting. Many museums collections are based around those gleanings, and haven’t been revisited since their donation before WWI. As a result, many attributions are a bit “mushy” – there are certainly revival pieces marked as pre-1700s originals, and even the real experts (of which I am not one) have problems determining age without extensive forensic testing.

The one above is also Italian, 16th-17th century, and is in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, accession 1971-50.198. No information on the museum’s page though as to size or scale.

The one above looks to have an indigo-dyed ground, stitched in white. Italian, 16th century, from the Met’s collection, accession 08.180.448. This one is about 3.75 inches tall, which makes its scale very close to the 14 meshes per inch of the Korean steaming cloth.

And a wild multicolor one 17th century Italian, also from the Met, accession 12.9.3. Many of these pieces just said “embroidered on net” or were lumped in with lacis, but lately there has been a move to divide those done on true knotted net (lacis) from those done on woven buratto fabric. The on-line descriptions are slowly being updated accordingly.

Although I can’t declare for certain, looking at the dates of the more elaborate, especially the ones with patterned infills, the style appears to have evolved in that direction over time. Here is a piece typical of that group. This 18th century piece is another gem of the Met, accession 12.8.3 in case the link breaks. But do note that multicolor is documented back to the 1500s.

And here are some links on the history of the style; some discussing its link to early modelbooks. Buratto was one of the stitching styles specifically named in modelbook prefaces as a suitable art for the designs they presented.

So there we are. A chance encounter in the housewares aisle turned into a rabbit hole of exploding possibilities. Good thing I’m retired. I might actually find the time to dance with all of these charming partners lined up on my card. 🙂


First, progress on my Dizzy Grapes sideboard scarf. I’ve doodled up a companion border that I like, and I’ve begun working it. Now you can see what I meant when I said the field design would truncate where it intersects the border, rather than floating inside it.

The border is Italian Renaissance in feel, but with significant stylistic departures from standard borders as seen on museum artifacts. For one, there are mirrored bounces in the repeat. That’s not uncommon for main field designs, but not something I’ve encountered before in the companion borders. Usually the motifs in those repeat, all with the same directionality, as if they were all marching in precision following an unseen leader. The heavy reuse of design elements from the main field is a second departure. It’s not uncommon for borders to repeat bits of the design from the main field, and sometimes they do quote sections verbatim, but it’s relatively uncommon for those elements to be recomposed in this manner. Still, I’m not planning on entering this in any competitions where my usage and adaptation are judged.

Old Linens

I’ve gotten a couple question about the linen piece I used – where stuff like this can be found and the like. It so happens I lucked into a couple more old needlework and linen pieces yesterday. Younger Spawn was describing the treasure-hunt fun that can be had at estate sales, so we zipped off to one nearby. We both found goodies.

Among my discoveries were two darned net bridge cloths (small square table spreads). The substrate is hand knotted, in cotton, as is the darning and embroidered embellishments on top. I’m not good at dating/sourcing these pieces, but I suspect these are Sicilian Modano work, not earlier than 1920. Both are in very good condition with a couple of tiny brown “age spots” – probably the legacy of old spills. I don’t know enough to differentiate the earlier pieces of Modano from those of its 1980s revival. In the detail shot you can see the two weights of threads used for the darned fills, plus the long attached woven bullion style “picots” – not exactly sure what that stitch is called, plus a bit of straight stitch outlining.
Both are of exactly the same design, but one looks to have been savagely washed with bleach – it’s much whiter and about 20% smaller. One thing that does make me think they might be earlier is their size. By the 1980s bridge cloths were not exactly in style.

I’m not sure what I will do with these, but I couldn’t leave them there balled up, unloved and tagged at $1.00 each.

Lovely, but not actually linen. Moving on.

This is a tablecloth. The main body is twill weave linen, not suitable for counted stitching, but fantastic for surface embroidery. The hand-done withdrawn thread edgings are mostly intact, although the rondels in the corners are all slightly damaged. The main body of the cloth though is stain and damage-free. I won’t be using it at table – it’s too small for my dining room, but again the price was right, and the right person might be able to make a wonderful 16th/17th century Italian underdress/smock from it. $2.00 for about two yards of 60-inch wide linen? Not a bad price.

And at last – that upon which I will be stitching. I have some specific ideas for these twelve machine finished napkins. They are not uniform in size – some have shrunk significantly. A couple have stains that must be worked around.

The thread count on the one I’ve “penny-ed” is representative – roughly 38 x 38 threads per inch. Some variation and slubbing, and some of the napkins are a bit more worn, but 12 roughly 14″ (about 36 cm) squares of evenweave for $6.00? That’s a good deal.

So there you have it. Yard sales. Consignment stores. Estate sales. Look for the hamper of neglected household linens. Sort past the old sheets and cafe curtains, maneuver around the ladies looking for interesting souvenir tea towels, and wadded up in the bottom of the bin may be treasure to appreciate, to re-use, or to stitch upon.


I continue along with what has been nicknamed The Dizzy Grapes sideboard scarf. I successfully rounded the second group of main motifs, and am up to working the small one in the center of the field.

As you can see, there’s plenty more to stitch, including the border. And you can also see the slow rise problem I described earlier. The cloth is flipped from the last set of photos, but the repeat on the right is one unit skew to the one on the left – an inevitable complication of this design.

So. That center unit. Given that it doesn’t align perfectly with the previous one, how to go about placing it. The most obvious way is to pick an easy to spot point on the established stitching, and now that I’ve done one, just count over the same number of stitches to a similarly distinctive spot on the motif to be stitched, then just start in.

But I’m lazy, know that long stretches of counting blank linen are one of my weaknesses, and given the long span, extreme variation in the thickness of this linen’s threads, and frustration after several false starts, I decided to try something different.

Its easy to determine the center point of the large floral motifs. It’s the centermost stitch in the dark center “knot” around which the branches are symmetrically inverted. That aligns with the dark stripe in the grape motif that’s closest to its stem. But those centers are all offset from each other, so just using a simple ruler or single straight edge is problematic. Instead I picked the same spot on each of the four motifs that bordered the field in which I wanted the smaller X pattern to appear, and quick basted a line across that field. One basted line for each big floral produced a 3×3 area. The center unit of that 3×3 area became the center of the large dark spot in the middle of the X pattern. (Yes, if you zoom all the way in you’ll see that one of my basted lines was off by one thread, but I compensated).

You don’t see the basted lines on the full piece, above because once I did that centermost stitch, I removed them. I never stitch over my guidelines, I always snip them away from the work as I approach.

I did this for the other placement of that center X, too, but I didn’t think to document the process. I did try the count in and start method for the second one. You may be able to see the remains where I picked out my three false starts, but the basted line method turns out to be vastly quicker, less fraught, and more accurate.

I am still aiming for full coverage – not just these two repeats centered on the otherwise bare cloth. Now its time to go into hypergear and finish designing the companion border. Once I’ve got that and have my distance from repeat worked for the long sides, I can establish that line and then work my field up to it with confidence.


Back from my first in-person SCA event in a long time. I went to “Aisles of March” – what can be best described as a historical-recreation-item “craft fair” for those unfamiliar with the organization. It was a group-specific gathering at which dozens of merchants displayed wares, selling everything from whole garments of historical design and cut; to accessories, jewelry, jewelry findings/stones; the components to make clothing (including hand-dyed yarns and yardage); armor; wooden and metal table implements and specialty crafting tools (embroidery frames, weaving looms and the like); camping implements (open hearth cooking tripods and accessories); research and how-to books; and even spices and fragrances. There was also a certain amount of ceremony including SCA royal presence, and awards given out for mastery of specific arts, or for service to the organization and its constituent groups.

But I wasn’t there to attend court, or to shop. I was there to help The Apprentice and household sell their products – brilliantly hued hand-dyed silk and wool threads and yardage prepared with researched, historical recipes; bead jewelry reproductions of various eras (Viking age, late Roman Empire, Venetian), and sturdy linen by the yard. Some of this is also available on Etsy. Obvious affiliation disclosure – The apprentice is the proprietor of that Etsy shop.

While I was helping out I also had an opportunity to sell a few copies of The Second Carolingian Modelbook in person. And that gave me a chance to chat with folk interested in counted embroidery, and blackwork in specific. One thing several people mentioned was the difficulty of drafting out the freehand patterns for inhabited blackwork – the Elizabethan style characterized by heavy outlines filled in with counted or freehand stitched fills, usually in black but occasionally embellished with metal threads.

I understand that challenge. My ancient underskirt was an exercise in freehand pencil drawing, modeling flowers and foliage after group of historical artifacts including a cushion cover repurposed from a dress in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Accession 1955.1221; and a panel from an embroidered sleeve held by the National Museum of Scotland, Accession A.1929.152 (other fragments of the same work exist in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions). Not everyone has the patience or confidence to do that kind of freehand drawing.

So, I set to thinking about what pre-drawn resources might be available.

Spoonflower and other print-to-order textile/wallpaper houses offer designers the chance to get their patterns printed on a variety of media, and sold by the yard. I had ordered wallpaper from them a while back.

There are thousands of prints in Spoonflower’s active catalog – among them several adapted from Elizabethan embroidery. Note that these are NOT my offerings, I have nothing posted there. I just went browsing among their current listings and picked two that were likely candidates – the ones with the most historically representative designs at offered at the largest scale. Then I went to the fabric choice area and picked two different fabrics, both possible choices for counted or surface work, and ordered two eight-inch swatches. This is what I received:

The design on the left is shown in several reference books, and is one I included a thumbnail of in my very first hand-drawn booklet on blackwork, issued in 1978. It’s vaguely similar to one in Trevelyon’s Miscelleny, but as soon as I find my now-packed-away booklet, I’ll insert the specific source. The one on the right is a simplified and very recognizable version of a standard Elizabethan scrolling floral design, of the type rendered in blackwork or polychrome stitching, often with metal thread embellishments.

I requested my sample of the one on the left (the darker one) be printed on what Spoonflower sells under the name Cypress Cotton Canvas. The one on the right was printed on their Belgian Linen. Here are zooms, with a penny for ease of thread count calculation:

Note that the cotton canvas (left) isn’t really countable, but it has a dense weave structure that might be amenable to surface work. However I am not a textile history expert, and I don’t know if fabric of that structure, even if it were not cotton would be appropriate to the period of the design. The linen however is plain tabby weave. By counting threads occluded by the penny I get 17 horizontal threads x 21 vertical threads. Factoring in the penny’s standard width of 0.75 inch, we can compute a thread count of approximately 21 x 26 threads, but I can’t tell which is warp and which is weft due to the lack of selvedges. Skew but easily counted and stitched.


My first reaction to both of these samples is that the motifs on them are quite small in scale for easy stitching. Even on the uncountable canvas, I would have preferred that design be imaged about a quarter to third again bigger to make it easier to work. This is also very true for the scrolling flower design printed on linen. It might do for non-counted polychrome treatment with a very simple stitch used for the stem; or for speckled freehand blackwork, again simple outlines and a scattered stitch, shaded infilling. But for fancy counted, geometric, diapered fills, there just isn’t enough real estate inside most of the flower and leaf motif segments to make such stitching worthwhile.

The next step of course is hands-on. It won’t be any time soon (I have a massive to-do queue), but I do intend to secure the edges, launder, iron and give both a try anyway, to see how the fabrics and printing perform. If the stitching goes well I might finish them out into small sweet bags. Or not. This is just an idle experiment.

Again, I am not endorsing or promoting the source, the products, or the designers who offer their patterns at the source. I paid full price for my swatches. But I am trying to help out those who are looking for some sort of assistance in starting their own blackwork projects. While these items are not exactly optimal, they or similar pieces might be learning tools that could jumpstart creativity, and help someone reach towards a previously unattainable goal of making something visually period-appropriate. And that in turn might help them advance towards less “factory-modern” ways of getting there.

Stay tuned. Eventually I will cycle back to this experiment, do the wash test, and play with these some more.


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

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

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

Outlines in historical examples of voided stitching

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

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

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

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

Historical examples of voided work with counted outlines:

Historical examples of voided work without counted outlines:

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

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

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

Representing outlines in modern charting

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

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

Conversion from voided chart to a linear chart

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yaay! A bit of self discipline imposed, and the forever voiding on the meshy lettuce pattern panel is complete. I have to admit that while I adore the look, I am not wildly fond of the hard-pulling needed to achieve it. I might try it again if I ever find a linen that’s the right combo of threads-per-inch plus nice soft and lofty constituent threads, instead of skinny hard-spun ones.

How does this strip fit into the growing project? After all – it has been about 8 years since we’ve seen the whole thing laid out. For the record, I’ve filled about 45% of the available real estate – there’s a lot more to go.

Now for the next. I don’t think I’ve play-tested these dolphins before (another design in the ever-forthcoming T2CM). The original showed them with a squared fill background in voided style, but I wanted something lighter to follow the dark band I just finished. I left off the voiding, but then decided that the bit looked rather spare. My dolphins needed something to play with, so I added the round elements, and am now pleased. A quickie, this bit took just Saturday and Sunday evenings:

I will add the roundels to the dolphin at right of center, but I left it off so you can see the rather unfinished look it had without something there.

After this one? Probably another narrow strip, possibly a bit wider than this one, and possibly darker for contrast. Then after that I have a double running stunner queued, but it’s rather wide and needs a bit more spacer ground between it and the giant meshy lettuce panel.

In the mean time, as I get up close and personal with the frame I am making little improvements to my set-up. For example, the jaw of the Lowery is steel, and well loved by magnets. But it’s not exactly accessible with the large frame extender unit. BUT when I flip the thing over to terminate a thread, it is. Add a strong classic U-shaped magnet, and I’ve got a handy place to park my snips (the red magnet is just behind the red snipper).

My needle minder works quite well, and sometimes I use it to park my threader. It often does double-duty as a holder for my pattern page. But that can get in the way of the stitching area. So I glued a magnet to the flat side of one of my Millennium frame scroll bars – on the flat side (yes, I tested it to make sure the correct side was up – that’s the one that attracts rather than repels the other magnetic goodies I wanted to use):

I can use this as a rather plain needle minder all by itself, or I can park my fancy one there instead of in the hidden spot where you see it now. Or I can use another magnet with it to hold my pattern page. But best of all, I can use it in conjunction with this page holder I picked up years ago (it used to stick on my fridge door, to hold tickets, recipes, coupons, or whatever).

By just gluing on a magnet, I’ve left the door open for all sorts of other magnet-enabled organizers. There are other styles of clips. Hooks and loops with magnetic bases could accommodate scissors, for example. Finally, I’m still looking for it to test out, but because the rare-earth magnet I used is so strong, I’m betting it can hold my smaller flat metal magnet board. That would allow me to use placeholder magnets on my pattern page while the page is displayed right on my work area.

And where to find inexpensive strong-hold magnets? I recommend the geeky source, American Science & Surplus. They are a clearing house for engineering tidbits, science gear, weird surplus items, kids’ educational toys, and other miscellanea. They are especially good for containers, magnifiers, bags, precision scales and measurers, cutting implements, office supplies, and magnets. Like any surplus store, their inventory turns over quickly, so if you don’t see what you want there today, visit again next week.


A while back I posted about a drawing that came to me from my grandparents. It hung in their dining room/library. As a kid I adored it and since it was hanging so far up on the wall, was especially delighted after I finally got glasses, and discovered all the details – the flowers, bugs, and little goodies hidden in the piece.

I am convinced that my drawing is a rendering of an actual artifact. The sketch probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s at the latest. The artifact itself is clearly a stumpwork piece of some type – a style dating to the 17th century. Possibly a mirror, possibly a bookbinding. Possibly a combo of motifs from more than one piece. But I don’t think it was just dreamed up by the artist.

I’ve gone looking for the thing several times. I’ve hunted in on-line photo collections and books cataloging famous embroidery collections. I’ve paid special attention to items in New York City area museums because I have a hunch that “art student selling on the street” was more in my Brooklyn dwelling grandparents’ budget than was purchasing from a gallery. And an art student might well have sketched something seen on display in a local museum.

I even read about a collection of stumpwork pieces being acquired by the Brooklyn Museum in the 1920s, so I wrote to the curators and asked if it was still in accession, and if anyone dealing with it might recognize my piece. Sadly, not. But they were very gracious and wished me luck in my hunt.

Recently I was part of an on-line discussion among historical needlework enthusiasts, and posted my (not very good) photo. Several folks there requested higher resolution pix. So in the hope that I can enlist others in my hunt, or provide inspiration to someone wanting to stitch their own stumpwork frame, I post some here.

Bottom center – note the shark-like fish, and detail that looks very much like the artist was trying to depict actual stitching. Hills with an ocean or lake in front are very common center bottom treatments on mirror frames.

Lower left corner – the pony, plus a dove(?), a snake, and a centipede. And flowers. There are always flowers.

Lower right corner – the camel, and a beetle. That hump looks like turkey work to me. Also what might be a partial signature at the left of this detail shot – a little roundel that might be CCS or HS, or HCS.

Upper left corner – the leopard, with a caterpillar a bird, and a worm. Leopards (and lions) are common corner residents.

Upper right corner – the moose-nosed stag, with the worm and a two small snails. (Hmm… Maybe this is why I often include snails in my own work.) Stags show up often on similar pieces, too.

Center top – buildings, plus fruits and birds, below. Buildings, perhaps visions of Jerusalem or the city of heaven are also a standard feature of stumpwork mirror frames.

Left edge – Now this is where it gets complicated. On mirror frames there is often a couple – a king on one side and a queen on the other. Family folklore (with or without any reason) claims that in this drawing the center figure, a queen, is in fact Queen Esther, and this guy on the edge with the wide collar is King Ahasuerus. Whoever he is, he has bugs, a bird and a bunny to keep him company.

Right edge – If the Esther interpretation is correct, this would have to be Mordecai. Not quite as sumptuously robed as the King, but escorted by a bird, grapes, and another caterpillar. (Haman, being the bad guy gets no depiction.)

Center – Finally we get to Queen Esther and her attendant. And her own bunny, worm, and bugs, plus even more lovely flowers. From what I’ve seen it’s unusual for just a queen to be shown alone in these English stumpwork pieces – more often a couple was shown, usually in homage to the sitting monarchs.

So there we have it. If you look closely at these pix you can begin to see stitch detail – a raised braided stitch of some type as the heavy outline, the mentioned turkey work on the hump of the camel, a three-D thrust on the parasol, satin stitch and shading on some of the flowers and fruits (either to indicate depth or stitches – I can’t tell).

So now the APB is truly issued. Seen these characters, or pieces like this one? Let me know. If the link is accessible, I’ll post it here.

Adapting one of these pix for your own raised work piece? Let me know! I’d be happy to post that, too. (I think the corner animals in particular would make lovely tops for small, round boxes).

Museum Examples

Metropolitan Museum, Mirror Frame, Third quarter 17th century, British. Accession 64.101.1332: Leopard at lower right, pond or sea with fish at bottom, couple left and right.

Mirror frame, Satin worked with silk, chenille threads, purl, shells, wood, beads, mica, bird feathers, bone or coral; detached buttonhole variations, long-and-short, satin, couching, and knot stitches; wood frame, mirror glass, plush, British

Victoria & Albert Museum, Mirror Frame, 1660-1680, British. Accession 351-1866. Lion and unicorn in lower corners, couple at left and right, pond with mountains and fish at bottom.

Drawing presented on Lizapalooza/’s blog (photo borrowed from that site, I hope they forgive me).

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