Category Archives: Project – Embroidery

ONE FISH, TWO FISH. GREEN FISH, BLUE FISH.

Some progress on Fish #2, plus some more answers to questions that arrived after the last post.

2018-06-12 10.33.17

I’ve started on the main body section, using yet another fill from Ensamplario Atlantio.

How do you know where to put the patterns?

I’m not sure whether you are asking how I know which pattern to pick, or how I place them in their designated spot, so I’ll answer both.

Remember, in the last post I answered that I pick fills on the fly, and that occasionally I pick the wrong one?  Here’s an example – the first design I attempted for Fish #2’s main body section, shown just before it disappeared forever:

20180609_205049

Yes I went back and teased out this bit that I stitched on Friday night, replacing it with the intertwined Os.  I originally chose the discarded fill because I wanted something light, but I didn’t like the effect of this flat lattice as the finished bit grew.  It was too static, and in a large area, would have been very boring.  Plus, it would be difficult to achieve the visual offset that I used on the other side of the spine in Fish #1.  So I went looking for a slightly larger yet not too dense replacement.

The intertwined Os work.  But as I sat stitching over the weekend, I had an idea (warning – they are usually dangerous).  Those centers of the Os?  Think of how nifty they’d look and how blingy Fish #2 would be if each center was spotted with one tiny little 2mm gold spangle like this:

spanglethought-1

I’ve found some, but they come in a couple of different gold tones.  I am waiting for my wave lines gold thread to arrive, then I’ll try to get as close to it as I can with the spangles.  I won’t be working with that thread or the spangles until all of the blue and green bits are finished and the piece is safely mounted on my larger, flat frame.  And that can’t happen until after the coming weekend because I have promised to lead a beginners’ blackwork class in Rhode Island, and I want to have my Big Green Sampler  on display using my big scrolling frame.

How do I decide where in the spot to place a design?  It depends.  Most of the time I look at my shape and find the “meatiest” part.  In a square that’s easy – it’s the exact center of the shape, but for oddly contoured areas, it’s not always the geographic center.  Then I look at my chosen fill and find the bit of it I want to emphasize.  I center the element of the design I want to emphasize at the “meaty” point, and work from there out to the edges of my chosen shape.

Here are a few examples:

In the first red sample, I’ve more or less centered the fill in the shape, starting with the little flower in the middle  In the second, I placed the first acorn I stitched so that there would be one full, uninterrupted iteration of that motif, then completed around it according to the fill’s motif spacing.  In the gears, knowing I couldn’t get an entire dragon in the shape, I tried to place at least most of one in the upper left first, knowing that the eye starts looking there.  As a bonus, you can see that I tried to roughly center the circles-plus-flowers motif in the maroon gear to the dragon’s right.  I started that shape’s fill with the twined edges of the interlace immediately above the gear’s center hole.

How do you get such crisp lines and corners?

First, the silk I am using is longer staple and less fuzzy than cotton floss.  The red samples above are DMC cotton, and you can see the halo effect around each stitch.  Second, I   I also wax my threads rather aggressively – even silk. This compacts them and makes them more difficult to pierce.  Since each stitch is so short on 40 count linen (20 stitches = 1 inch), loss of sheen and coverage from waxing is not a problem.

I’m using double-running, with occasional short hops in “heresy stitch” to avoid getting caught in a dead-end.  Once I’m done the back of this piece will not be visible, so I am not taking pains to make it totally and completely two-sided.  However, I do use double running logic for the most part, for better thread economy and to avoid possible show-through that results from long hops across the back.

As I’ve described before, I use a blunt-point needle to avoid piercing the threads of my ground cloth, and never take an over-two stitch: one unit on my chart = one stitch, at all times.  While others do use a sharp to pierce the stitching thread, I find that I don’t like the look produced by piercing previous stitches: it’s often bumpy.  I prefer the butted-end-to-end look I achieve with a blunt.

You know this isn’t historical blackwork, right?

Yes, I know that, and I never claimed that it was.

Blackwork is a portmanteau term that covers many, many substyles of high contrast work, often but not always done in monochrome.  There are counted substyles and non-counted ones.  Some are single color or limited color range works done strip-style, counted or uncounted.   Some use abutting areas, each clearly outlined, and filled with various stitched treatments, occasionally but not always geometric, and not always done on the count.  Some use stippling as shading either inside or outside of their motifs.  Some of those rely on tonal variations to give the piece a three-dimensional feeling, and some don’t.  And there’s a whole school of modern blackwork that dispenses with outlines altogether, and uses the tonal density of the patterns – sometimes sticking to a limited number of base designs with modifications, and some using a wider range of fills to achieve a range from light to dark.  This last group draws inspiration from engravings and lithographs to make intricately shaded and modeled images.

What Fishies shares with historical styles are the use of heavy outlines, metallic accents, and geometric, counted fills.  What it doesn’t share is subject matter – this is a Japanese-inspired, quasi-traditional composition.  Also, the complexity of the fills I favor is not particularly well documented.  Historical inhabited blackwork tends to simpler fills than the wildly detailed ones I often use.  I do note that the body fill for Fish #1 WAS adapted from a historical source – from a sleeve shown in one of the late Elizabethan era men’s portraits, that – of course – I can’t lay hands on right now.

Happily I have no pressures to abide by covenants of historical accuracy for this work.  I’m having fun.  End of story.

Any other questions?  Feel free to post them here as comments, and I’ll try to answer.

fishie-1

 

SWIMMING ALONG

More progress has been made on my Two Fish blackwork piece.

I’ve gotten more questions about how I go about doing these.  I’ll try to answer them here, rather than piecemeal by message.  If you have additional questions, please feel free to post them in the comments.  I’ll sweep up all that lands there, and then answer them in the next Fish post.  First – today’s progress:

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And the questions….

Where can I get this kit?

There is no kit, it’s an original composition of classic elements that I am designing on the fly.  I won’t be publishing a chart for the final project, or releasing it as a kit.

Original?  How?

The Resident Male had mentioned a two-fish embroidery a while back, so I started by looking at a few on-line images of swimming koi.  Here’s a post about designing original projects drawn from various sources of inspiration.

Using the freeware GIMP graphics program, I adapted a couple, starting by tracing some, then merging them to blend parts together, simplifying details, changing proportions, increasing the spine curvature, and tweaking angles – until I had a fish I liked.  Then I flip-mirrored it so that I had two fish circling each other.  After that I added the “water lines” behind the pair – adapting them from the bit below (from a book of traditional Japanese wave and ripple designs – Ha Bun Shu, by Yusan Mori, circa 1919), also traced, augmented a bit and then enlarged.

water

Once I had the whole thing drawn out, I sized it up to be my desired dimension, using the GIMP resize feature, and printed it out on paper.

How did you prepare your cloth?

I selected a piece of 40-count linen, cut a square about 30% larger than my target design dimensions, hemmed all four edges, and basted guide lines to help me identify the center point.  On this project I am picking out those guide lines as stitching encroaches on them.  I’ve got no need to keep them intact because nothing depends on placement against them.  For the record, I’m working my fills over 2×2 threads – 20 stitches per inch.

How did you get the drawing onto the cloth?

I used the poor-girl’s light table – a big window, and a bit of painters’ tape.  I took my resized drawing and taped it to my dining room window, then centering the basted lines of my already-hemmed and center-identified fabric over the marked center of the on-paper design, I taped the ground cloth to the window on top of the paper pattern.  This is the same method I used for my Ganesh project, although I had just Scotch Tape in India:

gane31_thumb.jpg

Then I traced the design onto the ground using a bunch of pencils I had to hand – some washable pencils intended for cloth marking, some not.  I’ll probably regret not using Proper Pencils, but the urge to get going does not always wait until optimal supplies have been secured.

Did you graph out the whole design?

Nope.  All I transferred to the cloth were the outlines.  For inhabited blackwork (the substyle that uses outlines plus fills), I never graph out the whole project.  Once the outlines are on the cloth, I work my fillings right into the spaces indicated, if needed, by looking at a sample of the design, either on another cloth or on paper.

At the time I did the tracing, I had absolutely no firm thoughts about colors, fill designs to use, thickness of outlines, or how to work the water lines.  I knew I wanted to use a hand-dyed indigo silk, and possibly some couched metallic thread, but that was it.

Where are the fills from? How do you pick what fills to use?

In truth, I have no idea which fill I will use for any particular spot until I am ready to stitch it and make my selection. Most of the fills I’ll use on this piece are in Ensamplario Atlantio, my free eBook of blackwork geometrics, but I may draft up more or tweak existing ones as needed.

In this case I started with the largest area on the darker of the two fish.  I wanted something vaguely reminiscent of scales, but with more interest.  I thumbed through book and hit upon the knot design.  For the other side of the fish, I used the same fill, but offset it, to imply movement (mating the design across the fin area would have made a flat, static composition).  I wanted the tail to feel “swishy” so I chose a design with a prominent swirl.  For the back fin, I chose one of the lightest fills, for contrast.  The fin behind the fish uses a darker effect fill than the fin in front, again to add depth.   And so on.

I try to scale the chosen fill to the size of the area where it will live.  Big areas get the largest, most demonstrative fills.  Small areas get smaller repeats.  Sometimes though I’ll violate this, if a larger design has a smaller sub-element that will fit entirely in the current space – like picking one strawberry out of a larger repeat and using just that.

Do you ever pick a fill you regret later?

Sure.  Sometimes a fill does not show to good advantage next to its neighbors.  Then I pick it out and try again.  But this doesn’t happen very often.

What about the outlines?

I almost always wait to embroider the outlines until all of the adjacent fills have been completed. This gives me a bit of time to be satisfied with the fills as worked, and lets me cover up the edges where fills meet.  It’s MUCH easier to cover up than to work flush to a pre-stitched outline, especially when the fill may require a half-stitch at the edge for complete coverage.

The exception for this was my Forever Coif.  Instead of drawing the design on my ground, I used cross stitch to lay down my outlines (based on a familiar design, charted in my New Carolingian Modelbook),  and then in-filled the to-be-stitched areas with geometrics.  Finally, I over-embroidered my cross stitch outlines to make them heavier and more prominent.  The original cross stitching does not show:

coifdetail.jpg

On Two Fish, I am using mostly reverse chain stitch for the outlines.  The thinner accent lines inside the fins and tail are split stitch.  Differences in line thickness are achieved by using different numbers of floss strands.

Color?  Heresy?

Why not?  This is an original, modern piece, done using styles and techniques inspired by historical stitching.  There are  no Embroidery Police waiting to ticket me because I am using multiple colors.

I started out intending to only use the indigo – a product dyed by a friend of mine.  While I love the look, I decided I wanted to play with an additional vector of contrast, so I liberated some commercial Au Ver a Soie Soie D’Alger from my big green sampler project and began experimenting.  I liked the additional depth it gave.  I may do the other fish as a tonal “opposite” to this one – a traditional treatment of the two-circling-koi motif.  If I do, I may swap placement of the colors as well as changing up the density of the fills, so that Fish #2 may have a less dense green body, but darker blue fins and tail.

And the wavy water lines?

Right now, I am still thinking couched metallics.  I haven’t decided between gold or silver, or a mix of both.  I have some nice silver passing thread brought back from my Paris trip, but nothing comparable in gold, and only a limited quantity of the Sajou stuff.  So I have to find the **right** thread for them.  That’s going to be tough, with no local sources.  I’ll have to rely on recommendations, on-line reviews, and catalog descriptions.  Suggestions will be gratefully accepted!

 

UNHISTORICAL FISH

Just to vex my new readership, I start a totally unhistorical stitching project.  Well, not to vex anyone actually.  This piece was bespoken by The Resident Male a while back.  I’ve thought about it for several years, and decided to finally do it.  The ultimate purpose is a piece to hang on the wall of our Cape Cod place, as part of a large collage of sea life art.

The design is based on a double-koi motif, where the fish are circling each other.  I began with a clip art of a single fish, and simplified it, changing proportions and angles, and removing detail that would be obscured by my chosen stitching style.  Then I mirror imaged and flipped a duplicate of my first fish, placing it opposite it’s sibling, and trying to get them more or less balanced and centered as a composition.

For the last bit – the “water lines” in the background, I thank the Public Domain Review, for posting a link to a book of traditional Japanese wave and ripple designs – Ha Bun Shu, by Yusan Mori (circa 1919).  My chosen ripple was taken from page 22.

So, with my inspired-by fish, and borrowed water lines (with some of my own extensions to eke out the composition’s dimensions), I end up with this – already shown window-traced onto my prepared ground:

20180527_145448

The ground chosen is an almost-white 40 count linen, hemmed on all four sides.  I’ve marked the center with basting lines of old, non-crocking plain old sewing thread.  I will be picking them out as I encroach upon them because there is no central guide purpose they serve after aligning the initial tracing.  I will be using silks, mostly.  Originally I thought I’d be stitching only in a hand-dyed natural indigo, colored by (and occasionally available from) my Stealth Apprentice, but last night I changed gears and have added some commercial Au Ver a Soie Soie d’Alger, in a deep green.

I will be working my two fishies in a combo of styles.  The fish themselves will be done in inhabited blackwork, with fills inside strong outlines.  I’ll pick the fills on whim as I go along, and possibly come up with some new ones along the way.  The fish will not be direct opposites of each other – the inner detail will vary, but one will definitely be lighter (using less dense fillings) than the other, and placement of the blue and green may swap.

Right now I’m toying with doing something different for the outlines, instead of my usual plain old chain stitch.  Not sure yet what, but I do want to vary the width of some of them analogous to heavier brush strokes.

The water lines will probably be done in gold or silver (maybe both), possibly simple couched strands, possibly something else.  I bought some heavier metallic threads at the Sajou store in Paris, and have been hoarding them for the right project.  They may well come into play here.

And the first little bit – a filling from Ensamplario Atlantio, the fourth part:

fishies-1

So.  Do I have a plan? Kind of.  But I still like the fun of designing on the fly.

 

FINISH! FOREHEAD CLOTH #1

And here it is:

cloth-done   cloth-done-2

The finish was very simple. 

First, I made the ties.  I used some of the leftover ground cloth – the area left unworked because it was too close to the edge for easy application of my hoop frame.  I cut two long strips, about 14 inches long x 1 inch wide. (One strip is set aside to make the ties for the second forehead cloth). I finger-pressed down the two ends, then folded the strip in half longitudinally, again finger pressing to set the center fold.  Then I folded the two long raw edges down to meet in the center.  I pinned the strip and did a tiny overhand stitch hem to fasten it in final configuration.  This website shows a handle folded with the same logic I used for the ties (minus folding in the ends first). Finally I cut the strip in half to make the two ties shown.  I used linen thread, so the sew-up is extra invisible.

Here’s the whole piece of ground cloth, with all stitching completed, showing the portion I cut off to make the ties:
wholecloth2

To line the piece I used preshrunk cotton muslin.  Were I concerned with total artifact level authenticity, I might have opted for handkerchief weight linen, but that level of re-creation isn’t my concern.

I cut a muslin triangle slightly larger than my forehead cloth for ease of stitching, and pinned my cloth to it with the finished side inside.  I positioned the two laces inside the resulting “sandwich” with their cut ends protruding slightly at the two corner points.  Then using my linen thread, waxed, I did a hand back-stitch all the way around the perimeter, leaving a three inch gap on one of the non-hypotenuse sides, adjacent to one of the laces.  I made sure to fasten the laces in securely with extra stitching.  After the hand sewing was done, I trimmed back the muslin seam allowance somewhat.  Then I turned the whole thing right side out and pressed it, before closing the gap with some more invisible overhand hemming. 

Yes, I could have done the sew-up on the machine, but it was actually easier to do it by hand, so I could ensure my seaming was right on the edge of the countwork embroidery.  Others may be more accurate with their sewing machines than I.

Now – as to the stuff on the rest of the cloth.  Obviously there’s Forehead Cloth #2, which I am finishing out right now in exactly the same way, plus the doodle sampler, also done.  Since the edges on that are so irregular and on one side – so narrow, I will have to edge that out with some sort of mitered or butted edging cloth, then either frame it or make it into a hanging.  More on this sampler in a later post.

 

More answers to inbox questions:

Is wearing this headcovering a religious obligation?

No.  I made it because I need to keep the hair out of my eyes in the wind.  I wanted something a bit nicer than a bandanna, just for the fun of wearing something a bit nicer than a bandanna.  I respect those who wear headcoverings out of obligation, but that wasn’t my intent.

You’re SCA, why aren’t you going to enter this in an Arts & Sciences competition?

First of all, I’m only borderline active these days.  My heyday was AS VIII-XVI, roughly 1975-82.  Even in the SCA, I’m an artifact of the past, and have no energy to engage in the current organization at competition level.  But I still adore historical stitching, and as you can see, try to do it as often as possible.  The challenge of making a “dual world” piece – one that I could if I so desired, wear to an event, and that I could ALSO wear in the non-SCA mundane world was sufficient challenge for me.

What materials did you use?

Ground cloth:  Big box store even weave linen – probably a linen cotton blend although it was not so marked.  32 count, more or less.  The brand name was MCG Textiles.  I do not recommend it: Slubby, surface matting, thick/thin threads that skewed the count in some areas but not others. 

Embroidery thread:  Black filament silk, four ply, hand dyed using logwood and iron (historically appropriate recipe and method) from the Golden Schelle Etsy shop.  This piece uses the entire 4-ply thickness, others use one or two plies. The proprietor is a small batch dyer, so goods are available intermittently. Some minor crocking on my beeswax, but none on my hands, and only minimal residue in those inevitable spots where I had to pick-out and redo errors.  Very smooth hand, strong, and un-fuzzy finish, stitched up neatly and quickly.  I like this stuff more than commercial silk floss (like Au Ver A Soie), and hope the dyer makes LOTS more.

Hand sewing thread:  DMC 100% linen embroidery thread from my stash.  A discontinued and lamented product.

Lining fabric:  The best grade of 100% cotton muslin available at my local fabric shop.  Nothing special.  Washed and shrunk prior to using.

Pattern?

No pattern in particular for the cloth itself.  It’s a right triangle.  I noted that historical examples ranged from around 13” to about 18” across the hypotenuse.  This one is 17” in that dimension.  The other one that I am finishing out now is about 15”.  If I had a do-over, I’d make the thing an inch smaller because the points just meet at the nape of my neck.  Tying would be neater and easier if there was a bit more room to do it.

The stitching pattern is an original adaptation.  I tool a strip design appearing on a sampler in the collection of the V&A museum and played with it, transforming it into an all-over.  The original is in TNCM, the adaptation will be in T2CM.

THE DOODLES CONTINUE

The idle moments bit that’s taking place on the ground cloth area NOT used up by my two forehead cloths has taken on a life of its own.  Frankly, it started out as a delaying tactic – stitching was too much fun to stop and tend to finishing the two now-completed kerchiefs.  But it has become more than that.

I started out with another large-fill design, of the scale that rarely gets used in inhabited blackwork work.  The motifs are just too big to fit into any but the absolute largest areas in a standard dark outline, fancy fill project.  But they are on the scale of the regular fills shown in rectangular areas at the bottom of the famous Jane Bostocke sampler.  So why not?

This top fill (for the time being) is quasi-original.  I drafted it up, based on this linear design, appearing on another oft-cited sampler, the V&A’s T.14-1931

heart-strip

I’ve used that design as a teaching piece for years.  It’s in TNCM, and a tutorial on double running stitch logic featuring this design, complete with a chart for it is here.  For this piece I used the center motif, rotating it fourfold, and elongating the “stems” into a grid with a secondary motif.  I stitched it using two plies of the four-ply hand-dyed silk floss I am using.

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The next bit was the motto, described in the last post, so I won’t reiterate here.

Just below the motto is another motif that will be featured in the sequels to TNCM – a scrolling grapevine, with very angular, striated branches sprouting off more organic and woody trunks.  I wrote about it here before.  The space for it was too small to show the entire repeat, so I focused on the center bit, which left the gnarled fat branches off.  Again, this is stitched using two strands of the silk.

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Below the grapes is a curious design, also from the TNCM sequels.  Although it’s shown in the book without a fill, I chose to execute it with one here.  The design is entirely mine (one of the few totally unsourced pieces in the collection).  On this one I experimented with thread thickness.  All of the stitching is double-running, but the heavy outlines are worked with the full four-strand thickness of the floss.  The flowers are done in two strands, and the radial symmetry stepped fill is done in one strand.

After this comes another narrow strip pattern across the top (I can’t abide wasted space); plus a narrow border to frame the entire area.  The border and possibly the narrow top strip will be done with thread from a second batch of black silk, also hand-dyed with a historically appropriate dye by my Stealth Apprentice.  The goal is for me to “beta test” her output, and report back on the stitching qualities of each of the slightly different recipes. 

As for the sequel(s) to TNCM – yes.  I am working on them.  Yes, it’s going slowly.  It’s intensive, and having finished the whole book, having to rip it apart and remake it as two or three smaller volumes is proving more problematic than I thought.  Some pattern pages need to be re-composed, patterns with cross-references in their historical profiles have to be sorted and kept together to avoid jumping between volumes; the intro material needs to be re-written so that it appears in balanced (and relevant) quantities across the volumes.  Indices and referenced bibliographies entries have to be properly assigned to appear in the same volume as the patterns to which they are linked. This is taking time, and frankly, after a whole day of heavy editing for my professional job, sitting down and doing the same thing at night is slow going.

Why am I re-editing and cutting the thing apart?  Affordability.  Right now at a heavily illustrated 184 pages, including historical essays, how-to material, 75 plates with over 200 individual designs, research discussions, the bibliographies and indexes, for electronic publication, the break even point would put the per-copy cost in the neighborhood of $175, and even more for on-demand paper copy printing.  That’s flat out too much.  I am hoping to offer smaller books at a more accessible price point.

So apologies.  They are coming.  Slowly. 

CLOTH #2 – FINISHED, PLUS BONUS DOODLE

Waaayyy behind on my blogging, I’m now not only finished with the stitching on the first Forehead Cloth, I’m finished with the second one, too.

Because I have only a limited supply of the excellent hand-dyed thread, and the first triangle had a voracious appetite, I decided to work the second both smaller in size, and with only two plies of the four-ply silk floss.  I am not sure that the thread maker intended it to be used stripped into plies, but with patience and gentle encouragement, I was able to do so with minimal tangling and no losses.  Gentle finger spinning counter to the direction that the plies were assembled helped, as did tension on the strand while separating.  And it worked!  I have more than enough to finish, as you will see below.

On the design – I went through a couple of iterations.  I started with one from my forthcoming book:

Forehead2-01

I liked the larger motif, but not the smaller one.  It has a very prominent cross, and while it might not have been so apparent when a large area was worked, I noticed it.  I am not comfortable wearing crosses, so I drafted up a new companion motif to use in its place.  You can see the old one just peeking out at the top of the photo below, for comparison.

Forehead2-03

I liked the visual balance of this one better. While I lost some of the light/dark checkerboard effect of the original, I gained an interesting play of curves and frames.  Considering that this pattern conforms to the 45-deg/90-deg/180-deg composition rule found in just about every historical piece of linear stitch count-work (“Knight’s Move” two-over-one up stitches are exceedingly rare), seeing curves at all is almost an optical illusion.

Here is the final, plus a bonus doodle on top, which I’ll discuss in a bit:

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After I finish the bonus bit on top, I will remove the basted guidelines, gently clean my stitching, and draft out the lining and strings.  I’ve got some pre-shrunk muslin I’ll use as the lining.  I may use a length of this even weave, folded or rolled into a quarter-inch strip for the ties.  That appears to be the treatment most like the extant historical pieces.  The other option is using some purchased woven tape, which I think would look clunky and mismatched, by comparison.  In any case, there is no needle lace trim, adornments on the tie strands, or other embellishments for these.  I suppose I could add paillettes to this one, but I’ll save that bit of effort for a future matched coif-cloth set. 

On to questions from my inboxes:

You said you proof against established work.  What do you mean by that?

I cue my work off established, stitched areas.  Unless there’s no way around it, I rarely establish a very long outline or outlying branch teetering off into as yet unstitched territory.  I tend to bend my working logic so that I am usually stitching relatively close to finished bits.  That way I can easily confirm that I am still on-count and parallel to the rest of the piece.  If I am off, it’s almost invariably because I missed count on a diagonal, going over or up an extra thread (sometimes both).  I can reduce the chance of error if I do that diagonal by eyeballing a one-stitch horizontal or vertical displacement from an established grid point, rather than making the diagonal with no point of nearby reference.   In this way I am constantly checking my work for “true.”

Another way to proof off established work is to work attachment point stitches when they are encountered, if I intend on finishing up that divergent design segment and making that meeting later on from another direction.  It’s much easier to see and meet up with a little “twig,” and to spot potential deviations early on, than it is to meet up with a solid line of stitching, where identifying the individual stitches can be tricky, later on.

What thread are you using/Where did you get it?

I got it at Birka – four ply filament silk hand dyed using iron and tannin (full disclaimer here) by my Stealth Apprentice.  She is launching a small venture producing historically inspired Roman jewelry, plus embroidery threads and ribbons dyed with historically accurate materials and methods.  I am helping by being an early customer, sponsor, and “beta tester” for the threads.

 

Now on to the doodle.

That little lump in the hand-held frame above the two triangle-shaped forehead cloths… What the heck is that?

It’s a doodle. I had thread and ground fabric left over after I finished the two cloths, so I decided to just aimlessly stitch away, trying out some of the larger fills or smaller all-overs that rarely have scope to come out and play (like those on the forehead cloths themselves).  This particular design is from my free collection of fills, Ensamplario Atlantio. No plan here, just idle stitching while the ground is still in one easy-to-handle piece.  Along the way over the past week or so, my doodle has decided it wanted to bear a motto and become a mini-sampler.  So here is progress to date:

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I’m not sure what will be below the motto, but whatever it is will keep me doodling for another week or two.  For those who want more info, the alphabet I used is here.

ALMOST THERE

As you can see, progress on the first blackwork forehead cloth has been quite swift:

Forehead-02

I have just two corners left.  Although I have been using my sit-upon tambour (round) frame for this project, I will now switch to a hand-held hoop.  That’s because it’s significantly smaller, and better able to get close to the edge of the cloth.

On thread consumption – I started out with a 100-yard skein of the hand-dyed filament silk.  What you see here is the entire thing.  Every inch.  Luckily, I have another and will use a bit of it to complete.

Here are some more answers to questions posted here and other places where I’ve shown this piece.

What does the back look like?

Pretty much the same as the front:

Forehead-01

That’s because I’m primarily working this in double running stitch, which the assiduous can make entirely double sided.  I am not bothering (note the presence of Evil Knots) because this cloth will be lined.

How do you keep your knots from pulling through?

I never just make a knot, then push my needle up through the ground cloth, trusting entirely on the bulk of the knot to keep the stitch in place.  I either knot around a bit of established work, or if no previous stitch is handy, I make a knot at the end of my thread, stitch up, then down again leaving about an inch not pulled through to the front.  Then I use my needle to pierce the working thread.  I gently pull the thread into place, snicking up that inch of extra, and manipulating the just-made noose-join so that the knot isn’t in peril of being pulled forward.  Yes, I could make a waste knot on the front, then trim the thread back in a more traditional method, but in this case at least, the thread is prone to shedding color, and I prefer not to make a mark “outside the lines.”

On the terminal knots, I run the thread under an established stitch and do what amounts to a double hitch knot, then use my needle to pierce the newly made knot, pulling the thread tight.  This acts as a second lock and prevents unraveling or pop-through.

How do you determine your double-running baseline in a complex design like this?

I know I’ve written extensively about finding the baseline, but in this case, there isn’t just one stitching logic.  There are many, and they are all situational.  Do I want to go “out and back again” so that the active end of my line of stitching ends up near the point of origin?  Do I want to just head out in one direction until I run out of thread, then follow up with a second strand, filling in my every-other-stitch?  Do I want to establish the location of a design element, then go back and fill in detail later; or do I want to do every detour and departure on the first pass, leaving only a minimal amount of work for the second pass?  How much thread is left in my working strand?  Lots?  Just a little?  All of these thoughts combine and influence my path planning.  I can say that the stitching logic in no two of these repeats was identical – it was all done to optimize the remaining thread, cover the design without omissions, and to make counting and alignment as easy as possible; and the mix of those factors at any one time varied wildly.

However there is one thing that ended up being of great help in keeping everything properly lined up and accurately on-count. When I have a T-intersection, on the first pass I include the “attachment stitch,” so that when I come back and link up to that segment, the exact spot is easy to find.  Otherwise, if I continued straight along the top of the T, when I came back later and had to add the vertical, it would be harder to know if my alignment was correct; if the new addition had synched up correctly to the prior work.

Forehead-04

You can see this in several places on the snippet above.  Look at the heavy stacked diagonal at 1:00. On its base, where it joins the circular plume-flower medallion, I’ve left a little vertical hanging off the foundation 1×3 rectangle.  That’s an attachment point.  As I near it on my next stitching pass, I can cue off it to proof my work as I go, and know that I am on target for an absolutely aligned attachment point.  That’s also why I have those little barbs sticking out on the base of the as-yet-to-be-stitched diagonal at 5:00.

What are you going to do with the rest of the cloth?

It would be a shame to cut out my completed triangle, leaving a difficult to handle remnant.  So I am going to stitch a second, smaller triangle opposite this one, leaving cutting room between them. After I’ve finished #2, I’ll assemble both forehead cloths.  Not sure what motif to use on the second one, but likely it will be less dense, because I have less thread.

What are you using for the ground?  Do you like it?

I’ve had this piece of MCG Textiles even weave in my stash for at least a year, maybe two.  It was the last bit of 32-count linen ground on the shelf at a local JoAnn’s big-box crafts store.  I do not recommend it.

I have to say that I’m spoiled by higher quality linens at this point.  I am finding too many irregularities – thick/thin threads, slubs, surface matting, and the like, that are affecting the look of the finished project.  There’s one area in particular that drove me crazy – a segment of a few inches in which every other thread was super narrow.  Countwork there was not fun at all.  In addition, it’s not really an even weave.  There’s a distortion if you compare north-south to east-west.  (I can’t tell which is warp and which is woof because the bagged segment had no selvedge on it).  I grabbed it off the top of the stash when I started this because it was a nice coarse count, the size of the piece was suitable (minimal waste), and I wanted to begin quickly, without ordering or hunting for materials.

FOREHEAD CLOTH/KERCHIEF PROGRESS

This is working up to be a quick stitch:

kerchief-02

I attempt to answer questions submitted via email and on-line.  If you have other questions, please feel free to post and ask.  There are no secrets here.

Where/what is this pattern?

It’s one of the many designs in T2CM.  It’s quasi-original, based on a 15th century strip pattern from my all time fave V&A sampler, the famous (and infamous) T.14.1931.  I presented the strip in TNCM, but here have morphed it into an all-over. There are only two designs in T2CM that revisit some aspect of a pattern from the first book.  This happens to be one of them.

Here is the original historical design in strip form, as worked on my Clarke’s Law sampler:

plume-strip-2

What stitch are you using?

Mostly double running, with short hops in “Heresy Stitch”. But I’m not being slavish about the double-sided/double running protocol.  I am using knots, and I am strongly considering a muslin lining for my forehead cloth.  I think it will help it wear better, by reducing stress on the ground fabric.  Therefore, with the back well hidden, I am under no pressure to do a perfect double-sided parlor trick.  That being said, I do tend to stick to double sided logic for best thread economy and minimal show-through.

What thread and ground are you using?

The ground isn’t fancy – it’s a prepackaged linen or linen blend even weave, with a relatively coarse thread count of 32 threads per inch.  It is stash-aged, and parted company from the packaging long ago, so I am not sure of the brand name it was marketed under, or the retail source. I’m stitching over two threads, so that’s about 16 stitches per inch.  I tried stitching over three, but thought the look was too leggy.

I am using a special treat thread – a small batch hand-dyed silk from an SCA merchant.  I got it at Birka, and I hear it will be intermittently available at the Golden Schelle Etsy shop*.  The thread is dyed with iron, tannin, and logwood, and is a warm black in color.  In thickness it is roughly equivalent to two plies of standard Au Ver A Soie D’Alger silk, although it is not a thread that can be separated into plies.

Do you wax your thread?

Yes.  For double running stitch work, even in silk, I wax my thread lightly with beeswax; paying special attention to the last inch for threading through the needle.  While I would not as a rule wax the entire length of the silk for work that depends on sheen (like satin stitch), at the very short stitch lengths used in double running, loss of sheen is minimal.  Waxing keeps the thread from fuzzing against itself as it is pulled through the same hole more than once, and (if you are working with multiple strands) minimizes the differential feed problem, without resorting to using a laying tool – which I find tedious for such short stitch lengths.  Others adore laying tools, so use of them is a matter of personal preference.

What needles do you use?

I favor a rather unorthodox choice for single strand double running – ball point needles intended for hand sewing on tricots and fine knits.  They have a nice, rounded point, that slides neatly between the threads of my ground fabric, and a small eye.  Blunt pointed needles intended for embroidery often have large eyes, which make thread management for a single strand unwieldy, allowing it to slip out of the eye too readily.

ball_points (1)

How do you know when to “go back again” in double running?

A lot of people think that working double running means you head in one direction, then turn back and retrace your steps.  They carefully calculate the length of their stitching thread, and when they get to the half-consumed point, turn around and go back.  This works, but tends to cluster thread ends.  If you cluster your ends you end up with (for double-sided work) a large number of ends to hide in a very small space, or (for single sided, with knots) an untidy zone, with many knots and ends in the same place, which can show through to the front.

Instead I just keep going.  I use up my length of thread, following my stitching logic, headed in one direction.  Then I begin a second strand,staggering my starting point from my original start, first filling in the previously stitched path, and then extending the design further.  Since I tend to do offshoots and digressions as I come to them and these do eat more thread as I trace them out from and then back to my main stitching line, I rarely have more than two ends at any one point in my work, and those two-end spots are widely distributed, rather than clustering in one small area.

How do you determine the baseline and stitching logic in an all-over?

There’s a little bit of catch-as-catch-can, but the basic concept is dividing the work into zones.  In this piece the zone is flexible, and can be centered on either square area bordered by the spider flowers, connected by the twisted framing mechanism; or on the smaller area defined by the “root zone” of those spider flowers, again connected by the twisted framing.  I go around either one of those, hopping between them as needed.  In either case, the small center elements – the tiny quad flower, or the quad flower with the elongated tendrils, is worked separately, with no jumps back to the main motif.

And speaking of that tendril-flower – I am not entirely happy with it.  I may pick it out and draft something else to go there.  For the record, the nice, large square it inhabits would make a nifty place for initials, heraldic badges, whimsical creatures, original motifs, or other personal signifiers.

Why are you using a round frame?

Because I have two flat frames and one round (tambour) sit-on frame, in addition to several round in-hand hoops.  I have works in progress on both flat frames, and don’t want to dismount them to do this quickie. My tambour frame has a padded bottom hoop, and when time comes to move the fabric and squash bits of just-done embroidery, I will pad the work with some muslin to protect it on the top as well as the bottom side.  Again, working short stitches with no raised areas – even in silk – makes this a less risky proposition than it would be for other stitching styles.

Can I see the back?

In the next progress post I’ll include a shot of the back.

 

* In the interest of full disclosure (and the no-secrets here thing), the un-named proprietor of Golden Schelle is my Stealth Apprentice.  Shhh.  It’s a secret.

 

ADAPTING FOR MODERN USE

Yet another post only a stitching/historical clothing geek would love.

Forehead cloths.

What were they?  Why do I care?

Forehead cloths were triangular kerchief type items, often matched with a coif (a close-fitting cloth hat) produced during the 1500s and 1600s.  Some still exist today in set with their coif, some are separate – possibly parts of sets, now orphaned over time.  They appear to have been quite popular based on survivals, and surprisingly for a popular item – how they were worn is not an entirely settled issue.

64.101.1237
Blackwork forehead cloth in collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art
British, last quarter of 16th century – roughly 14.5 x 16.5” (36.8 x 41.9cm)
Accession 64.101.1237

Some suggest forehead cloths were worn underneath the coif, tied or pinned firmly behind the head under the wearer’s bunned-up hair.  In this configuration, the cloth would keep the hair contained, and provide a firm foundation on which to pin the coif itself.  Having worn coifs and hoods of the time, this is very logical to me, and makes perfect sense.

Others suggest that the cloth may have been worn over the coif; or even instead of it, for sleeping or indoors-at-home informality. I do note that in coif-cloth sets where metallic or linen lace trims the coif, the accompanying forehead cloth is rarely adorned to match. This makes sense if the cloth was worn under the coif, but would be odd if it was worn covering the coif’s fancy trim.  Were they ever worn alone?  No one knows…

64.101.1242                                 64.101.1243

Polychrome forehead cloth and matching coif, also Metropolitan Museum of Art
British, 1600-1630, cloth roughly 7 x 17.5” (17.8 x 44.5cm)
Coif – Accession 64.101.1242   Cloth – Accession 64.101.1243

What we do know about forehead cloths is that they come in as many stitching styles as do coifs – blackwork, other monochrome, polychrome, counted, freehand stitched,  fancy with metallic threads and sequin embellishments or plainer; standard Elizabethan/Stuart era scrolling flowers and vines (with or without insects and birds); all-over repeat or geometric patterns – you name it.  Some. like the one below, even look like they are remnants of larger embroidered items, cut down and re-used.

2006BF4614_jpg_lStippled blackwork forehead cloth from the Victoria and Albert Museum
England, 1625-1650.
Accession T.42-1938

About the only thing I haven’t seen yet is one that is mostly plain ground, stitched just along hypotenuse edge rather than being entirely covered with pattering.  Some cloths (like the first two above) have small tie strings, some are just triangles, with no tabs, ribbons, or strings (although those may have become disassociated over the decades).

Now, why am I so interested?  I rarely get to SCA events these days, and don’t have an outfit (or a finished coif) to match a forehead cloth.

I want to make one for mundane day-to-day, modern wear.

I like wearing a bandanna or kerchief to keep my hair out of my eyes, especially during “down times” on weekends, or when we visit windy Cape Cod.  It strikes me that a purpose-built forehead cloth would serve well, and be a bit more distinctive than a plain old paisley bandanna.  Being small, it would not be onerous to stitch, and would be a fun thing to adorn with one of the larger all-over or infinity repeats that I’ve charted over the years.

I’m laying out the size of the piece now, basting my dimensions onto ground cloth.  More news on this as the project develops.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

And its the cold, snowy part of the Boston seasonal experience.  Which is not improving my outlook much.  But there are bright spots.  We do what we can.

Here’s a free offering (also available via my Embroidery Patterns tab, above).  This motto just cries out to be a sampler, the irony of using an art that in and of itself requires intensive perseverance to accomplish is just too sweet.  Click on the chart image to get the full JPG, formatted for 8.5 x 11 inch paper. (Finished stitching sample courtesy of long-time friend Gillian, who was the first to post a finished piece picture.  Her’s is on 14-count Aida, finished post-wash size of stitched area is about 7″ x 9″.)

nevertheless       Gillians-Finish

And here’s the finish from Edith Howe-Byrne on even weave, showing her variant treatment of the concept, using other counted stitches and beads (she’s leaving in the gridwork so she can use this piece as a reference for additional projects):

Ediths-finish Edith-3
Edith-2

The alphabets used are (more or less) contemporary with the women’s suffrage movement – found on Ramzi’s Patternmaker Charts site, among his collection of vintage Sajou and Alexandre booklets.  The particular one I used for all three alphabets is here. The border is adapted from one appearing in a 1915 German book of cross stitch alphabets and motifs, in the collection of the Antique Pattern Library.

We all do what we can, and I encourage anyone with heartfelt opinions to use their time and skill set in service, as they see fit.  Even if you don’t agree with me, filling the airwaves with positive messages rather than caustic imagery can’t hurt.

If anyone stitches this up and wants me to showcase their effort, please let me know.  I’ll be happy to add pix of your work to the gallery here.

On my own  end, I have been productive as well.

First finished (but not first started) – a quick shrug.  Possibly even for me.

Fuzzyshrug

This is knit from the generous bounty resettled upon me by the Nancys, for which I continue to be grateful.  The multicolor yarn is older Noro Nadeshiko, a blend with a hefty dose of angora, along with silk and wool.  It is soft and supple, and although I am generally not a fan of desert colors – is superbly hued, with just enough rose, sage, cream, and grey to be perfect.  The accent edge is done is another of their gift yarns – two balls of a merino wool variegated single, worsted weight.  I held it double for extra oomph.  One thing to note about the Nadeshiko though – it sheds.  A lot.  And the Office Dogs where I work like to sniff it (it probably smells like a bunny).

The pattern is Jennifer Miller’s Shawl Collar Vest – a Ravelry freebie.  It is a no-seam, quick knit, written for bulky weight yarn.  The thing fairly knit itself.  Four days from cast-on to wear-ready.  My only criticism is that the XL size is really more of a 12/14.  I can wear it, but it’s very tight, and tends to emphasize attributes with which I am already more than proportionally blessed.  My answer to this problem will be to unravel the green finish rounds, and add about 2 inches of stripey, then re-knit the green.

The nifty pin is an official heirloom of my house.  Long ago and far away, SCA friend Sir Aelfwine (now of blessed memory) made it for me as a cloak pin.  Obviously I still treasure it and wear it when I can.

On the needles is also yet another pair of Susie Rogers’ Reading Mitts, another free pattern available from Ravelry.  I’ve done four pair of these, but never for me.  I rectify that oversight now.

mymitts-1

Obviously, the first one is done.  Now for the second.

The yarn is yet another denizen of the Great Nancy Box – a worsted weight handspun alpaca – chocolate brown with flecks of white and pale grey, from Sallie’s Fen Alpacas.  The photo doesn’t do the yarn justice.  It’s butter on the needles, and gloriously warm.  The only mod I make to the original pattern is using a provisional cast-on, then knitting the cast-on edge to the body on the last pre-welt row (to eliminate seaming).

My typing fingers will be toasty when #2 is done.