Back from the drawing board. I plan to try this version out tonight. (Quick and dirty plot, not neatened up for general consumption).
You can see how it is wider, more open, and looser than the last version, below
Both are original compositions, incorporating and adapting motif bits from the main design, but they have very different movement and feeling.
My fellow bungee-jump stitchers, note that I also decided that aside from centering the companion border’s repeat on the midpoint of the established work, I am totally unconcerned with how the longitudinal counts of the two interact. This border will not end “neatly” at a corner. I will have to improvise something on the fly when I get there, so Off-the-Cuff Design Fun hasn’t officially ended yet.
I can sense the rising collective gasps of horror from the mass of people who prefer the entire project to be complete and neatly charted prior to being worked on a basted, gridded ground. I understand you and respect your ways, but I enjoy the frisson of danger inherent in my method, and accept that picking out is always a a looming possibility.
And for those of you who want to know what I’m using to create these, here’s a link to my tutorial series for using the free drafting program GIMP to set up and work charted designs. I’m afraid that due to the vagaries of blogging software indexing, the lessons are in reverse order. Go all the way to the bottom of the page, and start with the entry,
Stay tuned for results of this experiment. At the worst, it’s picking out, and back to the drawing board. Again.
Its a keeper!
Now on to finish out the leftmost repeat, add the one on the right, and add the now-established edging. Also to noodle out how to treat the corners… Adventures in needlework, for sure!
On to the tablecloth!
Here’s one full repeat of the pattern I am using for the main lozenge in the center. It’s one of the largest I’ve found. Not the longest – several of the narrower strips beat it there, but certainly with length and width taken together the one with the largest area north/south plus east/west.
I am in the process of adding another panel of the main design (the section between the “ice cream cones”) left and right of what you see here. Possibly two. We’ll see how I feel about proportions after I’ve finished the initial center set.
And I decided to draft my own companion border for this panel, after looking through and discarding others in my collections. While coordinating borders are less common compared to ones that have absolutely no relation to the design elements in the main panel accompanied, they do exist. Here’s an example (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 79.1.14):
I doodled up a couple of possibilities. One didn’t make it off the drawing board. The second I was more pleased with, and began trying it out:
But once it began to make the transition from paper to stitching, I decided I didn’t like the way it was turning out. It’s too tight, dark, and linear. Plus I don’t like the proportions against the main pattern.
So I will pick out this little bit of companion border, and go back to the drawing board. The goal is something lighter, looser, with more white space. And wider – probably twice the width of what I had doodled up before.
My doodle napkins. All eight complete.
Overall, I’m quite pleased. They were each individually fun and quick to stitch. I did not agonize over them (although there are no mistakes). Napkins are transient goods, destined for hard use, gravy stains, and wine spills. Therefore I did them “quick and dirty.” I used knots, rather than agonizing about ending off my double running stitch invisibly. I used launder-me DMC and Sajou cotton threads, not silk. And the napkins themselves after shrinking in the machine, sometimes through multiple washes, are all slightly different sizes, with almost a full inch of width/length difference between the smallest and the largest. Frankly, I don’t care – they will all serve their purpose quite well.
This shot is for Anne, who asked to see how I was wrapping the borders around the corners of the main motifs:
I’m not going back and adding a secondary border to the first one I did. Or at least today I’m not thinking about doing it. The others were exercises in educated fudging. I was thrilled that the border on the last one (lowest green one on the right) worked out perfectly, both horizontally and vertically, to make four neat and symmetrical corners. That was serendipity, not planning.
Now on to the tablecloth. This one is going to be a challenge. I’m using my sit-on hoop, with the bulk of the cloth gathered up and stuffed into a pillowcase that sits on my lap behind the hoop while I stitch. Not optimally comfortable, but necessary to keep the thing quasi-clean while I work. The cloth itself as a ground is not as easy to count or as forgiving as were the napkins. The threads are quite spindly and rather slubby, but I’m managing.
The design, like those on the napkins, is from my ever-forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook. This one in particular is a challenge. What you see here is less than an EIGHTH of the total repeat. This pattern is the largest all-over I have encountered. The artifact I charted it from (below) showed it in voided form, with the background filled by a heavily overstitched and meshy effect ground. I am only working the foreground in double running. Time is too short and tablecloth-hazard too likely for me to invest months in the very labor-intense original treatment of the background.
Special thanks to Christine Lee Callaghan (SCA – Lady Cristina Volpina), who unearthed the artifact from the collections of the University of Rhode Island, and provided spectacular photos of it to me, a byproduct of her own academic research. The image below is hers, appearing here by permission
A few of you have asked about the doodle napkins – a set of eight, all coordinating, but each one different. With six now stitched and number seven on my frame, I attempt to answer.
A while back I wrote about the pre-finished napkins and tablecloth I bought from Wayfair. While I note that neither the KAF Fete napkin set nor the Toscana tablecloth is still in their inventory, there are several similar products available from them and from Target, Overstock, Amazon and other sources.
Be warned! Prewashing these is an absolute necessity. They are linen-look cotton, or linen/cotton blends, and can be expected to shrink appreciably. So toss them in a nice, abusive load – like a hot wash with some other light color towels or sheets, and have at it. Compare them when they emerge, and if some are not quite as shrunken as the others (as happened to me) run them through again just to be sure.
My almost even weave napkins firmed up quite a bit, becoming even closer to a true even weave count, which was a surprise. But I didn’t change my plans for all of that. I always intended to work my stitching along one edge only, eliminating the need to turn corners, or worry about skew counts. I’d present them at table as shown, folded in quarters.
Now. How to begin…
First, I had to have designs. Simple for me. I am drawing mostly from my forever forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook, playtesting more of the designs, and using the experience to flog myself towards getting over the hurdle of publication. I’m working directly from those pages, and am not bothering to rechart anything specifically for this use. Not even the narrow companion borders (more on this below).
I am also being quite cavalier with layout on the napkins. They are pre-hemmed. I am trying to use the same north/south orientation for all of them, keying off the placement of the brand tag on the back, but I am examining the two candidate ends closely, to pick the one that is the most “true”. By that I mean the one whose hemming runs closest to being true on the count. There are a couple of napkins that are hemmed slightly skew, and I wanted to make the stitching on them look to run as parallel as possible to the edges.
OK. With my chosen side to embellish identified, I folded the napkin carefully in half, and used a pin to mark the center point. Then I measured in from the inner edge of the machine-stitched hemming detail, and placed another pin perpendicular to the first. I admit I eyeballed the first one, then just used it as the paradigm for placing the second pin on the subsequent napkins (no actual measuring tape was involved). Pin placement is shown below, with the napkin mounted on my sit-on hoop.
Once the center point and work boundary are established I begin. That’s it. No basting guide lines, no other prep. Just grabbing my threads and going. I admit that others may enjoy working with basted guidelines, but for something this small, where the only point of reference is the center, I don’t bother. Feel free to castigate me for lazy prep.
Threads… Hmm. Which did I use?
The red was easy. When we were in Paris, I bought a box of Sajou four-strand cotton embroidery floss in red. I had always intended on using it for a set of napkins. I had bought linen there, too, but decided that I wanted to use that linen for other pieces that would be less “endangered” by gravy than dinner napkins.
The Sajou Retors du Nord cotton floss is put up on cards of 20 meters. I am using a red, #2409. I started with a box of five cards, and have used about half of my yardage on just the four napkins. For the green napkins, I’m using plain old DMC cotton six-strand floss in #890, in standard pull skeins of 8.7 yards (just shy of 8 meters). I am stitching with three plies of each thread, even though the Sajou is a tiny bit thinner than the DMC. I am enjoying using the Sajou because it is finer, shinier, and smoother, but I am simultaneously disappointed in the maker’s quality control. Each of the three Sajou cards I have used so far has had component plies with knots, shredded sections, or snags – where the individual plies are kinked and not all of the same length in a given span of thread. While the DMC thread is more matte and a bit rougher in finish, in over 50 years of using it, I have never run into a less-than-perfect skein. It’s possible that I bought a box of Sajou made on a bad day, but three out of three cards with faults is not what I expected.
OK. The thread is ready, I’ve got my main design in hand, I’ve got the napkin mounted on my frame, with the center point and top limit of my design marked. Now what?
Starting at the center (red arrow above on Napkin #7, showing the point indicated by the now removed pins), I begin playing with one of the narrow edgings – usually something less than four units tall. I pick one from the book, or I make on up on the spur of the moment. In this case, I’m using a pretzel edging of my own devising, also in T2CM.
Using a separate thread for the companion edging, I work three or four repeats off in one direction – usually to the left (for no reason in particular), then I move the working thread out of the way (sometimes winding the excess on a temporary pin), and using another thread, begin my main motif strip – also working out from the center, stitching over a 2×2 thread grid. In the example above, the weird double leaf meander. The threads trail off at the upper left because I don’t want to re-position my hoop until I absolutely have to. Once I move it over, I’ll take each of those stragglers up in turn, and use it to completion.
After I’ve gotten a bit laid down, I re-evaluate the narrow companion border. If I don’t like it, I pick it out and work another of the same width. Once I’m happy with it I also work it below the main motif. It’s obvious in the photo above, that I tried out the pretzels, liked them, and went on to stitch up my first length of thread in the strip of it above the main motif, and am now working on its sibling, below.
After I’ve gotten my design established continue on, happily, working my main motif, and eking out the companion borders as I go along but lagging a bit behind, until I’ve stitched the main motif close enough to the end. Once a full repeat of my main motif is on the fabric, I rarely refer to the printed pattern again, working instead from the already-stitched bit.
When I get to the leftmost edge, I take up the companion borders again and improvise a corner turn for them. If I’ve kept count true the upper left and lower right corners should be matches, as should the lower left and upper right. Or if I’m very lucky, all four will match. Or if my improvised corner is looking awkward, I’ll just butt the ends. In any case, I am not agonizing about the corner treatment. I’ve seen enough period artifacts where it’s clear that the historical stitcher didn’t invest much agony in them either. (When I’m done with all eight napkins, I’ll post on improvising the corners, because this note is getting too long.)
As to which patterns to do on the next napkin, or what to use on the coordinating tablecloth – it’s all whim. For the tablecloth, I will probably pick one or more of the largest all-over designs from my books, either to work as a large rectangular medallion in the center or three evenly spaced smaller areas, but I won’t be working strips around the entire perimeter, nor will I be working stripes across the whole width of the table. And that’s the only advance planning I’ve done so far.
It’s doldrums here at String Central. Younger Daughter is back to university. Others are back to work. I fill my time with nosing around for grant and proposal contract assignments, and my various projects.
First, my sanity project – the doodled decoration on the pre-finished napkins I bought on sale from Wayfair, using the cotton four-ply embroidery floss I picked up when we visited Sajou in Paris (stitching with three plies). I can show a modicum of progress. I’m just picking out random designs from my books and doing them rather informally, with a different design along a single edge of each of eight napkins. The first of my mismatched set is complete. The second in process.
The linen is soft and once washed, a bit mushy. That makes count work a bit more troublesome than it otherwise would be, especially on so coarse a ground. But it’s still rather quick work. The first napkin with the interlace took three evenings (about half shown). The in process photo shows only one evening’s worth of work.
On to knitting. I finished a pair of socks, packed up and sent to the recipient before I remembered to take a photo. They were my “briefcase project” – the thing I always have with me to work on while I wait on telephone hold, on line at the post office, or for appointments. Since I ALWAYS have a pair on the needles, the next pair is already cast on and sitting it its bag, itself waiting for me to be waiting. This pair however is special. Younger Daughter picked out this yarn with the proviso that I knit something for myself with it. I comply.
And my project of long suffering guilt. I promised these Octopus Mittens to my niece late last winter. It was inadvertently destroyed, then was re-started with new yarn, and is now sitting next to my project chair, chiding me that it is being neglected. I plead laziness, lack of inspiration, and frustration with stranding using two strands of DK, knit at sock yarn gauge for warmth.
I MUST finish these. I promised.
How do you flog yourself back into working on a sidelined project? All suggestions gratefully accepted.
Oh, And if you know of anyone looking for a project manager/writer/editor specializing in high tech grants and proposals – send them my way, please.
The stitching on my Two Fish piece is now complete. The only things left to do are to iron out the pleats from mounting on the stretcher bars, and having it framed.
And a close-up:
For those who wanted something to better illustrate the scale of the stitching, here’s a standard US penny on the work:
For the record, the recipient is so pleased with the thing that we’ve decided to keep it here in the house, rather than consigning it to the beach place. Eventually, after framing, it will end up in our bedroom.
I continue to make slow progress on my Fish piece. Again, I plead the heat, the general malaise it creates, my unwillingness to sit under a hot halogen work light, and a reticence to stitch with sweaty fingers. But as you can see, I’m almost done with the center area gold water swirls. Just a few “echo lines” are left to add to the group below the head of Fish #1, then I will have to advance the scroll, to get the remaining bits at the top and bottom. (Swirly lines that currently go off the edges of my stitching area have been saved until the work area is realigned, even if they go over by just a little bit.) And of course, sign the thing with my initials and the date.
I do like the way the spirals of gold in the head spots turned out.
More answers to inbox questions:
Where did you get the gold and sequins?
The #5 imitation gold thread came from the Japanese Embroidery Center, in Atlanta Georgia. The 2mm gold tone pailettes came from General Bead, in San Francisco. Both were ordered off the ‘net sight-unseen.
How are you sewing down the gold?
Standard simple couching, of two strands held together, flat and parallel (not twisted around each other). I’m using one strand of gold-tone silk, heavily waxed, taking little stitches across the gold. The stitches get closer together as curves are formed, and further apart on the straight runs, but generally don’t exceed about 5mm (3/16ths of an inch) apart.
The no-hands frame is an absolute must for this type of work. I hold the gold and bend it into a curve to match the sketched lines with my left hand, then use the right to form the affixing stitches, taking care not to pull so tightly that I deform the line. After the length is stitched down and the end cut, leaving about 3/4 of an inch on the surface, I plunge them to the back. I do this with a heavy, antique needle threaded with a loop of strong carpet thread, and lasso the ends, pulling the loop gently around the waving ends, then quickly yank them to the back of the work. After I finish an area I bundle the plunged gold ends as neatly as I can, mostly trying to keep the resulting bits small and camouflaged as much as possible. Note that on shortest line segments care must be taken when plunging NOT to end up pulling out one or both of the stitched down gold strands. Much colorful language ensues when that happens…
How will you finish this piece off?
I really don’t know. I don’t want to do a fabric scroll or hanging style finish on this one. Although that would be congruent with the subject matter, I feel it would be too cliche, and take up too much space on the beach place wall where we intend to hang it. Instead I may opt for a spare non-matted/no glass modern frame. Possibly a near-invisible thin black one. But in any case, I suspect I’ll splurge and have this one done by pros instead of my usual dinking around above my competence.
Not sure. I still have a stitch-itch, although I have a couple of projects lined up to knit once fall weather kicks in. Possibly a return to my big green sampler, now that I have a reliable stand for it. Possibly a smaller something-else.
Inching along here on my fishies. Yes, did end up getting the Lowery stand last week:
I really like it and am glad I splurged when I did. For those looking at the photo, trying to parse it out, the stand itself is the grey metal armature – from the heavy base plate, up to the gripper jaw holding on to the wooden cross piece, to which my stitching frame is attached.
The wooden piece with its grasping flanges that engage my frame is a supplemental purchase – the “Long Frame Extension.” I strongly recommend it if you have a Millennium or other scrolling frame, especially if it’s large/heavy, or has wide bars. Because the stand clamps down on the solid wood of the extension, I do not have to worry about overtensioning the jaws and harming the delicate stretcher arm, with its reamed out internal screw threads.
Now, as to actual progress, it’s been hot, and since I sit under a halogen work lamp, and we are not air-conditioning-enabled – I admit slacking off on most hot evenings. In response to questions about my comfy chair, I post this photo, complete with orb-of-the-sun heat-source mini floor-lamp, Morris style recliner, and frame (supported by its new stand.)
No, that’s not a real cat in the chair. It’s a conveniently sized stuffed-toy cat, liberated from the kids’ collection. It serves as a nice, soft supplemental elbow rest. You can also see the embarrassing midden of supplies and in-progress projects, heaped into baskets between the chair and the bookcase, and the ever-encroaching box of on-deck items that is slowly taking over the small table.
The floor stand’s foot is tucked underneath my chair, with a couple of bricks on it for good measure. The extra weight allows me to swing the frame out of my way like a door, so I can exit the chair without having to move the entire set-up, or shimmy under it.
Finally, here’s the paltry progress itself:
I’ve added sequins to the previously un-sequined Fish #1, who was feeling very jealous of Fish #2’s bling. The light is angled to make some of them sparkle, but there is a sequin in the center of each grid area in the body. I’ve also made progress on the gold whorls. Next are finishing the couched gold lines above Fish #1, doing the spot on his head, and starting on the whorls below him. Eventually I will have to scroll up and down a tiny bit to access the remaining swirly bits at the very top and bottom of the piece.
And then I’ll be done.
Next project? Not sure yet. I have a couple in mind. Possibly return to Big Green. Possibly another smaller sampler. Possibly a cushion to replace the stuffed cat. Maybe playing with tambour and wool… There’s no need to rush, I’ll be working finishing up my koi probably until September.
After an annoying lapse of personal preparedness, I am now back from vacation – at home where I left my gold thread. Sadly, no fish-stitching happened during my break because I was without it.
Goldwork is temperamental, exacting, and oh so rewarding. I don’t pretend to be very good at it, especially compared to The Masters. I bumble around at best.
I did play with metal thread embroidery decades ago, when I first encounted the SCA and began looking into historical styles. I did couched work, direct embroidery with passing threads, and or nuée – a style that involves laying the gold threads across the entire width of the image-to-be, then overstitching it with colored threads to create pictures, almost in raster style, that glimmer as the gold peeks through. But I had a goal back then – to advance embroidery in that organization, and all of these styles have a high learning curve. Happily, I stumbled across blackwork – something that’s easy to learn and easy to teach. I haven’t climbed back out of that hole in the years since.
Back to the project at hand – it’s clear that hooping over gold would destroy it, so for this phase of the work I have moved Two Fish to my flat frame.
The rather unusual scrolling flat frame is a Millennium from Needle Needs in the UK. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but worth every penny. Although the design isn’t centered in this early fit, I do not think that the minor bit of scrolling I may have to do will damage the work – for example, there’s no point where I would have to lap stitched fabric entirely around the top and bottom bars.
It became evident very quickly that an extra hand would be needed to do this part of the project. Or two. So I hauled out my ancient Grip-It floor stand. I prefer a side stand rather than a trestle or tilt-top support that sits in front of the worker, and but side-supports are hard to find.
Ancient Grip-It works ok, but its main two drawbacks are that is easily overbalanced by a large frame like this, even when front mounted; and that the jaw is wimpy and doesn’t hold very well – and at the same time, I am concerned about pressure it puts on the finely turned wood sidebars of the Millennium. Here’s my sadly overmatched Grip-It in action on an earlier piece on this same frame. You can almost hear the joints squeaking as it strains to keep itself upright. To be fair, since I sit in a Morris style chair as I work, the off side of the frame does get extra support from my left side chair arm.
I’m on the hunt for a replacement floor stand, so if you have a candidate to recommend, feel free to post a comment.
As far as the stitching itself goes, I’ve begun. Even with the floor stand, I find I need additional hands.
I want hand one to manage the stitch-down thread (one strand of gold-color silk floss, well waxed) poised on top of the work; one hand to receive the stitch-down thread’s needle below the work; one hand to provide gentle tension on the gold threads to keep them flat and even as I go along; and one hand to manage a laying tool to keep the two strands being couched in flat alignment to each other, and not crossing over each other. That’s two more hands than I currently have…
I can double up the stitch-down needle hand, stabbing the thing into the work on each stitch, then re-positioning the hand above or below and drawing the thread through the ground; but I haven’t found a graceful way to tension and direct the gold yet. Since I haven’t worked this way in over 20 years, extensive re-training/re-familiarization is needed, and the going is slow but steady.
I know there are people who want updates on the Two Fish project. Here’s progress as of last night:
Just two more count-filled areas to go – the cheek between the eye and the gills, and the far fin. The cheek fill will be relatively light, and the fin, much darker than the rest of the fish, but I haven’t picked out either one yet.
Most obviously – I couldn’t wait. Since I don’t plan to relocate the hoop before I end up taking it off altogether and moving to my flat frame, I decided to add the sequins.
As per my earlier random thoughts, I sewed down one 2mm flat gold pailette in the center of each interwoven O shape in the body fill. I attached them using one strand of well-waxed gold tone silk – three stitches per pailette. I’m very happy with the look, and only lost a few that refused to cooperate, skittering away under my chair. If I were to do this again, I’d probably make a muslin cover for a squishy rectangular sponge, and scatter the sequins on it, then use my needle tip to pierce the center hole and pick up each little circle as I needed it. Putting a bunch in a dish, then trying to fish them out one by one with large, clumsy fingers was not efficient.
For reference, the extra-tiny pailettes aren’t a big-box-crafts-store item. I found them on-line, from General Bead in San Francisco. Their 2mm stock is very limited – a vintage assortment of various sizes and colors, made in the 1980s.
I’ve also gotten a start on the heavier outlines. I’ll add the overstitched details to the fins and tail after that. For a while I thought I might render those details in ecru silk, to match the ground fabric color, but I decided that it would be jarring to do that for one fish but not the other. The pailettes are enough of a differentiator between the two. I’ll use blue for those lines, to match the fin/tail color of Fish #2.
Unusual Stitching Gadget/Tool Report
The other bit to report is a rather unorthodox method of remediating crocking – the unwanted transfer of color from the thread to the ground fabric (or the stitcher’s hands).
The deep blue floss silk I am using is an experimental item, an early try at hand-dyed indigo by my Stealth Apprentice. She shared a sample from her initial trial run with me, to see how it worked, and to get feedback to improve her product. But even though we determined that she needed to improve color-set on subsequent batches (which she has done, with excellent results), I am too frugal to let anything go to waste. So I began this project with the beta-test silk.
For the most part, I don’t mind a small amount of crocking on this project. I think it adds to the watery look of the fish. But there have been a couple of mistakes and false starts on my part, where I have had to pick out stitches done in indigo. Those corrections left substantial residue on the cloth. So… How to get rid of the deep blue smudges without harming the already-stitched work? It’s obvious that water-based solutions aren’t going to help. They’ll just float more dye off the threads.
So I hit on an improvised solution.
Yes, that’s Silly Putty. Thinking back, I remember spending lots of time pressing Silly Putty onto newspaper comics pages, to lift images that could be stretched in laughable ways. If it could attract and hold ink from newsprint, might it be able to lift the surface dusting of indigo color from my ground cloth? Maybe…
Looking over the specs for chemical composition and the on-line Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the components, it looked like the worst I’d be risking was potential deposit of oil. So I tried it on a scrap of fabric, and saw no oily residue.
I decided to go for it. Using the plastic eggshell underneath to support the fabric, I pressed the Silly Putty onto the smudged area, then quickly lifted it straight up (no scrubbing or “erasing” movements). The goal was not to let it linger on the cloth any longer than it needed to.
While this didn’t work perfectly, three or four quick blots did remove enough of the smudges to even out their tone with the rest of the surrounding area. The blotted area is the part of the back fin, the center of the back fin section closest to the tail.
Under magnification I can see no bits of Putty left in the cloth or in adjacent stitching, nor can I see any oily discoloration. Now that’s not to say that in 100 years (if this piece lasts that long) the blotted areas might not appear extra dirty or otherwise affected, but I won’t be around to do that bit of textile restoration, so for me at least, it’s a win.
Would I try the Silly Putty Solution again under similar circumstances? Probably.
Do I recommend it unconditionally? No. I caution that you carefully weigh possible risks prior to using it on a valuable piece of your own work.