Category Archives: Project – Embroidery

MASK MADNESS

I am working on a couple of things here at String Central. One I can talk about. The other is mysterious and can’t be shown yet.

First – the progress on the masks. First side of the first one about at the half-way point. I had to take a week off from stitching for family reasons.

As anticipated, this early-experiment thread sheds dye, and picking it out leaves smudges. As explained before, I don’t care. These masks are not undying heirlooms of my house. They will bleed and spread dye during wash anyway. And I think that once that happens, the effect will be interesting.

The pencil outline you see barely traced onto the cloth is for a mask of this style:

The source of the pattern is the two-tie fitted variant published in the New York Times, back in March.

UPDATE:  The link above appears to lead to a page that’s behind the New York Times paywall now.  But fear not!  They in turn got their design from FreeSewing.org,  The edition of the design The Times  posted nests three sizes on one printable PDF page, a pretty standard approach for sewing patterns.  But since their original issue in March, FreeSewing has expanded the range of sizes for their design.  If you click here, you’ll go to a page that lists a full range, from toddler to men’s ultra, plus how-to directions.  More sizes for sure, but still the same basic pattern I used. 

I’ve made quite a few of these for family and friends. It’s a bit more complicated than the pleated kind, but it fits us better. I make the largest size for adults (what in the update is now called Men’s Large), and use two or three layers of tightly woven 100% cotton percale (well washed).  I substitute a long double-folded strip of the same fabric for the ribbon ties called for in the original pattern directions – mostly for durability in the wash.  Precision isn’t important for the ties – I cut a long strip on the grain (not bias) – about 5 to 6 feet long and about 1.5 to 2 inches wide (152 to about 183 cm long, and about 3.8 to 4.5 cm wide).  I iron it in half, folded down the center of the strip (parallel with the long side), then iron the cut edges to the center fold.  Then I sew down the entire length of the long strip, an cut it into four equal pieces for the tie.

The blue flowered one above is sewn from the last remnant of the sheet set I took off to college in 1974. I had this print in red and blue, with a matching comforter. Over time the set became curtains, tote bags, cushion covers, baby carriers and crib furnishings. Ever dwindling in size, and picked apart for reuse multiple times, I had just enough left for several masks.

The fabric on which I am stitching the fancy design is no where near tight enough to provide effective coverage, so it will be a top, decorative layer over a double thickness of the standard high-count bedsheet percale.

My ground cloth has four two-unit sets traced onto it (each mask has a left and right side, seamed together at the center). I intend to stitch as many as I have the patience to do, but not cut them out until all I will be making are complete. But the loose weave and the embroidery both pose problems. I could cut veeerrrryyyy carefully to avoid nicking the stitching, but even if I did, the edges of the rather coarsely woven ground would ravel either during assembly or more probably, when the things are washed between uses.

So I am deliberately stitching past the half-inch seam line, right up to the cutting line (my pencil mark). The seaming line is a half inch (about 13mm) inside the cutting line. That half inch is the seam allowance – the bit you see turned inside at the seams in most sewn items.

Before I cut these apart I will throw the entire piece onto my Ancient Elna sewing machine, and stay-stitch all the way around each mask piece. I will probably sew multiple rows of reinforcement, but all within the seam allowance area. Then I will cut out the individual pieces and assemble the finished masks. The stay-stitching should secure both the ground cloth and the stitching. Since the reinforced area will be turned under into the seam, it won’t be visible. And I may even go a bit further and apply one of the non-fray fixatives sometimes used to reinforce stress points in applique or quilting. But I’m not sure about that yet – I never use the stuff and I am a bit wary of how it will survive laundering.

Will this work? Stay tuned! Eventually you will find out.

HARSH FINISH, SOFT BEGINNING

Setting a new overland speed record for completion, I offer my Harsh Language piece.  I began it on 22 August, and finished on 30 August.   Eight days.  Lightning fast, especially considering that I only stitch for an average of an hour and a half per day (more on weekend days, less midweek).  Here it is in all its glory.  I’ve redacted not the offending verb but the dedication, because as I’ve said before, the recipient wishes to remain anonymous.

harsh-finish

I did have fun playing with the wool.  It was much thinner and more tightly spun and cleanly finished (read non-fuzzy) than tapestry/needlepoint wools, and a joy to use.

In addition to the hints I offered up before, I would add that even with the shorter length, care must be taken to let the needle and strand spin freely, in order to counteract the twist imposed during the stitching process.  That twist can loosen the spin of the wool strand enough to denature it to the point of shredding.  You can see a couple of heavy stitches in the piece, where I was nearing the end of the strand, and the thread had “bloomed” but I kept going.

And yes, the weave of the ground wasn’t quite proportionally even.  I don’t remember where this stuff came from – purchased retail, found at a yard sale, acquired as a gift – but it’s been in my stash easily since 1996, and has a yellowed selvage edge to prove it.  But aside from that flappy edge (no where near this stitching), it was sound.  It’s probably a cotton/linen blend.  You can see the skewing in this detail.  Horizontal stitches are just a tad wider than verticals, and diagonals are not 45-degrees.

harsh-close

What’s next?

Well I pulled out this remnant, and used about a third of it on this little piece.  The remainder will go to become decorative outer layers for some masks.  This open weave fabric is pretty useless as any sort of barrier, so I will line the masks with two or more layers of nice, tight 100% cotton 300-count pillowcases (retired from their prior duty).  They are navy blue.

I will be using more thread provided by Stealth Apprentice for beta-testing.  It’s luscious silk, dyed in one of her early indigo vat experiments. The color of the thread ranges from a nice deep denim down to Wedgewood, and was the child of serendipity, not a planned effort to produce a variegated.

20200901_073507

I admit I put this hank off because it posed some minor problems.   It’s a multi-strand floss, but during color processing it became rather matted and tangled (it was before she learned better methods to secure the hanks during dyeing), and the indigo itself does crock quite a bit, leaving blue fingers and traces on the ground as it is stitched.  However this blue was an very early experiment long before she went retail with her products, so all is forgiven.

To deal with the matting I’m using the full strand and not trying to separate the plies. To tame the tangle, instead of trying to wind it I cut the skein in one place, and looped it over a stick.  I’m teasing out strands one by one at the loop, and using them in full “cut length.”

There can be no mistakes with this stuff – it does leave very evident marks if picked out.  And I fully expect the color to migrate onto the backing during washing.  But that’s o.k., too.  I think the look will be quite interesting after haloing.  The navy inner layers may peek through the somewhat loose weave and camouflage some of that halo.

Challenges considered, I am very glad I saved this thread until just the right project appeared.  This piece will certainly change over time as it is subjected to my ungentle care. Masks after all need vigorous cleaning.  The blue may bloom onto the ground cloth.  Such leeched color may dissipate over subsequent washes, or the threads themselves might do a old-jeans fade.  All are anticipated and none are unwelcome.  So while the thread might not have been optimal for some other more formal projects, it’s spot on perfect for this one.

I’ve got enough fabric for at least four masks.  Possibly five.  I’m not sure if I will do them all in this blue, or I’ll play with other threads – either monochrome or in a wild mix (I think there’s only enough blue for two, anyway).  I don’t know if I’ll stick to all-over designs.  I might for example doodle up one in an inhabited blackwork design – the scrolling flowers with heavy outlines, with patterned or speckled fillings.  I’ll probably skip metal threads and spangles though, due to the laundering requirement.  Or I may do one with scattered, themed spot motifs – insects, for example.  Or I may do several “zones” and use different fillings in each.  Or I’ll work band designs on the diagonal.  The possibilities are endless, and (sadly) I don’t see the need for masks going away any time soon.

Will I make all four? How will they play out? Will something else catch my easily distractable eye, and I’ll do that instead? Will I keep these or give them away?  Stay tuned.  (And they say needlework has no excitement, mystery, or suspense.)

Oh.  And there is no “bad” thread.  There’s a perfect project for just about anything that can be used.  I love this blue silk and I will enjoy stitching with every inch.

REVISITING THE STUPID CUPIDS

Remember this sampler I completed early last year?

cupids-big

I went on at length about the rather goofy looking cupid strip at the bottom, and about the cousins of the middle strip, but I never discussed the top strip – the cupid and oak branch meander that includes the poor little guy being menaced by the lion.

I haven’t seen this cupid strip in any modelbook (yet).  But I’ve found several examples of it in museum collections.  My rendition is more or less a  “moving average” of all of them, and will be in my ever-forthcoming T2CM.

This design is notable because of the multiple ways in which it has been rendered.  Here are five.  I’ve got another two someplace in my notes.  When I find them I’ll update this post.

St-Gallen-cupid

First, there’s the standard single strip with edging representation above, marked as 16th century, Italian – double running in silk, in red – one of the most common colors for this type of work. It’s in the St. Gallen Textilmuseum in Switzerland, and can be found in their on-line collection, Accession 23760 (you probably will have to search for the object by accession number because their links are dynamic and break).

double-cupids

This is the same pattern doubled and turned into a frame. It’s also sourced as 16th century, Italian.   Note that the design is butted, not mitered, with an interesting truncated bit to fill in the left and right sides. There is no accessible link for this piece at the source I stumbled on – 1st Dibs Antiques, but that appearance was within the past year. All I have is a screen cap, and the photo is long gone from the sales site.  However complications ensue.  It or something practically identical was offered at Bonham’s site several years ago. Thistle Threads did an excellent write-up of the Bonham’s offering 2016.  (She’s got some up close photos, too).

herm-cupid

The blue sample above is from the Hermitage Museum, It’s dated 16th to early 17th century, Italian, double running, with the voided ground worked in squared filling.  It’s accession number is T-2799.  (If the link breaks, search there for “Bad Spread” (sic).)  This is the piece on which my rendition is most closely based.

met-cupids

The black and white image above is hard to make out, but it’s clearly the same cupids, done in polychrome AND with a worked ground.  It’s not really voided because the foreground isn’t left plain or minimally adorned.  There’s not much elaboration on the Metropolitan Museum’s page, but it is attributed as Italian, of the early 17th century. It’s accession 68.145.6.  I hope some day they go back and take another, better photo.

And lastly, there’s this one.  The most unusual of them all.  Here is our friend (blindfolded for a change), done using red silk outlines, but then infilled with couched gold metal thread.

gold-cupid

This example is in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.  Its citation is Band, 16th century; silk, metallic yarn on linen; H x W: 110 x 90 cm (43 5/16 x 35 7/16 in.); Gift of Richard C. Greenleaf; 1954-167-2

Now.  Why post all of these versions?  First, because they are interesting.  Second, to refute a commonly held belief that there is only ONE right way to execute these designs.  Stitchers took the same base pattern and used it in many individual ways.  Monochrome, polychrome.  Plain ground, voided, or totally overstiched. There is no canon. 

Be historically faithful and execute historical designs in any of the myriad styles contemporary with the base pattern.  It would be very difficult to make the case that any one of those treatments was never used. Or take the same pattern and reinterpret it using modern styles, scale, or materials.  There are no Embroidery Police who enforce historical precedent over individual expressive creativity. 

Which is a long-winded way of saying that if a pattern sings to you, just go for it.

WOOLLY THOUGHTS

 

I’ve started on a promised project – a rendition of my Harsh Language piece, as a gift for a friend who prefers to remain anonymous. They survived Covid, and made a special request. I honor their determination.  The objectionable word has been zealously cropped out of the image below to prevent irritating the easily-offended.

Although this is a small, quick-stitch, simple piece, I couldn’t resist using it for testing and learning. The Stealth Apprentice’s specialty is researching and recreating historical dye recipes – trying them out on yard goods, threads, and yarns. Of late, she’s been working on a group of dyes derived from lichens and mushrooms, with spectacular results. Sometimes when she’s working on a new recipe, she lets me beta-test her end result. I’m supposed to look for handling properties, color-fastness during stitching (crocking on fabric, or reside left on hands), and the like. And I am very happy to oblige. It’s fun to play with new materials and give useful feedback. 

We chatted about this project, and Stealth Apprentice suggested a purple, dyed using “an uncertain lichen – probably a Parmotrema species”; and a mustard gold, dyed using “a dyer’s polypore mushroom”. The purple is a deep claret, and the yellow is a sunny mustard. They are equally saturated, so one doesn’t eclipse the other. I had no idea that these hues could come from lichen and inedible mushrooms, both which I will now view with greater respect.  The purple is more true to the snippet above than the magenta it looks like on the winder below, but you get the general idea.

Both wools are of the same base stock prior to their color baths. They are of very soft and fine fibers, a single strand of two tightly twisted plies (which cannot be separated), about the thickness equivalent of three plies of standard cotton embroidery floss. They’re more plush and rounder, of course, with the stretch you’d expect from wool.

For this counted project due to fact that the wool thread is more robust than the cottons, silks, and faux-silk (rayons) I usually use, I’ve picked a ground cloth that’s far coarser than ones I usually use. Coarser in that it has fewer threads per inch – not that it’s harsh to the hand. This well aged bit from my stash is about 24 threads per inch, give or take; with slightly more threads per inch on the warp (parallel to the selvage) than the weft (perpendicular to the selvage). Since I’m stitching over two threads, I’m at 12 stitches per inch – big as logs to me since I’m used to working at 18 to 25 stitches per inch. But the result is spot on what’s required if one strand of this wool is used. If I were to double the strands, I’d probably be looking at working at 10 stitches per inch or fewer, probably down around 6-8 stitches per inch for better, less crowded effect. 

Working with the wool and how it differs from cotton, silk, and rayon:

  • Needle size: Obviously the tiny eye, round point needles I usually use are too thin for this and their eyes are way too small. Instead I’m using a tapestry needle. I think it’s a size 22, but it has been long divorced from any packaging, and has been living in sin with its mismatched fellows in one of my needle cases.
  • Needle threading: Even with the larger size needle, threading is still not easy. Wool fuzzes (obviously) and waxing is right out (also obviously). My little bee needle threader is an absolute must for this project.

  • Frame: I am using a hoop. The piece is small, so most of the area to be stitched fits inside it. But not for long. Eventually I will need to re-hoop over previously stitched bits. I will try to avoid doing so as much as possible, but right now I don’t have the option of moving this over to a flat frame. If I have to hoop over the letters in particular, I will be covering them with a soft fabric as padding, to prevent crushing or skewing the wool threads. I’d recommend flat frames, slate frames, or scrolling flat frames for countwork in wool, and will make sure to avoid my hoops in the future.
  • Thread abrasion: This is much more pronounced in wool than cotton, rayon, or silk. Drawing the fluffy thread through the tiny holes of the ground cloth’s weave does degrade the strand over time. Spare yourself waste, agony, and an uneven appearance on the front – use shorter strands than you would with any other thread. And yes – if I were to be working on Aida or a ground cloth with larger holes, or using a larger needle this would be abated somewhat. But I much prefer the uniform look of a nice, tight even weave ground over the scattered holes presented by the purpose-woven stitching fabrics, so I am bringing this bit of extra work entirely on myself.
  • Stitching technique: Even more so than with cotton (the most forgiving), silk, or rayon (the most unruly), wool needs to be worked in double running or back stitch with vertical passes of the needle through the cloth – not with a “sewing” or scooping stitch. Working with one hand in front of the work and the other behind means that care must be taken not to snag the working thread when the needle is returned by the unseen hand. It’s all too easy to pierce the working strand (it’s fuzzy and soft) and create an headache to untangle later.
  • Tension:  Wool is springy and stretchy.  Cotton is not.  Silk and rayon are even less elastic than cotton.  It’s easy to stitch the less elastic threads quickly, and getting the feel for how tight to snug them up on a nice, taut, hooped ground is relatively quick.  Wool by contrast stretches and then bounces back.  It’s VERY easy to stitch it too tightly – stretching it as the stitches are formed, only to see it bounce back later when the ground is released from tension.  Save yourself a headache and only draw the threads as tightly as it takes to make them lie flat and even, which will be significantly less tight than you are used to with other fibers.
  • Ripping back after mistakes: Don’t count on it. The fuzzy nature of the thread makes it far more likely that stitches will pierce those laid down before, rather than slide alongside them. Ripping back will be painstaking, and the thread that’s recovered (if you are able to do it at all) will be seriously damaged by the removal, too much so for invisible difference re-use. Unless it’s just going back one or two stitches, treat mistakes as lost causes and sacrifice the strand. Snip on the front and withdraw the ends from the back to minimize fibers left on the front.

I’ll continue on with this, learning as I go.  For all of the differences, I am enjoying working with wool and look forward to doing more of it in the future.  I’ll continue to post (fig-leafed) progress on this piece.  Like I said – it’s small and will be a quick finish.  I’ll have to put it on hiatus for a few days at the end of next week for another obligation, but even with that should have it done and on its way to my convalescent friend well before mid-September.

COMPLETE!

All stitching is finished on my bony boi piece! Next it goes off to the framers. This one deserves a nicer finish than I can do myself.

And having played Thread Chicken, this is all I have left.

First sincere thanks again to Paula from Austin, who staged an intervention and shared her own stash. Since the thread I was using is not generally available, her generosity was key to this finish.

And a close-up of one of the “islands,” designed and added at last minute because the composition needed them:

Let’s see… Lessons learned. There are always lessons learned.

First and foremost, the obvious one – double check thread quantities, color numbers and dye lots. While I had two large hanks of multiple skeins of red, both with the same color number, it’s now obvious that one of them was either mis-numbered or a different dye lot. Or perhaps a lot older than the other. They didn’t match. Not only were the colors different (especially in natural light), the thickness of the individual plies also varied, with the “bad” stuff being just a tiny bit heavier. I ended up marling together the last of the “good” color (abetted by Paula’s donation), with the “bad” stuff, and making do.

I tossed caution to the wind in my hurry to get started and did not hem the edge of this cloth. But I did plan an extra generous blank area around the entire piece for later framing, so this ended up not mattering. Other than the annoying shed of edge threads, of course. I have to force myself to edge-control discipline. Hem, hem, hem.

I didn’t grid the piece prior to stitching. Yes, I know others do and find it helpful, but aside from marking my center north-south, and east-west with a line of basting thread, I don’t really feel the need. I went “around the world” on this one. I started the center top and continuing the border counter-clockwise, and had no problems mating up perfectly when I joined back up with the start after my journey. I proof constantly, and I admit a fair bit of picking out and re-doing to stay on count and true.

You CAN stitch outdoors in high winds. Hand held hoops work better than flat frames that can act as a sail when it really starts blowing. One of those zippered clear plastic cases that new sheets and blankets come in helps, especially if it has an inside pocket where the product info used to be. That works great for keeping a chart clean, dry, and away from the wind; and the zippered part is great for containing your threads and other essentials away from sunscreen and salt spray, (and holding the project between working sessions, too). You can even use two magnets to keep place on the chart without removing it from the pocket. Tethering your snips with a retractable badge holder works nicely. But at the beach on on very humid days, watch out for the damp! Some threads may crock or leech dye.

In a rare departure for me (although more common if I include text), I graphed out the entire project. I wanted the corners to miter nicely, which means I had to compensate at the centers of each side (12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock as you go around). That meant I had to lay out my design against actual count, so I could fudge the centers. And I did the fudging on graph, rather than on the fly as I stitched.

But having drafted out the entire thing doesn’t mean I stuck entirely to the pattern I had drawn out. Those snails… My original stuck to the small twig and leaf of The Dance, the skeleton pattern I shared. I picked out that first twig and improvised a snail, then kept using the little guy on every repeat after. I also altered the plume flower slightly, taking out a couple of extra bars inside the outline that muddied the design. I did NOT go back and rip out the first two plumes. Those bars are among the mistakes I left in.

I will probably not be going back and ripping out that one very red plume, where I discovered the inadequacy of my “bad” batch of thread. Another difference batch to batch is that the “bad” stuff crocks like crazy, and oozes dye when it’s damp. If I get up close and personal I can tell which bits I stitched at the beach or during our weeks of high humidity and summer heat, just from the halos around the stitched bits. I will NOT be washing this piece. Ever. And I will not be perturbing already-stitched bits, lest I exacerbate the haloing.

Now on to my next piece. I have promised a rendition of my Harsh Language design to a good friend who is a virus-survivor. This friend prefers to remain anonymous.

This should be a quick stitch after Lucus Orthai Ta, and I will use it to test out some new threads received from The Stealth Apprentice. She asks me to trial run some lichen-dyed wools that she dyed herself and is currently evaluating as a potential product for her Etsy shop. I am happy to oblige, doubling the value of the new piece.

And again because someone WILL ask about the meaning of the motto on this one…

The Resident Male is an aspiring science fiction and fantasy writer. He’s getting attention for Fractured Symmetry, the first book in a series featuring a classic detective pair – a grumpy, reclusive genius, and an hands-on action assistant. Only in this case, the genius is Terendurr the Blackstone, an imposing alien; and the assistant is Blair MacAlister, a woman you wouldn’t want to trifle with. The mysteries allow fascinating trips into off-world cultures (his universe is populated by many species, each with their own ethics, biases, strengths and weaknesses). He’s working on a second volume of stories right now. No spoilers – this phrase is a motto of a group that figures prominently in those stories. It’s not in any Earthly language, and translates roughly to “Life’ll kill ya.” So as his #1 fangrrl, I made this piece up for him. Yes, a bit quixotic I admit, but I do believe that he will find his audience, and I won’t be the only fan for long.

ROUND THE BEND

Yes! I have successfully rounded the corner, and reached out a tendril that confirms that the entire piece is spot on count and accurate to the repeat.

Now it’s just a matter of filling in that little bit at the upper right.

Of course, now I may go in and add something on either side of “TA” just to balance out the design. Still thinking on that, but in any case, the finish line is palpably near. Here’s the proof of alignment “tendril” – the inner border along the top edge fits perfectly, mating with the work I laid down at the very start of my journey around the edge (the bony boi and the border above his head, at the hoop’s right edge).

No photo description available.

To put this in perspective for my non-stitching pals, this rendezvous is like marking a chalk X in front of your house, standing on it then putting on a blindfold and dancing wildly around the block nonstop until you decide you’ve gone far enough; then taking off the blindfold, looking down and realizing you have arrived exactly back on your point of departure.

Why not so much progress this week past? It’s been hot. We got back from our week on the beach in the middle of the heat wave. Like many in the northeast US, we have no air conditioning. Sitting under a halogen work lamp in the evening was more than I could contemplate in temps of 85 to 100 deg F (29.4 to 37.8 C), with high humidity.

I’ve been marling the offending brighter red (glaringly odd third inner plume flower up from the bottom of the right inner border) with thread in the color (or closer to the color) I have been using. By using one strand of “good” and one strand of “less optimal” together major color discontinuities are not so evident. I may go back and replace that offending plume flower. Or not. The “bad” red seems to crock considerably more than the other batches, and removal will leave a very evident halo.

Before I forget, extra special thanks go out to new stitchpal Paula from Austin, Texas. She read about my thread shortage problem and dug into her own stash, sending me oddments of various colors in and around the values I needed. Her generosity is what has enabled me to pursue the marled thread strategy.

Paula, I truly would not be able to finish this piece to my satisfaction without you help. My gratitude is eternal. When such things can happen again, the next time we are down that way visiting family, I reserve the right to drag you out for a special treat!

THE CLASSIC PROBLEM

Too much stitching left to do. Too little thread. With about a quarter of the stitching remaining I have a problem.

I am using thread I brought back from India. I found it in a shop in the old shopping district in Pune. They specialized in crafting materials, especially beads, pre-embroidered pieces, knitting yarns, and other goodies. But they had a few skeins of what looked like silk floss in one of the display cases. I pointed at it and asked the shopkeeper if he had more. He sent a little boy up into the storerooms, and he came back with a very dusty and crumbling cardboard box full of odds and ends. All of the same type of thread (which turned out to be “art silk” – rayon) but all of very limited quantity. I picked out all of what remained in non-pastel colors, including several multi-skein hanks of deep red, and bought it all, for an astonishingly low price.

As you can see there’s a pile of crimson there. What remains of that pile now is much less –

The wound bobbin in the middle is what I’ve been using (with a caveat). It’s Cifonda Art Silk color number 145. So is the hank on the left. The hank on the right is color number 144. It’s in the same continuum, but a click lighter. At the bottom is flaming cherry red 530, not even close.

The caveat on the bobbin? It’s holding two skeins of 145. Underneath is New-145. On top is Old-145. I wound off the new one, then after stitching the bit below, went on a Wild Hunt, and found one last remaining skein of Old-145. You can’t see the difference between them, right? Neither could I until this happened.

I bet you can see it now. Leaf #3 and part of the interlace below it stands out. I stitched it with the New-145. It’s redder, more garnet in tone than the established work. Clearly the same color number, but a different dye lot (even though dye lots are not labeled ). Even if I could get more of this stuff the chance of matching color with my very-well-aged stock is practically nil.

I will finish out as much as possible with my last skein of Old-145. I may or may not pick out this leaf . Still thinking on that… And also thinking on how to finish out the piece using only what I have on hand. Go for New-145? Go lighter with 144? I’ve seen historical pieces whose stitchers faced the same problem and blithely ignored it. Which is what I will end up doing, one way or the other…

PROGRESS BY THE BEACH

Lest anyone think I’m on vacation, not so. Yes, we ran away to the beach place this three-day weekend past, but in this work from home era, we worked from there, and prepped the place for our booked guests in compliance with the state COVID-era short term rental requirements.

Still, even though it wasn’t all for fun, on Sunday I did get the chance to stitch on the beach. I adore it, even though the intense sunshine can lead to “white out” conditions on the linen, making thread counting difficult.

As for how far I’ve gotten so far – I’m just starting on the third corner:

Excuse the wrinkles – I don’t iron until the very end.

You can see the diagonal “spine” of the mitered corner. A snail will squeeze itself in underneath the rightmost tumbler’s feet. I will wrap the plume edging up and around the corner, too. You can even see the start of the double border with extra knot on the inner edge of the rising strip-to-be.

I wish I had grand new insights to share on this piece, but being in the home stretch, I’m fresh out. This is also always the most dangerous part of a project for me. I’ve figured out all that’s new, and all that’s left is perseverance – dogged execution of the known until completion. It’s the point where I often wander off to do something novel and interesting, with the promise of new challenges.

So, if you have any questions about working these long repeats, keeping place in them, how to draft them up, or pretty much anything else, feel free to ask. Now’s a good time to engage my attention. And I’ll thank you for keeping me on track and marching in time with my bois.

PROOFING

And we march around the perimeter, making skeleton after skeleton.

I’m just shy of half-way now, and I had to extend a tendril out to that point to make sure that I’m hitting my center mark. And I did!

As you can see comparing the blue line on the photo and the red line on the snippet of my chart, I’m spot on for alignment – not even a thread left or right of my center line.

One question I keep getting is how I maintain my location and ensure everything is in the correct spot without pre-gridding my work (without basting in an extensive set of guidelines to establish larger 10 (or 20) unit location aid across the entire groundcloth). I generally reply, “By proofing against established work,” but that then generates the second question. “How?”

So I attempt to answer.

For the most part I almost never work on fully charted out projects, with every stitch of the piece carefully plotted in beforehand. I compose my own pieces rather than working kits or charts done by others, and as a result I never have a full every-stitch representation as my model. My working method is to define center lines (and sometimes edge boundaries), but I pick strips or fills on the fly, starting them from my established centers, and working from smaller charts that are specific to the particular motif or fill that’s on deck. However, if lettering is involved I am more likely to graph that part out to completion prior to stitching, to ensure good letter and line spacing. (Leading, spacing, and kerning are close to my heart both as someone whose day job deals in documents, and as a printer’s granddaughter.)

For this project I DID prepare a full graph to ensure the centered placement of my very prominent text motto against the frame. I also wanted to miter the corners of the frame (reflect on a 45-degree angle) rather than work strips that butt up against each other, AND I wanted the skeleton repeat to work out perfectly on all four legs of the frame. To do that I had to plan ahead more than I usually do. (Note that the repeat frequency of the accompanying smaller edgings are different from the skeleton strip, so I also had to “fudge” center treatments for them so they would mirror neatly – another reason to graph the entire project).

But even with a full project graph available against which work, I didn’t grid – I worked as I always do, relying on entirely on close proofing as I go along.

The first step is a “know your weaknesses” compensation. To make sure I am on target I almost never extend a single long line ahead of myself, especially not on the diagonal because I make the majority of my mistakes miscounting a long diagonal. Instead I try to grow slowly, never stitching very far away from established bits, so I can make these checks as I work:

  • Does the stitching of my new bit align both vertically and horizontally with the prior work? Am I off by as little as one thread? Am I true to grid?
Checking grid against prior stitches. Am I on count?
  • Is my new bit in the right place? Does the placement of the design element align with what’s been stitched before? For example, in this case, is do the toes of the mirror imaged bois back to back to the pomegranates match in placement in relation to each other and to the bottom of the pomegranate’s leaves?
Checking placement of design elements in relation to each other.
Are my motifs in the right place?
  • Am I working properly to pattern? It doesn’t matter if I am using a small snippet with just the strip design or fill that’s being stitched, a full project chart, or (as I am now) using prior stitching as my pattern – copying what’s been laid down on the cloth. Am I true to my design as depicted?

As I work, I constantly proof in these three ways – checking to make sure that my work is true. And if I discover a problem, I trace back to see where I went wrong, and I ruthlessly eliminate the mistake. For the record – there’s nothing to be gained by letting off-count stand in the hope of compensating later. Trust me – you’ll forget, mistakes will compound on mistakes, and you’ll end up wasting even more time, thread, and psychic energy on the eventual fix.

I hope this explains what I mean by proofing as you go. I know for most of the readers here, this will be second nature, and they won’t have thought of it as a disciplined approach, but for newer stitchers the old maxim “Trust but verify” should become a mantra. Verify, verify, verify. The sanity you save will be your own.

Finally, for Felice, who doubted I was using double running stitch for such a complex project in spite of the in process photos that showed the dashes of half-completed passes, here’s the back.

Yes, I do use knots for work with backs that won’t be seen, but I do it carefully so that the knots don’t pull through. Point and laugh if you must, but I reserve the right to ignore you.

HEADING FOR THIRD

I’m finishing up the second corner on my sampler, and beginning the strip across the bottom of the piece, headed for the bottom center, then on to the third corner.

It’s going faster now because I’m free of the chart. I’ve (mostly) memorized the design now, and have ample reference stitching to refer to if I need reminders. The remaining two sides are just mirrors of what’s there already – with the corner and both centers established, there’s nothing on the chart that I haven’t already worked.

Questions from my inbox:

Why aren’t you working on a grid/why haven’t you basted guidelines every ten stitches so you can keep your place?

I don’t need to, although I do have two basted guidelines that mark the center of the piece, one north/south, and one east/west. I proof carefully of established stitching. That’s why you never see a long run “out in front” of the design as I work. For me, that’s a recipe for disaster.

I AM working in double running stitch. You can see the baseline for the bottom plume border in process. I will keep going in this direction until I finish this piece of silk. Then having established the bottom border (note that I work the branch from which the plumes bloom as I go), I’ll switch to the center strip and do more of the skeletons. When I catch up, I’ll hop up to the top border and do more of that. The whole design progresses more or less evenly across the design, keeping pace with itself as I go.

Why are you working left to right?

I’m right handed, and stitch with my right on top and my left below, using (in this case) a sit-upon hoop so both hands are free for stitching. I keep a very bright light over my left shoulder. By working left to right, I can see the previously worked bits (they are not covered by my right hand), so I can keep check on alignment of the new stitching, plus there is no shadow from my hand or shoulder occluding the work in progress. And when I start not at the left or right edge of my piece, but at the center, I often flip my work upside down, so I am also working the second half of my strip from left to right. Were I left handed or favored my left hand for the top when working two-handed, I would probably work from right to left, with the light over my right shoulder.

Can this piece be done double-sided?

Yes and no. Right now it can be done mostly double-sided in double running stitch (aka Holbein Stitch, or Punto Scritto). But not entirely. The skeletons and the pomegranates are their own units, large enough for burying the ends invisibly on the reverse. Not so the snail – he’s rather small and would be difficult to stitch on his own, with invisible starts/endings. There is also the problem of tiny isolated elements. The eyes are the most obvious example, but the plume border has that little skew two-box spot at the base of each plume, plus a floating square in one of the lobes of the plume.

If I were to set this up for totally two-sided work, I would run a single unifying baseline across the entire bottom of the piece, and adding a stitch to tie the ribbons held by the skeletons to the side curlicue of the pomegranate. I’d also add a brow line to the skeletons, and anchor down the floating spots in the plume flowers. The red stitches below show the general idea:

With the red additions, all floating elements have been locked into the main trace. There are no islands left, large or small. The bois can now be done entirely double sided. And if contemplating another design with isolated bits, similar additions will render it likewise. (The astute will note that this doesn’t contain the snails in the as-stitched piece – I improvised them on the fly, and never bothered adding them to my quick and dirty project chart.)

Why didn’t I do this in the first place? It didn’t occur to me, and I like the rather puzzled look of the browless, wide-eyed bois.

Where can I find the pattern?

Look here for the broadside that contains the dancing skeletons and plume border, plus the reason why I don’t think they are morbid or creepy. And if you want to see all previous posts on this project, here’s the link.

No Cerberus?

One observant reader noted the skeletons and pomegranates and suggested a Cerberus (three headed hell hound) as the logical thematic accompaniment. Not a bad idea, and more grist for my imagination mill. Thanks!

Questions, comments, derision, criticism, suggestions? Send them in either in the comments here, or to the contact address alluded to in the About tab, above.