Category Archives: Don’t Be A… Sampler


Just finishing up Don’t. I think the Mystery Neice will be happy with it. We worked together to pick out the colors, typefaces, and border design used, so there was ample recipient-input on this one.

I’m happy with it, too. Although I have to confess a bit of a mistake at the outset, which has necessitated a somewhat rueful kludge.

The original did not include “Remember.” Why is it there?

Because when I started stitching the border at the left center line, instead of starting it at the center of one of the sprigged spirals, I started with one of the spirals that grows a leaf. That de-centered the inscription north/south. I walked happily down the left edge, across the bottom, and up the right side. When I got to the top I noticed that (horrors!) to make my corner fit there would be larger space between it and the words than there is at the bottom. Nine units more, to be exact. So I thought about what I could put there. More flowers? Possibly. Another ornament? Again possible. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to NOT add mass on top which would draw attention to the lack of space at the bottom. So a word was the way to go.

I decided on adding “Remember” and went pawing through alphabet resources to find something thin, elegant, and nine units tall – something that would fill space without adding too much bulk. The initial script R is from an antique Sajou booklet at the Patternmaker Charts site. The lower case letters needed to be smaller, and I found a good candidate in Creating Historic Samplers by Grow and McGrail – the same source I used for the lower case letters in the main area. It’s not a profoundly useful book, but it does have a section of beginners’ advice, plus some sample US Colonial era motifs, alphabets, and borders. Best of all for those just starting out, it’s very inexpensive on the used market.

Now on to the next – Grape Sideboard Scarf.

For the next project I’ve decided to use a well washed linen piece I picked up at a yard sale in Silver Spring, Maryland easily 42 years ago. It’s a dresser scarf, trimmed with a hand-turned hem secured by a simple crochet, with a crochet picot edge on the short sides. Based on the materials and back story I suspect it was cut down from a larger cloth and trimmed out sometime in the late 1930s or 1940s. I got it the same time as I got the larger finished linen piece that became my Everything is Worth Doing Well sampler, although they were not cut from the same source. Yes, it’s worn and a bit discolored from storage even before I got it, but it’s sound.

The stitchable area is about 16.5 inches x 28.5 inches (about 49.9 cm x 72.4 cm), and the thread count is roughly 32 threads per inch. That’s about16 units per inch using a 2×2 thread grid, with a total design area of 264 units x 456 units. That varies a bit across the piece, so I’m averaging measurements taken at several spots (penny method for easy thread counting here).

I’m going to stitch it in red, using a pattern I’ve recently redacted from a 17th century Italian cushion cover held in the Hermitage Museum (Accession T-2736 in case the link breaks). A thumbnail of the original is below. It’s about 40 x 48 cm, roughly 15.75 x 19 inches. No info on the thread count of the artifact.

Obviously I am going to maintain the dresser scarf’s edging. Also depending on the scale the design works up to I may only stitch to within 1.5 inches of the existing hems, then devise a coordinating sprouting edge to encircle the center field.

As far as the charted redaction went – this one was tricksy. There’s a major sub-sub-element that is off-grid; meaning that when I get to it (and write this here so I remember) I will have to “split the difference” on my evenweave, and shunt that bit over one thread.

Since this will be used as a protective placemat on my sideboard largely for opening the evening wine, the grape motif is appropriate. And I’ll use a DMC 6 ply floss, one of the garnets – 615 or 616, I haven’t decided yet on which one yet. I go for cotton instead of silk on this for washability because spills WILL happen.

The next step is to baste in my horizontal and vertical center lines, plus that 1.5 inch margin inside the hems. Then I begin, working center out.


I’m moving right along on the Don’t Be sampler. The cross stitched letters zoomed by. And over the past three days I’ve gotten a good start on the border, as well. Whole piece photo so you can see the overage I’m leaving to facilitate both stitching and final framing, plus the quick hem job.

Note that my observation on the skew weave was correct. Those first couple of leaves on the return under the letters are differently proportioned than the leaves in the edge’s vertical part to the left of the motto. That will become more evident as I march along. I don’t remember exactly where I got this piece of pre-packaged ground, or how long it has sat in stash – possibly purchased, possibly as part of a supply salvage gift from a friend who passed it on to me, but certainly not recently. As it is, I will not use anything from defunct company “MCG Textiles” again. Ground sold as evenweave should be exactly that (ok, plus or minus a smidge I will forgive), but a 16% difference between the number of threads in warp and weft is flat out misrepresentation.

The corner is incomplete. I forgot to pack the correct shade of my garnet floss, so the little berries/grapes in the corner will be done later tonight. On the one green leaf, I’m still deciding whether or not to fill in all or some of the leaves. I used plain old cross stitch with one strand of DMC floss for that, flat out skipping partials, and only working full cross stitch X-units. It’s passable. It’s also tedious. When I am done with the double running I’ll make the grand decision. Every leaf, alternating leaves, or none at all.

Now. Where was I that I was working “on the go”?

We ran away to our place on Cape Cod for a last weekend before the renters descend. We went with some long time friends, so it was doubly fun. And I brought this project with me. Folk have asked before how I pack and bring projects, so here’s a thumbnail. Note that I didn’t do it perfectly this time – after all, I ran out of garnet. 🙂

First, the container. The plastic zip bag below (shown both sides) is something I saved the last time we bought a full set of queen size sheets for our bed. It’s rectangular, with an interior pocket, and a zip all the way around one end. It’s also a very tough plastic.

Here you see the main components of my travel kit – the three pieces that make up my sit-upon frame, the project itself, a zip pouch containing essentials (threads, beeswax; my third-best pair of scissors on a retractable spool and a laying tool, both attached to a beaded badge holder; my needle nose electrical assembly tweezers); a little magnetic stand/folder (with magnetic needle minder attached); and a spare in-hand hoop.

Note that the stand itself is an easy assemble/dissemble, and fits in the pouch with the project. I bring the spare hoop because it’s not always comfortable or possible to use the sit-upon, and because the sit-upon features a fixed hoop-on-stick, it’s cumbersome to use without full assembly.

When I stitch on the beach I leave the magnetic stand folded in the interior pocket of the see-through plastic pouch, with the pattern page on top. If necessary I have a place-keeping magnetic strip that can grip the board through both the plastic and the paper pattern. That way I can keep my pattern safe from dampness and wind on the beach. The supplies/tools zip stays safe in the transparent plastic bag, too, although I do either wear the beaded “chatelaine” around my neck, or clip the retractable badge holder that minds my scissors to my beach chair.


I offered to make one of my nieces a pair of socks or an embroidered bit – noting that I would be happy to stitch up any saying, no matter how profane it might be. She was amused and intrigued by the thought of naughty embroidery, padded off to think, and eventually returned with a request that I’d term more cheeky than offensive. True to my word, I’ve plunged in. The pearl-clutchers who sent me private notes decrying my lack of taste for the Covid sampler and removing themselves from following this website are no longer here, so at this point there should be few left to object.

First a method description because folk have asked how I go about starting a new piece.

I selected a piece of ground from my stash – a piece of 32 thread per inch evenweave with the branding “MCG Textiles.” Well, it claims to be 32 tpi, but it’s really 32×38, so some distortion is expected. I did this first so I knew roughly what size I was going to be designing to fit, rather than starting with the design then questing in vain for a piece of cloth of the correct dimension.

Then I and Target Recipient had a chat back and forth on the general aesthetics. We established that green was a favored color, considered overall composition choices, and looked at some candidate alphabets and strip patterns for the borders. Once we had general agreement on the direction for the piece, I set in, using my chosen computer-based drafting method – a home-grown solution based on the freeware drafting and image editing program GIMP. I offer a tutorial for that (including templates) here on String (read up from the bottom because the blogging software only allows newest at the top organization.)

This is what I came up with.

The charts below are deliberately blurred because while they are good enough for me, they would need to be cleaned up for use by others. Plus I am not sure if I want to add them to the permanent collection here. Target Recipient would have to give permission, for one.

For the record, the leaf and twist border is available in Ensamplario Atlantio II. The alphabet used for the initial caps is from Ramzi’s Patternmaker collection of pre-1920s European leaflets, Sajou #160. The body text from an older book on my shelf – Creating Historic Samplers, by Judith Grow and Elizabeth McGrail, Pine Press, Princeton, 1974. Original elements of this piece not published before include the supplemental embellishment around the words, adapted from the flowers on the initial caps, and the corner for the leaf and twist border.

The next step was to choose my colors – DMC 890 for the darker green, DMC 320 for the lighter green, and DMC 816 for the tiny flashes of garnet red.

Now we get to the fun part – setting up the cloth to begin stitching. The first thing I did was to square off the cloth. I unraveled the thing around the edges, removing all partial threads until I had a full span of both warp and weft. Then I carefully trimmed off the remaining “fringes” left from the unraveling process. I’ve written before about the poor quality control on the MCG packaged product, and this sample was no different. It was quite skew in cut and desperately needed this squaring to determine true grain and useable size. In this case, I lost about an inch of width in one direction and about a half-inch in the other. Having done that I cut the piece allowing a generous border all the way around the stitched area dimension.

Cut piece in hand, next I had to make sure it didn’t unravel further. I have to say am not a fan of taping the edges, and I’ve had equivocal results using zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine to secure them. I’ve had the whole zig-zagged strip pull off. I don’t have a serger, so I stick with old fashioned hand hemming. For this small project that took about an hour to do a finger-pressed double turn hem, a little less than a quarter inch deep all the way around. I followed the ground threads as I did this, so my hems are (mostly) even. Since this will be framed or otherwise finished so that the edges won’t show I wasn’t super-exact about mitering the corners perfectly, as I would be with a handkerchief, napkin or placemat.

The last step of preparation is determining the exact center point and adding the basted orientation guides for both the vertical and horizontal center lines. I use a light color plain sewing cotton for this, and I don’t bother to make the basted stitches any particular length long (some people carefully stitch these over evenly counted blocks of the ground threads). Just having the simple lines are good enough for me. You can see them along with a bit of the hem in this work in progress shot:

Now it’s just a matter of transcribing my graphed out design to the cloth, using cross stitch for the wording. I’m using two strands of the DMC floss for maximum coverage.

When I get up to the surround I will probably switch to double running, and work the outlines and veining of the ivy leaves and twist in the dark green. I am thinking of using one of the more open fillings, diagonal, boxy, or steps, for the infilled areas, and doing them in the lighter green. We’ll see if I change my mind and do something else when I get there.

All in all I expect this one to be a relatively quick stitch. It’s not large or complicated. Here’s progress as of last night. Considering I started this on Friday night, it’s flying.

I hope this step by step on beginning a project is helpful to someone. And as ever, if you enjoy my designs, free broadsides stitch-along and books, and my published books, please post pix. Obviously I’m in this for joy, and few things make me happier than seeing my designs being worked up by others.

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