Category Archives: Reference Shelf

YARN WEIGHTS – YET ANOTHER RANT

Although I’ve mostly been stitching of late, and my old yarn review/knitters’ advice board/pattern website WiseNeedle that lasted for 13 years is but a distant memory, I have not given up knitting. I keep a sock project or two going at all times, and consult for my mom as her remote “knitting lady.” The patterns from WiseNeedle can all be found here, as can some of my advice, hints, and rants from the past, although the WiseNeedle question-answer board is gone. But of late I’ve seen quite a few complaints on knitting forums about yarn weights – confusion, botched projects, and misapprehension. I chime in and try to help.

First of all, the universal yarn weight system introduced by the Craft Yarn Council around 2004 continues to sow havoc. It’s misguided, untrustworthy, and has destroyed many knitters hopes and aspirations. To recap, this was the system that divided all yarns into numbered groups, initially 6, now expanded to 8:

The yarns within these groups are not instantly substitutable for each other because the definitions are overly broad. Here’s a breakdown:

Group 0Group 1Group 2Group 3Group 4Group 5Group 6Group 7
Type of
Yarns in
Category
Fingering,
10 count
crochet thread
Sock,
Fingering,
Baby
Sport,
Baby
DK,
Light
Worsted
Worsted,
Afghan,
Aran
Chunky,
Craft,
Rug
Bulky,
Roving
Jumbo,
Roving
Knit Gauge
Range* in
Stockinette
Stitch to 4 inches
33-40 sts27-32 sts23-26 sts21-24 sts16-20 sts12-15 sts6-11 sts6 sts and fewer
Recommended
Needle in
Metric Size
Range
1.5-2.25
mm
2.25-3.25
mm
3.25-3.75 mm3.75-4.5
mm
4.5-5.5
mm
5.5-8
mm
8-12.75 mm
12.75 mm and larger
Recommended
Needle U.S.
Size Range
000-11-33-55-77-99-1111-1717 and larger
Crochet Gauge
Ranges in
Single Crochet
to 4 inch
32-42 double crochets21-32 sts16-20 sts12-17 sts11-14 sts8-11 sts5-9 sts6 sts and fewer
Recommended
Hook in Metric
Size Range
Steel 1.6-1.4mm;
Regular hook 2.25mm
2.25-3.5
mm
3.5-4.5
mm
4.5-5.5
mm
5.5-6.5
mm
6.5-9
mm
9-15 mm15 mm and larger
Recommended
Hook U.S.
Size Range
Steel 6,7,8; Regular hook B-1B-1
to
E-4
E-4
to
7
7
to
I-9
I-?9
to
K-10 1⁄2
K-10 1⁄2 to
M-13
M-13
to Q
Q and larger

(source: Craft Yarn Council’s http://www.yarnstandards.com/weight-system.html)

To be fair, there are all sorts of caveats on this chart at the original site that include “Guidelines only,” “…always follow the gauge in your pattern,” and more. Even so, it’s wildly misleading.

The core of it (Groups 1-6) were created at the time that the industry thought that busy women had less time to knit and appreciated projects that finished up quickly. To compensate the “gauge creep” move was led by big craft yarn makers. Yarns that were formerly labeled Aran or Light Bulky were rebranded as Worsted, with the idea that fewer stitches per inch would make the projects zip along, This was especially evident among makers of mass market acrylics, and the heritage of that movement is seen in the groupings above. In fact it’s hard today to find a true worsted weight Worsted because most yarns labeled “Worsted” knit up to Aran gauge.

Now in a reversal because fiber of all types is getting more expensive, many makers are “slimming down” their yarns to keep project price points more attractive – less fiber = lower per skein price; and thinner yarns are now creeping into designations formerly reserved for heavier ones. This has resulted in a new round of confusion, once again long loved patterns no longer produce the same results as they did with yarn of prior years.

Regardless of yarn size fluctuations the basic flaw of this chart, however footnoted and expanded, remains. The yarn categories cover wide ranges of gauges, and are unsuitable as type descriptors or as guides for determining suitability for interchange.

Now. What is more useful?

Easy. The ancient Ply System.

Now note this as absolutely nothing to do with the actual number of plies a yarn contains. You can have a fat single, or a multi-ply extremely fine yarn. The ply system is based on comparison of the strand thickness of the yarn being described to a canonical batch of yarns that can be made by combining one or more strands of a mythical standard thickness yarn. That system has far more specificity to the standard gauges on yarn labels, and along with those gauges plus yarn fiber and loft (how airy or tightly twisted/dense the yarn is), is far more likely to result in good substitution choices. It also is a good guide for what happens when you double your yarn. In fact, the popular yarn weight “Double Knitting” (DK) refers to a yarn that is twice what used to be called “Knitting.” Knitting was the equivalent of today’s fingering or sock yarns. Two strands of fingering are still roughly the equivalent of today’s DK.

Ply System NumberTraditional NameStandard Knitting Gauge over Stockinette
(4 inches/10 cm)
Comments Typical Examples
(off the top of my head)
1Cobweb No consistent close knit gauge – used with variety of larger needles to maximize airy look. Jamieson & Smith 1ply Cobweb
2Lace  No consistent close knit gauge – used with variety of larger needles to maximize airy look. Lopi Einband; Rowan Fine Lace; Jamieson & Smith 2ply Lace Weight
3Light Fingering/Baby32-36“Baby” on the label is now near meaningless because in modern use it designates yarns in pastel colors and easy care fibers, regardless of gauge. Brown Sheep Wildfoote; Peter Pan 3 Ply Baby; Red Heart Its a Wrap;
4Fingering/Sock28-32 Cascade Heritage Sock; Regia sock yarns; Opal sock yarns; Lang sock yarns
5Gansey26-28 Frangipani 5 Ply; Upton Guernsey Wool;
6 Sport 24-26 KnitPicks High Desert Sport; Herrschners 2 Ply; Lion Dotted Line
7   Not used 
8Double Knitting22 Rowan Felted Tweed DK; Berroco Comfort DK; Wendy Supreme DK;
Lion Ice Cream;
Herrshners Baby Yarn
9   Not used 
10Worsted20 Cascade 220; Plymouth Encore; Germantown Worsted; Plymouth Pima Rino; Sirdar Country Classic Worsted
11   Not used 
12Aran/Triple Knitting18 KnitPicks Muse. Herrschners Worsted 8; Red Heart Roly Poly; Lion Crayola; Caron Simply Soft; Tahki Donegal Tweed
13   Not used 
14Bulky/12-16 Plymouth Encore Chunky; Cascade 128; Lamb’s Pride Bulky; Lion Re-Tweed
15   Not used 
16Super Bulky8-12  Malabrigo Rasta; Plymouth Encore Mega

Now again – caveats on density, fiber choice, and construction. Some examples:

  • When worked, a tightly plied and twisted yarn will have a different drape than a fat single ply yarn, even if the fiber composition is the same.
  • A 90% wool/10% acrylic blend will have a different feel than a 10% wool/90% acrylic blend. For best equivalency try to match fiber composition/mix proportions.
  • And a cotton yarn and a wool yarn of equal weight will behave differently – enough differently to generally not sub one for the other without taking the extra mass and lack of elasticity of the cotton when compared to wool of equivalent size.
  • In a delightful bit of industry internal obfuscation the term “worsted” in addition to being a yarn weight category also is used to describe a style of spinning. But not everything that’s labeled Worsted conforms to that specification.
  • Some yarns can be knit down or up in gauge. For example a lofty 100% wool Aran with a “native gauge” of 18 st = 4 inches/10cm might also be able to be knit at worsted gauge 20 stitches = 4 inches/10cm. The drape will be different but it may be satisfactory for some purposes. Note that NOT ALL YARN can be manipulated this way, and lumping many adjacent weights into broad and misleading groups is just asking for trouble.

To sum up, please people, look beyond the CYC Yarn Group designation. Look at gauge, fiber, and density. And take guidance from these older systems. They were created by people who knew their wool and fiber, and there still is a lot of wisdom in them.

BLACKWORK THREAD THICKNESS AND GROUNDS

I’ve recently had chats with several folk who ask about the number of threads they are supposed to be using when working linear blackwork (fills or the strapwork designs commonly done in double running or back stitch).

I attempt to answer, and the answer isn’t a plain, flat “always.”

There are several factors to consider for counted work. First there is the ground fabric. Some people favor purpose-wovens like Aida, Hardanger, Monks’ Cloth or Anna Cloth. These are made with large, prominent holes for easy counting. They come in a variety of stitch-per-inch (or cm) sizes. They range from 9 to around 22 stitch per inch (aka “count”). The more stitches per inch, the smaller those stitches are.

Other types of grounds are also used, with even weave (or near-even-weave) being less popular than the purpose-wovens. These grounds are flat tabby woven fabrics. They do not have a system of prominent holes for easy counting – to use them the stitcher counts the threads of the weave itself. Most sold specifically for embroidery are more or less true and square, with very close equivalent measurements of the threads running the length of the bolt (the warp), and across the bolt (the weft). The measurement of fineness of weave for these fabrics is expressed as threads-per-inch (or cm), and they can range from around 20 threads-per-inch (tpi) all the way up to 50 tpi or more. Stitchers generally work over a visualized square of 2×2 threads, so a 24 tpi piece of even weave would yield the same 12 stitches per inch as 12-count Aida, but the holes between the threads would be far smaller and less obvious.

Now aberrations exist. Not everyone works over 2×2 threads on even weave, and it is possible to work counted styles on anything you can actually see well enough to count, whether or not the warp thread count is even close to that of the weft. But in general, the ground cloth world splits into purpose-woven/larger more prominent holes; and (near) even weave/smaller, less evident holes.

On to thread.

It’s all over the map. The most common thread used today is standard 6-ply embroidery floss, but there are hundreds of other options. And even plain old embroidery floss is NOT uniform. Not even if they are of the same fiber. For example, DMC and Anchor cotton flosses have very slight differences in ply thickness, with the DMC (most of the time) being ever so slightly thicker than the Anchor. And even within a line, there can be variation because different colors take up dye differently, or because of visual impact of the color used (a dark thread will often appear heavier than one of a lighter color, even if there is no actual difference between them). And if you begin comparing across fiber types/spin types even more complications ensue – One ply of DMC cotton 6-ply is thicker than one ply of Au Ver a Soie six-ply silk, for example.

Here are three examples on even weave (please excuse me for not having Aida samples to hand – I don’t use it.)

First, here is an example of 32-count even weave linen (16 stitches per inch), worked with two strands of a six-ply silk – a small lot product produced by a boutique hand-dyer. Note that the individual stitches are about as thick as the ground cloth’s weave. They fill the holes into which they are stitched completely, and in fact are a bit jammed up into them, making intersections just a bit muddy and tight:

Here is that same ground, worked using just one ply of the same thread used in the previous sample.

You can see that the stitched thread is significantly thinner than the ground cloth’s weave, and that corners and angles are sharper. But the stitching thread still fills the holes, and doesn’t “rattle around” in them. There is another difference – the stitching doesn’t look as even. It’s harder to achieve a uniform appearance with skinny threads, but the difference that shows up in extreme close-up is less evident at normal viewing distance.

Which is better? It depends. One or two threads are both suitable for use with this fabric. Do I want a light and lacy effect? Do I want something darker and more strident? Should I accent the close, dense and angular aspect of a design (as on the left), or should I try to bring out the curves and delicacy (on the right)?

By contrast with these two balanced examples, there’s the piece I am working on right now. I am working the black bit with one strand of standard DMC 6-ply cotton floss. It’s about 14 stitches per inch (28 threads per inch).

Obviously the count on this stuff is skew. It’s not true even weave. Were it so the enmeshed ovals would present more like circles. But it’s close enough so stitched-it-will-be. Look closely at the size of the thread and the holes in the weave. Even though the black thread is slightly thinner than the fabric’s threads (like the lacy sample above) – look at it in comparison to the gaping holes between the fabric’s threads. It’s tiny and spindly. It’s lost. It wobbles. Corners are extremely difficult to keep square, angles are being pulled, and the threads that make up the design do not present in nearly as neat rows as the previous example. This same ground, with two plies of DMC? Much better looking:

In this case, I would advise AGAINST using this particular ground with only one ply of standard floss. It’s holes are too big. I’ll finish out my black interlace mask pieces, but I won’t be using a single on this stuff again.

And mixing thicknesses? It’s a great tool. Jack Robinson – the UK’s Blackwork Patron Saint (now of blessed memory) – was a strong advocate for both historical and modern pieces that mixed thread thicknesses.

Here are a couple of examples of doing so, from my own work. I find it of special use for giving modern-style voided pieces a lighter background touch, although I have also used it to de-emphasize veining inside particularly complex leaves on non-voided work.

First: In addition to using a different background pattern for each, the yellow ground on the left is done with one strand of DMC floss, and the yellow ground on the right, with two so you can see the density.

Second: Foreground and background in the same color, but the foreground is worked with two strands, and the background with one.

Now how does this work out on Aida? Again, I apologize for not having samples to hand. I don’t use it. The reason why I don’t is that I find the holes to be a visual distraction that take away from the presentation of the work as a whole. I’ve seen magnificent stitching on Aida, and I throw no shade on those who prefer it. But to me those holes can be way too big for the thread choices many people use. Like my wobbly sample above, the threads have too much play, and even tension without distortion at the corners or avoiding jaggy lines can be more difficult to control because the holes are big compared to the stitching thread.

For myself and my own work aesthetic, I prefer a well-stuffed hole (sometimes bordering on over-stuffed), and select my threads accordingly. One strand on Aida? I’d suggest two. Or three if it’s 12 or 14 count. But as in all things, my practice is not a yardstick by which you should measure your own preferences.

Look closely at your product. Try to understand why the threads behave as they do. Are you happy with your stitching? Think about your design goals. Even if you are interpreting a pattern by someone else there is plenty of scope in there for your own design choices. Thread thickness and proportion to the ground and to the size of the holes are just more variables you can play with to make any piece visually distinctive and uniquely yours.

Remember my family’s latke rules. Every family’s latkes are different, and every family’s latkes are the best. The same goes for stitching.

CHARTING

I’ve gotten some recent feedback about the way I chart my designs – both positive and negative. However, the oddest feedback was from a couple of people who couldn’t put their finger on what I was doing different, or why. I attempt to explain

First off, I thank long-time Needlework Pal Kathryn for letting me use a snippet of her recently released redaction of a Lipperheide design. Because this design is so difficult to work out, I am using her stellar rendition as a “poster child” for a complex design drafted out using standard tools. Kathryn uses Pattern Maker by Hobbyware to chart. It produces a standard grid, and is largely intended for cross stitch. But with a a bit of work its outlining feature can be used to depict linear stitching (back stitch or double running). With even more tweaking those outlines can be made thicker so they read better against the background grid. Here’s a snippet from a chart she recently released.

In the chart above, each little gridded square represents one “unit” for the stitcher. That unit is most properly worked as a single stitch, and depending on the chosen ground cloth can cover one prominent square of Aida or Monk’s cloth, or a count of anywhere from one to four threads of an evenweave (or near evenweave) simple tabby ground. Work over 2×2 threads of evenweave is the most common.

By contrast, here’s the same snippet, more or less, in my own drafting method:

In my method, instead of showing the background grid, I show dots – the “holes” of the ground cloth. If one is working with Aida or Monks Cloth, each hole corresponds to a hole on the fabric. If working with evenweave, the dots represent the spots where a needle would plunge (every 2×2 threads, 3×3 threads, whatever the stitcher chooses to work). I eliminate the grid entirely. The lines that make up the pattern are broken into direct representations of the individual stitches to be taken. I also have the option of flood-filling the background to indicate an area to be overstitched if a voided effect is desired, without obscuring the “counting dots” of the ground (the grey area on the left).

Quick aside: Here are the three types of grounds, but the samples are not to scale since Monks Cloth usually has fewer stitches per inch or cm than does Aida. Note though that both purpose-woven grounds have very prominent holes, and on each stitches are generally worked over 1×1 unit. Evenweave by contrast is undifferentiated, and stitches can be taken over any number of threads.


Aida

Monks Cloth

Evenweave

As far as I know, I’m the only one who uses the dot/line method of charting. I devised it initially in 1990 for The New Carolingian Modelbook, (released in ’95) and I’ve stuck to it ever since. Yes, it’s different. And for people who are VERY used to the standard grid – my method may be difficult to get used to. But I do think it is an improvement on legibility and a reduction in visual clutter.

One thing I’ve toyed with is instead of using shading to indicate areas to be covered in voiding, using it instead with a color to emphasize the count, for the folks who like to baste guide lines onto their ground, to assist in keeping their place. That would look something like this:

I don’t particularly care for the checkerboard look though – I find it busy and distracting. I think that if anyone is tied to guidelines they are probably better served by printing out the pattern and taking a highlight marker to it, rather than my trying to add that info for everyone.

On my full page graphs, I do indicate the centermost point, and provide margin hashmarks, major ones every 10 units, with minor ones between on the 5s. 5 10 15 20 25 and so on, with the longer major ones on the bold numbers, and the minor smaller ones on the ones in between. But I do not provide the numerals themselves.

How do I go about using my aberrant method? Sadly, it’s not supported by any commercial needlework charting program at either the consumer or professional level. Instead I use a standard open source drafting program – GIMP, and a system of templates and predetermined settings to match those templates. I offer those templates here free on String, along with a detailed tutorial on setting up GIMP and using them (read up from the bottom – the blogging software arranges my lessons in reverse chronological order). One warning – GIMP works on the same layering principle as other advanced drafting programs, assembling finished images from a stack of transparent or semitransparent layers, much the way that cartoon animators build up their on-screen images from stacks of cels. If you’ve used Adobe Illustrator or PhotoShop you will be familiar with that paradigm. If you’ve only used standard needlework charting software you may need to take some time to get used to the concept. But it’s worth it. I may not be able to estimate total thread consumption by color used from my charts (a handy feature of needlework-specific programs), but I have far greater legibility, and no limit to page size or chart scale.

And progress on the current project? I’m about 40% of the way thorough the second side of the first mask. I’ve done a mental flip of the design, too. Not quite mirrored, but enough to complement across the center seam. Thinking of overstitching that center seam with one of the Elizabethan raised plaited stitches, too.

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 reverse.

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.

DANCING AROUND THE CORNER

Having gone on and on about straight repeats as my bony bois march across the top of my piece, we have now come to the first corner.

Thankfully, my count is spot-on and everything is in place.

But why did I start with the strip of skeletons doomed to dance upside down? Because I knew that I would probably make some tiny adjustments to the design as I went along. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the closest point of the work, and the most logical part – that’s always the strip across the bottom, where the motifs are all right-side-up.

It’s unlikely that any small tweaks would be noticeable in the upside-down part at the top. So being too lazy (and waaay too short of thread I can’t replenish) I started there, knowing that I would not be ripping back vast regions to norm those tweaks.

Closer up, in a more normal orientation:

My last post discussed the non-historical use of the same framing element on either side of a mirrored repeat with horizontal directionality. Here’s another feature of this strip that’s not often seen in museum artifacts – the mitered corner.

The majority of corner treatments in surviving historical fragments have butted-up or improvised corners. Carefully plotted mirror images across a diagonal (mitering) are quite hard to find. But I decided to do one anyway. You can spot the diagonal running through the center line of the rightmost internal knot, down through some leafy bits, and into a flower-like shape. I’ve also established the beginning of the 90-degree flipped border, with the upper part of that skeleton plus the first pomegranate underway.

I’ve also rounded the outside corner. In a serendipitous happenstance (I can’t claim I planned it ahead of time), the width and height counts of my marching plumes are equal, so I was able to fudge the corner with one last plume on a long stem.

Side note: At this point I really don’t need to refer to my printed pattern any more, I am mostly working off prior stitching, with occasional glances back at my chart to make sure all is aligned and true.

But that inside edging – it’s different. I’ve introduced another element, playing with the eternity knots and tying them into the plume strip. I did this because the thread count of the warp (the threads that stretch up-down in the detail photo) is denser than the thread count of the weft (those that go across in the detail photo). The closer together the threads are, the more compressed the design will be in that direction. My skeletons marching up/down the sides of my piece will end up looking ever so slightly shorter and chunkier compared to their more lanky brothers that tumble across the top and bottom. BUT I can draw the eye away from that difference by adding the additional knotwork strip.

So it turns out that my design is all about insouciance, breaking historical composition precepts, and visual deception. Still for all of that I think that its look is more closely aligned to the aesthetic of historical blackwork rather than more modern pieces. Just my opinion, feel free to differ.

Class Handout Page

And for having the patience to read down this far, here’s another present. I was going through some older files and came across this class handout page. I’ve taught several workshops using it. The last one I came equipped to do was for a public SCA demo in Rhode Island, although the circumstances and attendees made just sitting and chatting about the stitching a better option. Still, I did update the handout, and it may as well be of use to someone.

The patterns are (more or less) ordered in level of complexity, and are intended to be a self-tutorial in double running stitch. When I teach I provide the page below, a strip of Monk’s cloth and length of standard embroidery floss and needle, plus an inexpensive hand hoop (if I have some to spare). Depending on prior experience, stitching proficiency, confidence level I encourage the participant to select one of the designs from the leftmost two columns, to try out face-to-face in the workshop. Then I encourage everyone to use the rest for self-study at home.

For self study, what I suggest is to just grab a piece of cloth and begin – no need to plan an intense, composed sampler. Pick a point anywhere on your chosen ground, then starting at the spot in the upper left column where you feel comfortable, continue down that column to the simple acorns. Then keep going. The next design in the complexity sequence is the flower spring at the top of the next column. Go down that column to the folded ribbons.

After that, I’d suggest attempting the birds at the bottom left. From there the vertical star flowers, then the knots, four-petal flower meander, and the design immediately above the title. Once you’ve done all that the remaining four intermediate patterns on the page should be well within your grasp (the heart flower all-over, fancy acorns, geometric strip, and oddly sprouting peppermint-stick squash blossoms).

Of course you can be totally random and just use these designs as you will. No need to march in lock step with the protocol, above.

Download this handout in PDF format from my Embroidery Patterns page. It’s the last one listed (click on the thumbnail there to get it, then save it locally).

As ever, if you stitch up something from any of my designs, please feel free to send pix. I always get a big smile out of seeing you having fun with the pattern children. And if you specifically say so and give permission to re-use your photo, I will be happy to post it here and index it under “Gallery”.

BOOKMAKING 110: THE GRAND FINALE

And just like that, the cover is finished and mounted on the target book:

And pix of the thing off the book, Here’s the outside, with everything finished off and sewn flat:

And the inside (with my reverse in all its messy splendor):

To clarify what was done:

  1. As shown above, first I folded in the top and bottom flaps, but I didn’t bother to hem them – I just made sure that the raw edges were covered. There will be no wear and tear on these flaps, so there was no need to protect them further.
  2. Then I folded in the left and right flaps. BUT in this case, because the book covers may slide in and out of the stitched jacket (if the recipient decides to feature the other side as the front cover, or ever replaces the book itself) – I did hem them for stability.
  3. The next step was to stitch the placeholder ribbon to the underside of the top flap. I left it extra long, so that it could be fished out and used, no matter which of the two sides of the embroidered jacket were deemed to be the official front.
  4. After all four flaps were prepped I stitched the edges of the left and right flaps to the top and bottom edges of the book cover’s front.

Now that last step can be done in several ways. The easiest is a simple whip stitch or invisible hem. But I never take the easy way out. Instead, I went back and extended the green double running line that defines the top and bottom edge of my stitched area out along my fold. I couldn’t put the thing back into the frame, so I did it in hand. Then having two green lines established, I used the same green embroidery floss to work them together, following (more or less) the logic that people who make biscornu use to seam together the two squares that form their curious little pincushions. A good tutorial for that is here.

The image above shows my wobbly last minute double running stitches, and how I united them front and back to make a heavier edge seam.

Finally, having done all of the finishing work, I slid the book’s own covers into the flaps of my stitched jacket. Here you see them in place, with the handy help of a large corkscrew, since I was running out of hands to hold everything in place.

And so, taaa daah! A small book with a nifty cover. A stitched project that doesn’t take up wall space, that can be adapted to any size book you have on hand. Embellish a devotional book that means a lot to you; or at the other end of the spectrum, disguise a racy novel for discrete subway reading. Use any pattern that tickles your fancy. Or several if that’s what speaks to you. But whatever you do – enjoy, be creative, and feel the pride in coming up with something that’s specifically and personally meaningful to you.

This concludes my stitched book jacket tutorial. Please post questions if you have them – I’ll do my best to answer.

BOOKMAKING 108: RIPPING OUT AND RECOVERY

The last post of mea culpa probably left people wondering how it was going to all turn out. Here’s the result:

I only needed to tease out one straight line of stitching – the former rightmost edge of the previous side. Now the two borders join to make one larger mirrored strip that takes up the spine area and wraps around to be visible on the front and back. Not as I originally planned, but acceptable.

And I have been able to keep going on the second side, working my double leaves in red, and the diamond fill ground in yellow. Again, not as originally planned – the repeats will not be neatly centered left/right, but because this particular fill is eccentric, I bet it won’t be noticed by anyone who isn’t aware of the problem in the first place. (Mom, avert your eyes).

Now on to today’s submitted question:

How do you rip back?

With great care.

It’s very easy to inadvertently snip the ground cloth, and that’s a tragedy when it happens. But I have some tools that help.

The first thing is a pair of small embroidery scissors with a blunted tip. These are the latest addition to my ever growing Scissors Stable, and a recent holiday gift from The Resident Male. Note that one leg has a bump on it at the tip. That’s the side that is slid under the errant stitch being removed, to make the first snip. Although these are sharp all the way to the tip, the bump helps prevent accidentally scooping up and nipping the ground cloth threads.

To rip back taking all due care, I snip a couple of stitches on the FRONT of the work. Then I employ a laying tool and a pair of fine point tweezers for thread removal. The laying tool was also a gift from The Resident Male, and replaces a procession of thick yarn needles I used before I had it. My tool is about 3 inches long (about 7.6 cm).

Best Laying Tool

My pair of tweezers is one intended for use in an electronics lab. I found it in the parking lot of a former job, probably dropped by someone testing robots in the back lot. I tried to return it, flogging it around to likely techfolk for several months, but had no takers. Seeing it was to remain an orphan, I adopted it into a new fiber-filled life. I love it. It’s wicked pointy, and even with the dented end (probably damaged when it fell off the test cart onto pavement), does a great job of removing tiny thread bits.

Having snipped the threads on the front, I use the laying tool’s point (augmented by the tweezers) to tease out the stitches in the reverse order they were worked, doing it from the back. Luckily this style of work has a logical order and it’s usually pretty easy to figure that out. But in some cases it gets harder. When that happens, it’s another judicious snip on the front, followed by use of the tweezers from behind to remove the thread ends for discard. (While I can sometimes recover/reuse a live thread after I catch a mistake of a few stitches, in general if the run is long, or I’ve ended off the strand there’s little point in trying to save it and stitch with the now-used and damaged/fuzzy piece of thread.)

If the color is in the least bit friable and liable to crock on the ground fabric, I cut more and pull less – making sure to remove all threads from the back rather than pull them forward to the front. This minimizes color/fuzz shed on the front, public side of the work.

If any snipping needs to be done on the back, flat and parallel to the ground, I pull out another resident of my Scissors Stable – a pair of snips I bought at the SCA Birka marketplace event, two years ago. They look like this:

These were a great buy. Inexpensive, super-sharp (I think the snipping action helps keep them sharp), and because they are not held like finger-hole scissors, very easy to manipulate to snip close and flat to a surface.

And what to do if there are fuzzy bits or surface discolorations that remain on the front? Here’s my last resort. I wrote about it before:

Yes. Silly Putty. I have found that a couple of gentle blots will pick up fuzz and shed bits of color. The trick is NOT to scrub, just support the cloth from the back (I use the top of the stuff’s eggshell container), and press the putty gently onto the affected area – then remove it vertically and quickly. Make sure not to let it dwell on the surface.

I will caution that there is risk doing this. I have no way of knowing if anything exuded by Silly Putty will be a life-limiting factor for the threads or ground in 50 years – if discoloration or other complications might ensue. But the Materials Safety Data Sheet for it doesn’t turn up anything particularly evil, and I am willing to risk it. You will have to make that decision for yourself on your own. Having warned you I take no responsibility if it ends up doing so.

BOOKMAKING 104 – QUESTIONS ON LAYOUT AND DESIGN

On to the rest of the border and filling out the field…

I’ve gotten a few questions and feedback notes on this project. I’ll try to answer.

How do you know where to put the centers and corners?

It’s hard to make out on the in process pix because I snip away/tease out the bits as I encroach upon them, but I have basted guidelines showing me the exact center of my piece both north/south and east/west. They are in light blue thread. I’ve also marked the borders of my stitching area in lilac thread. You can just make out the guideline remnants on the photo below.

Also, if you page back in this tutorial series, you’ll see that I started in the center, then worked out to the right, leaving room for my as-yet-unchosen border. Then I picked one and started stitching. When I neared the corner I looked at what I’d done and doodled up a corner, then worked it. I repeated the process, stitching back to the center and doodling up the center bit, working it on the exact center of my marked stitching area. Then I worked the other side of the center bit mirror image of the established stitching.

No photo description available.
How did you get the second top corner to line up perfectly with your basted edge?

It’s counted. The center line of my stitching area is at the exact center of the area to be stitched. That means if there are (picking a number at random) 43 stitches to the right of it, there will be 43 to the left. If my pattern is symmetrical, it’s easy to see when you’ve gotten to the same point on the left as you ended off on the right.

What would you have done if you were one thread off?

It happens. Sometimes for every bit of measuring, exact folding, and counting (and especially on even weave) that center line ends up being one thread or even one full stitch off. In this case – no big deal. I would work my repeat totally symmetrical as I have above, and “push” that tiny bit of overage into the spine of the book.

How do you keep track of where you are with all those colors?

I admit it’s a challenge, and this design would be a lot easier in monochrome. I don’t like to leave long skips on the back, so for the most part, there are a lot of starts and stops. The longest leap I will take is three stitches, and I prefer not even to do that. This means that in the main field of flowers, while I can keep a baseline double running logic chaining flower after flower together, those little crosshatched interlaces of yellow between them are “islands” – each one begun and ended off separately.

You can see in the photo at the top of the page that there are two green threads dangling off the right side of the hoop. Those are the strands I am using for the border outlines. Rather then ending them off at the edge of my hoop, I’ve chosen to keep them “alive.” Pretty soon I’ll be advancing the hoop to finish off the bottom of the stitched area, and I’ll use them up as the border area progresses. Sometimes I’ll take a pin and insert it in the waste edge of my design (or another spot where any perturbing of the ground cloth weave will not matter), then wind the excess thread around it to keep it up and out of the way while I stitch nearby.

And in the border area at the top – I just did some of the green striped “column” that runs down the center of my border. I know that the red ribbon that wraps it is three stitches wide. I started at the edge of the existing red ribbon and worked “heresy style” across the first line, then hopped down and worked standard double running for the center one, and again for the one after that. That meant my working thread was now positioned at the left side of that block of three stripes, and ready to hop over three again to begin the next block of three stripes. I kept going in this manner until I used up my green working thread. Next I will go back and fill in the red ribbon, and finish up with the short spurts of yellow. And yes, that does mean a lot of ends. I would never attempt a multicolor piece that was totally double-sided.

It’s hard enough to pick a pattern, now you want me to design centers and corners, too?

Perhaps I did get a bit ahead of myself and I could have chosen a simpler border. One that isn’t directional like this one with its wrapping is. And mirroring around the center can look a bit daunting, as can doodling up a custom join. But there’s no reason to be intimidated.

I noodled up #1 in the set below. But I didn’t have to. My treatment could have been much simpler.

#3 for example ignores mirroring, directionality, centers, and corners. It just starts at a random point of the repeat, goes across the area to be covered, and arbitrarily ends at the edge of the desired space. Then it starts up again, butted against the bit already stitched. And it doesn’t matter if it’s centered or truncated. (By the way, plain butted pieces with truncated rather than an elegantly ended or mitered repeat is the most represented treatment for corners in museum collections of historical stitching)

In #2 and #4, I’ve kept the mirroring (but I didn’t have to) and inserted small simple shapes to fill the contested areas. #2 uses plain old squares. Nothing fancy. #4 reserves those spots for personalization. Initials, dates, small stars, whatever. What I’m trying to show here is that there is no one right way, and all treatments look good. Go simple, go complex. It doesn’t matter, your piece will be beautiful, and best of all – it will be uniquely yours.

More questions?

Idly curious or wanting to do you own book cover? All is good. Happy to help. Got a question? Send it in.

BOOKMAKING 103 – BORDERS

We go on with the removable book slipcover project.

Step 9: Laying Out and Choosing a Border

Last time I had begun working the field pattern for the first cover. I centered it on the center point of the available area, and began working left, right, up and down. Since the total area isn’t very large compared to the span of the repeat, pretty soon I got close enough to my first edge to begin considering what I wanted to do with the border. I stopped well shy of the basting line that indicates the edge of my territory:

In the photo above you can see there’s lots of room to go, but I need to determine exactly how much room there is, so I can select, adapt, or draft up my border design. I’ve decided that whatever I do, it will be bounded both inside and out by a single line of deep green (DMC #890). (I like the contrast with the red and yellow). So taking care to make sure that I have FULL STITCH UNITS between the basted guide line and my stitching area – meaning even multiples of two threads – I start working my outermost solid green line.

Lucky me – it turns out that my basted edge falls exactly 13 stitch units (26 threads) from my established work. Had there been an odd number of threads I would have established my line one thread to the outside of my basted line. Better a tiny bit too large than a tiny bit too small. And yes, I counted the number of threads between the top basted line and the established work, too. It’s even bigger, so I am safe.

My border can be anything up to 13 stitches. But I don’t want one that wide. About half that is enough. So I went thumbing through my various stitch collections. I wanted one that would contrast nicely with the field and not fight with it, and would accommodate using up to three colors, including the newly introduced green.

I didn’t find a pre-drafted, complete border that I liked in this application, but I did come up with this all-over design, presented in Ensamplario Atlantio, my first freebie, in Part 3, Plate 16:91.

It looks complex, but it’s just a simple ribbon-wrapped column, repeated multiple times. If you abstract just one of the columns and add a line of framing stitches both left and right, it spans only 6 stitches across. A perfect size, and there are several color-use possibilities as well.

Based on the design above, I drafted this out and started stitching. Note that I began by making a nice, neat corner.

For the record, these and all charts for linear stitching on this blog have been produced using the open source drafting software package GIMP. Here’s a free tutorial for how I do it (read up from the bottom for best logic).

Step 10: Stitching the Border

Just go for it!

The observant will note that I started stitching from the corner and worked the border down, then went back and filled in my field pattern, stopping one unit away from the border’s inner line. I don’t care at all that my field pattern is truncated. I COULD have stopped at the last whole or half-repeat, but to me, for this particular work, it doesn’t matter.

I am also not in the least bit concerned about how to make the design fit either the length or width of my book. I intend to work from the corner out towards the center of each side, approaching but not connecting at the center. Yet.

The next steps will fill work more of the border across the top of the piece, then fill in a bit more of the field. But I will stop the border and leave a gap in the center. It’s my intent to work the other corners similarly, but in mirror image to this one. Since everything is done on the count and is exactly even, I will be able to draw up a “join” or top/bottom/left/right border center kludge of some type to unify the border as a whole. And I bet that had I not confessed this here, you would have never known I got this far without planning it all out in advance.

Bonus Bit: The Back

For the folks who have asked to see the back, here it is flipped over. You can see the wrapped inner hoop of my frame and its attached support stick.

As stated, I tend to work in double running, using (mostly) reversible logic, but I am not a slave to it on pieces that are not intended to be seen on both sides. There are lots of knots. And you can see that I’ve used heresy stitch in laying down my initial border outlines, and in advancing the border in general. The short length color runs necessitated by its rather fiddly color changes make it much easier to plot out than the double-pass of double running.

BOOKMAKING 102

This is the second piece in the series on making an embroidered book jacket, based on the general instructions I presented earlier this month. The first piece dealt with drafting up a simple pattern to construct the book cover, preparing the piece of cloth I am using, and transferring the guide lines from the pattern to the ground cloth.

In this session I discuss laying out the design for the embroidery itself. While I encourage folks to play along at home, starting their own book project and working with me, I will not be presenting a “Stitch-Along.” There will be no full project graphs presented here. Instead I encourage people to pick their own designs, and I hope that by describing my own thought processes, I will enable others to think outside the box.

Let’s start where we left off. We have our ground cloth prepared and ready to stitch:

The stitching areas – the front, the spine and the back – are all defined by basting lines at their edges. There are also basting lines marking the horizontal center (spanning all three areas), and the vertical center of the front and back. The spine is so narrow that it’s easy to count to determine its exact vertical center.

Step 5. Stitch Design Layout

I chose a medium count even weave fabric for this. It’s is about 30-32 threads per inch, which means I’ll get 15 to 16 stitches per inch. There’s no reason why Aida or other purpose-woven grounds intended for cross stitch cannot be used. However the fineness of the cloth will influence what counted patterns are used.

As a “bungee-jump” stitcher, at this point I am just starting to think about my layout. Possibilities abound, and I try not to close any out until I am absolutely sure. For example, even before I get to the choice of the fill pattern(s) these general layout options exist:

  • Work a single design to cover the entire piece, ignoring the divisions between the spine, front and back covers.
  • Work the front and back covers separately, each with its own design, with or without some sort of stripe or divider running up the spine.
  • I could work a border around the front and back cover, either meeting along the spine, or leaving space between for yet another fill.
  • I could divide the front and back into subsections, and work each of them in a different fill (again, with our without borders)
  • I could draw a freehand shape or other motif on the piece, then fill it with one or more fills (a la the inhabited blackwork style).

Here are general representations of some of the possibilities above:

Decisions, decisions. Best not to back myself up a tree. Not just yet. But right now I’m leaning to the version in the lower right. Front and back covers, each a single field pattern, but different; some sort of border around the edges of the front and back cover (same border front and back to unify the design). Something on the spine, possibly a third design, Possibly words. No clue.

Step 6. Stitch Design Selection

Since I am planning for 15 or so stitches per inch, my cover is about 3.5″ wide and 5.5″ tall. If I do a single repeat on each cover I will have room for play. My total field is about 52 stitches across x 82 stitches tall. Even if I subtract some for a border, there’s room for one of the larger repeats from Ensamplario Atlantio, or Ensamplario Atlantio II.

While I’ve stitched up some of these before, I haven’t play tested them all. This is a fun opportunity to do some I haven’t worked up yet. Plus I rarely do multiple colors, so maybe I’ll think of that, too. Paging through the books I come up with a few possibilities. Number 110 from Ens Atl II hits me for one of the covers, but just about every design in both books is a good candidate:

This is an intermediate complexity 16-stitch square repeat (the count from the center of one flower to the next is 16 stitches). A simple square repeat with a half-drop, I should be able to get at least 2.5 repeats across – that would be about 40 stitches across out of my available 52. That would leave 12 stitches (6 per side) for a border. And there’s nothing to say I can’t just truncate the design anywhere I like – there’s no reason to worry about completing the edge repeats across.

Now, if I had selected a coarser ground – say 11 count Aida, my stitching field would be smaller because there are fewer stitches per inch available. In that case my field would be about 38 stitches across. Two repeats would be all I could fit. I could still use this design to good advantage, but designs with a wider repeat, like this more complex panel of pears (28 stitch square), would be harder to squeeze in Just one full repeat would fit across, with a bit extra for a partial, or for a border. (Come to think of it, pears may be in order for the other cover… Hmmm. Not decided yet, but maybe…)

Why do I say “other cover” and not front or back. Simple. Both of these designs are totally symmetrical and at this point either one could serve as front or back, depending on which way the book is held.

Now on to placement. I have a couple of options. I could deliberately center my design at the centerpoints I established by basting, or I could skew them left/right/up/down, to produce an asymmetrical composition. Both are valid, and asymmetry can be quite dramatic. But I think I’ll stick to the easiest way out here. Instead of skewing the repeat, I will place the center of one flower exactly at the center of my cover area, and I will begin stitching there.

By beginning in the center I get to establish my design. I will work out left and right, and when I get close to the edge, I’ll stop and decide whether or not I still want a border, and if I do – I’ll pick it or design it to fit the available space. My guess is that I’ll probably work to within 6 – 8 stitches of the basted edge line. We’ll see…

Step 7. Thread/Color Selection

OK. I’ve got my lattice-and-rose picked out. What threads and colors to use… Again this is just my thoughts and preferences. For your project pick whatever you enjoy using that’s suitable for your chosen ground.

First, this is a removable book cover. It will get dirty. It may end up on another book after the target one is filled up. Chances are that it will need to be washed at some point in its life. Therefore I am opting for plain old cotton thread over silk or rayon. DMC will serve quite nicely.

I do a lot of monochrome, much of it modeled on historical pieces. I don’t get to play with multiple colors very often. I’m not a big fan of variegated threads for this type of work. I think the color gradations unless very carefully handled distract from the delicate structure of the stitching, so I’ll stick to solids. And nice, deep, contrasting solids. Two, possibly three colors.

Pawing through my stash I come up with the first two. If I use a third color, I will employ it on the border – not in the field patterns. I’ve chosen two regal colors – DMC 814, a deep red, and more burgundy/less crimson than the red I usually stitch with; plus DMC 3820, a goldenrod yellow – a color I rarely use.

Step 8. Start Stitching

Now for the fun part. Finally. After all of this planning and prep, I get to start stitching. I reserve the right at any time to decide I don’t like the result and pick everything out, but off I go, none the less.

On the piece above you can see the remnants of my light blue basting threads that marked my centerpoint. The center of one of the first flower I worked is exactly where those two lines intersected. Note that I clip back the basted centering threads to keep them out of my way as I go along. I find it’s better to remove them bit by bit, rather than stitch over them and try to pull them out later.

I am using one strand of floss, doubled. I cut a length twice as long as I need, extract one strand, and fold it in half, taking care to match the cut ends. Then I wax it lightly EXCEPT FOR the last inch, leaving the loop open. I thread the now adhered-together cut ends through my needle. Without making any knots, I make my first stitch, pulling my thread up from underneath and plunging back down from the top. I take care not to pull my thread all the way through and on the plunge back down, I catch the loop at the end of the thread with my needle. Then I gently draw up tension until the loop on the back looks like a normal running stitch. In effect, I’ve started off my double running with a noose instead of a knot.

I continue along in double running, plotting out my course to keep “leapfrogging” on. A lot of people trip up by thinking they have to stitch in one direction until half of their thread is used, then turn around and retrace their steps.  For something like this, it’s better to head off in one direction until your strand is used up, taking detours as they arise but always returning back to your main path (if you don’t have enough thread to complete a detour and return, end off before you start the branch). 

Then you take a second strand and fill in the every-other stitch on that main path.  Any thread that remains after that second pass on established stitching is complete is used to go on further in the design.  It’s kind of like a game of hop-scotch, one thread advancing, the other filling in then continuing the design, and the thread after that starting at the point the first one ended, but filling in the skipped stitches left behind by the second. Black is the first thread, red is the second, and blue is the third in this example.  Each dangling leaf is a detour that’s started and finished on the baseline:

image.png

On my stitching you can see around the edges of the red flowers where I have left attachment points for future journeys, and in a couple of spots, the partially worked lines of departure for those branchings. I find the path planning to avoid painting myself into a corner to be mildly challenging, and quite relaxing. And yes – sometimes I do trap myself. So it goes. Sometimes I can use unidirectional heresy stitch to get myself out of a bind, sometimes I just have to knot off and go on. (I do knot unless there is a compelling reason to work entirely double-sided, but it’s got to be a darn good reason because I hate working in the ends.)

You’ve also noticed how I’ve employed my colors. The red for the connected flowers, and the gold for the background lattice. It’s just one way of doing it. I do end off each gold lattice segment separately, opting not to leave long connector stitches on the back.

I’ll be working on this for a bit longer before I make decisions about the border. If for nothing else, just to keep everyone in suspense.

In the mean time, if I’ve been a Bad Influence and led you astray, please feel free to comment, critique, send pix of your book cover in progress, or otherwise kibbitz. All input/feedback is welcome.