I’ve gotten lots of questions about blackwork, my methods, and products over the years. Some more than once. I’ll try to round some up and answer them here, for ease of reference. Feel free to post more in the comments, and if I have useful advice, I’ll answer them at a later date.
It looks so perfect! Do you make mistakes?
Lots. Continually. Sometimes at the same place in a design repeat, again and again. But for the most part, I carefully pick them out, using my needle tip, a really good pair of sharp tweezers, and if needed, something sticky (like blue painters’ tape) to tidy up any remaining surface fibers.
I find that clipping a few key stitches on the front, then withdrawing the snippets from the back leaves the front of the work a bit neater, than does doing all of the removal from the front.
Do you stitch guidelines to help with counting?
No, I don’t. Or not in the way the asker probably means. I don’t establish a grid over my entire ground cloth, but I do usually run a basting thread (but not in specific count) along the extreme edges of my stitching area, and at the center (both laterally and longitudinally), so I know where my margins and center are. For example, as I began my forehead cloth, you can see the line below the growing stitching that marks the boundary of my work (in this case, instead of stitching directly up to it, I decided to stitch no closer than three units of it); plus the diagonal that bisects the established bit. That line marks the center.
Sometimes on larger projects I might mark lines that divide my ground into quarters or thirds, too. It depends on the size of the project and what I am doing with it.
One thing to note – I have never stitched from a fully complete graph that shows the entire project. Yes, I know I published one here, but I am a “bungee jump stitcher” and more often than not, pick my patterns on the fly. The exception is of course, lettering. I do graph out my words or phrases, to work out problems in word or letter spacing, or to find the center of the motto (if I want the motto centered when stitched).
Then how do you keep things aligned?
I start from the center, as seen above, then work either right or left until I get to my desired width. Since most of my work is either a straight, or left-right or up-down mirror image or bounce repeat, I then go back and fill out the strip or pattern in the other direction, taking care to end at the same point in the repeat as the first edge.
Do you ever draw in or otherwise mark your designs?
Yes, but mostly for inhabited blackwork, not strapwork. Inhabited blackwork is the “outlines plus fillings” subtype. Strapwork is the substyle that produces long bands often used to edge household linens or garments.
I’ve used a couple of methods to establish outlines for fills. First, there’s simple drawing. Here, I’ve taped my line drawing to a window, with the ground cloth on top, prior to tracing the design onto the cloth using a pencil. You can just barely make out the outlines in the in-process shot.
And here I have established my design on the count, using small cross stitches to create the outlines for the shapes to be filled in. I finished off those heavy lines by overworking them with a nice, solid chain stitch because I wanted prominent outlines. I could have basted or done a lighter line of stitching instead. I’ve done that to make pounced chalk less transient, but I don’t have photos of in process works that employed chalk plus basting.
Do you ever work in multicolor?
Sure. Lots. Here are a few. Starting at the left top: From 1973, in high school, prior to my involvement in the SCA – a happy mash-up of sampler bands, still unfinished; small stitched Moleskine type notebooks covers done as an East Kingdom largesse donation in 2012 (I wonder if they ever were received, and to whom they were given); a band sampler as engagement present circa 1985 or so, for a friend whose wedding plans expired prior to completion of the sampler, which explains that one still being unfinished; the Trifles sampler, done about a year ago, as a perpetual nag for Younger Daughter to take with her to college; and the Permissions sampler done as a present for our Denizen, the same year.
Stitching Equipment Tips?
These recommendations are specific to the way I work. But my comfort level is not the same as everyone else’s, so if you do it differently, you are not wrong.
A frame helps. Preferably a hands-free frame. I like stiff tension on my stitching ground, so I prefer a nice, tight frame. But I stitch the fastest with one hand over and one hand below my work, so I am happiest with one that doesn’t require me to grow a third hand to hold it. My faves are my Millennium flat scrolling frame, held securely in my ancient Grip-It stand (I had to replace the bolts of the original to accommodate the Millennium’s thickness), and the Hardwicke Manor sit-upon round frame.
If I am using a round frame, hand held or sit-on I ALWAYS pad at least one of the hoops with twill tape, stitched securely down on the hoop’s inside. This increases grip, and protects stitches that are “hooped over” after they are laid down.
Since I am usually working on the count on relatively fine grounds (I prefer 32+ threads per inch, with 38-42 being my sweet spot, and 50+ just to show off), my stitches are usually short and not prone to damage from a round hoop. But if there is any doubt at all, I haul out the big boy and work flat.
Needle choice can avoid headaches. For this sort of work you want a blunt tip needle to avoid splitting ground cloth threads. You want the needle to glide between them and not force them, to avoid disarranging the ground threads more than needed to accommodate passage of the stitching thread. Many people use tapestry blunts, but for the gauges I work with, often with just one or two strands of floss or thread, I find the large holes in tapestry blunts to be annoying. The threads slip out all too easily. So instead I use these ball-point needles, intended for hand sewing on polyester knits. They are relatively easy to find in sewing stores where they are usually grouped with the regular (not embroidery) needles.
Wax. This is a love-it or hate-it issue. I love it. I almost always run my thread through beeswax prior to stitching. It strengthens threads, avoids fuzz and shedding, makes threading and maintaining even thread feed on multi-ply floss better, and makes them glide through the ground. Yes, even silk. Since my chosen style of stitching uses extremely short stitches, the sheen of silk over a long run (like in satin stitch) is minimal at best. If I think that the wax will have an effect on the final product, I may only do it lightly, or restrict waxing to the final two inches that will be threaded through the needle, but I still do it. I keep one lump of beeswax for light color threads, one for darker colors, and one for black. Threads do shed or crock onto the wax, and using several little blocks keeps the lighter colors clean. And it must be beeswax. Candle wax doesn’t have the same properties, and can stain.
Rarely. It’s a noble party trick, and useful for handkerchiefs, cuffs or collars viewed from both sides, but even historically, not always done. There are paintings that show different stitching patterns on the inside and outside of a collar band.
I do tend to use double-sided logic for most, but not all of my linear stitching. I find it saves thread, and I prefer the look and feel of the finished product. I’ve done some tutorials on how to determine baselines and stitching order (read from bottom up). I also confess to abject heresy if my pathing needs the jump and the final presentation form allows it.
Most designs have several possible stitching paths. Which one I take can vary from repeat to repeat, depending on how much thread I have left on my needle, where I am headed after the current bit, or even plain old experimentation. The path planning for me is very relaxing, and I rarely get lost or paint myself into a corner because I use tricks to idiot proof my path (being the biggest idiot stitching on my work at any time).
Yes. Here are some rules. All are occasionally broken, but for the most part they govern my path planning:
- Never go off on a long limb, establishing a very long line of stitching that branches off the main work. 90% of the mistakes I make fall out from this, especially if lots of diagonals are involved. I prefer to proof my work, by trying to do it by section adjacent to or in line with prior work. I constantly refer back to the established stitching to make sure I am not off count.
- There’s no reason to fret about having enough thread to make the return journey. Many people stitch double running out in one direction until half their thread is used, then do the second pass, filling in the remaining stitches on their way back to the starting point. But they often run out and have a section left over to complete using a second thread. Instead of there-and-back-again, I head out in one direction, taking all detours, until my thread is used up, then rethread the needle and start again from the beginning point to fill in the every-other stitches. And (gasp) there’s no shame in using TWO THREADED NEEDLES, leapfrogging yourself an inch at a time if that helps you keep your place.
- In general it’s preferable to take every detour as it is passed, especially if it’s a branching dead-end. If I run out of thread during a detour, I pick up again from that point and complete the detour to return to the baseline, rather than starting the next pass from the baseline itself. That way I don’t get stuck in cul de sacs.
- If there’s a joining that you don’t want to take as a detour, and it hooks up to the main design elsewhere (it’s not a branching dead end), it’s a good idea to work a stitch or two out on it, so there’s an attachment twig. When you come by later from the other direction, it’s lots easier to align with that twig than it is to judge proper place against an unbroken baseline.
- Those little spikes and shading lines that radiate from a baseline in the more complex designs are your friends. They make counting much easier. Work them on the first pass and use them as part of the proofing process.
- If you are using an even number of floss strands and thread grain isn’t a problem (and for most of short-stitch linear work, it isn’t) minimize knots by cutting your length twice as long as you need, folding it in half and waxing all but the loop just formed, and on the first stitch, catching the loop made to secure your end.
- If you are using an odd number of strands, or thread grain is an issue, and you don’t want to make a waste knot (which I rarely do for this kind of work), make a secure knot at the end of your thread, then use your needle to pierce the strand just below it, catching the thread in the same manner as #6 above. Your knot will be secured and will not pull through to the presentation side.
- Stitching over 2×2 threads is easiest. 3×3 and 4×4 are also doable, but look better on grounds that are at least 40 threads per inch. You can tame a skew ground – like a piece of inexpensive linen or linen look alike NOT sold as even weave – by stitching over an uneven count. If for example, your ground has more stitches north-south than east-west you might stitch over 3 threads in the north-south direction, but 2 in the east-west direction. This does make a project more exacting, and I don’t recommend it for someone who is just learning stitching logic.
More questions? Ask away!
This is working up to be a quick stitch:
I attempt to answer questions submitted via email and on-line. If you have other questions, please feel free to post and ask. There are no secrets here.
Where/what is this pattern?
It’s one of the many designs in T2CM. It’s quasi-original, based on a 15th century strip pattern from my all time fave V&A sampler, the famous (and infamous) T.14.1931. I presented the strip in TNCM, but here have morphed it into an all-over. There are only two designs in T2CM that revisit some aspect of a pattern from the first book. This happens to be one of them.
Here is the original historical design in strip form, as worked on my Clarke’s Law sampler:
What stitch are you using?
Mostly double running, with short hops in “Heresy Stitch”. But I’m not being slavish about the double-sided/double running protocol. I am using knots, and I am strongly considering a muslin lining for my forehead cloth. I think it will help it wear better, by reducing stress on the ground fabric. Therefore, with the back well hidden, I am under no pressure to do a perfect double-sided parlor trick. That being said, I do tend to stick to double sided logic for best thread economy and minimal show-through.
What thread and ground are you using?
The ground isn’t fancy – it’s a prepackaged linen or linen blend even weave, with a relatively coarse thread count of 32 threads per inch. It is stash-aged, and parted company from the packaging long ago, so I am not sure of the brand name it was marketed under, or the retail source. I’m stitching over two threads, so that’s about 16 stitches per inch. I tried stitching over three, but thought the look was too leggy.
I am using a special treat thread – a small batch hand-dyed silk from an SCA merchant. I got it at Birka, and I hear it will be intermittently available at the Golden Schelle Etsy shop*. The thread is dyed with iron, tannin, and logwood, and is a warm black in color. In thickness it is roughly equivalent to two plies of standard Au Ver A Soie D’Alger silk, although it is not a thread that can be separated into plies.
Do you wax your thread?
Yes. For double running stitch work, even in silk, I wax my thread lightly with beeswax; paying special attention to the last inch for threading through the needle. While I would not as a rule wax the entire length of the silk for work that depends on sheen (like satin stitch), at the very short stitch lengths used in double running, loss of sheen is minimal. Waxing keeps the thread from fuzzing against itself as it is pulled through the same hole more than once, and (if you are working with multiple strands) minimizes the differential feed problem, without resorting to using a laying tool – which I find tedious for such short stitch lengths. Others adore laying tools, so use of them is a matter of personal preference.
What needles do you use?
I favor a rather unorthodox choice for single strand double running – ball point needles intended for hand sewing on tricots and fine knits. They have a nice, rounded point, that slides neatly between the threads of my ground fabric, and a small eye. Blunt pointed needles intended for embroidery often have large eyes, which make thread management for a single strand unwieldy, allowing it to slip out of the eye too readily.
How do you know when to “go back again” in double running?
A lot of people think that working double running means you head in one direction, then turn back and retrace your steps. They carefully calculate the length of their stitching thread, and when they get to the half-consumed point, turn around and go back. This works, but tends to cluster thread ends. If you cluster your ends you end up with (for double-sided work) a large number of ends to hide in a very small space, or (for single sided, with knots) an untidy zone, with many knots and ends in the same place, which can show through to the front.
Instead I just keep going. I use up my length of thread, following my stitching logic, headed in one direction. Then I begin a second strand,staggering my starting point from my original start, first filling in the previously stitched path, and then extending the design further. Since I tend to do offshoots and digressions as I come to them and these do eat more thread as I trace them out from and then back to my main stitching line, I rarely have more than two ends at any one point in my work, and those two-end spots are widely distributed, rather than clustering in one small area.
How do you determine the baseline and stitching logic in an all-over?
There’s a little bit of catch-as-catch-can, but the basic concept is dividing the work into zones. In this piece the zone is flexible, and can be centered on either square area bordered by the spider flowers, connected by the twisted framing mechanism; or on the smaller area defined by the “root zone” of those spider flowers, again connected by the twisted framing. I go around either one of those, hopping between them as needed. In either case, the small center elements – the tiny quad flower, or the quad flower with the elongated tendrils, is worked separately, with no jumps back to the main motif.
And speaking of that tendril-flower – I am not entirely happy with it. I may pick it out and draft something else to go there. For the record, the nice, large square it inhabits would make a nifty place for initials, heraldic badges, whimsical creatures, original motifs, or other personal signifiers.
Why are you using a round frame?
Because I have two flat frames and one round (tambour) sit-on frame, in addition to several round in-hand hoops. I have works in progress on both flat frames, and don’t want to dismount them to do this quickie. My tambour frame has a padded bottom hoop, and when time comes to move the fabric and squash bits of just-done embroidery, I will pad the work with some muslin to protect it on the top as well as the bottom side. Again, working short stitches with no raised areas – even in silk – makes this a less risky proposition than it would be for other stitching styles.
Can I see the back?
In the next progress post I’ll include a shot of the back.
* In the interest of full disclosure (and the no-secrets here thing), the un-named proprietor of Golden Schelle is my Stealth Apprentice. Shhh. It’s a secret.
Based on questions from Elaine and others, here’s a bit more on the thread I’ve been using on both the Permissions and Trifles samplers.
As I’ve said before, my stash came from a small needlework/beading supply shop in Pune, India. It wasn’t current stock. The head clerk sent a boy scampering up into the storage attic for a VERY dusty box of odds and ends. I picked out the best colors left, avoiding pastels, and looking for what high impact/high contrast hues that still remained in quantities of 10+ skeins. I bought them all. They were very inexpensive – just a few rupees per skein. At the then-current exchange rate of 60 rupees per dollar, I think I spent less than $20.00 translated, and came away with a huge bag full, well over 200 skeins divided up among about 15 colors. Here’s just a sample:
The name brand is Cifonda Art Silk. It’s not a spooled rayon intended for machine embroidery. As you can see, the put-up is more like cotton embroidery floss. And it turns out that the stuff is still being made, and is available in Australia, and even in the US – although mostly by special order.
The websites that offer this thread vary a bit in description. Some say it is a 35% silk/65% rayon blend. Others say it is all rayon. Contemporary put-ups specify 8 meter skeins. My vintage stash skeins are a bit longer, possibly 10 meters (I’ll measure tonight). The large bundles above are actually “super-packages” of ten individual skeins. You can see the bright red one at the left is broken open, with the single skein labels showing. On mine, color numbers are written on each skein by hand, not printed. There can be hue variances between the super-packages of the same color number, so I suspect that special care should be taken to buy all that’s needed at once, so that all is from the same dye lot.
Cifonda’s structure is that of standard floss – six strands of two-ply relatively loose twist. The individual strands are quite fine, two of them are roughly the equivalent of one ply of standard DMC cotton embroidery floss. The colors – especially deeper ones like red and indigo – do run when wet, although they do not crock (shed color on hands, ground cloth, or wax when stitching dry). I would not advise using this thread on clothing, table linen or other things likely to need laundering. It may be possible to set the colors before stitching using a mordant bath or long water soak, but I don’t have the experience, time, or materials quantity for experimentation.
I am pleased with the way the Cifonda looks in my work. It’s a bit shinier and finer textured than cotton floss, although it does not have the coverage of the true silk floss I’ve used (Soie d’Alger). My Cifonda is quite slippery. Two or more plies held together tend to disassociate and slide past each other for differential consumption, even when using short lengths in a small-hole needle. I tamed this by aggressive waxing – running the entire length of my threads over a block of beeswax before use. Since I’m doing linear counted work, any change in color or texture is not noticeable. Someone using this for satin stitch, long-and-short, or other surface stitches that maximize thread sheen would probably want to wax only the inch or so that threads through the needle.
Like all lightly twisted rayons, this thread does catch and shred a bit on rough skin. Care must be taken to use needles with very smooth eyes, and to hold the unworked length out of the way when taking stitches, because the stuff snags extremely easily. My own stash, well aged as it is, contains some colors that are a bit brittle. The bright yellow I’m using now, and the silver-grey I used on the last sampler are both prone to breaking under stress, and must be used in shorter lengths than the other colors.
I will continue to use up my India-souvenir thread stash, working smaller and smaller projects until it is gone. But in all probability, I will not seek out the Cifonda to replace that inventory as it is consumed.
Anyone else have experience or hints on using this rather unruly stuff?
We’ve all read about two stitches that are most commonly used in linear styles of counted stitching.
First comes double running stitch (aka Holbein stitch, Spanish stitch, and punto scritto, among others). Pretty straightforward and well known, it can be used with care to produce works that are absolutely identical front and back, although meticulous double-sided implementation isn’t mandatory unless there’s specific need.
Back stitch is the other big technique used for linear counted work, with lots of historical examples. If anything its even more well known than double running. Its appearance is different front and back. On the front, it looks exactly like double running. But on the back, a much heaver and thicker line is produced. Depending on the care of the stitcher and the thickness of the thread it can look like outline or stem stitch if the needle is introduced (uniformly) above or below the previous stitch on the reverse; or even chain or split stitch, if the needle splits the previous stitch on the reverse.
Looks the same as double running on the front (top), but different on the reverse.
Now, why would one pick one technique over the other?
Sometimes it’s a good thing to try to economize on thread use. Back Stitch uses about a third again as much yardage per distance embroidered than does Double Running. Therefore, if I wanted to conserve thread I might opt for Double Running over Back. Double Running is also the stitch of choice if double-sided presentation is a necessity, or if the fabric is so sheer that the heavier reverse side of Back Stitch might show.
On the other hand, Back Stitch can be much easier to work, especially on long runs that can befuddle even those familiar with the there-and-back-again logic of Double Running. In Back Stitch, there is no retracing of the path to fill in every other stitch. Work proceeds logically down a single path. Branches mean starting a new thread, rather than departing from a baseline and working back to it. Many people prefer the “I’m here” certainty of Back Stitch to the puzzle path approach of Double Running.
So I present this stitch hack – one known to just about every counted stitcher, although few would admit using it openly. I will arbitrarily call it “Wandering Running Stitch.” I am sure this is an “unvention,” and I’ve just promulgating something that’s already described under another name. For example, I would not be surprised to see this documented as a technique for quickly stitching durable seams in plain sewing.
Both a bit of heresy, and a chimera of sorts, Wandering Running Stitch neither plain Double Running, nor is it true Back Stitch. Advantages are that it looks like Double Running on the public side of the work; uses the same amount of thread as Double Running; and avoids now-how-do-I-go-back problem. It’s main disadvantage is that like Back Stitch, the reverse side looks different from the front. In this case, the reverse shows a discontinuous, dashed line of double-thickness. The overall effect is a bit heavier on the reverse than is plain Double Running, but is not as massive as Back Stitch.
All three methods, for comparison. Front sides on left, reverse on right.
From top down – Double Running, Back Stitch, Wandering Running
The following sequence illustrates the stitching order.
Now. How to use this hack.
First off, it’s not for reversible work. Nor is it for use on pieces sent to juried panels, where rules favor the use of traditional/historical stitches, and the state of the back side. There is NO precedent for or documentation of using this stitch in history that I know of, so I would not advise it for SCA pieces destined for Arts & Sciences competitions. However, for single sided work, or lined pieces, or items done for your own pleasure, or a project to help you get into the swim of a style that has frustrated you in the past – why not use an unorthodox approach if it makes life easier?
Because the active area is always at the needle with no half-worked baseline to retrace, Wandering Running would be especially good for stepped or continuous line patterns with no branching. It would be very useful to people who stitch in hand without a hoop or frame, and also for those who use a particularly small or round frame. In both cases, there’s no moving back over previously stitched paths, making it easier to tension in hand; or minimizing the need to remove and relocate a small hoop to revisit prior paths.
I think Wandering Running will be especially useful for people who have given up on blackwork because they find double running logic daunting, and have problems remembering where the baseline of their design is, or what direction they were heading. I also think that people who have tried Back Stitch instead of Double Running, but who were displeased with the heft or thickness of the reverse side might also find this technique interesting.
Another use is in completing the filling patterns used in inhabited blackwork, which are often not entirely suitable for full reversible treatment in the first place. I occasionally resort to Wandering when I’m working a filling into an oddly shaped area, and need to advance the working thread. I will plan out my path of attack and use Wandering to “walk” my working thread to the new area to be completed rather than ending off the thread and re-starting in that location.
In addition to the uses above, Wandering Running can be employed to render complex linear designs, in combo with more traditional Double Running. I can see using Wandering on the main baseline, moving along it until one encounters a side branch, then veering off to complete that side branch using traditional double-running methods, and returning to the baseline to continue on to the next point of departure. The biggest difference between this and a full Double Running treatment of the same design would be no “dashed line” of semi-completion along the baseline, making it easier to see where along the design path one is.
So. Have you seen this hack before? Does it have a name? Does it have a place in your repertoire, or does the merest thought of such heresy inflame you to the point of whipping out your Embroidery Voodoo Dolls* and using poison-tipped #24 tapestry needles to condemn me to my fate?
[*If demand is sufficient, I will consider sharing a design for Embroidery Voodoo Dolls. Suggestions for appropriate historical periods of attire for EVDs will be considered.]
Accreted Section Double Running Stitch Logic
I promised to discuss a second logic for double running stitch. I call this one “accreted section” and use it for the more complex patterns, especially non-linear ones.
What’s a linear pattern? Pretty much any of the banded strapwork style strip patterns I’ve been using on the Do-Right and Clarke’s Law samplers. However the phoenix from Do-Right is distinctly non-linear:
I could work the phoenix using the baseline method by identifying one of a zillion possible baselines and following it in the usual way. The outline would make a good baseline:
If I were to use baseline, I’d start at a point on the outline, then work in the indicated direction, following the little detours as I came to them. But in this case there are LOTS of detours. It’s too easy to get lost. For example, If I were to start at the indicated spot at the base of the flight feather, then continue up to the wingtip, it looks like I’d be following the little striations on the first feather. Not too hard. Little lines and hatchings like these make the pattern easier to follow because they can be easier to count than straight runs of stitching with few reference points to use for location verification. BUT I have a lot of possible detours. It’s very easy to start the feather with the stitch from the feather base to the first striation, then verge off down that bit of shading to the lower part of the wing and from there get lost in the body.
I find it easier to break up patterns like this into logical units:
Purists will note that the blue segment might be considered a baseline, with the other elements as detours off of it, but that’s quibbling. For me at least, parsing the pattern into three units helps keep me on track. When I stitched this I started with the blue unit, working the bird’s neck and breast detail as departures from that line. I did have the luxury of not needing to do this piece double sided, so I did begin a new strand to work the green section, stitching the feather striations and other connected bits as I went along. The same with the orange section. I did that last, again working the feather stripe and flame detours as I came to them. The flame section at the pattern’s bottom left is a closed loop departure off of the orange line.
Baseline First/Hybrid Logic
So far I’ve established a visual baseline, then worked along it, stitching all departures from that baseline. The last step has been to stitch back along the baseline to complete the work. But sometimes it’s better to stitch the baseline first. Occasionally I work a pattern that way – making my first pass along the baseline to outline or otherwise establish the location and veracity of pattern placement, then working the details or fillings on the second pass:
You can clearly see that I did that on this strip from Do-Right. I started with a baseline that outlined the flower, then on the second pass, filled in the petal details. In this case I worked using a hybrid logic. Instead of establishing one baseline for the entire repeat, I worked it more along the lines of the accreted method above – isolating the flower, then the branch from which it buds, and then the branch segment that connects this flower to the next (flipped) repeat.
For some very wide patterns, this mixed approach works best, especially if you’re using an in-hand tambour style round frame. With a round frame the area that’s taught and ready to work is quite small. Large repeats easily occupy more than the space at hand:
Being limited to the frame’s real estate lends itself to this compartmentalized, hybrid approach.
Having the luxury of using a flat, slate, or roller frame that provides acres of taughtness makes a sprawling approach easier:
In any case, this concludes the series on double running stitch logic. Please feel free to ask questions. I don’t pretend to know it all, but chances are I’ve faced some of the same stitching problems that might be challenging you, and I’d love to help.
Well, with luck this mini-series will be useful to someone out there. There is someone out there, right?
Continuing from the last post, now that we’ve figured out that our design can be worked double sided, and we’ve identified the baseline, how do we go about the stitching? What logic can we follow to ensure that no areas of the pattern are orphaned, and that all lines are covered?
The method most often followed is the baseline method. The other I’ll call “accreted section” and deal with it in a later post.
I find baseline to be pretty easy – nearly foolproof, provided the stitcher can remember the nested logic of detours-within-detours encountered along the way. Some stitchers keep a paper copy of the design, and overtrace it to keep track of where they’ve been. Some use a paper copy to try out their logic before committing needle and thread. I have to admit I do neither. I just go for it.
Let’s look at this pattern. It’s from my very first booklet on Blackwork, a hand-drawn photocopied piece done in my teens and distributed entirely within the SCA. I know I got this particular design from a historical source, but my original annotation wasn’t complete enough for me to include in later books or in fact to find the source again, so this design has sat on the shelf ever since. I’d consider this one to be a pattern of intermediate complexity, but well within the reach of most beginners (click on pix below for enlargements).
To parse out the stitching logic, let’s look at a half repeat. I’ll illustrate the entire stitching path for one half repeat. The logic to complete a whole repeat is very much the same. In the pix below, green indicates my first pass of double running, and blue marks a return path, in which I retrace my steps. The first stitch and its direction in any pass or return is marked by an arrow. Click on any of the drawings to enlarge. And please keep in mind that the method below is just one of a huge number of possible paths through this particular pattern. Path planning and trying out different strategies is what keeps this style of stitching fresh to me. Which is to say there’s no guarantee at all that I work every repeat in exactly the same manner. YMMV.
To work this design double sided, I’d start along the baseline leaving at least three inches of thread extra on the back (no knots). I find it helpful to wind the excess around a pin placed in an inconspicuous spot. I travel along the baseline (1) in double running stitch until I encounter a branch. My preferred logic is to then follow the branch to its end, then turn back and fill in the “every other” running stitch, to eventually return to the baseline (2). Then I continue on to the next branch decision and follow that detour (3).
In this case I’ve gotten to the first of the double bracelets on the main stem. Unless a branch is a turn left only branch, given a choice, I tend to turn right. Gamers, the mathematical and those who study behavioral sciences or robots/autonomous navigation will recognize this – it’s a classic. Any maze can be successfully navigated by putting one’s hand on the right hand (or left hand) wall, and following it, without taking one’s hand from the wall. The path traced may not be the most efficient, but sooner or later, the wall-hugging, maze-wandering mouse, robot, or high school topology student will emerge from the exit.
So here I am at the top of the brackets. I could continue down and wander around the bracelets, or I can turn right again and follow the main stem back to the half-heart motif on the left edge of the swatch area. I take a right hand turn from my line of travel, and stitch back up to the main motif (3). When I get there, I notice one little tiny detour – the single stitch between my current line and my starting point. (4) makes quick work of that. Then I continue around the necklace at the base of the heart motif. Again I turn right (5), then double back on my path and continue down and around the wing at the base of the heart (6).
After completing the first pass at the base of the heart and ending up at my “bounce line” – the centermost point of the strip repeat – I do a mini-step back to the heart’s outline (7), then I continue around the heart’s perimeter, eventually reaching the detour point to complete the small inset detail in the heart’s center (8). Again I stitch to the bounce point, and then return to the heart’s perimeter (8).
Once I’m back at the edge of the heart, I can do the antenna that sticks up from its top (9). Heading back from there turns out to be a long run all the way back to my baseline, filling in all of the “missing” stitches to complete the first half of the left hand heart motif (10). Now for a minorly tricky bit – one that folk unfamiliar with double running stitch logic occasionally miss – the little detours that fill in the bracelets around the stem. It’s easy to miss stitches in these, and very easy to get lost, not remembering which way to turn next. We’ll step through.
The first bit is to progress along our baseline. The initial stitch is marked with the arrow. I work it, then the two stitches along the bottom of the upper bracelet, followed by the stitch that completes the three that define the top of the bracelet (12).
Time to head back to the baseline, but it’s not very far away. One stitch brings us back to it (13). On the next step because it’s extra confusing, I’ve marked two stitches with arrows. First I head south from the upper bracelet, then work around the lower one (14). There’s now one stitch left to finish defining the box between the two bracelets. I take that one stitch (15).
Now I’m ready to return to the baseline again. A couple of quick stitches takes me there (16). If you look at the work now, you’ll see only one “unfilled” path through the two bracelets area. That’s the path of our baseline. All of the other stitches have been completed, and none are orphaned, unworked. Now to progress along the baseline again. I detour for the little side curl, worked there and back again style just like I did before (17, 18) landing me back on the baseline again.
The logic should be a bit more obvious by this point. I progress along the baseline, making a detour back up to complete the outline of the stem unit (19). And back again to the intersection just below the necklace at the base of the next heart flower (20), and up around it (21).
Now I move on to the wing section that defines the lower edge of the flower (22). As before, having hit the center point, I head back to the outer edge of the heart (23), then continue around the heart’s perimeter, and down into its center detail (24).
Almost done now, there’s just heading back out to the edge of the heart (25), and doing the first half of the antenna (26). Our grand finale is here! Starting at the antenna, we work all the way back around the heart’s edge, and then all the way back to the beginning of our pattern, following the established baseline. At this point there’s no more counting, just following the snail trail laid down before (27):
It’s done! The entire half repeat – worked 100% two sided in double running stitch, with no little orphaned areas left unstitched. We worked through the baseline concept on a pattern of moderate complexity, stitching along detours as they present themselves, always returning to the baseline before moving on, and leaving one long final unifying run along that baseline to finish off the pattern. Yaay!
O.k., some of you ask. “Smarty pants, that all works great for the half-repeat shown above, but what about the full repeat?” I answer – the logic is the same. With the exception of the antenna which needs to have both “ears” worked one after another the first time they’re encountered, the stitcher can follow the “to the center” logic above, verbatim, or can work each heart flower as an entire unit when it is first encountered, following around its entire perimeter up to the point of return to the baseline before doubling back around the heart to arrive at the original spot of departure from the baseline.
If you’ve got questions about this logic, please post them. I’ve already gone on long enough for one post. The next post will be on the accreted section method and when to use it or the baseline approach. The series will end with how to finish off ends invisibly for double sided work. Hope this is helpful!
There’s been a discussion of late on the Yahoo Blackwork embroidery discussion group about stitch order, direction and stitching logic in double running stitch – especially reversible (two sided) double running stitch. I contributed to the discussion with these thoughts, but the answer below is a bit of an elaboration on my original discussion group post.
Double Sided Double Running Stitch – Is it possible for your chosen pattern?
The first thing to do is to determine whether or not your contemplated design can be done 100% reversible. Those that can have every design element connected. There are no floating little diamonds or sub-motifs off on the side un-connected to the main design. This simple design is easy to do two sided:
This one, although vastly more complex, only presents a couple of challenges. The center diamond in the nodule at the base of the plume flower is one. Every other element is connected, but that one diamond stands alone. If I were to work this design double sided, I’d add a stitch to the top and bottom points of the diamond to connect it to the rest of the design. The visual impact of that modification would be minuscule. The other challenge is the presence of some detached stitches in the “bark” area of the branches – the little floating verticals unattached to the main body of the work. If I were to do this one double sided, I’d either omit them, or lengthen them to intersect with a segment of the branch’s outline. A pain, but not totally fatal, and both changes wouldn’t be very evident.
By contrast the column and wreath design below, though simpler, presents a greater challenge for two-sided stitching. Each of the small circlets in the centers of the wreath units stands alone. Attaching them to the rest of the work would diminish the impact of the design. Although the rest of the design can be worked entirely two sided, the circlets are problematic because they’re free floating and rather small. If they were worked independently, with their own lengths of thread, there isn’t enough real estate in each one to cleanly hide the thread ends.
Much of this mermaid panel can be worked double sided, but by now you can spot the facial features, fruit dimples, flower centers (and prominent nipples) as presenting problems that can’t be solved by modifying the design. BUT the small dolphins, although separate from the main pattern aren’t a problem. They’re big enough to stitch with their own threads
O.k. Now we’ve determined which designs can be done double sided without modification – the ones that have no isolated design elements. On to stitching logic.
Stitching Logic – Baseline
I use two methods for completing a double running stitch pattern – baseline and accreted section. I’ll tackle baseline first
In the baseline method, the stitcher identifies a line that travels the entire length of the pattern. That’s the baseline. It can be obvious, like a stem from which all of the pattern’s flowers grow, or part of an outline; or it can be less obvious. In this oak leaves and acorns border, one baseline is blindingly obvious:
In this pattern it’s slightly less clear. Any one of several options can be used as an effective baseline:
Here’s one possible baseline:
Every other element of the design can be worked as a detour off this main highway. You’ll note that the baseline needn’t march around the perimeter of the acorn. In fact the entire acorn is one nested set of detours. And this isn’t the only possible baseline. Here’s a more efficient though less intuitive one:
Both are perfectly logical. I might use the one at the top if I wanted to quickly establish the height of my piece. It’s just one unit shy of total pattern height. But the only reason to chose one or the other is personal preference. Please note that the logic of these to baselines applies equally well to the horribly complex plume flower:
I’d suggest folk new to double sided work start with patterns with easily identified baselines, and work up to some of the more daunting patterns.
Next post – stitching logic. Traveling along the baseline and its detours.
Apparently my post on knitting patterns from books published prior to 1920 or so has struck a chord. I’ve gotten a couple of requests on how to go about translating these older knitting patterns to modern notation. I did a six part section on how to graph up patterns from written notation before (Charting 101, 102, 103, 104, 105 and 106 ), so this sort of follows as optional post-lesson workshop.
This time I’ll start with a web-available pattern. K. Harris at Vintage Connection has posted a transcription of a knitted insertion pattern that first appeared in The Delineator magazine, in June 1896. I’ll be producing a modern notation graph for that lace panel. Before we begin, it’s worth noting some common features of turn-of-the-century knitting. Not every technique known today was widely used, and terms varied a bit – even more widely than they do now. I’ll try to cover some of the most common notations.
Knit and purl – k, p
Not much difference. Basic knits and purls were pretty much as we know them. There were however a couple of associated usages that are less common today. Knit plain usually meant work in knit stitch only. One complication – it follows then that for things knit in the round knit plain came to mean “work in stockinette.” Occasionally by extension knit plain was used to indicate stockinette done in the flat rather than in the round, even though intervening rows of purl by necessity exist. I’ve also seen it used very infrequently to mean “continue working in established pattern,” but that’s rare. More often the term work even was used in that context.
Another alternate usage – purls were sometimes referred to by the term seam, as in the instruction “knit two, seam two” to produce k2 p2 rib. This is probably a hold-over from early sock making, in which a column of purls on the back of the leg was used in imitation of a seam line.
Narrow – n, k. 2t, t,
The modern equivalent of narrow is K2tog – the standard right leaning decrease. Sometimes this is written up as K2, with the “tog” part of K2tog being left out entirely. Older patterns did not use SSK. Occasionally they call out a SSK equivalent of “slip one, knit one, pass slip stitch over” (see below) but most often they don’t bother with a left leaning decrease, and use K2tog, even when the cognate would be visually more balanced or appealing. Close inspection of accompanying illustrations reveals that the knitters did employ K2tog for almost all decreases. Less frequently this decrease is referred to as together (t) or knit 2 together (k. 2t.).
One unusual notation on narrow – a couple of patterns I’ve seen use n followed by the note “by slipping the needle through the back of the stitches.” This does sound a bit like a proto-SSK. But unless otherwise modified or explained, it’s pretty safe to assume that any n means k2tog.
Slip – s
Another movement that’s pretty standard. Unless otherwise modified, slip in historical context means slip purlwise – transferring the stitch from the left to the right hand needle without changing its orientation.
Slip and bind off – sb, sbo, sl&b,
Another historical way of referring to the left leaning decrease or SSK equivalent, this refers to the s1-k1-psso unit.
Over – o, th, w, tho, th. o,
Yarn overs or eyelet producing increases – still a source of multiple terms today – have even more names if you go back through time. I’ve seen YO referred to as over (o), throw (th), throw over needle (tho or thn) eyelet (e), widen (w), make (m), put over (po), yarn on needle aka yarn over needle (yon), wool round needle (wo, wrn, won).
Special note on double YOs. Most of the time modern patterns use a multiple-unit YO if a really big eyelet is needed. But in historical patterns when YOs were used to make columns of fagot-stitch lace, it was common for the YO that formed them to be specified as a double yarn over, probably because of the yarn manipulation used to create them needed to allow for a subsequent p2tog. If a pattern with fagoting calls for a double yarn over but the stitch count on the subsequent row doesn’t account for the additional new stitch (or doesn’t mention dropping it), it’s a good indication that a modern redaction will call for only one YO and not two.
Make – m
This can be problematic. It’s on the previous list as a euphemism for YO, but it is also used in historical patterns for invisible increases – where an additional stitch is added without creating the eyelet hole formed by a YO. Modern “make” is usually interpreted as a raised bar increase, although other forms of adding a stitch like knitting into a stitch on the row below are also sometimes used. A bit of close examination of any illustrations or even experimentation may be called for here. The term made stitch is also sometimes used to indicate the new stitch formed by a YO in a previous row – especially when more than one YO created multiple adjacent loops on the needle.
Purl two together – p. 2 t., p2to, pto
Purl two together was a very common instruction, especially when columns of fagoting style lacy knitting were used.
Crossed knit – c, t, b, tw
Crossed knits are modern twisted knit stitches, produced by knitting into the back of a stitch (ktbl). I haven’t seen a historical pattern that includes a purl through the back of the loop (ptbl), but that doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist.
Now with all this set out, I can graph up the diamond insertion from the Delineator. It starts out with a cast-on of 23 stitches. It includes double YOs, but all double YOs are followed by p2tog units, producing the columns of fagoting in either side of the center design. I’ll show the progression from as-described rows through modern notation.
First, as written, preserving the double YOs; without flipping the wrong-side rows in accordance with the modern charting convention of showing the work as it appears on the front (public) side; and without centering the rows or norming the chart to have parallel edges we get this: (click on images below for larger versions):
We quickly see that stitch counts vary from row to row, although the pattern is more or less internally proofed because wrong side rows do contain the same number of stitches as the right side rows that preceded them. We also see that the double YO followed by P2tog problem is here. Were those YOs to each be “real” each following wrong side row would need to be two stitches longer, and the lacy effect would not be achieved.
Other features of this pattern are pretty straightforward. YOs are YOs, whether they appear on the front or reverse side rows. The K3tog unit only shows up on front (even) side rows. P2tog when seen from the back is a plain old k2tog, so that’s also easy to flip.
So. Norming the presentation so that wrong-side rows are shown using the correct right-side row equivalent symbol, and isolating the side columns of fagot stitch, and consolidating the YOs we get:
I’ve gone through all of this not only for the fun of sharing, but also because I am using this particular pattern to knit up a new quick lace scarf. I’ll edge the thing out with something complementary, but for now, here’s how it looks:
Knit somewhat overscale in Swift River Prescott on US #8s, one panel of this lacy pattern is perfect for a scarf – curl-free and totally reversible!