Category Archives: Embroidery Technique


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!

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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

Baseline Identification

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:

It’s the ground line from which the little motifs sprout.

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.

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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!

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