Tag Archives: blackwork; embroidery; counted thread; technique

FOREHEAD CLOTH/KERCHIEF PROGRESS

This is working up to be a quick stitch:

kerchief-02

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:

plume-strip-2

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.

ball_points (1)

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.

 

BLACKWORK HERESY

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. 

double-runningDouble Running.
Front and back are identical

 

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.

 

back

Back Stitch.
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. 

 

wanderingWandering Running Stitch
Looks like double running on the front, but leaves spaced, doubled dashes on the reverse. 

 

sample

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.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

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.]