I am working on a couple of things here at String Central. One I can talk about. The other is mysterious and can’t be shown yet.
First – the progress on the masks. First side of the first one about at the half-way point. I had to take a week off from stitching for family reasons.
As anticipated, this early-experiment thread sheds dye, and picking it out leaves smudges. As explained before, I don’t care. These masks are not undying heirlooms of my house. They will bleed and spread dye during wash anyway. And I think that once that happens, the effect will be interesting.
The pencil outline you see barely traced onto the cloth is for a mask of this style:
The source of the pattern is the two-tie fitted variant published in the New York Times, back in March.
UPDATE: The link above appears to lead to a page that’s behind the New York Times paywall now. But fear not! They in turn got their design from FreeSewing.org, The edition of the design The Times posted nests three sizes on one printable PDF page, a pretty standard approach for sewing patterns. But since their original issue in March, FreeSewing has expanded the range of sizes for their design. If you click here, you’ll go to a page that lists a full range, from toddler to men’s ultra, plus how-to directions. More sizes for sure, but still the same basic pattern I used.
I’ve made quite a few of these for family and friends. It’s a bit more complicated than the pleated kind, but it fits us better. I make the largest size for adults (what in the update is now called Men’s Large), and use two or three layers of tightly woven 100% cotton percale (well washed). I substitute a long double-folded strip of the same fabric for the ribbon ties called for in the original pattern directions – mostly for durability in the wash. Precision isn’t important for the ties – I cut a long strip on the grain (not bias) – about 5 to 6 feet long and about 1.5 to 2 inches wide (152 to about 183 cm long, and about 3.8 to 4.5 cm wide). I iron it in half, folded down the center of the strip (parallel with the long side), then iron the cut edges to the center fold. Then I sew down the entire length of the long strip, an cut it into four equal pieces for the tie.
The blue flowered one above is sewn from the last remnant of the sheet set I took off to college in 1974. I had this print in red and blue, with a matching comforter. Over time the set became curtains, tote bags, cushion covers, baby carriers and crib furnishings. Ever dwindling in size, and picked apart for reuse multiple times, I had just enough left for several masks.
The fabric on which I am stitching the fancy design is no where near tight enough to provide effective coverage, so it will be a top, decorative layer over a double thickness of the standard high-count bedsheet percale.
My ground cloth has four two-unit sets traced onto it (each mask has a left and right side, seamed together at the center). I intend to stitch as many as I have the patience to do, but not cut them out until all I will be making are complete. But the loose weave and the embroidery both pose problems. I could cut veeerrrryyyy carefully to avoid nicking the stitching, but even if I did, the edges of the rather coarsely woven ground would ravel either during assembly or more probably, when the things are washed between uses.
So I am deliberately stitching past the half-inch seam line, right up to the cutting line (my pencil mark). The seaming line is a half inch (about 13mm) inside the cutting line. That half inch is the seam allowance – the bit you see turned inside at the seams in most sewn items.
Before I cut these apart I will throw the entire piece onto my Ancient Elna sewing machine, and stay-stitch all the way around each mask piece. I will probably sew multiple rows of reinforcement, but all within the seam allowance area. Then I will cut out the individual pieces and assemble the finished masks. The stay-stitching should secure both the ground cloth and the stitching. Since the reinforced area will be turned under into the seam, it won’t be visible. And I may even go a bit further and apply one of the non-fray fixatives sometimes used to reinforce stress points in applique or quilting. But I’m not sure about that yet – I never use the stuff and I am a bit wary of how it will survive laundering.
Will this work? Stay tuned! Eventually you will find out.
Setting a new overland speed record for completion, I offer my Harsh Language piece. I began it on 22 August, and finished on 30 August. Eight days. Lightning fast, especially considering that I only stitch for an average of an hour and a half per day (more on weekend days, less midweek). Here it is in all its glory. I’ve redacted not the offending verb but the dedication, because as I’ve said before, the recipient wishes to remain anonymous.
I did have fun playing with the wool. It was much thinner and more tightly spun and cleanly finished (read non-fuzzy) than tapestry/needlepoint wools, and a joy to use.
In addition to the hints I offered up before, I would add that even with the shorter length, care must be taken to let the needle and strand spin freely, in order to counteract the twist imposed during the stitching process. That twist can loosen the spin of the wool strand enough to denature it to the point of shredding. You can see a couple of heavy stitches in the piece, where I was nearing the end of the strand, and the thread had “bloomed” but I kept going.
And yes, the weave of the ground wasn’t quite proportionally even. I don’t remember where this stuff came from – purchased retail, found at a yard sale, acquired as a gift – but it’s been in my stash easily since 1996, and has a yellowed selvage edge to prove it. But aside from that flappy edge (no where near this stitching), it was sound. It’s probably a cotton/linen blend. You can see the skewing in this detail. Horizontal stitches are just a tad wider than verticals, and diagonals are not 45-degrees.
Well I pulled out this remnant, and used about a third of it on this little piece. The remainder will go to become decorative outer layers for some masks. This open weave fabric is pretty useless as any sort of barrier, so I will line the masks with two or more layers of nice, tight 100% cotton 300-count pillowcases (retired from their prior duty). They are navy blue.
I will be using more thread provided by Stealth Apprentice for beta-testing. It’s luscious silk, dyed in one of her early indigo vat experiments. The color of the thread ranges from a nice deep denim down to Wedgewood, and was the child of serendipity, not a planned effort to produce a variegated.
I admit I put this hank off because it posed some minor problems. It’s a multi-strand floss, but during color processing it became rather matted and tangled (it was before she learned better methods to secure the hanks during dyeing), and the indigo itself does crock quite a bit, leaving blue fingers and traces on the ground as it is stitched. However this blue was an very early experiment long before she went retail with her products, so all is forgiven.
To deal with the matting I’m using the full strand and not trying to separate the plies. To tame the tangle, instead of trying to wind it I cut the skein in one place, and looped it over a stick. I’m teasing out strands one by one at the loop, and using them in full “cut length.”
There can be no mistakes with this stuff – it does leave very evident marks if picked out. And I fully expect the color to migrate onto the backing during washing. But that’s o.k., too. I think the look will be quite interesting after haloing. The navy inner layers may peek through the somewhat loose weave and camouflage some of that halo.
Challenges considered, I am very glad I saved this thread until just the right project appeared. This piece will certainly change over time as it is subjected to my ungentle care. Masks after all need vigorous cleaning. The blue may bloom onto the ground cloth. Such leeched color may dissipate over subsequent washes, or the threads themselves might do a old-jeans fade. All are anticipated and none are unwelcome. So while the thread might not have been optimal for some other more formal projects, it’s spot on perfect for this one.
I’ve got enough fabric for at least four masks. Possibly five. I’m not sure if I will do them all in this blue, or I’ll play with other threads – either monochrome or in a wild mix (I think there’s only enough blue for two, anyway). I don’t know if I’ll stick to all-over designs. I might for example doodle up one in an inhabited blackwork design – the scrolling flowers with heavy outlines, with patterned or speckled fillings. I’ll probably skip metal threads and spangles though, due to the laundering requirement. Or I may do one with scattered, themed spot motifs – insects, for example. Or I may do several “zones” and use different fillings in each. Or I’ll work band designs on the diagonal. The possibilities are endless, and (sadly) I don’t see the need for masks going away any time soon.
Will I make all four? How will they play out? Will something else catch my easily distractable eye, and I’ll do that instead? Will I keep these or give them away? Stay tuned. (And they say needlework has no excitement, mystery, or suspense.)
Oh. And there is no “bad” thread. There’s a perfect project for just about anything that can be used. I love this blue silk and I will enjoy stitching with every inch.
Yes! I have successfully rounded the corner, and reached out a tendril that confirms that the entire piece is spot on count and accurate to the repeat.
Now it’s just a matter of filling in that little bit at the upper right.
Of course, now I may go in and add something on either side of “TA” just to balance out the design. Still thinking on that, but in any case, the finish line is palpably near. Here’s the proof of alignment “tendril” – the inner border along the top edge fits perfectly, mating with the work I laid down at the very start of my journey around the edge (the bony boi and the border above his head, at the hoop’s right edge).
To put this in perspective for my non-stitching pals, this rendezvous is like marking a chalk X in front of your house, standing on it then putting on a blindfold and dancing wildly around the block nonstop until you decide you’ve gone far enough; then taking off the blindfold, looking down and realizing you have arrived exactly back on your point of departure.
Why not so much progress this week past? It’s been hot. We got back from our week on the beach in the middle of the heat wave. Like many in the northeast US, we have no air conditioning. Sitting under a halogen work lamp in the evening was more than I could contemplate in temps of 85 to 100 deg F (29.4 to 37.8 C), with high humidity.
I’ve been marling the offending brighter red (glaringly odd third inner plume flower up from the bottom of the right inner border) with thread in the color (or closer to the color) I have been using. By using one strand of “good” and one strand of “less optimal” together major color discontinuities are not so evident. I may go back and replace that offending plume flower. Or not. The “bad” red seems to crock considerably more than the other batches, and removal will leave a very evident halo.
Before I forget, extra special thanks go out to new stitchpal Paula from Austin, Texas. She read about my thread shortage problem and dug into her own stash, sending me oddments of various colors in and around the values I needed. Her generosity is what has enabled me to pursue the marled thread strategy.
Paula, I truly would not be able to finish this piece to my satisfaction without you help. My gratitude is eternal. When such things can happen again, the next time we are down that way visiting family, I reserve the right to drag you out for a special treat!
Too much stitching left to do. Too little thread. With about a quarter of the stitching remaining I have a problem.
I am using thread I brought back from India. I found it in a shop in the old shopping district in Pune. They specialized in crafting materials, especially beads, pre-embroidered pieces, knitting yarns, and other goodies. But they had a few skeins of what looked like silk floss in one of the display cases. I pointed at it and asked the shopkeeper if he had more. He sent a little boy up into the storerooms, and he came back with a very dusty and crumbling cardboard box full of odds and ends. All of the same type of thread (which turned out to be “art silk” – rayon) but all of very limited quantity. I picked out all of what remained in non-pastel colors, including several multi-skein hanks of deep red, and bought it all, for an astonishingly low price.
As you can see there’s a pile of crimson there. What remains of that pile now is much less –
The wound bobbin in the middle is what I’ve been using (with a caveat). It’s Cifonda Art Silk color number 145. So is the hank on the left. The hank on the right is color number 144. It’s in the same continuum, but a click lighter. At the bottom is flaming cherry red 530, not even close.
The caveat on the bobbin? It’s holding two skeins of 145. Underneath is New-145. On top is Old-145. I wound off the new one, then after stitching the bit below, went on a Wild Hunt, and found one last remaining skein of Old-145. You can’t see the difference between them, right? Neither could I until this happened.
I bet you can see it now. Leaf #3 and part of the interlace below it stands out. I stitched it with the New-145. It’s redder, more garnet in tone than the established work. Clearly the same color number, but a different dye lot (even though dye lots are not labeled ). Even if I could get more of this stuff the chance of matching color with my very-well-aged stock is practically nil.
I will finish out as much as possible with my last skein of Old-145. I may or may not pick out this leaf . Still thinking on that… And also thinking on how to finish out the piece using only what I have on hand. Go for New-145? Go lighter with 144? I’ve seen historical pieces whose stitchers faced the same problem and blithely ignored it. Which is what I will end up doing, one way or the other…
I’m finishing up the second corner on my sampler, and beginning the strip across the bottom of the piece, headed for the bottom center, then on to the third corner.
It’s going faster now because I’m free of the chart. I’ve (mostly) memorized the design now, and have ample reference stitching to refer to if I need reminders. The remaining two sides are just mirrors of what’s there already – with the corner and both centers established, there’s nothing on the chart that I haven’t already worked.
Questions from my inbox:
Why aren’t you working on a grid/why haven’t you basted guidelines every ten stitches so you can keep your place?
I don’t need to, although I do have two basted guidelines that mark the center of the piece, one north/south, and one east/west. I proof carefully of established stitching. That’s why you never see a long run “out in front” of the design as I work. For me, that’s a recipe for disaster.
I AM working in double running stitch. You can see the baseline for the bottom plume border in process. I will keep going in this direction until I finish this piece of silk. Then having established the bottom border (note that I work the branch from which the plumes bloom as I go), I’ll switch to the center strip and do more of the skeletons. When I catch up, I’ll hop up to the top border and do more of that. The whole design progresses more or less evenly across the design, keeping pace with itself as I go.
Why are you working left to right?
I’m right handed, and stitch with my right on top and my left below, using (in this case) a sit-upon hoop so both hands are free for stitching. I keep a very bright light over my left shoulder. By working left to right, I can see the previously worked bits (they are not covered by my right hand), so I can keep check on alignment of the new stitching, plus there is no shadow from my hand or shoulder occluding the work in progress. And when I start not at the left or right edge of my piece, but at the center, I often flip my work upside down, so I am also working the second half of my strip from left to right. Were I left handed or favored my left hand for the top when working two-handed, I would probably work from right to left, with the light over my right shoulder.
Can this piece be done double-sided?
Yes and no. Right now it can be done mostly double-sided in double running stitch (aka Holbein Stitch, or Punto Scritto). But not entirely. The skeletons and the pomegranates are their own units, large enough for burying the ends invisibly on the reverse. Not so the snail – he’s rather small and would be difficult to stitch on his own, with invisible starts/endings. There is also the problem of tiny isolated elements. The eyes are the most obvious example, but the plume border has that little skew two-box spot at the base of each plume, plus a floating square in one of the lobes of the plume.
If I were to set this up for totally two-sided work, I would run a single unifying baseline across the entire bottom of the piece, and adding a stitch to tie the ribbons held by the skeletons to the side curlicue of the pomegranate. I’d also add a brow line to the skeletons, and anchor down the floating spots in the plume flowers. The red stitches below show the general idea:
With the red additions, all floating elements have been locked into the main trace. There are no islands left, large or small. The bois can now be done entirely double sided. And if contemplating another design with isolated bits, similar additions will render it likewise. (The astute will note that this doesn’t contain the snails in the as-stitched piece – I improvised them on the fly, and never bothered adding them to my quick and dirty project chart.)
Why didn’t I do this in the first place? It didn’t occur to me, and I like the rather puzzled look of the browless, wide-eyed bois.
Where can I find the pattern?
Look here for the broadside that contains the dancing skeletons and plume border, plus the reason why I don’t think they are morbid or creepy. And if you want to see all previous posts on this project, here’s the link.
One observant reader noted the skeletons and pomegranates and suggested a Cerberus (three headed hell hound) as the logical thematic accompaniment. Not a bad idea, and more grist for my imagination mill. Thanks!
Questions, comments, derision, criticism, suggestions? Send them in either in the comments here, or to the contact address alluded to in the About tab, above.
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”.
Thanks, all for the kind reaction to the last post in this omnibus series. Thus emboldened, I blather on.
The New Carolingian Modelbook came out in 1995. As mentioned before, it started as my working notebook collections of designs redacted from book photos, microfilms of early modelbooks, and sketches of artifacts, then grew from there. Although it was well received, I didn’t get much recompense for my 13 years of work – the publisher only paid royalties on the first 250 books out of 2,000, and ran off with the rest. But I didn’t stop collecting patterns. As originals and artifact photos became increasingly accessible, I kept at it, trying to transcribe designs, norm repeats (artifacts rarely are stitch perfect, and often need to be averaged out – blending all variants and mistakes into one representation), and most of all – collect specific citations and links. This material is the core of my ever-forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook. And along the way, starting around 2010, I couldn’t resist trying out what I had found.
We left off last in the 1990s at the start of my blogging career, so my projects are a bit better documented. As before, I zigzagged between knitting, crochet. I tended to knit more around the time my two spawn were born, and for a while thereafter, and then return to stitching when they were around kindergarten age. For most of the early 2000s I was consumed by knitting and with running the wiseNeedle website with its collection of crowd-sourced yarn reviews. But eventually I began stitching again.
Elder Daughter went off to college in 2009, equipped with this bit of parental nagging. It is about 14.5 x 18 inches, worked on 30 count linen in Danish Flower Thread. Note the debut of the little skull and bones hiding amid the flowers from my Buttery interlace. The graph for the center phoenix is also here.
Lessons Learned: Around the time this was done with the help of Elder Daughter and others, I had figured out a new software solution for linear graphing because the method used for the phoenix wasn’t suitable for publication, and the hardware/software used for my previous work was now obsolete/unavailable. I started consolidating my doodles from various notebooks, backs of envelopes, and marginalia to better learn the methods and quirks of my GIMP-based custom drafting solution. Those experimental notes are what became Ensamplario Atlantio, and all graphs/charts I’ve done since have used the GIMP drafting method.
Fresh off the last piece I still had the itch to stitch. I did this part in homage to the Hitchikers’ Guide, part as appropriate decor for my office workspace (by trade I’m a proposal manager in high tech – deadlines and panic are my stock in trade). And possibly part because as parent of a new college student let loose on the world, I needed reassurance. It’s about 8 inches across, and was done in DMC cotton floss on 32 count cotton/linen blend. The bead border chart has been up on String for a long time, but I’ve also recently released a free full-graph pattern for this piece. Enjoy!
Lessons Learned: I was still experimenting with graphing out the lettered part ahead of time. Previously I had just guessed. This was also the first piece with a border I started in the corners rather than at the center, so that any “fudging” could happen in the center. While the north south bits of the frame worked out evenly, you can see the improvised bar in the center I inserted when it became clear that my bead repeat would not fit. And I bet you would never have noticed it if I hadn’t pointed it out.
Continuing the SF theme into 2010, I did this piece, featuring a quotation from noted author Arthur C. Clarke. It’s the first one to have designs from The Second Carolingian Modelbook (T2CM) on it, along with patterns from my earlier books. The new bits include all the full width designs between “ADVANCED” and the adaptation of Bostocke’s strawberries at the bottom. The narrow bands left and right of the wreath and column are a mix of older and newer designs. This one also hangs in my workspace now, to the confusion of my (mostly non-SF loving) coworkers.
Lessons Learned: I had a lot of fun with this one. I played with multiple thicknesses of thread and density of design, along with the two colors, and enjoyed balancing the effects that could be achieved with that limited group of variables. The strips are a mix of one and two strands of standard DMC floss. The solid ground voided strips are all in LACS, as is the foreground stitched daSera repeat from TNCM at the very top. I was particularly pleased with the hops panel shown in the detail. The design was done in two strands, but the (non historical) ground behind it – the diagonals worked mirrored – was done in single strand.
By 2012 I was full throttle on pulling together a sequel to TNCM. Drafting and writing for The Second Carolingian Modelbook (T2CM) was off and running. And of course I had to playtest the designs as I went along. Most of these (with three exceptions I worked from Lipperheide) are in the sequel. The big black sampler is done in silk on 36 count linen. The stitching area is about 24 inches across. Understandably it took me about 13 months to finish, and will be on the cover of T2CM. It was an eventful year, that included Younger Spawn’s appendix adventure, and the demise of my all-volunteer wiseNeedle independent website, out-competed by Ravelry and other paid-advertiser info sources.
No new stitches to speak of in this one but I did use long armed cross stitch on the panel at the very bottom, the oak leaf and acorn bit, and in the spot fillings for the “beads” in the wide meander just below the lion/dragon beastie. The texture it produces when massed has a very plaited appearance compared to plain old cross stitch.
Lessons Learned: Composition and balance work better if you impose a tiny bit of order on the chaos. I basted in several guidelines, dividing my total piece up into several zones. Although I picked them on the fly with no real advance planning, worked my individual panels and strips inside those zones, making sure to ground the piece at the top, bottom, left and right with darker, denser designs.
2012 marked the start of Big Green, done in silk on 50 count linen. Unlike the ones above, he is still unfinished. The designs on this one are entirely from T2CM. I WILL go back and finish this piece, but other things have gotten in the way. I took it with us for our sojurn in India, but between the heat and lack of a good spot to sit and stitch, I never got much further on it. Also the meshy technique is amazingly time consuming. One two-hour evening will produce a patch about the size of a quarter. One thing to note about the meshy stitch – I now know why it has survived on so many pieces even when the surrounding linen is long gone. It’s amazingly dense, near indestructible, and I can say truthfully – impossible to pick out. By contrast surface voided work is fragile, catching and degrading with abrasion, washing and wear.
Lessons Learned: I have been using this piece to experiment with stitching techniques. The interlace (first detail) uses Montenegrin Stitch. The straight runs were pretty easy, but without the most excellent Autopsy of the Montenegrin Stitch by Amy Mitten, the bendy bits would have driven me insane to figure out. And the big voided repeat where I stalled out (a stitching family I’ve nicknamed “The Lettuce Repeat”) is done in the tightly pulled meshy technique so common among voided artifacts. I had first tried out a different pulled thread technique for the topmost design, but the effect was nowhere near that of the historical pieces. But at maximum tension Italian Four Sided Stitch, based on the technique in Christie’s Samplers and Stitches (1920) was spot on. But it has to be done in silk because cotton isn’t strong enough to stand up to the force required to achieve the solid mesh. (My previous reference to the stitch was based on another edition of Christie’s work, now no longer accessible on line). And it’s (relatively) easy to hide ends while working it – burying them in spots that will be totally overworked later.
That 2013/2014 stay in India necessitated a scouting run to find housing and schools in May of 2012. I needed something small and portable to do on that trip, so the first two book covers were born. I worked these from T2CM patterns on 30 count linen/cotton blend, using DMC floss. They were small Moleskine-look-alikes, and were donated to the SCA East Kingdom’s largess program, to be given as small gifts by the seated royalty. Although I put notes in each one hoping that the recipients would get in touch, I have no idea where these ended up. Still, they were quick stitch pieces and fun.
Lessons Learned: While I have always known that stitching is a wonderful icebreaker, especially during International travel, at this point I had no idea that Kasuthi existed. It’s a traditional Indian stitching style and very close cousin to Blackwork’s precursors. A lady in Mumbai airport remarked on the black and red book and asked where I had learned to do it. That sparked yet another flurry of research.
Most of my production in India was knitted, largely lacy pieces. I did a couple of test knits of pieces designed by the generous and well-followed MMario, now of blessed memory, and a couple of other bits of my own design. I had many knitpals in Pune, whom I had “met” via Ravelry prior to our arrival. That kept me more or less in that craft, but I did do some small excursions into stitching. One was the red Ganesh cloth, above. I stitched it in 2013 as a new-house gift for the parents of our driver, Rupesh. I do hope it has brought the family the intended luck. This one is pretty well documented here on String, including the source of the outlines and Ensamplario Atlantio fill numbers for all of the motifs I used. It’s done on a not-so-even weave 32 count cotton/linen blend, in DMC floss.
Lessons Learned: The Italian hem stitching I used to finish off the cloth neatly actually took more time to do than Lord Ganesh himself. But I liked it, and filed that family of stitching away for future reference. Someday.
In 2013 I tried my hand at Kasuthi. This little motif is a traditional one, and is worked entirely in double sided double running stitch. It’s on a relatively coarse 28 count cotton, also in DMC floss. My main reference for Kasuthi was Karnataki Kashida by Anita Chawadapurkar and Menaka Prakashan. It’s in Marathi, but friends helped out by reading bits to me in translation. Here’s a post I did on the style.
Lessons Learned: I had originally intended on making a set of napkins, but when I washed this piece, the oh so carefully ended off threads, so well buried and invisible here, did fluff up a bit. So I scotched that idea.
Also in India, just before we left in 2014, I started this piece, with the intent to make a pouch for my stitching tools. The cloth is a standard linen dish towel, bought at a local supermarket. The thread is also linen. It remains unfinished.
Lessons Learned: While this ground started out as a very stitch-able 32 count more or less even weave, tossing it in the washing machine shrank it in unexpected ways. The threads in one direction ended up being about 30 across. Those in the other direction ended up something closer to 42, so the dimensions of the thing deformed. But undaunted I tried to stitch anyway, working over 2×3 threads. But the smaller threads were very hard to see, and the linen thread frayed beyond belief (this was before I learned to use beeswax). It sits in my Chest of Stitching Horrors(tm), never to be completed.
This takes me up to around the time we returned from India, in 2014. And I’m not done yet. If interest has continued, I will do one more of these, to finish out up to the most current things on my frames.
Lately I’ve been seeing discussion of linen, and whether or not it has to be even weave, sold specifically for counted thread work to be suitable for blackwork, cross stitch or other forms of grid-aligned stitchery. I maintain that while that does make things easier, and guarantees a certain precision look, it may not always be needed. Here’s a sample of a not-quite even weave being used for double running stitch.
First thanks to My Stealth Apprentice for the lovely linen remnant I’m using.
While it looks pretty uniform, it’s not. Up close you can see that the thread count is not even in both directions. Also you can see the combo of thin and thick threads that I admit can make stitching a challenge. But you can also see that both circumstances don’t quite matter as much as one might think.
My own counts, estimated by trying to take measurements between two pins placed an inch apart have been off up until now. But totally by accident, I’ve hit on a better way to calculate thread count, and it happened by using a standard US penny as a reference point to show relative scale.
The penny is three quarters of an inch across by specification. By taking a zoom-in photo, then counting the threads it obscures, we get a vertical thread count of about 33 threads in 3/4″ (counting the threads “tall”), and a horizontal count of about 25 threads in 3/4″ (counting the threads “wide”). A bit of math – multiplying both values by 1.33 – and that works out to a thread count of about 43.9 x 33.25 threads per inch. Not even weave in the least. But I can still work a (slightly squashed) rendition of the design on it. It’s distorted, but in a way that would not be apparent if this was to be done entirely as a strip. [Thanks to Dana for fixing my bad math.]
However, I AM working this design as a frame around my central motif, complete with corners, so the skeleton dance will appear rotated to fit all four sides. Just as this bit is slightly squashed north-south, when I get to the side 90-degrees from this, the design will be squashed east-west – making my bony bois and pomegranates taller and thinner than they will appear here.
Optimal? Maybe some folks would object. But I am betting that it will still look good.
Oh, and add a penny (or any other coin or flat object with fixed and known dimensions) to your stitching gadget box, along with your phone’s camera. It’s much easier than those pins…
I’ve been working away on my admittedly odd fandom sampler, and have finished the motto.
US penny provided for scale.
With more precise counting, the ground cloth is approximately 46-48 threads per inch but isn’t exactly even weave, so the piece is roughly 23 x 24 stitches per inch, with small variations for slubs or skinny threads. But that’s ok.
As for what this rather curious saying in the equally curious and difficult to decipher font says, it’s “Lucus orthai ta.” It’s a saying in an alien language that figures in The Resident Male’s forthcoming book. It translates to “Life’ll kill ya,” and so was fitting to be something ringed round with the skeletons from my Dance pattern page.
Having finished with the plain old cross stitch part, now comes the fun stuff. In an unusual move for me, I’ve graphed out an adaptation of the Dance strip and corner, specific for this piece. I usually don’t bother, but in this case I wanted to be sure that everything was centered. You can see just above the “LUC” I’ve begun a course of the innermost edge of the wide border. It’s mirrored at the center point, over the C. I did this so that my corners would meet up perfectly. Now of course as I go on we’ll see how well I have been ensnared by hubris. But for now, I can hope. Also consult my pattern graph.
Oh. And for the strip across the top, the skeletons will be upside down. You have been warned.
Questions about materials or technique? Comments on the futility of producing a tribute to an as-yet unpublished book? Desire to read the first book in the series? Post your queries here and I’ll try to answer.
UPDATE: The Dance is now available as an easy PDF download via the Embroidery Patterns tab, above.
More free patterns. My stress abatement in this time is to doodle and design in addition to working on my own stitching and knitting. The designs below will eventually be part of a future work, but for now, I am sharing it as a broadside, so others whose stress abatement is stitching have ample food.
But before I present the pattern, some discussion. The main strip in this broadside mini-collection started out as a special request for a Danse Macabre design. I did it up, with some personally significant secondary motifs also requested, and delighted the recipient. But I wanted to play with it a bit more. I’ve changed it up somewhat, removed or changed the personal bits, and added a corner and secondary framing strips. And then having a partially empty page and an abhorrence of wasted space I just kept going, adding an unrelated border pair featuring swords and dart-like shapes, and as a lagniappe, a lemon meander. All are of my own design. The inspiration for the main strip will be evident in a moment.
Back to the Danse Macabre – that’s an allegory image from the 1400s and early 1500s. It’s something that appears in both religious and secular works, and is usually interpreted as a strong caution that no matter one’s station in life, wealth, or age – life is fragile, and all should be mindful of both mortality and the transitory nature of human vanity and pleasures.
But I have to say that I reject that morbid and moribund classical framing.
Instead, and in the current context, I look around. I hear about neighbors doing what they can to help each other. I read about people with talents – musicians, actors, artists of all levels of fame and proficiency – sharing what they can of themselves to enhearten, inspire, and entertain a frightened world. I witness the bravery of front line first responders and medical personnel, and the selflessness of many people in vital industries. I see many more small acts of kindness than I do malevolent and spiteful actions (although those latter ones do affect far more people proportionally per incident).
Now I see those dancing skeletons differently. They dance in defiance of mortality. They celebrate life in the face of danger and death. Living for others, to protect the lives of others, is the ultimate act of rebellion against an implacable enemy.
So, for all reading this, don’t break discipline. Keep away from others as much as possible. Heed the calls to do your part for community health. And if you are so inclined, feel free to stitch my Dance, with the joy with which I present it.
I make this file freely available for YOUR OWN PERSONAL, NON-COMMERCIAL USE. (NOTE: CHART IMAGE UPDATED ON 22 APRIL 2020)
As with my other offerings of late, this is “good-deed-ware.” Pay this gift forward by helping out someone else in need; phoning or getting in touch with a family member, friend or neighbor who could use a cheerful contact; volunteering time or effort; or if you can afford it – donating to one of the many local relief charities or food banks that are helping those displaced from work.
Finally, some notes on the patterns. In true historical style, the lesser framing borders have absolutely NO count relationship to their larger main motifs. This means that a square or rectangle of the Dance, which will meet up neatly at the corners provided full iterations of the repeat are used, will NOT be neatly framed by the plume flower or inner band, with the corner of the plume band guaranteed to present as shown. The same thing goes for the swords and companion darts. THEREFORE, I strongly suggest working the main band first to establish the width of your project. Then starting the companion border from the corners, and working it towards the center MIRRORING the corners and the direction of the plumes (or darts). When you get to the center of the work, fudge it.
The easiest way to fudge is to stop with the last full presentation of the plume or dart, symmetrically on the left and right of the center, then place a box in the “leftover” area around the center line. You can fill that box with your signature or a date. Or you can design a little supplemental motif to fill that space. And if all else fails, write to me or comment below with your problem area’s count, and I’ll see if I can help.
Stay safe and stay busy. And above all stay well!