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 JPG file freely available for YOUR OWN PERSONAL, NON-COMMERCIAL USE. Right click on it and save it to your computer, tablet, iPad or phone.
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!
A couple of days ago I posted the design for my “Don’t Panic” piece, which has become shockingly relevant.
Friend Edith points out that harsh times call for harsh language, and that while some people might be soothed by a gentle statement, more strident expression suits many others.
Therefore for Friend Edith, and in the spirit of Dame Judy Dench, who is famed for stitching up provocative statements, I make this chart freely available for YOUR OWN PERSONAL, NON-COMMERCIAL USE.
Consider it as “good-deed-ware.” It’s tough out there right now. 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 right now.
Right-click on the image above to save it as a JPG.
This piece is intended to be done in cross stitch (the lettering), and double-running or back stitch (the frame). While it’s shown in black and red, use one color if you like, or substitute in as many other colors as you wish.
The source for the lettering is yet another of the offerings in Ramzi’s Patternmakercharts.blogspot.com collection. The border is from my recently released Ensamplario Atlantio II, a free collection of linear designs – mostly blackwork fills and borders.
Thank you Edith! Your inspiration and request will brighten the hearts of many, while rendering their walls cheekily NSFW.
(And there goes my PG blog rating, and any remaining shreds of reputation for gentility. But it’s worth it if someone smiles.)
OK. Here I am, showing off my overconfidence in front of everyone. I admit it – I’m not perfect,. Often my enthusiasm gets in the way of prudence, and I forget things like double checking all measurements.
And so this happened
Here you see the “knot” I designed as the cheat at the center of the mirrored top and bottom border. It’s just fine – plump and happy. But wait! See that three stitch (6-thread) gap between it and the green border edge line coming in from the right? That shouldn’t be there! The spot the orange arrow indicates SHOULD be the center of that knot, to align with the center axis I’ve designated for this second side of my book cover.
Panic ensues. I go back and look at the entire border bit, from this center back to the right edge…
Nope. I didn’t miscount. The repeat is true. Why then am I off. (A deeper sense of panic sets in.)
I measure the leafy side of the book cover. It’s true to my original planned dimensions. Hmmm…. Can it be?
It looks like I made a major mistake in my layout that I did not notice when I worked the previous side. I inadvertently added the width of the spine to the width of the first side I stitched, over and above the spine width that’s already there and marked. I have nade a first side that’s marginally too big – about six stitches too big, and a second side with a main field that is no longer centered.
What to do?
I’ve got several choices
- Bury the thing in my Chest of Stitching Horrors(tm) and abandon it forever. Nope. Not going to happen. For one, there are witnesses (you); also a major promise of delivery.
- Do #1, but begin again. Not going to happen, either. I’ve gotten to far along to set this much effort aside.
- Pick out the entire first side and redo – or pick out the entire second side and redo. Tempting (especially the latter) but also not a favored option. While the mistake is real and is six stitches per side, I don’t think it warrants total destruction.
- Figure out a way to use as much as possible of the stitching done to date, and adapt. Being a bungie-jump stitcher, this is not the first time that things have gone seriously awry. Adapt. Reuse. Redirect. That’s my way. That’s what I will do.
Taking a moment to let the panic subside (as it usually does once I’ve figured out where the original mistake happened), I look at my options.
First, I point out that while being off six stitches on the front and six on the back sounds like a lot, at the thread count I’m using it’s only 3/16 of an inch per side, at most the book cover will be a teeny bit deep compared to the substrate notebook, but not enough to matter. Second, there is a blank area set aside for the spine – it’s six stitches wide. I can cannibalize it to compensate for half of the overage.
OK. Things are looking more manageable. Because the center of the second side is an eccentric repeat, in spite of my effort to balance it left/right, a skew presentation will not be all that noticeable, not compared to the same error on a totally symmetrical design like the flower-side. I can leave the double sprig and diamond ground section as-is.
For the border, I can leave in what I have, including the tell-tale center knot, and work the left side of the knot to mirror what I’ve already done on the right. If I do that by the time I get to the leftmost edge of this second cover I will be six stitches off count – eating up those six stitches I had set aside for the spine. The front and back covers should meet up along the single green line that marks the rightmost edge of the flower-patterned side above.
I hope. It should work. In theory. (The suspense is palpable.)
Folk who play around poking into historical styles of counted work often note far flung similarities and make wild conjectures about cross-pollination, imported influences, and neighbors-in-commerce catering to each other’s markets. I’m no different. But I try to contain myself. Still sometimes things present at just too convenient a time or place to NOT raise eyebrows, and make one wish one had the time for real academic research.
Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum houses several artifacts that make my heart flutter.
Where did the style of inhabited blackwork come from? By inhabited blackwork, I mean the style characterized by heavy outlines and geometric fills (ok, sometimes they are freehand, and are not always counted). My old coronation dress underskirt is a classic example.
The style hit big time in Tudor England, cloaked in vague associations with Moorish styles imported from the Iberian regions. There were certainly monochrome or limited palette pieces done before then, scrolling leaves/flowers worked with outlines, and certainly things done on the count. But all of those elements together? And where are “ancestral pieces” in Spain? What can we point to as a seed of the style?
Apparently there isn’t much. Some folkloric associations with Queen Catherine of Aragon, and “general knowledge” but not a lot of actual items that are clear ancestors of the Great Tudor Blackwork Explosion.
That’s where the Ashmolean’s Newberry Collection of Islamic Artifacts comes in. Dating is not very precise, and the provenance is Fustat, Egypt, where many fragments were found, preserved by the dry climate and fortuitous funerary customs. There are lots of bits there that look like the precursors of double running strapwork – bands of repeats done stepwise, that look a like the famous Meyer bands in the Holbein painting.
But there are also these.
Ashmolean Jameel Centre Newberry Collection, “Textile Fragment with leaves and squares”. Egypt, Fustat. 10th to 15th century. 6 x 47cm (warp x weft approx 18 x 19 thread count/cm) Accession EA1993.222
Ashmolean Jameel Centre Newberry Collection, “Textile Fragment with scrolling vine leaves, flowers, and leaves”. Egypt, Fustat. 10th to 15th century. 6 x 47cm (warp x weft approx 18 x 19 thread count/cm) Accession EA1993.223
These are not Spanish, but they are from a part of the greater Islamic world. They are not monochrome. Being rather broadly dated they only vaguely inch up to the period of inhabited blackwork’s rise to popularity (The 1400s are not the 1500s).
BUT. What we do see here are scrolling leaf and flower forms, with prominent outlines, and simple geometric/abstract fills, with a strong stylized (as opposed to representational) iconic feel. They would have been thought to have vague Moorish associations at the time blackwork arose.
Did works of this type make their way across the entire length of the Mediterranean to Spain, and by extension – to England, to influence the style we know so well? Trading and travel were robust, so it’s not an impossibility. Remember, we have no way to know for sure.
You have to admit though, it’s a juicy bit of speculation…
Questions about my current project are popping in. I’ll try to answer the ones so far. Feel free to send more.
First, a progress shot:
As you can see, I’ve established the border on the second long side of the piece. I still have not decided on whether or not there will be wide borders along the short sides. That decision probably won’t occur until I have to advance the piece on the rollers of my roller frame. Right now the ground cloth’s center is (more or less) at the center of the exposed working area.
On to the questions.
How do you get the design onto the fabric?
I don’t. This is a counted style. I have a paper pattern that shows my repeat, graphed up into a grid. I look at that, then replicate the design on my cloth, using each group of 2×2 threads as my graph grid. It’s just a matter of looking left, seeing “Five stitches in line straight, then one diagonal to the left, then three straight left,” and stitching it.
As I work I constantly check back and forth to make sure that the newly stitched pieces are on target – true to the count of the design. To do that I tend not to work out on a long lead. I try to work adjacent areas so I can check them against each other as I go. For example on this design, I’ll confirm that the ed
My teacher told me that I always need to baste in an even grid before I start a large charted project. Why haven’t you done that?
Because I don’t need to. I do have basted lines that indicate the edges and center point of the area I will be stitching, but I tease them out and clip them as I go along to keep them out of my way. I’ve never used a fully gridded ground with guidelines basted in every ten or twenty stitches apart. I’m comfortable working that way, although I know that others need more alignment aids than I do.
Will you be making this available as a chart or kit?
Not as such. This leafy design will be included in my (ever) forthcoming book, The Second Carolingian Modelbook. (News of that book’s publication will be here on String first). But I won’t be issuing a project chart or kit for this piece.
What thread are you using?
I’m using the vintage “art silk” floss I bought in India. I wish it were real silk, but we do with what we have. One nice thing about it – it’s very fine, and presents much like finger spun if stitched closely.
For the green double-running stitch, I am using two strands of this floss, heavily waxed. For the satin stitch, I am using three strands, unwaxed. The stuff is a bit unruly, and keeping the satin stitch even and smooth is much harder than establishing the design in double running.
What’s the count of your ground?
It’s an 40-count evenweave 100% linen, stash aged. I’m not sure where/when I got it, but I dug it out from the bottom of the pile, so it wasn’t a recent purchase. I’m working over 2×2 threads, so that works out to about 20 stitches per inch. But I think there’s a minute variance in count north-south vs. east-west, so it’s probably more like 20 spi x 19.5 spi.
What will this be when you are done?
A monument to the time it took to stitch.
Seriously, while I had originally thought it would make a nifty pillow for our sofa, complementing the room’s colors and being a different finishing treatment from yet-another-wall-hanging. However, I’ve decided against that. The art silk in satin stitch is too friable, prone to snags and catches. The thought of throwing myself on the sofa and having the rivets of my jeans play havoc with those shiny, smooth bits is a harsh reality check. This will probably end up on my walls, like so many of my other pieces.
I continue on the Italian Renaissance leafy multicolor piece.
The skewed weave you may see is an artifact of image compression, and is not indicative of the appearance of the ground cloth.
Originally I had thought to do yet another sampler cloth, with lots of designs grouped rather willy-nilly, but I have changed my mind. The look of this particular ground is so striking that I want to do a larger example of it. I also have a companion edging for this all-over that I’m itching to apply. Right now I’m leaning towards a large rectangular piece, surrounded by that edging, possibly using some surface work in gold thread for added bling. I’m not sure what the finish will be, but I am considering making this into a pillow, which is one of the possible original uses for a design of this type.
Along the way I am re-learning the delights of Satin Stitch. It never was one of my faves, but the play of light using the faux silk thread can’t be beat. The deep green I’m using for the counted outlines in double running is waxed, but the satin stitch in-fillings are not in order to maximize sheen. And no – I’m not going to stitch every area in every leaf. I’m going to leave the piece partially filled in as it is above. That’s more or less along the lines of the original, but possibly leaving a bit more unfilled. The decision on working the red on the other half of each large leaf is still being made. On one hand it would look interesting, but on the other hand, so much red would overpower the rest of the stitching. Opinions are solicited here.
I’ve also learned the hard way how NOT to handle the multicolor fill on the branch. Originally I had done it as multiple rows of one-unit tall satin stitch, vertically. That broke up the color too much, so I picked that out and re-did it wider, but with the color broken up by the little bits of cross hatching on the sides of the stem. I am not entirely pleased, in part due to clumsy execution of the first. Working that bit horizontally is right out, both for fidelity to the original reasons, and due to the breadth and spread of those areas. I may need to explore threading my satin stitches underneath some of the crosshatches. Or just learning to do them more neatly…
The current plan is to work up the rest of the area inside this hoop, and then transfer the piece to my big flat frame. The thought of hooping over all that satin stitch brings the visceral feel of fingernails on a chalk board.
I’m still doodling on the Stupid Cupid sampler, having fun with some of the larger strip designs that will be in The Second Carolingian Modelbook.
As usual, I’ve leapt off into the deep end with no particular plan. I know that some people hyperventilate unless they have drafted out every stitch of a piece or are working from a fully graphed kit, but I have more fun improvising as I go. I have learned to leave myself as many options as possible as I work, so that I don’t “paint myself into a corner.” I’ll try to explain…
The first thing I did was standard prep. I like to hand-hem all four sides of my ground cloth, cutting off any skew-to-weave edges before I hem. I also lay down minimal guidance lines. At the minimum I will use a light color/barely visible standard sewing thread to baste a line of demarcation across both the horizontal and vertical center lines of the piece. Sometimes I also add a perimeter line, measured from the cloth’s edge, to mark the edge of the area to be worked. I don’t count the threads I go over as a baste (the basting stitches are not uniform in length), but they do follow the weave exactly. This gives me a nice, stable piece to work on, with pre-defined center points and stitching boundaries.
I pick a thread color (or colors) that work well with my ground. If multiples, I try to pick colors from stash that are in quantities that would allow me to make my selection on the fly, rather than limiting what can be done to fit what’s on hand. Depending on the size of my piece, the fragility of the threads to be used and whim, I drag out either my flat scrolling frame or my sit-upon round frame. In this case, I picked the green DMC floss (#890) I had left over from my tablecloth, to coordinate with the natural light brown of my linen.
Design Selection and Placement
Then I begin thumbing through my design notebooks and collections. Sometimes as I prep my ground, an idea of what to do is already forming. If it does, I may add some additional guidance lines to help reserve areas for words, or to further subdivide the available area – but to date I have never laid down a grid over the entire piece, nor have I ever outlined specific counted-out areas in which to place particular strips/fills/motifs. Others may wish to do those things, but I don’t find it necessary.
Once I find my first pattern, I decide where on the cloth I want it to go (top, bottom, centered, offset from the center a bit), find that design’s calculated or motif-visual center, and start. I always begin at one of my center lines and work from there.
Here’s the current piece at this stage of work.
You can barely see the pale blue threads that mark my centers and my margins. That “tail” hanging off the bottom of the piece is part of one. They don’t live long. I never stitch over them. As I encroach upon my marking lines, I pick them out and snip the about-to-be-crossed bits out.
At the point above, I hadn’t decided on what to put north and south of this bit. I hadn’t even decided up and down because this design is north/south symmetrical. And I wasn’t thinking yet of any framing mechanism. But that didn’t last long.
As you can see in the bit above, I decided on a second strip, and decided to separate them with a narrow barred border, stolen from the stems of the first pattern. I began adding the bars north and south, but not knowing what was coming next, or in fact where the roly-poly cupid/cockatrice bar would end relative to the first strip, held off adding them to the left and right.
And here I found my first problem. I had aligned the center of the vase between the first cupid and the cockatrice with the center of the symmetrical strip, above. But I didn’t notice that the areas bearing the figure and the creature were not of equal width. Because the cupid’s alcove is wider than the cockatrice’s, the left and right ends of that strip did not end neatly aligned to the area already worked.
What to do?
Ignore it and keep going.
So I did. I added the third major strip, the cupid/lion/fleeing boxer/dolphin panel. It’s a VERY wide repeat, with no exact center, but I aligned the visual center of the featured cupid with the already established center line.
Again, the design repeats, but the counts are not exact, so worked my piece left and right to a “good stopping point.” As I did so, I noted that the bottom strip would probably be the widest, so I added the bars left and right to finish out the frame around that section.
I then continued the bar north from the surround of the bottom strip. And encountered the second challenge. How to deal with the empty area to the left of the center strip?
I thought about several possibilities including finding a one-word motto to stitch vertically; continuing with the center strip design to fill out the area; or making this bug into a design feature. I chose the lattermost.
At the bottom left of the photo below you can see it. I continued my outer bar north, but added a second one, that defined a narrow strip. Then I improvised a standard acorn meander. I didn’t even bother to draw it out. I just found my center point, replicated an acorn from the top strip, and stitch-doodled up the linkage.
Then I took a stand-back look and decided that I didn’t want to add more strips to this piece. But a deeper, coordinating yet frilly outer companion border would work. So I flipped through my to-be T2CM collection and picked one out. I started in the north/south center of the left edge and stitched it until I got to the corner, then rounded the corner and continued on, spacing the edge of the first plume on the top roughly equally far away from the exact corner point as the bulk of the foliage on the left.
This time to fill in the empty space between my top stitched band and the newly established border(s), I decided to eke out the existing design. That’s what I have on-the-needle in the photo above.
Purists will note that I am using Heresy Stitch for the baseline of my frilly plumed border, rather than sticking to strict double running. I’m going back and adding a narrow border, using Heresy I can move along faster with minimal re-setting of my hoop.
Challenges yet to come….
- How will the plume border butt up against the three corners to come? Will I be able to round them as gracefully as this one?
- Will I go back and engineer some sort of corner treatment for the point of the plume border after I get all four done? Will I be able to use the same one for all four?
- The center strip is short on the right-hand edge, too – but not as short as on the left. Will I have room to add another supplemental bar and narrow border there? Will I do something else?
- Where will I sign and date this thing?
Now these burning issues may not seem like the epitome of suspense in your world. But in mine, they are fraught with danger and excitement.
At long last. Framed and hung up in the bedroom.
Obviously I now have to paint the bedroom walls…
I’m quite happy with the way this turned out. The frame is simple enameled steel, in deep navy. I ended up going to Walden Framer in Lexington, MA. Mr. Ed Pioli, the owner and artisan in chief, did an excellent job at a reasonable price. I will be bringing my other as-yet unframed pieces there, too.
To answer more questions on the piece’s composition, mostly from other people outside the framing shop when I was there. No, neither of us is a follower of astrology, and it’s not a panel depicting anyone’s sign. It’s just two koi, in a traditional arrangement. And no – there isn’t a boy-koi, and a girl-koi (or any other manifestation of yin/yang) intended. It’s just two koi swimming in a circle. And no, that’s not real gold thread. It’s high quality imitation gold sold for Japanese embroidery. And no, I didn’t sew it on a machine, I did it by hand. Really and truly. (People are curious about the strangest things.)
What am I working on now? Well, the Great Tablecloth/Napkins project is done, but I still itch to stitch. So I’m just doodling. Filling up a small piece of linen, waiting for the Inspiration Fairy to chuck a brick through my mental window.
I’ve written about this design before. I think this time I’ll circle the center panel with other, narrower bands. Again, no set plan, I’ll just pick them as I go along, with no composition agenda in particular in mind. Eventually I’ll figure out what to stitch next.
It’s taken me a week or so to get this post up and out. In the mean time my doodle has grown, but still has no plan.
The lower design is a curious one. Although it’s a clear repeat with the rather bulbous naked cherub alternating with the cockatrice, there is little symmetrical inside the repeat. Close attention has to be paid to this one because even the internal framing mechanism (the bar and beads below the feet of each) has a different counts in each of its two instances, and the usual urn or leafy unit between the creatures also exists in two incarnations. It’s a curious one, for sure, but fun, and is keeping me on my toes.
Both of these designs will be in T2CM, which is moving again towards release. No date yet, but watch this space.
Within a general miasma of the-project-is-over-what’s-next blues I present the tablecloth and napkins set:
Yes, I will iron the thing before I set a formal table with it, but there’s no point in doing it right now.
I left the areas close to the place settings bare so that in the absolute eventual occurrence of gravy spills, it will be easier to treat the stains.
Special thanks to Elder Daughter for these shots. She’s much better at general camera, even cellphone camera than I am.
I feel the need to keep stitching. If I can find my stash of green silk I may go back to my Long Green Sampler. But I put it away in a Safe Place; that classic Safe Place that is now out of memory. While I keep hunting for it I might do a quickie, improvised project, then turn it into something useful, like a carry bag or zippered pouches. So many patterns to try out, and so little wall space at this point.
Now in summary and project post-mortem.
I started by buying a plain pre-finished cloth and separate set of napkins from Wayfair.com. I wanted a “rustic linen look” and intended to use them as-is. But when they arrived I noted that the thread counts on both were close enough to even weave to be usefully stitched, slubs and all. I used a mix of threads – a red Sajou embroidery floss #2409, and DMC 890 green floss for the napkins; and (having run out of my souvenir Sajou) DMC 815 on the tablecloth. For the various flosses, I used three plies of both kinds, even though the Sajou was marginally thinner than the DMC.
I started with the napkins, doing one at a time, half red and half green, for no other reason than I thought it would be fun:
The designs are primarily from my ever-forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook. After the napkins were done, I wanted to make a coordinating cloth, similarly mismatched in the same two colors.
I started with the center panel design which I graphed up, also for T2CM, from an artifact in the collection of the University of Rhode Island. While it is voided here in the photo provided to me by Christine Lee Callaghan (SCA – Lady Cristina Volpina), I chose to work it outline-only for this piece.
Riffing on the motifs in the historical artifact, I designed a companion edging and end-triangles to complement. Those designs aren’t in T2CM, but as soon as it is released, I will post them here.
All in all, I am quite pleased with the result. Now to figure out what to stitch next, because I find stitching more relaxing than knitting, and the need to stitch is still upon me.
I have finished the center panel of my mismatched-napkin-accompanying tablecloth.
And on the table with the doodle napkins:
Now comes the hard part. I want to add some red to the cloth, to coordinate better with the napkins. I don’t want to stitch on the pre-hemmed “skirt” part of the cloth that hangs down from the table. Not only is the fake Italian hem quite deep and double thickness, but also I want the embellishments to show on the table top, and not be obscured by place settings. There are a couple of possibilities here.
- Subsidiary motifs “north and south” of the main panel:
2. Subsidiary motifs in the corners:
3. Another border, concentric to the main panel:
Not sure yet, but itching to design it and stitch it up, whatever it might be.
Why stick to original thoughts? This is what I’ve settled on for now. At least until I get enough done to let me see whether I like it or not.