Back from the drawing board. I plan to try this version out tonight. (Quick and dirty plot, not neatened up for general consumption).
You can see how it is wider, more open, and looser than the last version, below
Both are original compositions, incorporating and adapting motif bits from the main design, but they have very different movement and feeling.
My fellow bungee-jump stitchers, note that I also decided that aside from centering the companion border’s repeat on the midpoint of the established work, I am totally unconcerned with how the longitudinal counts of the two interact. This border will not end “neatly” at a corner. I will have to improvise something on the fly when I get there, so Off-the-Cuff Design Fun hasn’t officially ended yet.
I can sense the rising collective gasps of horror from the mass of people who prefer the entire project to be complete and neatly charted prior to being worked on a basted, gridded ground. I understand you and respect your ways, but I enjoy the frisson of danger inherent in my method, and accept that picking out is always a a looming possibility.
And for those of you who want to know what I’m using to create these, here’s a link to my tutorial series for using the free drafting program GIMP to set up and work charted designs. I’m afraid that due to the vagaries of blogging software indexing, the lessons are in reverse order. Go all the way to the bottom of the page, and start with the entry,
Stay tuned for results of this experiment. At the worst, it’s picking out, and back to the drawing board. Again.
Its a keeper!
Now on to finish out the leftmost repeat, add the one on the right, and add the now-established edging. Also to noodle out how to treat the corners… Adventures in needlework, for sure!
On to the tablecloth!
Here’s one full repeat of the pattern I am using for the main lozenge in the center. It’s one of the largest I’ve found. Not the longest – several of the narrower strips beat it there, but certainly with length and width taken together the one with the largest area north/south plus east/west.
I am in the process of adding another panel of the main design (the section between the “ice cream cones”) left and right of what you see here. Possibly two. We’ll see how I feel about proportions after I’ve finished the initial center set.
And I decided to draft my own companion border for this panel, after looking through and discarding others in my collections. While coordinating borders are less common compared to ones that have absolutely no relation to the design elements in the main panel accompanied, they do exist. Here’s an example (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 79.1.14):
I doodled up a couple of possibilities. One didn’t make it off the drawing board. The second I was more pleased with, and began trying it out:
But once it began to make the transition from paper to stitching, I decided I didn’t like the way it was turning out. It’s too tight, dark, and linear. Plus I don’t like the proportions against the main pattern.
So I will pick out this little bit of companion border, and go back to the drawing board. The goal is something lighter, looser, with more white space. And wider – probably twice the width of what I had doodled up before.
My doodle napkins. All eight complete.
Overall, I’m quite pleased. They were each individually fun and quick to stitch. I did not agonize over them (although there are no mistakes). Napkins are transient goods, destined for hard use, gravy stains, and wine spills. Therefore I did them “quick and dirty.” I used knots, rather than agonizing about ending off my double running stitch invisibly. I used launder-me DMC and Sajou cotton threads, not silk. And the napkins themselves after shrinking in the machine, sometimes through multiple washes, are all slightly different sizes, with almost a full inch of width/length difference between the smallest and the largest. Frankly, I don’t care – they will all serve their purpose quite well.
This shot is for Anne, who asked to see how I was wrapping the borders around the corners of the main motifs:
I’m not going back and adding a secondary border to the first one I did. Or at least today I’m not thinking about doing it. The others were exercises in educated fudging. I was thrilled that the border on the last one (lowest green one on the right) worked out perfectly, both horizontally and vertically, to make four neat and symmetrical corners. That was serendipity, not planning.
Now on to the tablecloth. This one is going to be a challenge. I’m using my sit-on hoop, with the bulk of the cloth gathered up and stuffed into a pillowcase that sits on my lap behind the hoop while I stitch. Not optimally comfortable, but necessary to keep the thing quasi-clean while I work. The cloth itself as a ground is not as easy to count or as forgiving as were the napkins. The threads are quite spindly and rather slubby, but I’m managing.
The design, like those on the napkins, is from my ever-forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook. This one in particular is a challenge. What you see here is less than an EIGHTH of the total repeat. This pattern is the largest all-over I have encountered. The artifact I charted it from (below) showed it in voided form, with the background filled by a heavily overstitched and meshy effect ground. I am only working the foreground in double running. Time is too short and tablecloth-hazard too likely for me to invest months in the very labor-intense original treatment of the background.
Special thanks to Christine Lee Callaghan (SCA – Lady Cristina Volpina), who unearthed the artifact from the collections of the University of Rhode Island, and provided spectacular photos of it to me, a byproduct of her own academic research. The image below is hers, appearing here by permission
It’s doldrums here at String Central. Younger Daughter is back to university. Others are back to work. I fill my time with nosing around for grant and proposal contract assignments, and my various projects.
First, my sanity project – the doodled decoration on the pre-finished napkins I bought on sale from Wayfair, using the cotton four-ply embroidery floss I picked up when we visited Sajou in Paris (stitching with three plies). I can show a modicum of progress. I’m just picking out random designs from my books and doing them rather informally, with a different design along a single edge of each of eight napkins. The first of my mismatched set is complete. The second in process.
The linen is soft and once washed, a bit mushy. That makes count work a bit more troublesome than it otherwise would be, especially on so coarse a ground. But it’s still rather quick work. The first napkin with the interlace took three evenings (about half shown). The in process photo shows only one evening’s worth of work.
On to knitting. I finished a pair of socks, packed up and sent to the recipient before I remembered to take a photo. They were my “briefcase project” – the thing I always have with me to work on while I wait on telephone hold, on line at the post office, or for appointments. Since I ALWAYS have a pair on the needles, the next pair is already cast on and sitting it its bag, itself waiting for me to be waiting. This pair however is special. Younger Daughter picked out this yarn with the proviso that I knit something for myself with it. I comply.
And my project of long suffering guilt. I promised these Octopus Mittens to my niece late last winter. It was inadvertently destroyed, then was re-started with new yarn, and is now sitting next to my project chair, chiding me that it is being neglected. I plead laziness, lack of inspiration, and frustration with stranding using two strands of DK, knit at sock yarn gauge for warmth.
I MUST finish these. I promised.
How do you flog yourself back into working on a sidelined project? All suggestions gratefully accepted.
Oh, And if you know of anyone looking for a project manager/writer/editor specializing in high tech grants and proposals – send them my way, please.
The stitching on my Two Fish piece is now complete. The only things left to do are to iron out the pleats from mounting on the stretcher bars, and having it framed.
And a close-up:
For those who wanted something to better illustrate the scale of the stitching, here’s a standard US penny on the work:
For the record, the recipient is so pleased with the thing that we’ve decided to keep it here in the house, rather than consigning it to the beach place. Eventually, after framing, it will end up in our bedroom.
I know there are people who want updates on the Two Fish project. Here’s progress as of last night:
Just two more count-filled areas to go – the cheek between the eye and the gills, and the far fin. The cheek fill will be relatively light, and the fin, much darker than the rest of the fish, but I haven’t picked out either one yet.
Most obviously – I couldn’t wait. Since I don’t plan to relocate the hoop before I end up taking it off altogether and moving to my flat frame, I decided to add the sequins.
As per my earlier random thoughts, I sewed down one 2mm flat gold pailette in the center of each interwoven O shape in the body fill. I attached them using one strand of well-waxed gold tone silk – three stitches per pailette. I’m very happy with the look, and only lost a few that refused to cooperate, skittering away under my chair. If I were to do this again, I’d probably make a muslin cover for a squishy rectangular sponge, and scatter the sequins on it, then use my needle tip to pierce the center hole and pick up each little circle as I needed it. Putting a bunch in a dish, then trying to fish them out one by one with large, clumsy fingers was not efficient.
For reference, the extra-tiny pailettes aren’t a big-box-crafts-store item. I found them on-line, from General Bead in San Francisco. Their 2mm stock is very limited – a vintage assortment of various sizes and colors, made in the 1980s.
I’ve also gotten a start on the heavier outlines. I’ll add the overstitched details to the fins and tail after that. For a while I thought I might render those details in ecru silk, to match the ground fabric color, but I decided that it would be jarring to do that for one fish but not the other. The pailettes are enough of a differentiator between the two. I’ll use blue for those lines, to match the fin/tail color of Fish #2.
Unusual Stitching Gadget/Tool Report
The other bit to report is a rather unorthodox method of remediating crocking – the unwanted transfer of color from the thread to the ground fabric (or the stitcher’s hands).
The deep blue floss silk I am using is an experimental item, an early try at hand-dyed indigo by my Stealth Apprentice. She shared a sample from her initial trial run with me, to see how it worked, and to get feedback to improve her product. But even though we determined that she needed to improve color-set on subsequent batches (which she has done, with excellent results), I am too frugal to let anything go to waste. So I began this project with the beta-test silk.
For the most part, I don’t mind a small amount of crocking on this project. I think it adds to the watery look of the fish. But there have been a couple of mistakes and false starts on my part, where I have had to pick out stitches done in indigo. Those corrections left substantial residue on the cloth. So… How to get rid of the deep blue smudges without harming the already-stitched work? It’s obvious that water-based solutions aren’t going to help. They’ll just float more dye off the threads.
So I hit on an improvised solution.
Yes, that’s Silly Putty. Thinking back, I remember spending lots of time pressing Silly Putty onto newspaper comics pages, to lift images that could be stretched in laughable ways. If it could attract and hold ink from newsprint, might it be able to lift the surface dusting of indigo color from my ground cloth? Maybe…
Looking over the specs for chemical composition and the on-line Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the components, it looked like the worst I’d be risking was potential deposit of oil. So I tried it on a scrap of fabric, and saw no oily residue.
I decided to go for it. Using the plastic eggshell underneath to support the fabric, I pressed the Silly Putty onto the smudged area, then quickly lifted it straight up (no scrubbing or “erasing” movements). The goal was not to let it linger on the cloth any longer than it needed to.
While this didn’t work perfectly, three or four quick blots did remove enough of the smudges to even out their tone with the rest of the surrounding area. The blotted area is the part of the back fin, the center of the back fin section closest to the tail.
Under magnification I can see no bits of Putty left in the cloth or in adjacent stitching, nor can I see any oily discoloration. Now that’s not to say that in 100 years (if this piece lasts that long) the blotted areas might not appear extra dirty or otherwise affected, but I won’t be around to do that bit of textile restoration, so for me at least, it’s a win.
Would I try the Silly Putty Solution again under similar circumstances? Probably.
Do I recommend it unconditionally? No. I caution that you carefully weigh possible risks prior to using it on a valuable piece of your own work.
Some progress on Fish #2, plus some more answers to questions that arrived after the last post.
I’ve started on the main body section, using yet another fill from Ensamplario Atlantio.
How do you know where to put the patterns?
I’m not sure whether you are asking how I know which pattern to pick, or how I place them in their designated spot, so I’ll answer both.
Remember, in the last post I answered that I pick fills on the fly, and that occasionally I pick the wrong one? Here’s an example – the first design I attempted for Fish #2’s main body section, shown just before it disappeared forever:
Yes I went back and teased out this bit that I stitched on Friday night, replacing it with the intertwined Os. I originally chose the discarded fill because I wanted something light, but I didn’t like the effect of this flat lattice as the finished bit grew. It was too static, and in a large area, would have been very boring. Plus, it would be difficult to achieve the visual offset that I used on the other side of the spine in Fish #1. So I went looking for a slightly larger yet not too dense replacement.
The intertwined Os work. But as I sat stitching over the weekend, I had an idea (warning – they are usually dangerous). Those centers of the Os? Think of how nifty they’d look and how blingy Fish #2 would be if each center was spotted with one tiny little 2mm gold spangle like this:
I’ve found some, but they come in a couple of different gold tones. I am waiting for my wave lines gold thread to arrive, then I’ll try to get as close to it as I can with the spangles. I won’t be working with that thread or the spangles until all of the blue and green bits are finished and the piece is safely mounted on my larger, flat frame. And that can’t happen until after the coming weekend because I have promised to lead a beginners’ blackwork class in Rhode Island, and I want to have my Big Green Sampler on display using my big scrolling frame.
How do I decide where in the spot to place a design? It depends. Most of the time I look at my shape and find the “meatiest” part. In a square that’s easy – it’s the exact center of the shape, but for oddly contoured areas, it’s not always the geographic center. Then I look at my chosen fill and find the bit of it I want to emphasize. I center the element of the design I want to emphasize at the “meaty” point, and work from there out to the edges of my chosen shape.
Here are a few examples:
In the first red sample, I’ve more or less centered the fill in the shape, starting with the little flower in the middle In the second, I placed the first acorn I stitched so that there would be one full, uninterrupted iteration of that motif, then completed around it according to the fill’s motif spacing. In the gears, knowing I couldn’t get an entire dragon in the shape, I tried to place at least most of one in the upper left first, knowing that the eye starts looking there. As a bonus, you can see that I tried to roughly center the circles-plus-flowers motif in the maroon gear to the dragon’s right. I started that shape’s fill with the twined edges of the interlace immediately above the gear’s center hole.
How do you get such crisp lines and corners?
First, the silk I am using is longer staple and less fuzzy than cotton floss. The red samples above are DMC cotton, and you can see the halo effect around each stitch. Second, I I also wax my threads rather aggressively – even silk. This compacts them and makes them more difficult to pierce. Since each stitch is so short on 40 count linen (20 stitches = 1 inch), loss of sheen and coverage from waxing is not a problem.
I’m using double-running, with occasional short hops in “heresy stitch” to avoid getting caught in a dead-end. Once I’m done the back of this piece will not be visible, so I am not taking pains to make it totally and completely two-sided. However, I do use double running logic for the most part, for better thread economy and to avoid possible show-through that results from long hops across the back.
As I’ve described before, I use a blunt-point needle to avoid piercing the threads of my ground cloth, and never take an over-two stitch: one unit on my chart = one stitch, at all times. While others do use a sharp to pierce the stitching thread, I find that I don’t like the look produced by piercing previous stitches: it’s often bumpy. I prefer the butted-end-to-end look I achieve with a blunt.
You know this isn’t historical blackwork, right?
Yes, I know that, and I never claimed that it was.
Blackwork is a portmanteau term that covers many, many substyles of high contrast work, often but not always done in monochrome. There are counted substyles and non-counted ones. Some are single color or limited color range works done strip-style, counted or uncounted. Some use abutting areas, each clearly outlined, and filled with various stitched treatments, occasionally but not always geometric, and not always done on the count. Some use stippling as shading either inside or outside of their motifs. Some of those rely on tonal variations to give the piece a three-dimensional feeling, and some don’t. And there’s a whole school of modern blackwork that dispenses with outlines altogether, and uses the tonal density of the patterns – sometimes sticking to a limited number of base designs with modifications, and some using a wider range of fills to achieve a range from light to dark. This last group draws inspiration from engravings and lithographs to make intricately shaded and modeled images.
What Fishies shares with historical styles are the use of heavy outlines, metallic accents, and geometric, counted fills. What it doesn’t share is subject matter – this is a Japanese-inspired, quasi-traditional composition. Also, the complexity of the fills I favor is not particularly well documented. Historical inhabited blackwork tends to simpler fills than the wildly detailed ones I often use. I do note that the body fill for Fish #1 WAS adapted from a historical source – from a sleeve shown in one of the late Elizabethan era men’s portraits, that – of course – I can’t lay hands on right now.
Happily I have no pressures to abide by covenants of historical accuracy for this work. I’m having fun. End of story.
Any other questions? Feel free to post them here as comments, and I’ll try to answer.
More progress has been made on my Two Fish blackwork piece.
I’ve gotten more questions about how I go about doing these. I’ll try to answer them here, rather than piecemeal by message. If you have additional questions, please feel free to post them in the comments. I’ll sweep up all that lands there, and then answer them in the next Fish post. First – today’s progress:
And the questions….
Where can I get this kit?
There is no kit, it’s an original composition of classic elements that I am designing on the fly. I won’t be publishing a chart for the final project, or releasing it as a kit.
The Resident Male had mentioned a two-fish embroidery a while back, so I started by looking at a few on-line images of swimming koi. Here’s a post about designing original projects drawn from various sources of inspiration.
Using the freeware GIMP graphics program, I adapted a couple, starting by tracing some, then merging them to blend parts together, simplifying details, changing proportions, increasing the spine curvature, and tweaking angles – until I had a fish I liked. Then I flip-mirrored it so that I had two fish circling each other. After that I added the “water lines” behind the pair – adapting them from the bit below (from a book of traditional Japanese wave and ripple designs – Ha Bun Shu, by Yusan Mori, circa 1919), also traced, augmented a bit and then enlarged.
Once I had the whole thing drawn out, I sized it up to be my desired dimension, using the GIMP resize feature, and printed it out on paper.
How did you prepare your cloth?
I selected a piece of 40-count linen, cut a square about 30% larger than my target design dimensions, hemmed all four edges, and basted guide lines to help me identify the center point. On this project I am picking out those guide lines as stitching encroaches on them. I’ve got no need to keep them intact because nothing depends on placement against them. For the record, I’m working my fills over 2×2 threads – 20 stitches per inch.
How did you get the drawing onto the cloth?
I used the poor-girl’s light table – a big window, and a bit of painters’ tape. I took my resized drawing and taped it to my dining room window, then centering the basted lines of my already-hemmed and center-identified fabric over the marked center of the on-paper design, I taped the ground cloth to the window on top of the paper pattern. This is the same method I used for my Ganesh project, although I had just Scotch Tape in India:
Then I traced the design onto the ground using a bunch of pencils I had to hand – some washable pencils intended for cloth marking, some not. I’ll probably regret not using Proper Pencils, but the urge to get going does not always wait until optimal supplies have been secured.
Did you graph out the whole design?
Nope. All I transferred to the cloth were the outlines. For inhabited blackwork (the substyle that uses outlines plus fills), I never graph out the whole project. Once the outlines are on the cloth, I work my fillings right into the spaces indicated, if needed, by looking at a sample of the design, either on another cloth or on paper.
At the time I did the tracing, I had absolutely no firm thoughts about colors, fill designs to use, thickness of outlines, or how to work the water lines. I knew I wanted to use a hand-dyed indigo silk, and possibly some couched metallic thread, but that was it.
Where are the fills from? How do you pick what fills to use?
In truth, I have no idea which fill I will use for any particular spot until I am ready to stitch it and make my selection. Most of the fills I’ll use on this piece are in Ensamplario Atlantio, my free eBook of blackwork geometrics, but I may draft up more or tweak existing ones as needed.
In this case I started with the largest area on the darker of the two fish. I wanted something vaguely reminiscent of scales, but with more interest. I thumbed through book and hit upon the knot design. For the other side of the fish, I used the same fill, but offset it, to imply movement (mating the design across the fin area would have made a flat, static composition). I wanted the tail to feel “swishy” so I chose a design with a prominent swirl. For the back fin, I chose one of the lightest fills, for contrast. The fin behind the fish uses a darker effect fill than the fin in front, again to add depth. And so on.
I try to scale the chosen fill to the size of the area where it will live. Big areas get the largest, most demonstrative fills. Small areas get smaller repeats. Sometimes though I’ll violate this, if a larger design has a smaller sub-element that will fit entirely in the current space – like picking one strawberry out of a larger repeat and using just that.
Do you ever pick a fill you regret later?
Sure. Sometimes a fill does not show to good advantage next to its neighbors. Then I pick it out and try again. But this doesn’t happen very often.
What about the outlines?
I almost always wait to embroider the outlines until all of the adjacent fills have been completed. This gives me a bit of time to be satisfied with the fills as worked, and lets me cover up the edges where fills meet. It’s MUCH easier to cover up than to work flush to a pre-stitched outline, especially when the fill may require a half-stitch at the edge for complete coverage.
The exception for this was my Forever Coif. Instead of drawing the design on my ground, I used cross stitch to lay down my outlines (based on a familiar design, charted in my New Carolingian Modelbook), and then in-filled the to-be-stitched areas with geometrics. Finally, I over-embroidered my cross stitch outlines to make them heavier and more prominent. The original cross stitching does not show:
On Two Fish, I am using mostly reverse chain stitch for the outlines. The thinner accent lines inside the fins and tail are split stitch. Differences in line thickness are achieved by using different numbers of floss strands.
Why not? This is an original, modern piece, done using styles and techniques inspired by historical stitching. There are no Embroidery Police waiting to ticket me because I am using multiple colors.
I started out intending to only use the indigo – a product dyed by a friend of mine. While I love the look, I decided I wanted to play with an additional vector of contrast, so I liberated some commercial Au Ver a Soie Soie D’Alger from my big green sampler project and began experimenting. I liked the additional depth it gave. I may do the other fish as a tonal “opposite” to this one – a traditional treatment of the two-circling-koi motif. If I do, I may swap placement of the colors as well as changing up the density of the fills, so that Fish #2 may have a less dense green body, but darker blue fins and tail.
And the wavy water lines?
Right now, I am still thinking couched metallics. I haven’t decided between gold or silver, or a mix of both. I have some nice silver passing thread brought back from my Paris trip, but nothing comparable in gold, and only a limited quantity of the Sajou stuff. So I have to find the **right** thread for them. That’s going to be tough, with no local sources. I’ll have to rely on recommendations, on-line reviews, and catalog descriptions. Suggestions will be gratefully accepted!
It’s been a while since I posted last. Hectic doesn’t begin to describe it. Kitchen finish, work-related deadlines, college graduations, and last – a blissful vacation week on Cape Cod in our new beachside condo, full of kayaking, golf, good food, and the active pursuit of doing absolutely nothing. All in all too many things to accomplish, with too little time to document any of it.
But through it all, a modicum of sanity-preserving handwork has happened: three pairs of hand-knit socks (my default no-thinking project of choice); plus some others.
First, thanks to the generosity of Certain Enablers who shall remain unnamed – a vintage shrug. I began working on this just before the vacation break. On US #9 (5.5mm) needles, this one was a quick knit. At left is the photo from the pattern. At right is my piece.
Those projections on the side are the sleeves. Obviously, I haven’t seamed the thing up yet. A bit of pretzel-type manipulation is slated to happen that will result in a T-shaped seam in the back, and the graceful drape of the simple drop-stitch rib pattern curving in the front. Or so we hope. I have the piece left on the needle because I haven’t decided yet on whether or not I will be doing some sort of live-stitch seam. It’s hot and sticky right now – too hot to sit with this tub of alpaca boucle on my lap. I’ll go back and finish this piece off when it cools off a bit. I’ll have to rush though, so Target Recipient can take the completed garment off to university with her next month.
Second is also a time-linked project. The first of two, in fact. I am edging off the two inspirational samplers I did for the girls, backing them and readying them for simple rod type hanging. Here’s the first. I’m hand’ hemming the backing/edging cloth to the stitching ground. The backing cloth is in one piece, strategically folded to be a self frame. I’ll baste a length of chain threaded on some thin woven tape in the bottom fold to provide weight, and leave small gaps in the two top corners for insertion of the hanging rod:
The second one will be close behind – the other sampler I did this fall/winter past. Also finished out for hanging from a rod. More on that after I’ve laid it out. In fact, if folk are interested, I’ll use the second one to illustrate the folding and stitching logic required to do this.
And finally, just for fun with no deadline attached (so you know what I’ll be working on tomorrow evening), an Autumn Lace shawl out of some unknown Noro fingering weight yarn, augmented by some Noro Taiyo Sock. The unknown Noro was also from the same Enabling Anonymous Donor, and was perfect for a project I’d been planning on working up for a long time:
Here you see the first course of leaves (worked bottom half, then top half). This is not a particularly difficult pattern, but it is an exacting one, with a pattern that has to be closely followed, and that is not within my capability to memorize. More on this one as it develops.
Another question from the inbox: “So, what’s up with those snails?”
No mystery – just a bit of silly that’s been codified into semi-tradition.
The original strip of snails was one of the first patterns I doodled up – inspired by the non-counted snails in Scholehouse for the Needle (1624). That was way long back ago, when I was still in college. They’ve wandered in and out of my notes over the years, first appearing as a spot motif, and eventually ending up in my first and second hand drawn pattern collections (published in ‘76 and in the early ‘80s) and eventually my own New Carolingian Modelbook. I dedicated that form of the pattern to Mistress Peridot of the Quaking Hand – a local resident of the SCA Barony of Carolingia (Eastern Massachusetts/greater Boston area), famed for her calligraphy and her unselfish sharing of the same. The artist behind so many excellent awards scrolls. Peridot’s own device features a sleepy snail.
Maybe it’s a subliminal comment on slow, steady perseverance inherent in needlework, but for whatever reason, I have used that snail on the majority of my samplers. Not all, but most. Here are charts for some of the ways my little creeping friends have shown up. The original row is at the top left. The all-over of snails circling little gardens with ominous intent is from the Trifles sampler. The ribbon strip at the lower left is the bit I’m currently stitching in blue and red.