This post is to answer Susan and Michelle, who asked how long I’ve been doing counted stitching and blackwork, and who wanted to see some of my other pieces.
At the risk of tooting my own horn, here’s the story. More or less. Over the years, I’ve cobbled together a few publications (some still unfinished); given away many pieces; started more projects than I’ve completed; and wandered away to and back from knitting and crochet. Please indulge me as I reminisce. I promise to put in lessons-learned as I go along to make it bearable.
All of these are original compositions of found and/or original motifs. I haven’t done a counted work kit or pattern designed by someone else since I was 12. It looks like I don’t often finish, which while it has some truth to it, I’ve given away many of the completed pieces, so what I have in my stash to show off are the unfinished bits.
The first counted project I did that’s not plain old cross stitch and is in the greater continuum that includes blackwork (that I still have) is a sorry, unfinished sampler I began in high school, circa 1973/74, continuing on and off up to January 1975. There are double running bits in it – among the very first I ever did. Most of the designs I cribbed from photos of band samplers and traditional pieces – taking magnifying glasses to the teeny and blurry photos of historical or ethnographic pieces in general survey embroidery books and books on samplers. It’s probably on 28 count even weave, using Coats & Clarks floss. Colors were haphazard at best – I used what I had at the time, and din’t plan much in advance.
Lesson Learned: A glimmer of the sad truth that while I am a starter, it’s much harder to be a finisher. I suppose I could go back and add in the tree and animals I originally intended. But there are so many other things I want to finish off first.
By the spring of my freshman semester, I found the SCA – an organization that advocates the hands-on exploration of the arts, sciences, and entertainments of pre-1600 cultures. That put the nail in this piece (being a mishmash of post 1600 band sampler patterns), but I found an inspiration. I had need to make a favor for a certain individual with a Spanish persona. So I zigged sideways and back in time a bit to blackwork, stitched over the summer of 1975. It’s the project that killed the sampler, above.
The only information I had on blackwork during the summer I stitched this was a tiny thumbnail photo of the Faulklands Cushion in Mary Thomas’ Book of Embroidery. I drew the leaf shapes and my device, and did diapered fillings freehand, on muslin. There’s also a bit of needle lace around the edge, with points at the corners – everything now dirtied and tattered by use. (The silver horse is couched and surface stitched – it’s a pouch, also a present for the same person.)
Lessons Learned: In retrospect – research. Learn and do, not the other way around. There is a lot about this piece that’s flat out wrong, but my heart was in the right place (and also properly given). Also far more people were interested in learning how to do blackwork than the couching, or in a bit of needle lace I was also working at the same time.
The next bit of blackwork I did was after I did a bit more investigation into the style, both for my own edification, and because I wanted to encourage others to do historical stitching, and to do that, I needed to know more about it first. This piece started out as a cushion cover or possibly a tablecloth but within three days of the start, turned into an underskirt for my coronation dress (started just before the crown tourney, October 1976, worn in April 1977). Major thanks for the inspiration to do this piece go to Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn, who gave me Bath’s Embroidery Masterworks book, which in turn furnished the rough outline of the coiling fruits, flowers, and leaves.
The original dress is long gone, but I still have this Melton wool monstrosity with the entire panel – still a squared off (I never cut off the side bits). There are some small stitched areas you can’t see here, hidden inside the skirt, but the piece was never completed as a full rectangle. It’s worked on a sale faux linen coarse weave tablecloth my mother found on a department store sale table. Probably at something like 30 threads per inch (about 15 stitches per inch). This one is more accurate – diapered fills on the count, heavy twisted chain stitch outlines, satin stitched berries.
A bonus – I wrote a paper on the style and also submitted the piece for credit in my Sophomore year art history course, so not only did I have an SCA coronation dress, I got two As for it in mundane life.
Lessons learned: Stitching to deadline does suck some of the fun out of the project. My double-deadline (our coronation and the associated schoolwork) come to mind every time I look at it. It’s also an excellent reference piece, because I can look at each leaf and know exactly which class and lecture I was sitting through while I was stitching it.
The next thing I attempted was a coif, circa 1979 or so. For some unknown reason I wanted to use muslin as a ground. It’s about 70 or so threads per inch, done with super fine handsewing thread – roughly 35 stitches per inch. I never finished (obviously). This little bit was donated to the East Kingdom Doll Project to better equip my tiny effigy.
Lessons Learned: It’s good to be ambitious, but to be overly so isn’t worth the effort. The teeny-tiny stitching here is largely wasted. At this scale it’s so small that one has to be six inches away to make out any detail.
After this came a series of small pieces, given as gifts, plus works in other embroidery styles. I also issued two booklets of designs for blackwork, hand drawn and photocopied. And I learned to knit. The next piece I still have is this sampler, made circa 1983, in part to remember my father and his favorite saying. It’s DMC floss on a plain linen table runner found in a church rummage sale discard bin.
Many of the designs on this one were in my hand-drawn booklets. But shortly after this I became increasingly rigorous in my documentation. My early notes were lost in an apartment move, and I had to begin again from scratch. This collection bridges that period and moves from my rather more scattered previous inquiries to more of what I am doing now. Note that the sunflowers and hearts on my ’74 piece are here again, just above my signature. There are also four designs on this that I sketched from a missionary’s collection of Chinese designs, collected in the 1890s. I ran across those notes while working as an intern at the Harvard Peabody Museum, circa 1977-1978. A few of the better documented bits made the cut and ended up in The New Carolingian Modelbook (TNCM).
Lessons Learned: Large and done on the fly (added design by design, with little advance planning) I discovered I liked the adventure of “bungie-jump stitching.” Looking back now I am not entirely pleased with the balance of the composition. But it includes a few well-loved motifs and still hangs proudly on my wall.
Next up were a few play test pieces of the designs that were in my earlier hand-drawn booklets that later became the core of TNCM. These were done in the 1980s and 1990s.
The piece above is a bit from a sampler intended as a wedding present for a friend whose engagement sadly ended before the sampler was finished (circa 1985). It’s done in DMC cotton on 32 count linen. I still have it and it’s still not complete, due to some vague association with the unfortunate end of the inspiring romance, and not wanting to tempt fate.
Lesson learned: Don’t pour effort into something that depends entirely on circumstances out of your control. Also, picking a limited color set and sticking with it provides a lot of unity in what might otherwise be a very scattershot work.
These shameless mermaids that got an honorable mention award at Woodlawn Plantation. I stitched them in 1988, Au Ver a Soie Silk on 36 count linen. I like that I didn’t center the motif on this one.
Lesson learned: It’s surprising what will offend people. The prize committee pinned the ribbon over the bust of one of the mermaids, and put a post-it note over the other. And then hung the thing alllll the way up near the ceiling of the main room, where no one could peek under.
“Think.” Done for the husband in 1989. DMC on 32 count linen around 1989. The leafy log panel (in TNCM) looks familiar? Scroll up – it’s also on the wedding sampler, but there in multicolor.
Lesson Learned: Visual density of small designs can be overwhelming. I always loved my original briar rose tangle – the corner design surrounding the lion, but only on paper. I’ve never been happy with it stitched up. The detail is entirely lost.
Circa 1990 or so I began work on my Forever Coif. Silk and silver, on 50 count. It’s still on the frame. It was intended to go with a reworked dress that featured the underskirt panel shown up at the top of this tirade. But it was not to be.
The fruits and flowers in the standard strawberry frame are original. I’ve lost the notebook where I had additional motifs doodled up. To finish I will have to think up new ones.
Lesson Learned: I’m still lousy at finishing. Eventually I will. But not as a coif – probably just as a rectangle, and wall-mount. Also, don’t design in a medium that doesn’t allow easy back-up. After this project I switched to drafting on the computer, exclusively.
“Do not Meddle in the Affairs of Wizards, for they are Subtle and Quick to Anger.” For the husband, in 1995. DMC on 36 count linen One of my faves, with several TNCM designs. This is also the first piece I did that used long-armed cross stitch (LACS) both for foreground in the daSera knot in the center, and background on the bottom motif that looks like an S designed by a Renaissance era Dr. Seuss. More reuse of bits on this one, too, including a scalloped edging (below “wizard”) that’s also on the very first piece on this page.
Lesson Learned: People are easily mystified when you break your words up in a non-standard manner. Also, LACS is lots more fun than plain old cross stitch.
Partially finished shot of a large leafy repeat that’s shown in TNCM. I did finish this but have no pix of the final object. Given to a dear friend after completion circa 1996. Danish Flower Thread on 38 count linen, and more LACS.
Lesson Learned; Take more photos.
Two “try out” pieces, just playing with no intent to finish either one. Upper one in linen thread, lower one in Danish Flower Thread on 38 count linen. The grounds on the voided strips are all long-armed cross stitch.
Lessons Learned: A lot. Neither of these grounds are true even weave. I was playing with how skew weaves distort designs. The one on the bottom is counted over 3×2 threads to make up for it.
This just takes me up to 1998 or so and I’ve skipped lots of pieces for which I have no photos, but this post is getting long. I guess the main lesson learned is that practice and perseverance help in any pursuit, even the most trivial. If people are interested, I’ll keep going.
A while back I stitched up this piece, both as a tribute to Hitchhiker’s Guide, and as a bit of inspiration for my office. I’m a proposal specialist – managing short deadlines and general panic are my stock in trade.
When I posted this on Facebook last Friday, I got several requests for the chart. So, tweaking memory dormant since 2009, I drafted one up.
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.
Eventually I will add this to the Embroidery Patterns page tabbed above. But for the time being – be safe, stay well, and care for those whom you love.
The last post of mea culpa probably left people wondering how it was going to all turn out. Here’s the result:
I only needed to tease out one straight line of stitching – the former rightmost edge of the previous side. Now the two borders join to make one larger mirrored strip that takes up the spine area and wraps around to be visible on the front and back. Not as I originally planned, but acceptable.
And I have been able to keep going on the second side, working my double leaves in red, and the diamond fill ground in yellow. Again, not as originally planned – the repeats will not be neatly centered left/right, but because this particular fill is eccentric, I bet it won’t be noticed by anyone who isn’t aware of the problem in the first place. (Mom, avert your eyes).
Now on to today’s submitted question:
How do you rip back?
With great care.
It’s very easy to inadvertently snip the ground cloth, and that’s a tragedy when it happens. But I have some tools that help.
The first thing is a pair of small embroidery scissors with a blunted tip. These are the latest addition to my ever growing Scissors Stable, and a recent holiday gift from The Resident Male. Note that one leg has a bump on it at the tip. That’s the side that is slid under the errant stitch being removed, to make the first snip. Although these are sharp all the way to the tip, the bump helps prevent accidentally scooping up and nipping the ground cloth threads.
To rip back taking all due care, I snip a couple of stitches on the FRONT of the work. Then I employ a laying tool and a pair of fine point tweezers for thread removal. The laying tool was also a gift from The Resident Male, and replaces a procession of thick yarn needles I used before I had it. My tool is about 3 inches long (about 7.6 cm).
My pair of tweezers is one intended for use in an electronics lab. I found it in the parking lot of a former job, probably dropped by someone testing robots in the back lot. I tried to return it, flogging it around to likely techfolk for several months, but had no takers. Seeing it was to remain an orphan, I adopted it into a new fiber-filled life. I love it. It’s wicked pointy, and even with the dented end (probably damaged when it fell off the test cart onto pavement), does a great job of removing tiny thread bits.
Having snipped the threads on the front, I use the laying tool’s point (augmented by the tweezers) to tease out the stitches in the reverse order they were worked, doing it from the back. Luckily this style of work has a logical order and it’s usually pretty easy to figure that out. But in some cases it gets harder. When that happens, it’s another judicious snip on the front, followed by use of the tweezers from behind to remove the thread ends for discard. (While I can sometimes recover/reuse a live thread after I catch a mistake of a few stitches, in general if the run is long, or I’ve ended off the strand there’s little point in trying to save it and stitch with the now-used and damaged/fuzzy piece of thread.)
If the color is in the least bit friable and liable to crock on the ground fabric, I cut more and pull less – making sure to remove all threads from the back rather than pull them forward to the front. This minimizes color/fuzz shed on the front, public side of the work.
If any snipping needs to be done on the back, flat and parallel to the ground, I pull out another resident of my Scissors Stable – a pair of snips I bought at the SCA Birka marketplace event, two years ago. They look like this:
These were a great buy. Inexpensive, super-sharp (I think the snipping action helps keep them sharp), and because they are not held like finger-hole scissors, very easy to manipulate to snip close and flat to a surface.
And what to do if there are fuzzy bits or surface discolorations that remain on the front? Here’s my last resort. I wrote about it before:
Yes. Silly Putty. I have found that a couple of gentle blots will pick up fuzz and shed bits of color. The trick is NOT to scrub, just support the cloth from the back (I use the top of the stuff’s eggshell container), and press the putty gently onto the affected area – then remove it vertically and quickly. Make sure not to let it dwell on the surface.
I will caution that there is risk doing this. I have no way of knowing if anything exuded by Silly Putty will be a life-limiting factor for the threads or ground in 50 years – if discoloration or other complications might ensue. But the Materials Safety Data Sheet for it doesn’t turn up anything particularly evil, and I am willing to risk it. You will have to make that decision for yourself on your own. Having warned you I take no responsibility if it ends up doing so.
Yesterday’s post has inspired a few really good questions. Thanks for sending them in!
Are you working the diamond background in double running stitch?
Susan wants to know if the background diamonds are being worked totally double sided. I answer that while they certainly can be, in this case I am not bothering to do so.
No one will see the back of this piece once it’s in place on the target book. So I am working mostly, but not entirely in double running. Since I have jumped the gun somewhat and begun the background before all of my foreground motifs are complete, I have to be careful not to get ahead of myself and fill in too much – painting my yellow across the site of a future leaf. Therefore I am mostly working in double running, but reserving the right to pop over to “heresy stitch” to advance my working thread as needed, and to avoid painting myself into a corner, or covering up an area that would need to be picked out later.
There must be gaps where the diamonds don’t meet up with the leaves. Are you working half-stitches to fill in those bits?
Lisa, this is an excellent question, and really observant of you to pick up on the issue! Here’s a diagram illustrating what she was talking about.
Note how in some spots, and especially around the tendrils and lobed leaf sections there is a half-stitch gap between the red outlines of my double leaf, and the yellow diamonds. Now I COULD go and work half stitches to continue the diamonds right up to the edge of the red, but in truth – it doesn’t matter. Because the yellow is so light compared to the red, and I’m working with a relatively heavy thread thickness for the count of the ground, the visual impact of those half-stitches is almost nil. So I cheat, and leave them out all together.
How do you get the diamonds to match up as you go around the leaves?
Another excellent question, Erin! The secret to doing this is NOT to start the diamonds in several spots. Begin it in one place, and grow it out from there, working around obstructions as they are encountered. It’s kind of like a fairy ring, (or if you are computer gaming fan – The Creep). By always extending the pattern area from an established bit of work out into new territory, I stay on target, and my diamonds always align.
Have more questions? Ask away!
The first side is done! You can see that I’ve filled the entire defined stitching area, and that I’ve mirrored the border all the way around.
You can also see that I’ve left in the basted lines that mark the flap areas I will need to form the slipcover parts.
Now on to the second side. (I’m not going to call these front and back because I intend to let the recipient decide which one she likes better.)
IF YOU ARE WORKING A BOOK COVER YOU CAN STOP STITCHING HERE. Decorating the back and spine areas is a personal choice. You may want to skip one or both of those in order to finish more quickly. No shame in that, but you’ll have to wait a bit for the finishing instructions because I am going to do both.
Finding a Center Point on an Eccentric Repeat
Centering the pattern for the first side was pretty easy. I had basting stitches that marked the exact center point of my stitching area, and I had a pattern with a lovely swirly flower, complete with a perfectly defined center point. I could have used the center of the yellow lattice, but I chose to make the flower the focal point.
But what about an eccentric repeat? One that doesn’t rely on quadrilateral symmetry like the flower does. Or mostly does – that directional swirly center mixes it up just a bit, but the outline of the flower and lattice is solidly four-square symmetrical – you can flip it up, down or left/right and the outline remains the same.
Here’s the eccentric repeat I’ve chosen for this side:
Wow. Where is the center? The double-leaf sprigs do reverse-mirror up and down, but the reflection point is a box, not a dot (the dots representing the “holes” in our ground cloth). I’ve circled it in red.
We COULD work the piece on skew count compared to the established prior work . That’s one of the advantages of using even weave instead of one of the purpose-woven grounds like Aida, but I don’t want to. I’ve left one two-thread unit as a clear zone between the border and the field on the first side. I don’t want to make that clear zone wider or narrower on this side.
Instead let’s find a better “center dot” location to line up with the the basted center lines. Ideally i want the piece to be visually balanced, in spite of the eccentric repeat. So let’s look in the spaces BETWEEN the sprigs. It just so happens that there is a perfect spot. There is a two-stitch gap between the buds on the curlicues – that tendrils that looks like they end with a berry. I’ve marked the dot between them. That’s the spot I mated with my designated center point in this stitching area.
Here’s the start of my stitching. You can just make out the remains of the basted center line to the left (the vertical one is already too picked out to show on this photo). But I’ve included the Blue Dot that matches up to the chart above. That’s the exact center of my area, and that’s my alignment/starting point for this one.
One thing to remember about aligning eccentric repeats this way – they do truncate around the edges. My chosen area is large compared to the scale of the motif. Several full repeats will fit both up and down and across that field. If I were to employ this filling in a smaller area, instead of looking for a visual center point for the design as a whole, I might place the design so that at least one full repeat was shown, or I might center the most prominent part of it (the leaf) in my area-to-be-filled, and let the rest of the design be cut off as it may.
Here’s an example of trying to shoehorn a larger repeat into a smaller area. The dragon won’t fit cleanly on any one side of the gear shape into which it was jammed. But by moving it around a bit rather than trying to center it cleanly, I was able to get enough of it in to make the thing “legible.”
And I continued on. Just as before I worked my way out to the right, until I got close to but not right up against the area where my border should go. I’m using the same border on both sides of the book, so it was easy to count and copy from established stitching. Once I had aligned the center knot on my basted horizontal center line, I worked down from that to the corner, copying the stitching I had already done on the finished cover. Then with my border established, I went back and filled in more of the field.
I liked the almost-voided effect of the yellow lattice on the first side, so I decided to work this design in true voided style. And since just the other day I found an example of a diamond voided fill on a historical piece, why not?
I’m fairly flying on this second side. Being able to copy the border (and being familiar with it at this point), plus the simplicity of the diamond ground is making this bit quite speedy. What you see above is more or less what I was able to stitch in about four hours total time, spread out over two evenings.
And I am liking this fill. A lot. I may have to use it again. Possibly in combo with border I designed to match. Both are in my free book, Ensamplario Atlantio II.
So. Is all of this clear as mud? Do you have any questions? Are you thinking of working an original project based on these principles? It could be a book, a pincushion, a pillowcase, a box top, a small hanging piece – anything. The same hints on defining a stitching area, centering a design, and working on the fly (as opposed to fully drafting out an entire stitch-for-stitch full project chart) all would be helpful.
Unleash your inner doodler/designer! Go for it! I know you can.
On to the rest of the border and filling out the field…
I’ve gotten a few questions and feedback notes on this project. I’ll try to answer.
How do you know where to put the centers and corners?
It’s hard to make out on the in process pix because I snip away/tease out the bits as I encroach upon them, but I have basted guidelines showing me the exact center of my piece both north/south and east/west. They are in light blue thread. I’ve also marked the borders of my stitching area in lilac thread. You can just make out the guideline remnants on the photo below.
Also, if you page back in this tutorial series, you’ll see that I started in the center, then worked out to the right, leaving room for my as-yet-unchosen border. Then I picked one and started stitching. When I neared the corner I looked at what I’d done and doodled up a corner, then worked it. I repeated the process, stitching back to the center and doodling up the center bit, working it on the exact center of my marked stitching area. Then I worked the other side of the center bit mirror image of the established stitching.
How did you get the second top corner to line up perfectly with your basted edge?
It’s counted. The center line of my stitching area is at the exact center of the area to be stitched. That means if there are (picking a number at random) 43 stitches to the right of it, there will be 43 to the left. If my pattern is symmetrical, it’s easy to see when you’ve gotten to the same point on the left as you ended off on the right.
What would you have done if you were one thread off?
It happens. Sometimes for every bit of measuring, exact folding, and counting (and especially on even weave) that center line ends up being one thread or even one full stitch off. In this case – no big deal. I would work my repeat totally symmetrical as I have above, and “push” that tiny bit of overage into the spine of the book.
How do you keep track of where you are with all those colors?
I admit it’s a challenge, and this design would be a lot easier in monochrome. I don’t like to leave long skips on the back, so for the most part, there are a lot of starts and stops. The longest leap I will take is three stitches, and I prefer not even to do that. This means that in the main field of flowers, while I can keep a baseline double running logic chaining flower after flower together, those little crosshatched interlaces of yellow between them are “islands” – each one begun and ended off separately.
You can see in the photo at the top of the page that there are two green threads dangling off the right side of the hoop. Those are the strands I am using for the border outlines. Rather then ending them off at the edge of my hoop, I’ve chosen to keep them “alive.” Pretty soon I’ll be advancing the hoop to finish off the bottom of the stitched area, and I’ll use them up as the border area progresses. Sometimes I’ll take a pin and insert it in the waste edge of my design (or another spot where any perturbing of the ground cloth weave will not matter), then wind the excess thread around it to keep it up and out of the way while I stitch nearby.
And in the border area at the top – I just did some of the green striped “column” that runs down the center of my border. I know that the red ribbon that wraps it is three stitches wide. I started at the edge of the existing red ribbon and worked “heresy style” across the first line, then hopped down and worked standard double running for the center one, and again for the one after that. That meant my working thread was now positioned at the left side of that block of three stripes, and ready to hop over three again to begin the next block of three stripes. I kept going in this manner until I used up my green working thread. Next I will go back and fill in the red ribbon, and finish up with the short spurts of yellow. And yes, that does mean a lot of ends. I would never attempt a multicolor piece that was totally double-sided.
It’s hard enough to pick a pattern, now you want me to design centers and corners, too?
Perhaps I did get a bit ahead of myself and I could have chosen a simpler border. One that isn’t directional like this one with its wrapping is. And mirroring around the center can look a bit daunting, as can doodling up a custom join. But there’s no reason to be intimidated.
I noodled up #1 in the set below. But I didn’t have to. My treatment could have been much simpler.
#3 for example ignores mirroring, directionality, centers, and corners. It just starts at a random point of the repeat, goes across the area to be covered, and arbitrarily ends at the edge of the desired space. Then it starts up again, butted against the bit already stitched. And it doesn’t matter if it’s centered or truncated. (By the way, plain butted pieces with truncated rather than an elegantly ended or mitered repeat is the most represented treatment for corners in museum collections of historical stitching)
In #2 and #4, I’ve kept the mirroring (but I didn’t have to) and inserted small simple shapes to fill the contested areas. #2 uses plain old squares. Nothing fancy. #4 reserves those spots for personalization. Initials, dates, small stars, whatever. What I’m trying to show here is that there is no one right way, and all treatments look good. Go simple, go complex. It doesn’t matter, your piece will be beautiful, and best of all – it will be uniquely yours.
Idly curious or wanting to do you own book cover? All is good. Happy to help. Got a question? Send it in.
We go on with the removable book slipcover project.
Step 9: Laying Out and Choosing a Border
Last time I had begun working the field pattern for the first cover. I centered it on the center point of the available area, and began working left, right, up and down. Since the total area isn’t very large compared to the span of the repeat, pretty soon I got close enough to my first edge to begin considering what I wanted to do with the border. I stopped well shy of the basting line that indicates the edge of my territory:
In the photo above you can see there’s lots of room to go, but I need to determine exactly how much room there is, so I can select, adapt, or draft up my border design. I’ve decided that whatever I do, it will be bounded both inside and out by a single line of deep green (DMC #890). (I like the contrast with the red and yellow). So taking care to make sure that I have FULL STITCH UNITS between the basted guide line and my stitching area – meaning even multiples of two threads – I start working my outermost solid green line.
Lucky me – it turns out that my basted edge falls exactly 13 stitch units (26 threads) from my established work. Had there been an odd number of threads I would have established my line one thread to the outside of my basted line. Better a tiny bit too large than a tiny bit too small. And yes, I counted the number of threads between the top basted line and the established work, too. It’s even bigger, so I am safe.
My border can be anything up to 13 stitches. But I don’t want one that wide. About half that is enough. So I went thumbing through my various stitch collections. I wanted one that would contrast nicely with the field and not fight with it, and would accommodate using up to three colors, including the newly introduced green.
I didn’t find a pre-drafted, complete border that I liked in this application, but I did come up with this all-over design, presented in Ensamplario Atlantio, my first freebie, in Part 3, Plate 16:91.
It looks complex, but it’s just a simple ribbon-wrapped column, repeated multiple times. If you abstract just one of the columns and add a line of framing stitches both left and right, it spans only 6 stitches across. A perfect size, and there are several color-use possibilities as well.
Based on the design above, I drafted this out and started stitching. Note that I began by making a nice, neat corner.
For the record, these and all charts for linear stitching on this blog have been produced using the open source drafting software package GIMP. Here’s a free tutorial for how I do it (read up from the bottom for best logic).
Step 10: Stitching the Border
Just go for it!
The observant will note that I started stitching from the corner and worked the border down, then went back and filled in my field pattern, stopping one unit away from the border’s inner line. I don’t care at all that my field pattern is truncated. I COULD have stopped at the last whole or half-repeat, but to me, for this particular work, it doesn’t matter.
I am also not in the least bit concerned about how to make the design fit either the length or width of my book. I intend to work from the corner out towards the center of each side, approaching but not connecting at the center. Yet.
The next steps will fill work more of the border across the top of the piece, then fill in a bit more of the field. But I will stop the border and leave a gap in the center. It’s my intent to work the other corners similarly, but in mirror image to this one. Since everything is done on the count and is exactly even, I will be able to draw up a “join” or top/bottom/left/right border center kludge of some type to unify the border as a whole. And I bet that had I not confessed this here, you would have never known I got this far without planning it all out in advance.
Bonus Bit: The Back
For the folks who have asked to see the back, here it is flipped over. You can see the wrapped inner hoop of my frame and its attached support stick.
As stated, I tend to work in double running, using (mostly) reversible logic, but I am not a slave to it on pieces that are not intended to be seen on both sides. There are lots of knots. And you can see that I’ve used heresy stitch in laying down my initial border outlines, and in advancing the border in general. The short length color runs necessitated by its rather fiddly color changes make it much easier to plot out than the double-pass of double running.
This is the second piece in the series on making an embroidered book jacket, based on the general instructions I presented earlier this month. The first piece dealt with drafting up a simple pattern to construct the book cover, preparing the piece of cloth I am using, and transferring the guide lines from the pattern to the ground cloth.
In this session I discuss laying out the design for the embroidery itself. While I encourage folks to play along at home, starting their own book project and working with me, I will not be presenting a “Stitch-Along.” There will be no full project graphs presented here. Instead I encourage people to pick their own designs, and I hope that by describing my own thought processes, I will enable others to think outside the box.
Let’s start where we left off. We have our ground cloth prepared and ready to stitch:
The stitching areas – the front, the spine and the back – are all defined by basting lines at their edges. There are also basting lines marking the horizontal center (spanning all three areas), and the vertical center of the front and back. The spine is so narrow that it’s easy to count to determine its exact vertical center.
Step 5. Stitch Design Layout
I chose a medium count even weave fabric for this. It’s is about 30-32 threads per inch, which means I’ll get 15 to 16 stitches per inch. There’s no reason why Aida or other purpose-woven grounds intended for cross stitch cannot be used. However the fineness of the cloth will influence what counted patterns are used.
As a “bungee-jump” stitcher, at this point I am just starting to think about my layout. Possibilities abound, and I try not to close any out until I am absolutely sure. For example, even before I get to the choice of the fill pattern(s) these general layout options exist:
- Work a single design to cover the entire piece, ignoring the divisions between the spine, front and back covers.
- Work the front and back covers separately, each with its own design, with or without some sort of stripe or divider running up the spine.
- I could work a border around the front and back cover, either meeting along the spine, or leaving space between for yet another fill.
- I could divide the front and back into subsections, and work each of them in a different fill (again, with our without borders)
- I could draw a freehand shape or other motif on the piece, then fill it with one or more fills (a la the inhabited blackwork style).
Here are general representations of some of the possibilities above:
Decisions, decisions. Best not to back myself up a tree. Not just yet. But right now I’m leaning to the version in the lower right. Front and back covers, each a single field pattern, but different; some sort of border around the edges of the front and back cover (same border front and back to unify the design). Something on the spine, possibly a third design, Possibly words. No clue.
Step 6. Stitch Design Selection
Since I am planning for 15 or so stitches per inch, my cover is about 3.5″ wide and 5.5″ tall. If I do a single repeat on each cover I will have room for play. My total field is about 52 stitches across x 82 stitches tall. Even if I subtract some for a border, there’s room for one of the larger repeats from Ensamplario Atlantio, or Ensamplario Atlantio II.
While I’ve stitched up some of these before, I haven’t play tested them all. This is a fun opportunity to do some I haven’t worked up yet. Plus I rarely do multiple colors, so maybe I’ll think of that, too. Paging through the books I come up with a few possibilities. Number 110 from Ens Atl II hits me for one of the covers, but just about every design in both books is a good candidate:
This is an intermediate complexity 16-stitch square repeat (the count from the center of one flower to the next is 16 stitches). A simple square repeat with a half-drop, I should be able to get at least 2.5 repeats across – that would be about 40 stitches across out of my available 52. That would leave 12 stitches (6 per side) for a border. And there’s nothing to say I can’t just truncate the design anywhere I like – there’s no reason to worry about completing the edge repeats across.
Now, if I had selected a coarser ground – say 11 count Aida, my stitching field would be smaller because there are fewer stitches per inch available. In that case my field would be about 38 stitches across. Two repeats would be all I could fit. I could still use this design to good advantage, but designs with a wider repeat, like this more complex panel of pears (28 stitch square), would be harder to squeeze in Just one full repeat would fit across, with a bit extra for a partial, or for a border. (Come to think of it, pears may be in order for the other cover… Hmmm. Not decided yet, but maybe…)
Why do I say “other cover” and not front or back. Simple. Both of these designs are totally symmetrical and at this point either one could serve as front or back, depending on which way the book is held.
Now on to placement. I have a couple of options. I could deliberately center my design at the centerpoints I established by basting, or I could skew them left/right/up/down, to produce an asymmetrical composition. Both are valid, and asymmetry can be quite dramatic. But I think I’ll stick to the easiest way out here. Instead of skewing the repeat, I will place the center of one flower exactly at the center of my cover area, and I will begin stitching there.
By beginning in the center I get to establish my design. I will work out left and right, and when I get close to the edge, I’ll stop and decide whether or not I still want a border, and if I do – I’ll pick it or design it to fit the available space. My guess is that I’ll probably work to within 6 – 8 stitches of the basted edge line. We’ll see…
Step 7. Thread/Color Selection
OK. I’ve got my lattice-and-rose picked out. What threads and colors to use… Again this is just my thoughts and preferences. For your project pick whatever you enjoy using that’s suitable for your chosen ground.
First, this is a removable book cover. It will get dirty. It may end up on another book after the target one is filled up. Chances are that it will need to be washed at some point in its life. Therefore I am opting for plain old cotton thread over silk or rayon. DMC will serve quite nicely.
I do a lot of monochrome, much of it modeled on historical pieces. I don’t get to play with multiple colors very often. I’m not a big fan of variegated threads for this type of work. I think the color gradations unless very carefully handled distract from the delicate structure of the stitching, so I’ll stick to solids. And nice, deep, contrasting solids. Two, possibly three colors.
Pawing through my stash I come up with the first two. If I use a third color, I will employ it on the border – not in the field patterns. I’ve chosen two regal colors – DMC 814, a deep red, and more burgundy/less crimson than the red I usually stitch with; plus DMC 3820, a goldenrod yellow – a color I rarely use.
Step 8. Start Stitching
Now for the fun part. Finally. After all of this planning and prep, I get to start stitching. I reserve the right at any time to decide I don’t like the result and pick everything out, but off I go, none the less.
On the piece above you can see the remnants of my light blue basting threads that marked my centerpoint. The center of one of the first flower I worked is exactly where those two lines intersected. Note that I clip back the basted centering threads to keep them out of my way as I go along. I find it’s better to remove them bit by bit, rather than stitch over them and try to pull them out later.
I am using one strand of floss, doubled. I cut a length twice as long as I need, extract one strand, and fold it in half, taking care to match the cut ends. Then I wax it lightly EXCEPT FOR the last inch, leaving the loop open. I thread the now adhered-together cut ends through my needle. Without making any knots, I make my first stitch, pulling my thread up from underneath and plunging back down from the top. I take care not to pull my thread all the way through and on the plunge back down, I catch the loop at the end of the thread with my needle. Then I gently draw up tension until the loop on the back looks like a normal running stitch. In effect, I’ve started off my double running with a noose instead of a knot.
I continue along in double running, plotting out my course to keep “leapfrogging” on. A lot of people trip up by thinking they have to stitch in one direction until half of their thread is used, then turn around and retrace their steps. For something like this, it’s better to head off in one direction until your strand is used up, taking detours as they arise but always returning back to your main path (if you don’t have enough thread to complete a detour and return, end off before you start the branch).
Then you take a second strand and fill in the every-other stitch on that main path. Any thread that remains after that second pass on established stitching is complete is used to go on further in the design. It’s kind of like a game of hop-scotch, one thread advancing, the other filling in then continuing the design, and the thread after that starting at the point the first one ended, but filling in the skipped stitches left behind by the second. Black is the first thread, red is the second, and blue is the third in this example. Each dangling leaf is a detour that’s started and finished on the baseline:
On my stitching you can see around the edges of the red flowers where I have left attachment points for future journeys, and in a couple of spots, the partially worked lines of departure for those branchings. I find the path planning to avoid painting myself into a corner to be mildly challenging, and quite relaxing. And yes – sometimes I do trap myself. So it goes. Sometimes I can use unidirectional heresy stitch to get myself out of a bind, sometimes I just have to knot off and go on. (I do knot unless there is a compelling reason to work entirely double-sided, but it’s got to be a darn good reason because I hate working in the ends.)
You’ve also noticed how I’ve employed my colors. The red for the connected flowers, and the gold for the background lattice. It’s just one way of doing it. I do end off each gold lattice segment separately, opting not to leave long connector stitches on the back.
I’ll be working on this for a bit longer before I make decisions about the border. If for nothing else, just to keep everyone in suspense.
In the mean time, if I’ve been a Bad Influence and led you astray, please feel free to comment, critique, send pix of your book cover in progress, or otherwise kibbitz. All input/feedback is welcome.
After I wrote the last post which gave general directions on how to make a fabric slipcover for a small notebook, I decided I could do one better, and go step by step with pointers. Eventually this will join the tutorial series posted at the tab, above. But that will take a while since I’ll be doing this in real time. Please feel free to join along and work your own book project with me.
Step 1. Making the Book Jacket Pattern
Using a piece of brown paper cut from a grocery bag, I made a pattern/mock-up of my book jacket. This is based on the protective covers we (of a certain age) made to guard school-issued textbooks.
I started by tracing the size of my cover – front, spine, and back – on the brown paper, then I added the extra bits for the fold-ins front and back, plus a small turned in edge across the top. It really doesn’t matter what your book’s dimensions are – just trace it and add the flaps as shown below.
Tracing the book
Note that I added some turn-over/hem allowances to the basic diagram above:
Try it on for a perfect fit
I cut my finished pattern out, folded it and fit it on my target book. Hooray! It fit and the book actually closed. The cloth version will be more stretchy and supple than brown paper, so I have no doubt that the thing will close more completely when it’s final. (HINT: If your book won’t get within inches of closing, redraft, adding a touch more width to the spine).
Step 2. Select and square the cloth.
I dug through my stash and found a piece of even weave that’s slightly larger than my brown paper mock-up/pattern. It’s about 30-32 threads per inch (estimated roughly), which would make it the equivalent of something between 14 and 16 count Aida. One drawback though, the edges do fray if left unhemmed or bound.
Whether you buy a pre-cut piece of even weave or snip your own from yard goods, chances are that the edges aren’t totally even on the grain of the weave. I like to square it off to make sure that my edges are true. I do this by pulling out the short threads that are snipped off at an angle, so that all remaining threads in both directions run the full length of my piece.
In the photo above, with the nasty bits unraveled, you can see that the piece of even weave I bought was not cut true. But now it is.
Why do this? To make sure your piece is neatly aligned on the cloth. It’s less vital on this project than on a sampler or other item you wish to frame, but it’s a good habit to get into, and will save you headaches down the road.
Step 3. Hemming
If you are using a less fray-prone ground like Aida, or just wish to skip this step, feel free. Be aware though that some loss may happen especially if you use and hoop and tug on your cloth to make it sufficiently taut for easy stitching. If you skip hemming, make sure you have an extra half-inch or so all the way around to compensate for any loss.
Were this intended to be a long term project, I’d trim off all of those little mini-fringes, and do a nice double-folded hem all the way around. But this is a quick and dirty project, and one that will finish with (gasp) cutting the ground cloth and discarding all of the existing edges. So I cheated. I just folded down the edges along the weave’s lines and pinched to set the crease and then used the threads I had pulled off the edges during Step 1 to do a plain running stitch, fixing the fold in place. And I didn’t bother trimming off the fuzzy fringes.
Step 4, Pattern Transfer
OK. I’ve got my cloth all prepped, and my pattern constructed. How to get those nice rectangular lines onto our nice, neatly aligned and properly squared/hemmed piece of ground?
I suppose I could trace them. But better than tracing is basting. If I baste using a neutral tone plain sewing thread that doesn’t shed color, I have non-smudge, non-erasable lines that are easy to remove without a trace. But where to put them?
I could take measurements of my cloth and my pattern then do math, and center the thing to within an inch of its life. Or I can cheat, and rely on the fact that I’ve squared my cloth (see!). All I need are a few pins.
I set my pattern down on my ground cloth and eyeball its placement. Then I insert pins to mark the edges of my to-be-stitched areas. In this case, although it’s optional, I also pinned out the location of the flap edges. Then I basted along the even weave grain, along the lines described by the pins. Note that I needed only ONE pin to denote each line:
And the final result:
All of my main pattern lines (sans hems) are indicated by lilac basted lines, absolutely on grain north/south/ and east/west with my ground cloth’s weave. It’s hard to see, but I’ve added three more guidelines, in pale bridesmaid’s blue. The mark the vertical centers of the front and back panels, and the horizontal center of the entire piece.
And now I’m ready to think about what stitch designs I will use, what design layout I might attempt, what colors/threads to select, and get started.
OK. Now that I’ve armed a whole bunch of people with a wealth of counted all-over designs – what to do with them?
Pretty much anything you want. While samplers are the most common, there are lots and lots of things you can make that don’t involve using up precious wall space. Pincushions (either plain square or rectangular pillows, or fancy biscornu); pillow or cushion covers; napkins, doilies, and tablecloths; kerchiefs (aka for the historically-minded – forehead cloths); tray or coaster inserts (using pre-made items intended to showcase a piece of stitching or painting); zip or tied pouches or folios of various types – jewelry or lingerie rolls are examples; slip-in cases for sunglasses, phones, or tablet devices; small rice or lentil-filled handwarmers or heating pad pillows (warmed in the microwave, for gentle comfort or cold fingers); greeting cards or festive ornaments; all are examples of things that might sport your stitching.
But I want to revisit one project in particular – the book cover.
Making a Slip Cover for a Small Notebook
This is a general logic recipe for making a reusable slip cover in for a small notebook, using the same method as the standard brown-paper-bag covers kids of earlier eras employed to protect school-issued textbooks. The basic logic can be adapted to cover any size book. I’ve written this with special steps for counted embroidery project, but any fabric or stitching style can be used.
In this particular case I covered two small pocket notebooks, roughly equivalent in size to Moleskines, but of a far less expensive make. They are about 3.5 inches wide, by 5.5 inches tall, and roughly 0.5 inches thick across the spine (about 8.9 x 13.4 x 1.3 cm). They came with an elastic cord to keep them closed/mark one’s place, and were about half as expensive as the fancy name brand ones.
I wanted to know how big a piece of fabric I would need. Having measured a notebook, I did a mockup of the cover, drawing the shapes to size on a piece of paper to make my pattern. I used a brown paper grocery bag to do my layout and mockup (fitting it onto my target notebook to make sure it all worked. That pattern is now long gone, but here’s the logic I used. I strongly suggest making a mock-up and “dry fitting” it before you begin the project, just to make sure that the dimensions work. Note that some books have thicker cardboard covers or heavier spines than others, and may require a bit more “wiggle room” to be added to the measurements below – even if the books have the same general dimensions as the ones I used. If your book is significantly larger than mine you may want to increase the depth of the flaps all the way around. But you should not need to add more than the indicated amount beyond the stitching area (the red rectangle below). The overage of the grey area is just there to provide purchase for a hoop or frame.
Note that I’ve allowed a little bit of extra width for the spine, so that there is enough slack for the book to open and close properly. I’ve also allowed lots of extra room around the stitching area, to accommodate use of my hoop or snap frame. You can use a smaller piece of cloth closer to the dimensions of the book cover itself if you like, but be aware that frequent repositioning of the hoop to get close to the edges is a pain in the neck, and all of that tugging and yanking isn’t good for your threads or ground either. And if you’re mounting this on a flat or scrolling frame, tensioning the sides and ends very close to the stitching area can lead to distortion, so having a bit of extra room for the stress to even out is also good.
For my standard size pocket mini-notebook, I’ll need a piece of ground fabric that’s about 13.25 x 11 inches (33.7 x 27.9 cm – all metric measurements are rounded off). If I intended to hem my edges of my entire ground cloth prior to starting (as opposed to whipping or serging), I’d add a half inch all the way around to this measurement.
Selecting the Fabric
What type of fabric? Well, whatever you enjoy working. This project will be a tiny bit easier to lay out on even weave, but not overly so. You can use Aida, Monk’s Cloth, Fiddler’s Cloth, Hardanger, in whatever count is most comfortable. But the count you select will also be key for what design you select. The lower the count (fewer stitches per inch), the larger your finished iteration of the design will be and the fewer repeats of it will fit in these designated spaces. If for example you want to stitch 11 count Aida, our front cover – only 3.5 inches wide would mean your total stitching area is about 38 stitches wide (rounding down). A repeat of say 8 stitches across would appear 4 full times plus some fragment at left and right (more on this later). A repeat that’s 14 stitches across would show in full only twice, with a fragment at the left and right sides.
Why would layout be easier to do on even weave as opposed to Aida or one of the others? Because you can determine the center point more accurately on even weave. In one of the purpose woven grounds with their well established holes (and especially in the fewer-stitches-per-inch sizes), the centermost line of holes may be off the exact center of the piece just a teensy bit, and may be enough to annoy you.
One last suggestion – whip, or serge your edges after you cut your fabric to size. Some people use tape. I don’t recommend it because of the adhesive residue.
Marking the Fabric
In this type of project, where we don’t intend to graph out every single stitch beforehand, knowing where the edges and center lines are is very important. Some people use water soluble markers or pencils for this. I’m old fashioned. I would baste. Some people are very specific in technique, taking each basting stitch over 4 or 5 stitch equivalents to aid in counting, but I’m pretty haphazard. I just establish my lines and don’t try to make my basting stitches even.
To transfer the dimensions of the diagram above to my cloth, I’d start more or less in the center and measure out from there, basting in lines, probably in a couple of colors. I use plain old sewing thread; spools of thread inherited from my grandmother – 100% cotton, in pale pastels, too fragile for use in seaming, but perfect for this. I’d outline my stitching fields using one color (the heavy red lines on the diagram). Then I’d mark the center lines both north/south and east/west (the thin blue lines). You may find that you have either a line of holes or a full stitch at the very center of your front cover, back cover, and spine. Decide now if you are a perfectionist or not, and if your purpose woven cloth forces you to mark at one side or the other of any center column/row of stitches, which side of the center you have marked. More on this below.
There’s no strong reason to mark the no-sew flap areas at this point, but they are on the diagram so you know they exist, and their width should not be forgotten.
Choosing your Design
Elsewhere on the site you’ll find books and books of fills and other patterns. Thumb through. Pick something that appeals to you, that’s a good fit for your chosen ground fabric’s count. BUT also be aware of the Center Problem.
Some patterns have a specific center line. They have even repeats – 4 stitches, 8 stitches, 22 stitches – whatever. Each repeat is an EVEN number of stitches. These repeats mirror evenly left and right of an line. Other designs have ODD numbers of stitches in one repeat – 5 stitches, 9 stitches, 11 stitches – again any number but an ODD one. That means that there is a center stitch in these designs. Here are examples:
The wavy plumes (shown in two variants) are an EVEN 14-stitch repeat with a specific center line. The framed pears is an ODD 15-stitch repeat. It’s center is the X unit where the four pear stems meet.
Why does this matter? If you are a perfectionist using Aida (see above) and the center of your area to be stitched is in the middle in between two columns of holes, look for an ODD stitch repeat. If the center of those areas work out neatly to align with a column of holes pick an EVEN stitch repeat.
Now you know why I mentioned that layout on even weave is easier. Not being forced into using specific hole locations makes fudging that center line easier and if your heart is drawn to either an odd or even repeat, any finagling you might do to make placement will be less obvious.
Choosing Thread and Stitching
Here I am of less help, especially for folk using Aida. I can tell you that on 32-38 count linen (16-19 stitches per inch) I usually use one or two plies of silk or cotton floss. 40-50 count linen (20-25 stitches per inch), I use one ply. And that I run the thread through beeswax prior to stitching. If you are using a lower count ground I’m afraid you’ll have to experiment to see whether you like 1, 2 or 3 plies the best.
In any case, no matter what your ground is, your basted lines will tell you exactly where the center of your area to be stitched is. Find the center of your chosen pattern, and start from there. Double running or back stitch – even heresy stitch – it doesn’t matter. Start in the center and work your way out. You can choose to work the ENTIRE stitched area – front cover, spine and back cover as one unit, and start in the center of the spine. Or you can work the front and back covers either identically or different; and leave the spine unworked, or treat it in another manner (perhaps a narrow border, solidly covered with cross stitches, or anything else you dream up). There is no wrong here.
When you get close to the basting line that describes the edge of the section you are working on pause. Decide whether you want to continue the design right up to the edge, or if you want to stop (possibly at the natural edge of your repeat, or at some unobtrusive place in it) and save the remaining area to do a border. That’s what I decided to do on my two sample books above. Any narrow geometric band – even just parallel straight lines – can be used to frame the center design and draw the eye away from truncation of the center design.
Finishing the Piece and Assembly
Once everything is all stitched, you can do a gentle wash and iron (nothing with big agitation, harsh detergent, or high heat). Or not. It’s up to you. Now is the time to draw or baste-mark those extra flaps. If you are going to serge them you can mark them and cut to exact size. Note that the ONLY places where secure edge treatment is mandatory are shown in green below. I strongly recommend hemming for those, although serging will work in a pinch. The other edges can be fray check secured or even left plain (they’ll never see the light of day again). Personally, I mark the flaps, and cut leaving a quarter inch seam allowance for the green bits that I turn back and hem, doing a veeerrrryyyy careful diagonal cut at the corner where the front and back inner flaps meet the top and bottom flaps. When I turn back the outer points of the front and back inner flaps and hem them down, I cut off the triangular excess to reduce bulk.
The top and bottom flaps do not need to be stitched down. Ironing them flat is enough. The final step is folding in the back and front inner flaps and stitching them to the front and back, along the edges of the book. This leaves a neatly edged pocket that will slide over the book cover. If the book cover doesn’t fit, feel free to snip it just a bit so that it slides in nicely. No one will ever know.
One last refinement. Many of these books come with an elastic loop that can be used to hold the book closed or mark a page. It’s useless in this application. I snip it off the book prior to fitting the cover. Instead, to serve as a bookmark, I stitch on a length of narrow ribbon, attaching it at the little red dot marked on the diagram above.
OK. Now armed with the basic how-to. Let’s see what you can come up with yourself!