Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Questions and Answers

Lithuanian redwork
Lithuanian redwork
My aunt was in Moscow a couple of years ago. She said she saw a lot of redwork in the shops, but she didn't bring any home. Can you show me what it looks like?

I don't have any Russian redwork, but I did show you a sample of antique Lithuanian redwork in the January 29, 2014 post. It should be similar to Russian work of the same period. Much of this work depended heavily on counted cross-stitch, double cross-stitch, and long-armed cross-stitch. Russian redwork would be done on white linen with wool yarn, linen floss, or silk floss. It is my impression that their red is not as bright as this red — more of a rosy red. From my studies, this red seems to grow darker the further north you go in Eastern Europe, ending up as nearly purple around the eastern end of the Baltic Sea. Traditional patterns include geometric patterns, flowers, animals, and historic or religious scenes. You might ask your aunt what kinds of patterns she noticed. I would imagine that contemporary redwork might vary from the traditional patterns and materials in some ways.

Little Dragon wall hanging
Little Dragon wall hanging
I can show you a piece of my own version of redwork, which is basically Spanish blackwork done in red. This little dragon has some embellishments done in linear and solid chain stitch in colors other than red, but the major parts of it are done in redwork. (The little fellow has stepped on his own tail, hurt himself, and is looking for someone to blame — and flame!)










Closeup of stitching on dragon
Closeup of stitching on dragon
The secret to doing blackwork, redwork, whitework or any monochromatic embroidery is to decide in advance which sections of the finished picture are supposed to be the lightest, which are the darkest, and where the shadings in between those two would be on your picture. Work the lightest parts in a very open pattern with a few stitches or widely scattered stitch motifs. This lets much of the background show through. Use increasingly complex patterns with more and more stitches as you work through darker and darker shades. Save your densest patterns — those with the most stitches and the least background showing through — for the darkest parts of your picture. The closeup of the stitches shows this effect. To see the technique done almost entirely in white, go to the post for August 20, 2014.


Help! I just hate the way the back of my bargello looks! Am I upset over nothing? Should I just ignore it and keep doing what I'm doing?

I would never advise someone to ignore something which is interfering with their enjoyment of doing needlework! I have said that I am not a purist. I do not expect the back of my work to look as good as the front does. But there is no reason for it to look like last year's bird's nest, either. Here's one of the samples from the last post seen both front and back. Let's see what may be causing your distress.

Front and back of bargello sample
Front and back ( yes, really - look closely) of bargello sample


First of all, I work with strands that are no longer than 18 inches (46 cm). Longer than that and the yarn or floss begins to look worn or frayed. If I am working with a metallic thread or one that tends to look “fuzzy”, I will use even shorter lengths. I secure the beginning of my strand by holding it against the back of the canvas with a couple of my fingers and stitching over it (but not over the fingers). If this is difficult for you, check our search engine for posts in which I discuss “waste knots”. This may be a better technique for you. When starting a strand in the middle of a row, I run it under a number of completed stitches before I stitch with it. Secure the end of a strand by running it backward under existing stitches and cut it off as close to the canvas as you can without damaging the finished stitches. When you carry lengths of yarn across the back of your canvas, hide them by running them under existing stitches. These samples are shown from the back of the canvas:

  1. Correct way to start a strand;
  2. Starting a strand in the middle of a row;
  3. Correct way to end a strand;
  4. Wrong way to carry yarn across the back of the canvas; and
  5. Correct way to carry yarn across the back of a canvas.
The stitches on the front of the canvas are upright and work from left to right.

Your stitches should cover both the front and back of the canvas. When you are doing designs with ascending and descending stitches as we have been doing it is easy to forget this on the descending stitches and cover only the front of the canvas. This leaves strips of nearly bare canvas on the back of your design. The stitches in the pattern at the top of the sample are made from top to bottom. This is adequate to cover the side-by-side stitches, but the descending stitches leave only a tiny horizontal stitch on the back of the canvas. The rest of the canvas is bare. The stitches on the bottom pattern are made from bottom to top. This not only covers both sides of the canvas, but also provides bands of stitches to secure the beginning and end of each strand. It does, however, use more yarn than the top technique. You cannot tell the difference by looking at the work from the front; you must check the back.

I suspect this is what is bothering you. It does not look good. Even more importantly, it makes part of your work uneven in thickness and weaker than the rest. I suggest you get into the habit of checking the back of your work at the end of each row. If you have made a mistake, gently remove the stitches with the eye, not the point, of your needle, and stitch the row correctly. Do this immediately. I hope these suggestions help!

 What will you be concentrating on this fall?

As promised, I'm going to discuss bargello “optical illusions”. Knowing my enthusiasm for the subject, this will probably involve a series of articles over the coming months. I have also been doing a lot of crewel embroidery that I plan to share with you. And we will make a simple start on Swedish weaving. In addition, J.D. and I will discuss drying and storing herbs, saving flower seeds and ways of preparing the garden for winter.

Thanks for asking!




Crewel embroidery piece in progress
Crewel embroidery piece in progress


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Friday, August 14, 2015

All-Over Needlepoint Patterns: Combining Elements

peaks and bars stitches
I hope you had fun with the all-over patterns with top-stitching. Today we will explore some of the ways that combining simple bargello elements will produce bold, intricate, all-over patterns. Let's start with one of the simplest elements: “parallel bars”. We first worked with these in the March 12, 2014 article. (You may want to revisit that page briefly to see what we talked about.) The bars are made of simple, upright stitches over 2, 3, 4 or more horizontal threads of canvas (or horizontal bars of plastic canvas). This is the first element of our design. The second element is somewhat like the “peaks” we worked with last time (July 31, 2015). There are some major differences, however. The “peaks” are thick, wide at the bottom, solid and climb slowly to their full height. This element is thin, narrow at the bottom, rather fragile-looking and climbs quickly to full height. I'm going to call these figures “spires”. When we combine the two elements, the last stitch of the “bar” becomes the first stitch of the “spire”. The second stitch of the “spire” begins in the same row of mesh squares where the first stitch ended, but does not overlap it. The other stitches rise in the same way until the top, then descend parallel to the upward stitches. The last stitch of the “spire” becomes the first stitch of the “bar”. The sample shows a “bar”, then a “spire”, and finally a “bar” - “spire” - “bar” pattern.

5 color pattern
Here's a pattern using the “bar” - “spire” combination in a sequence of five colors. Start at least 16 squares of mesh from the top and make a “bar” of 4 upright stitches, each over 3 threads (or bars of canvas). The next stitch of the “spire” starts in the same row of squares where the last stitch of the “bar” ended. Continue until the “spire” is 4 stitches tall, then descend to the bottom of the row and make another 4-stitch “bar”. Once you have the base line established, it is relatively easy to follow the pattern. Why, then, did I stop with the pattern not yet complete?


5 color pattern finished at bottom
Because most errors occur when stitchers are finishing the tops and bottoms of these patterns. I warn you about such errors because either I have made them myself or have seen my students make them. Yes, the ways to complete the pattern are simple, but they are not always obvious to everyone. Let's start with the bottom, because it is easier. You will begin with the second color in your sequence, but you will not make a “bar” -- only a “spire”. Your “spires” will be separated, not connected. Carry the strands of yarn across the back of the canvas. (Better yet, run the strands under completed stitches as you work across the back of the pattern.) Inside the first detached “spire”, you will make a second “spire” with the third color, continuing in this way until you fill the center with a single stitch. Secure each color by running it under completed stitches at both ends.

5 color pattern finished top and bottom

Now we will complete the top of the pattern, where most of the mistakes are made. People have a tendency to reverse the canvas to complete it. They also tend to reverse the color sequence at this point. This, of course, will disrupt the entire pattern. The first “bar” above your base row must be made with the last color in your sequence. The next higher “bar” will be done in the next-to-last color, and so on. Keep your canvas upright while you work and stitch just as much of each pattern row as you can, carrying the extra yarn across the back of the canvas, under completed stitches. If you do this correctly, there will be no errors in the completed pattern.


arch and bar stitching
In the March 21, 2014 article, we explored single arches, rows of connected arches, waves made by connecting upward and downward arches and medallions made with mirror-image arches. (You may want to review those before we continue.) Now that you have mastered “bars” and “spires”, we are going to do a simple design with “bars” and “arches”. All of the stitches in the design are made with upright stitches over 3 strands of thread or bars of canvas. Below is the base line for the patterns. I did this with acrylic yarn on #7 plastic canvas for easy-to-see stitches. Begin at least 9 squares of mesh from the top of your canvas. Make a “bar” of 5 consecutive stitches. Begin the first “arch” one square of mesh higher. Use the following pattern: “bar”, single stitch, double stitch, double stitch, triple stitch, triple stitch (top of the “arch”): descend with triple stitch, double stitch, double stitch, single stitch, “bar”. Refer to the base line sample.

rainbow colors pattern
Here are two samples done with the pattern. The first was done on #10 canvas with tapestry yarn in a rainbow of colors. This is one horizontal pattern that works well as a vertical pattern. You can see this in the second sample. This is a “bar-arch-bar” repeated in a flesh/peach/coral/orange/rust color sequence. The more closely related your colors are, the more subtle your pattern becomes. This was done on #14 canvas with tapestry yarn. This sort of narrow pattern works well on fabric belts, hatbands, hairbands, cuffs, etc. I'd like to do it as the shoulder straps on a denim sundress.

orange colors pattern


arch and spire stitching
Our final combination is a “spire” - “arch” - “spire” pattern. Substitute the “spire” we learned at the top of this article for the “bar” in the second part. This time the “arch” rises in the same way as the “spire”. Each single stitch or stitch group begins in the same square of mesh in which the previous stitch ended. As you can see, this changes the shape of the arch considerably. The last stitch of the “spire” is the first stitch of the “arch”. The rising pattern is: double stitch, double stitch, triple stitch, quadruple stitch (top of the arch). Descending, the stitch pattern is triple stitch, double stitch, double stitch. The last single stitch of the “arch” is the first stitch of the next “spire”. Refer to the large pattern sample above.

arch and spire pattern in greens
You may use as many “spires” and “arches” as you like, but it looks best if you begin and end with a complete “spire” or “arch”, rather than a partial one. This conventional pattern is done in 5 shades of green tapestry yarn on #10 canvas. Be careful when filling in the incomplete rows at the top of the pattern. This one is a little more difficult than it looks.

If you want more of a “WOW!” pattern, try the one below in acrylic yarn on #7 plastic canvas. I had decided to stop with the blue row, but I discovered some beautiful purple yarn in my scrap bag and worked it in at the top. The purple would be the next row if the pattern were continued at the bottom.

Play with your patterns,








arch and spire pattern in rainbow colors


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