Monday, June 12, 2017

Conversations About Cross-stitch

Antique Lithuanian tablecloth, blue cross-stitch on white linen
Antique Lithuanian tablecloth, blue cross-stitch on white linen
Last week, I was standing by a table covered with needlework books and materials at a sale, and got involved in conversations with several ladies who were looking at the items on the table. I was surprised at how many questions and requests for advice were about cross-stitch. It reminded me that I hadn't discussed the technique in these posts for quite some time. Today I hope to remedy that situation. I have combined and reworded some of the questions, putting them in italics. But first, a little background information.

Assisi work butterfly on monks' cloth
Assisi work butterfly on monks' cloth
Cross-stitch is a very old form of embroidery, probably used for more than 2,000 years. It is practically impossible to determine where and when it was first used because fabrics seldom survive for long periods. The stitch seems to have been “invented” a number of times, because it is present in ethnic embroideries almost worldwide. By medieval times, it was used in nearly every part of Europe, but also in Africa, Asia, the Near East and South America. Churches used it liberally for their linens and vestments, and royal courts used it for heraldic designs. It wasn't long before the technique spread to the village housewives, who used whatever fabrics and threads were available to them even human hair. It was called “cushion work” in medieval times because of its widespread use in durable covers for chair seats, footstools, and kneeling mats. Here, in colonial times, it was so popular in ladies' samplers of their handiwork that it was known as “sampler stitch”. It combines nicely with other embroidery stitches and is particularly attractive in blackwork, redwork, whitework, Holbein embroidery and Assisi work.

Why do the stitches have to be done the same way?

It is a matter of light. Light strikes the upper and lower halves of the cross-stitch in different ways. This is most important when you are using glossy floss or metallic threads, but it is noticeable even with crewel wool or acrylic knitting worsted. When stitches are not all done the same way, the surface doesn't look even. People will probably not know why this is so, but they will notice it and think “Something just doesn't look right about that.” Besides, as my grandmother used to say, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” So take the trouble to cross all your stitches the same way. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to put in all your bottom stitches in an area and then go back and put in all the top stitches, rather than making one cross-stitch at a time.

Does it matter which way you cross the stitches?

The English way to do this is to make the bottom half of the stitch from lower right to top left and the top half from bottom left to top right. The American and European way is to do the bottom half of the stitch from the bottom left to the top right and the top stitch from bottom right to top left. I work both ways, depending on where I start in the design. Left-handed stitchers may have a stronger preference for one way than right-handed stitchers. Try both ways and use whichever is mot comfortable for you. I don't think it makes any difference so long as you do the same thing consistently throughout the whole piece of work!

Samples of two styles of cross-stitching
Samples of two styles of cross-stitching

I have done a lot of cross-stitch, but sometimes I do areas I don't like. I've never been brave enough to take the stitches out and do them over. What is the best way to do that?

If there are a lot of stitches to remove, use very small, sharp scissors to clip each stitch on the right side of the fabric. Then use small tweezers to gently pull out the threads. Make a small pad of cellophane tape by wrapping it around your hand, sticky side out. To remove any “fuzz” from the area where the stitches were removed, pat the area gently with the pad of sticky tape. Turn the fabric over and do the same thing to that side in order to pick up any stray threads or fuzz. Then you should be ready to start over.

So far I have just done counted cross-stitch on things where the little X's are stamped on the fabric. Now I'd like to work from charts, but I don't know how to get started. What do you suggest?

Rose cross-stitched on 1/4 inch gigham
Rose cross-stitched on 1/4 inch gigham


I like to see beginners start on one of two fabrics. The first is ¼-inch checked gingham because it is so much like graph paper and it is easy to match the checks to the squares in the charts. Also, by stitching into the four corners of each “check”, you will make equally-sized and equally-spaced cross-stitches.









Monks' Cloth
Monks' Cloth
The other fabric is monks’ cloth, which has evenly-spaced holes for the ends of your stitches. Either one should be backed with non-woven interfacing, muslin, even a man's handkerchief. This will support your stitches and help keep you from leaving them too loose or pulling them too tight. (Too loose leaves the stitches easily snagged; too tight pulls the whole design out of shape.)


Downloadable cross-stitch snowflake pattern
Downloadable cross-stitch snowflake pattern
Choose a simple pattern with only a few colors to begin with. Remember it will be larger on either the gingham or the monks' cloth than it would be on the even-weave fabric the pattern was probably designed for. Try it all in one color first, so that you only have to be concerned with the placement of the stitches. If you like the result, then work the design again in colors of your choice. Here's a simple pattern of mine that you may use in any way you choose. You can find others on these past blog posts: August 26, 2013, June 18, 2015, March 21, 2016 and January 1, 2017; or, use "Search My Blog" in the right hand column to find these and other downloads.

Is it harder to do needlepoint than cross-stitch (indicating a piece done in tent stitch)? I already know how to do cross- stitch. And can I do cross-stitch on needlepoint canvas?

It is actually easier to do the tent stitch because you only do half a cross stitch each time! I work in continental stitch. I consider the half-cross stitch used in most commercial kits an inferior stitch for several reasons. (Don't get me started!) But, if you use a better stitch when working with a commercial kit, you will run out of yarn halfway through the project.
Gros-point butterfly with tent stitch background
Gros-point butterfly with tent stitch background
You can certainly do conventional cross-stitch on any even-weave canvas, including rug canvas. When you do this, it is called “gros-point”. You just have to remember that, instead of using the two “holes” in the canvas that you used in doing tent stitches, you need to allow for four “holes” for the top and bottom cross-stitches. This is a good technique both for beginners and for older women whose hands and eyes are not as good as they once were.

Do you have suggestions about working from patterns in books?

Here are a few:

a) Purchase a little more background fabric than the pattern calls for. You may eventually decide to use your finished project for a pillow top, quilt block, applique, etc. which requires seam allowances or margins to turn under. If you are using a different gauge of fabric than what they suggest, carefully count all the horizontal and vertical stitches to determine how much fabric you will need for the design and then add margins.

b) Buy an extra skein of floss or tapestry yarn in the most often used colors in the pattern just in case you have to take out stitches so you don't run out.

c) If you change colors or shades from those called for in the pattern, write the names or numbers of the ones you actually plan to use (lightly in pencil) on the pattern beside the ones you are replacing.

d) If you have trouble following a pattern, color the stitch squares in with colored pencils before you begin. That saves a lot of time and frustration!

colorful onion domes
Holbein embroidery featuring cross-stitch with other straight stitches
Stitch away!





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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Quickpoint: Unfinished Business

Bear picture from previous post
Where we left off...
I want to apologize for dashing off last time and leaving you with an unfinished project. Things can get very hectic at Annake's Garden this time of year. We were doing a quickpoint project which was destined to be a new addition to my series of whimsical needlepoint pictures that I call ‘Close Encounters’. This quickpoint picture features a bear in a field of sunflowers and a background of snowy mountains and Colorado blue sky. When I left you, the picture was complete except for the bear's features and one more finishing touch...

Detail of bear's face
Detail of bear's face
The last step for the bear's head was to complete her features. The eyes, nose, and mouth were first done in tent stitch. Then some of the stitches were gone over in embroidery floss to give shine to the features. I tried to give the bear a startled expression. Tiny stitches show the reflections in her eyes. I exaggerated the size of the nose just a little because that is where the “close encounter” will occur.

Then it was time to remove the picture from the frame and gently steam-press its surface. J.D. then polished the frame and got it ready to receive the finished picture.

Bear quickpoint with one step left
Just one step left...


Waste canvas
Waste canvas
I call these pictures ‘Close Encounters’ because each shows a mammal encountering a very different kind of animal (in this case, a bee.) In order to add the bee to the picture I had to make smaller stitches than the quickpoint canvas would allow. I used a special canvas, called waste canvas. Its threads can easily be removed after the needlepoint (or cross-stitch) is complete. It can be used on fabric as well as canvas or completed stitches. Let me show you how it is done, starting with a picture of the waste canvas, which can be worked as either mono canvas or penelope canvas. Since I planned to do the bee in tent stitch, I chose the mono option.

I had to work out the bee design on graph paper. There are hundreds of species of wild bees in our western mountains. Some of them have bodies as large as as the last joint on my thumb! This design does not represent any particular wild species. Since I expected the thickness of the stitches on the bear's nose to present some problems, I first tried the pattern on waste canvas over a piece of heavy felt.

Steps in creating the bee on felt using waste canvas
Steps in creating the bee on felt using waste canvas
First a piece of waste canvas larger all around than the design to be stitched was cut out. If the design is very large, it is then pinned or basted to the background. (I prefer basting because it is more secure.) This one was so small that it didn't need to be basted. Then the stitches were put in just as they would be on regular mono needlepoint canvas. (I don't pull the stitches quite as tight as I would do ordinarily.) The next picture shows the finished design with some of both the horizontal and vertical threads pulled out. (A pair of small tweezers is useful for this.) The last picture shows the design on the felt with all waste canvas removed

The remaining steps were to repeat the design on the bear's nose and to turn the piece over to J.D. for framing. Now this ‘Close Encounter’ (title as yet undetermined – suggestions?) is complete. The meetings, so far, have been friendly. I hope this one will be, too.

Finished quickpoint picture of bear and bee
Finished quickpoint picture of bear and bee

Now I want to mention a use of quickpoint that I neglected to discuss in the previous post about quickpoint (March 31, 2017): quickpoint bargello.

Quickpoint bargello pillow top "Aspen Trees"
Quickpoint bargello pillow top "Aspen Trees"
Unlike tent stitch and the other traditional needlepoint stitches, bargello stitches are not short, slanted stitches. They are long, straight stitches. The lengths may differ, but a common stitch covers four strands of canvas thread. Two stitches share a square of canvas where one stitch begins and the other one ends. If you are working on #5 canvas, as I did in today's project, each of those straight stitches covers a lot of canvas, so you want to use a yarn that is going to cover that space under each stitch. You can see these long stitches put together in the “Aspen Trees” canvas here.

Quickpoint bargello pillow "Ocean Waves"
Quickpoint bargello pillow "Ocean Waves"


This type of bargello works up really quickly and is not hard for older eyes and hands. Here are some other examples of quickpoint bargello from the post for May 1, 2013. If you have never tried bargello, quickpoint is a good way to get started. The first one is called “Ocean Waves” for obvious reasons.

Bargello pillow and picture using the same stitch
Bargello pillow and picture using the same stitch







The second pillow is called “Evergreens” and features a strong all-over bargello pattern. The picture on the wall is entitled “Firs and Feathers”. It is done in a technique that I call ‘Bargello Plus’. This combines a large area of a bargello pattern with an area of conventional tent stitch to give a realistic addition, like the eagle in the picture.


Bargello picture "Bear-ly There"
"Bear-ly There", available in our Etsy shop








Here is another example of 'Bargello Plus', entitled “Bearly There”. It combines the bargello pattern used in “Aspen Trees” with a realistic figure of a bear.


Finally, here is a picture which uses the “Ocean Waves” bargello design with tent stitch inserts of a fish and a seagull. I called it “Seafood Surprise”. You can decide for yourself which creature is going to get the biggest surprise!

Bargello Plus picture "Seafood Surprise"
Bargello Plus picture "Seafood Surprise"

Finally, a question from a reader: Did you ever find a source for standard quickpoint canvas?

JoAnn's online site shows some simple quickpoint kits designed for children. They are inexpensive. You could re-purpose them to do any picture you want to do. Otherwise, I think your best sources are the “gently used” shops, yard sales, and garage sales. If you have a weekly shopping flier, you might put an ad in the “Wanted” section. Contacting needlework and craft shops online is another possibility. If you find a good source, please let me know, and I will pass the information along.

Have fun!





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Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Quickpoint Project

Daffodils in the garden
Spring daffodils
Our project for today will be another picture in my “Close Encounters” series. I am working on #5 jute canvas, principally with acrylic and novelty yarns. Most of the work is done in continental (tent) stitch, but there are exceptions. I will discuss each of those as we come to it. To cover the canvas, I have used doubled strands of many of the yarns, giving the picture a homespun effect.

When I work on a picture, particularly if landscape is involved, I imagine that this is a real place and that I am am standing nearby observing it. (From behind a telephoto lens in this case, since a bear is involved!) I envision a sunny day in late spring or early summer. The highest mountains have not lost their snow cover, but the lower slopes are snow-free. The mountains slope away downward and toward the left, as do the lower layers in front of them. Although my approach to this picture is impressionistic, I will try not to break the rules of perspective and lighting.

Bear outlined on canvas
Bear outlined on canvas
You will notice that the canvas is printed with a pattern of 10-by-10 squares. That means that each blue square on the canvas encloses 100 empty squares. This type of canvas is especially good if you are going to do a detailed square-by-square pattern of your design before you begin stitching. This time, however, I am just going to indicate the major areas of my picture by drawing lines on the canvas with a permanent black marker. I go over the marks with a sheet of paper towel to remove any loose color that might come off on the yarn as I stitch. I am using minimal guidelines so that I can make changes as I work.

Canvas lashed to picture frame
Canvas lashed to picture frame
Once I am satisfied with my design, J. D. laces the canvas to the top of the frame I plan to use for the finished project. When the canvas is firmly stabilized on the frame, he ties off the lacing and cuts it. I can then hold the frame with one hand and put stitches in firmly with the other. This gives me tension to make my stitches as even as possible. I highly recommend securing your canvas this way. If you do not pull your stitches too tight, you should not have much if any blocking to do on the finished canvas. A gentle steam pressing should be enough.

Small balls of yarn stored in egg cartons
Small balls of yarn stored in egg cartons
Then I choose the colors and weights of the yarns I want to use. Since one of my major themes is saving money, I am going to use just what I have on hand. Some areas will need large amounts of yarn, while others will require only a few inches. I keep small balls of leftover yarn in egg cartons. I run the ends of the yarn through holes in the top of the carton so that I can see at a glance what yarns the carton contains. For each project, I fill one or more cartons with small quantities of the yarns I plan to use as small accents. Blunt-pointed tapestry needles with large eyes and a pair of sharp scissors complete my preparation.

Canvas with mountains stitched in
Canvas with mountains stitched in
I prefer to work by natural window light. I decided to stitch over the white knitting worsted tent stitches, but not over the gray ones. This gave the snowy mountains more depth and resolution. I make decisions like these constantly as I work and so should you. If your work doesn't please you, change it. Take out stitches and re-do them, stitch over them, change colors, blend colors, put in details or leave them out. If you don't make your work match your ideas, you may always be dissatisfied with the piece no matter how much other people admire it.

Canvas with sky added
...and the sky added
The next step was to stitch the large area of the sky. I continued in tent stitch, graduating the blue colors from a very light blue just above the horizon to a deeper, darker blue at the top of the picture. The light is coming from above and to the left side of the picture, with the sun about ten o'clock high in the sky.


Bear needlepoint with middle background
Needlepoint with middle background added
Then I turned to the middle distance. Here I sketched the lower slopes of the mountains, showing slopes of rock, dark green patches of evergreen forest, and lighter green areas of mountain meadows. As I moved down behind the bear's head to the neck and shoulders, I put in a section representing broad-leaved trees along a watercourse that is implied, but not actually seen, in the picture. (The land has leveled off here, although it still moves a little farther into the distance on the left side of the picture than on the right side.) In the shade below these trees, I stitched a few rows of a dark green yarn that has tiny fleck of color in it. Using single strands of Persian tapestry yarn and a small crewel needle to make tiny random stitches on the surface of the dark green yarn, I suggested a variety of plants growing and flowering in the shade.

Needlepoint with bear's head begun
Beginning to stitch the bear's head
The next step was to begin stitching on the bear's head. I worked from the outer layers inward, beginning with the ears. The bear is standing in sunlight in a field of wild sunflowers. The sun is bringing our the red tones in her coat. (Yes, I said her coat. I decided from the very beginning that my bear would be a young female.) She has just turned her head and is looking almost straight at the viewer because something has attracted her attention. This shows a bit more of her neck, cheek and muzzle on the left side of the picture and a bit more of her shoulder and ruff on the right.

Bear with face and shoulders filled in
Filling in the face and shoulders
In this step, I completed much of the bear's face, neck and the tops of her shoulders. The eyes, nose, and mouth will not be stitched until much later. The shoulder is more prominent on the right. That shoulder is “bunched”, because it is carrying more of her weight. A dark shadow runs down that side of her body, which is not struck directly by the sun. I sketched three wild sunflower blossoms and a couple of leaves in marker below the bear's head, leaving the guidelines for her upper chest, since some of her body will be visible between the flowers and leaves when they are done. A different color background was used for this photograph so that the faint sketched lines would be more readily visible.

Bear with sunflowers added
Sunflowers added in the foreground
Now I filled in the flowers, leaves and the bear's shoulders and chest, including the parts of her body that show between the flowers and leaves. Wild sunflowers have much smaller centers than domesticated ones. The number of petals varies, and the petals may be irregular.




Bear and sunflowers with near background detail
More detail added in the near background
I continued to fill in the background. As it grew closer to the foreground, I made larger random stitches for the flowers and gave them increasing size, shape, and definition. Not all of them are facing forward; some are seen from the side or the back. Leaves and stems are suggested. (This kind of surface embroidery can also be done after the picture is removed from the frame.) I emphasized the divisions between the petals of the large flowers in the foreground and added veins to their leaves. Back-stitching a lot of it emphasized other features in the picture, such as the rocky cliffs in the mid-ground and the tall trees along the watercourse. I try to be conservative with outlining, but only you can decide when you have done enough on your picture. A good rule to consider, however, is: “Don't put anything in that you are not willing to take out if the effect doesn't work!”

Oh, my goodness! Look at the time! We are doing a Farmers' Market this weekend. I hate to leave you with unfinished business, but I need to be in the greenhouse NOW! I'll be back in a couple of weeks with the completion of this project and much, much more.

In haste,



Bear with background complete and some back-stitching
To be continued - please bear with us...

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Be Kind to Your Fine-feathered Friends

Garden scene with birdbath
Late spring afternoon in Annake's garden
Many years ago when I was in high school, we used to sing a silly song to the tune a rival school had chosen for its athletic “fight” song. It started like this:

“Be kind to your fine-feathered friends,
For a duck may be somebody's mother,
Who lives all alone in the swamp,
Where it's always dark and damp...”

or something to that effect. That silly song was on my mind this morning while I was looking for this year's “gift” from the birds.



End-of-season grapes left on the vine for the birds
End-of-season grapes left on the vine for the birds
We joined the National Wildlife Federation's backyard wildlife program several years ago. We provide cover, food supplies, and water year around. Since our backyard is of a modest size, most of the creatures that benefit are birds and small animals like toads. When I first moved to this area, there were very few species of birds. They had suffered from DDT poisoning. There was a later set-back when West Nile virus attacked the state. For the past several years, however, we have noticed at least one or two new species moving into our neighborhood, or migrating through it, every year. And they come bearing gifts! Each year we find at least one plant growing here that we didn't plant ourselves. Some are annuals, which grace us with their presence for a year and then are gone. But others take root and become permanent residents.


Oregon grape holly in bloom
Oregon grape holly in bloom




This beautiful Oregon holly grape started out as a tiny seedling,. Today it is as tall as I am and it takes at least four people to join hands around it, while staying out of its prickly leaves. Each year it produces balls of bright yellow flowers, followed by deep blue berries that help us feed the birds through the following winter.




Evergreen tree




This evergreen came along soon after the holly grape and stands beside it. The first couple of years the poor little thing was eaten nearly down to the ground by the deer. As its prickly neighbor grew bigger and broader, however, the deer learned to leave it alone. Now it is several feet taller than its protector.


Rose hips






Birds that like rose hips have provided us with several wild, or pasture, roses. One has made itself at home on the side of our small lean-to greenhouse. It produces fine new hips each autumn that we use as a source of Vitamin C.









But our prize gift has been this lovely cream-colored columbine. We have planted columbines in other places, but none have been this color or have had blossoms this large.

White columbine
Creamy white columbines

Crabapple blossoms
Crabapple blossoms

We share our fruit with the birds. They eat the fruits of this crabapple tree all winter long. The tree is old, but still produces these colorful blooms and many red fruits. A flock of cedar waxwings stops during their autumn migration to fill up on them.


Berries on the snoball bush
Berries on the snowball bush

The lively little bushtits stuff themselves with the fruits of our snowball bush. Like the evergreen, this plant had a difficult start because it was trampled the first couple of years. Now it is so big it seems to think it is a tree! We also leave some apples on the tree and grapes on the vine for the birds to feed on during the winter.

Red Delicious apples on the tree
Red Delicious apples on the tree

One of our neighbors keeps geese. On warm, sunny days they wander around the neighborhood, eating lots of insects, scaring the stray cats, and even keeping the deer away. J.D. got this photo of them marching down the middle of the street.

Local geese on the march
Geese on patrol

Did I find this year's gift? Not yet. But I will. I always do. I'll just keep looking. And I'll put out a string bag of yarn and dryer lint for nesting materials. So my message to all of you is to be kind to the birds and perhaps they will bring you presents, too.

Oh, you wanted a duck, too? Below is one I did in petit point when my eyes and hands were a bit younger.

Love the birds. (Yes, J.D., even the pigeons.)





Needlepoint of wood duck
"Mandarin Duck," available in our Etsy shop

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