Monday, August 26, 2013

Easy Cross-stitch on Checked Gingham

(This post is the first of a series of tutorials about embroidery, starting with simple cross-stitch on checked gingham and working up through more complex techniques like blackwork and Holbein stitchery.)

A sunflower from the Garden used as a model for cross-stitch
A sunflower from the Garden, the model for today's cross-stitch
Cross-stitch is usually the first type of decorative needlework budding stitchers encounter; and, while it forms the foundation of other styles of stitchery that I find much more fun and interesting, many needleworkers find it satisfying enough that they never do anything else. I'm going to get you started with an easy technique of working on checked gingham, one of my favorite materials. Checked gingham is the perfect background for a beginner because the corners of its squares are so easy to see. You'll want to start with 1/4" check material, the most common gingham available. I'm going to make a sunflower freehand, but you'll probably want a pattern or a chart of some sort. I hope you'll download the FREE Rose Needle Arts Chart I introduced in an earlier blog post, but you can use simple patterns from other sources with this technique.

Rose Needle Arts Pattern, cross-stitched on checked gingham
Rose Needle Arts Pattern, cross-stitched on checked gingham
The cross-stitch is made with a pair of diagonal stitches that cross in the middle to form an X.  Cross-stitch can be done by counting, as it is in the rose pattern and the center of my sunflower, or as a patterned filling stitch, as it is in the sunflower petals, where you only need an outlined shape to work inside.

Whether you work from my rose chart or one in a book, study your chart. If there are directions with it, read them carefully. Make a list of the colors you will need. Be sure you know which symbol or number represents each color. You will begin with simple, readily available embroidery floss. You will need a skein of floss for each color. If one color appears more often than the rest, buy two skeins of it. I prefer blunt needles for the stitching. These are usually labeled tapestry needles. Try to find a mixed package of numbers 18 through 22 and buy a couple of them so you will have a needle for each separate color. If you are more comfortable with crewel (sharp-pointed) needles, then use them.

Free Rose Needle Arts chart downloadable PDF
Free Rose Needle Arts chart downloadable PDF
Count the longest line of squares, both horizontally and vertically, in your pattern. This will tell you how big the finished design will be, figuring an inch for every 4 squares. Allow at least 2 inches of background around the whole design. If you are using my rose pattern, you will need to buy a half yard of quarter-inch checked gingham. You will have enough left over to do another picture or to back a pillow. Be sure you buy gingham that has the checks woven in --- not printed on. Select your floss first and try the skeins on different colors of gingham to find the combination that pleases you the most.

Yellow checked gingham basted for cross-stitch
Yellow checked gingham basted for cross-stitch
I baste interfacing, muslin, or a piece of an old white pillowcase to the back of the gingham and stitch through both layers. This helps keep an even tension and conceals the stitches you make on the back of your work. Press both pieces before you baste them together. Run a basting line of a contrasting color through the horizontal and vertical centers of the gingham. Match the center where they cross with the center of the chart and choose a color that crosses the center for your first stitches.

I use all the strands of the floss on 1/4-inch check, but split them in two when I work on 1/8-inch “baby check”. Never use a piece of floss that is more than 18 inches long. I start my first line of stitches with a waste knot well off to one side of the center on the front of the work. I end the first line by securing at least 2 inches of the floss on the back of the work, under my finished stitches. Then I cut off the knot, pull the rest of the waste floss to the back, thread it in the needle and run it under finished stitches. No other knots are needed, since I start the next piece of floss by running it under finished stitches on the back before bringing it to the front. Work progressively outward from the center to the edges of the pattern.

Samples of stitches used in sunflower cross-stitch
Sample diagonal, cross, star and back stitching
I start my first stitch in the lower left-hand corner of the check square and end it in the upper right-hand corner. This is the same as the basic tent stitch in needlepoint. The second half of the X starts in the lower right-hand corner and ends in the upper left-hand corner. You can reverse the two halves and do the left-leaning part of the stitch first. This may be easier for left-handed people. The important thing is to be consistent. Whichever way you cross the stitch, be sure you do all of them the same way. Don't switch back and forth. It will be noticeable and detract from your work. The star stitch is made by stitching a + over a completed X, and like the basic cross-stitch, should be done the same way each time. Another useful device is to back-stitch the outline of the square around a completed X. These are useful for texture and shading.

Once you are comfortable with the stitch, you can do rows or whole sections in the right-leaning stitch, then come back later to do the left-leaning ones. You may work lines of stitches right to left as I do, since that is how I also do needlepoint, or left to right. If you're a beginner, however, I suggest you do one complete X at a time. I also suggest you make a small pencil mark on the corresponding square of your chart. You can erase them later and they will keep you from losing your place in the pattern if you are interrupted. (Unless you smell smoke, hear gunfire, or see blood, take the time to finish the stitch you are on and secure your needle with the tip pointing in the direction of your next stitch before you put your work down.)

Cross-stitch sunflower center, filled in
Sunflower center, filled in with cross, star, and back stitches
Tension is important in cross-stitch. Your stitch should just fill the line between the two corners. If it is loose and floppy, it will snag. If it is too tight, it will pull the square out of shape. A little practice on a scrap or edge of the material will help you to sense when your stitch is just right. If you use the proper tension, your finished work may not need blocking --- just pressing with a steam iron. The ends of stitches in adjacent squares should touch when they meet, with no background showing between them. This also assures that all your X's are the same size. Background should show behind your stitches and anywhere there is a blank square on your chart.

Cross-stitch sunflower showing back stitching
Cross-stitch sunflower showing back stitching
Back-stitching the finished rose is optional. If you do a dark-colored rose, I recommend back-stitching it with shades 1, 2, or 3; if a light-colored one, shades 5, 6, or 7; if a medium-colored one, shades 3, 4, or 5. If you are doing a project from a book, back-stitch according to the directions on the chart. I did a lot of back-stitching on the sunflower to get it to really stand out from its background.

Now get out there and start X-ing! Happy stitching!

 Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, August 16, 2013

An Interview with Our Quiltmaker

Starry Nine Patch Quilt
Starry Nine Patch Quilt, available in our Etsy Shop
It's time to take a little break from the needlework tutorials, so this time I'm going to give our resident quilter a little exposure. Her work has been featured in earlier blogs (April & June), and some of her new pieces are about to join those already available in our Etsy shop.

Oh, and be sure to check the announcement after the interview.

Our quilter working
Our quilter, working on a recent project
How did you get started making quilts?    I was bored. I can't just sit and watch TV. I have to have my hands busy. And I once read a quote from a pioneer woman who came west in the time of the wagon trains. She said she made her quilts warm to keep her family from freezing, and she made them pretty to keep her heart from breaking. That had stuck in my mind through all these years. I had made a baby quilt more than twenty years ago; then I didn't do any more quilting for about ten years. I made a few random pieces, mostly small ones like baby quilts, art quilts for wall hangings, and so on. I decided that I wanted to make only practical pieces to be used as bedding. That meant going to the larger standard bed sizes and using only durable, washable materials. I began doing these quilts seriously a little over three years ago. Now I've given up all other forms of needlework in favor of quilting.

Which do you prefer, patchwork or applique?   It depends on whether or not it's football season. If it is football season, I do applique; if it isn't, I do patchwork. I sometimes wind up taking out some pretty “wild” stitches if the Denver Broncos are having an exciting game. You can pretty well chart the Bronco's season by my stitches -- and by the needle stabs on my fingers!

Hand sewing appliques
Hand sewing appliques
What do you find most satisfying about making quilts?   Finishing one. Last stitches are always a triumph. (Laughs!)  Actually, I enjoy quilting because it keeps my hands busy while allowing my mind to roam freely. It also keeps me from smoking. I haven't quit, but I have really cut down!

What is most challenging about quilting?  Keeping straight lines. I have a real problem with that.

When most of us think of fabric yo-yo projects, we think in terms of things like shoulder bags or vests. But I know you made a full-sized quilt out of yo-yo pieces. How did you come to do that?   I saw a picture that I really liked of a yo-yo quilt in one of my many craft books and magazines. I decided I could do that. So I did. 

How did you collect enough yo-yos?   My husband had to have back surgery. I made yo-yos while I sat in the hospital waiting room and beside my husband through his hospital stay and much of his recovery at home. My husband is very supportive about my quilting. The only problem is that he wants to keep them all!

Do you keep a file of patterns you have used or plan to use?   I do keep some. I don't think you could call it a filing system, though. I started by stuffing them inside a huge envelope. Now I've moved on to a tub -- and it is getting pretty full.

Quillow with tulip applique
The latest finished "quillow" with tulip applique
You also make something called a "quillow".  What is that?   A quillow is a quilted throw that folds up into its attached appliqued case to become a pillow.

Who has been the biggest influence on your work?   Probably our friend Dianna, who does my machine quilting on her long-arm machine. She is very inspirational. She's also good about keeping me on task. One of my quilts was her 500th to quilt and another was her 1000th.

Is there a certain type of material you prefer?  Plain 100% cotton. It is sturdy and easy to wash and dry. It doesn't run or fade. Even sticky-fingered little kids can safely play with a cotton quilt.

Tropical Dream Quilt
Tropical Dream Quilt, available in our Etsy shop
What sort of color scheme do you prefer?   Bright colors in cheerful combinations. I find the Civil war quilts and other antique ones interesting, but they are depressing to look at.

What are you working on now and in the near future?   I'm making quilt squares out of black flannel and appliqueing them with piecework in felted wools. So far I've done fruit, flower, and animal squares. I do surface embroidery in floss on the finished squares. I also have the fabric for a blue-and-white quilt that I'm considering doing in an Irish chain pattern. I've never made a crazy quilt --- yet. I also think the Baltimore album quilts are quite beautiful.

What advice would you give a beginning quilter?   Start with a simple beginner's pattern, not with one you just happen to like. Buy a fabric you really like because you are going to be looking at it for a long time. Buy more yardage than the pattern says; you're going to need it. Don't quit in the middle of the project. Enjoy yourself.

I hope you all enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did conducting it. Until next time,


An Announcement from Annake's Garden Gnome:  Did you notice that we have added some pages to our blogsite (see the tabs above the blog post!), including a new "Contact Us" page?  It's not real purty yet, but it does seem to be working. So, if you have downloaded our free rose needle arts chart and are working on -- or have finished -- a project using it, you can now share it with us by uploading a photo with our contact form. Show us what you can do!

And, please -- if you have any problems with this site, PLEASE let us know:  we're planning a lot of changes and additions over the coming weeks, and there are bound to be a few glitches -- we want to chase them out of the Garden as fast as we can. Thanks, all --

 Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Rose is a Rose, Part 2 - One Chart for Many Projects

Cross-stitched Rose Quilt Square
Original rose pattern, cross-stitched on beige gingham
When I teach someone to do cross-stitch, folk embroidery, Spanish blackwork, Assisi work, etc., I start with a project on quarter-inch checked gingham because it closely resembles graph paper. This makes it easy for students to follow simple graphs and encourages them to try their own graphs. Graphs are very versatile. It is possible to do the same design in a multitude of sizes, from a covered button to a king-sized quilt. The same chart can be used for many different techniques: afghan stitch, beading, mosaic, latch-hook, piecework, etc. A chart like the one you can download for free today works for a whole rainbow of color schemes. Charts are easy to file for future reference and, laminated, long-lasting.

"Heritage Rose" Latch Hook Rug
"Heritage Rose," a latch hooked rug available in our Etsy shop
I never ask students to do a project unless I do one right along with them; as a result, I accumulate samples. The pink cross-stitch rose on beige checked gingham is one of those. I liked the beige back-ground because it made the colors of the students' roses show up well. Years after I made and filed this sample, I enlarged and modified the same design for the center of a latch-hook rug.

Yellow Rose Needlepoint, Finished
Finished yellow rose needlepoint
 The yellow rose needlepoint I've done for this blog is in tent stitch on plastic canvas. The canvas has 7 stitches to the inch (49 stitches per square inch), as compared with the checked gingham's 4 stitches per inch (16 stitches per square inch), so you can see the needlepoint rose will be considerably smaller than the cross-stitch one. The chart can be scaled either up or down. For instance, imagine that each square on the chart represents a 2-inch-square finished quilt piece. The rose would then be 68 inches at its widest point and 66 inches from top to bottom. With plain squares of background fabric added, that would make an impressive quilt center. Or imagine that the squares are 6-inch ceramic tiles for a floor or wall. Conversely, the rose could be much smaller. In beading, a row of these roses would make a handsome belt. Cross-stitched on fine Aida cloth, it might decorate a collar or a napkin. In petit point, it could be a pendant or brooch.

Plastic canvas with center lines basted
Plastic canvas with center lines basted
Let's say you want to do a rose in cross-stitch or needlepoint. Prepare your background, choosing the color carefully so it does not overpower the rose. Fabric should be backed with inter-facing. Canvas, except for plastic, should be taped on the edges. Find the center of your material. Run a row of basting stitches through the center, both vertically and horizontally, using a bold color that does not appear in your version of the rose.

Yarn for the yellow rose needlepoint
Yarn palette for the yellow rose needlepoint
Now select the colors of your yarn or floss. The pattern will work easily for most colors. A white rose is a bit of a challenge, but can be done with off-whites, cream, ivory, ecru, etc. I've never tried a black rose, but it should be possible with a range of grays, blues, or purples. You will need a range of 7 shades of your main color, plus two greens. Shades of the main color are represented by numbers on the chart, with 1 being the palest one and 7 the darkest one. Capital G represents the darker green and small g the lighter green. Lay your 7 materials out in front of you in light-to-dark order. Tag them with the numbers if you like. (I'll admit I'm a spendthrift when it comes to needles: I threaded a separate needle with each shade of yellow!) Start stitching at the center and work outward. When the rose is complete, pull out the basting threads.

Yellow rose needlepoint closeup
Yellow rose needlepoint closeup, showing back stitching
Because the yellows were not high-contrast, I did a limited amount of back stitching in a dark yellow on the needlepoint. You may not want to do any back-stitching at all. Or you may want to back-stitch all the outlines shown on the chart, as I would probably have done if I had chosen to do a pale yellow rose in counted cross-stitch on a white or light background. I will leave that decision up to you. The more choices you make, the more completely the rose will belong to you.
Rose Needle Arts Chart JPEG
Picture of the downloadable rose chart

The pattern is a “forgiving” one. If you place an occasional stitch in the wrong square, it should not spoil your rose. Small differences are to be expected in handmade items. If you run out of a color, continue with the closest match you can find. The vertical and horizontal center rows on the chart are marked.

Next time, I'll tell everyone how to submit a photograph of whatever project they make from this chart, and I'll show the most interesting results on a future blog.

To download the free chart (in PDF format), just click this link.

Now my rose is your rose. May all of your roses be beautiful.

 Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.