Friday, October 18, 2013

Basic Blackwork, Part 2

Blackwork snail quilt block
Blackwork Snail, ready for use as a quilt block or ??
You may wonder why I'm encouraging you to learn a technique like blackwork. There are a number of reasons, but the first is simple economics. Once you learn a skill like this, you can make beautiful and unique items for your home and family and gifts for friends for a fraction of what it takes to buy mass-produced, machine-made things which don't bear the stamp of your personality at all. A second reason is the satisfaction you can feel after making something that would not even exist were it not for you. For example, I have the satisfaction of knowing that my black cat, surrounded by ruffles, will become a pillow for a little girl who loves cats. The snail and his companions will become blocks in a child's quilt. I will probably never meet the child, but I have the satisfaction of imagining him or her pointing to the blocks and saying “snail,” or “fish'” or “turtle” or “owl”. That satisfaction warms my heart. I'd love for it to warm yours, too.

Simple fish outline
Simple outline of a fish
Ready to start on your blackwork project? Let's go over a checklist to make sure you didn't skip a step. Did you:
  • choose a simple outline pattern and divide it into at least 6 sections?
  • trace the outline on quarter-inch graph paper and mark the center lines?
  • download the chart of diaper patterns?
  • choose a pattern for each section and fill it in on your chart?
  • make a hot iron transfer of your outline (optional)?
  • cut and press 1/4-inch checked gingham and a backing fabric?
  • transfer the outline to the gingham with a hot iron, remembering that it will be reversed (optional)?
  • baste the gingham and backing together and stitch in centering lines?
  • assemble your materials, plus scissors, needle(s), and black floss?
All right. Here we go!

Snail outline via transfer pencil to gingham
Snail outline via transfer pencil to gingham; note reversal
Cut several pieces of the black floss, each no more than 18 inches long. Thread as many needles as you have available. Make a knot in the end of the first strand. This is the only knot you will need. It is called a waste knot. Push your needle down from the top of your fabric several inches outside the outline of your design, so that the knot is on top of the fabric. Work your first stitches. When there are about two inches of floss left in your needle, take the needle through to the back of your fabric and run the remaining floss under completed stitches to secure it. Do this every time. Start the next strand of floss on the back of your fabric by running a couple of inches of it under finished stitches. Bring your needle through to the front of the fabric and start stitching where you left off. Eventually you can cut off the waste knot, draw the floss to the back of the fabric, thread it into a needle and secure it under finished stitches. If it makes you feel more comfortable, use another waste knot when you begin each section of your pattern.

Simple outline of owl
Simple outline of an owl
I start working on my designs at or near the place where the centering lines cross because it makes it easier to follow the chart. You do not have to do this. Choose any of your pattern sections and begin stitching, following the chart of your chosen diaper pattern. Put in all the lines for a square (check) before you move on to the next one. While it is true that the short lines often line up to make longer lines, just do one square of check at a time. Don't extend your stitch into the next square. Make the stitches in each square meet the stitches in the surrounding squares with no background showing between the ends of the stitches. Try not to split the strands of floss on the completed stitch when you join it with a new stitch. Work all the way to the borders of each section. Where you cannot do a complete pattern, do as much of the pattern as you can. Where you cannot put in a complete stitch, do as much of the stitch as you can. When I'm working on a square which contains several stitches, I do them in this order: horizontal (if any), vertical (if any), left-to-right diagonal, right to left diagonal. If a stitch doesn't look right to you, take it out immediately and do it over. This is much easier than trying to “fix”it later.

Stitch pattern chart for fish outline
Stitch pattern chart for fish outline
Be sure you are working through both layers of fabric at all times. Don't let your needle slip in between the two layers. Don't pull your stitches too tight. If you are meeting resistance, you are probably trying to pull the stitches too tight. This will cause the fabric to pucker and make it harder to block the finished project. Check the back of your work occasionally to make sure you aren't leaving loose loops of floss on that side. If you do find a long loop, cut it in half and thread each end under finished stitches. Short loops can be fastened to existing stitches with a tiny crossing stitch so that you don't pull them through to the right side.

Close-up of Black Cat Blackwork, face detail
Close-up of Black Cat Blackwork, face detail
As your blackwork project nears completion, you have choices in the stitch(es) you use to outline the design and add details or embellishments. I outlined the cat and snail with chain stitch, but could have used back stitch, stem stitch, whipped running stitch, couching or many other stitches. The cat's nose is satin stitch. Its eyelashes are lazy daisy stitch. Its whisker spots and the snail's eyes are French knots. There is a whole encyclopedia of embroidery stitches out there for you to use. If you enjoyed this project, as I hope you did, you may want to try one on smaller “baby check” gingham. Sooner or later, though, we must “take off the training wheels” and move on to more challenging monk's cloth, Aida, and evenweave fabrics. Watch for future blogs about those.

We'd love to see your finished pieces. See “Contact Us” ….................. Have fun!

Stitch pattern for Owl outline
Stitch pattern for Owl outline

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

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Basic Blackwork, Part 1

(...and now, we return you to our regularly scheduled tutorial series...)

Mouse and tulip blackwork
Student blackwork of a mouse and tulip
Blackwork embroidery may be best known from Hans (the Younger) Holbein's 16th century paintings of English nobles from the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. (Don't look at the paintings, yet; they might discourage you from trying a technique that is really fun!) What we are going to do this time is strictly 21st Century, leaning toward making pictures, pillows, quilt blocks, place mats, etc. The original 16th century blackwork was done in black silk and gold thread on white linen. We are going to start with black embroidery floss on quarter-inch checked gingham in your choice of color:  you will need a half-yard of gingham and an equal amount of plain backing fabric -- muslin, interfacing, or something similar. Later, we'll progress to other fabrics and a variety of threads, flosses, and yarns.

Those of you who have become familiar with my work through these blogs know that I like naturalistic depictions. But I also have a whimsical streak, fostered by a lifetime of teaching children and teenagers. Blackwork is a medium which allows and encourages me to be playful.

Black Cat Blackwork
Black Cat Blackwork, modeled on a friend of ours
We are going to work with designs that can easily be divided into sections. The sections are then filled in with a wide range of patterns made (like counted cross-stitch) with short, straight stitches. These repeating patterns are sometimes called diaper patterns. I make my own designs and hope you will try to do so -- eventually, if not now. A good source of simple outline designs is a child's coloring book. A group of panels like the cat and the snail will make an endearing quilt for a child. These simple coloring book designs are perfectly acceptable when you are making projects for yourself and your household or for gifts. If you plan to sell your work at craft shows or in shops, however, do not use any copyrighted materials in your designs. The legal complications can be awful. I will continue to give you suggestions in these blogs for creating your own original designs.

Black Cat Blackwork detail
Black Cat Blackwork closeup, showing pattern detail
Shading in blackwork is done by increasing the density of the stitches. The simpler the pattern, the fewer the stitches and the more background that shows through. These patterns are the lightest in value. As more stitches are added, the pattern becomes more complex and the value becomes darker. Look at the cat done on pink “baby check” gingham. See how the front leg on the far side of the body appears to be darker than the front leg on the near side?

Now you are going to design a project of your own so that you will be all ready to start when this instruction is continued in the next tutorial blog. Choose a simple outline pattern like the black cat or my silly snail and trace it onto quarter-inch graph paper. Or, make up your own design (or use something one of your children drew) and draw it on the graph paper. You should be able to divide your design into at least 6 sections (see the 7 sections on the black cat). Decide where these sections will be. Draw heavy lines in between them on your graph.

Downloadable Diaper Pattern Chart
Downloadable Diaper Pattern Chart
Now download the diaper pattern chart and print it out. I inked the patterns freehand without a ruler, so they are a little irregular, but you should be able to follow them without any difficulty. Each separate line in a pattern represents a single short, straight stitch and each square on the graph paper represents a square or check on the gingham. Each diaper pattern can be used horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

Notice how some patterns appear very light, while some are medium in value and others are much darker. Choose a different pattern for each section of your outline. At least one should be very light (see the cat's stomach) and at least one should be very dark (see the cat's front leg on the far side of its body). Copy your chosen designs in the sections of your outline. (You don't need to copy my choices; make your own.) Work all the way to each bordering line, even if it means you can only show part of a stitch. Once your chart is filled in to your satisfaction, you may want to go over it in ink to make it easier to read --- but this is not required. Be sure to draw in the horizontal and vertical centering lines, preferably in another color.

Silly Snail outline and transfer copy
Silly Snail outline and copy in transfer pencil
Want an easy way to transfer your outline to your fabric? Make a hot-iron transfer. Trace your outline on tracing paper with a hot-iron transfer pencil. These red pencils are made by several companies. I use Aunt Martha's, 2 to a package for $2.99. Each pencil will make many transfers. Keep the pencil point sharp and go over the lines firmly until they look dark. Cut and press a piece of quarter-inch checked gingham at least two inches larger on all sides than your outline design. Pin your transfer pattern (red-penciled side down) to the gingham, centering it with the checks. Press the transfer pattern on the back with a hot, dry iron (no steam). Press hard and go back and forth several times, but don't scorch the paper. It takes at least 5 seconds to get a good transfer. Unpin one corner and lift it carefully. Peek under it to see if your lines transferred. If not, re-pin it in the same place and iron over it until they do. Remember that your picture will appear reversed on the fabric, so avoid lettering or anything that looks “wrong” if reversed. The red lines will wash out of the fabric with warm water and a mild detergent once your project is finished.

Snail outline with stitch patterns added
Silly Snail outline with diaper (stitch) patterns added
Whether or not you make a transfer pattern, press your gingham and the material you plan to use to back it. Baste them together around the edges. Run a colored basting stitch through the horizontal and vertical centers of the gingham. I use embroidery floss to do this, so that it will show up on J. D.'s photos, but you can use sewing thread. (See Easy Cross-stitch on Gingham, August 26). Assemble scissors, one or more large-eyed needles, and a few skeins of black embroidery floss (at least 4) and you'll be ready to begin. For those of you who want further instructions and more patterns, we will have those for you in a few days. You will need to refer to your design chart or the diaper pattern chart as you work.

To download the simple diaper pattern chart, or the Silly Snail outline, simply click on the links in this sentence or on the appropriate picture above. Happy designing!


Model for Black Cat Blackwork
Our model for the Black Cat Blackwork takes a break

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