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

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