Sunday, June 1, 2014

11 Secrets for Needlework Success*

white columbine
We have some new questions to address. The answers don't require illustrations, so we are going to give you some of J.D.'s spring flower photos to enjoy while you read this post.

Do you have some rules for doing needlework?
Oh, dear. I'm not really fond of a lot of rules and regulations. I think they tend to discourage creativity. I'm more of a rule-breaker than a rule-maker. Why don't I just list some suggestions that I have found work for most kinds of needlecrafts, some of them even with latch-hook and crochet? Okay?
red and white tulips
Then here we go...
  • Come to your work with clean, dry hands. Remove all hand cream and lotion and as much skin oil as possible.
  • Store your project and materials in a bag (preferably cloth, not plastic) between sessions. Rolling the material is usually better for the material than folding it because it doesn't make creases or weaken canvas threads. Most grocery chains and variety stores now sell ecologically friendly cloth bags for about a dollar each.

    orange and yellow tulips
  • Check the back side of your work frequently. Bad things can happen back there, and they multiply if you don't find and correct them promptly.
  • If you need to remove stitches, lift them gently with the eye of the needle, not the point, and pull them out. This does less damage to all the materials, so you may be able to re-use the thread or yarn.
    chives in bloom
  • Always buy a little more fabric, canvas, floss, yarn, etc., than you think you need. You can use the surplus for practice or for small projects. You cannot always get more if you need it. Do practice new stitches, patterns, and techniques on surplus material before you start on a major project with them. This is your opportunity to learn and to be able to make mistakes without suffering major consequences.

    white and purple iris
  • If you are using a hoop or frame, get your material as taut as possible. Your needle should make a soft “pop” when it penetrates the fabric.
  • Don't use a strand of yarn or floss that is longer than 18 inches (about 45 centimeters). If your strands tend to twist badly or to form knots or tangles --- or if they look frayed from being pulled through the fabric or canvas too many times --- use even shorter strands.

    red iris
  • Don't pull your stitches too tight. That's a beginner's mistake which, sadly, some stitchers never outgrow. It warps the fabric or canvas and requires extensive (and often exasperating) blocking of the finished piece. Your stitches and background should both lie straight and flat. Resist the temptation to try to get in just one more stitch. If you're encountering resistance, you're probably pulling your stitches too tight.

    yellow iris
  • Allow enough thread, floss, or yarn to secure it by running it under completed stitches on the back of the work. If the strand is not secured, it may pull out with use and wear.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment. Some of my most interesting and satisfying results have come from experimenting with unusual materials, patterns, or techniques.

    cream and blue iris
  • If you find yourself unhappy with the way a project is going, put it away for a while and take it up again when you are feeling rested and relaxed. Sometimes I find that about three-fourths of the way through a project I decide I just hate the thing and don't know why I ever started it in the first place! (I'm not alone in this, either: see An Interview with Our Glass Artisan, December 30, 2013.) If I put it out of sight for a while, I usually find that there's nothing really wrong with it and it looks perfectly fine when it is finished. 
I hope you find these suggestions useful.

wild phlox

Do you use a hoop when you do needlepoint?
Not unless the whole project fits inside the hoop so that I don't have to take it out of the hoop and reposition it to finish it. The pressure of the hoop can distort the canvas mesh or completed stitches. I prefer a frame. If I am going to frame a needlepoint, I lace the canvas snugly over the back of the frame. I also have a square frame that is a perfect size for making pillow tops.


Why do you put backing on everything?
I certainly don't put backing on everything! I back fabrics that are soft (gingham, muslin), loosely woven (monks' cloth, decorator burlap), or slippery (satin, nylon). Basting these to a backing keeps them flat and unwrinkled, helps keep them from fraying around the edges, and makes them firmer to work on in hoops or frames. I don't back felt or Aida because they are firm and don't ravel. I don't back needlepoint canvas or other canvases.

Keep those questions coming!

*Okay, so they're more common sense than "secret", and we didn't number them (I did count them, though);  but I had to take ONE shot at one of those sensational post titles everybody seems to use -- J.D., Annake's Garden Gnome

crabapple in bloom
Crabapple in Bloom

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