Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let It Snow! -- Enjoy Snowflakes Indoors

Native American design latch hook wall hanging
Native American design wall hanging
When I make a latch-hook rug, I often have a strip of canvas left over that is not wide enough to make a pillow top but is too large for someone as frugal as I am to discard. I like to make these strips into small wall hangings like this Native American design that hangs in my living room. First, I work out my design in color on graph paper. I find the center of the canvas and mark the edges of what will be the finished design with a permanent marker. The raw edges of the canvas are covered with masking tape. Once the design is worked in latch-hook knots, the tape is removed and the raw edges are turned under. I overcast them to the back of the finished canvas, mitering the corners. Then I back the canvas with a strip of felt that matches one of the colors in the design, leaving enough felt at the top to make a pocket for a piece of wooden lattice or a dowel. The wood is cut to fit the pocket exactly and the ends are sanded. Finally, a small decorative metal hanger is screwed into the top center of the wood.

Latchhooked Snowflakes wall hanging
Latchhooked Snowflakes wall hanging
To make the snowflake hanging, I used a strip of canvas approximately 27 and 1/2 inches (70 centimeters) long and 11 inches (28 centimeters) wide. The design was worked in three continuous square panels. The top and bottom panels feature white snowflakes on a dark blue background, while the center panel has a dark blue snowflake on a white background. Each panel is 33 knots long and 33 knots wide, so the entire hanging is 33 knots by 99 knots. It required 9 packs (320 pieces each) of pre-cut white rug yarn and 7 packs of dark blue. (Quite a few pieces will be left over from the last blue pack.) The piece is backed with white felt, which is overcast to the turned-under edges of the rug canvas with buttonhole twist or another very strong thread.

Latchhook Snowflake Pattern
Latchhook Snowflake Pattern
All three panels are worked from the same pattern. To download the pattern, just click on the picture titled “Latchhook Snowflake Pattern.” On this chart, the X's represent the snowflake and edging color, while the O's represent the background color. I have filled in the O's with color to make the design more visible, but remember that the colors reverse in the center panel. If you want to use the pattern to make a pillow top, you will need to make the border larger, put more rows of background between the snowflake and the border, or both. I recommend doing both. To make a small rug, repeat the pattern squares as in the diagram below. You might want to use another color (or colors) instead of the dark blue. Red, green, or violet would be just as attractive. Or you might make a three-panel hanging with white snowflakes on all three panels, but different colors in the backgrounds. The variations are limited only by your imagination.

Embroidered Snowflake centerpiece
Embroidered Snowflake centerpiece
Here is another way to bring snowflakes indoors without letting in any cold. This embroidered centerpiece is stitched in white floss on aqua and white checked gingham. The embroidery is done in blackwork patterned stitches done with white embroidery floss. This does not qualify as traditional “whitework,” because it does not involve drawn-thread work, pulled-thread work or cut-work, as our Scandinavian friends will be quick to point out. It is, however, a refreshing variation on conventional blackwork.

Embroidered Snowflake Pattern
Embroidered Snowflake Pattern
Here's the pattern for the snowflake. To download it, just click on the picture titled “Embroidered Snowflake Pattern.” For the best effect, use an embroidery floss that has a high gloss or sheen. I backed the gingham with white interfacing, and stitched through both layers. This helps the piece hold its shape through many washings. Then a piece of plain white cotton fabric was placed face down on top of the finished embroidery and the embroidery and backing were stitched together, leaving a small opening through which the embroidered side was turned to the outside. The opening was sewn closed. If you want to add a lace edging to the piece, baste the lace to the backing with the lace face-up and turned toward the center of the backing. Leave a quarter-inch seam allowance. Stitch the layers together by hand or machine. When the embroidered side is turned to the outside, the lace will stand out all around. Close the opening, steam-press the centerpiece, and your work is done.

I gave one of the snowflake hangings (a slightly different one, entitled “Winter”) to my grand-daughter for Christmas. She liked it and hinted rather strongly that it would be nice if I would design “Spring”, “Summer” and “Autumn” hangings to go with it! I have begun the “Spring” one already, so you can expect a pattern and directions for it in a few weeks.

Enjoy your indoor snowflakes,

Annake signature

Closeup of one panel of Snowflakes wall hanging
Closeup of one panel of Snowflakes wall hanging

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

A World in Stitches - Introducing Folk Embroidery

Hello, again, and Happy New Year! It’s taken a while to get back up to speed after the holiday break, but we’re brimming with ideas for a new season of posts. We will introduce you to some new artisans, new arts, and new techniques for some crafts we’ve explored in previous articles. We will take up new needlework topics like trapunto and reverse applique and non-needle arts like batik; but that doesn't mean we will neglect old favorites like needlepoint: we plan to feature new ideas for shaped four-ways, patterns based on optical illusions, and a hybrid form of tapestry work that I like to call “stained-glass stitchery.” We hope each of you will find something you like and want to try. As for needlework, we plan to devote quite a bit of space to folk embroidery, starting with this post.

What Is Folk Embroidery?

hand-made bone needle
Hand-made bone needle, used to sew the tunic shown below
Folk embroidery, like most folk arts, began in rural areas, where people made simple homespun fabrics or in remote places where the skins and furs of animals were used for clothing, bedding, and even shelter. Decorative stitching and applied objects served to make coarse, drab fabrics appealing and to express individual creativity. At various times and places, stitches were combined with feathers, seeds, bones, teeth, claws and porcupine quills. The first “sequins” were probably fish scales or beetle wings. Sinews and plant fibers were used before thread, floss or yarn were invented. Did you know that the first known needles were carved from ivory in what is now France some 20,000 years ago? 

Viking style tunic
Viking style tunic with fishbone stitch seams
J.D. and I occasionally do programs about life in the Viking Age. Because we have to make or trade for all of our garb, tools, and gear, we do a great deal of research to assure what we use and show is as authentic as possible. Unfortunately fabric, thread, and yarn are fragile compared to stone, metal, and wood. They rarely survive for centuries. For embroidery, I study photographs of very old pieces from museum collections to identify familiar stitches and to understand how unfamiliar ones were made. I compare pieces from different geographic areas. It is like a treasure hunt. Often it is possible to follow the progress of a pattern or technique over great distances. For example, one can see how the wool and silk embroideries brought by the Moors when they conquered Spain became the inspiration for the exquisite blackwork embroidery of the Elizabethan Age in England. Or one can follow techniques from the Byzantine Empire up the great rivers to the Baltic states, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia.

I was offended some years ago when a so-called “expert” on the Viking Age (a man, of course) proclaimed that the women of that time knew only eight embroidery stitches. How do I know that he was wrong? First, five decades of teaching have shown me that most innovations are the result of mistakes – such as not having enough of one color of thread to do what you’ve planned; or of misunderstandings – the fishbone stitch that seams the tunic above can be accomplished two entirely different ways, and it’s impossible to tell which is used unless you can see the back of the stitch; or of desperation – fabric was precious in those days, and women had to salvage what they could when Ole got too fat for his britches, or got blood on his new tunic butchering a pig (or a Saxon, as the case may be). And what do women do when they get together? They exchange information on everything from recipes and child care to networking and politics. They always have; they always will. Don't you think they would have done the same thing with embroidery stitches and patterns?

Let me show you how you can learn eight stitches in a very short time. You will need a scrap of fabric, a needle, and three colors of floss. Start with the simplest possible stitch –- the running or basting stitch (see below). Make ten rows of this stitch evenly spaced apart. (I have made very large stitches for visibility; yours don't need to be so large. The stitches will look neater at a smaller scale.) Be sure each row is firmly anchored at both ends.

running stitch

Leave the first row of stitches as it is. With the second color, and working from the opposite direction, fill in the spaces between the stitches in the second row. This is the double running stitch and is the basis for the Holbein stitch I wrote about last summer. In the third row, the running stitches are whipped (overcast) with the second color. This is the whipped running stitch. The second color stays on top of the fabric except at the two ends. Make the fourth row into a double running stitch like the second row. Then whip (overcast) all the stitches with your third color, which stays on the surface except at the ends where it pierces the fabric. This is the whipped double running stitch.

double, whipped, and whipped double running stitches

The fifth row illustrates the laced running stitch, in which the second color stays on the surface and is pulled into a little arch under each stitch –- with a longer, shallower arch in the opposite direction between stitches. This gives it a pretty scalloped appearance. (If I were using this on linens or a garment that had to be washed, I would use a strand of the background thread to couch down [hold the stitch in place with a tiny upright stitch] each arch at its center.) Make the sixth row into double running stitch with the second color. Then lace it with the third color. This is the laced double running stitch. Because the arches are caught at the joining of two stitches rather than crossing an empty space between stitches, the top and bottom arches are the same size and the scalloped effect is lost. This is another stitch that benefits from couching. Make the seventh row into double running stitch, but this time use only your first color. Keeping the second color on the surface except at the ends of the row, loops the floss around each place where the running stitches join. This is the Pekinese stitch, which doesn't usually require couching. (If you know how to back-stitch, you can whip, lace, and do Pekinese stitches on a row of back-stitching just as you did on the running stitches – and thereby double the number of stitches I promised to show you!)

laced running, laced double running, and Pekinese stitches

The last two stitches are worked between two rows of the running stitch. For the first of these, make a cross-stitch in each space between the rows of running stitches. This has no name as far as I know. The shapes created, however, are often called lozenges, so I suppose we could call it the lozenge stitch. The eighth stitch requires an extra step. First, turn both rows into double running stitches with your first color. Bring your needle with the second color up halfway between the two rows of stitches. Make a Pekinese stitch around the first joining on the bottom row of stitches. Then make a Pekinese stitch on the joining directly above on the top row. Continue alternating bottom and top stitches all the way across, ending by pushing your needle down midway between the rows at the other end. This is called the interlaced double running stitch.

lozenge stitch and interlaced double running stitches

Now you know eight more stitches, based on nothing more than simple running stitches and the concept of wrapping another thread around or between them. Wasn't that easy? Keep experimenting with doubling stitches, reversing them, combining them or adding more colors. Who knows? Maybe you will invent an entirely new stitch! You can see some new stitches on the hand-embroidered blouse below.

Enjoy your new stitches,

Hand-embroidered blouse from Hungary
Hand-embroidered blouse from Hungary

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