Friday, May 29, 2015

Blending Yarns, More Needleweaving: Spring Q & A

blended yarn examples
Some examples of blended yarns used in needlepoint

Can you tell us more about blending yarns for “painterly” effects?

I would be happy to do that. We discussed the difficulty of finding variegated yarns for “stained-glass” stitchery (March 8, 2015). The same problem arises when you are doing a needlepoint picture with subtle shadings. Often the best solution is to blend your own yarns.

To make a blended yarn, you need to begin with yarns that divide easily. Most common yarns have either three or four strands (called plies) that separate easily. These are called 3-ply and 4-ply yarns and include tapestry and crewel yarns, as well as the heavier knitting weights. Most novelty yarns are not so easy to separate. You can determine whether a yarn will separate by examining the end of the yarn. You should be able to see the separate fibers, or plies. Spread them apart with your fingertips. If they spread apart easily, cut a length of the yarn. See if you can gently pull two strands free. Then separate the two strands in the same way. You should then have either 3 or 4 individual strands of yarn. Just because a yarn splits readily, however, doesn't mean that it is suitable for blending. Wrap the ends of a strand around your hands. Pull, twist, and tug it to make sure it doesn't fray.

blended yarn sampler
Blended yarn sampler

You blend yarns by threading strands of different shades into your needle at the same time. Begin with three shades in the same color range a dark (D), a medium (M), and a light (L). Look at the sample above. Each division contains three strands of yarn used together. From left to right, you have the following color designations: DDD, DDM, DMM, MMM, MML, MLL, LLL, and DML. As you stitch, the strands of yarn will turn, so that the same strand is not always on top. This is what creates the intermediate shades. You will probably have to use several of these combinations in your completed design.

Blending embroidery floss works in a similar manner. With floss, however, you are working with 6 strands, rather than 3 or 4. Floss is not as easy to separate neatly as is yarn. I usually separate floss into three 2-ply strands, not six 1-ply strands. I treat it in the same way I did the yarn above, working with a dark, medium, and light shade of the same basic color. You can use three more closely related shades for even more subtle blending if you like.

When I enlarged your hibiscus sketch for the window transparency (April 29, 2015), it looked to me like you did your sketch on tracing paper. Do you do all your sketches on tracing paper? Isn't it hard to draw on it?

hibiscus sketch on tracing paper
Hibiscus sketch on tracing paper

You are very observant. Yes, I did that particular sketch on tracing paper. No, I don't do all my sketches on tracing paper. No, it isn't hard to draw on this paper. I use Canson brand fine-textured, semi-transparent, acid free paper, which is very smooth and firm. I use tracing paper for sketches when I'm going to: 

  • a) trace the sketch onto sheer fabric or parchment for painting or coloring;
  • b) trace it onto needlepoint canvas for painting or stitching (June 15, 2014);
  • c) trace it onto another piece of paper in order to make a hot-iron transfer (October 6, 2013).
tracing on a window

I tape the original sketch to the glass of a sunny window, then tape the fabric, parchment, canvas or paper over it. Then I trace the outlines with a fine-point permanent marker for a) and b) or a hot-iron transfer pencil for c).

Are you going to do more needleweaving (October 17, 2014 and November 30, 2014)?

Certainly. So far we have only discussed needleweaving on canvas. Now let's talk about using the same type of patterns on fabric. The examples you see below are worked on decorator burlap, but they could be done on any fabric that is loosely-woven enough to allow you to easily count threads. The general idea is the same: Stitch over a certain number of threads, then under a certain number of threads, repeating the pattern from one end of your project to the other.

needleweaving sampler on burlap
Needleweaving sampler on burlap

“Hourglass” : white (Color A), light blue (Color B); do not skip threads between rows.
  • Row 1: With A, over 12 (threads), under 6; repeat to end.
  • Row 2: With A, over10, under 8; repeat.
  • Row 3: With A, over 8, under 10; repeat.
  • Row 4: With A, over 6, under 12; repeat.
  • Row 5: With A, over 4, under 14; repeat.
  • Row 6: With A, over 2, under 16; repeat.
  • Rows 7 through 12: With B repeat the Rows in this order 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
“Squared Waves”: brown (Color A), white (Color B); skip 2 threads between rows, both horizontally and vertically. This pattern can be varied to produce any combination of longer and shorter “waves”. The first and third rows are done in Color A; the middle row, in Color B. The stitch pattern is: over 2, under 2; repeat. The stitches on the middle row are done in the spaces left between the stitches on the first row. The stitches on the bottom row are parallel to those on the top row. Follow the pattern in the picture or work out one of your own.

“Chain Links”: white (Color A), light blue (Color B); do not skip threads between rows.
  • Rows 1,2,3: With A, over 3, under 2, over 3, under 2, over 3. Take yarn to the back of the fabric.* Work under 13, over 3, under 2, over 3, under 2, over 3. Repeat from * to end.
  • Rows 4, 5, 6,: Skip 13, over 3, under 2, over 3, under 2, over 3, under 13; repeat to end.
  • Rows 7,8,9: Repeat Rows 1, 2, 3.
“Hexagonal” (Look back at “Hourglass”. Notice something? Yes, this pattern is the “mirror image” of that one.): brown (Color A), white (Color B); don't skip threads between rows.
  • Row 1: With A, over 6, under 12; repeat to end.
  • Row 2: With A, over 7, under 10, over 8; repeat across, ending with over 7.
  • Row 3: With A, over 8, under 8, over 10, under 8; repeat across, ending over 8.
  • Row 4: With A, over 9, under 6, over 12, under 6: repeat across, ending over 9.
  • Row 5: With A, over 10, under 4, over 14, under 4; repeat across, ending over 10.
  • Row 6: With A, over 11, under 2, over 16, under 2; repeat across, ending over 11.
  • Rows 7 through 12: With B, work the Rows in reverse order 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
Choose your own color schemes and practice the patterns. Then go back to the original articles and practice the canvas patterns on your fabric, too. Have fun,

Needlepoint landscape collage
Original needlepoint landscapes the blended yarn examples were taken from

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Colorful Carretas -- Self-Expression Through Folk Design

Templo de Musica, San Jose CR
Templo de Musica in San Jose, Costa Rica
I believe that most humans, in their search for happiness and fulfillment, have a need to individualize and personalize their appearance and that of their possessions and surroundings through decorative means. This was really impressed upon me during a visit to San Jose, Costa Rica, one of my favorite cities.

Plaza in San Jose, CR
Plaza in San Jose
San Jose is a thoroughly cosmopolitan city, filled with architectural and historical treasures. as well as culinary delights. I love the way old and new structures exist side by side, preserving the past for the present and the future. On a guided tour of the city, I expressed my appreciation of the diverse architecture. Our guide, an expatriate from the United States, said that he wanted to show us an area of low-income public housing. I was somewhat apprehensive because I had seen some very depressing examples of neighborhoods like that.

mural on Costa Rican house
Big mural on a small house
The first area we drove through had new houses, not yet occupied, They were small, neat houses with small lawns, and all of them were similar in appearance. “Just wait,” said our guide. A couple of streets farther along, the houses were painted in a rainbow of colors, with contrasting doors and window frames. The lawns were thick and well-tended. There were bright curtains at the windows. A few streets still farther away, where the homes were older, we saw potted trees, window boxes overflowing with flowers, vegetable gardens, and all kinds of house and lawn ornaments. Still older homes were set among tropical trees, shrubs, and flowers. Some had folk art murals painted on walls or pavement. No two homes were alike. It was as enchanting as a child's picture book.

Ox and cart
Ox and cart (carreta)

The next day, on a trip to the top of the volcano, we saw a number of the colorful farm oxcarts (carretas) that have become symbols of Costa Rica. They were painted in bright primary colors, overlaid with intricate folk designs.

Artisan at work in the cart factory
Artisan at work in the cart factory
Later we visited the factory where the carts were manufactured. There were carts in many sizes, from tiny ones holding wheel-like coasters (small children learn to paint on those) to the standard farm wagons. But my friend and I each wanted a size and style that they didn't offer. We wanted a small cart to sit beside a chair and hold our needlework supplies. We wanted a tray to cover the supplies and to hold a cup of tea or coffee and a small plate of food. We wanted the folk designs, but not the bright color underneath them; we wanted the natural wood to show through. After much discussion in two languages and many hand gestures, we arrived at agreement on a design and price.

After a few weeks, the carts were shipped to us. They were delightful and exceeded our expectations. Soon afterward we got a very nice letter from the factory, thanking us for suggesting the new model of the cart and telling us that it had become very popular with their customers. All this happened many years ago, but my little cart is just as colorful, useful, and charming as it was when it was new. Here is a picture of it.

Annake's little cart
Annake's little cart

The top of the cart is a tray that lifts out. Here is a picture of the tray by itself.

Annake's carttop tray
Annake's cart-top tray

Cart factory giftshop
Cart factory gift shop
A few days ago, I looked at the factory's website* and clicked on the icon for their online shop. The first picture to come up showed the showroom for the various sizes of oxcarts they have for sale. There, front and center, were two models of the size and description of our little carts –- one fully painted (on the right) and one with the natural wood showing through (on the left). I was delighted to find that they are still offering that model after all these years. I hope they will go on making it for many years to come. It is nice to think of many people out there enjoying theirs as much as I have enjoyed mine.

Wheel on a full-sized oxcart
Wheel on a full-sized oxcart
I am always looking for inspiration for my needlework. I'm particularly inspired by folk art. Right now I'm adapting some of the motifs from my cart for embroidery projects. I am thinking particularly of designs that would be attractive embroidered on a tablecloth, the ends of a stole, a handbag or the front of a blouse. I'm also working on an adaptation of a wheel design for a piece of needlework appropriate for a picture or a pillow top, perhaps in needlepoint. We will feature my ideas on a future post.

Enjoy the pictures of colorful Costa Rican folk art. Many such motifs would be wonderful painted on trays, drawers, flowerpots or planters, and many other useful and decorative objects. I hope they inspire you to begin a project of your own.

Express yourselves,

*Website for the Eloy Alfaro factory:  (

Dancers in folk costume
Dancers in folk costume

Modern reproductions of pre-Columbian pottery

Casado, Costa Rican cuisine
Cuisine is also a folk art

Since Annake's personal photos of her time in Costa Rica were taken before the age of digital photography, and have not yet been digitized, we want to thank the following for making their photos available for use through Creative Commons licensing:

Photo Credits
Templo de Musica:  Jorge Rodriguez / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0
Plaza, San Jose:  Andre Ribeiro / CC BY 2.0
Artisan in Cart Factory:  dianeherr / Furniture Fair / CC BY-NC
Cart Wheel:  F Delventhal / CC BY 2.0
Folk Dancers:  MadriCR / CC BY 2.0
Pottery:   Lava / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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