Friday, July 31, 2015

All-Over Bargello Designs with Top-Stitching

bargello stitch sampler from April 2014
Bargello stitch sampler from April 10, 2014 post
Last weekend a regular reader reminded me that I had promised articles about all-over bargello designs and optical illusions done in needlepoint. She asked when she was likely to see them. I told her I would get started on the all-over designs right away. Here is the first article on the subject that some of you have awaited patiently (or impatiently). To follow along, you will need a piece of plastic or fabric needlepoint canvas, several colors of yarn, a tapestry needle and scissors. I will be referring to a sampler of stitches from the April 10, 2014, post. You can click on the sampler to see the stitches enlarged. We will begin with the sample in the lower left-hand corner. We will be making rows of these “peaks” and “valleys” stitches, but ours will be all the same height.

single row of "peaks and valleys" stitch

I'm going to make the sample on #7 plastic canvas with acrylic yarn so that the stitches will be easy for you to see. I'm using a light, a medium, and a dark green, in that order. I'm working from left to right, but you may work from right to left if you like. I start in a square of mesh at least 9 down from the top edge. I bring my needle through from the back of the canvas, holding the last inch and a half (3 ½ to 4 cm) against the back of the canvas with a couple of fingers, and work the stitches over it to secure it. My first stitch goes directly upward, skipping 3 of the bars (plastic canvas) or threads, and going down in the next square of mesh. (Remember that we count this way; we do not count the squares themselves.) The next stitch begins and ends 1 square of mesh higher than the first stitch. I continue in this way until I have 7 stitches and have reached the top of the first “peak”. The next stitch will begin and end 1 square of mesh lower than the top stitch. I will continue in this way until I reach the “valley” (6 stitches) and repeat the pattern at least 3 times. This lightest row is your base row. All “peaks” and “valleys” should begin and end in the same rows of mesh. Check with a straight-edge if you are not sure. If you make a mistake here, you will carry it throughout the design.

multiple rows of "peaks and valleys" in shades of green

completed pattern in shades of green with white top-stitching Secure your base row by running an inch and a half of your yarn under completed stitches and cutting it close to the back of the canvas. I worked the second row with the medium color and the third row with the dark color. No canvas is left bare. The tops of the second row of stitches share the same squares of mesh as the bottoms of the first row of stitches. I continued until I had used the lightest color 4 times. I then stitched partial rows of the other colors to complete the rectangle and cut away the excess canvas. With a heavy white yarn, I top-stitched over the top and bottom stitches of the light-colored row each time it appears in the pattern. These stitches really stand out against the darker background. This would be an attractive pattern for place-mats, book covers, tote bags or similar items.

pattern in shades of orange with brown top-stitchingNext, I repeated the pattern with tapestry wool on #14 needlepoint canvas, an action which – by itself – will greatly change the dimensions of the pattern. This time I used only 5 stitches for each “peak”, instead of 7. My colors were closely related oranges in a dark/medium/light/medium sequence, and the top-stitching was done in a dark brown. This time I top-stitched both the dark and light rows, but not the medium ones. Each time you use needlepoint canvas, you are creating a fabric. This one is a herringbone-like fabric which would be nice for small items like cellphone covers, but could equally be used for a garment like a vest. You can top-stitch all the rows and get a fabric with vertical stripes. When working with dark colors, I usually top-stitch in white or a light color; when working with light backgrounds, a black or a dark color. Medium colors may require either dark or light accents. Experiment by placing strands of different colors of yarn on top of your finished background to find an effect that pleases you.

pattern in blues and green with white top-stitchingOur next all-over pattern is derived from the group in the upper right-hand corner of the stitch sampler. The pattern consists of 2 stitches over 2 bars or threads, followed by 2 stitches over 4 bars or threads, repeated across the sample. The second row uses 2 stitches over 4 bars or threads, then 2 stitches over 2 bars or threads, repeated across the work. The rows fit together like the cogs on wheels. (See the examples on the sampler.) I used a seafoam green, a sky blue, and an aquamarine. Each color will sometimes begin with the 2 short stitches and sometimes with the 2 long ones. Once I had an adequate sample, I filled in the partial stitches at the top and bottom of the work. Then I top-stitched with white yarn, making a short stitch over the vertical bar between the stitches in each pair, across the top and the bottom of each 2-stitch group. I used straight horizontal stitches. You can back-stitch these, but it requires both more yarn and more time to do so. The “loops” that you think you see in the pattern are an optical illusion. Turn your completed sample over and you can see another neat pattern. Can you figure out how to make this appear on the front of the sample, rather than the back?
pattern in multiple colors with copper top-stitchingFinally, I did the same pattern on #10 canvas finer than the #7, but not as fine as the #14. Because of the strong color contrast, the “toothed” effect of the pattern is more obvious. Technically, this one is not top-stitched, since the metallic copper yarn is just woven over the short stitches and under the long ones. I would only use metallic accents on decorative items which would not get any hard use. Besides metallic yarns, there are metal threads, threaded crochet cotton, metallic braid and rick-rack, ribbons, and shiny metallic-colored embroidery flosses.

The colors you choose for a pattern have a tremendous effect on its appearance. For example, look at the two identical stitch patterns below, done in a monochromatic color scheme and in a wild, rainbow-colored one. What a difference! Have fun playing with patterns!

comparison of stitch pattern in monochrome and rainbow schemes

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hand-Painted Needlepoint Canvases

Annake toning a canvas
Annake toning a canvas
Some time ago (my June 15, 2014 post), I discussed how to paint over designs on commercial needlepoint canvases so that they can be used for new designs. I also described how to paint an entire canvas in a neutral background tone to prepare it for a bargello pattern. At that time, I promised to write about the third –- and most important –- reason for painting your own canvases; that is, to express yourself in a way that is both practical and satisfying. Painting your own canvas makes it into a unique item –- something that would never have existed if you had not created it. Wouldn't that make you feel good about yourself?

Needlepoint canvas for a tiger done in marker
Needlepoint canvas for a tiger, done in marker
If you don't feel comfortable using paint and a brush to put your design on canvas, you can do it with permanent markers (see the April 29, 2015 post for suggestions for using markers). Be sure the markers are permanent ones. Rub off any excess ink so that it does not stain your yarn or floss. You can make attractive, colorful canvases with markers, as you can see from this work in progress, but they will lack the subtle gradations in color that you can achieve with paints. You can compensate for this by blending colors or by using several closely-related tones of each color. For example, I have left areas of the tiger's face blank to represent white, but I stitched parts of the muzzle in a dark cream color and the chin in an off-white. I kept the bright white for his teeth. In truth, the tiger's teeth would probably be yellowed, but this is art –- not scientific illustration.

Fruit wreath canvas in the hoop
Fruit wreath canvas in the hoop that will frame it
Aside from showcasing your creativity, there are a number of practical reasons for hand-painting canvases. Suppose, for example, that the finished canvas will eventually be placed in a specific mat or frame that is not a standard size or shape. The wreath of lemons and strawberries seen here is a good example of this. After the stitching is completed, this canvas will be trimmed of any excess so that it can be framed in its own hoop. If you stitch a piece like this from a chart and are even slightly inaccurate, the resulting design will appear irregular and/or distorted. This will not happen if the design is painted on the canvas before it is centered in the hoop. You can then stitch with confidence, using the hoop for support.

Canvas colored for matching yarn
Canvas, colored for matching yarn
Another advantage to having painted a canvas is that you can take it with you when you purchase the yarn or floss that you plan to use to stitch the design. You can match the colors more exactly and plan the hues that you will need to blend together (see the May 29, 2015 post for information about blending colors and a demonstration of tracing a design on canvas) to get intermediate colors. This will prevent you from buying the wrong colors and help you to estimate the correct quantities you will need of each color –- thus saving money.

Tools and materials for painting needlepoint canvas
Tools and materials for painting needlepoint canvas
I prefer to use white mono canvas for painting. If you plan to use brown penelope canvas, you may want to tone it to white, off-white, ecru or light beige. Let it dry completely and remove any paint that is clogging mesh squares before you begin painting your design. Do not use oil paints or watercolors. You can use either art acrylic paints or craft acrylic paints. Whether you are squeezing paint from tubes, pouring it from bottles, or scooping it from jars, you will need to dilute it with clean, clear water. That means you will need containers to mix the paint and water --- something like my old eight-cup muffin tin. You may also want a china plate to use for a palette. You will need a wide brush for large areas and at least a couple of brushes for smaller areas and finer details. Try to find ones of the smaller brushes that hold a fine point when they are wet.

Painted canvas portrait, prepped and in progress
Painted canvas portrait, prepped and in progress
Mark the outside dimensions of your completed design on the canvas lightly with a pencil, leaving a generous margin for taping the canvas and framing the finished picture. Start with thin washes (coats of paint). I put in colors one at a time, allowing them to dry, unless I want a blended effect. You can darken the colors by adding more washes on top of the first one. (You can also paint out mistakes.) Where colors overlap, you will create additional tones. Unless you are doing a geometric or “hard-edged” design, you will want to take advantage of these intermediate colors by stitching them with separate colors or by blending strands of yarn or floss. If I'm doing a central design that will need a solid-color background, I either leave the background unpainted or paint it first with the background color and let it dry completely before painting the design.

Once my painting satisfies me and is completely dry, I go over it carefully, looking for squares of canvas that are clogged with paint. I clear these with the point of a pin or needle. I then press the canvas lightly, between two layers of paper towel, with a warm iron. Then I tape the edges of the canvas with masking tape. I choose my colors of yarn or floss and I'm ready to start stitching.

Make something that is uniquely yours. Congratulations,

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