Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Questions and Answers

Lithuanian redwork
Lithuanian redwork
My aunt was in Moscow a couple of years ago. She said she saw a lot of redwork in the shops, but she didn't bring any home. Can you show me what it looks like?

I don't have any Russian redwork, but I did show you a sample of antique Lithuanian redwork in the January 29, 2014 post. It should be similar to Russian work of the same period. Much of this work depended heavily on counted cross-stitch, double cross-stitch, and long-armed cross-stitch. Russian redwork would be done on white linen with wool yarn, linen floss, or silk floss. It is my impression that their red is not as bright as this red — more of a rosy red. From my studies, this red seems to grow darker the further north you go in Eastern Europe, ending up as nearly purple around the eastern end of the Baltic Sea. Traditional patterns include geometric patterns, flowers, animals, and historic or religious scenes. You might ask your aunt what kinds of patterns she noticed. I would imagine that contemporary redwork might vary from the traditional patterns and materials in some ways.

Little Dragon wall hanging
Little Dragon wall hanging
I can show you a piece of my own version of redwork, which is basically Spanish blackwork done in red. This little dragon has some embellishments done in linear and solid chain stitch in colors other than red, but the major parts of it are done in redwork. (The little fellow has stepped on his own tail, hurt himself, and is looking for someone to blame — and flame!)

Closeup of stitching on dragon
Closeup of stitching on dragon
The secret to doing blackwork, redwork, whitework or any monochromatic embroidery is to decide in advance which sections of the finished picture are supposed to be the lightest, which are the darkest, and where the shadings in between those two would be on your picture. Work the lightest parts in a very open pattern with a few stitches or widely scattered stitch motifs. This lets much of the background show through. Use increasingly complex patterns with more and more stitches as you work through darker and darker shades. Save your densest patterns — those with the most stitches and the least background showing through — for the darkest parts of your picture. The closeup of the stitches shows this effect. To see the technique done almost entirely in white, go to the post for August 20, 2014.

Help! I just hate the way the back of my bargello looks! Am I upset over nothing? Should I just ignore it and keep doing what I'm doing?

I would never advise someone to ignore something which is interfering with their enjoyment of doing needlework! I have said that I am not a purist. I do not expect the back of my work to look as good as the front does. But there is no reason for it to look like last year's bird's nest, either. Here's one of the samples from the last post seen both front and back. Let's see what may be causing your distress.

Front and back of bargello sample
Front and back ( yes, really - look closely) of bargello sample

First of all, I work with strands that are no longer than 18 inches (46 cm). Longer than that and the yarn or floss begins to look worn or frayed. If I am working with a metallic thread or one that tends to look “fuzzy”, I will use even shorter lengths. I secure the beginning of my strand by holding it against the back of the canvas with a couple of my fingers and stitching over it (but not over the fingers). If this is difficult for you, check our search engine for posts in which I discuss “waste knots”. This may be a better technique for you. When starting a strand in the middle of a row, I run it under a number of completed stitches before I stitch with it. Secure the end of a strand by running it backward under existing stitches and cut it off as close to the canvas as you can without damaging the finished stitches. When you carry lengths of yarn across the back of your canvas, hide them by running them under existing stitches. These samples are shown from the back of the canvas:

  1. Correct way to start a strand;
  2. Starting a strand in the middle of a row;
  3. Correct way to end a strand;
  4. Wrong way to carry yarn across the back of the canvas; and
  5. Correct way to carry yarn across the back of a canvas.
The stitches on the front of the canvas are upright and work from left to right.

Your stitches should cover both the front and back of the canvas. When you are doing designs with ascending and descending stitches as we have been doing it is easy to forget this on the descending stitches and cover only the front of the canvas. This leaves strips of nearly bare canvas on the back of your design. The stitches in the pattern at the top of the sample are made from top to bottom. This is adequate to cover the side-by-side stitches, but the descending stitches leave only a tiny horizontal stitch on the back of the canvas. The rest of the canvas is bare. The stitches on the bottom pattern are made from bottom to top. This not only covers both sides of the canvas, but also provides bands of stitches to secure the beginning and end of each strand. It does, however, use more yarn than the top technique. You cannot tell the difference by looking at the work from the front; you must check the back.

I suspect this is what is bothering you. It does not look good. Even more importantly, it makes part of your work uneven in thickness and weaker than the rest. I suggest you get into the habit of checking the back of your work at the end of each row. If you have made a mistake, gently remove the stitches with the eye, not the point, of your needle, and stitch the row correctly. Do this immediately. I hope these suggestions help!

 What will you be concentrating on this fall?

As promised, I'm going to discuss bargello “optical illusions”. Knowing my enthusiasm for the subject, this will probably involve a series of articles over the coming months. I have also been doing a lot of crewel embroidery that I plan to share with you. And we will make a simple start on Swedish weaving. In addition, J.D. and I will discuss drying and storing herbs, saving flower seeds and ways of preparing the garden for winter.

Thanks for asking!

Crewel embroidery piece in progress
Crewel embroidery piece in progress

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