Wednesday, February 10, 2016

More Optical Illusion Needlepoint from Quilt Blocks

diamond dust quilt
Judy's latest quilt, available in our Etsy shop
I've mentioned before (November 16, 2015) that some “op art” began as quilt patterns. Quilted layers hold heat and played a large part in keeping people warm before central heating became widely used. Quilts were also helpful for using up small scraps of fabric left over from other kinds of sewing. Early ones were probably of the “crazy quilt” variety, with little attention given to the shapes of the quilt pieces. Soon, however, quilters began arranging geometric shapes the same squares, triangles diamonds, rectangles, parallelograms and hexagons that we will be using to make interesting and attractive quilt blocks. Quilt-making and hand-quilting became a social activity, where women came together to share fabric scraps, patterns, ideas and, of course, gossip.

This time we are going to adapt a quilt pattern to make an entire “op art” needlepoint. I started with a pattern called “Ring Around the Star”. (Be aware that many quilt patterns have multiple names.) I don't know the origin of the pattern, but I suspect it is 18th Century American. However, I think it is derived from a much older English pattern called (among other things) “King's Cross”. The “King's Cross” pattern is shown in the sketch at the very left below, and the center part of the “Ring” pattern is just to its right. The other two sketches are ones I made to decide which shading best gave the effect I wanted. I decided the one on the far right.

quilt block design collage

op art needlepoint stage 1
I prepared my canvas, drawing the lines lightly with a pencil. I used #10 mono canvas. (For more on preparing a canvas, see the post for May 11, 2014.) I worked the sections with tapestry wool, but you can use other yarns. The yarn is in two shades of the same brown, one noticeably darker than the other. I used upright Gobelin stitch on the first stage, covering the pencil lines on both sides of each parallelogram and leaving no open squares of canvas. I put in the darker shade first. To keep all of my stitches upright, I turned the canvas ninety degrees for each new parallelogram. Then I put in the lighter shade in the same way. I usually save back-stitching for the very end of a project, but did it here to emphasize the shapes of the finished sections.

For the second stage, I concentrated on the squares formed by the V-shapes at the end of each pair of parallelograms. I did these in Graduated Diagonal Stitch. The enlarged photo shows one square done in this way. I began in one upper corner of the square with a stitch over a single thread of canvas. The next stitch was over 2 threads. I continued in the pattern: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. and 11 threads for the squares on the needlepoint canvas. With the 11th stitch I made the diagonal line between the bottom corner on the side I started from and the upper corner on the opposite side. I then began decreasing the number of threads crossed with each stitch: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1. The square was complete.

op art needlepoint stage 2
I turned my canvas ninety degrees and began the second corner. When all four squares were completed, I back-stitched the edges where the squares touched the ends of the parallelograms. I did not stitch the edges bordered by bare canvas. As you can see, the illusion of structures emerging from the canvas has been achieved. But there is yet more illusion to come.

I turned my attention to the large diamonds between the “structures”. These diamonds will make the second illusion. They were too large to do effectively with the Graduated Diagonal Stitch, so I first divided each square into four equal parts by connecting their corners with their centers, using very light pencil lines. The stitch pattern in red on the upper left is the Diamond Eye Stitch. Begin at any of the corners. Stitch over threads (or bars) in this pattern: 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1. Give the canvas a quarter turn and do the same stitches again. The stitches should end in the same squares of canvas as those in the first triangle. Turn the canvas and repeat until the square is completed. I liked the stitch, but decided to do it diagonally in order to cover the canvas better. This is shown in the blue sample at the upper right. Working diagonally, the pattern becomes: 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1. Each stitch is doubled, increasing until you reach the diagonal, then decreasing in order. You will notice that the ends of the stitches are uneven. This will be covered on the project piece by back-stitching when the next section is completed. A simpler way to do the diagonal stitch is shown in the green sample at the bottom. Start in the center of the diamond and stitch over 1 thread. Increase each stitch by one thread until you reach the edge of the diamond. Turn your canvas a quarter turn and continue. The disadvantages to this stitch are that the outer stitches become very long and that the stitches do not cover the canvas as well.

I completed the four diamonds and back-stitched the horizontal and vertical center lines in the same color. I back-stitched the lines between the diamonds and the ends of the parallelograms with the same brown yarn that I used previously for back-stitching. If you now concentrate on the large diamonds rather than the small squares, you see shorter but much larger blocks emerging from the canvas. The second illusion is complete. Your eyes can move back and forth between the two, but you don't see both simultaneously.

Any illusion stands out best against a very dark background. I usually use black for this purpose, but I thought it was too harsh for the nice brown and beige combinations in the design. Instead, I used the darkest brown I could find. (Very dark purple, maroon, forest green, or navy blue also make good backgrounds.) I worked the “ring” of 8 parallelograms around the double illusion in upright Gobelin stitch, making the inside end of each stitch go into the same square of canvas as the outside ends of the stitches that make up the diamonds. I back-stitched these joinings with the original brown yarn. I left the outside edges of the parallelograms unstitched.

basket weave stitch sample
Basket Stitch sample
The multicolor sample shows you how to do the tent stitch known as basket-weave. Begin in the upper right-hand corner with a single slanting stitch, shown here in red. The next color shows the next row of stitches. Each row fits in between the stitches of the previous row. Even numbered rows, like the second one shown here in orange, are worked from left to right. Odd-numbered rows, like the third one shown here in dark blue, are worked from right to left. This is the favorite stitch of most devoted needlepointers.

I worked the outer triangles of the design in basket-weave, turning the canvas a quarter turn each time so that the triangles are all worked inward from their corners. Stitches which cannot be completed outside the “ring” are worked by finishing the stitch just under the outer stitch of the “ring”. I back-stitched the lines between the basket-weave sections and the “ring” with the darkest brown yarn. J.D. later found an attractive frame for the piece, but it was a little large, so I continued stitching the background until I achieved a good fit. The framed project is shown below.

Plan some illusions of your own,

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