Monday, January 30, 2017

The Heart in Design

interlaced hearts in crewel embroidery
Interlaced hearts in crewel embroidery on burlap
The heart motif is not only popular during the upcoming Valentine's Day celebration, but it is also used often in the folk art of many cultures. Of course our hearts are not really this shape. If you have ever seen a beef heart in a butcher's shop, you know approximately what your heart looks like although on a smaller scale. However, the shape we are going to discuss today was long ago accepted as a symbol for the human heart.

If you are doing applique, crewel, quilting, trapunto or folk embroidery, making a heart shape is relatively easy. You simply draw or trace the heart shape on your fabric and follow the outline. That's how the interlaced crewel hearts above were made (January 31, 2016 post). If you want to make heart shapes in cross-stitch, tent stitch, many diaper patterns or bargello (as in the “Hearts Afire” bargello below  as shown December 22, 2014), you are faced with making straight stitches approximate the curves at the tops and sides of the heart. This is not as easy as it sounds.

4-way bargello "Hearts Afire"
4-way bargello "Hearts Afire"

I have looked at dozens and dozens of patterns that try to convince me that a few /’s or X's make a heart shape. They begin with three stitches (shown as cross-stitches below). A heart? Really? They then continue with an increasing number of x 's which are not much more convincing. Is C a bird in flight or a deer with antlers? It is not until F, which has eleven stitches, that a heart-like shape appears. As a general rule, the more stitches in the motif, the more closely it approximates the heart shape we desire.

stitch diagrams a through f
Here is a cross-stitch border done with some of these stylized hearts. The pattern may be done in a single color, but it is enhanced by doing it in two colors and alternating the positions of the colors.

2 color cross stitch border pattern

Now let's look at some heart shapes made with the short, straight lines of back-stitch. These motifs can be used alone, filled in with cross-stitches, or used as “frames” for other types of embroidery. You can see that these shapes come closer to a traditional heart shape, but still lack the smooth curves of the heart.
stitch patterns g through i
For tent stitch, you need to consider each of the squares inside the frame as a single slanting stitch from one canvas square to the square above and to the left of it. Perhaps because the stitches are so compact, these figures seem a little more heart-like in tent stitch than they do in cross-stitch. Here are G, H, and I done in tent stitch. Also shown is a bookmark made in tent stitch, using three G motifs with a cream-colored background filled in and the owner's initial embroidered on top of the background.

tent stitched heart patterns and bookmark

Tip: Small projects like this use up small scraps of canvas and yarn that might otherwise be wasted. They make party favors, small additions to the gift of a book, package decorations, etc., and are small enough to be slipped inside a greeting card. Glue or overcast a piece of felt to the back of the bookmark for a more “finished” appearance.

Tip: Many cross-stitch patterns include directions to back-stitch around certain completed sections of stitches. This may be done in the colors in which the sections were stitched, or with a dark color usually black for all of the back-stitching. When outlining sections, use a thinner thread or yarn than was used for the cross-stitching. Here is a cross-stitch border in which the heart shapes represent flowers. The red one is done in plain cross-stitch. The purple one has the sections outlined in the same colors as the stitches. The blue one is back-stitched in traditional black.

hearts-as-flowers border pattern

Now let's see what happens when we substitute a single diagonal stitch for the squared corners of G, H, and I to make J, K, and L. See how J, K, and L look much smoother and more nearly curved?

stitch patterns k through l

When I am testing a new pattern that I have drawn in pencil, I like to stitch it first on ¼-inch checked gingham because that is approximately the same size of my graph paper pattern. I back the gingham with muslin or non-woven interfacing. I find the exact center of my pattern and mark it. Then I find the exact center of my fabric and mark it with a colored knot which can be removed later. I begin stitching at or near both centers and work outward. I then decide on changes that need to be made before I use the pattern for a further project. Below is an example of a pattern of a heart composed of hearts that I stitched on gingham. I will make several modifications before I stitch the revised pattern on monks' cloth with several shades of red. I will file both the original and revised patterns. The gingham pattern will not go to waste. It will become a small pillow top or the bib of a fancy apron.

Cross stitched hearts on checked gingham

Tip: This type of embroidery should be done in an embroidery hoop. Try to use a hoop just a little larger than your finished motif will be. This will avoid frequently loosening and moving the hoop. Keep the tension on the hoop as tight as possible. The fabric should be tight enough that you hear a distinct “pop” when the needle is pulled through the fabric.

Finally, here is a heart pattern that you can download to use as you choose. Some suggested projects are shown below.

downloadable heart pattern
Downloadable heart pattern (click here)
Now to the suggested projects, all done from this basic pattern. The rainbow-striped heart is done with 4-ply knitting yarn in tent stitch on #7 plastic canvas (49 stitches per square inch). The “LOVE” heart is embroidered in cross-stitch with 6-strand embroidery floss on #8 monks' cloth (64 stitches per square inch). The small heart is tent stitched with 6-strand floss on #10 needlepoint canvas (100 stitches per square inch). Small areas of the background materials are shown around the stitching.

May your hearts be strong and happy,

3 examples using the downloadable pattern in different techniques
Three examples in different needlework techniques using the downloadable pattern

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Serendipity at Work

needlepoint border with topstitched diaper pattern
Needlepoint border with top-stitched diaper pattern

SERENDIPITY: The discovery of useful, valuable, or desirable things that you weren't looking for.

The mention of diaper patterns (used in blackwork, redwork, whitework, and Holbein embroidery) in the previous post produced requests for new and different diaper patterns which have nothing to do with babies' bottoms. Those are time-consuming to create. They were not on my current agenda, so I wrote them at the bottom of my planning list as an afterthought.

But I'm a great believer in serendipity. The very next day it came to my aid, as it has done many times over the years. I was looking through a box of folders that I made 40 years ago, when I was teaching English at a business college at night and teaching art and needlecrafts at a Parks and Recreation center during the day at a city on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. Needless to say, I hadn't looked at those folders for a long time! I was searching for some applique patterns for a project I did with my daughter at about that time period. I didn't find them (I will; I never throw good patterns away!), but I did find enough new materials for a number of blog posts that you will see later this year. Among those materials were several sheets of diaper patterns and here they are!

All-over Patterns

All-over patterns are meant to be used in large areas of a design. Before you choose these patterns, it is a good idea to know how dark you want that area of the pattern to appear. The darker the area, the denser the pattern should appear. Denser patterns are made by using lots of short line elements that are close together and limiting the amount of background that shows through them. Let me give you an example. This pattern starts very simply at the left. As we move to the right, new elements are added in each vertical row. See how much darker the pattern is at the last row?

diaper pattern with added elements for increasing density

Here are some additional all-over patterns:

all-over diaper patterns

Tip: It is a good idea to practice a pattern on graph paper before you try it on fabric. Do additional rows both horizontally and vertically until you are sure you know what comes next in the stitching. You may also see the advantage of stitching a pattern on checked gingham before attempting it on monks' cloth, Aida, or even finer fabrics.

Border Patterns

diaper patterns for borders

You can see a border pattern enlarged across the top of this post. They are linear patterns and are often outlined in a border stitch like outline stitch, back-stitch, or chain stitch. Any of the border designs shown can be made wider by adding such outline stitches. You can see from the “flower” borders how very small changes can alter the look of a border, as well as how doubling the stitches in facing rows makes a much wider and bolder design. Some of the patterns are designed to be mitered at the corners so that they make a frame around the major design. Here is an example of a corner design:

diaper pattern for border with mitered cornes

Tip: Some border patterns can be repeated as all-over patterns. To try this, draw two rows of the border pattern, leaving a row of empty squares between them. Experiment until you can find an attractive way to join them, using short stitches. Then include the pattern in your all-over patterns as well as in your border patterns.

Many of the patterns can be done in two or more colors (thereby qualifying them as Holbein embroidery). Here is an example of a pattern done in two colors. See what a difference it makes when the colors are reversed?

diaper patterns in 2 colors

Tip: If you are working a design in a single color and want to emphasize certain parts of the design more than other parts, use more strands of floss or yarn for the emphasized portions and fewer strands for the parts you wish to have remain in the background.

“Spot” or Cluster Patterns

diaper patterns for spots or clusters

These are small designs not meant to connect with each other. They may be used alone in small areas of a larger design or be scattered across a larger area as repeated designs. These repeats are rarely done at random; rather, they are carefully spaced at regular intervals.

Tip: Don't dismiss these designs as too simple, however. Look at this series of designs. Each one begins with the same design in the center. (The original spot pattern is seen in bold pen at the far left). The developing design is shown in pencil, with the added-on stitches shown in bold pen as they are added. You can create some magnificent medallions in this way. The pattern “grows” much as a snowflake does as it falls through the clouds adding features to its outside edges.

development of complex cluster pattenr from simple elements

Tip: Don't be afraid of making mistakes as you sketch these patterns. Who knows? You may create a whole new diaper pattern!

Blackwork and whitework designs are usually done completely in their signature colors of black or white. Redwork, however, is sometimes done in more than one shade of red. When this is done, the denser the pattern is, the darker shade of red is used. Done properly, this gives a three-dimensional appearance to the whole design. It does take some prior planning to make the illusion work, however.

Holbein embroidery is done in multicolor. I am working on a series of new Holbein patterns that you can expect to see in a post a few weeks from now. In the meantime, there is a series of Holbein “spots” across the bottom of this post.

Have fun always,

Critter patterns for Holbein embridery "spots"

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Needlework Patterns: Tips, Tricks and Hacks

pansy color chart
Colors plotted for a needlework pansy
I make my patterns from my own sketches or from J.D.'s or J.J.'s photographs, but I know not everyone feels comfortable doing their own designs. Most of the questions and requests I get are for counted cross-stitch embroidery or tent-stitch needlepoint. I'm going to show you how I convert an outline design into a chart for some of those techniques. I'll also provide some downloadable designs that you can use as you wish, some suggestions for their use, and some general tips for making needlework simpler and easier.

Tip: If you are tracing the outlines of a photograph, trace only the basic outlines or outstanding features. Don't put in any unnecessary details. J.J. says she finds it useful to half-close her eyes (squint) and mark only the features she sees that way. If you put in too much detail, you may make something that is difficult for other people to identify as strange as that may sound. You can always refer to the photograph and add more detail later if you think it is necessary.

(A Note from the Gnome: words in bold are terms or techniques that may be unfamiliar to you. Clicking on these words will open earlier posts from Annake with more complete explanations than we have room for here. Or, you can use "Search My Blog" in the sidebar to find all earlier mentions.)

downloadable rose drawing
Downloadable Rose design - click here
Let's begin with this simple line design of a full bloom rose and a half-open bud. You could use it as it is for a number of different types of needlework. For example:

1. Download the design and print it. Make a hot-iron transfer or use dressmakers' carbon to transfer it to fabric. Embroider the outlines only, using back-stitch, outline stitch, or (my favorite) chain stitch. You might find it interesting to do this in variegated yarn or floss, rather than in solid colors.

2. Fill in your outlines with satin stitch, long-and-short stitch, or solid chain stitch (Beauvais embroidery).

3. Make the outlines with black, red, or white yarn or floss, using the color that shows best on your background fabric. Fill in the spaces with diaper patterns. Then perhaps do it in redwork or Spanish blackwork on the front of a plain white blouse.

4. Transfer the outline to a counted cross-stitch fabric like Aida or to a needlepoint canvas. Work the sections in counted cross-stitch (on cloth) or one of the tent stitches (on canvas) up to the outlines, using partial stitches as necessary. Back-stitch around the outlines. (If you are used to working counted cross-stitch or tent stitch from a color-symbol chart, you are probably not going to like this technique; I don't like it much, either.)

Square-off rose design for cross-stitch or needlepont
"Squared-off" rose design for cross-stitch or needlepont
Cross-stitch, because of the shape of the stitch, works best with straight vertical and horizontal rows in the form of squares or the diagonals of squares. To convert curved lines to this type of pattern, I first use dressmakers' carbon and a ball-point pen that has used up all its ink to transfer the outline to ¼-inch-square graph paper. Then I use straight lines, square corners, and forward and backward diagonal lines to come as close to the curves in the design as I possibly can. The resulting design, shown here in red, is ready to be charted for either cross-stitch or needlepoint.

Tip: You can make a perfectly usable carbon by coloring the back of your pattern with a heavy layer of carbon from a soft-lead pencil. After all, the “lead” in a pencil is pure carbon. Go over the lines several times from different directions. Press hard, but don't tear the paper. If you have both the pattern and the graph paper secured to a clipboard, you can lift the pattern from time to time to make sure you are transferring all the lines.

owl design plotted on graph paper
Owl design plotted in color on graph paper

Now let's look at an owl that has already been made into a design for counted cross-stitch. I have already “squared” the curves of the bird and drawn in the whole or partial cross-stitches with colored pencils in the colors I plan to use for the embroidery. The solid lines around the sections indicate the back-stitching I will use to complete the embroidered design. This design can be worked in many sizes, from tiny ones where each stitch is done over a single thread of the background fabric to a much larger one in which each X covers a large gingham square.

When we left Panama more than forty years ago, some of my artist friends gave me a going-away party. They knew I liked owls, so each of them had made a decorative owl for me. There were raffia owls, macrame owls, embroidered owls, and small framed pen-and-ink, watercolor, and tempera owls. Sadly, the lady who drew this particular owl is no longer living. I have meant for some time to convert the plump little cross-eyed owl into a needlework design and here it is.

owl needlepoint in progress
Owl needlepoint from chart, in progress

To show how versatile these charts are, I used the cross-stitch chart to make the little owl in needlepoint also. After all, a tent stitch is really just half of a cross-stitch. I plan to do the background in light blue, but you could do it in any color of your choice.

Tip: The chart may also be used in latch-hooking a chair seat or a rug design; in that case, each X represents a knot made with the latch-hook.

In tent-stitch needlepoint, whether continental, basketweave, or diagonal stitching, all stitches are diagonal stitches slanting from lower left to upper right. Charts are usually done with each stitch represented by a square. The squares may be colored or color-coded, using numbers or symbols. I usually begin with a design worked out in colored squares. I try to use pens that closely approximate the color of yarn or floss I have used (or plan to use) in the finished design. But I also add a color “key” describing the colors and even give floss numbers if I have them. If I use numbers in a chart, they represent shades of color in the design, with #1 as the lightest shade and higher numbers for increasingly darker shades. You can see this in my downloadable iris pattern.

Tip: if you are left-handed, simply make your stitches slant from upper right to lower left and work from right to left instead of from left to right on the canvas. The over-all effect will be the same.

Here is a final tent stitch pattern of a pansy for downloading. J.D. has converted my original design to an electronic version. We have also provided a simple “squared-off” outline so that you can make the pansy in the colors of your choice. Just remember to keep the darker colors toward the bottom to make the pansy “face”. I hope you have found these examples and tips helpful.

To dowload outline, click here;
To download colored needlework chart, click here.

I want to wish all of you a safe, healthy, and happy New Year.

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