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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