Thursday, June 29, 2017

More Needlework Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

Paul Scarlett rose in Annake's garden
Paul Scarlett rose in Annake's garden
I made a needlepoint from your rose chart (August 26, 2013). I know roses don't come in blue, but it is my favorite color, so I made the rose in shades from baby blue to navy and I love it! Now I'm ready to do the background and I don't want just a plain color. How can I make the background really interesting without making my rose disappear?

Rose Needle Arts Chart
Rose Needle Arts Chart from August 26, 2013 post

Bravo to you for choosing your own colors! It sounds lovely. I'm going to suggest you try a patterned background (and learn a new type of canvas work at the same time). First, look at this rose (“our” rose) done in continental stitch in tones of baby pink to burgundy. The background is a bargello pattern. Bargello is an old form of tapestry work stitched on needlepoint canvas to provide an inexpensive fabric that looked like the much more expensive woven tapestries of the late Middle Ages. It is done in straight up-and-down stitches over a varied number of canvas threads. It is done with yarn and a tapestry needle, just like continental stitch. As you can see, the pattern did not overwhelm my rose. Blue is a cool color, so I don't recommend using the warm browns that I used for this rose. A silvery gray (you will need a light, a medium, and a darker shade) or perhaps a lavender might be a good choice. Take your rose with you so you can see the colors side by side before you buy the yarns.

Rose needlepoint with bargello background
Rose needlepoint with bargello background, made from chart

I'm going to take you through the stitch process with pictures. Outline the shape of a frame on your canvas in pencil, centering your rose. You are going to begin in the upper right-hand corner of the frame, but leave an empty row of canvas squares at the top, just under the frame line, and another empty row down the right-hand side, just inside the frame line. Begin with the medium shade of your chosen color. Don't use a strand longer than 18 inches. Bring your needle up from the back in the row to the left of the empty row on the side and two rows down from the empty top row. Stitch over the thread just above where your needle entered and immediately push your needle to the back again. You have made a stitch over 1 thread. Now make a stitch that passes over the thread below your stitch, your stitch, and the thread above your stitch (3 threads in all). Moving left, make another stitch over 1 thread. You have made a design that looks like a plus mark (+). Moving left, leave an empty row, then make another plus. Continue in this pattern across the frame. If you cannot make a whole plus at the end of the row, make as much of it as you can. Your first row should look like this:

1 row of plus stitches

Working from either the left or the right, put a plus (or a partial plus) directly underneath each plus (or partial plus) in row 1. The tops of the second row of long stitches share the same “holes” as the bottoms of the long stitches in the first row. Rows 1 and 2 should look like this:

2 rows of plus stitches

End your medium-colored yarn for the time being and run the end under the backs of established stitches. Thread your needle with the darkest shade of yarn. Secure the ends under the backs of some of your plus stitches. Remember those empty spaces between the horizontal arms of your pluses? Now you are going to fill them with stitches over one thread. Your first two rows should now look like this (I have used plastic canvas so that the individual stitches are easy to see)
2 rows of plus stitches with gaps filled in

Finally, fill in the remaining spaces with upright stitches in your lightest color. Each stitch covers 2 threads. No empty canvas shows between the stitches when you are using the size of yarn or floss appropriate for that canvas. Your completed rows should now look like this:

2 rows of plus stitches with gaps and spaces filled in

Detail of needlepoint rose and background
Detail of needlepoint rose and background interface
As you come to the edges of your rose, do as much of each pattern stitch as the space allows. I did all the plus stitches first, to establish the vertical rows of the pattern all over the canvas. Then I did the dark stitches to establish the horizontal rows. Finally, I filled in the light stitches. You, however, may prefer to work just one row of stitches at a time. Here is an enlarged picture of an area where the background pattern meets the edge of the rose. Don't forget to fill in the empty top and side rows.

The “plus” stitch you just learned is called Hungarian stitch. I hope this project has given you an interest in bargello stitching. If so, go to the post for April 10, 2014 or use the terms “bargello” or “Hungarian stitch” in our search engine for much, much more.

I have trouble with doing needlework from charts. I keep losing my place. Any suggestions to help me?

It is certainly important to keep track of the line in the chart that corresponds with the line of stitches you are working, as well as to keep an accurate count of the number of stitches you have completed. Otherwise, your finished project may not look very much like the chart! It is a good idea to keep the chart on a flat surface where it is easy to see all of it from your working position. I use a clipboard to hold mine in place. I keep a pencil with it. If I'm interrupted or have to be away from my work for any length of time, I make a small pencil mark by my last completed stitch.

If you are primarily losing the horizontal line in the chart and are not concerned with losing count of your stitches, the simplest solution is to place a 12-inch ruler with its top edge just under the chart line you are following. If you need to add weight to the ruler to keep it in place, glue a couple of coins to the underneath side of the ruler, near the ends.

Chart and ruler
Chart and ruler

For an easy-to-make tool to mark both the horizontal and the vertical lines in your chart, cut two pieces of stiff cardboard about 2 inches (5 cm) wide and 6 inches (15 cm) long. Staple or glue them together so that they form an L-shape. Place the L on the chart so that the bottom part of the L is directly below the horizontal line of the chart that you are following, and the upright part of the L is just behind the first stitch you are going to count. Mentally remind yourself to move the upright part of the L every 5 or 10 stitches you complete. This takes some practice, but will soon become automatic. Slide the bottom of the L up (if you are working from the bottom of the chart) or down (if you are working from the top) one space at the end of every completed row of stitches.

Chart and cardboard "tool"
Chart and cardboard "tool"

When I am doing latch-hook, I place my (much larger) chart above my canvas. I always start my rug or wall hanging at the bottom. At the end of each row, I turn that row of the chart under, crease it, and secure the ends with clips. I hope these suggestions make reading a chart easier.

Thanks so much for the article on counted cross-stitch (June 12, 2017). I used to do a lot of that but I haven't done any for years. Now I look forward to doing it again. Could you help me with a problem that I have always had? My floss gets twisted and I end up cutting a lot of it off and wasting it.

I'm so happy that you are going to start cross-stitching again! Encouraging people to do activities that they enjoy is one of the main aims of this blog.

First of all, I would suggest using shorter lengths of floss. I don't use anything longer than 18 inches (45 cm), whether I'm using floss or yarn. I tend to use shorter pieces of floss because the strands can separate and fray. Twelve inches (30 cm) often works better for floss. There are two ways to handle the twisting problem. The first is to hold the floss away from your work so that the needle hangs straight down. The floss should start un-twisting. Stop it before it begins to re-twist and smooth the floss between your fingertips before you begin stitching again. The second method is to put the fabric down and hold the loose end of the floss in one hand and the needle between your thumb and forefinger on the other hand. Gently slide the needle up and down the length of floss until the twists straighten out. Be careful not to fray the strands in the process. These techniques should save you both floss and frustration. Good luck!

Happy stitching.

Iris Needle Arts Chart
Iris Needle Arts Chart; download from our June 18, 2015 post

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Conversations About Cross-stitch

Antique Lithuanian tablecloth, blue cross-stitch on white linen
Antique Lithuanian tablecloth, blue cross-stitch on white linen
Last week, I was standing by a table covered with needlework books and materials at a sale, and got involved in conversations with several ladies who were looking at the items on the table. I was surprised at how many questions and requests for advice were about cross-stitch. It reminded me that I hadn't discussed the technique in these posts for quite some time. Today I hope to remedy that situation. I have combined and reworded some of the questions, putting them in italics. But first, a little background information.

Assisi work butterfly on monks' cloth
Assisi work butterfly on monks' cloth
Cross-stitch is a very old form of embroidery, probably used for more than 2,000 years. It is practically impossible to determine where and when it was first used because fabrics seldom survive for long periods. The stitch seems to have been “invented” a number of times, because it is present in ethnic embroideries almost worldwide. By medieval times, it was used in nearly every part of Europe, but also in Africa, Asia, the Near East and South America. Churches used it liberally for their linens and vestments, and royal courts used it for heraldic designs. It wasn't long before the technique spread to the village housewives, who used whatever fabrics and threads were available to them even human hair. It was called “cushion work” in medieval times because of its widespread use in durable covers for chair seats, footstools, and kneeling mats. Here, in colonial times, it was so popular in ladies' samplers of their handiwork that it was known as “sampler stitch”. It combines nicely with other embroidery stitches and is particularly attractive in blackwork, redwork, whitework, Holbein embroidery and Assisi work.

Why do the stitches have to be done the same way?

It is a matter of light. Light strikes the upper and lower halves of the cross-stitch in different ways. This is most important when you are using glossy floss or metallic threads, but it is noticeable even with crewel wool or acrylic knitting worsted. When stitches are not all done the same way, the surface doesn't look even. People will probably not know why this is so, but they will notice it and think “Something just doesn't look right about that.” Besides, as my grandmother used to say, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” So take the trouble to cross all your stitches the same way. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to put in all your bottom stitches in an area and then go back and put in all the top stitches, rather than making one cross-stitch at a time.

Does it matter which way you cross the stitches?

The English way to do this is to make the bottom half of the stitch from lower right to top left and the top half from bottom left to top right. The American and European way is to do the bottom half of the stitch from the bottom left to the top right and the top stitch from bottom right to top left. I work both ways, depending on where I start in the design. Left-handed stitchers may have a stronger preference for one way than right-handed stitchers. Try both ways and use whichever is mot comfortable for you. I don't think it makes any difference so long as you do the same thing consistently throughout the whole piece of work!

Samples of two styles of cross-stitching
Samples of two styles of cross-stitching

I have done a lot of cross-stitch, but sometimes I do areas I don't like. I've never been brave enough to take the stitches out and do them over. What is the best way to do that?

If there are a lot of stitches to remove, use very small, sharp scissors to clip each stitch on the right side of the fabric. Then use small tweezers to gently pull out the threads. Make a small pad of cellophane tape by wrapping it around your hand, sticky side out. To remove any “fuzz” from the area where the stitches were removed, pat the area gently with the pad of sticky tape. Turn the fabric over and do the same thing to that side in order to pick up any stray threads or fuzz. Then you should be ready to start over.

So far I have just done counted cross-stitch on things where the little X's are stamped on the fabric. Now I'd like to work from charts, but I don't know how to get started. What do you suggest?

Rose cross-stitched on 1/4 inch gigham
Rose cross-stitched on 1/4 inch gigham

I like to see beginners start on one of two fabrics. The first is ¼-inch checked gingham because it is so much like graph paper and it is easy to match the checks to the squares in the charts. Also, by stitching into the four corners of each “check”, you will make equally-sized and equally-spaced cross-stitches.

Monks' Cloth
Monks' Cloth
The other fabric is monks’ cloth, which has evenly-spaced holes for the ends of your stitches. Either one should be backed with non-woven interfacing, muslin, even a man's handkerchief. This will support your stitches and help keep you from leaving them too loose or pulling them too tight. (Too loose leaves the stitches easily snagged; too tight pulls the whole design out of shape.)

Downloadable cross-stitch snowflake pattern
Downloadable cross-stitch snowflake pattern
Choose a simple pattern with only a few colors to begin with. Remember it will be larger on either the gingham or the monks' cloth than it would be on the even-weave fabric the pattern was probably designed for. Try it all in one color first, so that you only have to be concerned with the placement of the stitches. If you like the result, then work the design again in colors of your choice. Here's a simple pattern of mine that you may use in any way you choose. You can find others on these past blog posts: August 26, 2013, June 18, 2015, March 21, 2016 and January 1, 2017; or, use "Search My Blog" in the right hand column to find these and other downloads.

Is it harder to do needlepoint than cross-stitch (indicating a piece done in tent stitch)? I already know how to do cross- stitch. And can I do cross-stitch on needlepoint canvas?

It is actually easier to do the tent stitch because you only do half a cross stitch each time! I work in continental stitch. I consider the half-cross stitch used in most commercial kits an inferior stitch for several reasons. (Don't get me started!) But, if you use a better stitch when working with a commercial kit, you will run out of yarn halfway through the project.
Gros-point butterfly with tent stitch background
Gros-point butterfly with tent stitch background
You can certainly do conventional cross-stitch on any even-weave canvas, including rug canvas. When you do this, it is called “gros-point”. You just have to remember that, instead of using the two “holes” in the canvas that you used in doing tent stitches, you need to allow for four “holes” for the top and bottom cross-stitches. This is a good technique both for beginners and for older women whose hands and eyes are not as good as they once were.

Do you have suggestions about working from patterns in books?

Here are a few:

a) Purchase a little more background fabric than the pattern calls for. You may eventually decide to use your finished project for a pillow top, quilt block, applique, etc. which requires seam allowances or margins to turn under. If you are using a different gauge of fabric than what they suggest, carefully count all the horizontal and vertical stitches to determine how much fabric you will need for the design and then add margins.

b) Buy an extra skein of floss or tapestry yarn in the most often used colors in the pattern just in case you have to take out stitches so you don't run out.

c) If you change colors or shades from those called for in the pattern, write the names or numbers of the ones you actually plan to use (lightly in pencil) on the pattern beside the ones you are replacing.

d) If you have trouble following a pattern, color the stitch squares in with colored pencils before you begin. That saves a lot of time and frustration!

colorful onion domes
Holbein embroidery featuring cross-stitch with other straight stitches
Stitch away!

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