Playing with stitches (II)

Sometimes you find a stitch with a great texture or shape but which is rather laborious, or complicated, or looks as if it could be done in a much simpler way. When you come across a stitch like that, do you shrug your shoulders and think "Oh well, if that’s how it’s done, that’s how I’ll have to do it"? Do you decide it’s too much effort doing it the correct way so you end up not using it?

If you’re anything like me, you say to yourself "Whose embroidery is it anyway? I’ll go all Frank Sinatra and do it my way!" Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If it works, wonderful! You have just invented an easier way of creating a beautiful stitch. If it doesn’t, no harm done, you simply go back to doing it the original way.

One of the stitches where it did work is the needleweaving in Odessa. Following the original instructions meant fastening on and off for each of the 6 journeys it would take to fill the cut area. And there are 8 needleweaving areas in the design … But it was not just that this method was very fiddly; you also end up with a lot of thread tails that have to be secured somewhere, and the first and last group of threads covered by the needleweaving become much thicker (and untidier) than the others.

So I devised a way in which it was possible to fasten on once, and then keep going back and forth. It meant I had to fasten off and on only once in between beginning and ending each needleweaving area, when I ran out of thread. Much easier, and much tidier!

But sometimes it doesn’t work. In a book of stitches my mother-in-law gave me some time ago there is one called Portuguese border stitch. It is very textural, and involves stitching a "ladder" of straight stitches as its base, after which you take the thread round those base stitches rather than through the fabric. It takes three journeys: the "ladder", one side all along its length, and the other side all along its length. If the length of your border is more than a few centimetres, you will have to fasten off and on between journeys two and three.

Surely there must be an easier way of doing this? What if I just work the stitches from journeys two and three in the ordinary way – no base stitches, just the same shape stitched directly on to the fabric?

Portuguese border stitch, flat

It’s not a bad shape, is it? Quite pleasant and decorative, and very easy to do. And yet I won’t be stitching it like this. Because if you work it the traditional way, it looks like this:

Portuguese border stitch, traditional

And doesn’t that just look much better?

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