Congress cloth Hardanger and freedom to vary

Does Hardanger have to be stitched on Hardanger fabric? If you have ever browsed Mabel’s designs (or those of many other designers), you’ll know that the answer to that is “no”. In fact, when Hardanger embroidery started there was no Hardanger fabric. As long as the fabric is an evenweave, and as long as you can find threads in suitable thicknesses, you can use whatever you like, from 14ct afghan fabric to 55ct linen (I’ve seen the pictures to prove it, but haven’t been brave enough to try it myself). Even so, the fabric of choice of Nordic Needle’s Roz Watnemo has always struck me as unusual – Congress cloth.

Why unusual? It’s not the count; at 24 threads to the inch it’s perfect to use with perle #5 and #8. But it’s not a fabric – it’s a canvas. That means it’s very stiff and also quite open, both of which seemed to me unsympathetic to Hardanger. My main questions were: if the weave of the fabric is relatively open, will there be enough contrast between it and the cut parts? Won’t the stiffness make it harder to cut, and practically impossible to tuck in the cut ends? Will the stiffer threads have enough “give” when working bars, for example when pulled together in a wrapped bar? There was really only one way to find out. Try it.

To my surprise, it worked. Of course it shouldn’t really have surprised me – if an experienced Hardangerista like Roz Watnemo swears by it, it’s unlikely to be impossible. Even so, I hadn’t expected it to stitch up just as quickly as on my usual fabrics.

Hardanger on Congress cloth

So how did the experience differ from my normal stitching? And will I use Congress cloth again? To begin with the first question, for one thing the material is much stiffer. You couldn’t use a hoop if you wanted to, I think. But then, you don’t need it, as tension is not really a problem with such a stable material. With a small snippet of a project like this, not having to use a hoop is quite an advantage, as it saves on material – you can stitch in hand on a little off-cut, rather than having to use a 5″ square to fit a 4″ hoop (note to self: must try a 3″ one to see if it will do; perhaps if I work “in the well”?). Not sure how I’d like to stitch anything big on this canvas, though I suppose a roller frame would work if you didn’t want to stitch a large project in hand.

Cutting was fine, the squissors coped beautifully with the stiffer threads, but as predicted, poking in the cut ends is more difficult on Congress cloth than on Hardanger fabric or Lugana (looking at pictures of Congress cloth Hardanger projects online I didn’t find any without visible cut ends). They do eventually bend back on themselves, but they are more likely to unbend again and poke their annoying little heads through the stitches. Working the bars was much easier than I’d expected: the canvas had enough “give” to allow me to pull the threads together. And finally, the look of it. That is to a great extent a matter of taste, but for me the weave is just too open – too much of the coloured backing shines through, making the contrast with the cut areas less striking.

Congress cloth vs Hardanger fabric

The answer, then, is no, I won’t be using it again; at least not for Hardanger. But it was an interesting experiment to try, and I can see it would be a useful material for building up 3D Hardanger shapes such as Christmas ornaments.

As I was stitching the patch for the last of my sixteen bookmarks yesterday, I suddenly realised that I’ve completed the wrapped bar/sunburst models needed for potential kits (except for the pink and turquoise versions as I had only one tag of each and they’d already been made up with woven bar/dove’s eye patches). This means that I am now free to stitch any future felt-tag-bookmarks-for-charity with whatever backstitch motif & bar & filling combination I’d like to use. To celebrate I finished number sixteen with picots smiley.

A picot felt bookmark

When I’ve ordered some more tags I’d like to try personalising one or two by stitching initials underneath the patch (chain stitch, probably). And stitch a few with the little baptism cross – being rectangular rather than square it would look good on the rectangular bookmark, and both good causes I am stitching for (Dunchurch Baptist Church's new building, and the Elijah Gambia foundation) are Christian, and likely to attract a fair number of fellow Christians to their charity sales. It looks like I’ll have plenty of enjoyable little projects to keep me occupied even if I don’t get round to my larger designs – and of course the annual Christmas Craft Event is looming, so I need to think up a project for that as well!

PS Two of the bookmarks are now in the hands of bibliophile friends who have promised to test-drive them ruthlessly. We’ll see how they stand up to the treatment…

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