When we went down to Devon to visit the in-laws recently, I wanted to take something fairly simple as a project to work on in the evenings – preferably outlines in stem stitch or something like that. No counting, no complicated stitches. But apart from some Kelly Fletcher freebies I didn’t really have anything suitable. Or did I?
What about my Elegant Cats? Originally they were designed in cross stitch, for an exchange of ATCs (Artist Trading Cards) on the Cross Stitch Form (and stitched on 36ct evenweave to make them fit; as usual I’d tried to cram in far too much detail). But the cross stitch design was based on my original line drawing, and a couple of years ago I cleaned up the line drawing and digitised it for some future occasion. Perhaps that future occasion was now! Line drawings, after all, are almost by definition suitable for freestyle embroidery, especially for line stitches like stem stitch.
I transferred the drawing to a piece of linen twill, hooped up, picked the colours I wanted to use (mostly the ones used in the original cross stitch plus a few others in case I needed more shading), and packed it all into my stitching bag.
Before any stitch was put in, however, a lot of thinking was needed. In the cross stitch version the cats were both solidly stitched; something I definitely didn’t want in the freestyle version. But the “outlines only” approach threw up a number of obstacles, first and foremost among them the black cat’s white patch. This stands out very noticeably when the cat is otherwise solid black, but might get lost if it was white stitched on off-white inside an empty black outline. Another challenge was the ginger cat’s stripes. Stitched simply as the stripes on the line drawing they might look a bit sparse, but how to bulk them out? Could I work them in some sort of spiky stitch like Mountmellick or long-armed Palestrina?
In order to give myself a bit more time to think about these things I started with the bits I had already decided on: the main outlines, which would be stitched in stem stitch using three strands – nice and chunky. trying to visualise whether the black cat would look better in stark black or very dark grey I made a last-minute decision to blend, something which I hoped would give depth to the outlines, and which I subsequently also used on the ginger cat.
For the ginger cat’s stripes I decided against any of the more exotic stitches – I wanted to keep this design simple in both its outlines and its execution, and so sticking to the basic repertoire of stitches (as very scientifically defined by my mother-in-law, who after decades of very intricate stitching says that she will now use only “stem stitch, chain stitch, French knots and fly stitch”) seemed a good idea (although I retained the option of adding one or two basic stitches not on her list, such as ray stitch; it may sound exotic but is basically a group of straight stitches radiating from one point).
Chain stitch seemed to fit the bill as it is a line stitch with some width to it, unlike stem stitch. But one line of chain stitch, even with the added shading of blended threads, still looked too thin. How about building up the stripes to the sort of shape they had in the cross stitch version by adding lines of chain stitch on top of each other?
That worked. Next challenge, the black cat’s white patch. As I expected an outline-only version just looked insignificant and negligible, even using three strands. Well, how about filling it in with chain stitch, subtly echoing the chain stitch in the other cat’s stripes? In one strand, to keep an airy look – it wouldn’t do to have it too solid or I’d have to beef up the black as well! And yes, a round-and-round filling of light chain stitch gave me the effect I wanted.
Fairly last-minute, and for no particular reason other than that it suddenly struck me as a good idea, I gave both cats a white tail tip. This may have been partly a displacement strategy so I wouldn’t have to think about what was the final, and rather daunting, challenge in the design process, that of the black cat’s body colour. I delayed this decision even more by first finishing the paw print border, which was always going to be padded satin stitch with French knots and therefore didn’t present a problem.
But eventually everything had been stitched that could be stitched without coming to the black cat’s potential body filling or shading, and so it had to be faced. Because I definitely wanted to steer clear of solid filling, the best option seemed to be a sort of hatched shading, worked in one strand like the patch to keep it light. I picked the grey from the blend, feeling that the full black would probably make the hatching look too stark, and simply started stitching, hoping that I’d have the good sense to stop when enough was enough. I think I did – and now the Elegant Cats exist in freestyle as well as in cross stitch. Which must be a good thing, as you can never have too many cats! (Well, not in stitch anyway.)