A mysterious scribble

In a folder with some old sketches (the same one in which I found the Beginner’s Butterfly, in fact) I came across a quarter of an old letter, on the back of which was an intriguing doodle and the words “shuttle stitch?”. It was obviously an idea for a stitch, but I had absolutely no recollection of drawing it and couldn’t make head or tail of it. Was it meant to be a needle book? It vaguely looked like two square pages with the shuttle stitch (whatever that was) as the hinge/spine. Then I thought the rectangles surrounding each of the squares on three sides looked like they might be Kloster blocks – but they were marked “g” or possible “9”, not “K”.

A mysterious scribble What is shuttle stitch?

I still can’t remember when or why I drew it, but after some more observation and interpretation I think it represents two cut areas surrounded by Kloster blocks consisting of 9 stitches each, with a woven bar in the middle and a buttonhole arch on either side, with letters to indicate starting points and how to get from one bit of the stitch combination to the next. It is still a mystery to me why I would want to call it shuttle stitch. If anything it looks rather more like a belt buckle. Or is shuttle stitch an existing stitch and did I copy it from somewhere? If you recognise it from a book or a project, I’d be delighted to know!

Change in progress (III) – Twin butterflies

While I was on a roll with the tulip-and-some-other-flower designs last month I took the opportunity to tidy up a drawing I did some time ago; it’s not dated but from the surrounding scribbles it seems to have been intended as a freestyle project for beginners.

Sketch for a butterfly project for beginners

But not just for beginners – there are stitch suggestions for what might be called an intermediate version as well. So when I edited the sketch on the computer I created two versions, one with basic stitches as a project for people with little embroidery experience, and one with slightly more advanced stitches for those who are familiar with the basics and would like to branch out.

Two butterfly variations

Having tidied up the two butterflies I was looking forward to trying them both, especially the second version which promised to be quite interesting texturally. But I decided to take them in order and begin with the basic butterfly. I’d printed both butterflies at a little under 9cm high, transferred them to Rowandean’s embroidery cotton and picked some lovely Splendor silk threads (the same ones I used for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday present). True, if this ever makes it into a workshop I won’t of course be using silk threads, but why not give myself a treat while model stitching? Well, the threads were indeed a treat but as I was stitching I soon found that even a basic butterfly may need to go through quite a few changes during the design process!

The first thing to become obvious was that the butterfly’s size meant I’d have to work with four strands to make the stitches stand out and fill the space sufficiently. This worked all right in most cases but combined with the very soft nature of Splendor silks it didn’t look very good in the chain stitch part; the stitches just blended into each other, the loops didn’t show their open centres, and the whole thing lacked definition. So my next version will smaller, worked in standard cottons, and use a maximum of three strands.

Silk chain stitch lacking definition

The buttonhole wheel I had planned for its head turned out lumpy and awkward. That will have to be changed in the new model, probably to backstitch with straight stitch “spokes” for the Beginner version, and whipped backstitch for the Intermediate one.

A lumpy buttonhole wheel

For the wings I’d chosen whipped running stitch, and I will keep that, but I will definitely have to make the stitches smaller – my rather hasty ¼ version doesn’t make for a nice smooth outline…

Spiky whipped running stitch

And finally there was the butterfly’s body. It was charted in both versions as buttonhole stitch with a line of backstitch to close the teeth end, and each of the sections adorned with a French knot. But then I though it would be nicer to have two different types of body for the two different butterflies, and I also decided to leave French knots for the Intermediate version. So the Beginner body got changed to two opposing lines of buttonhole stitch, with the teeth interlocking. I like the effect of it and will keep that in the final design, but I must remember that for the teeth on the second line to be centred between the teeth of the first line, it is important not to bring the needle up centrally – because of the way buttonhole stitch works, this actually pushes the teeth off-centre.

Spiky whipped running stitch

It sounds like not a lot is left of the original idea, doesn’t it? But I do like this butterfly, and most of it will actually be as originally planned. When I’ve stitched the revised version you’ll see it hasn’t changed that much from the first try – well, except for the difference between soft shiny silks and thinner, sharper cotton threads, of course!

The first butterfly

And talking of threads, as the butterfly is meant to be usable for a beginners’ workshop I felt it might better not to use a stranded thread at all, but something indivisible. Perle #8 is one option, and I’ve got quite a collection of it, so I will probably try it on one of the smaller butterflies. It can be quite twisty. however, which might be a problem. The other I will work in coton à broder #16 – a little thinner, but easy to work with. Unfortunately I only had two of those in my stash, so I treated myself to a small collection of useful colours. Don’t they look inviting?

Coton a broder no. 16 Coton a broder wound on bobbins in a project box

More suspense (well, suspension)

Some time ago I showed you a filling stitch which consisted of a sequin suspended in the centre of a cut area by means of a sort of spider’s web stitch without the woven spider’s web bit. When I showed it on the Cross Stitch Forum without adding a description of how I had done it, one lady commented that she liked the way it was suspended using a square filet. This was interesting, and it made me look at the suspended sequin again. Yes, it could probably be worked that way – and that would be rather nice because it would mean the pair of designs in Heart’s Treasure would both use a variation on the square filet (the other one being the two-coloured variety).

So I set to work trying out various ways of suspending a sequin by means of a square filet. As the original spider’s web method I used was rather fiddly, one of the square filet ones was a very straightforward method of every time coming up through the sequin in the cut area and going down into the fabric in a corner, but that produced rather spreading holding threads instead of the slightly cord-like look I was aiming for.

That method didn’t work because there was no twist to the stitch, none of the “catching the loop” that is so characteristic of the square filet. But for reasons I won’t go into here doing exactly what you would do in a standard square filet didn’t work either; it needed an extra twist.

First bring the needle up in one corner of the cut area and thread on a sequin (picture 1 below), then take the needle down into the fabric into the next corner (picture 2) – this, by the way, can be either clockwise or anti-clockwise; either is fine, as long as you consistently stick with your choice throughout the project. Bring the needle up in the cut area in the second corner and catch the loop (picture 3), then take the needle over the loop and down into the gap again (picture 4). Don’t pull the thread too tightly at this point, and you will have to stabilise the sequin with your non-stitching hand during the first part of the stitch.

Bring the needle up in the cut area and thread on a sequin Take the needle down into the fabric into the next corner Bring the needle up in the cut area in the second corner and catch the loop Take the needle over the loop and down into the gap again

Now bring the needle up again through the sequin (picture 1 below), then take the needle down into the fabric in the next corner (picture 2). Come up again in the gap in the same corner, catching the loop (picture 3), take the thread over the loop, go down again into the gap and come up through the sequin (picture 4).

Bring the needle up again through the sequin Take the needle down into the fabric in the next corner Come up again in the gap in the same corner, catching the loop Take the thread over the loop, go down again into the gap and come up through the sequin

Continue like this until you come up though the sequin from the fourth corner, then take the the needle underneath the very first part of the stitch before going down into the fabric in the corner where you started. Hey presto, a suspended sequin in a square filet! Incidentally, this example was worked using two strands of stranded cotton, but one strand works equally well – it just shows a bit more of the sequin. Floche or another thin indivisible thread like #12 perle is also suitable.

A suspended sequin in a square filet

Colour squared


Two-tone square filets

doesn’t look much like this

The first scribble

does it? And yet that’s where it started, with a midnight idea and a scribble in thick and thin pencil lines. The idea was as follows: when working a square filet, unlike with a dove’s eye, the thread goes down into the fabric. And if one colour goes down into the fabric, a different colour may come up. Furthermore, unlike for example the spider’s web, the square filet is made up of equal “passes”, so that any colour changes will result in a regular, symmetrical pattern.

As the square filet consists of four passes, in theory it would be possible to work a single four-coloured one:

A four-tone square filet

That would take rather a lot of fastening off and on, however. Perfectly doable, but much easier and more efficient to get the effect when working a set of them. The scribble was based on a cross shape, simply because of the design I was working on at the time. The four passes in this case would be four V shapes of incomplete square filets. I was working in two shades of the same colour, and started with a dark pass.

First pass for two-tone square filets

Fasten off, then pick the sequence up with a light thread.

Second pass for two-tone square filets

Then another dark pass and finally a light one to complete the cross shown in the very first picture. I could have used four colours, in which case the central square filet would have shown all four and looked like the diagram above. To have four colours throughout would necessitate taking the needle through the intervening woven bar between every pair of square filets, and I’m not sure the effect would be worth the effort! However, it is possible to work sets of square filets in straight lines in four colours relatively easily.

Four-tone square filets in straight rows

I may try this out one day. If I do, FoF will have the pictures!

Suspended animation

You may remember that some time ago I was finishing off some half-completed small projects, among them some Shisha tiles. They use sequins. I’d also been stocking up on sequins for kits (and being seduced by those floral gems). Consequently my mind was in sequin mode, and as it turned out my subconscious mind was as well, as I actually dreamt of sequins one night. Could you, I wondered as I woke up at 2am, suspend a sequin in the centre of a Hardanger cut area? I’ve done it with beads, both single and multiple, so why not sequins? I grabbed the little notebook that lives on my bedside table and scribbled down a few ideas. The following morning it still made sense (not all my night-time scribbles do) although I did realise I’d have to work it slightly differently from my first idea.

Off to my doodle cloth I went, with some floche which happened to be in the needle and a sequin. Here’s what I tried: fasten on and come up in a corner of a cut hole, then thread on a sequin. Down in the fabric at the opposite corner and up in the cut area in the same corner, then take the needle over the diagonal thread.

Come up in a corner of a cut hole Thread on a sequin Go down into the fabric at the opposite corner Come up in that same corner in the cut area

Go underneath the diagonal, then down through the sequin hole from above. Wrap around the diagonal towards the first corner and go down the fabric. My wrapping wasn’t very even so the sequin isn’t centred, but that’s a matter of practice, and anyway, we’re not done yet smiley. Stretch a thread across the other diagonal (up in the cut hole in one corner, through the sequin and down into the fabric in the opposite corner).

Go underneath the diagonal, then down through the sequin hole from above Wrap around the diagonal towards the first corner and go down the fabric The sequin isn't centred, but all is not lost Stretch a thread across the other diagonal

Back along the diagonal as before, wrapping around the thread and going through the sequin, then down into the fabric in the corner again. Voilà, a suspended sequin! And the second diagonal has helped to centre the sequin, even though it was quite a bit off on the first diagonal. (Apologies for the optional cat hair that has enveigled itself into the stitch; I didn’t notice it until I saw the photographs at full size…)

Wrap along the second diagonal, going through the sequin Suspended sequin Suspended sequin catching the light

Depending on the size of the sequin this would work on various counts of fabric, I expect. This is a 3mm sequin with 25ct Lugana – 22ct Hardanger would give it a bit more breathing space. With fine fabric you could use a 2mm sequin, I suppose, although I have some in my stash and there isn’t a lot of body to them, so they might get rather lost in the holding threads. 4mm would probably work with 22ct, but as I’ve only got cup sequins in that size I can’t try it out; you really need a flat sequin for this to work. But it needn’t be round, although I would expect it to look most effective with a regular shape. However, if you’d like to try it out with a heart or crescent-shaped sequin do send me a picture to show how it turned out!

Stumbling across a new old stitch

Do you know how sometimes things turn up in a book that weren’t there the last time you read it? (It works the other way round as well – things you are sure were there last time have suddenly disappeared.) Some time ago I was leafing through one of the embroidery books in my collection and came across Pueblo stitch, which I have no recollection of ever seeing there before. It’s also known as Pueblo backstitch, and gets its name because it is (was?) used by the Pueblo people. It looked interesting – it seemed to use two colours to create a twisted sort of look by bringing the needle up between the two working threads – so I got out the doodle cloth and two shades each of stranded cotton, floche and perle #8 and got to work. And I just couldn’t get it to look like the diagrams.

In fact, after a while I felt almost certain it would be impossible to make it look like the diagram because of where the threads were meant to go up and down into the fabric. Then I realised that I had completely misinterpreted the diagram and that the twisted look is actually achieved by, erm, twisting smiley. In between stitches, that is, not while making the stitch. So the two working threads are twisted at the front of the fabric and travel a long way, while at the back of the fabric there is very little thread indeed. This also explains why it was described as a good stitch to cover a lot of background quickly, which my first attempts would definitely not have done. I’m not very happy with the Pueblo stitch I eventually produced, but I daresay with more practice I’d get it to look more even.

The Pueblo stitch diagram My attempt at Pueblo stitch

Now as I was first trying this stitch in my misinterpreted way, I appear to have inadvertently discovered (or more probably rediscovered) a different stitch altogether (and what I should call it I do not know!) which is very decorative and capable of all sorts of variations. So what did I do differently from the proper Pueblo stitch? Well, I didn’t do the long twisted bit in between stitches. Here are the variations I came up with, on counted and non-counted fabric.

First I tried to recreate that twisted look by swapping over the two working threads every time I brought the needle up between them. That does result in an “alternating” line, but it looks rather bitty, the more so when using thinner threads.

Swapping over the working threads on counted fabric Swapping over the working threads on non-counted fabric

I then tried bringing the needle up between the two working threads as before, but without swapping them over; colour A was always above the needle, colour B always below. This works rather well in any thread (although again the thicker threads look better to my mind) and creates what looks almost like a line of chain stitch with the two halves of each link in different colours (unlike in chequered chain stitch, where the entire links alternate in colour).

Not swapping over the working threads on counted fabric Not swapping over the working threads on non-counted fabric

And finally I played with the stitch length at the back; in the original Pueblo stitch there is a lot at the front and very little at the back, and in first my two variations I likewise kept the thread at the back of the fabric to a minimum, even though my front stitches aren’t nearly so long as the original twisted ones. What would happen, I wondered, if I treated it a bit like stem stitch? Bring both threads up through the fabric, go down the desired stitch length further, then come up halfway along that first stitch, between the two threads. Again go down a stitch length further, half of which will cover half of the first stitch. Come up at the end of the first stitch (which should be halfway along the second stitch), and so on. In theory that should give a line of stem stitch and a line of outline stitch facing each other, in two different colours. To my delight it did just that in practice!

Pueblo stem stitch on counted fabric Pueblo stem stitch on non-counted fabric

You can even swap over the working threads in this stem stitch version for yet another effect.

Pueblo stem stitch swapping over the working threads

So now I’ve got three useful stitches in search of a name. Something with Pueblo in it to reflect their origin, I think, but then what? Well, the last one simply has to be called Pueblo stem stitch, and I think Pueblo split stitch would be quite good for the middle one (even though the thread isn’t really split, the effect is much the same); any suggestions for the first one will be gratefully received. But wasn’t it serendipitous, discovering a new stitch by misreading an old diagram?

A spicy stitch, two ways

Some years ago I came across a stitch I really liked the look of on the Nordic Needle Save the Stitches website. For reasons I have yet to fathom they called it “nutmeg stitch”. It doesn’t look the least bit like a nutmeg, but the name rather appeals to me – I am Dutch, after all, and we like our spices. Although I called it a stitch, it is really the intertwining combination of two of the basic Hardanger filling stitches, dove’s eye and square filet, and interestingly the result doesn’t look like either of them.

nutmeg stitch

I’ve not seen the stitch anywhere else before or since, but I gather it was used in a booklet produced with competition-winning designs, so presumably one of those winners invented it and gave it its fragrant name. As I said, I liked it, but it did look like rather a lot of work; first do the dove’s eye, then the square filet, carefully weaving in and out of the dove’s eye – wouldn’t it be possible to get the same effect in a simpler way?

Out came the doodle cloth of the moment, and after a few tries I realised it wasn’t possible; not exactly the same effect. But starting in a corner and working alternate quarters of square filet and dove’s eye, I did get a similar effect. With its slightly looser look (the weaving isn’t as tight as in a nutmeg stitch) I felt that, though similar, it was different enough to deserve its own name, and in keeping with its shape I called it sunburst stitch. It quickly became one of my favourites.

sunburst stitch

Now these two stitches, nutmeg and sunburst, each have their own strong points and disadvantages. Sunburst is simpler and quicker, but I soon realised that nutmeg stitch, because it is worked in two passes, can be stitched in two colours. Nordic Needle’s Hardanger tends to be traditional in its colour schemes, so not surprisingly the pictures I’d found of the stitch were all white – to find out whether a two-tone nutmeg (the mind boggles) would work, I’d have to stitch it myself. Out came the doodle cloth again, and yes, it does work!

nutmeg stitch in two colours

As the doodle cloth was to hand anyway, I did some more experimenting. What if you started the weave by taking the square filet over  the first part of the dove’s eye instead of under ? The result turned out to be a slightly looser weave producing a different but equally pleasant colour pattern. Perhaps it doesn’t really warrant its own name, but I’ve given it one anyway; wishing to reflect both its kinship with the nutmeg stitch and the slight difference between the two, I here present the mace stitch!

mace stitch in two colours

Symmetry and balance

I like symmetry. That is probably one of the things which attracted me to Hardanger embroidery – although you can of course design asymmetric Hardanger, it tends to be nicely mirrored along at least one axis and often two. In other techniques as well, symmetry appeals to me, which explains the Shisha Tile (though not the Shisha Flower). Sometimes it is only an almost-symmetry, as in the Shisha Clover, and occasionally I go mad and throw all symmetry out of the window and design something like the Little Wildflower Garden. But on the whole, symmetry it is for me.

And then I decided to use Mountmellick stitch in a Hardanger design.

Many embroidery stitches are symmetrical in themselves, or can easily be arranged so. Mountmellick stitch, with its saw-tooth appearance, doesn’t lend itself to that quite so easily. Still, by using it in four straight lines radiating from the centre I thought it would probably work. As I charted it for Round Nine of the SAL the stitch was the same width as a Kloster block, and so it was easy to place it perfectly centred between the various cut areas, which I tend to separate by a multiple of Kloster block widths.

Mountmellick stitched placed centrally

Perfectly centred … and it just didn’t look right. Because of its shape, Mountmellick stitch has more “weight” on one side than on the other, and the saw-tooth tips just didn’t have enough solidity to balance the straight edge on the other side. This is when I realised that I don’t just like symmetry – there needs to be balance as well, and as I was finding out sometimes balance can only be had by sacrificing perfect symmetry. I shifted the line of Mountmellick stitch one thread towards the tips, and that looked much better.

Mountmellick stitched placed off-centre

If I had ever been a printer I might have realised this before, as I believe some letters have to be given more or less space than others on account of their shape, and sometimes two letters placed at the same distance as two other letters may look much closer because of how their shapes interact. It’s interesting to find that this goes for embroidery stitches as well!

Star bright

Having completed the Kelly Fletcher Christmas tree freebie and not yet having enough time to make a solid start on the Jacobean goldwork flower I decided to have a go at one of the star designs I had transferred onto two shades of Normandie fabric. For no particular reason I picked the ivory one, and as there probably wouldn’t be time to do both (I’m proofreading a friend’s thesis at the moment, not to mention being up to my ears in bits of kits) the threads simply had to be the Threadworx Vineyard silks. They are gorgeous! Not only are the colours full and deep and rich, even in the pastel shades, but they are some of the most strokeable threads I have ever come across, soft and luxurious with a lovely bounce. Do you know that feeling when you walk barefoot on thick springy moss? You get the same spring when you gently squeeze a bobbin of Vineyard silk.

Yes, all right, I admit it – I’m the sort of stitcher who squeezes bobbins of silk. It’s soothing. It’s good for my blood pressure. Anyway, moving swiftly on, let’s discuss stitches!

I wanted to try a variety of stitches on the various concentric stars, in a sort of rainbow of colour, starting with a small yellow star in the middle. This started out as a French knot surrounded by stem stitch, but that looked a bit empty so I added the various straight stitches later. One of the stitches I particularly wanted to include was raised chain stitch, which is worked over a straight stitch foundation stitched between two lines; that meant I was one line short for the number of colours I wanted to use, so I inserted an uncharted dotted line of more French knots, in green this time. Blue for the raised chain, with a foundation of Caron Wildflowers. Raised chain stitch is not ideal for very sharp points, but it looks OK and the texture works beautifully in the Vineyard silk. Then a line of pinky-red Portuguese knotted stem stitch and finally the outer line in purple Mountmellick stitch. Again not an ideal stitch for sharp points and corners, but I actually rather like the look of the “teeth” in the peaks and troughs. I did briefly consider working 10 separate lines of Mountmellick from the tops to the troughs, but decided it would involve far too much fastening on and off – this was meant to be a relaxing stitch, after all!

And here is what it looks like, once photographed in bright sunshine – brilliant to show the colours, but lots of sharp shadows as well – and once in the shade, which is probably better to show the stitches.

The finished star photographed in full sunlight The finished star photographed in shade

Incidentally, it was quite interesting to have a look at the back and see how different the stitches look there; Mountmellick looks like a very elongated rake head, and stem stitch becomes back stitch!

The back of the MC star

And finally a close-up of the stitches, to show off the lovely sheen and texture of the threads.

Close-up of the stitches used in the MC star

Last of the three freestyle workshops for the Church’s building fund tomorrow; a full house with some children and young people as well! Not all of them will be stitching, but just in case they change their minds I’ve made sure I’ve got enough kits with me for everyone.

Same stitch, different looks

You can create variety within a design by using different stitches, but sometimes a different effect can be created simply by using a different weight of thread, or by changing the size of the stitch.

Take the French knot, for example. This can be a tiny little fly-speck, or a chunky sphere the size of a hailstone (not a very big hailstone, perhaps, but still). The difference in size and look can be achieved by several different means, such as the thickness of the thread, the type of thread, and the number of wraps. The thinner the thread, the smaller the knot. The smoother the thread, the smoother the knot. And the more wraps, the bigger the knot. In theory, there are no limits to the degree of variation in any of these, and you could, I suppose, work a French knot using a telegraph pole for a needle and heavy-duty steel cable for thread. It’s not something I’d like to try, but you could. There is, however, a limit to the number of wraps – too many and you end up with something more like a bullion knot than a French knot. Personally I find that three wraps is as much as a French knot will comfortably take, although I have known stitchers who could create beautiful four-wrap knots. Still, you get the idea: unlike chocolate, when it comes to wraps on a French knot there is such a thing as too much.

In the Little Wildflower Garden you can see the French knot thing in action, from tiny ones made with two wraps in one strand of cotton in the centre of the poppy, to big burly knots made with three wraps in three strands for the yellow daisy centres and some of the lavender. But what if you use a different thread altogether, like perle cotton? I grabbed a doodle cloth and some perles and here are the resulting six knots: one, two and three wraps in #8 and #5. Not my tidiest knots, I’m afraid, but they’ll give you an idea of the difference a wrap can make!

Six French knot variations

When I was designing the Round In Circles SAL, one of the things that I had to decide on was how big to make stitches. Much depends on the effect you’re after. Take the lazy daisy, for example: if you make it very long – that is to say, your anchoring stitch is a long way away from the hole where you take the needle up and down to form the loop – it will also be thin. It is almost impossible to make a long, plump lazy daisy. But keep them short and they will almost automatically form into nice wide petals, as here in Gingham Gems.

Plump lazy daisies

One of the stitches it took me quite some time to decide about was the Portuguese knotted stem stitch (yes, another spoiler alert – this is one of the stitches still to come smiley). Like normal stem stitch you can vary the length of the individual stitches making up the line; the shorter the individual stitches, the chubbier the line. This particular variation on stem stitch wraps around the stitches as they are made, giving extra texture, but the same principle applies: short constituent stitches, chunky line. And of course the thicker the thread, the thicker the line.

I didn’t really have a particular effect in mind when I started the design, so I tried four different stitch lengths in perle #5 and perle #8 simply to see which one I liked best, and also to see whether any of them were more awkward to work than others. As you can see here there is not quite such a spectacular difference in look, but enough to be worth considering what thread and stitch size give you the effect you want, especially when you look at the shortest and longest stitch sizes together.

Eight Portuguese stem stitch variations Portuguese stem stitch variations, shortest and longest

It’s a useful thing to remember that changing the look of a stitch sometimes takes no more than a change of thread, or of stitch length – so if in a particular design you’re not altogether pleased with the look of a stitch, why not do a bit of experimenting? That’s one of the wonderful things about embroidery: you can do whatever you like with your projects!