Naming a stitch

How do people name a stitch? Historically, stitches and techniques were sometimes named after the area in which they originated (or were thought to have originated), like Hardanger embroidery and Basque knot. Some were named because they resembled something, like chain stitch. I suspect that among early communities of women (it presumably would have been mostly women) who embroidered, new stitches would at first be known as “that lovely looped stitch Dorcas does” or “Martha’s variation on cross stitch” or something like that, before being given more mysterious names like oyster stitch or rice stitch. These names may not always be very descriptive or helpful in determining what sort of stitch it is or what it is likely to look like, but I suppose it sounds more attractive to say “dove’s eye” rather than “stitch that is looped around each of the four bars surrounding it”; it’s a lot quicker, too.

Although the temptation to go for fancy names can be strong, sometimes the name of a new stitch is obvious the moment you see it. What could I call this but “Y-bar”? (Well, all right, I suppose “catapult bar” would have worked too.)


Then one day I was experimenting on one of my doodle cloths and found myself with a new filling stitch. (Well, I’m fairly sure it’s new as I haven’t seen it anywhere else before or since, but do let me know if you have – even better if you can tell me the name as well.)

A new stitch

The stitch looked rather like exaggerated eyelashes, but I felt that “eyelash stitch” would be rather a silly name. What else did it remind me of? It could be one quarter of a sun, but I’d already used sunburst. Sunrise then? A bit too similar. On second thoughts, what’s wrong with eyelash stitch? It’s descriptive and memorable. So eyelash stitch it is – although in a set of four it does look rather more like a sun…

Eyelash stitch

Sometimes the question is, have I just created a new stitch, or is it no more than a combination or variation of existing ones? Can I justify giving it its own name at all? It can be quite difficult to find out whether a stitch has been done before, and if so what it is called, and if it is called the same thing by everyone. After all, what I know as “split twist” is known to others as “branch filling”, and “twisted bar” appears to refer to both a Hardanger filling stitch and something fancy done to an openwork hem, depending on which book or website you look at.

I came up against this question with what I gave the temporary name “looped V”. I’d seen similar stitches in pictures on the internet, but none of them quite like my version, so I decided I’d better give it a proper name. It has two loops and ends in a point, hence my original “looped V”, but that didn’t strike me as a good permanent name. Looped arrow? Looped point? At that stage, the diagram for it looked rather like a stylised mouse’s head with the loops and the two beads I’d added, so I briefly toyed with “mouse stitch”, but in the end I decided one bead was enough, and I didn’t think a one-eyed mouse would work smiley. For now the stitch will be known as looped arrow, unless and until I learn that it already exists and has a name. And what does it look like? You’ll have to wait for Round Nine in the Round In Circles SAL to find out!

A revamp for Carousel

Some designs take a long time to get exactly right. Mind you, I sometimes doubt any design is ever "exactly right" – but most of them fortunately do get to a point where I can say "I’m happy with that" (or even, occasionally, "very happy"!)

How it works for other designers I don’t know, but I find that for me most budding ideas either work or not fairly quickly. In my mind I’ll have a shape, or a colour, or a theme, or even a particular stitch I want to use, and then I’ll sketch a bit, and try out some things on the computer, and generally it becomes clear pretty soon whether or not it’s going to come to anything. There are several files in my Mabel folder consisting of ideas which simply didn’t live up to what I saw in my mind. Being by nature a relatively optimistic soul I keep them in the hope that one day they’ll get transformed into something usable.

There are others which take shape, and almost from the start I feel that they do actually look the way I envisaged them (Frosty Pine and Very Berry spring to mind). It’s very exciting when that happens! Fortunately this is how most of the designs that eventually end up on the website are created.

And then there are the ones which get charted, and I’m happy with them, but in the back of my mind there is a small but unmistakable niggle that they are not quite what I had intended. It’s often hard to put my finger on it. It may be a feeling that the shape is not exactly right. Or that it ought to have a certain something more. Or less. Or different. In those cases, I tend to put them on the Planned page, but they get moved to the back of the queue; there are generally plenty of designs I can stitch before I get to the "might-be-room-for-improvement" ones, and it gives me a chance to have another look at them in a few months’ time.

This is what happened to Carousel. I designed it last September, and it started with a particular combination of stitches I wanted to use. In one of the Round Dozen designs there are four Y-bars (my own invention, as far as I know) around a central square, and they have a rather pleasing lop-sided look:

Y bars

I wanted to use that combination again, in a design which would be a bit swirly, and suggest circular movement. It was at that point that I came up with the name Carousel (it was a toss up between that and Merry-Go-Round). The starting point was easy – the Y-bars. Then I thought spider’s web fillings would add to the circular theme, and beads for the decorated fairground feeling. So far so good, and I put all these things together in a design charted in two colours (a greeny blue, though I wasn’t sure yet that those would be the eventual colours). It looked like this:

Y bars

I had some vague idea that the cross shape and the 8 diamonds around it would look a bit like a merry-go-round viewed from above, but it didn’t look quite right; so it got put towards the end of the Planned queue and I thought of it no more. Then I wrote about this earlier I found some interesting new stitches in a second-hand book; well, old stitches really, of course, but new to me. They were crying out for a design, but try as I might I couldn’t get them to work together – or even to work separately. Then one day I looked at Carousel and realised that the Maltese interlacing stitch was quite swirly, and might go well with it. And the satin stitch braid looked rather like the sort of decorative band you might find around the top of a carousel. And the third stitch I wanted to use (a variety of laced or threaded stitch) was again rather winding and would fit in well.

The time was right for a revamp. Carousel lost its central cross shape and its diamonds, and the spider’s webs were put in as surface stitches rather than filling stitches. The Maltese stitches were put in the four corners, and for the border I combined the braid stitch and the threaded stitch. It doesn’t look any more like a Carousel than the old version did, but suddenly it feels right. It may even get moved up the queue!

Y bars