The best direction for whipping and the best length for stem stitch

One of the stitches I want to use in the Tree of Life is whipped backstitch. Mary Corbet points out that the direction in which you whip the stitches makes a difference to the look of the finished line, with pictures to illustrate this, but in order to fix the difference in my mind and have a sample to remind me which direction produces which line I thought I’d better work both types myself. Both are stitched using floche, which is an S-twist (that is to say the direction of the thread’s twist is like the slant in an S, top left to bottom right), and I prefer the line where the whipping is done as a Z-twist (on the right; it’s worked bottom to top, taking the needle through from right to left every time) – it’s tighter and more rope-like, whereas the other version lacks definition to my mind. Note to self: if using a Z-twist (like rayon or some silks) whip in an S-twist to get the same result.

Two lines of whipped backstitch worked in different directions

Besides some bands of Hardanger and satin stitch, the main component of Join the Band, for which I’m stitching the model at the moment, is guilloche stitch. It’s a very decorative band stitch, and although I’ve mostly seen it stitched on non-countable fabrics I’ve found it really works equally well on counted fabric, like my favourite 25ct Lugana. This goes for quite a few freestyle/surface stitches, as I’m finding out in charting the new SAL. But they do sometimes take a bit of working out; you can’t play with the stitch length and size quite so freely when you’re constrained by 25 holes to the inch. On the plus side, it makes consistency in spacing and length a lot easier!

One of the things I had to decide on was the stitch length for the two outer lines of stem stitch. It is worked in perle #5, so the stitches can’t be too short or it will look bunched up; on the other hand, make the stitches too long and you lose the rope-like look that characterises stem stitch. Some stitch samples were obviously called for. I stitched one complete band of guilloche stitch with the stem stitches stretching over 6 threads, and then an additional line of stem stitch over 4 threads. By the way, although the colours used in the sample are the ones used in the complete model, they are not distributed in the same way, so the final version will look a bit different. Also bear in mind that this sample was worked on a scrap of fabric which was too small to fit in a hoop (I shouldn’t be so stingy about using proper-sized doodle cloths); stitching in hand is not my forte, so the tension is, uhm, a little erratic. Still, it gives an idea of what the two stitch lengths look like.

Stem stitch over 3 and 6, or over 2 and 4

The trouble is that, having stitched a sample, I’m still not sure which one I prefer! To my surprise the longer stitch length actually produced a thicker line than the shorter – I hadn’t expected that, although come to think of it perhaps I should have; the shorter stitch is a bit like twisting a thread more tightly, which makes them thinner. The long stitch length gives the lines a looser look which I quite like, but they do seem to crowed the centre part rather. The short stitch length is thinner and also more regular, but it would be difficult to claim categorically that that is because of the stitch length; it may just be my varying tension.

I may stitch another sample on hooped fabric, using the other colour scheme, and see whether that makes a difference; or rather, whether it makes it clearer to me which one to use. I think for the moment I’ll decide to be indecisive…

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