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

4 comments on “A spicy stitch, two ways

  1. I must say I’m very fond of it in all its shapes, they are very useful in coasters with a small Hardanger motif – they have enough weight to make one filling stitch enough.

  2. I hope I am not being presumptuous by saying that I think I am the Nordic Needle stitcher you were talking about. I won a first place prize in the 2013 contest and I used nutmeg stitch in my design. But I neither invented it nor named it. I have gone to all the Nordic Needle retreats except one. The early retreats featured a wonderful teacher/designer/stitcher named Jean Mann and I learned the stitch from her. She didn’t invent it either; she had found it in a book but couldn’t remember the name of the book or the author. I do think however, it was a pretty well-known designer. But I have never found it anywhere else.

    I love this stitch and often substitute it when dove’s eyes or square filets are called for. When you used two colors (or a different color, for that matter), did you carry the threads behind the woven bars? That seems to me that it would be difficult to hide and more work than when incorporating the stitch as you go!

  3. Hello Susan, how wonderful to hear this – I never expected to find the stitcher who indirectly introduced me to nutmeg stitch! And really interesting to hear more about its history too. So we can trace it back to Jean Mann, and before her an unidentified author. It’s a shame nothing is known about her, but like you I’ve not been able to find the stitch anywhere else, even under different names. Perhaps someone else will read this and be able to provide the next step backwards in time.

    When working the stitch in two colours, or any colour different from the bars, I do what I first worked out when I wanted to put coloured dove’s eyes inside white woven bars – yes, take the needle through the back of the woven bar until the halfway point, then emerge and work the dove’s eye as usual, back into the first woven bar and take the needle through the rest of the back to the safe haven of the Kloster blocks 🙂 . The square filet part, of course, presents no problem as it can be anchored behind the nearest Kloster block and then started from the corner. (Unless there are no nearby Kloster blocks, in which case I travel through the back of the woven bars as for the dove’s eyes.) Hope that helps!

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