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!

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!

Tidying up stitch diagrams

Although I use a computer program to create the charts I use in my chart packs, and quite a few of the stitch diagrams too, there are some stitches – most notably many of the looped and knotted ones – which I can’t adequately represent in a program originally meant for making your own cross stitch charts. So I draw them by hand in pencil, go over them in pen, erase the pencil lines, photograph or scan them, and turn them into an image which can be included in the chart packs.

So far so good. They work. They look a bit rustic, but they work.

But then one day, after I had imported one of these stitch diagrams into my photo editing program and had cropped it and fiddled with contrast and brightness and generally turned it into a usable image, I decided to see if I could tidy it up a bit. And I could. It was labour-intensive, and fiddly, and occasionally the experience ranged from frustrating to infuriating, but after the process it did look a lot better. Almost professional smiley!

One of the old diagrams for bead edging The tidied-up version

There was only one drawback: now that the new diagrams were looking so much neater, the old ones looked rather untidy by comparison. Still perfectly usable, but decidedly scruffy. I’ve tried to ignore it for a bit, but there’s no help for it – they will all have to be tidied up. And so, one or two at a time, I’m tidying. It’ll take a while, and then I’ll have to replace them in all the chart packs that contain any of the early hand-drawn diagrams, but eventually I hope to have a collection of chart packs looking a bit more sophisticated than they do now.

If you bought one or more of the chart packs containing these diagrams, do let me know if you’d like the new version when I get it done, and I’ll be happy to email it to you. On the other hand, if you feel the old drawings were more personal, authentic, artisan, in short, nicer, then do please cherish the copy you have – whichever look you prefer, both show equally well how the stitch is worked!

A last-minute rethink

Once upon a time there was a stitch. It looked lovely on paper. It had an attractive name. It got itself included in the Round in Circles SAL. It was stitched up in a model, and given a diagram and a description. So far so good.

But the more I looked at that stitched model, the less happy I was with it. Not with the design as a whole; that was fine. But with That Stitch. It looked fussy. And muddly. And not nearly as attractive as its paper counterpart. It had been stitched in two colours; I re-stitched it in one. It looked a little better, but not much. I re-charted it to be a little bigger, and had a go at various sizes and colour combinations on my doodle cloth. None of them did anything to brighten my day.

In the end I decided to go for a different sitch altogether. Unpick, re-chart, re-stitch, draw a new diagram and write new instruction – better that than putting out a design I’m not happy with!

And what was the offending stitch? A Maltese cross. I still like the name, and I still like the way it looks on paper. I even like some of its stitched versions. I did one myself four years ago, and it surprised me at the time by looking nothing like its charted version.

Maltese Cross

So what’s the trouble with it? I’m not absolutely sure. One problem may be that in the confines of a small design I chose to do a single “unit” of Maltese interlacing instead of this bigger version which consists of five looped sections (four for the arms of the cross, plus the central one). The larger version comes out as a highly textured cross, the single unit just looks rather blobby.

A single unit of Maltese interlacing

A few other ideas I picked up from images I found on the internet, and from doodle-cloth experiments based on them:

  • The stitch seems to work best (for me at least) in two highly contrasting colours, whereas the SAL will in most cases be either all-white, or two shades of the same colour.
  • The version I liked best uses the same weight of thread for the mesh and the weaving (which I didn’t in the SAL design), and quite a light weight for its size at that. I think my combination of a heavy weaving thread and a small size made it look too dense.

The Maltese cross below shows the high-contrast, lightweight look which I think works well, and which makes me think that even the small single-unit, low-contrast version in the SAL might have looked just about OK if it had been stitched in perle #12.

High-contrast, lightweight Maltese cross

However, I didn’t want to add yet another thread to the SAL, and by now I was getting thoroughly fed up with Maltese interlacing anyway smiley, so I will keep it stored away for future use in other projects, and use my alternative stitch for the SAL. And no, I’m not telling you yet what alternative stitch!

Five basic stitch types revisited

Well, I should obviously have written about those five basic stitch types before – because no sooner had I posted this than I serendipitously found the Henry Art Gallery’s rather grandly named Embroidery Stitch Identification Guide. It’s a very apt name as that is exactly what it does: it helps you identify stitches by classifying them and showing what they look like. It’s not an instruction manual that tells you how to work the stitch; but once you know its name you can look it up in other books which do just that (the stitch descriptions even suggest books in which you can find these instructions).

The whole Guide is interesting, but from the stitch category perspective the most interesting part is their Stitch Classification. It is uncannily close to what I remembered. There are seven, not five, categories, but one of them I would probably discard as the “Composite” class consists of two or more named stitches combined. The added condition that they are “worked in one journey” may make a difference, I suppose, but I am interested in basic stitches – the ones that composite stitches are made up of. I would also leave out the “Crossed” class as it explicitly states that these consist of straight stitches.

That leaves five sections, three of which correspond closely to the three I identified. Their “Flat” class is what I called “Straight”, except that “flat” stitches don’t pass over or under anything, which is why they need a separate category for cross stitches and the like. Even after a certain amount of thought I can’t see the need for that separation, but do let me know if you think otherwise! Their “Knotted” and “Looped” classes use the same names I did.

So we come to the two remaining classes, which (random thought that just popped into my head) are the only two to contain stitches which could be worked in more than one colour, as far as I can see. You may remember I suggested that one of the remaining classes might be corded, laced or woven, and HAG’s stitch classification does have a class called “Interlaced, plaited, or woven”. I’d prefer a less complex name and would suggest “Woven” as a sort of simple catch-all term if it weren’t for the fact that things like Pekinese stitch (as used in the border of SotW June) are so obviously not woven. Perhaps “Interlaced” would be the better choice – do you think that could include woven stitches?

Pekinese stitch used as a border

Their final class is “Couched”, which makes sense. To me this would include lattice work, though I’m not sure the Indentification Guide mentions that. There is still some overlap between the categories if you go by looks alone; to take the Pekinese stitch again, it looks rather like a series of couched loops. It is only when you look at the process (the backstitches come first, and the loops are laced through them) that you can tell it’s not a couched stitch (where the loops would be laid first and then the backstitch worked on top of them to attach them – which would, incidentally, be a very fiddly thing to do).

So here are the Five Basic Stitch Types that I will be using from now on when classifying stitches based on how they are worked: Straight, Knotted, Looped, Interlaced, Couched.

I contacted the Henry Art Gallery for permission to use some of their images (to give you an idea of what their stitch illustrations look like and what level of detail they show), but haven’t heard back yet, so for the moment I can’t – you’ll have to browse the Stitches section yourself (hover over a name for a small picture, click on it for more detail). It’s worth doing so anyway, because you may well come across stitches you wouldn’t otherwise have known about, let alone tried out!