Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Large Cross Stitch and Hiding Travel Threads

When stitching a cross stitch over two canvas threads, the density of the thread on the top of the canvas usually hides the travel of the thread on the back of the canvas.  However, the larger the cross stitch,  more of the canvas is visible - and so are those travel threads.  Take this example:

Visible Travel Threads Along Vertical Stitching Path for Large Cross Stitch

The black arrows are pointing to the visible travel threads between each large cross stitch unit - and the larger the cross stitch, the more obvious the travel threads.  

Here is how I stitched the cross stitch like this:

Diagram of Large Cross Stitch

What if you do not want that travel path visible?  Look at this example:

Large Cross Stitches with Hidden Travel Path

The black arrow shows a hint of thread from the back, but this is where I pulled the thread to the outside area to end it.  What I want you to look for is those vertical threads that showed through from the back, as seen in the previous example.  What did I do to hide them?  

Look at how I stitched this sample:

Alternate Pathway to Stitch Large Cross Stitch

See a difference?  First of all I stitched the cross stitches so that there was a diagonal backstitch on the back of the canvas (behind the stitch 3-4 and 5-6).  Then I had to slide the 5-6 stitch under the 3-4 stitch.  Then I pulled the vertical thread (created by traveling from 4-5) to the middle of the cross stitch and tacked it to the diagonal thread on the back using sewing thread to hide it.

Tacking Stitch on Back with Sewing Thread

Now you may be thinking, oh for goodness sakes, I am not going to go to all that trouble!

Well, it is a bit more work, and if you are laying threads, it is a lot more difficult to slide the thread underneath a stitch and make it look nice.  

Thankfully, when stitching very large cross stitches, they usually do not stand alone, but involve other stitches on top of them (stitches made from one or more stitches on top of other stitches are sometimes called Composite Stitches) - and that is where you can hide travel threads.  In the next blog posting I’ll cover that topic.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Travel on the Diagonal

Threads are easier to hide if they are pulled diagonally as opposed to horizontally or vertically - and the diagonal does not have to be 45 degrees either.

Here is an example of hiding travel threads by pulling the thread on the diagonal. The openwork pattern in the background makes it necessary to very carefully hide travel threads. I could have stopped and started each vertical thread behind the fabric, but this would mean a HUGE bump behind each of those pieces of fabric. The vertical stitches are stitched with #16 Kreinik metallic braid. That is a fat thread! I pulled it behind a diagonal line of upright cross stitches to the base of each vertical stitch.

Example for Hiding Travel Threads

I had to place a tacking stitch underneath the vertical stitch to line it up. The tacking stitches are placed underneath the green vertical lines and the threads are pulled behind the pink lines.

Placement of Tacking Stitches and Travel Threads

I was amazed myself at how well it worked.

Now look at the middle vertical stitch again without the lines drawn over it. Do you see any issues with this stitch? Mistakes like this are great for teaching, because if I make this error, others will too. 

Really Annoying Mistake!

The vertical thread was caught by the cross stitch variation (gold thread) that is holding down the piece of fabric. See how the blue metallic thread is pulled to the side and is no longer vertical? You can even see the tacking stitch. Ugh! Don’t you just hate that when you see a mistake AFTER the framing? I should have been more careful when stitching with the gold thread and this mistake would not have happened.

But as long at it is there - it is a teaching opportunity!


Open canavs work, where unstitched canvas is visible, requires the stitcher to take extra care to hide travel threads.

When I see a piece that has this mistake, a glaring, obvious mistake in the midst of an otherwise well stitched piece I just cringe.  Why did the stitcher do this?


The arrows point out travel threads in this Milanese Pinwheel stitch and mar the beauty of this stitch.  Why is the travel thread only visible for the pink thread?  

Perhaps the variegated thread was stitched first (which it should be because it is lighter in color and if pink thread was pulled under the lighter thread it would be seen from the front) with all stitches going down into the center hole, which allows the stitcher to pivot to the next stitching area and hide the travel thread.

How are the pink stitches executed?

Probable Stitch Execution
I can’t be completely sure, but this is how I think it is stitched, with the arrows showing the stitch  direction.  This leads me to think, Be Consistent!

Probable Stitch Execution of All Stitches

All stitches for each Milanese should be executed in the same direction.  All long threads going down into the center hole, which again, allows for a correct pivot to the next Milanese stitch.

If you must change the stitch direction - and it really should be for a very good reason, then placing a tacking stitch underneath the pink thread, between Milanese Stitch units, is essential to hide the travel threads.  You may have to push the pink thread aside to access the canvas holes to take this tacking stitch.  Here is where the tacking stitches should be taken:

Where to Place Tacking Stitches

Each of the black lines indicate where a tacking stitch should be placed under the pink stitches.  Pink is much darker than the light variegated thread, so tacking stitches need to be made under the pink thread.  Place the stitches below where the variegated stitches cover the canvas, so that when the thread is pivoted to take it to the next Milanese Stitch area, the travel thread will lie behind the variegated thread.

One of these two simple steps - maintain a consistent stitch direction with all long stitches going down into the center hole or place a tacking stitch - will easily fix this problem.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Keep Compensated Edges Neat and Clean

Compensated edges should look neat and clean - just what do I mean by this?

Let’s look at a stitch sample:

Stitch Sample

As you can see, the bottom edge is compensated, let’s take a closer look:

Travel Thread Showing Through from Back
The reason we see this thread is that the compensation edge from the green stitch travels along the back behind the holes in the canvas at that bottom edge.  

Path of Travel Thread

You really do not want anything to show behind those holes:

No Travel Thread Showing

If you look carefully at this sample you may be able to see just where that thread travels:

Travel Thread Behind a Stitch

If you see travel thread showing through along the bottom edge of a compensated area you have several choices to fix the problem:
  1. Pull that thread up with other stitches, 
  2. Purposefully find a new, hidden travel path by turning the canvas over and running the thread behind other stitches (while you are stitching with that thread), 
  3. Or after stitching use a length of sewing thread and whip those stitches out of the way (this will only work if you have not caught the travel thread in stitches from other sections - in this case the cross stitch variation).

A little extra work with making sure your compensated edges are clean and neat will make a big difference on the quality of your work.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hiding Travel Threads

Here is an example of a couched thread (blue/green metallic) with a red couching thread that holds the metallic thread in place.  Red thread is so great to highlight problems in your stitching.

Comparison of Two Couched Threads

Which sample looks better, 1 or 2?

Sample 1 is a typical sample that most stitchers create.  Let me point out a few problems and then I will show you how to change Sample 1 into Sample 2.

Sample 1 With Problems Pointed Out
The black arrows point to travel threads showing through to the front and the blue arrow shows a sag in the couched thread.  These issues are not visible in Sample 2.  

If we look at the back of Samples 1 and 2 we will see why this is the case.

Comparison of Backside of Couched Threads

The backside of Sample 1 shows a vertical stitch, then a diagonal line of thread then a vertical stitch.  This diagonal stitch is why you see the thread showing through to the front.

The backside of Sample 2 shows two vertical stitches followed by a horizontal line of thread then two vertical stitches.  I have used sewing thread in the same color as the canvas thread to tie the diagonal line of thread to the vertical stitch in order to hide it behind the couched metallic thread.

Looking at the backside of Sample 1 only,

Fixing Sample 1 With Sewing Thread
I have placed a black line where I tied the threads on the backside together with the sewing thread.  I did a simple buttonhole knot with the sewing thread.  This simple step will clean up any travel threads that show through to the front from the couching.

There is one more issue to mention, the blue arrow is pointing at the metallic thread.

Another Problem with Sample 1 - Thread Sag

Do you see how the metallic thread dips here?  That is because the couched thread is not taut.  Always pull the couched thread taut prior to placing the tie down stitches, the couched thread here should lie straight in the channel between two horizontal canvas threads.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Compensating Diagonal Stitches - Part 2

This blog post is a continuation of compensation of diagonal stitches (on the true diagonal) for unusual shapes - arguably one of the more difficult areas of needlepoint.

Here is my shape that I want to fill.  And this is important - I want to fill this shape.  What does that mean?  That means I want to cover all those lines that are drawn on the canvas.  Many times the stitcher wonders if the lines should be covered or not.  Ask yourself, are you filling the shape or surrounding the shape or stitching next to the shape?  If you are filling the shape, cover the lines.  If you are surrounding the shape, or stitching next to the shape, do not cover the lines.

Initial Shape - To Fill

As said in the previous blog post, Compensating Diagonal Stitches - Part 1, begin stitching in an area that will give you a long enough line of stitches so that you can establish the stitch pattern.  Again I am using the Diagonal Scotch Stitch, though this technique will work for any diagonal stitch on the true diagonal.  So here is my first row of stitching:

First Row of Stitching
Notice that I am covering the lines.  The second row begins below the first row, and I choose to stitch the small tent stitch underneath the longest stitch of the previous row to start my stitch pattern.

Second Row of Stitching
The green arrow above indicates my starting point.  I don’t want to start where I need to compensate, I want to start where I know it is easy to establish the stitch pattern.  

Let’s look at the third row:

Third Row of Stitching
OK, now in this third row I have encountered my first real problem - indicated by the green arrow.  How long should this compensating stitch be?  Well, I”m not really sure.  This is where a lot of angst comes in for the stitcher.  Here is my advice, err on the side of caution - place a shorter stitch here if you are not quite sure, or skip this stitch for now and see how the curve develops with further rows of stitching.  If you skip this stitch, just remember to put it in later, if you place a shorter stitch and you really feel that to achieve a nice curve, a longer stitch would have been better you can fix it.  How?  

Shhhh... Don’t tell anyone, but place a longer stitch over the top of that tent stitch.  Watch the tension of the stitch so it lies nicely next to the stitches on either side, but in the end, no one will know what you did.

Does that surprise you?  

Confidence in knowing what to do in these situations is a difference in experience.  Learning tips, tricks and techniques for different complicated issues will allow you to gain confidence and tackle these problem areas without hesitation.

Another thing about this row, I stopped stitching when the next stitch is not contiguous with the previous stitch - I’ll just add those stitches later.  Notice this curve bends inward.  If I drag my thread to the next stitch in this row, I may have that thread run behind an open area, or an area with a lighter thread in color and it may shadow through.  Safer to fill it in later.

OK, let’s look at the next row:

Fourth Row of Stitching

The green arrow in the fourth row of stitching points to my starting point.  Am I concerned that I did not start lower down, because there is all that canvas below the green arrow that needs to be filled with this row of stitches?  No, I want to start stitching where I know that I can accurately begin my stitch pattern, and for me that’s the first tent stitch underneath the longest stitch of the row above it (here the longest stitch is a compensated stitch, so perhaps I should refer to it as the corner stitch.)

Let’s look at the next row:

Fifth Row of Stitching

Nothing very interesting here, just notice that I am at the bottom of the shape and the last two stitches are compensated, that’s what the green arrow is pointing to.

Filling in the last row of stitches:

Sixth Row of Stitching

I am now at the end of my regular stitching, defined as stitching below the previous row, and I need to fill in those open areas, most will be compensating stitches.

Where do I go from my last stitch?

Here is what I would do if I still had thread in the needle with which to stitch.

Seventh Row of Stitching

I have three arrows included in this diagram and they indicate where to place tacking stitches on the back of the canvas.  Remember that you want the pull of the last stitch to be consistent with the stitch before it so after stitching the last blue stitch in that corner, I place a tacking stitch at Arrow A.  This tacking stitch will maintain the downward pull on the last stitch in the corner.  I then travel up to number 1 and place those two tent stitches.  (There is really no good place to put a tacking stitch before placing the stitch at number 1, and my thread is coming from below that point so I will let it go.)  I need to place a tacking stitch at Arrow B to maintain the downward pull on that last tent stitch (ending at number 4) prior to moving to the stitch starting at the number 5.  However, I need to change the direction of the pull on that thread traveling across the back of the canvas, and need to place a tacking stitch at Arrow C.

Got that?  Sometimes one tacking stitch will do, but sometimes you need two tacking stitches.  Always look at the pull on the last stitch before traveling to a new location, and then again, look at the pull on the first stitch at your new location.  Both of these stitches must match the pull on the stitches as if there was no break in your stitching from one diagonal row to another.

OK, now the eighth row:

Eighth Row of Stitching

Oh dear, here is another compensating stitch in which there is not a definitive answer to the length of the stitch (green arrow.)  However, I am looking at the drawn line and it looks like it is pretty straight along this area, and I want my stitches to follow the line, not stick out from this line.  So I think that a stitch over one canvas thread will work well here.  Again, I will not know for sure until I stitch the whole area.

Moving on to the next row:

Ninth Row of Stitching

Remember to place tacking stitches!  OK, now I have moved down to the bottom of the shape and put in the brown stitches.  The green arrow is pointing at a last compensating stitch that needs to be placed.  Again, it is not completely obvious that the stitch goes there, but if I want to have a curve there I had better put that little tent stitch in - which is shown in the next diagram.

Tenth Row of Stitching

I have now filled in all of the compensating stitches for the bottom part of the shape and now must move to the top part.  My advice is not to pull your thread on the back all the way to the top, but end your thread at the bottom and begin a new thread.  

I am showing all the rest of the stitches that fill in the shape in the final stitch diagram:

Filled in Compensating Stitches for Top Part of Shape

At this point you can look at your filled in shape to determine if you have achieved a nice curve or need to adjust some of those compensating stitches.  We will look at that issue and a way to smooth out curves in the next blog post.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Compensating Diagonal Stitches - Part 1

This blog post will cover compensating diagonal stitches at a straight edge.  The next post will cover compensating diagonal stitches at a curved edge.

I am going to use the Diagonal Scotch Stitch as my example for Diagonal Stitch Compensation, but there is nothing special about this stitch and the information is applicable to diagonal stitches (on the true diagonal) in general.

Let’s look at the Diagonal Scotch Stitch:
 Diagonal Scotch Stitch

The gray lines on the right hand side and along the top of the stitch diagram are the edges of the stitching area.  My advice to stitchers is to start stitching whole stitches in a long diagonal line so that you can establish the stitch pattern.  Don’t worry about compensating at this point.  In fact, do not start your stitching with a compensating stitch, the probability of making a counting error is very high.

The red arrow, in the diagram above, points to where the last whole stitch can be placed.  The next stitch is going to be compensated, but since the stitches are on a diagonal and I have established the pattern I know what the next two compensated stitches should look like - just stitch as long of a stitch as I can (because the stitches are longer than the area that I am allowed to place them.) 

Partially Compensated Diagonal Scotch Stitch

Here is a picture of my stitching so far:
Partially Compensated Diagonal Scotch Stitch

The red arrow, in the diagram above, leads me to ask a question - is this where the first compensating stitch for the next row goes?  If you are not sure, just leave it for now and begin stitching your next row where you are certain a whole stitch goes - forget about compensating for now.  It is always easier to compensate at the end of a stitched diagonal row, especially if the stitches are contiguous with other whole stitches, than at the beginning.  It’s those stitches that jump an intersection or two away from where you are stitching that are so hard to figure out.

However, be warned - you can’t take this approach if you are using an overdyed thread!  The thread forces you to compensate as you go.  In this case, get out a piece of graph paper and chart out the compensated stitches.

When I start my next row, this time traveling diagonally upwards, I am going to place my first stitch where I know how to start the pattern - that means, I will place my first short stitch (over one canvas intersection) under the last longest stitch - which happens to be a compensated stitch.  If you can't figure out that stitch placement, it doesn't matter where you start, so begin farther up if need be.
Second Row Partially Compensated Diagonal Scotch Stitch

I have three arrows pointing to different areas of the stitch diagram above, let’s look at each of them:
Red arrow - Should I be worried that maybe I could have fit another Diagonal Scotch Stitch in there?  No - I can always fill it in later.
Green arrow -  Now I see where some compensating stitches from the first row belong.
Violet arrow -  I did put in a couple of compensating stitches at the end of the second row, because it was contiguous with the other stitches, so I knew where to place them.

Here is a picture of my stitching so far (I changed thread color so it would be easier to see where the first and second diagonal rows of stitches were placed.)

Second Row Partially Compensated Diagonal Scotch Stitch

You may continue stitching the whole area this way, always stitching under the last diagonal row.  
Stitching Next Diagonal Row

Note the arrows:
Red arrow - The row above has some compensating stitches that need to be filled in.
Green arrow - This row was started again under the longest diagonal stitch on the row above it, so there is an area open that needs to be filled in later.

Let’s say you are done with stitching all of the diagonal rows below the original diagonal row.  Now you have compensating stitches that need to be filled in as well as stitching above the first diagonal row.   And how you stitch the areas above the first diagonal row and how you fill in those compensated stitch areas is important.  You want to keep the same pull on the stitches that you have already stitched.

What does this mean?  Well, the row above the first diagonal row will have to be stitched with the needle coming out of a hole with thread already in it.

Stitching Above the First Diagonal Row

In the diagram above, I have started stitching the row above the first diagonal row (again I changed color to make it easier to see what is happening), going in the same direction of stitching as the row just below the first diagonal row.  I have also started with the smallest stitch, a tent stitch, placing it above the longest stitch of the row below.  Note the two arrows:
Red arrow -  There are some compensating stitches at the beginning of this row that will need to be added later.
Green arrow - Since this area is so close to where I last placed a stitch, this should be the first place I fill in using compensating stitches.

So putting in those two tent stitches:

Starting to Fill in the Compensating Stitches
Red arrow - Since this is the next closest area that needs to be filled in, go here and fill in these compensating stitches.

Can you see how to place these next compensating stitches?

Continuing to Fill in the Compensating Stitches
If you have trouble placing the first stitch as I have indicated in the diagram above, remember that this stitch is contiguous with the previous stitches and you need to follow the pattern, after a tent stitch (dark green stitch) you need to stitch one over two thread intersections (orange stitch) - the start of the compensated stitches. 

In the diagram above, there are two arrows:
Red arrow - Compensating stitches need to be placed here.
Green arrow - Compensating stitches need to be placed here.

So which area to go to next?  Theoretically it does not matter, but logistically, putting in those two tent stitches first (green arrow) is a better choice.  Remember, when stitching tent stitches, you want to stitch them in the continental method, not the half cross stitch method.  See blog post about Tent Stitch - Part 1 for the reasons why.

The diagram below shows how to put in those two tent stitches:

More Compensating Stitches Filled In

A word about traveling thread on the back of your canvas: The first two areas that were filled in were close enough not to cause problems with very long threads on the back of your work.  If you are traveling very far, more than about 4-5 canvas threads away, slide the thread under some stitches on the back to maintain stitch tension.  Remember to just skim the thread under the stitches, not dig down deeply into them.

Also, remember that the pull of the last stitch must be the same as the stitch before it, so you may want to take a tacking stitch after that last stitch to maintain the stitch direction (the way the thread lies on the back of the canvas affects how it looks on the front of the canvas.)

In the diagram above, when you place your first stitch, the pull on that stitch must be the same as if you had been stitching this line of stitches (red violet stitches) all along.  So place a tacking stitch on the back to set up for the first stitch of this compensation.

Then, the final area to fill in may be stitched, as shown in the diagram above with the red arrow.  The compensating stitches are shown in the diagram below.

Final Compensating Stitches Added

If you find that you don’t like stitching above a diagonal line of stitches, then you need to start your stitching in the upper right hand corner (for this example) and then have all of the stitched rows placed below that.  This will add a slight complication to your stitching because those first stitches may need to be compensated right away.  If that is the case, perhaps a piece of graph paper that allows you to draw out the compensation would be the way to go.