Monday, April 30, 2012

Tent Stitch - Part 4

In the last post I suggested using ending waste knots.  I have been asked by a few people to go into more detail about this technique.
An ending waste knot incorporates the same idea as does a beginning waste knot.  When you are near the end of your stitching thread, from the back of the canvas, pull your thread to the side, bring your needle to the front and either place a pin stitch or make a knot out of the end of the thread to hold it firmly in place.  Since most of the time you are dealing with a small piece of thread, a pin stitch usually works better.
Now, remember that you want the pull on the thread to match where you will place the next stitch so that the thread on the top lies correctly.  I typically place the thread in the line of my stitching so that it will be covered immediately with my new piece of thread (not possible with basketweave.)  Beginning and ending threads only in the current stitching area makes life a lot easier.  Consider this, you have been stitching for awhile and you decide that this one stitched area really needs to come out.  But you have ended other threads from different sections in this area and it is a real mess once you start cutting the thread out.  Now you have loose ends from other stitching areas that are rather short and there is no more tension on that thread keeping the last stitch with that thread taut.  If you only (I know that is isn’t always possible) end threads in the same area you are stitching with them, then when you rip out that area, no other area of your stitching is disturbed.
OK, so what is a pin stitch?  This is a stitch that is over one canvas thread.  Sometimes, longer stitches can cover the pin stitch and you don’t need to remove it.  However, with the tent stitch this is not the case and you need to remove the pin stitch.  It is simply used to keep the end thread taut until you can cut it (so in that way it is like a waste knot.)  Here is a diagram of a pin stitch that I use in place of an ending waste knot:
The books that I have that have information about the tent stitch, and basketweave in particular, are out of print.  These are the two books I have: Jane D. Zimmerman, The Canvas Work Encyclopedia, copyright 1989.  This is the first book she wrote in her encyclopedia series, and it is not the one with pictures of stitches.  The other book I have is: Davie Hyman, The Diagonal Basketweave, copyright 1973.  A fellow blogger, Elmsley Rose (she has her own very cool blog about historical embroidery at she has a book with good information about modern "half-stitch" - not basketweave, by Jaqui Carey, Elizabethan Stitches, copyright 2012.  On it says that it is out of print.  It is available at the author’s website:, she is in England if that matters to anyone.

If anyone knows of a book that is still in print and easily available that covers the basketweave stitch please leave the book title and author in the comments section.  It is a shame that most of the needlepoint books out today cover many different types of stitches, but do not have a lot of information about technique.  As a needlework judge, I can tell you, the lack of knowledge of correct technique really shows.
There are two schools of thought about how to stitch large areas of basketweave.  The first is by Jane Zimmerman.  Her technique is easy to explain but complicated to execute.  She suggests start stitching in the upper right hand corner, and stitch the whole piece from that point traveling diagonally, as the basketweave stitch does, until you reach the lower left hand corner.  This means that every time you come to a part of the piece that uses a new color, you start another needle of thread along with your first needle.  Here is a visual diagram to help explain:

One thing to remember with this diagram, it is a very easy example.  You start stitching at the upper right hand corner.  When you reach point A, you must start 2 new needles.  One needle for the green square and another needle for the background that has been interrupted by the green square.  You continue stitching with three needles until point B.  At point B you will need to add 2 more needles.  The yellow circle divides the green square into two areas now, and you still have 2 different background areas for a total of 5 needles.  At point C you will have 3 background areas, the red rectangle, the yellow circle, and two green square needles working simultaneously, seven in total.  You will drop the two needles for the green square before you reach point D.  At point D, you will need one needle for the red rectangle, one needle for the yellow circle, one needle for the blue oval and 4 background needles for a total of 7 needles being used simultaneously.  You can see how for an intricate design this technique can become extremely complicated.

With Jane Zimmerman’s technique, you may have quite a few needles of thread (think a dozen or more) going at the same time.  This requires working with your canvas in a frame (which is always a good idea, but I digress.)  You never have to bring your thread up in a hole that already has stitches in it, and in that way, it is nice.  However, most people, when they learn of this technique will roll their eyes, and go back to doing things the way they have always done them.  It is just so complicated to work.
The other way to approach stitching large areas of basketweave is by Davie Hyman.  She suggests stitching the design area first, which leaves the background unstitched.  This is the most common type of large area of basketweave that most needlepointers encounter.  Davie stitched a lot of church needlepoint, like kneelers.  She found that large pieces are difficult to stitch from the upper right hand corner, because you have to reach across a large expanse of canvas.  Here is her idea, preplan how you will stitch your background so that you will never bring two long rows of the same color of thread together (this may cause a shadow, or a streak, because no matter how consistent you are, the tension between the two long rows will be slightly different.)

For the above diagram, remember to start stitching each of these areas at the most extreme right hand diagonal row.  You will start at A, and stitch diagonally to the next line.  At this point you will start stitching area B, which is the background in the midst of the design.  After this little area is completed, you will stitch area C then area D.  Now, you will go back and stitch the little area that is background inside the design, Area E.  Then stitch area F starting where a diagonal line meets the oval shape.  Then you will turn your canvas 180 degrees so that the bottom is at the top and stitch area G.  For many, this will seem to be a more approachable technique than having a dozen different needles in play at the same time.  Stitch area G from the most extreme right hand diagonal.
The most important points to remember with this technique is that you do not want to bring two long rows of basketweave together.  That is why preplanning is necessary.  
Just what you do with this information is up to you.  Anyone, myself included, can improve their stitching by adhering to tried and true techniques.  However, stitching must be enjoyable for the stitcher or it loses its appeal.  You may want to incorporate some of these ideas but not all of them.  It is really up to each person and the only time it really matters is if you want to enter your piece in a competition and win.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tent Stitch - Part 3

In this posting I would like to cover the issue of starting and stopping threads in a tent stitched area a little more in-depth.  As I stated in the previous 2 posts, never bury threads on the diagonal in basketweave tent stitch, only end threads vertically and horizontally.
What I would like to suggest is that you only run your needle and thread under previously stitched threads, no matter what type of stitch you are using, only as a last resort.  What does this mean?  Try to always start with a waste knot and try to end with another waste knot.
There are two types of waste knots, in-line and away.  First, let me define what is the difference between an in-line waste knot and an away waste knot.  For an in-line waste knot the thread on the back of the canvas between the knot placed on the front of the canvas and the place you will start stitching will be covered with the first row of stitches.  The example shown in this diagram would indicate that the first row of stitching is horizontal.  As you stitch towards the knot on the front of the canvas you will be covering the thread on the back.  When you get to the knot, pull up tightly on it and snip it off.  I suggest pulling up tightly on it so that the tension you create will cause the end that is cut to pull to the back of the canvas and end up under the stitches you already placed.

You can place an in-line waste knot horizontally, vertically or diagonally depending on your first row of stitch direction (granted a vertical row should be called a column.)
For an away waste knot, the knot is placed on the canvas away from your stitching, usually outside of the area that you are stitching.  If you place the away waste knot inside the stitching area, it will eventually get covered later by your stitches, but not completely in the first row.  If you place it outside the stitching area, you must place it far enough away so that you will be able to cut off the knot, thread it into a needle and bury it in the stitches on the back of your canvas.

Now, let’s look at where you place your waste knots when stitching the tent stitch in the basketweave style.  The placement of the waste knot depends on your direction of travel, whether you are travelling on a down row (the first canvas thread you cover is a vertical canvas thread) or an up row (the first canvas thread you cover is a horizontal canvas thread.)

Now, what about it you are in the middle of your stitching, how should this situation be handled?  What you want is to have your ending thread and beginning thread cross in a “+” on the back of the canvas.  If you start and end your threads any other way, there will be a spot on the back of the canvas that is open, it won’t be covered with thread in a basketweave style.  However, if the beginning and ending threads cross in a “+” then you will maintain that basketweave style.   This is once again: “How the threads lie on the back of the canvas affect how they will look on the front.”  Sometimes a “hole” created by non-crossed threads will be seen after finishing.  So take care that this does not happen to you.
Here is a diagram of what I mean for changing threads in a down row (the colors of the thread in the diagram are red and blue for ease in seeing the new vs. the old thread, when you stitch the thread will be the same color):

And for changing threads in an up row:

The nice thing about this style of stitching is that you don’t have to turn your canvas to the back all the time to start and stop threads.  Also, you will not disturb already stitched threads by burying your threads in the back of them.  Obviously this will only work if you have room to cover those start and ending threads with future stitching.  If this is not the case, then you will have to resort to turning the canvas to the back and running your needle under previous stitches - just don’t dig down deeply into those stitches, use more of a skimming action.
Remember to not have more than one start/ending thread in the same location on the back of the canvas, as this will create bulk that may be seen on the front.  Only start/end threads that are light under light colored threads and start/end dark threads behind dark colored threads.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tent Stitch - Part 2

In the comments section from the last blog posting, Elmsley Rose brought up a good point regarding the differences in stitching tent stitch on canvas and linen.  Linen is a much different fabric than canvas because the intersections move very easily.  Canvas has sizing in it that creates a bond at the canvas thread intersections, and they do not move easily, unless that bond is broken.  Many people will stitch on canvas with a strong thread tension;  those canvas threads will not move.  If anyone tried to stitch on linen this way, it would look horrible - and it would be immediately obvious.  Therefore, stitchers who stitch on linen are much more aware of their thread tension, and they must be more careful.  So the cautions about tent stitches that distort canvas will not be a problem on linen because you will see the distortion on linen immediately.  Whereas, the distortion on canvas will be slower and grow obvious after much stitching has been completed.
Stitchers who stitch on linen also do not use the same thickness of threads as canvas workers.  Getting thick threads to lie neatly on canvas may lead to stitching with a tighter tension for canvas workers.
One of the goals of stitching on linen or any evenweave fabric is to have as little thread on the back as possible, and therefore, the stitcher will use the half cross stitch.  The canvas worker wants as much thread on the back as on the front and therefore, the basketweave approach is the preferred method to executing the tent stitch.  The pliability of linen allows the linen worker to end threads in the half crosses on the back, or even piercing the linen threads on the back.  This option is not easily available to the canvas worker; it is not that it is impossible, it is just not practicable.
Therefore, these posts on the tent stitch are generally meant for canvas workers, as that is the medium that tends to have large areas of tent stitch (i.e. the background of many needlepoint pieces, especially chair cushions, pillows, kneelers, etc.)  
Now, onto some more tips for the basketweave method of tent stitch:
Many people who work in basketweave and end their stitching for the day at the top or bottom of a row, and have anchored their thread, may have trouble determining which direction to begin stitching again the next time - an up row or a down row?  Here are two approaches that help in determining which direction to begin stitching.

1.  Look at the back of the canvas.  The threads will lie vertically if the last row you stitched was a down row, as shown in this picture.  Therefore, the next row you stitch should be an up row.

If the last row you stitched was an up row, then the stitches will lie horizontally, and you should stitch a down row.

2.  Another way to help you is not to stop stitching at the end of a row, but in the middle of a row.  This way you will be able to see where you should continue stitching, as shown in the picture below.  Here I stopped in the middle of an up row, so I can see that I should continue with the up row.

What happens if you should happen to stitch two up rows next to each other, or two down rows next to each other?  If two rows are stitched in the same direction a depression is created between the two rows, which may appear as a streak of discolored thread.  This discoloration is much more apparent with light colored threads than with dark colored threads.
Is there ever a time when the continental stitch is more suitable for stitching than basketweave?  Yes, when you are stitching a single row, single column or a single thickness diagonal line.  If there is at least 2 rows of stitches to fill with tent stitch, use basketweave.
For anchoring tail ends of the thread:
  1. Alway anchor tails vertically or horizontally.  Never diagonally - it will show through on the front.
  2. Make sure the tail is anchored behind stitches of the same color or darker in color.  You may see darker threads shadowed through to the front if you anchor darker colored threads behind lighter colored ones.
  3. Never anchor more than one tail of thread behind the same group of stitches, it creates extra bulk that will show through to the front.
  4. Never carry a thread more than an inch on the back.  It is far better to anchor it and start a new thread, otherwise the last stitch may not have the same tension as the other stitches, which will be obvious on the front.
One of the more complicated issues with basketweave is the actual working of the design.  If you have long rows meeting other long rows of basketweave, even though you are stitching up rows followed by down rows, you still may see a streak where two long rows meet due to thread tension differences.  This is why tent stitch is not that easy of a stitch to execute - even when you do everything correctly, it still can show streaks on the front.
Where to start stitching?  

Always start stitching in the most extreme right hand diagonal row of the design.  If you are stitching a background, this means the upper right hand corner of the canvas.    Otherwise, the area that you start stitching is:
1.  the upper most right position if you are starting your stitching on a down row (i.e., the first thread you are covering on the canvas is vertical)
2.  and the right most bottom position if you are starting your stitching on an up row (i.e., the first thread you are covering on the canvas is horizontal.)

I will cover how to work designs in the following blog postings.  The last bit of information for this posting is about stitching adjacent areas with a single row of another color in between them.   When do you have this kind of a situation?  How about when you stitch a leaf?  Here is what I mean:

Here is a leaf, and let’s say areas 1 and 3 are the same color of thread, but the line, which is area 2, is another color of thread.  There are two schools of thought on how to execute this design (I’ll get into the details of that in the next blog posting.)  For now let’s say you are thinking of stitching the line marked 2 first, then stitching areas 1 and 3 as one area carrying your thread back and forth over the already stitched line.  This practice adds extra bulk under that stitched line and will cause it to be slightly raised.  Depending upon the threads that you use, it may be very obvious on the front.  So, proceed to stitch area 2 first as you planned.  Then stitch area 1 in its entirety, then stitch area 3 in its entirety.  Unless it is a very small leaf (remember not to carry your thread more than an inch), you will need to start and end your thread in area 1 and start a new thread in area 3.  If it is a very small leaf, you may carry the thread ONCE over the line marked 2.  Only once.
The other way to stitch the leaf is to stitch area 1 in its entirety, stitch the line marked 2, then stitch area 3 in its entirety.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tent Stitch - Part 1

The tent stitch is the most basic needlepoint stitch.  There are three ways to execute the tent stitch: the Half Cross Stitch method; the Continental Stitch method; and the Basketweave Stitch method.  This description sometimes confuses people, but there is only one tent stitch.  The method used to stitch the tent stitch differs and it matters which method you use.
The tent stitch is probably the most difficult stitch to execute well.  The American Needlepoint Guild recognizes this difficulty by giving a special award to the best needlepoint piece stitched entirely in tent stitch that is entered into their national exhibit each year.  A lot of people use the tent stitch in their needlework, few stitch it really well.  Over the next couple of blogs I will give you hints and tips to stitch the tent stitch better.
So let’s look at the three methods used to stitch the tent stitch.
The Half Cross Stitch method is the the WORST way to stitch the tent stitch.  It leaves very little thread on the back of the canvas.  For needlepointers stitching in tent stitch, the more thread on the back of the canvas the better - that’s because many pieces stitched in tent stitch are used as furniture.  You need the needlepoint to be durable, and that means more thread on the back.  Here is the stitch diagram for the Half Cross Stitch, it may be stitched horizontally as shown, or vertically:

The Continental Stitch is another way to stitch the tent stitch, and does leave more thread on the back of the canvas.  The problem with the Continental Stitch is that it pulls the canvas on the diagonal, creating a large amount of distortion of the canvas, even when stitched with a frame.  If the piece is too badly distorted, then you will not be able to block it straight.  Even if you are capable of blocking it straight, it has a strong tendency to lose the blocking over time and going back to the distorted shape.  Here is the stitch diagram for the Continental Stitch, it may be stitched horizontally as shown, or vertically:

The third method of stitching the tent stitch is the Basketweave Stitch, and is the preferred way to stitch the tent stitch.  This method reduces canvas distortion by changing the pull on the canvas for each diagonal row, one row will create a vertical pull while the next row will create a horizontal pull .  Blocking is much easier with this method.  There is a firm and substantial backing to this stitch for greater durability.  There are two stitch diagrams for the Basketweave stitch because it depends on whether the first canvas thread that is stitched over is a vertical thread of a horizontal thread.  All Basketweave Stitching is done on the diagonal.


Here is what I mean by the thread of the canvas being vertical or horizontal:

The circle with the 1 above it shows a vertical canvas thread.  If you stitch over the canvas intersection in circle 1, then the next stitch is DOWN one intersection on the diagonal, the arrow shows the direction of the stitching.  The circle with the 2 above it shows a horizontal canvas thread.  If you stitch over the canvas intersection in circle 2, then the next stitch is UP one intersection on the diagonal, the arrow shows the direction of the stitching.  There are several ways to remember which direction your next stitch should be, the one I use is slide DOWN the poles (the vertical canvas threads) and climb UP the stairs (the horizontal canvas threads.)

Let’s look at all three stitches stitched on 18 count canvas with 4 strands of Splendor silk.  From left to right: Basketweave, Continental, Half Cross.

Basketweave Continental      Half Cross

And the backside of the canvas looks like:

The Half Cross Stitch method

Here are a few things to notice:
a.  There is very little thread on back, and I don’t know how to bury that ending thread under the thread on the back.  
b.  At the end of the rows the stitches are slightly distorted because of how the thread moves on the back of the canvas.

The Continental Stitch method - 

a.  The stitches are not uniform and there is a little canvas peeking through.
b. The stitches are more uniform on front, though you can tell which type of stitch it is, it can not be confused with the Basketweave Stitch.
c. The backside of the canvas shows the slant of the thread that will cause the canvas to distort. 

The Basketweave stitch method - 

a.  There is a uniform look to the stitches on the front of the canvas.
b.  The thread on the back has the look of a Basketweave stitched when stitching with a frame.  If you use the sewing method, the vertical threads will be the same width as the horizontal threads and look truly like a basketweave.  I am not suggesting anyone use the sewing method!

One last item for this blog: burying your ending threads.  Many people bury their threads on the diagonal.  Here is an example of this with the Basketweave Stitch:

I increased the size of this image sample, hoping that you would see the diagonal ridge that formed when I buried the threads on the diagonal.  You can see it clearly in person, but not well here with the image.  Here is the same sample with the area pointed out:

The oval shows the area where the ridge appears and the arrows point at stitches on the front of the canvas that were moved (distorted) by burying the threads into the stitches on the back.
So, NEVER bury any threads on the diagonal when you stitch with the Basketweave Stitch.  Only bury threads vertically and horizontally.  One more thing, don’t bury threads deep down into the stitches, for any stitch, as this will cause the threads on the front to move and look bad.
One point about blocking: blocking a tent stitch piece that is stitched in wool that has distorted the canvas will straighten the canvas somewhat - miracles rarely happen if the distortion is severe.  If you stitch with silk, there is no way to get rid of the distortion.  Wool has elasticity in it and will move, allowing you to straighten distortions in the canvas, silk will not move if you try to block a distorted piece.
The next blog will have more tips for stitching tent stitch with the Basketweave Stitch method.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Darning Pattern Tips

While this blog entry is titled Darning Pattern Tips it is more about How the Thread on the Back of the Canvas Affects How the Stitch on the Front Looks.
Let’s look at a simple darning pattern:

To work this pattern, start in the upper right hand corner and stitch across the top row following the numbers a1-a2, a3-a4, etc.  The red lines indicate compensated stitches.  The second row starts at the left hand side following the numbers across the second row, b1-b2, b3-b4, etc.  The third row starts at the right hand side again, following numbers c1-c2, c3-c4, etc.  Continue on in this way to fill the area you want to stitch with the darning pattern.
On the surface, no pun intended, this looks like a very straight forward way to stitch and there should be no problems.  Here is an example of what this pattern looks like stitched just like the diagram shows.  On the right hand side is the edge of the design, marked by the vertical pencil line.  On the left hand side is another stitched area in a light colored thread.  The darning pattern is stitched on 18 count canvas using black cotton floss.
Bad Darning Pattern Example

The red arrows point out some problems with this stitching.  A darning pattern needs to have the thread travel on top of the canvas and on the back of the canvas all the way across the row, from end to end.  Arrows numbered 1 and 2 show white areas behind the canvas because there is no thread pulled behind those holes.  Arrows numbered 3 and 4 show where the thread is pulled at an angle to go from one row to the row below it causing that thread to look bad.  All of these issues need to be fixed.
Good Darning Pattern Example

This stitched sample looks correct.  All the holes have black thread behind them.  There are no threads pulled at a wrong angle.  Notice the red arrow is pointing to an area outside of the stitching area.  This is where I placed my turns on the right hand side so that the thread lines up from one row to the next.  I brought the thread from row 2 out past the end of the stitching area and took a vertical tacking stitch down to row 3.  This lines the thread up on the right hand side for both rows 2 and 3.  If this area is going to be covered by mat and framing, then you do not have to worry about these lines or that thread knot, they will be covered.  If this area will be sewn into the edge of a pillow, these threads will also be out of sight.  Good to know because you can’t start or end your threads behind that darning pattern area.
But how did I make those turns on the left hand side?  Let’s look at the back of the canvas for both the bad darning pattern example and the good darning pattern example.
First the bad darning pattern example:
Back of Canvas - Bad Darning Pattern Example

Notice that arrows 1 and 2 are pointing at threads that are at an angle.  If you see this on the back of your darning pattern, you know there is something wrong.  There should only be horizontal and vertical threads shown.  Arrow 3 is pointing out the ending thread buried deeply underneath the lighter colored thread.  I’m just lucky that you can’t see this thread shadowed through to the front.  You should never bury dark threads deep down in light threads.
Now, look at the back of the good darning pattern example:
Back of Canvas - Good Darning Pattern Example

Arrow 1 shows only horizontal thread lines, no diagonal thread lines.  Arrow 2 shows what I have done with the threads on the side with the stitched light thread.  I buried them very shallowly in the light colored thread to make the turn.  Arrow 3 shows that I took the ending thread and also buried it shallowly in the light colored thread.  Alternatively, I could have whipped that ending thread to the back of the light colored thread with a thin light colored thread, like cotton floss or sewing thread.
If you use these tips next time you stitch a darning pattern, you will see improved results.