Saturday, December 29, 2012

Breaking the Rules

Let’s look at a diagram of a border:

Simple Border

This simple border is made up of two stitches, a slanted gobelin stitch and a horizontal gobelin stitch.  Not really hard to execute.  Everything look OK?

My stitched border:

Stitched Sample #1
I have used 1 strand of Silk & Ivory for the slanted gobelin stitches and 2 strands Watercolours for the horizontal gobelin stitches.  Other than the fact the horizontal stitches weren't laid, is it still looking OK?

I’m going to change threads and restitch the border:

Stitched Sample #2
Now I’ve stitched the slanted gobelin stitches using 2 strands Appleton wool and the horizontal gobelin stitches using 2 strands Silk & Ivory.  What do you think?  Does this look nice?

Don’t you think the top and bottom horizontal stitches, red arrows pointing to them below, flare out too much?  It almost looks like I’ve stitched too many horizontal stitches because they extend beyond the edge of the slanted gobelin stitches.

Flared Thread Problem
This problem existed in the first example at the top of this blog posting, but the Watercolour thread did not flare as much and the Silk & Ivory took up more room space at the top and the bottom of the slanted gobelin stitch.

Here is the rule I want you to break:  Follow the chart.

Many people who stitch from charts will follow the chart unless there is an error in the chart.  There is no error in this chart for some thread types, but it will produce problematic stitches with other threads.  So, look at your stitching after you follow the chart, does it look a little off?  Could you have stitched this a different way and made it look better?

In the sample below, I have made a small change to how I stitched the horizontal gobelin stitches and the resulting stitched sample looks much better.

Stitched Sample #3 - Problem Solved

Can you see how I solved the problem of the flare of the Silk & Ivory thread?

Here is what I did:

Simple Border - Redux

I’ve made a simple change to the border, and it will work with almost all thread types - perhaps a very thin sewing thread will not work, but most others will.

Here is how I stitched it:
I stitched tent stitches using 1 strand Silk & Ivory then stitched the horizontal gobelin stitches using 2 strands Silk & Ivory.

Problem solved and the results look much nicer.

A critical eye and no fear of not following the chart - that’s what everyone needs to bring to their stitching.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Variegated Thread Trap

For this second blog posting about variegated threads let’s look at The Variegated Thread Trap - the stitcher wants to portray a realistic effect with the thread (like sky, grass, water, etc.) but the color changes in the thread produce a result that is not consistent with reality.

Here is an example of a variegated thread, Sampler Threads from The Gentle Art, used to stitch a sky in basketweave.  
Sky stitched using Variegated Thread

Now, many of you may be thinking that you would never stitch a sky like this because of the diagonal striping that occurs.  Good.  But, this could also happen when you stitch water or grass, among other things, with a diagonal stitch using variegated threads.  I wouldn’t bring this up, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes ...

How about ....

Tree stitched using Variegated Threads

This evergreen tree, stitched with Watercolours from The Caron Collection  shows horizontal striping.  Hmmm ..., you may be thinking that you may have actually stitched a tree like this.  But, still, maybe you haven’t.

What about ....
Grass stitched using Variegated Threads

This grass was stitched with a variegated thread and there is some pooling of color.  Most people don’t want their lawns to look like this, nor their needlepoint.  So, maybe this example has caught a few more people in the trap.

What about ...

Pumpkin stitched using Variegated Threads

OK, now maybe a few more people are guilty of this type of shading with variegated threads.  This pumpkin shows highlights in an incorrect area (highlights are the lighter areas of the thread that comes from light bouncing off an object and making the object’s color appear lighter.)

Let’s look at each of these examples carefully and discuss what is wrong with them and ways to fix these problems.

First - Diagonal Striping
Diagonal Striping in the Sky

The basketweave stitch, or more accurately the tent stitch done in the basketweave style, is a diagonal stitch.  Color flow from the thread will be emphasized diagonally.  Therefore, there will be diagonal striping.  You see that the width of the stripes differs, this is not only due to the length of the shade of blue in the piece of thread I stitched with, but also the length of stitching that I was doing.  Each diagonal row is not the same length, therefore, at the beginning of the stitching, in the upper right hand corner, the color pools because the length of each row is shorter.  This little anomaly is minor considering the dramatic striping that occurs because of the darkness of that darker blue striped area.  

What to do:
Consider cutting out areas that are too light or dark from the length of thread, in this example the dark blue color.  This might take away too much thread to make stitching worthwhile using a variegated thread - which in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Switch to 2 to 3 colors of a solid colored thread that are close in value and use all of them in the needle at the same time.  This will provide a more subtle and yet random color change for the stitched area.

Since this thread is a cotton floss, I had to pull out each strand from the length of thread that I cut.  Turn half of those strands around, so that the end of the thread that you put into the needle has half the strands from the beginning of the length of thread and half the strands from the end of the length of thread.  This will produce a more even distribution of color throughout the stitched area.

Second - Horizontal Striping
The stitch I used in the tree is not only a horizontal stitch, but one in which the stitches from one row encroach onto another row.  Which is a good thing with variegated threads.  Just what do I mean by encroaching - 

Double Straight Cross Stitch

I have numbered the rows in the stitch diagram of the Double Straight Cross Stitch.  The first row of stitches, the ones with the green arrows pointing to them, use rows 1 through 5 in the diagram.  The second row of stitches, the ones with the blue arrows pointing to them, uses rows 3 through 7 in the diagram.  Both the first and second row of Double Straight Cross Stitches use rows 3 through 5 in the diagram.  This sharing of some of the diagram rows from one row of Double Straight Cross Stitches to another is what I mean by encroaching.

To complete this thought, a non-encroaching version of the Double Straight Cross Stitch is shown below.  This version of the stitch will leave a hole between the rows of stitches.

Double Straight Cross Stitch
Let’s look at the stitched tree again,

Horizontal Striping in the Tree

There are definite horiztonal stripes of color in this tree.  Due to color pooling, some of the stripes are thicker in the top of the tree because the rows are so short.  The blue arrow is pointing at an area in which this color in the thread varies quite a bit with other colors in the thread because it is so much lighter and not as grayed in color.  The red arrow points to where a new thread was started in the middle of a row and there is a large jump in color. 

What to do:
Using stitches that encroach upon one another is highly desirable when stitching with variegated threads as it mixes the colors between stitched rows.

Cut out any undesirable colors, like the much lighter and brighter color of thread.  

Place the Double Straight Cross Stitches randomly so that the colors will be mixed more.  This technique will produce the best results, but it is harder to stitch because you have to make sure you have counted correctly.  

When changing threads, do so at the start of a new row, this will help hide a color change.  Also, find a color close to the last color you stitched with as the starting point of your new thread.

Third - Color Pooling
In this example, the grass is stitched horizontally in a brick stitch which is an encroaching stitch, which helps mix up the color changes between rows.

Pooling of Color in the Grass
The arrow points to a pooling of the darker color in the thread.  What you don’t see, is the reason for this pooling of color - the length of the stitched row is much shorter in this area because there is a bush just off to the left in the lower part of the picture, as shown below.  This change in the length of a stitched row is notorious for causing pools of color.

Diagram of Grass with Bush - Uneven Horizontal Row Length

What to do:
Turn some of the threads in the needle around, as was discussed for the sky.  

Use solid colored threads, 2-3 different colors in the needle at the same time for a more random color flow.

Randomly place the stitches so that no color pooling occurs.

Fourth - Incorrect Color Placement
This last issue dealing with The Variegated Thread Trap is that the stitcher is just stitching away and is not paying attention to where the color change falls - OK, this is the problem with all of this stitching.  But, let’s look at the pumpkin again,

Incorrect Color Placement in Pumpkin
Remember that I said that lighter colored threads indicate light striking an object and the color that we see is lighter than the color of the rest of the object.  With this pumpkin, outside on the ground, where would light, like sunlight, be striking the pumpkin?  Somewhere near the top, not at the bottom of the pumpkin.  This pumpkin is unrealistic because of this lighter color, where the arrows are pointing.

What to do:
Again, consider cutting out a color in the thread that is not going to be of any use to you.  The lightest color in the pumpkin should have been cut out.

Generally, stitching with variegated threads and trying to achieve realistic effects means you need to control how the color is being used in the stitches.  Do not just stitch with it as it comes off the skein.  Otherwise, you will fall into this trap that I have discussed.  I personally prefer to use solid colored threads, though many close colors to achieve realistic color in my stitching.  Many people think that this is a lot of work, but to stitch correctly with variegated threads and achieve the same effects I do with the solid colored threads is just as much work.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Hows and Whys of Variegated Threads

Many people like to use variegated threads, those threads with color changes along the stitching length, for a variety of reasons - they like the color combinations, they provide interest in the stitching, they relieve the stitcher of having to change thread colors for shading, among others.

Knowing when and how to use variegated threads is important, and here’s why:  as a stitcher, you need to make a determination whether the change in color helps or hinders your stitched piece.  Too often this point is not even considered by the stitcher.

So in this post and in the next couple, let’s look at different ways that trouble with variegated threads crops up in stitching.

Many counted thread needlepoint pieces rely on variegated threads to add interest to the stitching.  The important thing to realize about counted thread pieces is that they rely heavily on symmetry.  Therefore, color changes in the variegated threads should not be random - they need to be planned.  Knowing this before you start stitching will allow you to select lengths of thread that will provide the color changes in your piece to make it more symmetrical.

Look at the piece below.  Notice that the stitches around each of the three sides that are stitched match.  This is what I mean by symmetry.  I think that this piece would look better if the darkest part of the variegated thread was in the middle of each side.  The crescents were stitched so that the same color changes would take place in each of them.  This is a symmetrical piece, the color changes in the variegated thread should enhance that symmetry.

Symmetrical Piece with Variegated Threads

One other point with respect to the piece above, I did not cut the skein of Watercolours in half.  Many times it is easier to find color runs with a skein of Watercolours if you cut one thread at the knot and then unwind the skein.  The length of the repeat in the Watercolours above is longer than the length of a skein.  So cutting the skein in half does not always make color sense for this piece.

The sample below shows Watercolours, color Aurora.  The colors in Aurora range from green to blue to violet to pink to dirty yellow.  This stitch sample shows how the change of color from pink to blue takes place - it has to pass through violet to get from the one color to another.  This makes sense because when you combine pink and blue it creates violet, and this is how that violet is created, by the pink dye mixing with the blue dye.  If you have trouble with what color is created when two different colors are mixed together, get yourself a color wheel.

Normal Color Flow with Variegated Thread

OK, where does the problem come in?

I saw this type of stitching with color change in an exhibited piece: 

Changing Thread in the Middle of a Stitch

The color changed right in the middle of a stitch.  Let me go so far as to say, never do this.  Never change thread color in the middle of a stitch, like the Scotch Stitch in this sample.  Let me go so far as to say never change any thread in the middle of a stitch - tension will be your biggest problem if the threads are all one color.  If you do not have enough thread to finish the stitch, rip the threads out for that stitch and end your thread.  Begin with a new thread.  

But don’t do this:

Too Drastic of a Color Change

This sample shows a color change, but in the stitch next to it.  If you have a line of stitching, try not to change the thread while you are stitching in a line, whether vertical or horizontal.  This is not always possible, so find a new piece of thread that will show a gradual color change away from the color of your last stitch.  And remember that the color you are searching for may not be at the END of the thread, you may need to start stitching a little way into the length of thread.  As you saw in the first example, the color changed to violet before turning to blue.  That is what you need to see in the stitching.  The difference is exaggerated, and visually jarring, when the stitches are right next to each other.

Therefore, look at your variegated thread.  Notice how the colors change.  Don’t pick up the thread randomly to stitch with, especially if you have to change colors in a line of stitches.  Find the color of your last stitch in a piece of thread, then begin stitching at that point to make a gradual change of color.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Those Pesky Ending Threads

I was recently at a needlepoint exhibit and I came across a needlepoint piece that had an error in it related to ending a thread.  The piece had a lot of white stitching in it and there was a section that had a red metallic thread that was couched down.  Surrounding this red metallic thread was all white threads.  Where do you end the metallic thread with all that white thread around it.

Here is an example of what I am talking about:

The arrow is pointing to the ending part of the red metallic thread showing through to the front.  The problem is intensified because the two cashmere stitches end right at the point where the thread is pulled across the back, showing through to the front.  I don’t quite remember what was above and below the metallic thread, just that whatever stitches were there were not suitable for ending the metallic behind either.  So I put in some herringbone stitches in white so that I could make my point.

The back of the canvas looks like this:

The arrow shows how the ending thread is pulled away from the red metallic thread on the front and through the white cashmere stitches on the back.  This is why you see the red thread from the front of the canvas.

The correct way to end those threads should not reveal any metallic threads showing through to the front, as shown below:

The black arrow points to the location that the red thread is taken to the back of the canvas and you can not see the any thread shadowing through to the front.  Just how did I end that thread without any red showing through?   Look at the back:

The black arrow points to where the red thread is brought to the back of the canvas and pulled behind the red thread on the front of the canvas.  I used a length of white sewing thread to tie down the thread on the back directly behind where the thread lies on the front.  Furthermore, to make sure that thread does not wiggle out, I pierced the metallic thread with the sewing thread in more than one place.  That thread end will not loosen or wiggle out of place - it will keep the front thread crisp and solidly in place.

Do not hesitate to whip or couch threads in place on the back of your canvas piece.  Piercing the ending thread will hold it stable.

Red thread stitched near white thread is notorious for causing troubles:
  • red fibers may shed onto the white thread
  • red ending threads show through to the front very easily 
  • the red color may rub off onto the white thread
Always stitch the white thread first and the red thread last in these circumstances.  And always end the red thread directly behind the red stitches on the front of the canvas.  Now you know how to end that pesky red thread behind the red stitches on the front of the canvas even when it first appears that there is no way you can do it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Slanted Gobelin Borders

How much thought have you given to how you execute Slanted Gobelin borders?  Here is a picture of such a border:

Here is a stitch diagram of how I am stitching the border as I approach a corner:

Many people will continue stitching as shown in the diagram below.  If the stitching began by stitching from the outside of the border to the inside of the border, once the corner is turned the stitching will continue in this manner (outside to inside):

Let’s look at a picture of the front and back of the canvas for this border:

Do you see why this is incorrect?  The slant of the stitches on the back of the canvas changes after the corner is turned.

Another way to think about this is if you reduced the width of the Slanted Gobelin Stitches, shown above as over 3 canvas intersections, to just over 1 canvas intersection you’d have a Tent Stitch Border.  Here is a picture of tent stitches stitched just the same way as the Slanted Gobelin Border above, from the outside of the border to the inside of the border.

Most needlepointers know that this change from continental to half cross stitch is incorrect and will not stitch this way.  And yet, when they lengthen that tent stitch to over 2 intersections or more, they will happily stitch away in this manner.  Remember that how the thread lies on the back of the canvas affects how it looks on the front of the canvas.

What is the correct way to stitch a Slanted Gobelin Border?  All threads on the back of the canvas need to have the same slant.  This means that if you are stitching vertically and the stitches travel from the outside of the border to the inside of the border, you will need to change the direction of your stitching after you make the turn (need a tacking stitch to change direction) so that you are stitching from the inside of the border to the outside of the border.  Here is a diagram of what I am saying:

And here is a picture of the front side of the canvas and the back side of the canvas:

When you are stitching a Slanted Gobelin Border, think of it as a long tent stitch, and you want that tent stitch to be in the continental style, not the half cross style of stitching.  If you think about it this way, then you will be able to adjust for any direction of travel that you may need, eg. horizontally left to right, horizontally right to left, vertically top to bottom or vertically bottom to top.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ripping Out Stitches

Whether it is due to the wrong color thread, the wrong type of thread, the wrong stitch or incorrect stitches, we’ve all ripped out stitches.  The question is: just how do you rip out your stitches?

Are you one of those stitchers that does this?

When stitches are ripped out like this you will hear the thread scraping against the sides of the holes on the canvas.  Depending on the thread, it may be quite loud.  Now, stop and think:  if you can hear it, just what does that mean?

It means that the entire length of the thread is being excessively worn by the friction from the canvas holes.  Further, you are putting excessive pull on the stitch you made before the one you are pulling out, which will give you bad stitch tension.  Let me just say, that even if you don’t hear the scraping sound, and with some silks, you may not because some of them slide so easily, you are still placing excessive wear on that thread.

The worst part of this issue is that those stitchers will then rethread that pulled out thread into their needle and stitch with it.  The only thing I can say to this is: Don’t.

If you must pull out your stitches this way, cut the thread very short and pull the stitches out.  You should not reuse this thread ever.  If you cut it very short, the tug on the other stitches will be lessened because you are not pulling the thread a great length.  It is still not an ideal way to rip out stitches.

What should you do?  And can you ever reuse the thread from a bad stitch?

As I see it there are 3 options:
  1.  Never reuse thread you have pulled out.  This means take the stitch or stitches out, end off the thread and start a new thread.  This will ensure that there is never any thread wear from ripping out stitches.
  2. Unstitch the stitches, using the needle as a guide to unstitch.  This option will work if you have not caught any other threads on the back in the thread you are removing.  The probability that this is the case is small, but there are times that this technique will work.  I still would not reuse the thread if I unstitched a lot of stitches.  How many is a lot?  Probably not more than five, but that depends on the thread type, how far I’ve already stitched with that thread, etc.  Use your best judgement.  When in doubt: Don’t.
  3. Unthread the needle and turn the canvas over, pull the thread out from the back.  Turn the canvas over, pull the thread out from the front, and continue in this fashion until all the stitches are ripped out.  Again, how many stitches?  With this technique I’d say only two to three.

Really?  Is the thread worn that badly?

You really need to be the best judge of this yourself.  And just yesterday I caught myself using the third technique on a dozen stitches and then rethreaded the needle with that same thread.  I did stop myself and ended off the thread - it is a bad habit that requires diligence to break.

Can you see thread wear?  You may not see thread wear on the thread prior to stitching, but when it is placed next to stitches without wear, it will be obvious.  There may be less sheen on the stitches with thread wear, the stitches may look dirty if there is thread wear, there may be more fuzz and frizz on stitches with worn thread, worn thread may look thinner and it will be weaker.  It is the unfavorable comparison to surrounding stitches that is the most damaging issue when thread wear is apparent.

Let me assure you, your stitching will look better if you do not reuse thread from ripped out stitches.  It is as simple as that.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Thread Wear

We are in the midst of exhibit season, what with county and state fairs, and the ANG national seminar exhibit.  These exhibits offer a good look at just what stitchers are doing right and what they are doing wrong.  One of the areas that stitchers need to take care with their stitching concerns thread wear.  

There are many different ways that stitchers cause excessive wear on their threads.  We have discussed thread wear in a previous blog concerning perle cotton threads.  I also mentioned that Watercolours acts a lot like perle cotton, and you need to be careful of thread wear.  

Knowing how to stitch with a particular thread requires practice and testing that thread in different environments.  What do I mean by this?

Have you ever considered stitching a sample prior to stitching on your canvas?  Perhaps the usual long length of thread you use will cause undue wear on it from pulling it through the canvas many times.  A shorter thread length may be needed.

Do you stitch with a large length of the thread doubled over in the needle and then move the needle along the length of the thread as you stitch?  This technique will produce thread wear on the thread where the thread passes through the eye of the needle.  If you move the eye of the needle along the thread, you are creating many areas with excess thread wear.  Again, a shorter stitching length may be needed.

How about when you stitch your arm, shirt, or hand rubs against previously stitched areas of the canvas?  Do you realize that this friction causes thread wear?  You need to protect previously stitched areas from thread wear.  Cover previously stitched areas with tissue paper.  I cut a piece of tissue paper large enough to cover the areas that need protecting and then either tape it to my wooden stitching frame or tack it to the frame.  Some people prefer to use clear plastic, either the kind found in the grocery store or a thicker type that won’t easily tear can be found at fabric stores.  Again, tape or tack to your frame.  I know that some needlework teachers that work in silk and metal cover all silk threads that have been stitched onto the canvas as they continue to work their pieces.

How about when you stitch and the thread drags along the top of the canvas?  Canvas is very rough on threads, and not just when you pull the thread through the canvas.  Lift the thread above the canvas with your free hand to reduce the chances that the rough canvas will cause wear in your threads.  For those two handed stitchers, one on top and one on bottom, this technique requires both hands on top - which may slow you down a bit.  Or cover the canvas with plastic or tissue paper.  The results are well worth the little extra work required.

Just what did I see that leads me to this topic - obvious thread wear on Watercolours.  The stitches were the raised type of stitches commonly referred to as Jean Hilton stitches, or curved stitches.  These stitches are especially susceptible to wear from friction because they are higher off the canvas, and the exposed thread is long enough so that fibers are easily rubbed loose from the strand that was stitched.

Look at a strand of Watercolours compared to perle cotton.  Notice the looser twist and the longer fibers that actually stick out from the strand of the Watercolours.  Both of these characteristics make the thread soft and enjoyable to work with - but care must be taken not to create a lot more and longer fibers that stick out from the thread - which creates fuzz.

So shorter lengths of Watercolours and protect those stitches once you place them on your canvas.  The results are well worth the little bit of extra work.

Other threads that may need a little more care:  Vineyard silks, Silk & Ivory - these both have loose twists to them.  Any silk thread.