Monday, May 21, 2012

Straight Stitches Next to Diagonal Stitches

A very common issue in the needlepoint world is what to do when straight stitches meet diagonal stitches.  Here is a stitched sample and a stitch diagram where the two stitches meet (the straight stitch is a vertical Gobelin stitch and the diagonal stitch is a Scotch stitch):

I am stitching on 18 count white canvas and I have used 2 strands of Watercolours for my straight stitches (over 4 canvas threads) and 2 strands of Sheep’s Silk for my diagonal stitches.  As you can see from this example, the coverage of the canvas is not complete between the two  stitches.

Many people will then choose to stitch a vertical Gobelin stitch in the shared holes with the left hand side of the Scotch stitch.  The stitched sample and the stitch diagram look like this:

Does this solve the problem?  Take a look at where the arrow is pointing - the thread overlaps the Scotch stitches here - and unevenly at that, all rows should look the same.  I’ve stitched a diagonal tent stitch at the bottom of the vertical Gobelin stitches to illustrate how the Gobelin stitches may make the Scotch stitches, which should be square, look a little rectangular because of the thread overlap.  There is no overlap with the tent stitch.  This is the problem with this technique - of sharing the same holes between the long straight stitch and the diagonal stitch.  Remember, the entire vertical line where the two stitches meet should look the same.
So, how should this problem be resolved?  There are two options, both very similar.
The first option is to stitch a vertical row of tent stitches in the same thread as the vertical Gobelin stitches, and have these stitches share the holes with the diagonal Scotch stitches.  Here is an example:

The technique is as follows:
  1. Stitch a tent stitch sharing holes with the diagonal stitch in the same color of thread as the vertical stitches will be stitched.
  2. Stitch the vertical stitches, do not stitch over the tent stitches.
Many times this technique is all that needs to be done.

The one thing I would be careful of in this situation comes about because of the overdyed thread - there is a section where the thread is quite bright aqua.  I would make sure the tent stitches matched pretty well the vertical Gobelin stitches in color.  So I would not stitch the bright aqua next to the duller violet or teal.  So that is a small issue that only comes up when stitching with overdyed threads.

The second option is similar, but a vertical stitch is placed over the tent stitches, though the number of strands of threads is reduced so that the vertical stitch does not overlap the diagonal stitches.  Here is an example:

The technique is as follows:
  1. Stitch a tent stitch sharing holes with the diagonal stitch in the same color of thread as the vertical stitches will be stitched.  These stitches are necessary so that there is sufficient thread coverage between the vertical stitches.
  2. Stitch the vertical stitches, do not stitch over the tent stitches.
  3. Using half the number of strands of thread as for the vertical stitches of Step 2, stitch the vertical stitches over the top of the tent stitches.  You may even want to use a smaller needle for this stitch.
Here again, because of the overdyed thread, I had to be careful that my two threads in the needle stayed at the same color sequence as the rest of the threads.  I had to combine Steps 2 and 3 into one Step.  What I did was to separate the two strands into one strand and stitch the vertical stitch over the top of the tent stitches on the front, then I took the other strand and stitched a length on the backside of the canvas the same length, using the tent stitches as a way to tack and change stitch direction, then I put the two strands back together to stitch the next vertical stitch that required two strands of thread in the needle.  

What happens if you can't reduce the number of strands of the vertical stitch, let's say it is only one strand of thread in the first place.  Then you must use the first option, tent stitch only, as your technique.

Obviously this technique works for vertical Gobelin and horizontal Gobelin.  Next time I will cover the other problem that occurs with straight stitches meeting diagonal stitches.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Look at Cross Stitch and Fabric Coverage

Let’s look at cross stitch on fabric, this is an example on linen, though any type of evenweave or linen will do.
Is this coverage OK?

I’d say it depends.  Here is where I may get a few people mad at me, but let me explain.  Many people who cross stitch “allow” the fabric to show through the stitches.  By “allow” I mean, it is considered correct technique, and there are many examples of it all over.  It is my opinion as a needlework judge that IF EVERY stitch shows the fabric through the stitches, then that shows consistent stitch tension, and I would say it is correct technique, as it is the choice of the stitcher to allow the fabric to show through.  However, IF SOME stitches show fabric and others do not, then that shows inconsistent stitch tension and it is incorrect.  Now think about how hard it is to make sure that all the stitches have fabric showing through, why it is just as hard to make sure that fabric never shows through.
How does the stitcher resolve this conflict?  If the stitcher increases the number of strands of floss in the needle, then the probability of fabric showing through the stitches decreases.  Consider this:  the number of strands of floss that you stitch with may be changed for some colors of thread and not for others.  Darker thread colors may need to have the number of strands of floss increased to provide the same coverage as lighter colored threads.  The dyes in darker threads make each strand of the thread a little thinner, so the same number of strands in the needle do not cover as well as a lighter colored thread with the same number of strands.  Furthermore, for the same reason, the threads stick together more when using darker colors than lighter, which makes it a little harder to get those strands to spread out for good coverage.  Another issue is the contrast in the color of the thread and the ground fabric.  If there is a large contrast (dark thread and white fabric) it is much easier to see the fabric than light thread and white fabric.  
What I want you to consider is visual distraction.  If you are stitching a santa on a light colored fabric and the fabric where the white beard is stitched is completely covered, then the stitch tension and number of strands of thread is correct.  However, using the same number of strands of thread in the needle you now stitch santa’s boots with black thread, and the fabric is not completely covered.  This stitching is a problem because it is different.  Not different because you meant it to be so, but because the tension and thread choice makes it different. 
Take a look at this example below, comparing white floss and dark blue floss on a light colored linen.  I’d say the fabric coverage under the white floss is better than the blue floss.  You can see that the white thread spreads out more than the blue thread.  Note the blue arrow - right there is a problem.  And just what is that problem?  Why, the coverage is complete between those two cross stitches.  This will cause a visual distraction because it is different - most of the other blue cross stitches have a little fabric seen between them.  Differences pop right out at you and your eye will stop at that place to look at it more closely.  When everything is the same, your eye will glide over the area without stopping.

Now this example is magnified.  When it is not magnified, there is no fabric noticeable under the white stitches, but it is visible under most of the blue stitches.  I would say this is inconsistent stitch tension and fabric coverage.  Increase the number of strands of the blue thread until the coverage matches that of the white thread.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Canvas Coverage

If you look at this stitching, 1 strand #5 perle cotton on white canvas, I think we can all agree that there is a problem with canvas coverage.

How about this stitching?

I’ve increased the number of strands of perle cotton to 2, same stitch over 4 canvas threads on white canvas.  I would say this example still illustrates poor canvas coverage.  Why?

The white canvas shows through between the two rows of stitching and is visibly distracting.  Did you know this is incorrect?  The reason I ask that is I’ve seen a lot of this type of stitching everywhere, even by teachers who should know better.  I have to assume that stitchers just don’t realize that this is wrong.
This idea of visual distraction is important.  Just what do you want people to be looking at - the white canvas showing through, or how nicely stitched it looks?
OK, now that you know this is incorrect stitching technique, how do you solve this problem?  There are several ways to eliminate seeing the white canvas through the red thread.  
Let’s discuss why this happens first.  Much of the poor canvas coverage comes from a tight stitching tension.  Some people are able to adjust their tension and eliminate this problem.  However more people either do not or can not adjust their tension.  Stitching with perle cotton and loosening your tension is one thing, how about if you are stitching with 8 strands of floss in your needle and using a laying tool - it is a little harder to loosen your tension and maintain a smooth stitch.  
The other issue at play here is the thread itself.  Some threads, whether it is because of thread type or thread color does not provide enough canvas coverage.  Choosing another type of thread may be all that you need do.  However, a problem arises when you want to use a specific type of thread and you can not achieve suitable canvas coverage.
Here are some ideas to solve this problem.  One or more of these ideas may be employed at the same time.
Use a thin, strandable thread along with the perle cotton, both the same color.  
This technique can be used if you must keep the perle cotton and you do not want to increase the number of strands of perle cotton.  Here I have used 2 strands of cotton floss along with 1 strand of perle cotton to increase the canvas coverage.  The floss falls closer to the canvas while the perle cotton lays plumper on top, so unless you are magnifying the stitches, you will not see the floss.

I have almost solved the problem of between stitches coverage, I think if I used 3 strands floss it would be fine, but I still have the issue of between the rows of stitches problem.  You will need to use a laying tool with this technique.
Backstitch between the rows of stitches using a strandable floss in the same color.
I have used this technique many times myself, as I am one of those stitchers who use a tight tension.

Problem solved and unless magnified, you will not be able to see those backstitches.

Paint the canvas background
I am showing the results of the stitching with 1 and 2 strands of perle cotton.

If I were judging both of these examples, I’d still say the 1 strand of perle cotton is not providing enough coverage, though it is not as obvious, especially when not magnified. The reason I say this is because the threads are far enough apart that they do not touch and for this stitch they really need to be touching (it creates a different problem in that a vertical pattern results - this may be too much to understand at this point, some other time I will discuss stitch patterning.)  For the second example on the right, using 2 strands of perle cotton, I would be fine with the between the rows coverage because the painted canvas is the same color as the thread and therefore there is no visual distraction as before when it was white canvas.

About paint:
For this example I used a Copic marker, found at art supply stores.  This is a paint marker, not just a sharpie.  I would not use a sharpie, ever.  Just because it is permenant does not mean it will not run if wet.  There have been people who found this out the hard way.  You may also use acrylic paint thinned with water to the consistency of milk.  I’ve used Liquitex and Golden artist acrylic paint, also available at art supply stores.  
No matter what you use, if you plan to get it wet, with wet blocking, then test a sample to see if it runs.  I’ve not had problems with acrylic paint once dry, but have heard that some new acrylic paints will run.  Here’s how to test it:  paint a small piece of canvas, let dry.  Get it soaking wet with water and place on a white paper towel.  Press both sides with the paper towel.  Now, look at the paper towel, see any color on it?  I did this with the Copic marker and then was a slight reddish color on the paper towel.  So I would not wet block anything I used that Copic marker on.  Use a frame for your canvas - it will eliminate the need to wet block.  You may still dry block, but I just stretch my canvas when I frame it and it is fine.  I do not block first.  Anyone using this idea on fabric or linen, check to make sure there are no problems first.  There are other types of paints that you may use that may be heat set but I don’t want to digress too much at this point.
Use a thread that spreads out to provide coverage.
This is an option if you are willing to use a different type of thread.  Some threads spread more when you stitch with them than others.  Perle cotton is a twisted thread, it will not spread.  Wool is a thread that will spread and any strandable thread may have the number of strands increased until you achieve the coverage you desire.

The wool is working great here while the floss still shows a tiny amount of white canvas.  However, this is magnified and it is visible, when seen without magnification there is no visible distraction.  I could go to 9 strands of floss and that would probably take care of the problem.  The laying of 8 or 9 strands of floss can be problematic for some people though.  Just keep that in mind with this technique.

Lastly, I want to show you where this problem may crop up in your stitching that you might not have thought of - bargello.

In the next blog entry I will illustrate some other examples of coverage problems with other types of stitches.