Archive for the ‘Other Handy Dandy Stuff’ Category

Cross Stitch Framing Alternatives

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Anyone here running out of wall space for framed needlework? I don’t have any actual evidence to back this up, besides my own history, but I would guess the number one way to finish a needlework piece is to frame it. Sometimes it’s the best possible choice—I’m not poo-pooing framing, for goodness sakes!—but sometimes I think we do it out of mere habit, or—dare I say it?—laziness or fear.

There are some down sides to framing:

  • Wall space is limited
  • Custom framing is expensive
  • What we stitch may not match a room’s style or color
  • We have to invite people over to show off our work, and that might mean (gasp!) cleaning

African Night cross stitch by Funk & Weber Designs

African Night displayed on a denim jacket instead of a wall.

There are alternatives. Tons of alternatives. Let’s see how many we can come up with.

Home: Afghan, quilt, towel, tablecloth, potholder, placemat, doily, bread cloth, napkin, napkin ring, mug, sippy cup, clock, magnet, mouse pad, switchplate, coaster, box, ruler, bell pull, pillow, stand-up figure, tray, wreath, nightlight, pin cushion, tin cover, picture frames or mats, rulers

Personal: Bookmark, tote bag, purse, keychain, hat, baby bib, baby booties, needle keeper, needleroll, scissor fob, scissor case, cell phone/eyeglass case, checkbook cover, clothing, brooch, bracelet, necklace/pendant, luggage tag, tags to personalize anything

Holiday: Ornament, card, tag, stocking, wreath

Ready-Made Blanks or DIY

Fireworks barrette

Barrettes are some of my favorite things to make and one of my favorite ways to wear embroidery.

Ready-made blanks (stitchable items) are available for many of the items listed here. For instance, you can buy acrylic coasters, key chains, rulers, mugs, and pens or wooden trays, trivets, and boxes. All of these are designed to hold and display a piece of embroidery. Best of all, they’re quick and easy to assemble.

Pre-finished fabric items like bookmarks, place mats, baby bibs, towels, and afghans come with stitchable areas. All you have to do is the decorative embroidery; no piecing or hemming required to finish the item.

Or, as always, you can Do It Yourself. Yippee! That’s always my favorite way. Combine skills you have in other crafts with hand or machine stitching to craft a zillion different objects to adorn your life and express your style and ideas.

Do you have a way to finish needlework that is not listed? A unique idea you want to share? Then spill. We’d love to hear it!

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What Color For Backstitching?

Sunday, October 20th, 2013


The Great Outdoors cross stitch by Funk & Weber Designs

The Great Outdoors uses both dark and self-colored outlines. In fact, the backstitching instructions are about a whole page long. When I stitched this, I had no intention of selling the pattern, so I was just doing what I liked.

Nancy asks, “What is the best color to outline a cross stitch picture when you have bright colors? It does not have outlining now, and I thought it would look better with some.”


I want to state up front that there is no single right answer to this question. In the end, trust your instincts and go with what you like.

That said, I tend to go two ways with backstitched outlines: dark or what I call “self-colored.”

Dark-colored Outlines

By “dark” I mean black (DMC 310), dark gray (DMC 3799), dark brown (3371), or some other dark color. Black can sometimes be harsh, so I always give gray a look before making up my mind. I tend to like gray and black with brights, jewel tones, and cool colors (purple, blue, teal, green) and a dark brown with warm and natural colors (red, orange, yellow).

Do you see the discrepancy? “Brights” includes red, orange, and yellow, and while they are also warm colors for which I might choose a brown, when the palette is bright, I tend toward black/gray.

You mention bright colors, so I’d start with black and dark gray, especially if the palette includes both warm and cool colors.

Self-colored Outlines

The “self-colored” option is interesting. It might mean using the same color as a single-color object; it might mean using a contrasting color, but one that is in the multi-colored object (say, a blue tent with orange highlights might be outlined with the orange color); it might mean using a darker shade of the dominant color (a bright red outlined with a maroon-ish color, perhaps).

I know some people will ask, “What’s the point of outlining with a ‘self-color’?” Some people hate backstitching—I cannot relate!—and might think this pointless, even irritating, but backstitching, even in a self-color, defines a shape or line. It just does. Try it and see.

Oh, and you can combine dark and self-colored backstitching in a single piece.

What About Light-colored Outlines?

Most of the time, I’m not a fan of light-colored outlines. Backstitching with light colors highlights the holes between the stitches because they wind up comparatively dark. It looks like a dotted line instead of a smooth line.

Of course, there are times when such dotted lines might be called for and interesting.

If you really want to outline with a light color, consider long straight stitches or couching the fiber in place rather than backstitching.

What are your thoughts on outline colors for cross stitch?

Related Articles
In Praise of the Humble Backstitch
Fractional Stitches in Cross Stitch
Little Stitches That Have a Big Impact

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Natural Dyes: Dandelions and Blueberries

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

I am an avid gardener. I grow much of the produce Mike and I eat year-round, and I’ve been collecting and spreading wildflower seeds and transplanting wildflowers for many years in an effort to develop pretty, wild flower beds. Progress on the latter has been painfully slow, but there is progress every year. It can hardly come as a surprise that I’m interested in natural dyes for embroidery fabrics.

Basket of dandelion heads.

Dandelions collected for dyeing embroidery fabric.

I started with dandelions. I admit it: I think dandelions, those villains of manicured grass lawns and tidy flower beds, are pretty. That brilliant yellow color and the lion-toothed leaves (dent-de-lion . . . dandelion . . . get it?) are lovely if you look beyond the insidious pest aspect of the plant. Then I tried blueberries.

Here’s the process I used, which comes from a number of books and websites that I’ve perused.

  • Boiling dandelions for dye bath.

    Make the Dye Bath

    After collecting dandelion heads, I boiled them for an hour in a large stainless steel pot using about twice as much water as blossoms. I did the same with the blueberries.

  • Salt, vinegar, pot, fabric

    Prepare Fabric for Dyeing

    While the dandelions and berries simmered, I prepared the fabric by boiling it in a color fixative. This helps the color set in the fabric. Fixatives for plant dyes are different from fixatives for berry dyes.

    For the plant dyes, I used 4 parts water to 1 part white vinegar.
    For the berry dye, I used 1/2 cup of salt to 8 cups of cold water.

    I simmered squares of cotton and linen fabric in the fixative for the hour that the dandelions and blueberries simmered. (Yes, I keep my vinegar in a gin bottle because I buy it by the gallon. I don’t like gin, but I do like that bottle.)

  • Fabric soaking in blueberry dye bath.

    Add Fabric to Dye Bath

    Strain the plant material from the dye bath and return the liquid to the pot.

    Rinse the fabric in cool water, squeeze out excess water, and then place the wet fabric in the dye bath. Simmer again for another hour or so, and for a stronger color, let the fabric sit in the dye bath overnight. Note that the color of the fabric will be significantly lighter when it dries.

  • Blueberry-dyed fabric, drying.

    Allow Dyed Fabric to Dry

    I don’t have a clothes line, so I fabricated one with deck chairs, a work light, and large paperclips, and hung my dyed, wet fabrics outside to dry. They’re hard to see in such a tiny image, but there are three blueberry-dyed bits of fabric on the line. They’re much darker here than they are now.

  • Blueberry- and dandelion-dyed embroidery fabrics.


    The end results were gray- and butter-colored fabrics, much different (duller) from the colors of the starting materials and the colors of the wet fabric. They are not, however, unlike some commercially available chemically-dyed fabrics.

    On one hand, you know I prefer screaming colors, so the colors are less than thrilling to me. On the other hand, you know how much I like doing things myself, and these are kind of cool. There are times when bland muted colors are appropriate for a background. And besides, a dull subtle background can be the base for screaming fibers.

    While these aren’t exactly the results I hoped for, the process was fun, and I’m ready to have another go with a different approach and/or different materials. Maybe a different fixative would work better. Maybe different plant materials (beets!) would yield brighter colors.

    In the meantime, I’ve got some stitching to do!

Have any of you tried natural dyes? Do you have tips or advice? What were your results?

Update: Ellen provides this link to a plant dye color list in the comments. She points out that we don’t always get what we expect from a dye, and I confess I’m curious about this and want to be surprised by some result. The list says that blueberries may yield a blue-gray color. Yep, that’s what I got!

How Our Online Classes Work

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

I got an email from Joyce recently, asking how, exactly, our online classes work. Great question! I’m sure you’re not the only one wondering, Joyce, so I’ll answer here.

The way it currently works is this (it’s really pretty simple once you get rolling):

The day before class starts, I send invitations to participants to join the private Yahoo Group that serves as our classroom. The invitation will arrive in your email box with a link to join. Only registered class members are invited and permitted to join—that’s what makes it a “private” Group.

Funk & Weber Designs: bookmarks from the Bookmarks 101 class

Bookmarks finished using techniques learned in the Bookmarks 101: Simple, Smart, and Swanky Finishes online class.

Lessons are pdf files that are uploaded to the “Files” folder inside the Group. In the Bookmarks 101 class, which Joyce specifically asked about, the first lesson is uploaded on Day 1, and subsequent lessons are posted at the beginning of each week for four weeks. You can open and/or download the files any time after they’re posted, whenever it’s convenient for you.

The Group has a message board where we all post questions, answers, experiences, and ideas. You can choose to have individual messages sent to your email inbox, or you can have a day’s messages sent all together in one email, or you can choose to have no email sent and just read the messages online when you log in to the Group.

There is no specific time you need to be online; there are no live, real-time meetings. You can read and respond to messages on your own schedule, from anywhere in the world. In the Bookmarks 101 class, there’s a whole week to read each lesson and experiment with some of the techniques. You’re encouraged to take pictures of your work and upload them to the “Photos” folder in the Group. If you’re not sure how to do that, I can provide instructions, or you can send me your pictures via email, and I’ll upload them for you. If you are unable to take pictures, well, that’s okay, too. We do what we can do, right?

In the Bookmarks 101 class, the focus is on learning some simple stitches, adding some materials and techniques from sewing and other crafts, and then letting loose to see what happens. She who makes the biggest mess wins! No, no, no. Just kidding. Sort of. I happen to be a big fan of messes and find that the most interesting things tend to come from them.

Funk & Weber: Embroider Me! Bracelet Basics & Beyond online class

Embroider Me! Bracelet Basics & Beyond class pattern. Once the bracelet technique is learned, an endless number of one-of-kind designs can be made.

The Embroider Me! Bracelet Basics & Beyond class operates similarly, in a private Yahoo Group, but the lessons are shorter, we create a single project, and it all happens in one week.

I’ve come to see embroidery classes as my forte, and I’m creating more. A class allows me to explore not-quite-standard techniques, which I love, and the pdf format allows me to write instructions in greater detail than chart-printing permits. Plus, I can add lots of step-outs with color images, so processes are clear and easy-to-understand. I’m a writer; writing instructions is my strength and joy.

There are many ways to run classes on the Internet, and I may explore new ones in the future. Right now, this way is super-simple and effective, so I’m sticking with it.

I hope that helps. If you have more questions, please ask.

Counted Thread Embroidery Fabrics 102

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Part two of our counted thread embroidery fabric series seeks to answer the question of how to calculate design sizes for fabrics with different thread counts. For instance, if the pattern model is stitched on 18-count Aida, but we want to stitch it on 16- 14- or 11-count Aida, how big will our finished piece be? We need to know this so we can purchase the proper cut of fabric.

The thread count of a fabric is the number of threads–or squares, in the case of Aida–per inch.

Funk & Weber, fabric counts

Two Aida fabrics with different stitch counts.

In this image, the needles mark a one-inch section of fabric. Count the squares between the needles on the white fabric, then count the squares on the green fabric. The white fabric is 18-count; the green fabric is 14-count.

A design stitched on 18-count (18-ct) Aida squeezes more stitches into an inch, so the overall design will be smaller than when stitched on fabric that has only 14 squares in an inch. Higher counts yield smaller finished designs.

Most patterns will have a stitch count listed. The stitch count (as opposed to thread count–ay, yi, yi!) is the number of stitches in a design, usually expressed as a-number-wide x a-number-high, or 214W x 128H.

For the record, many patterns will also list approximate design areas (inches wide x inches high) for different fabric thread counts. In that case, we may not need to do any calculating.

Knowing the stitch count of the design and the thread count of the fabric allows us to calculate the finished design area or size. The number of stitches in a design divided by the number of threads per inch tells us how many inches that number of stitches will cover. That is:

Design stitch count / Fabric thread count = Design size

We do this calculation twice: once for the width, once for the length. Let’s plug in the numbers from our example, a design 214W x 128H stitched on 14-ct Aida:

214 (stitch count) / 14 (thread count) = 15.29 or roughly 15 1/4 inches

128 (stitch count) / 14 (thread count) = 9.14 or roughly 9 1/4 inches

So our finished design will be approximately 15 1/4 inches wide by 9 1/4 inches high.

We’re advised to allow at least three inches of fabric all around for finishing, so 3 inches added to both the left and right sides means adding 6 to our width. Adding 3 inches to the top and bottom means adding 6 to our height.

15 1/4 + 6 = 21 1/4

9 1/4 + 6 = 15 1/4

So, we need a piece of fabric 21 x 15 or 22 x 16. I’d recommend going with the larger size, especially if you’re going to ask someone else to frame the piece, but in practice, I’d go with the smaller. What can I say? Squeezing in and squeaking by seem to be my way, especially if I’m doing the finishing myself.