Archive for the ‘Stitching’ Category

How to Keep Your Place While Stitching

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Here I am, merrily stitching along, rounding the last corner of an outline that will be part of a groovy, re-useable gift tag. It’s a new project, and I’m really stoked to develop it. I love the colors, the crescent stitches, the way the stitch and design form curves on my right-angle threads. As embroidery goes, this pattern is on the speedy side—how cool is that?

The last stitch is a backstitch that connects two crescent stitches. It’s supposed to go over two threads. I have three. Sigh.

I’ve screwed up. The ends don’t meet as they should.

Is that a collective sympathetic sigh I hear?

Yep, we’ve all been here. I know.

That said, there is a way to reduce the likelihood that we’ll end up here. It’s not hard, and it takes very little additional time—far less than ripping or re-stitching. That way is to double-check our work as we stitch using multiple points of reference.

The four points of reference I'm using to quadruple-check my stitching as I work.

To avoid mistakes, use multiple points of reference to check your progress when you stitch.

You may routinely re-count your stitches, but sometimes that’s not enough. You may have the right number, but on the wrong line. Or maybe you have the right number on the correct horizontal line, but you’re off on the vertical line. Adding another point of reference—or two or three—will help assure you stay on the intended path.

In my case, I have learned to quadruple-check my progress by using four different points of reference:

  • I make sure the outer curves of the crescents fall on the same line.
  • For the side crescents, I make sure each scallop goes over 14 threads.
  • At the corners, I make sure the beginning and end points are 8 diagonal threads apart.
  • When I start a new scallop on the second row of stitching, I make sure the first leg goes down in the center of a backstitch from the first row.

By doing this, I haven’t (yet) had to rip or re-stitch any of the crescent-stitch outlines.

It Works for All Kinds of Stitching

This works for all kinds of counted-thread needlework: cross stitch, needlepoint, blackwork, Hardanger, etc. It also works for surface embroidery and other non-counted stitching; you just check your progress from different angles and points of reference.

Yet another perspective

Honestly, compensating for my error (i.e., just scooping those three threads into the backstitch) would be fine, except that I plan to sell this pattern, and I want potential models to be correct. And, all right, I admit it: It bugs the perfectionist in me. Most of us who do counted-thread embroidery do it because counting enables perfection, unlike surface embroidery, where stitch length and spacing are merely eyeballed.

I’m all for compensating and letting imperfections be. And I’m all for making the most of countable fabrics by counting perfectly. See? Multiple points of view can be as useful as multiple points of reference.

What do you do to keep yourself and your stitches on track while you’re stitching?

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Starting Threads by Piercing

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Let’s continue our thread of starting threads in hand embroidery by talking about piercing the working thread. If there’s a standard name for this, I don’t know it.

Piercing the thread is an alternative for the pinhead stitch and is a good technique for small, isolated motifs.

The idea is simply to anchor the working thread by piercing it or splitting it with itself. You’ve probably done this accidentally and considered it a mistake. Or maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, that’s just split stitch.” Right on both counts! Read more

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Keep Your Place on a Cross Stitch Chart

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Do you have trouble keeping your place on a cross stitch chart? Have you ever had to rip a section because you missed a line or stitched the same one twice?

You’re not alone.

On a previous post about How To Read A Cross Stitch Chart, Elaine asks for tips on how to keep her place, especially when the chart is too small to read easily. She has a LoRan Line Magnifier, but doesn’t find it helps enough.

Line magnifiers are tricky because there’s a gap between what’s magnified and what’s not, and that prevents us from seeing what we’re stitching—what’s magnified—in relation to the big picture. I need to see both simultaneously. Plus, the alignment of the line magnifier has to be just so, and changing my position even a little alters what I see. I think they’re meant to be used for a short time by someone sitting more still than I can sit! I don’t find them useful for reading charts.

Here are some other suggestions: Read more


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How To Make Pearl Threads

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Hand-made, multi-colored pearl cotton.

Hand-made, multi-colored pearl cotton.

Do you know that you can make pearl thread?

And do you know it’s totally easy and big-time fun?

And do you know that once you get the basics down, you can go all kinds of Nuts with it to create some wildly interesting, fully functional threads?

Well. Now you do.

Hand-made pearl threads in different sizes

Hand-made pearl threads. Better than twisted cord because it doesn’t untwist when you drop it.

Why Make Pearl?

Handmade wonky pearl by Funk & Weber Designs

A wonky pearl thread makes a nice friendship bracelet, too.

  • Pearls are great threads. They’re used for all kinds of stitching, including blackwork, Hardanger, needlepoint, cross stitch, and more.
  • They’re more twisted and thicker than six-strand floss which makes them stronger, which makes them good for finishing edges, which tend to get more wear, tear, and general abuse.
  • It can be hard to find pearls to match other fibers. Most hand-dyed, overdyed, and painted six-strand threads don’t have matching pearls.
  • It can be hard to find pearls in a wide variety of colors and sizes. You might get white, black, ecru, and red in size 5 at big box stores, but what about medium-light, bright-dark, ultra-very turquoise-red in sizes 3, 8, 12, or 16? What if what you really want is size 10? No one even makes that, do they? But you can. Suh-weet!
  • When I travel, I don’t take bags and bags of thread. I take six-strand floss, then I have floss plus perfect matches in every size pearl.
  • And the most important reason, the only one anyone needs: It’s fun!

Learn How To Make Pearl Threads

Learn how to make these super-cool threads (and so much more!) in a 20-minute video when you sign up for our mailing list, called The Needlework Nutshell or The Nutsletter, for short. You’ll receive Funk & Weber news, musings, and our popular Tips, Tricks, and Brilliant Ideas. Oh—and the very best steals and deals we have to offer.

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Starting Threads with a Loop

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Our exploration of ways to start threads when cross stitching or otherwise embroidering now comes to the Loop Start, or what might be called the Cow Hitch Start.

So far, this appears to be the favorite thread-starting method amongst readers here, who are mostly cross stitching, I think, but I use this even less often than I use waste knots. I’ll explain why in a bit. First, let’s go over how a Loop Start is done.

  • Loop Start for Cross Stitch and Embroidery

    Thread the Needle

    To thread our needle, instead of cutting our floss 18 inches long and stripping out 2 strands, we’re going to cut our floss 36 inches long and remove just one strand.

    Fold the strand in half and put the eye of the needle over either the 2 ends or the loop in the center of the thread.

    We will stitch with 2 strands, but they will be connected. If you want to stitch with 4 strands, use 2 lengths of floss. If you want to use 1 or 3 or any odd number of strands, use another start method.

  • Take the needle through the loop to secure thread

    Secure the Thread

    Take the needle down through the fabric from the top where the first stitch will be, but don’t pull the thread all the way through. Bring the needle back to the top for the first leg of a cross stitch.

    Take the needle through the thread loop, and pull it snug.

  • This makes a secure cow hitch

    It’s a Cow Hitch!

    This makes a cow hitch, and it’s nicely secure; no pulling the tail through when you put a little tension on the thread as can happen when threading the tail under previous stitches, and no knot to create a bump on the back side.

    Yeah, yeah. It’s on the front, and we want it on the back, so…

  • Pull the loop to the back side.

    Pull Loop to the Back

    Put the needle down through either of the holes you’ve already passed through, and—voila!—the loop is on the back side.

    Proceed with stitching, la la-la la-la…

Benefits of the Loop Start

  • It’s very secure. No tails pulling through.
  • No lumpy knot.
  • Good for isolated stitches.
  • It can be executed from the top of the embroidery. No need to flip the piece over, which can be a pain if, say, you’ve got your hoop clamped to a table. (I had no idea how much of a problem flipping a piece over is for some of us—and by “us,” I mean “you”!)
  • What else? Pipe up in the comments, and I’ll add other benefits here.

Drawbacks of the Loop Start

  • Head-to-foot orientation of threads.
  • Even number limitation.

The biggest gripe I hear about this method is that by looping a long strand, each of the 2 strands is “going a different direction.” Think about it: The snipped head and the snipped foot are paired side-by-side.

“Why is this a problem?” you ask.

Well, like some fabrics and carpets (think: velvet, think: shag) threads have a nap. You know what happens when you rub your hand across a velvet couch or vacuum a shag carpet: If the threads aren’t all laying the same way, it’s visible; you end up with lines on your couch or in your carpet.

Threads have a nap, too. The fibers naturally lay a certain way, and if you rub them the opposite way, say, as you pull them through the ground fabric, you might disrupt the natural flow and cause the thread to look fuzzy.

Try this: Strip out a single strand of floss. Pull it from top to bottom between your thumb and forefinger. Look closely: Does it look smooth or fuzzy? Now flip it on its head and pull it through your fingers again. How does it look now? The same or smoother or fuzzier? If you notice a difference, you’re seeing the nap in the fiber.

By using 2 strands, paired head to foot, one might look fuzzy when pulled through the fabric. If there’s a sheen to the fiber, laying them in opposite directions will alter the look of that sheen.

However, all this said, I’m going to ask you: Do you notice a nap? I did an experiment.

Thread Nap Test

Can you tell a difference between the top and bottom stitching? One uses a Loop Start; the other uses a Buried-Tail Start. Does thread nap make a visible difference to you?

Can you tell which of the two stitched bars above uses a Loop Start? Does thread nap make a difference when using two strands head-to-foot?

I used the Loop Start on the bottom bar. I can convince myself that I see a slight difference on the zoomed-in, blown-up picture, but I do not see any difference in the real stitched McCoy. This is DMC thread. Wool, I suspect, might produce a different result. I think wool has more of a nap. I’ll try it when I get home to my stash. When using DMC, which is a staple for cross stitchers, I think the nap issue is minimal.

Another potential head-to-foot issue occurs when using variegated or hand-dyed threads: The colors of the 2 strands won’t be the same. That’s only a problem if you want the colors to be the same. In fact, turning one thread over to mix up the colors is a technique I recommend for a tweed look. (Nap, schmap!)

However, I have a different objection to the Loop Start: It works only if we’re using an even number of threads, and I typically use three strands for cross stitching.

Two strands of floss vs. three strands for cross stitching

The top two bars use 2 strands of floss; the bottom bar uses 3 strands.

When I started stitching, I used the recommended 2 strands of floss for 14- and 16-count fabrics. Then I tried 3 strands and decided I liked it better. As you would expect, there’s more coverage with 3 strands, and you know me: I love colors that scream, so of course I like a more saturated look. That’s why I rarely use the Loop Start when cross stitching. Well, that and I didn’t learn about the Loop Start until I already had my thread-start groove.

Then there’s using single strands of pearl and specialty threads. Here, again, the Loop Start isn’t my first choice.

Can you think of any other drawbacks to the Loop Start?

As with all stitchy techniques, if it works and you like it, use it!

This is still not the last word on starting threads—no, siree! There are at least two more methods we’ll explore. I know one of them but have to look up the other. Page 18 or 20, our guru, Marion, says—I don’t remember which. Trouble is, the book’s at home and I am not. I’ve adopted a number of Marion’s tricks, so I’m eager to take a good look at this one!

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Related Articles

Starting Threads with a Pinhead Stitch
Starting Threads with Waste Knots


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