How to Keep Your Place While Stitching

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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