Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Stem Stitch analysis of concave and convex corners

What a scary title hey !!  Don’t worry, this post is about the most addictive stitch of all…

Broad Stem Stitch

Broad Stem Stitch G

Recently I was having a discussion with an internet chum about the most addictive embroidery stitch on the planet?  For my part it has to be Stem Stitch! 

When you study historical embroidery, the thing that repeatedly strikes you is, how well they understood their stem stitching and of course, 16th Century Redwork is comprised mainly of Stem Stitch.

Then, when you look at later vintage embroideries from say, 1920s and 30s, you can still see fantastic virtuosity with this stitch.

Its a very elegant stitch that works with the direction of ‘S’ twist thread and shows it off well.  Its formation is essentially a spiral and has a lot in common with Satin Stitch.  The main difference between the two is something that enables it to be stitched much more quickly and directly, without the need for outlining or under-tramming, and that is the very clever, concealed exit.  That means the needle will always emerge from inside and beneath the last stitch formed.  Not to be confused with Outline Stitch, which conversely unravels the ‘S’ twist and produces a completely different effect.  

Personally, I also think that Stem Stitch forms the basis of understanding a lot of other embroidery stitches. 

As we all know, there are 3 ways to work Stem Stitch:

a.  Lined up along a line, with no gaps

b.  Along a line with small scoops of thread, leaving largish gaps

c.  Broad stitching, which looks a lot like Stem Stitch for canvas work but with one fundamental difference (explained further on). 

Changing direction, you will find however, is a bit of a controversial topic.  A lot of stitchers believe that to get out of ‘difficult situations’, you should switch to Outline stitch.  Personally I don’t agree, because Outline Stitch is completely different.

I like Stem Stitch for two main reasons:

1.  Its very fast and easy, hence totally addictive.

2.  Its basically a diagonal spiral, like Satin Stitch, but because of the cleverly concealed exit hole, its much more forgiving and hence, easier to work.

You don’t have to under-tram or outline it first, but you do have to remember that it looks best if the stitches remain diagonal e.g. the entry point of the needle must always be lower than the exit hole, which on a straight line, translates as a back stitch action.  

For left handed stitchers you stitch from right to left, holding the thread above the work.  For right handed stitchers, you do the opposite. 

When it comes to working vertically, the same rules apply, except that for left handed stitchers, you work from top to bottom. 

Any deviation in the way you hold the thread, means you will produce Outline Stitch, (which in my view is wrong).  So then the big question is, how do you change direction?

Well, I found that because the stitch is so graceful, you really need to get in there with your magnifier and study exactly what is happening in those corners as you turn, because concave and convex curves behave differently.

I’ve spent quite a long time (well it was raining!!) analysing what on earth is going on down there and here are my conclusions:

First of all, to stitch a vertical line of stem stitch, then change the direction to horizontal, working from left to right, the effect you need to create is that the spiralling stitches emerge from behind the previous stitches.

In contrast, when working in the opposite direction e.g. from right to left, the spiralling stitches curve naturally the opposite way, and appear to cross over the front of the previous stitches. 

So to put it simply: one side of the work looks like its coming out from behind, the other other side looks as if its emerging from the front.  (Stitching a letter ‘S’ shows this off very clearly.)   

However, (big however) because the thread only twists in one direction, you need to compensate for ‘wrong-way’ turns.

I’ve managed to distil this process down to needing a kind of 3-point-turn within that angle.  Simplified by this diagram:

Stem Stitch Corner-  Diagram 1

or to put it another way..

Stem Stitch Changing direction

Now I could go on for a long time (!) but instead, I decided to put it all together into another of my YouTube videos:


Goodness me, I’ve have been quite busy lately, haven’t I?  

Friday, 22 June 2012

Announcing my 3 new videos for YouTube

Rushing here – thank you to my 600 subscribers on YouTube and new followers on here and anyone else that I’ve exchanged emails and talked about historical stitches with.  You’re all very kind and encouraging people and I appreciate it!

Historical Tambour Chain Stitch

I have a long post lined up on Tambour Chain Stitch because in Sweet Bags and Elizabethan Stitches the author mentions one (or two) stitches that could only have been made, in her view, with a Crochet Hook type tool.  This is very intriguing, and then I found a fascinating reference that said:

“Queen Elizabeth owned caps that were Tambour embroidered”.

More about that next time, but for now, here are the 3 videos. 


Satin Stitch Video

I made the video while stitching this quite large (upside down) leaf.  I usually work the stitch faster than I could show on film, but you have to allow for the camera and its shiny tripod being stuck, virtually under my armpits as I work…

Satin Stitch Leaf 2


Then I made a video of Tambour Chain technique, as I understand it, which I will discuss later and hope to produce another research pdf file for sale on etsy, in due course (70% completed so far).

Tambour Chain Stitch Rose 1


Then I made a video of the Roumanian Stitch Leaf pictured down here on the right.  The way I have worked this stitch on the video, is based on vintage diagrams of instructions, where you can see the needle is angled to produce a surface pattern that is more naturalistic for leaves and petals, say:

Roumanian Leaf


Incidentally, while making all these leaves, I decided to go back to what I understood about Wide Stem Stitch stalks and Stem Stitch filling generally.  The great thing about Wide Stem Stitch is, in certain sections, it often looks like Satin Stitch but is so much faster:

Wide stem stitch filling

I think my next video will probably bring that study together?

g2g ppl!


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Daisy Brooch Construction Tips, Stash-Buster Throw and Historical Tambour Chain Stitch

“It rained and rained from page 64 to page 123, said Piglet…”

How I made the Daisy

I said I would show you how to make the little petals for the ‘Spiral Buttonhole’ stitch daisy (see last post).

Working with woollen yarn this time to make it easier to see, first of all I secured the Cord row to my snippers.  Making sure the guard covered the blades at all times!  Then dangled it across my lap in the direction I was about to stitch.  Right to left for lefthanders and left to right for right handers.  This tensioned the  quasi warp thread and made it considerably easier to stitch over.  (I’m left wondering  if that could, possibly, be how they made the posy in historic times?)

Cord row anchored to snippers

Here’s a close-up of the first two petals and you can see I’ve also made the first half of the third petal.

Petals first row of buttonhole stitches

Its at that point that you turn the work and fold down the Cord row and go back into the tops of the buttonhole loops in the standard way.  This action is very similar to crocheting Irish Crochet over a foundation cord. 


In the image above you can see how straight the Cord row remains while working in this way.

How to take the stitches for left handed

Above you can just see that I am coming to the end of the last row to make the petal.

The whole thing is easier and much more stable than you would first imagine.  You continue stitching steadily and are thus able to stack your stitches into very compact rows.

4 petals complete

And there you have 4 completed petals, with everything tensioned and curling slightly.

The completed petals look remarkably like woven picots or ‘hanging’ Cluny leaves in Tatting.  After that I wanted to see how it would look to ‘weave’ in this way over a 4th and 5th row, but unfortunately ran out of time.


Long Digression on the Tyranny of a Bulging Stash

Abandoned afghans for me tend to be due to not really having enough room or daylight opportunities to spread all the yarn choices out, to work out satisfactory colour combinations.  I can remember most of the colours I have, but combining them has to be a physical exercise, where you can see ‘colour vibrations’ happening.  So, as I was in the attic last weekend, I decided to stop using organizational tubs for long-term storage, and make use of them as portable organizers instead…

Yarn stash

But you know what, it occurred to me that I cannot be alone in thinking that what was once my humble stash, is now bordering dangerously on hoarding.  I’m not quite sure how this happened? Especially as my philosophy in life has always been to ‘travel lightly and not be a problem to anyone’. 

However,  if you watch these absurdly fascinating documentaries on ‘Hoarders’, you can’t help but notice some unsettling similarities in yarn stashing and hoarding.  Most of all, the overwhelming reluctance to throw anything away (?).

I was comforted to learn that the first piece of advice hoarders are given in finding a solution or ‘cure’, is simply to stop acquiring!

I’ve decided to take that advice for myself and de-stash my way to more space and hopefully, clearer thinking!


Roses & Daisies Throw by Melody Griffiths

It therefore follows that in an effort to de-stash in a big way, I decided to make what I consider to be the ultimate stash-buster blanket, because in it we’re instructed to use ‘even the tinniest scrap of yarn’.   Its called the ‘Roses and Daisies Throw’ by Melody Griffiths.  

I’ve wanted to make that blanket for a long time and now, as I badly need the space, its something I can add to, as and when.  Here are 25 squares, but alas a few of these will not make the final selection as they are not in keeping with the pictured blanket. 

Roses & Daisies Throw - granny squares

Its so funny how even when you start a so-called ‘stash-buster’, you end up having to buy yet more colours? 

Anyway, in short, the further I get into this pattern the more I realise I don’t want any old blanket, I want the blanket in the illustration  - oh no, hear we ago again! 

In the book version of the pattern that appears in ‘Crocheted Throws’ by the same author, we’re given a handy little watercolour chart to assist in colour planning.  I have analysed the little chart and am afraid to say, sadly, it does not correspond to the blanket that’s pictured!  This is highly disconcerting to say the least, and means I will have to sit and try to work out exactly how the designer put the colours together, because after all, the strange thing about ‘random’ is that, its really difficult to be ‘random’!  I would like to add though, that I still totally adore the pattern and put it in my all-time top 5 granny square patterns. 

The daisy squares take me 30 minutes to make, including cream border and the roses about 35.  I plan to speed up once both patterns are firmly memorized.  Choosing the colours takes the longest time and as that is a daylight task, I have only managed 25 squares so far.  Each side of a square should have 16 stitches, including the corner stitch.  

Tambour Chain Stitch Bud

Tambour Chain bud

Next time I plan to talk about Tambour Chain stitching, or rather: where historically, crochet meets embroidery to form a very addictive union!

Gotta go ppl!