Archive for the ‘Stitching’ Category

Having solved the design problems of the main design element by doodling on paper and on cloth, I’m now working on the technical problems of executing this design. The next step is getting the design transferred on to the fabric.

The first problem is the fabric. My doodle cloth is a nice, fine, smooth, firm linen. The jacket is made of Deva Cloth, described in the Deva catalog as “a sturdy, medium weight textured cotton loosely woven with a natural crinkle.” You may be able to see the texture of this fabric as it is shown in the catalog.


It is not smooth and firm. It gives. It stretches.

Second problem: the construction of the border. I don’t want the back of my embellishment to show. I want the inner part of the border to cover that stitching. To that end, I have deconstructed the borders, opened them up, so that I can put the design on the outside and stitch the outside only.

My first attempt to transfer the design involved my light table. I tried to place the jacket over the drawing and trace it with a white pencil. As you can see here, the top of the border is still partially connected to the collar, making a corner that I could not flatten enough to get a good tracing.


Not acceptable.

Next I tried drawing around the edges of the pinned paper shapes with the white pencil. My tools:


That also yielded unacceptable outlines. It is not possible to draw accurately with pencil on this stretchy fabric


Fortunately, I know several ways of transferring designs to fabric. The method I resorted to requires tracing the design on tissue paper with a marking pen, attaching the tissue paper to the fabric, then stitching a line of stitches through the ink line into the fabric. It is a tedious process, but it worked. Here you see one of my tissue paper tracings taped and pinned to the fabric with white stitches following the marked lines.


This process had to be repeated five times.  Then I carefully removed the tissue paper, in tiny fragments, leaving the white stitches on the jacket as my guidelines. In the process, I realized that the bottom Ss should not reach the hem, and so I repositioned them up an inch, which  meant I had to reposition the middle Ss.


At last, the S shapes are on the jacket, ready for stitching.


Getting this design transferred to the fabric has taken ten hours.

The next problem to solve is how it stitch the top Ss which are partly in the corner of the collar. I can’t hoop the fabric. Will I be able to keep it stable enough to couch the copper braid over the outline?


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At last I’ve embarked on a serious, designed project—embellishing another jacket. Here’s the inspiration:


This beadwork is on a knit jacket I saw daughter-in-law Carolyn wearing at Thanksgiving. It includes bugle beads, seed beads, and wooden beads, all in copper tones. Immediately I knew I wanted to have something like it. That’s why I carefully photographed it. Soon after, I bought, or maybe I already had bought, a black jacket, sleeveless top, and pants from Deva. But I couldn’t do anything with this inspiration until I had finished teaching the two Elderhostel courses I’d committed to offer here at Charlestown.

Here’s my jacket. It’s cotton Deva cloth, which is textured, kind of crinkly.


It has a stand-up collar, a two-inch-wide self-border down the front, and pockets. I plan to embroider the border, the tops of the pockets, the hems (or cuffs) of the sleeves, and maybe the collar, depending on the technical challenges that part may present.

As soon as I’d done all the sample doodle cloths I needed for the class, I began gathering materials for the jacket, first from my stash, then online. Here are some of the threads, beads, and copper metal threads I had on hand. You can also see some of my pencil and ink doodling.


Looking for design inspirations in books that included beadwork, I decided that I wanted to use silk ribbon embroidery as well. While I waited for the ordered beads and ribbons to arrive, I began doodling with pencil and paper. It didn’t take long for my favorite shape—the S, to appear in my doodles, but it did take a while for me to figure out how to draw it so I could stitch it and how to make a border design featuring the spiraling S.

After a lot of pencil design, I decided on the size, shape, and placement of the S, cut out paper Ss, and pinned them to the jacket, thus:


But an evening of looking at this arrangement made me realize that the Ss should be facing each other, thus:


(In these shots, the jacket is hanging over a white t-shirt with the collar pinned together in the lower one.)

As soon as I had a fixed S shape, I transferred it to a doodle cloth for experimenting with threads, beads, and stitches. The effect I want to achieve is of copper-colored Ss when seen at a distance, but I want a lot of texture and shading to achieve that effect. Here’s my doodle cloth showing a copper S on black linen.


Up close it looks like this:


And even closer, you can see the variety of materials and stitches I’ve used.


This is by no means what the final shapes, the final stitching, will look like. This is a doodle cloth. I’ve been trying out different ideas, seeking the look that most appeals to me. It isn’t finished. Also, I have not been able to get the color right in these photographs. In reality, the darker stitches are less red, more copper-like. Despite appearances, there are no blue beads: all are copper-toned, or pearl, but some are iridescent.  Now I think I know how I want to stitch these Ss–basically, at least.

And, by the way, there’s going to be silk ribbon stitching between the Ss. That part I haven’t designed yet, but I do have the silk ribbons in the colors I want to use. (Think I want to use.)


If I fill in six Ss in this textured manner, the project will probably take all year. And when I’ve finished working the Ss, I may not want the silk ribbon embroidery. Maybe just some copper beads. That’s okay: I’m working on something purposefully, knowing what I want to do, instead of just randomly, wildly, stitching.

Although I’m not “normal” yet, I’ve calmed down quite a bit. Now I can finish a task I begin without jumping up to do something else. I still feel kind of panicky and tremulous at times, especially in the evenings. Then I do not feel good. But I expect that this, too, will pass.

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In 1996, after visiting my doctor and my lawyer (working on getting Social Security Disability Insurance), I stepped off a curb to get into our car and broke two bones in my left foot. With my leg in a plaster cast up to my knee, already debilitated by ME-CFS, I searched my mind for something I could do and remembered a crewel embroidery kit I had begun working in 1979. When I became too busy with work and the arrival of grandchildren, I’d put the whole kit into a pillow case and stashed it away. Fortunately, I knew where it was.

Although I no longer liked the design, I decided to finish it. The design is based on the famous medieval tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn series, woven in “milles fleurs” style, popular in the 15th century, in which the background is filled in with “a thousand flowers.” Here’s one of the tapestries.


Here’s the design I stitched.

Even though I didn’t like it, I loved working with the crewel wools, learning the crewel stitches required for the different flowers, and seeing how I could create texture with these different stitches. The unicorn’s body is done in split stitch, which allows the stitching to form the shape, giving it dimensionality. (The color is off because I edited it to bring out the stitches.)

I even saved the stitch instructions from the kit, the only stitch instructions I had then. I still have them, yellowed with age.

Stitch instructions_0002 Stitch instructions_0001

When I had finished it, I decided to give it to my seven-year-old granddaughter, thinking she might like the fantasy unicorn. That’s why I signed it “Gram” and framed it in a gilt frame.

On December 26th, at my daughter-in-love Anne’s home, I saw this piece for the first time since 1996. It hangs over her bed.

It was making this embroidery that got me seriously interested in doing more with needle and thread. For quite a while I continued to work with crewel wool threads. It’s been a long time since I’ve done wool embroidery.

Soon after I’d finished the unicorn, I began working a crewelpoint design from a book, borrowed from the library. Crewelpoint is the combination of crewel stitches with needlepoint. With this project, I learned to work from a chart, rather than a design drawn on fabric, and I learned a few more stitches. It is also at Anne’s house. I’m touched that she has kept these beginner pieces of my work.

Another view. This design represents row houses around a square with vegetable gardens behind the houses and a flower garden surrounded by a hedge in the center.

A close-up of the center detail. Lots and lots of French knots, around the center garden and bordering all the backyards.

Self-taught from kits initially, then from books, for several years I worked variations on other people’s designs, trying many different techniques—cross stitch, needlepoint, traditional crewel embroidery, and other kinds of surface stitching. I became hooked on stitching. It became my new vocation.

But what about now? Last year I became so active, continually experimenting with different activities, trying to pacify my hyperactive body, that I produced very little needlework. I became involved in some activities that I can’t just abandon. There doesn’t seem to be enough time for the stitching I want to do. I’m hoping this is a phase I will outgrow. I hope I can go back to making things with needle and thread as a major, serious part of my life.

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Last May, when I was in the most manic phase of my recovery from ME-CFS, I could not sit still to stitch. I couldn’t bear to work on the Elizabethan embroidery I’d been laboring since January to learn. You may remember that hanging on my portable design board was a piece of orange silk scarf with some sample swatches of silks and some novelty threads. It had been there for a couple of years, I think, while I wondered what I might do with the materials. Here’s what it looked like.


Yesterday I finished the project I’ve been calling my crazy recovery improvisation. Now it looks like this. (Click to enlarge.)

You know that when I began, I had no idea of what I was doing. In fact, this piece is just a doodle cloth. There was never any design. Whenever I could make myself sit still long enough, I’d grab needle, thread, beads, or whatever came to mind and do something on this cloth. (By the way, every swatch, every patch, has been embellished.) I didn’t even count on keeping the darn thing. It was just a way to make myself do some stitching, something creative, something productive.

The closer I got to completion, however, the more I liked this crazy patchwork, this wild thing. So, how to finish it? How to make it presentable for display? It had to be stretched over foamcore to keep some of the sequin waste, motifs, and stitches in place. It couldn’t be a quilt-like wall hanging. It had to be firmly mounted. It also had to have a border, as I had stitched right up to the edges of the orange fabric. That made adding a border problematic. See what happens when I don’t plan?

I knew I wanted to use the purple scarf for the border, but it is thin silk, not sturdy enough in itself. I pulled out all my fusibles—6 or 7, looking for one that I could use to back the scarf.  No. Wouldn’t work.


I just folded the scarf so that I could use it doubled.

Ironing border

As you can see here, I had almost no margin of orange fabric to which to attach the border.

No margin

Moreover, the border fabric did not give me enough material to wrap around the foamcore and it is not strong enough to take the lacing to stretch the piece.  As backing and extension, I opted for more of my salvaged bedsheet. I hand-sewed strips of the cotton as extensions for the purple border, which then had to be hand-sewn to the orange fabric. Here’s the border, backed with white bedsheeting, pinned to the edge—barely.

Now what With the border attached, I was ready to mount the piece over padded foamcore—padded with two layers of Pellon fleece, wrapped over the edges of the board and glued to the back. Then began the lacing. Does anyone know a better way of stretching a large work like this over mounting board? I used fine crochet cotton for the lacing and the biggest-eye needle I could find.

First lacing

Using pins to hold the yarn/thread in place, I estimated how much I would need

Using pins

And what a lot of loose “string” I had to deal with, repeatedly tangled, of course.


But here it is, successfully laced and stretched taut.


Now, with such an opulent front, I couldn’t leave the back like this. Did I have a piece of fabric large enough to cover the back? The first piece in my under-bed stash that caught my eye was Tibetan brocade, the kind that’s used to border thangkas. I’ve had it and some other pieces of Tibetan fabrics for years.

The back

This brocade had to be hand-stitched to the wrapped-around border with the foamcore underneath. Not easy. Not easy.

And after I’d done that, I belatedly decided to put a label on it. I printed the label on cotton, then stitched over the printed letters and numbers. To attach the label, once again, I was stitching to fabric already stretched over board.

What a job of work I made for myself when I started this project—without a plan. Everything about it was so much harder to do than it would have been had I planned it out in advance, had I known what I was doing.

Nevertheless, I am surprised at how pleased I am with this project. Not elegant. Not, definitely not, impeccable stitching. Not refined. As far from Elizabethan embroidery as I could get with a needle and thread! Wild, exuberant, flamboyant. Crazy!

As crazy as I’ve been feeling since I began to recover. Though I am 100% functional, can do anything that my circumstances allow, I am still dealing with residual symptoms of ADHD—agitation and anxiety, restlessness, and difficulty getting to sleep. Some evenings I pace the hallways, sometimes seeing one or two other, perhaps equally frantic, inmates. I am not the calm, content, reclusive contemplative I was for 15 years or more. More work to be done, figuring this out.

Anyhow, my recovery crazy patchwork improvisation announces that I have recovered, right in the entry-way of our apartment. At Ernie’s suggestion, it is attached to the wall with Velcro.


Now I have to prepare to teach my course. I’m having even worse panic attacks!

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Lots has been going on here, which I will probably write about eventually. In the meantime, I’ll show you some details of the “recovery improvisation”—some far-out “patchwork.”





I’m just going on, no plan; but now I am motivated to finish this piece, to be finished with it.

I started working on this project in May, after weeks of not being able to stitch at all,  not knowing what I was doing. I still don’t.

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A few weeks ago I spent the night at my son Pete’s house. This was a first, and it was only the second time I’d been there. The first time was for the crab feast two years ago. (If you look at the last shot of the crab feast and compare it to the photograph below, you’ll see how much thinner I am now.)

In the guest room was a beautiful but badly worn throw pillow. Because my camera was in the shop being repaired, I had only my Flip video to use for showing you the state of the pillow.

As you can see, the stuffing was coming out at the bottom. The blue yarn cording was scuffed and scraggly. The gold metallic plate threads were broken in several places, with bits of gold thread hanging loose. The bugle beads were dull. And the whole pillow was covered with pet hair and dust. I offered to repair it and brought it home with me.

Here is the restored pillow.


I removed the stuffing and the tattered blue cording, and opened up the bottom edge completely. Fortunately, the blue soft cotton yarn I found online is a very good match with the light blue flowers. I got rid of the metallic gold thread of the border, replacing it with DMC gold metallic pearl in chain stitches exactly the same length as the original stitches.

The gold flower centers were unevenly stitched in the same gold I’d removed from the border, so I took them out and replaced them with satin stitches in the DMC metallic pearl. The dull gold bugle beads had been attached with black thread. To give them some glitz and glimmer, I ran a fine Kreinik gold cord through them.


In this close-up detail, you can see the new gold centers in the red flowers and you can see the difference in the light now reflecting from the bugle beads.

Karin’s mother bought the pillow some years ago in Europe. She thinks it came from Romania. It certainly is Eastern European folk art in style. The stitching is well-done satin stitching in soft cotton or wool yarn. Because the surface has been somewhat scuffed, I can’t be sure. The fabric is black wool twill.

It was fun to work on repairing/restoring this pillow, and I’m still enjoying seeing it in my room.

Now here’s a shot of the whole family at Pete’s house that Saturday night I spent there.

Click on it to see it larger at Flickr.

Luke, on the left, is now at Reed College where he matriculates this week. Pete with Noah is on my other side, then Michelle, who’s a junior at SUNY Purchase College, and DIL Karin

Happy time with Pete’s family.

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Here are the threads I’m working with on my improvisation. There have been others, already put away, but in the same colors. These include cotton in various weights, silk, rayon, rayon/silk, and wool.

My palette--roughly

It struck me yesterday as interesting. The only primary color I’m using is red.  No yellow or blue. They are present in the secondary and tertiary colors–green, purple, and orange in various shades and intensities. What kind of color scheme is this?

Here it is, hanging on its too-small frame on my portable design board. I have two more wrapped rings to embellish, on the far right, and some more patches of sequin waste to treat in some way.

More progress

I’ve used some of my homemade Sculpey beads. That was fun.

Sculpey beads

They appear elsewhere, too.

Then, how am I going to tie the disparate parts together? I still don’t know what I’m doing! Just fooling around.

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