Corbet’s Stitch Sampler: W

As a self-taught sewing beginner, I have not purchased many patterns. Almost everything sewn here at theCrafties has been found through the generosity of people providing their ideas for free online (or gifted to me by people I know!). However, as I am moving into an intermediate level, I have begun to look for specific projects. Scroll down to see my hand embroidered letter W!

I find myself always drawn to two lovely ladies: Sharon B of Pintangle and Mary Corbet of NeedlenThread. It is not that they are the only ones up to such rich encrusted embellishments of embroidery; nay – many creative stitchers abound on the Great Internet! I just find their writing styles pleasant and their love of teaching their craft to others to be inspiring. I am always learning something new with them, and they are not afraid to show their own humanity in flaws and disappointments which helps me stay in the game myself when the craft has begun to frustrate me.

So anyways, one day I want to create a masterpiece of a crazy quilt like Sharon. I blame my Aunt Sandy et al. for starting that. (In fact, that quilt may be the singular reason I picked up embroidery!). And one day I want to sew as regularly (and as amazingly) as Mary and be hip to the history of what I am doing (part of the reason I joined the EGA and local guilds; in fact, if I could blend anthropology and art history and needlework, I would seek out less European varieties and become their master!).

When I saw that Mary was selling her Stitch Sampler Alphabet, I just had to have it. Of course, it was scary. How could I possibly recreate such lovely letters? I printed out a color copy at Boy’s office and used his book-binding machine to make a shelf reference copy, but she is quite right! The electronic copy is amazing for quick link referencing and blowing up images! Then it sat on my shelf between alternating periods of me drooling over it and shying away from it. But then our friends Tim and Becky came in to the picture: they were getting married and what better gift than a hand embroidered letter W for their new shared last name?

Hand Embroidered Letter W (Mary Corbet)

I did not have the appropriate type of threads available, so I used a couple of strands of embroidery floss. I am still looking around for a brick-and-mortar store that carries more varieties in types and colors. I might have to give in and buy them online in the future. Oh, Amazon and such, why must we have a love-hate relationship? It turned out completely fine, though I did consider redoing it if I could find the right threads (I checked one more shop a county over, but to no avail). Mostly, it was the braid stitch that looked a bit thin.

Hand Embroidered Letter W (Mary Corbet)

Overall though, I was quite proud of my W, and had no idea that such “complexity” was actually pretty simple. In fact, I had done this project before the blackwork heart, and that is one of the reasons I had originally scoffed at blackwork being anything more than simple stitching. Heck, if I could do this, of course I could do that! Looks are so deceiving.

Hand Embroidered Letter W (Mary Corbet)

I used seven colors, and I think nine different stitches. I had previously only knew two of those! In a single letter, which took only a few hours, I had learned seven brand new stitches. My favorite is the scalloped buttonholed chain stitch. I had always wondered how people did that!! At first I was afraid to pull too tightly, but once I realized that wasn’t an issue, I crammed them on there and, pop! Scallops!

I stuck the hand embroidered letter W in a shadow box and had big ideas. Their theme was simple and rustic, and I found a small stem of cherry blossoms that matched their invitation, as well as a tiny canning jar. It was gonna be awesome. But the tiny jar was still too fat, so I had to scrap that idea. I tried a couple of others: a string of pearly beads to mimic a string of lights. Nope; that just clashed. A band of crocheted ribbon – I liked it on the bottom, but it was too much for the top. A “Mr&Mrs” woodcut; it looked off in bare wood so I painted it their colors of brown and pink, and nope. Looked horrible. In the end, after time ran out and all craft stores had been searched, I left it as a simple ribbon at the bottom and let them decide if they wanted to add to it. But of course, I did not take a finished photo! Why must I always forget that final step so often?!

Hand Embroidered Letter W (Mary Corbet)

Luckily, Tim and Becky loved it and sent me a photo of it on their bookshelf, so you kind of get the idea of the finished project:

Hand Embroidered Letter W (Mary Corbet)

EDIT: Tim brought the hand embroidered letter W back for me to photo. How nice of him! :D

Hand Embroidered Letter W (Mary Corbet)


Wrapped hoops

One of the things I am trying is wrapping my hoops. I first learned of this from a Craftsy class for Celeste Chalasani’s Stumpwork: Raised Embroidery Essentials (no, I have not started this project yet; I need more time to feel ready for it!). I know that several people I follow with feedly tout its importance, but I hadn’t really ever had issue. Of course, I hadn’t really ever sewn much either. Before I start Celeste’s class, I decided I really needed a wrapped hoop since I would be using a fabric I am unfamiliar with (I’ve only done cotton and linen to date). If a professional who is teaching me is telling me that I need something, by golly, I am going to listen and consider it seriously (why was that concept so hard for my university students? They wouldn’t even buy the book!). That’s also why one of the first things I did was buy what I named Johnny 5 – I doubt you will see the resemblance, but I am quite fond of the critter:

It is a Frank A. Edmunds & Co’s universal craft stand that I found at a local craft shop with a super-duper coupon. It isn’t something I researched specifically before I bought it, but it was something I desperately wanted to try. So, when it was just 20 bucks, I said absolutely yes please! And   I. Love. It.   It might not be the greatest, and it might not last long, but it is awesome nonetheless. I should have bought one years ago. I was worried I would have to sit all proper like – nope! I can work it so that I am perfectly slouched as the usual, even sometimes with my leg crossed over it or while I am half laying on my side! Ha! (I know what you are thinking, but I can still maintain really good embroidery form, trust me;) I was worried it wouldn’t stand still – nope! It is pretty good and tight. I was worried my threads would catch on all the protruding gadgets – nope! Of course not, they are all at the top (and you can hide the hoop’s screw too). And – bonus – my light clips right to it so it is perfectly where I need it, no matter how I sit!

So anyway, on to the wrapped hoop story. I went in looking for twill tape as suggested by the professionals. I came out with super discount fabric tape from the scrapping section. It may be a bad idea; time will tell if it becomes unsticky or moves around or whatnot, but at the cheap price of both the tape and the bamboo hoops I have (since I haven’t yet committed to nice ones), I thought it would be worth a shot. So rather than my hoops being boring white, they are going to be covered in lovely designs!

No, you wouldn’t really ever see the lovely design unless you aren’t using them, and if you aren’t using them, you probably have them stashed away out of sight somewhere, that’s true. But I like the idea anyway – it’s a zakka life for me! The point of wrapping them is to keep your fabric tight in the frame and rarely I have noticed that my stitching fabric does get a bit loose at times but I just continue to sew on it as is. However, now with learning more complex stitches, it will behoove me to keep a tight set-up. Part of that is the cheap hoops I use that do not have a crevice for a screwdriver so I can only hand-tighten them, but I am wondering how well this wrapping business will correct the issue. They also say I should always remove the hoop after each sewing session, else I could permanently mark the fabric. This has not once been a problem for me, yet I did try it with the blackwork heart … but then I quit doing it after a few days. Baby steps, people.

Learning to Love Blackwork

At my last embroidery guild meeting, we learned how to do blackwork embroidery and were shown the EGA pattern Learning to Love Blackwork by Linda Dorril (if you become an EGA member, you will have access to it to try for yourself!).

I have come across blackwork embroidery on the great internet before, and I did not think much of it. It uses counted cloths which I haven’t been a fan of in the past, and it looked simple enough: a single thread with simple geometric designs.

Alas, I was naive. Blackwork is one of the most difficult things I have done in the embroidery realm. Counting really matters, and the more complex the design, the more focus needed! The method we used was the Holbein stitch, sometimes also called the double running stitch. I prefer calling it Holbein because it is named after Hans Holbein the Younger, a painter who visually preserved the embroidery in his paintings of Henry VIII (yes, that one). Some believe that his first wife Catherine of Aragon (whom survived his worst ill temper but that he divorced through annulment) made it a popular style for the well-to-do. I have an art history background, so I loved that it is part of Holbein’s world (I first was introduced to his “the Ambassadors” with a sneaky skull) and I really truly enjoyed Showtime’s The Tudors, so the combination was fascinating.

The most difficult aspect for me wasn’t the counting – I felt like I met my match in a world of sewing that married itself to another pastime of mine: puzzle-solving. It was neat; it was fun; it was surprisingly tricky sometimes. I kept exclaiming to Boy how I just couldn’t get over how naive I was before I began! By “skipping” every other stitch, sometimes it was difficult to know where you were going. No, the difficult part was that Holbein stitch is traditionally used on fabrics of cloth where you’d see both the front and back (like the cuff of a flouncy sleeve). Thus, the front and back needed to look identical and nice. The backside looking nice? Not my strong suit. Although the image below looks decent (except for the blurriness and giganto knots), I decided no one would be seeing my backside and just sewed as usual. I’d say about ⅓ is done in correct blackwork style, but the other ⅔ went off key a bit (okay, quite a bit sometimes!).

The other issue is that I went off the chart and tweaked the design without drawing it out. I shifted center; I expanded the shape a little; I added extra bits to fill in what I felt like were way-too-noticeable gaps. Perhaps that was seeking a level outside of my beginner skill. Much undoing, redoing, undoing, and redoing was had. But eventually I gave in to my frustrations and the idiosyncrasies I had created and decided I had a finished product.