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.

Pennsylvania Dutch Tree

What is old is new again! This is a candlewick embroidery project (yet another aspect of sewing I had never heard of – though it kind of makes sense considering I was all of 4 years old at the time this hit the shops, as marked by the printed date on the bottom of the fabric!).

In the April embroidery guild meeting, we each got to rummage through items from one of the former members who had passed away recently. Since I am new to the guild, I did not know this person and it did feel a bit awkward sorting through her items but we were assured we could take as much as we wanted. There was so much stuff, it was pretty neat to go through. Unfortunately for me, it was entirely cross-stitch with patterns that clearly were from the 80s – just not my style. Or, so I thought! Mixed in with these items was this adorable panel that clearly deserved me to complete it and hang it up in my craft room, wouldn’t you agree?

Candlewick embroidery is the art of using knots (originally out of thread for candle wicks, if you can believe it!). This pattern called for colonial knots, which I also had never heard of. A quick google told me that it can be used interchangeably with french knots since they look the same. I struggled with it at first, the same way I struggle with crossing my arms “the other way” (cross your arms with “the other arm” on top; I dare you to try it, ha!). I really had to think with each knot at first, and in fact had to rip out the first flower to begin anew. Somehow I ended up simply making backwardly-wound french knots. While I like french knots, they can frustrate me. Mine tend to stand upright and therefore be spikey rather than flat and rounded. Once I mastered the colonial knot, though, I joined the ranks of those who prefer it. The knot does what I want it to do! Huzzah!

The pattern, called Pennsylvania Dutch Tree, is from the Creative Circle, and designed by Charlotte Reilly. I checked google and you can find it on ebay. I hope to find the other two panels that match and then transform them all not into something to be framed as suggested by the pattern, but a mini-quilt to display on my blank craft wall. Wish me luck!

embroidered buttons

My embroidery guild is hosting the State Day this year, so each member is assigned to make two buttons. I enjoyed making such tiny (one inch) pieces so of course I made more (and I might still, yet!).

This pattern might look familiar to you: it is the same I used for my O-hoop.

Oh, and my gosh, have you seen this Monoprice Ultra-thin Light Box?! Holy smokes, it is amazing. And not cost-prohibitive. And it comes in two sizes so you can pick what is best for you. And it dims for the perfect amount of light. My neighbor/step-mother-in-law got one and I was dumbfounded that I hadn’t heard of it and that it was so cheap.

My second button pattern came out of a book my sister-in-law bought for me: 500 Simply Charming Designs for Embroidery. I am no pro when it comes to satin stitching but I am getting better with every effort.

This pattern came out of a book I picked up spontaneously once at one of the few brick-and-mortar stores still in the area (in the next county over! I am so sad to see them vanish). It is called Scandinavian Stitch Craft. I have since added that part of the world to my bucket-list and will likely want to buy all the things. There is a local Vikings shop that deals in Nordic, Scandinavian, Sami, etc items and we picked up this Ekelund Kuse table runner. I pretty much love everything in that shop – even the jewelry (which makes me sad because I am not a jewelry kind of gal but if I were, this would be where all my monies went!). In fact, the owner has made several pieces used in the HBO series – how cool is that?!

This last one is just a lot of colonial knots. You’ll find out why I became a huge fan of them in a later post:) Down with the french knot!

We will be transforming our creations into actual buttons at a future guild meeting.

ribbon candy ornament

My MIL and I attended our first embroidery guild meeting in March. The project for the meeting was a ribbon candy ornament by Calico Crossroads using perforated paper. I hadn’t heard of such a thing! But, I signed up for it and worked on it here and there since. Mostly, I did so when I was waiting for the rain to stop in Zelda: Breath of the Wild (❤️).

It was quite monotonous and not my favorite: it uses so much thread, and only about two inches gets done within 45 minutes! (I didn’t time it, but that’s how long the TV show is that I used to get me through when I wasn’t playing Link.)

I did mess up here and there: to make it double-sided, you must make each slash twice before moving on to the counter-slash that forms the “X” or cross (also making that one twice). Sometimes I forgot if I had done only one, or already two. And the backside is a bit messier because I did not always catch my tails neatly, as you can see in the above photo.

It’s sewn paper – hello! I cringe at the thought of what will become of this piece of paper in the years to come! In the end though, for now, I have a dangly ornament that matches my craft room. And, I did finally perfect the double-stitch, so there is that!

cross stitch bunny

So in yesterday’s post, I mentioned that the embroidery guild gave us a needle book and a pattern to make a bunny on the cover. Well, ta da!

I added my own little details: french knots in the top and bottom border, eye, and nose; a two-color vertical line at the spine; and rather than long stitches, I made some Turkey work for a puffy tail (I learned how in the Craftsy Stumpwork class videos).

[P.S. I no longer have Aperture for photo editing, (thank you Apple – NOT!)  and to be frank, I have not had a chance to learn more than the very introductory basics inside the replacement, Lightroom. Aperture had a handy auto “quick fix” feature that I haven’t located yet in the new program (fingers crossed it is there somewhere!), hence the somewhat less than stellar images of late. I just cannot get myself to care about photography or real photo editing – I miss my auto button, bah!]

cross stitch 101

One of the things I’ve done this year is sign up for some creative classes. Craftsy was offering a buy-one-get-one event in January so I enrolled in my first two: Embroidering Texture and Dimension by Hand with Sue Spargo and Stumpwork: Raised Embroidery Essentials with Celeste Chalasani. I like to only work on one major project at a time (otherwise my life would be chaos) so I started with Sue’s but it is still a work-in-progress so I will have to share that with you later.

In the meantime, I found a somewhat local embroidery guild, Needle Artisans of Northwest Indiana, and they happened to have a free cross stitch class at my county library this last weekend so I asked my MIL to go with me (she’s done cross stitch for a good chunk of her life but is interested in what the Guild itself might offer). I have never tried cross stitch because I am self-taught and thought cross stitch might be too… uncompromising? Additionally, a lot of the patterns are boxy and though pixelated images are in vogue now since Minecraft and whatnots, it just isn’t my style. Yet, I do appreciate and adore antique cross stitch, so there’s my conundrum for ya.

I was very pleased with the event! The library had some books set aside related to cross stitch and embroidery. There were two table areas set up; one for members who brought projects to work on during the class (a nice variety!), and one for the class itself. They had several volunteers acting as teachers for us newbies and ran through the basics of needles, threads, cross stitch fabrics, and tricks. There was a third table set up with show-and-tell projects, too, so we could see some finished handiwork.

I was not sure I would learn much other than whether I liked cross stitching (cross stitch seems rather simple and I know about threads and whanot through embroidery) but it is so true you can learn something new every day! I learned three things that is ridiculous I never knew. First, I’ve been separating threads wrong my whole life! I always peeled them apart, like a Twizler pull-n-peel (and mumble at the occasionally knot). Instead, you just grab one, and hold the rest between forefinger and thumb as you gently pull. Duh! The other thing I learned is that the thread brand I use most, DMC, tags one of the paper loops with a handy little symbol (pun intended!) so you know which end to pull from so as to avoid knotting it up. And last, I don’t need to make knots, because I can just capture the tails under my other stitches. Why did I not know these things?!

The guild provided us printed directions, fabric, thread, tapestry needle and wooden needle case, and a baggie to take it all home in (each table also had scissors and a metal needle threader for us to borrow). We began learning with this tiny little “I like you” balloon image which I adore because it is something Boy and I often say to each other.

We were given a choice of needle book size, small or large, for a bunny pattern. I picked the large one to get more practice since the smaller one would not fit the border. I am working on it now.

On top of that, there was a pile of free sample kits to choose from when we finished. I chose these little picnic ants and finished it the same day, on our way to Chinatown (my brother was in town so my husband and I went with him and our Chinese friend for the Lantern Festival).

Overall, I was quite delighted and will probably become a member even though they aren’t located as conveniently as I would like. Their mission is focused on education, and that’s what I want out of it! There are two local area shops they mentioned, as well as a convention happening this spring in Chicago. Super excited to see where this takes me!