Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Evolution of Design: Stitch Selection

I'm furiously working to finish this project to meet the April 1st judging deadline. Because of that, and spending all my time stitching, I had a period of time where I was not taking photos as I went along. This past weekend, though, I kept my camera on the table next to me and paused now and then to take some photos, and they show how I was progressing (or not!) through some design execution decisions. It seems that the closer I get to finishing, the more I end up ripping out and wasting time!

Let's look at the big leaves at the bottom of the piece as an example. They serve as the base of the piece, and where I would normally have some weight down there to anchor things (dense stitches, darker colors) this piece is much airier than the typical Jacobean designs I tend to enjoy. Making these leaves dense would be out of character. So I needed to find something that would work.

I decided to start by simply outlining the leaves in -- of course -- outline stitch! (Also known as stem stitch, depending on the direction you hold the thread.) Then I thought I would start with French knots along the "vein" of the leaf:

My next thought was to use Seed Stitch to form some shading, as I did in the Tudor Rose. This is typical of Elizabethan crewel, where the long and short soft shading had not come into favor yet. Seed or Speckling Stitch was used in various densities to accomplish shading (lots of stitches closer together for dark shading, fewer stitches farther apart for lighter areas.) This image (I believe it's from the Victoria and Albert Museum) of a blackwork piece illustrates what I'm talking about:

So I continued my French Knots a bit further into the leaf and then transitioned to seed stitch in a slightly lighter color to try for the effect I was looking for. I was not impressed with the results:

I'm not sure if it was the different color, or the seed stitch execution (I have some trouble keeping them consistent in size. As simple as the silly little stitch is, it can go wrong very easily!) Out came the scissors and the tweezers -- can't live without my Uncle Bill's Tweezers! -- and out came the seeds. This is NOT an easy stitch to remove, by the way. You have to be very careful not to snip the fabric!

Next attempt was just using French Knots:

Better, but there was still something wrong. Can you see? The knots I put in origianlly were bigger than the ones I added, and there is a perfectly good reason for that. I wrapped my thread twice on the first ones, and only once on the later ones. I have read instructions that say "never wrap twice" and other instructions that say "always wrap twice". I tend to change based on what effect I'm going for. At the very least, though, in something like this, I needed to be consistent! Out came the scissors and tweezers AGAIN (at least these were super easy to rip out!) and I tried again.

Finally! I was happy with the results. The next challenge is to get the mirror image leaf to look the same :-)

I was told a long time ago (by my Mother, of course!) never to be afraid of ripping things out. If you don't, you'll always look at it, even years later after it's been hanging on the wall framed, and wish you had. My Mother even took a piece down, took it out of the frame, and ripped out a flower that had been bothering her for years. It can be frustrating and feel like it's wasting time, but it's really just perfecting your work and your vision.

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