As has been pointed out, if I were doing these wildflower embroideries in surface stitches rather than cross-stitch, I wouldn’t have to mess with graph paper and making smooth curves with little squares. I could capture every little leaf-tooth and petal-freckle. In truth, the results of the most sophisticated and life-like technique, thread painting, can be stunning.
So why cross-stitch? I’ve actually been giving this a lot of thought. There are several reasons.
1. That’s what Gerda did. It wouldn’t exactly be homage to Gerda if I wandered off into other techniques for my primary method. Gerda’s designs have been used for things other than cross-stitch (a topic for another post!), but cross-stitch was her métier.
2. Cross-stitch is easy to learn, and beginners can produce beautiful results. If a child is old enough to be trusted with a needle and scissors, they can be taught to do cross-stitch in under an hour. Their work won’t be perfect, but it doesn’t take long to become proficient enough to produce things that look pretty darned good. Surface embroidery stitches vary in complexity, but it can take years to become really skilled at thread-painting or shaded silk embroidery.
3. More people will attempt cross-stitch. One of the things I’d be thrilled to see happen as a result of this project is for more people to appreciate what Gerda did, as well as the beautiful plants that grow in Texas. Cross-stitch is going to reach a larger audience.
4. Cross-stitch is fast and portable. With practice, cross-stitch works up very quickly and isn’t fiddly. It can be worked in a hoop or in-hand, so chart, hoop, scissors, floss, and needle can go in any handy bag and travel wherever the stitcher does. Lectures, meetings, lunch hours, ball games–you name it. I don’t get travel-sick (New York city cab rides are the exception), so I can stitch in cars and on planes and buses.
5. Cross-stitch supplies are easier and less expensive to come by. You can do cross-stitch on expensive linen with silk and real gold thread, but you can also do it on cheap cotton Aida cloth with dime-store cotton floss. Thread-painting can be done with cotton floss, but it sure looks better in silk or wool.
6. Cross-stitch is infinitely scalable. A design that uses only whole stitches and a minimum of back-stitch can be worked on fine gauze or on relatively gigantic, 6- or 8-count afghan fabric or anything in between. All that changes is the type of thread and the number of plies used in the needle, not the number of stitches or the technique to make them.
Here is a gooseberry design of Gerda’s I stitched up years ago.
It’s on the padded cover of a wooden box that I stained green to match.
The box is a little over 2″ in diameter.
I could have done it on 14-ct fabric using three strands of floss, and it would have made a beautiful pillow top.
Scaling up a surface embroidery design can be done, but increases the time and skill necessary to cover a larger area smoothly, especially since the stitches themselves don’t scale up nicely beyond a certain size. More area = more stitches= more time + more money. A large design in wool or silk is going to be pricey.
7. Cross-stitch is worked from a graph or grid. A charted with all whole stitches and no back-stitch design like this is going to translate well to to other counted-thread or charted techniques such as needlepoint, filet crochet, duplicate-stitch on knitted goods, net darning, and so on. Graphs are great for mosaics and woven beadwork, especially since some types of beads (notably Delicas) are square in side view and come in a huge array of colors. There is even a conversion chart from DMC floss to Delicas!
8. Cross-stitch is good for things other than fabric. Anything that looks like a grid or mesh can be stitched on! People have done screen doors, colanders and strainers, smallish pegboards, big pegboards, woven chair seats, chair backs, and so on. People have even been known to replicate cross stitch in paint on walls:
9. And, after honoring Gerda, this is probably the most important: It’s a blast! It involves flowers, design, graph paper, and cool software, thread and fabric–what’s not to love? The challenge of capturing/charting flowers on a 2-dimensional grid is mental exercise. It’s like writing a sonnet–you can do whatever you like within the strictures of the art form. The fun/talent/skill/challenge is in working within those boundaries. Seeing them come to life in stitched form is the icing on the cake.
(cake made by Ana Salinas.)
So there you have it. My reasons for doing what I’m doing. Your mileage may vary, not affiliated, no paid endorsements, yadda yadda.
In a future post, I’ll look at some of Gerda’s designs that were interpreted in ways other than cross stitch.