A Bit About Thread

A word is needed here about thread.  The vast majority of Gerda’s designs were stitched in Danish Flower Thread, a thread developed by the Danish Handcraft Guild.  Gerda herself was an experienced dyer, and no doubt she had plenty of input into the resulting rainbow of shades.

dflowerthreadcard

You can still buy them today.  They’re not dyed with plants anymore, but the 130 colors are very similar to the originals.  More about the threads here.

I’ll be stitching with DMC thread.  DMC comes in 400 colors.  More colors are always better, more life-like right?  I’m going to need some of these for Texas’ wildflowers.  The bright pinkish-purple of pointed phlox really isn’t represented in Flower Thread.

DMC-chart

A closer look at the threads will explain my choice.  Danish Flower Thread is the teal thread on the left.  DFC is a matte (not shiny) cotton, rather soft and loosely twisted.  It’s non-divisible and is usually worked with one strand in the needle–and it can be very difficult to get that strand through the eye of a medium or small needle!  Because it can’t be subdivided, it is not useful on very high thread-count fabrics.  It’s about as thick as two strands of DMC (middle purple.)

DMC is a lustrous, mercerized stranded cotton. The six plies can be separated and as many strands as needed can be put in the needle.   (This also lets you blend colors!)  A single strand is thinner than a single strand of Flower Thread.  It works up as miniatures beautifully, down to about 30 to 32 stitches per inch.  It holds up a little better and untwists a lot less than Flower Thread when stitching,  and it is easier to get through the eye of a needle.  Finished work stitched with DMC has a bit of a sheen.

compare-flowerthread

For a Gerda design on 14 to 18 count linen, the soft matte Flower Thread looks just right.

flower-thread-stitched up

I like the look of the finished product, but I have to admit that I find stitching with the stuff, at least with the needles I have, to be annoying.  There.  I said it.

When I start stitching, it’s going to be with DMC.  Undskyld, Gerda.  Vær venlig at tilgive mig.

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Why Cross Stitch?

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.

gooseberry1

It’s on the padded cover of a wooden box that I stained green to match.

gooseberrybox

The box is a little over 2″ in diameter.

gooseberry full

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.

awesome cross stitch cake by ana salinas

(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.

Poink!

That’s the sound of bluets popping up all over.  There are five, and I think I’m done for now.

This is what a color chart looks like.  I don’t generally work from color charts—I’ve just shrunk this down and screen-capped this since, if you squint, it looks like they’re stitched on white.

bluets color chart

It’s more or less how big they’d be stitched over one on about 30-count.  Slightly bigger than life size.  Over two, they’d be twice as big–truly gargantuan, but recognizable as bluets nonetheless, I hope!

This is how they’d look stitched over-one on a very fine taupe fabric.

bluets-taupe

Oh, those colors are going to be so much prettier in actual thread!

And if you were masochistic enough to stitch them on 40-count silk gauze, they might look something like this.  On my laptop, that’s a bit smaller than life size.  They’re bitty!

tiny bluets

So after less than a week’s work I have a chart that makes five little bluets.  I can mix, match, re-arrange, flip left to right, repeat for a border, etc.  It’s a very versatile pattern.  I might have to dig out the waste canvas and put some on a sweatshirt.  Or a bookmark.

So that’s bluets and draba.  I’ve got one design that would be more or less life size stitched over one on 32 ct and one that will be about right stitched over two.  I probably won’t put the two in the same finished piece, but now I have some good proof-of-concept samples, and I am MUCH more acquainted with my software and its eccentricities.  I just need to figure out how to make it quit putting stray stitches far outside the boundaries of the actual design so that it wants to print a chart with umpteen pages, all but two of which are essentially blank graph paper, I will be even happier!  (Actually, I just figured out how to to select and clear all of the area of the workspace that is not actual chart, so I’m good.)

Looking at things, I’m not sure either of these designs says “Gerda,” but they do say, “Monique!”  It tickles me that, after processing my sketches through graph paper and a charting program, how the charts look so much like my hand drawings!  Style is not lost in the process!

What’s next?  I think I need to find the good paper and the perfect pen, sit down, and make pretty little lists of what plants I want to do, and which ones might be in the same finished piece.  Just looking at the names is soothing.

shepherd’s purse    golden hedge-hyssop   pointed phlox    toadflax    sweet clover  spiderwort    day flower   blue-eyed grass   buttercup.

This is a lot of work, but it’s also fun and exciting.  There’s a real thrill to watching an idea take form, and it will be even more fun to see a finished stitchery.  Guess I’d better go  leave out a saucer of bread and milk for the brownies.   They are coming to stitch up all my designs for me, right?

The Bluets Are Popping Up

So I drew a few bluets.  And then I drew a few more.  Now I have five of them, sketched and rough-charted.  Slowly, I’m putting them into the charting program.  Two are done so far.

bluets2-color

Again, the charting program can’t show a piece of cream-colored linen, and it doesn’t accurately portray the thread colors—the heart-shaped fruit will be a light green, not a brownish green—but this is enough to start with.  I can see a few leaves that need tweaking, and I might un-wiggly the stem on the right one, but overall, I think this says, “bluets” pretty well.

The flowers come in an assortment of shades, so there should be some nice variation.  I’ve tried to mix the greens up as well.  Of course, one could stitch all of them in the same colorway.

There Must Be Bluets

I’ve been pondering bluets…  They’re tiny, delicate, and gorgeous.

bluets-1353172_640

Whatever else, there must be bluets.

The Draba I’ve been working on (and I still have plans to revisit the first, larger one and un-stiffen it up a bit) turned out fairly well drawn actual size or a tad bigger and charted straight onto 16-count graph paper.  It can be one of the smallest plants in a lineup of actual-size plants.

That won’t work for bluets.  The flowers are so small that if I were to draw them life-size and go straight to graph paper, the flowers would each come out crudely and be made up of about six stitches.  Not good enough!

My plan now is to draw them two or more times life-size, chart them on 16-count graph paper, and then stitch them over-one, so they will end up tiny.  They can be stitched by themselves, they can hang out with other tiny plants (golden hedge-hyssop, I’m looking at you…), or they can be stitched over one in a design with big guys.

Here is my first set of sketches.  The plants can be a little fuller or a little less branchy, so these are about average.  This is Houstonia pusilla.  The other two local species are different as to color and proportion.

bluet sketch

You never really see something until you draw it.

One Good Draba Deserves Another

I’ve spent a couple of days now looking at the Draba I did.  I like it, but I could like it more.  The stem is completely straight, which doesn’t look very natural.  The plant is a little tall, and the tip of the inflorescence is a little too loose.  Surely, it wouldn’t hurt to take another stab at it?

draba2handchart

 

 

 

Here’s the hand drawn chart for a second, more-densely flowered specimen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the two plants in chart form.  Pardon the clunky backstitch.  The program has no subtlety.

draba2chart

And here is what they might look like on a grayish background.  Better together!

Draba2

I think I might be ready to stitch up a sample.  No chart looks as good as a finished product.