Friday, February 25, 2011

And Suddenly! Sparkly Threads!

I've finished the (white) blackwork stitching on Monarch:

Isn't it pretty? I think the pattern would look lovely left like this as it is reminscent of lace.

But the really exciting news is that I've started adding in the specialty stitches.

And lo, the sparkles magically (ha!) appeared:

You can see them better in this photo:

As you can see there are some seed beads in there as well, in the second border, which substitute for the original French knots (I loathe French knots, with a deep and abiding passion borne of long experience with trying - and failing - to like stitching them and so I substitute them all the time).  There is also a minor change in the colour order of the third border, the Celtic Knotwork, but there is good reason and I'll explain about the metallic thread conversions in my stitching review when I finish, as it's rather pointless trying to talk about that without context, and I did not intend to do so today.

No, today I wanted to talk about something altogether different - Specialty Stitches!

You see, I haven't actually worked specialty stitches in a long time. In ever, effectively. I have tried to incorporate them into designs in the past, but always felt that my stitches were too messy and never looked quite right, so I ended up taking them out again. I have fallen in love with designs that used them extensively in the past, and I always meant to get around to trying them, but I always put it off. I did add a sort of star stitch to several Christmas ornaments I did in December this year, but that was more by accident than design.

It's just that specialty stitches always seem so, well, complex. And more like embroidery than cross-stitch. Logically, cross-stitch is a form of emboridery, sure, but specialty stitches seemed, to me at least, to be denizens of the world of pulled-thread work, hardanger, and free-form stitchery, and didn't seem to have much place in the rigidly charted world of counted cross-stitch. And, truthfully, I've always found them a bit intimidating.

So, when I fell in love with Monarch and was generously gifted the chart, I was a little alarmed that I might be in a bit over my head. I loved the look of the specialty stitches that Jeanne used, those being Algerian Eyelet, Smyrna Crosses and Upright Crosses (as well as the substituted French knots) and variations thereof. The stitches themselves go by many different names, but the form will likely be familiar to you. They certainly were to me.

Instead of panicking about it, while doing the blackwork I sort of pushed it into the back of my mind and mulled it over. I thought about ways to fill in the colour using regular cross-stitches and fractionals, and had pretty much resigned myself to doing so. But the longer I looked at the chart, the more I wanted to at least try the specialty stitches, until - at last! - something clicked.

When I was young, I wanted to draw stars. I could draw every other geometric shape, but I couldn't draw a star. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the connection and my points were not only wobbly and all over the place, but I could not manage to even get the right number of them! This went on for, what seemed to my younger mind at least, a long, long while. I wasn't used to not being able to do something I wanted, with enough practice, and it frustrated me greatly. It wasn't until I was sitting and drawing with my Grandfather one day, and he noticed my plight, that things turned around. He listened to my problem, and then he thought a while.

Finally, he asked me if I could draw triangles. Well, of course, I could draw triangles (obviously). He drew one on his paper, and told me to draw one on mine. I remember being very dubious at the time and quite upset that he didn't seem to understand that I wanted special stars, not plain old triangles. Then, he said to me something like "A star is really only two triangles, that go in opposite directions, laid one on top of the other", and he demonstrated by drawing another triangle - this one point down - over the one already on the paper that had its point up. I copied him, still uncertain. But then - I had my star!

Once I saw the connections, it was ridiculously simple.

I made all my stars like that for years, and even when I learned to draw them freehand, I always remembered the overlapping triangles and could always see the connection. I still do, all these many, many years later. And when I looked at the specialty stitches on Monarch, really looked at them, I saw a form that looked familiar. The Upright Cross-Stitch, after all, is only a Cross-Stitch tilted at an angle. And from there, it wasn't hard to see that a Smyrna Cross was only actually a regular "x" cross-stitch overlaid by a tilted "+" upright cross-stitch! And from there, well, the Algerian Eyelet was much the same, only with the ends of the stitches going down into the common meeting point of the center so that the stitches, when all put in, pulled the center out leaving a small circular opening, or the 'eye' of the eyelet.

And with that in mind, I enthusiatically threaded my needle with my metallics, and started in on the specialty stitches, slowing filling the lacy white frame of Monarch with sparkling, shimmery colour. I will not lie - the first few stitches were a bit difficult, especially all those oblong diamonds that are turquoise in the picture, as the tips of the elongated Smyrna crosses ended in fractional stitches and it took a bit of figuring to arrange how to place the fractionals without piercing the blackwork (I developed a useful trick that I'll be sharing later on in detail in another post).

So - they may not be perfectly formed. They may, indeed, be quite a bit lopsided. They may even be not quite rightly executed. But, they are, quite finally, my very first attempts at making the shiny stars of the stitching world, and I couldn't be happier with how they have turned out. And I hope that if you have had reservations about specialty stitches that are similiar to mine that this little epiphany might inspire you to take out your needle and stitch them with a new perspective. Because right now, my only regret is that I waited so long.

In this instance, I can honestly say - Thank You, Grandpa, you taught me everything I know ;) I just won't say it loudly, because I'll never hear the end of it. *rolls eyes*

Happy Specialty Stitching and Beading to All!

I'm off to add more sparkly threads.

(There are many sites on the web that provide tutorials about working specialty stitches. For some simple and clear stitching diagrams, I like the extensive archive at Johanna's Needlework Stitches, particularly the Cross Stitches and Variations, which includes the Smyrna Cross and Star Stitch, and the Pulled Thread Stitches that include the Algerian and other Eyelets. Designer Ellen Maurer-Stroh also has a useful list of Stitching Diagrams)


Jeanne Dansby said...

Wow! I love what you've done!

Flossy said...

Wow! That's looking fantastic! I know what you mean about speciality stitches being a bit intimidating but it's nice to have a bit of a challenge too!

Flossy x

CrazyStitcher said...

What a wonderful blog post!

Your WIP looks even more amazing and beautiful with the seed beads and sparkly threads.

I was interested to read that you're not a fan of French knots. Is there anyone who does actually enjoy them?

Thank you for providing those useful links at the end of your post. I don't think I've ever knowingly tried my hand at speciality stitches, but now I feel quite eager to try. x

Rainy Day Crafter said...

It's looking so beautiful with the sparkly threads, and the colour really gives it a different dimension!

I'm definitely with you on the french knots too by the way!

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Wow! Thanks for all the lovely comments and encouragement!

Jeanne - I'm so glad you like it!

Flossy - Challenges appeal to me very much, as you can tell. In crafting and life, I always think it's better to try to do what you like and fail than to play it safe and do things you don't really care for just because you can :)

CrazyStitcher - Thank you very much! I haven't actually met a French knot fanatic yet, but I do know that there's a lot of people who do Candlewicking which is basically *all* French knots! Eek! I hope you find the links helpful - and I say, go for it! Like I said, I feel really silly to have waited so long to try specialty stitches, and for passing so many patterns over just because they had them. Good luck, and post pictures ;)

Rainy Day Crafter - Thanks for your nice words. I think we'll all have to join together and form a No To French Knots! support group :) Seriously, I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who can't stand them!