First, I filled in the last border of the Monarch square:
As you can see, this fifth border is the last and final (following what I think of as the Blue Diamond Border, the Beaded Border, the Celtic Knotwork Border and the Blue and Gold Border). This one is really special, because it brings all four colours together, and has these awesome corner finials that have a diamond with one stitch of each colour! I really like these because I think the circular shape echoes back to the central medallion and the multi-coloured, eight-pointed star.
This is also where the filling stitches and colour suggestions stop on the chart, as Jeanne has, quite wonderfully, left it to the stitcher to fill in the Variation points of the diamond. So, I put on my thinking cap last night, and I tried out some different things.
One of those things did not work. At all. You see, I had this idea of where I would like to add some additional seed beads to reflect on and expand the lovely Beaded Border. My initial idea was a few here and there for highlights. But then, filling in the topmost diamond, I got bead crazy! Seriously! I had almost every free space filled in with a bead. So many spaces, in fact, that there was hardly any black fabric left to be seen! I was, in all truth, rather smug at my beading prowess. You see, it has also been a very long while since I've exercised my beading imagination on my (poor defenseless) cross-stitches, so more meant better.
But, as I pulled back a little, and put it down for a few minutes, I wondered what I was thinking. It was too much. Far, far too much. And it really obscured the beauty of the arch. Thankfully, I had only done the one, so I spent a good half hour sheepishly taking it all out. My smugness had evaporated. But this turned out to be for the very best, as I then took up my beading needle with renewed determination and added (much fewer) beads in the (much plainer) pattern I had initially intended, and was (much more) pleased with the end results.
Behold! My Magnificent Monarch Variation (yes, I am quite humble, aren't I? *wink*):
And a close-up of the topmost arch of the diamond:
You can't really see much of the archwork in the photo of the whole work, and I apologize for that. It was hard to take a good picture, as it is a good-size piece. But, all four arches of the Variation were stitched the same. As you can see, I put a trio of staggered beads on a diagonal between the fourth and fifth borders, and then a small sprinkling of beads from the bottom to the top of the arch, three on each side. After much debate, I decided to leave the sides of the arches and the lattice work beneath each arch medallion white, to better set off the colours elsewhere. The sides of the arches are a repeat of the fifth and final Monarch border, but as they are diagonal, the diamonds are much smaller and not really conducive to the upright crosses.
The finials of the Variation arches reflect back on those of Monarch, and really tie the motifs together. As the finials on the fifth border on Monarch are mirror images of each other, I wanted to make those at the top and bottom, and right and left, reflective of each other as well. I decided on a sort of harlequin-esque mix, in which the main two colours stay the same (the jewel mix and the turquoise) and the two supporting colours (the purple and the gold) are placed opposite. You probably can't see that, but I like how they turned out.
Actually, I quite like how the whole thing turned out, and that makes me very happy :)
I haven't decided yet how I'm going to finish it - with a traditional frame (which is what I usually do) or by making a sort of keepsake box. I've seen some interesting tutorials, and have two wooden boxes I bought a while ago for that purpose but didn't use (as I framed the piece instead), so I may try that. The geometric nature of Monarch would lend itself beautifully, I think, to being viewed from all angles, and that - to my mind - would make it great for a special treasure box. So we'll see about that.
For a stitching review, I'll quickly talk about what I used:
I worked my Monarch Variation on 14 count black Aida (from Charles Craft) in an 8" wooden hoop. For the blackwork, I used 1 strand of DMC pearl cotton (#8 - the size on the spool, not the more common #5 in the skein) in white. I chose pearl cotton for its wonderful sheen, but it had an unexpected advantage - as one strand is roughly the thickness of two strands of cotton floss, you get the coverage of two strands without any splitting of the strands or need to keep the threads even. You get really good tension, and the slightly thicker pearl cotton is a good match for the metallic floss, which tends to be a bit thicker than cotton. It fairly glows agains the black, like opal or moonstone.
Further enchancing the gemstone feel, I chose to use metallics for my specialty stitches. The reason I inverted the traditional white fabric/black stitches look of blackwork was so that the darker fabric might show off the sparkle of the metallics flosses better. It worked even better than I had intended, and this is definitely a combination that I'll be trying again.
You can view the original colourway here. I used two strands of each metallic. I've mentioned the colours before, but here is how they coordinate to the colours of the pattern: for the Yellow, I substituted DMC Jewel Effects (Light Effect E130); for the Green, I used Janlynn Turquoise (no colour number); for the Red, I used Mill Hill Antique Glass Seed Beads in 03003 (a metallic red) for the Bead Border and as additions to the work, and used Janlynn Purple (no colour number) for the red specialty stitches elsewhere; and for the Blue, I substituted DMC Gold (Light Effects E3821, formerly Metallic 5282). To attach the beads, I used one strand of Guterman 100% Polyester Thread in White (colour #20), using a size 12 beading needle. I anchored each bead with a cross (just like a cross-stitch, only going through the bead) to keep them fair. I find that if you use a tent stitch (bascially half a cross-stitch), as many suggest, the beads skew a little, so this little trick prevents that.
The chart, designed by Jeanne Dansby from WyrdByrd Designs, was incredibly easy to read, which I really appreciate, and included a page with helpful stitching diagrams for the blackwork. Even though I have been stitching for a while, I really appreciated stitching diagrams when I first started, and I still enjoy them as 'memory refreshers', especially when working in a technique - like blackwork - which I haven't used for a while. Although this design isn't yet available on her site, there is a large collection of free blackwork designs that Jeanne generously provides that you could adapt to try out this technique (note: I have added the link to my new Free Patterns page, so you can visit from here at any time).
I immensely enjoyed working this design, and very much recommend WyrdByrd Designs, as I will certainly be doing more of Jeanne's charts in the future. I can't wait to dive into her wonderful archive of free patterns! There may be some specialty stitches worked in too ;)
And finally - My Superly-Superiorly Skillful Secret to Specialty Stitches:
A sharp needle.
Yes, really. Have several sizes of sewing needles with sharp points at hand at all times. I discovered this a few months ago while working on a large design that used fractional cross-stitches extensively. I can't believe that I never thought of this before, but I used to patiently (and not-so-patiently) try to tease apart the weave at the center of the Aida square with the blunt tip of my tapestry needle in order to pass my floss through. And then, in a fit of flash-bulb inspiration (brought on by a great deal of frustration), I picked up a sharp-tipped sewing needle from my pincushion and used that to open up the weave. Simply poke the tip into the center where the threads are tight, and wiggle it a bit as necessary. And then use your tapestry needle to pass your floss through. And voila! A nice, neat fractional!
I have since found it very helpful to keep a number of different sizes at hand, to use depending on how large or small an opening I need. You can buy sewing needle packages with assorted sizes inepensively at most dollar stores or anywhere where sewing notions are sold. It has changed my attitude about fractionals completely, from nigh-on-impossible to surprisingly-possible. And you can stick your sharp, when not in use, in the corner of any extra fabric in your hoop! Or your own shirt, in a pinch, but be careful - sharps are sharp!
This little technique is immensely useful for specialty stitches as well, as most contain fractionals (whether 3/4 or 1/4 or 1/2). Monarch, for example, uses fractional stitches in several places, even in the blackwork. The Celtic Knotwork border, for example, uses them to form the delicate overlapping effect. So this is a very helpful hint to add to your personal Magical Bag of Stitchy Tricks :) I hope I've explained it clearly. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!
Thank you very much, Jeanne, for making this project possible for me.
I'm going back to my Twilight Angel, as soon as I've finished gazing at all the sparkle :) This, in all honesty, may take a while. Like, a few days. There's that much shimmer and shine!
But I can't guarantee that there won't be some more blackwork in the evenings...