Friday, September 6, 2013

Chicken Scratch Heart, on Aida (!)

Er, this really wasn't the post that I intended to write today :) I had hoped to show you some of my fine crochet, just in case you're wondering (quite understandably) just what the heck I've talking about lately! But on a stormy Thursday night, the urge for some Spontaneous Stitching struck me, and this is what happened, LOL!

I blame my friend Karen (of Karen's Colourful Creations). No, I really do ;) Go and read her Chicken Scratch for the Soul and see the amazing tablecloth she's working on, but don't blame me if you get bit by the Chicken Scratch bug, it's catching :)

So, how did this happen? Well, I've seen Chicken Scratch hearts around before and always thought they were pretty. I hopped online and found this great free pattern, complete with instructions (and stitch illustrations) at Pegasus Originals, Inc., a cross-stitch design company who claim to have made the style popular in 1982.

This heart is their "starter project", and although I didn't realize this when I chose the pattern (oops!), they offer a detailed instructional video on Youtube that covers everything, including how to read the chart symbols. There is also a great two-part lesson with a smaller heart pattern on Sarah's Hand Embroidery Tutorials.

Armed with my pattern, I went diving into (just a very small part of) my Stitchy Guru Mother's Stash. She remembered some pink gingham, and I took this as a Sign that I was on the Right Path and should indeed start Scratchin'! Only it turned out that...

...the pink was just slightly smaller than expected LOL :) The other three are the rest of the gingham I turned up in my Stash Dive, the blue and brown are miniature too and the green is "regular" scale. I really like the blue, and my SGM thought I should go for it, but I wasn't up to trying it and - in hindsight - am very glad I didn't!

The green looks like a lovely Spring-ish colour in this photo, but on that dark and stormy night it looked, um, gruesome. Seriously, I thought the checks were avocado and tan :) Plus it's only a few long strips, only good for a bookmark and not my heart.

I had reached an impasse. A "gingham lace" pattern with no gingham on which to stitch it! The sensible thing would have been for me to put it all aside, but no. I was in The Mood. I wanted to stitch, and I wanted to stitch *now*!!! You know how it is ;)

Perturbed, I pondered. Alas and alack! If only I had some other sort of fabric with squares, I thought. And then it came to me (in a convenient and timely dramatic flash of lightning - it was very stormy out by this point, LOL) - squares = blocks. Blocks = Aida. AIDA!!! Mwahahahahaha....*cue evil genius laughter*

Now, Aida is the one thing I have plenty of. Or so I thought. The problem was that after this epiphany, I went wild and pulled out threads left and right! In the throes of the Spontaneous Spirit, I just pulled out my tote bag of floss and was immediately drawn to the beautiful DMC Colour Variations "Blue Lagoon" pack my Stitchy Guru Mother kindly gifted me at Christmas (which I'll review fully soon!) :)

I've been saving these threads for something special, but I'm trying to push myself to try them out so they don't end up sitting in the package for ten years. A noted side effect of the Spontaneous Stitching Spirit is a Devil-May-Care Attitude, which may or may not be a good thing, LOL! At least now I know how NOT to use them *sigh*

Anyway, I fell for the pretty yellow and pinks of CV 4095, and I pulled 776 (the darker pink) for the outside edges of the heart, 744 (the yellow) for an accent and later added 819 (the light pink). Although they aren't shown to advantage in the heart, I was pleased with the matches, especially once I saw them in sunlight!

I'm actually pretty impressed that I managed to pull such good coordinates in the middle of a thunderstorm by lamplight, LOL :) Just don't ask me to do it again ;)

But because the colours are so light, I needed a light Aida too! The pale yellow I used for my SAL Bookmark washed the yellow in the thread out, and my pink Adia made the pinks invisible. White was what I needed - and I had every count but 14!

Argh! I knew I was low, and I've actually been actively looking for a new package for the last few months - but Michaels has been all out of Charles Craft Gold Standard, the brand I prefer. It's a pretty sad day when you can't even buy white 14 count :(

So I used the only sizeable scrap I had, a bit of Charles Craft Silver Standard. This is the kind carried at Walmart, and I used to love it until I got this roll. CG SS is usually nice and stiff and great for working in hand, so it's ideal for small projects. This stuff is really soft, and it ravels and frays like you wouldn't believe! I've actually already ruined a bookmark project on it, but it was all I had at hand and I decided to use it up.

The Spontaneous Stitching Spirit, it seems, is indomitable and not given to practical considerations. I'm sure I'll be regretting using this soon enough when I attempt the final-finish of the heart. *rolls eyes* (I'm thinking of a little ornament)

I've also run out of Painter's Tape, my usual quick trick to prevent edge fraying, so you can see the edges raveled quite a bit, but it wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Because the Aida was so soft, it needed some stability, so I used a 5" wooden hoop.

Once I had my colours and my Aida, I just set to stitching! Unfortunately, I don't have any in-progress photos because it got really dark very fast. However, I did manage to get this one right after I had finished the outer row (in the 776):

This is the part I really enjoyed! It's just Algerian Eye stitch - called Double Cross Stitch in the pattern - done over a 2 x 2 block square! It goes super quick and easy once you decide on the directions and you quickly work up a rhythm. I definitely want to try using this stitch again by itself, I think it would look really neat :) I used three strands for all the Algerian Eyes. Then I did the filling ones in yellow (744):

It was all going along so smoothly and then - BOOM! - I hit a wall :( My plan was to use the overdyed CV as the running stitch and the wrapping (called Circle Stitch) wound around the running stitches. I thought this would pull the pink and yellow together nicely and make a pretty filling. I tried using three strands straight off the skein, but the colour repeats were too far apart for such a small design.

So I pulled four strands off my cut length, pulled two of those strands out, and then flipped them so the colourway was backward, combining the colour sections so both the pinks and yellows were together. Does this make sense? If not, just let me know!

The four strands made a fuller stitch and I'd recommend it. The blended thread was more subtle but looked so nice - until I did the wraps. Here's a close-up:

Once I had all the running stitches done (I did all the vertical ones first and then all the horizontal ones), I tried using this four-strand CV mix to wrap, but the shape of the stitch was lost. Then I tried three strands of the dark pink (776), doing two wraps as the pattern instructions suggest. It was better, but still sparse looking.

I had to cut them both out very carefully to avoid pulling the running stitches (eek!).

The wraps - Circle Stitch - was the part of the pattern that most excited me and I couldn't wait to reach them - but when I did, the whole thing went off the rails for me. Up to that point, I was enjoying an easy, quick stitch and was zipping along.

This part took me over twice as long as all the other work combined - including the fussing about with the overdyed colourways - and was frustrating! I didn't have any trouble with catching the running stitches once I switched to using a tapestry needle a size smaller (24 instead of 22), but I found the wrapping itself very finicky.

I settled on using all six strands of the light pink (819), pulled apart and recombined so they were extra fluffy, and did each wrap only once. This gave the circles a lot of height, as you can see, but wasn't bulky so the Algerian Eyes still show up.

I started each Circle Stitch at the top of the right arm of the cross formed by the running stitches, wove the needle under the top and left stitches with no problem - but that bottom stitch back up to the left arm is a doozy! No matter how I held my needle, the thread turns and twists, and makes that last stitch lie all wonky.

I persevered, obviously, but it was very hard going. Maybe I'm missing something? I don't know. I do think that using a single-stranded thread, like Pearl (Perle) Cotton, would make the wrapping easier because the twist wouldn't show so much then.

It was also really hard to make the wraps even! It's really easy to pull too tight, and if your wraps are even a little bit too loose you can't see the circle shape. The major advantage of working Chicken Scratch on Aida is that all the stitches are even, which makes it easier to get even Circle Stitches. Working on the traditional gingham with every stitch just so slightly different, would - I imagine - be quite a challenge!

And that strange name? Well, as Karen shows, the back looks like little chicken feet tracks :) Or at least it should! Mine, not so much:

Maybe if you squint a little? *tilts head*

Hmmmm. I think the chickens flew over this one, LOL :)

So there you have it! A Chicken Scratch Heart. On Aida, not Gingham!

This was a bit of a rollercoaster project for me: high ups and low downs :)

Do you ever have ideas in your head and then try so hard to make it happen only to have it turn out entirely different?! This happens to me all the time! Some turn into Happy Accidents ;) Others, like, this are just, well, Disappointments. At least at first, anyway. I finished my heart that same stormy night, and wasn't satisfied with it at all.

But my Stitchy Guru Mother wisely suggested that I wait until morning and look at it in the sunlight, and since then it's growing on me :) What do you think?!

If you'd like to learn more about Chicken Scratch, here are some places to visit:

~ Here's a beautiful example of a vintage apron;
~ Nordic Needle's Save The Stitches has a nice overview, with a free scaredy cat pattern that would be spooky for Hallowe'en stitched in black thread on orange;
~ Mary Corbet has several posts on Needle N' Thread, including a related tutorial for drawn thread work on gingham. But my favourite is this one, showing Christmas trees! And there is a a free design for a lovely tree on!;
~ Pink Paper Peppermints has an excellent tutorial and free cozy cottage pattern, with a great printable stitch guide! Evidently, Double Cross Stitch is also called Snowflake Stitch, which must be why Chicken Scratch is also called Snowflaking :)

And finally, here's a really pretty non-traditional take using sequins and seedbeads!

Many thanks again to Karen for the inspiration! Fine crochet is coming up next ;)


Karen said...

I would have never thought of using aida as a substitute! Great idea though and I think it turned out lovely. I lreally like your colours and I'm glad I inspired you to try something new. :)

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Aw, thanks so much Karen :) I'm really, REALLY glad that you like it!!! *whew* For a while there, I really wasn't sure if this was a disaster or not ;) I think I may have to look for some gingham...

Miss Lilly said...

This is lovely! The effect is really pretty :) I might have a go myself sometime....I do like an algerian eye and I don't normally have the chance to stitch them ^^

Beedeebabee said...

I love hearts and this one is such a beauty!!! I love your stitching and the colors you chose as well. So, sooo pretty! xo

pardalote said...

Wow, I've never hear of chicken scratch before, and it's beautiful! Love the colours too :-)

The Knitting Cross Stitcher said...

How pretty.I love the 3D effect ofthe sttvhes andour explanation of how your heart came into being.

Anne said...

I remember Chicken Scratch stitching!! I think my mom made a brown gingham tablecloth with orange thread back in the eighties. Wonder where it is?? Love your heart Aurelia! Such pretty colours!

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Wow, thanks so much for all the lovely comments! I feel so much better about the colours now, I really appreciate the input :)

@ Miss Lilly: Oh, you totally should give it a go! It's amazing how fast and addictive those Algerian Eyes are :) I'm thinking of a bookmark with nothing but rows of them in alternating colours...

@ Beedeebabee: Thank you so much :) You have a wonderful eye for colour yourself!

@ Pardalote: Aw, thank you so much! I don't know why it's not more popular, especially the more elaborate pieces like this!

@ Lesley: Thank you! 3D is a great way to describe it, I think it's the variegated threads that give it depth, so it was worth using them after all :)

@ Anne: Wow, it sounds lovely and perfect for Autumn :) Maybe your Mom still has it stored somewhere?! Thanks so much for your very kind words ;)

CrazyStitcher said...

I LOVE your Chicken Scratch Heart, and think it looks so, so pretty. If left as it is, I could just imagine it as a framed picture.

It would seem that Karen may have started something... I'm now toying with the idea of seeing if I can adapt the Chicken Scratch technique for my card-making.

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Thanks so much CS :) I may just try to find a little frame for it, something really simple. Chicken Scratch is so very addicting, I think that you could definitely adapt some of the motifs - especially the Algerian Eyes - to your lovely cars ;) Can't wait to see what you come up with!

Aurelia Eglantine said...

* cards (oopsies)

Stitching Noni said...

What a pretty heart :) I think you did a great job picking colours and doing this in the middle of a thunderstorm!! I have seen a couple of the chicken scratch designs lately... Might have to look further into this :)

Cloud CouCou said...

Very pretty, definitely worth persevering with :)

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Sorry this reply is so delayed!!! Thanks so much for the lovely comments, Noni @ CCC :)

Sue said...

I so recall my late Grandma doing this sort of chicken scratch stitching on her handmade aprons. She is the one who taught me to stitch, in fact. I loved the link to the tablecloth, too. Thanks so much.

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Thanks so much for sharing such a wonderful memory Stitcher S! I'm really happy to hear from someone who remembers this craft :) It is so lovely that you learned to stitch from your Grandmother! I learned from my Mother, and it is very inspiring to me that needlework skills are still being handed down through the generations ;)