For anyone out there following The Pony Draw blog regularly, you probably have noticed that it has been several months since anything new has been posted. That is because back in March 2016 I returned to full-time work after working only part-time since August 2015 shortly before this blog was started. In the hustle and bustle of establishing a new schedule the blog fell by the way side, but has not completely disregarded.
One of the questions I hear all the time regarding our homesteading adventures is ‘how do you have time to do it all’? The answer is simply that I don’t. There is never enough time in the day, the week, or even the year to get done all the things I plan or desire to do. The green tomato relish wasn’t canned because the tomatoes all turned red before I got to them. Seeds weren’t harvested from the cilantro because they had all dropped before I had time to trim and hang them. The horses are all unfit, the cow pasture remains without fencing, and my dissertation is so far behind schedule it is shameful. The biggest time commitment by far is employment. Two full-time incomes are required for our family right now and with mortgages, student loans, tractor payments, and our own personal activities it probably always will be. Heck, sometimes picking up part-time work is needed to fund expenditures outside our norm. Combine that with the duties of the farm, the completing of a doctorate degree, and maintaining (somewhat) a functionally clean home it is no wonder a little supportive care is required to juggle it all.
As a professional educator with a master’s degree and nearly completed doctorate in higher education administration, I have found that many of the time management tools we teach students are just as useful on the farm as they are at the university. Two of those tools that have become gems in my daily life are my weekly schedule keeper and my journal.
The schedule is a concrete component of my time management that is meant to serve as a road map for the week. It details in half-hour segments exactly what I need to be doing and when in order to make sure everything gets the attention needed throughout the day or week.
The journal on the other hand is the flexible piece. Unlike literary journals where you write your thoughts and reflections, I use my journal to keep track of the tasks, appointments, and other important information that comes my way throughout the day. I set it up to contain a to-do list on the left hand side and a weekly calendar on the right. The to-do list is what I need to get done while the weekly calendar along with the schedule is when I need to get it done. Important notes and thoughts also get written down in the journal such as the phone number of a pet sitting client or an important date in the future. If I were to misplace the journal I’d be in real trouble!
Do I always stick to the schedule? No. Does the to-do list always get done before the next journal page is turned? Absolutely not. But these tools do help me stay on track a lot better than if I worked solely on my own memory. These tools work for me because a state of organization is my happy place. For someone that thrives better on a more hectic pace these may not do the trick and may be more torture than anything else. There are a variety of other time management exercises out there and a simply internet search will reveal many of them as will browsing the self-help section of just about any library or book store. The key is finding what works for you no matter what it happens to be.
Welcome back to The Pony Draw’s cross stitch tutorial. In my last cross stitch blog I reviewed the materials needed to start your first cross stitch project. Today, I’ll be showing you how to start your floss on your aida, make the basic stitches, and how to end your floss. These skills will allow you to successfully complete just about any basic cross stitch pattern out there. I’ll also show you a few little tricks during these processes that I’ve learned from other long-time stitchers.
Start by blocking your aida cloth. I prefer to use masking tap to secure the edges and keep them from coming apart while I work (Picture A). Another option is to do a whip stitch around the edge though this is indeed more time consuming, but a great way to secure your cloth using stitching materials you already have on hand. Put your cloth in your preferred embroidery loop and lets get started!
THE CROSS STITCH
The cross stitch is the classic X shaped cross done in the space of one square on your aida. The first thing to do is get your needle threaded. You’ll want to cut a piece of floss long enough for the number of stitches you will be doing, but short enough to not get tangled during your work. I recommend 8 to 12 inches to start. You’ll learn what your comfortable with as you progress. After you’ve cut your bit of floss you’ll need to separate out two of the six threads. Most patterns require two threads, but you’ll always want to double check the instructions in your pattern as some require more or less depending on the effect desired. Below in Picture B you see me separating out the thread.
Go ahead and thread your chosen needle with the two threads of floss. Leave about two inches folded over (Picture C). I like to twist the two together so that my needle doesn’t slide off the end while I’m working.
Now it is time to begin your first practice stitch. You’ll start by pulling your needle through the back of the fabric to the front. Leave about a half inch of floss hanging out the back. You will stitch over this piece in order to secure it and keep it from unraveling. On the front of your fabric you’ll push your needle back through your fabric using the hole directly opposite across the square from where you came in. This will create the first half of your cross stitch (Picture D). I like to always start out top right to bottom left, but you can go top left to bottom right if you prefer. Whichever you select you just want to make sure you do the same for ALL your stitches.
Your needle should now be on the back of your fabric. This is where you’ll start stitching over that bit of floss you left on the back at the start of your stitch. Push your needle through the hole next to where your needle last passed and below where you first started. This will have you coming back to the front of the fabric in the lower right of your cross stitch. At the same time you’ll be crossing over the loose bit of floss securing it on the back (Picture F).
Now continue to repeat this pattern with each block down the line and you’ll be able to stitch over several blocks worth of the lose bit thoroughly securing it (Picture G).
It is up to you as to if you want to complete a full cross stitch for each square (Picture H, right side) or do a half stitch down the line then work your way back up (Picture H, left side). I usually do a row of half stitches first then work my way back. I do this so that I only have to reference the pattern on the first pass. The second pass I can simply go back over the half stitches without keeping track on the pattern. It is completely personal preference.
Continue in this manner following your pattern until you either complete the stitches designated in that color or run out of floss. When this occurs you’ll need to end your thread in a way that secures it from unraveling. What you need to do is run your needle through the back of a row of stitches (Picture I).
Cut your thread so that just a tiny bit remains past the row you just ran through (Picture J)
THE BACK STITCH
Many patterns include back stitching over the cross stitch portion of the design. This usually provides an outline of the pattern’s details or is used to create straight details such as flower stems or cat’s whiskers. Back stitching is often a stitcher’s least favorite part of a piece, but really gives it that extra pop. In the pictures following, back stitching is outlining the details of a pattern.
You will start your back stitching the same way you would a cross stitch. Since you are likely stitching over squares that already have cross stitches you can use the back of those rows to secure your thread (Picture K) instead of having to secure it with your new stitches, but either way works.
Next you’ll follow your pattern stitching straight lines either around or across your blocks. There are two different ways I’ve seen back stitching done. Some people opt to stitch in big long pieces, connecting points far away from each other on the cloth, but still in a straight line. Others prefer to make stitches no larger than the size of one block just like a cross stitch. A disadvantage to this is that it takes much longer to complete the back stitching on a pattern. It can also be difficult to make designs that require large lengths of back stitching across multiple blocks appear as straight. An advantage though is that the back stitching is much more secure and unlikely to get snagged while working or while on display once completed. In Picture L, I have completed three stitches on the left using stitch sizes only as wide as the block. The rest of the row I have completed in one long stitch. You can see the differences in appearance. Like the other options discussed, it comes down to your personal preference and which benefits you prefer.
Here (Picture M) I have gone back and completed the row using the one stitch per block method and begun following the pattern over and across cross stitches as indicated. If you look close you can see that this pattern has the back stitching crossing blocks that contain our next type of stitch, the half stitch.
Before we move on to the half stitch though I’ll point out that when you have completed your back stitching or have run out of thread, you’ll simply end your floss as you did with your cross stitch by running your needle and thread through the back of a stitch row to secure the lose end (Picture N).
THE HALF STITCH
The half stitch would more accurately be called the quarter stitch as you are actually only going to complete one quarter of a cross stitch. Half stitches are used to help a pattern have a more rounded edge whether on a design’s border or between pattern elements. Below (Picture O) is an example of a bear in a pattern that has multiple half stitches to create the rounded outline of his chin.
The half stitch can be done from any corner of your square and requires you to stitch through the center of the block. In the example below (Picture P) you can see multiple half stitches done with two different kinds of thread on top of the middle column.
You will usually encounter half stitches along with your cross stitches and completed them along with those as you work through the pattern. Note that the picture above also shows a row of cross stitches done with blended thread colors. This is where a pattern requires that the two threads being used are different colors. This will be indicated on your pattern’s key and can make for some very pretty color combinations and color detail beyond your regular color selection.
Next time we’ll take a final look at cross stitch by introducing some of the more advanced stitches and fabrics available. Even though they may be considered more advanced they can easily be mastered making any cross stitch pattern on the market a match for your skill level.
Needlework can be a wonderful hobby that provides you with a quiet activity and beautiful artwork to decorate your home or share with friends and family. Cross stitch is one of the easiest needlework styles to learn and advance with quickly. The basic skills will allow you to go from small simply products to large multi part pieces in a short matter of time. Over the next few weeks I will teach you how to cross stitch as well as some of the techniques and tools I have used in the craft. Today’s focus is on the tools you’ll need to get start. You’ll find below a highlight of the various tools used in cross stitch along with personal experiences of mine. If you are a beginner I hope this sheds some light on this beautiful craft and helps you get start making your own special pieces. If you are a veteran stitcher please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below so that others my learn from your expertise.
THE FABRIC: Any fabric can be used for cross stitching. While it can be difficult to achieve even and straight stitches with standard cloth some of the most beautiful pieces I’ve seen are accents on clothing and other home goods such as pillow cases and towels. Much more common though is the use of aida cloth. Aida is an even weaved cloth that allows for easy placement of stitches and a clean, crisp look. Aida comes in several different counts which refers to the number of squares in a linear inch. The smaller the count the larger the squares. In the example below you can see an aida of eighteen count on the right and two aida fabrics that are 28 count on the left and in the middle.
The higher count aida cloths often require that you stitch over the space of multiple squares (usually two) in order to create a piece that is of the desired size. Patterns set to this cloth will instruct you on the specifics. Higher count aida fabric looks most like standard cloth and is popular with many stitchers. Aida also comes in a variety of sizes, colors, and material (linen or cotton for example) to achieve just about any look with any pattern.
You can even find aida where the pattern has been printed on so that you stitch the color printed on the fabric instead of following a paper pattern.
THE HOOP: When working on a needlework piece you will want to secure the fabric in a way that creates a taunt surface for you to work on. This is done by using an embroidery hoop or similar tool. There are several styles on the market and I’ve highlight a few in my collection here.
Metal: These metal hoops are my favorite. My mother gave them to me and her mother had given them to her. They are no longer available and I have never even seen them in second hand stores. They are two metal hoops with the center hoop having a cork liner and the outer hoop being held together with a spring which gives you a strong tension when pressed over a piece of fabric. It also allows you to very easily change hoop positions without much time or effort. The only down fall is that if these metal hoops are left on an unattended project for too long they can leave a rust ring. I made that mistake once as a youth and marked a doll dress I was working on.
Wood: A very common embroidery hoop is the wood hoop. The wood hoop is similar in design as the metal hoop, but the inner hoop lacks the cork lining and on the outer hoop instead of a spring there is a tension screw. This exact same design is also widely available in plastic. They are inexpensive and easy to use though I have had difficulty maintaining the desired tension when using this style of hoop.
Scroll: The wooden scroll style hoop comes in a variety of different sizes and provides tension on a project by wrapping the ends of a piece and rolling those ends away from each other to create tension in the cloth section between the rods. This can be a great option for large pieces where you are moving across a pattern page left to right or top to bottom. My first scroll hoop was very large and I found it uncomfortable to hold while stitching. I have sense been gifted several small ones, but have not utilized them on a project as of yet.
THE FLOSS: The beautiful colors of your project will be created using embroidery floss. There are a couple different floss companies out there, but I opt to use exclusively DMC floss because it is easily accessible in town. We only have one store that carries floss and that is the only brand they carry so there really isn’t a choice for me when it comes to patterns that require specific colors. I do have a small collection of other brands which I use on projects where I can pick and choose my own colors in order to be thrifty with my floss stash.
You will want to find a way to organize your floss. This will help you keep track of which colors you have available as well as keep your threads safe from any dangers that may come about. Lately, in our home that has been our new puppy who has taken a liking to using my floss cards as chew toys if left attended. I choose to wrap all of my embroidery floss on cards which are kept in a plastic compartment organizer. You can find these in the craft aisle of your local variety store or in the needlework section of the craft store. I’ve also seen them in the sporting goods area where they are labeled as tackle boxes.
My thread cards are organized numerically throughout my box which makes it easy to find the color I am looking for when I start a new project. I found number stickers to place on the cards and have been using them over the past couple of years. I find them nice, but sometimes they lose their adhesive grip and fall off. I then find myself with an unmarked card that I have no way of knowing what color it is. I’ve taken to using a permanent marker to write the numbers on the cards now to prevent this.
I reserve the large top left box for threads that I am using in a current project or WIP (work in progress). For large patterns that require a large number of different colors this isn’t always possible, but for projects with ten to twenty colors I find it helpful and it keeps me from damaging any threads by repeatedly removing the same color card during a project.
Another organization aspect to my needlework is my extra floss. Thread cards only hold one skein per card. When I purchase floss I usually pick up at least two skeins of each color that the pattern calls for and even more for larger projects. Those extra skeins gets organized by number and placed in a sealable plastic bag. I have a bag for all the 100’s, 200’s, 3000’s, etc. All those plastic bags live together in a canvas bag I’ve designated as my needlework bag.
One thing to note about embroidery floss is that the colors do have slight variances in them if they were dyed at the factory in different batches. You may use the 720 color code early on in your project, run out of thread, and when you purchase an additional skein find that the colors are not an exact match despite the color code being identical. For this reason, it is recommended that you purchase all the thread you will need for a project at one time to ensure the skeins you have were dyed in the same batch.
SCISSORS: You can use just about any pair of scissors you have to snip your threads to length. Large scissors, whether regular office scissors or specialty sewing scissors, can be quite large and cumbersome for needlework. If you end up sewing almost daily like I do, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a small pair of sharp embroidery scissors. Some stitchers like to make key chain-like bangles for their scissors and custom ones are often for sale on specialty sites. In the picture below you can see the size difference in a pair of embroidery scissors and specialty sewing scissors.
NEEDLES: If you purchase a cross stitch kit it will likely have a needle included. If you purchase your pattern and floss separately you’ll also need to find yourself a needle or set of needles. There are a variety of sizes (or gauges) in needles to match the size of fabric that you are working with. Generally speaking the higher the count on your aida the smaller the needle you’ll want. The eye size of needles can vary and you’ll develop a preference based on what works best for you. I have been known to find a needle that works well for a few projects and then use it until the eye breaks! That is why I keep a variety set on hand. They are inexpensive and prevent you from having the annoyance of stopping a project until you can go to the store because you’ve broken, bent, or lost your needle.
Don’t let the list of needed materials intimidate you from starting a cross stitch project. If you buy a kit much of the materials (pattern, fabric, floss, and needle) will be provided as well as detailed instructions. Also, once you’ve invested in quality materials many of them will last your lifetime. Next week we’ll get started stitching. I’ll share the basic stitches as well as a few tricks I’ve been taught by fellow stitchers that are pretty neat. Until then…