ways of using this ever-popular stitch to create
richly patterned and textured embroideries.
photos by Ian Cole
Traditional, comfortable cross stitch has become so associated with work on evenweave fabrics and with kits that its versatility can easily be overlooked. This Workshop sets out to liberate the humble cross stitch by using it experimentally with a variety of materials in order to produce intricate and rich patterns which can be used for many different purposes and projects. The samples shown are worked mainly in cross stitch but, in some places, other simple stitches such as running, french knots, seeding and straight stitches have been added.
Sampling (or trying stitches, patterns and ideas out before embarking on an embroidered project) is a very important part of the process of developing your work. In fact, all of the stitched pieces shown here are samples, but some of them have worked well enough to be used as finished pieces if desired.
Begin simply, as shown, then gradually explore more complex possibilities, adding layers of stitching and applied materials to your work. As you begin to understand the patterns you can achieve, you will soon be able to create your own original and exciting designs.
Stitched on backgrounds of felt, silk, space-dyed cotton and polyester, all the work here has been stitched 'by eye' rather than from a planned design. If you feel nervous about working cross stitch on plain-weave fabrics, you could carry out similar ideas on evenweave fabric (try space-dyeing it or printing a subtle design on your fabric before stitching), or you could use waste canvas where appropriate.
The fabrics and threads used in each sample have been stated, but of course you can use any materials of your choice.
Cross stitch and double cross stitch are worked on a simple background with different threads. Scale and density, both important in pattern making, can be achieved with a variety of threads and by changing the size and proximity of the stitches.
Aim for a crisp, clear cross-shape to give good structure to your work. If you work small crosses with a thick or softly textured thread, you may end up with poorly defined crosses. Don't be afraid to make some stitches, even fine ones, quite large (the 'arms' can always be secured with a couching stitch).
Put some of your stitches together, join them up, overlap them and see what patterns begin to emerge. Look at the shapes you are creating between the crosses; can you add another smaller stitch or can you make links with larger stitches across the shapes? See Sample 1.
Crosses and patterns built from layering and overlapping crosses are an excellent way to apply a whole range of other elements that can add variety and richness to your embroidery (see diagrams 2 and 3).
In Sample 2, carrying on from Sample 1, crosses and cross-stitch designs have been used as a decorative couching method. You might find it helpful to use a small straight stitch to catch down the element before you proceed with the decorative stitchery. The folded fabric squares have been held down with a tiny stitch in fine thread in each corner.
You will be able to find lots of small decorative elements to use in this exercise, but the materials used here include:
Threads used on this and the previous sample: flower thread, soft cotton, Mulberry silk, stranded cotton (one strand), coton à broder and metallic machine embroidery thread
Diagrams 2 and 3
Commercial felt was immersed in hot water, wrung out, then tumble-dried to make it soft and crinkly. Cross stitches were used to attach squares (ranging in size from 4 mm to 30 mm) and bands of felt to a felt background. The different sizes of the squares, the grouping of these shapes and the fact that some are used straight and others placed 'on point' are important aspects of this design. Notice the layering of the felt pieces and the layering and overlapping of stitches for intensity and linking. See Sample 3.
Threads used: Mulberry silk (medium thickness), stranded cotton (one strand), flower thread.
Finished size 18 x 14 cm
A background of gold dupion silk was used for this small embroidery. A symmetrical design of squares made from folded metal tissue (see diagram 1) and leather are held down with cross stitches in metal thread. The border, which is important in 'containing' the centre of the design, is made from couched silk and metal cords surrounded by tiny squares cut from copper-coloured leather. This motif could be framed as a small panel or could be used to make a box lid. See Sample 4.
A larger embroidery could be made by repeating similar-sized motifs, but of different designs, one beneath the other or in a grid format.
Threads used: Madeira gold 9807 couching thread, Madeira gold machine embroidery thread, Madeira FS 2/2 machine embroidery thread in blue/black
Size: 12 x 12 cm
Small squares can be cut from fine leather, suede or commercial felt, or they can be made from folded fabric as shown in diagram 1. They can be placed in layers to build simple geometric patterns and applied to the background with a tiny stitch at each corner (see diagram 4). Decorative designs may be developed by overstitching the squares with cross stitches, as shown in stitched Samples 2, 3, 4 and 7.
Sticks used in model-making were painted with coloured ink (any paint or dye could be used) then attached (couched) to a shot-silk background with criss-crossed stitches. The patterns were worked starting at the top left and increased in complexity as the exploration proceeded. Note the overlapping and joining of stitches to create intricate and rhythmic patterns. See Sample 5.
Threads used: flower thread, stranded cotton (one strand)
Plastic mesh in very shiny gold was cut into rectangles and strips. A bigger grid was made on some of the shapes by cutting away parts of the mesh. The shapes were then placed in a pleasing abstract arrangement (move the shapes around until you are happy with your layout), on a background of shot dupion silk, and held down temporarily with tacking thread. Decorative patterns were made from layered crossed stitches of various sizes. Some straight stitches and blocks of satin stitch were used for contrast. The brashness of the gold plastic mesh is subdued by a heavy build-up of stitches. See Sample 6.
Thread used: Mulberry silk (medium weight) in strong colours
Size: 16.5 x 13 cm
An overlapping design of squares and grids was hand-printed on rich red dupion silk with gold and copper fabric paint. As in the previous piece, various meshes and grids were overlaid in a balanced abstract arrangement and held down temporarily with tacking thread. The boldest grid was made from cocktail sticks painted with copper acrylic paint. Richly layered patterns were built up using cross stitches and some straight stitches. Tiny squares of soft leather in copper and gold were added and held down with yet more crossed stitches.
Threads used: Mulberry silk (medium weight) in rich colours and Madeira gold threads as before
Size 22 x 17 cm