Angela Nowicki

September - October 2018

Assisi Embroidery

The Assisi Work Sampler

On to my second sampler, this time in Assisi work. I didn't buy a kit (are there any Assisi kits, anyway?), because I had this wonderful book by Thérèse de Dillmont, Assisi Embroideries. You can download it for free as a pdf (it is splitted in two) from the Online-Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics. I decided on three designs from this book, arranged as borders one below the other on a long sampler. And I'd like to take you with me through the whole preparation process, because it wasn't exactly simple.

winged dogs motif
Winged Dogs Design
winged horses motif
Winged Horses Design
dolphins motif
Dolphins Design

Above are the three motifs I chose from Dillmont's book. As you can see, the motif in the center with the winged horses is the largest of them. That's why I wanted to put it the middle of the sampler, with the first motif (the winged dogs on the left) above and the third (the dolphins on the right) below. The horses I wanted to be placed with the symmetry axis in the exact center of the width of the whole sampler, so that the edges to the left and the right would mark the width of the other two motifs as well as of the whole sampler. The other two motifs, the dogs and the dolphins, had to be placed with their respective symmetry axis exactly on the symmetry axis of the center motif, the horses. In the end, I wanted the arrangement to look like in the graphic to the right:

Just imagine the bottommost motif with the dolphins expanded to the right and left to match the margins, and adapted to the shape of a border.

Unfortunately, the illustrations in the book are of different scales. This means, it was impossible to simply put them in place like I did in this graphic - I wouldn't have known where exactly to start stitching the top and the bottom motif, as you usually don't stitch from the center outwards, do you?

planned arrangement
Sampler scheme

Theoretical Preps: a Little Bit of Maths

Hence I had to count the crosses and convert them into centimetres. That is probably why they call it Counted Embroidery, in as much as the basic measurement here is the cross: A motif is composed of so and so many crosses, and the metrical size depends on the size of the crosses. (So maybe we should rename Surface Embroidery "Measured Embroidery"?) The size of the crosses again depends on the density of the fabric, i.e. a 20 ct. fabric offers space for more crosses than a 40 ct. fabric, right?

Here's how I had to progress:

  1. I had to print out the motifs. Of course. 😉
  2. I had to count the horizontal crosses in the largest motif and convert them into centimetres, adding 2 x 3 cm for the margins to each side, in order to know the width of the fabric needed.
  3. I had to count the vertical crosses in all three motifs and convert them into centimetres, adding 4 x 3 cm for the top and the bottom margin plus the spacing between the motifs, in order to know the height of the fabric needed.
  4. In order to know, where each of the smaller motifs should begin and end to match the largest motif in the middle, I had to count half the number of the horizontal crosses of the largest motif in each of the smaller motifs, beginning in the center and going to the left.

And here's how I did the conversion:
ad 2) The largest motif is composed of 126 crosses horizontally (I added a cross at both sides, so as to have the outer "horn" of the flanking racks included). I will be stitching over two threads (planned to buy a fabric with at least 30 ct.). So the calculation goes as follows:
126 crosses x 2 threads = 252 threads
In a 30 ct. fabric, there's 30 threads per inch, hence: 252 threads / 30 threads = 8.4 inches
Since 1 inch is 2.5 centimetres: 8.4" x 2.5 cm = 21 cm
21 cm + 6 cm margins = 27 cm
My fabric should therefore have a width of 27 cm.
ad 3) The motif with the dogs counts 75 crosses at the perpendicular, the horses count 84 crosses and the dolphins 53. That sums up to 212 crosses in height. The conversion in cm is the same as above:
212 crosses x 2 threads = 424 threads
In a 30 ct. fabric, there's 30 threads per inch, hence: 424 threads / 30 threads = 14.13 inches
Since 1 inch is 2.5 centimetres: 14.13" x 2.5 cm = 35.3 cm
35.3 cm + 12 cm margins & spacing = 47.3 cm
My fabric should therefore have a height of 48 cm.
ad 4) Beginning on the middle axis of both of the smaller motifs, I counted 63 crosses to the left (half of the number of crosses in the largest motif) and marked the beginning in my printouts.

Yes, I know, I know *sigh* ... maths aren't exactly our favourite subject, right? But, well - just try to see it this way: this, too, is part of the stitching process, not only in counted embroidery, until you don't stitch a pre-printed kit. And believe me, this part didn't go as smoothly with me as it may seem from the calculation above. It took me several attempts, counting the crosses in the printouts and the fabric again and again, calculating over and over again, and still I wasn't sure if I didn't happen to blunder. Blunder is my middle name, you know. This time, however, Lady Bountiful seemed to have taken me under her wings, and all turned out well and fitting.

Problems Encountered

  • Also right at the outset, I made a mistake and had to unstitch a row, which wouldn't be covered again. How terrified I was as I saw this: -->
    Did the dry thread bleed?! I always thought, DMC is not only the most popular, but also a quality floss? This way, I can't afford to commit any mistake, because, as you can see in the photo, after pulling the thread out, there's a clearly visible stain remaining! Even a waste knot leaves a faint stain, as you can see in the second photo!
    Solution: Thank goodness, there's the Needle'n Thread Facebook Community! The Ladies and Gentlemen there are so helpful and supportive! After I made my complaints, it turned out, that it's not dye but "fuzz", i.e. the thread leaves tiny fibres on the fabric while pulling it through. And as I was lucky to learn, this phenomenon is called crocking. It can be easily remedied by applying sellotape on both sides - or a clean white rubber, as I later found out. I like the rubber even more, because it works like a broom or a vac! 😃 Since then I've had no more problems with fuzzy residues. Just compare the third photo to the first:
  • The Italian cross stitch went very well, albeit at glacial pace. It's the slowest stitch, since one x includes 4 stitches (normal and long-armed cross stitch 2, Montenegrin 3). But it stitches without a hitch, since every x is just an x, it doesn't extend over the following x as in the long-armed versions. It fits in very well in each corner, even if you have to apply sometimes a half cross stitch. Quite unlike the long-armed cross stitch. As I went on to the dolphins, I got a real problem: How to fit in the long-armed crosses when they meet a slanted outline?
    Look at the diagram alongside: Do you see what I mean? At a slanted outline, to keep the long arms parallel (as in the red lines), you would have to split the fabric thread, because they don't meet a hole. But splittling the fabric with a 32 ct. evenweave is very difficult if not impossible, at least with Jobelan or Murano, let alone Aida. The threads are too ... well ... "round"? It is as if you would split a dense rope. And the spaces are too narrow for me to see, even through a magnifier. In turn, the other three options depicted look either crooked or holey or crowded.
    One lady in our Facebook Community proposed something like that -->, what, as she said, is also more or less how it was done in historical Assisi work. It would be a great solution, and I highly appreciated her answer, for I was also much interested in how they solved the problem in the past - if not ... well, if it didn't require splitting the threads as well!
Bleeding of a dry thread?
residue after the waste knot
After cutting the waste knot
rubber-cleaned area
After applying a rubber
lacs diagram
LACS at slanted outlines
lacs diagram correct
The Correct Method?

Lessons learned

I had an epiphany: doing a sampler isn't so much about learning and applying new stitches - that's the job of the doodle cloth, actually. But assessing, measuring, calculating, organizing ... a whole embroidery project - those are things you learn best by designing a sampler. It's about gaining experience en masse!

Being through with the annoying maths part, I did my first few stitches, as I noticed that I can't stitch with two threads, as usual in counted cross stitch. The Italian cross stitch is very dense, and the count of the fabric is obviously too high for using two threads. Moreover, in this case, the stitching went much easier after replacing the blunt-tipped needle generally used in counted cross stitch by a regular embroidery needle #7 (or #8 - the medium size from a combo pack with sizes 5-10). So I learned not to cling slavishly to the tradition; you just have to test various options and adapt the work to your own needs and ideas to get a satisfying result.

The Assisi-Sampler

Here's the first motif: Burgundy without outlines.
Stitch: two-sided Italian cross stitch
Stitching time: 4 weeks

It was not until I saw the photo that I noticed the missing few stitches. Find the fault! 😃

Assisi sampler - horses
Winged Horses
Assisi sampler - dolphins

Second motif: blue with black (actually dark blue) outlines.
Stitch: long-armed cross stitch
Stitching time: 3 weeks

And here's the last one: green with dark green outlines.
Stitch: Montenegrin stitch
Stitching time: 4 weeks

The whole sampler took me 11 weeks. That's very good compared to the Biedermeier cross stitch sampler, which took me 20 weeks. But I really don't care about the time. Curious: no matter what I'm embroidering, I just love it and I can completely immerse in the work, oblivious to space and time. Needlework is nearly meditative, as they say.

Assisi sampler - dogs
Winged Dogs
Assisi sampler
The Assisi Sampler
dogs close-up
Dogs Close-up
horses close-up
Horses Close-up
dolphins close-up
Dolphins Close-up