Angela Nowicki

March/April 2018

Counted Cross Stitch

Doodling a sampler or sampling a doodle

Now this is the beginning. Of my real personal apprenticeship. I'm so excited! And curious. What will I come across on my way? And, oh, all those new stitches and patterns and pictures!

However, the forerun gave me a bit of a hard time. Since I'm my own teacher, I had to look for all the learning material myself. Due to my initial confusion regarding the difference between a "doodle cloth" and a "sampler" (until I read just recently a clarifying blogpost at Needle'n Thread), I was looking straight away for a cross stitch sampler with all the types of cross stitch in it. A nice sampler and a free one, if possible. My spare budget is better located in good quality fabrics and threads, methinks. Spent a whole weekend googling, coming up with nothing. Well, nearly nothing. DMC offers a whole bunch of free patterns, inclusive cross stitch, and a lot of them is really nice. Most of all I liked the samplers by Thérèse Dillmont. They seemed the most suited for my endeavour, but... I couldn't find a single pattern or sampler resp. with all the cross stitch variations included. They all used exclusively full cross stitch and backstitch and, with a bit of luck, half stitch. The long-arm cross stitch especially was nowhere to find.

After visiting the local library I came up with a book that featured a cross stitched picture for every month of the year. Very nice pictures, but - only cross stitch and backstitch again. After looking for a while longer, it occurred to me, that obviously all the other cross stitch variations are rather used in Canvas Work? Maybe I got it wrong, but regarding the part of me that was chafing impatiently at the bit already, I settled for a sampler by Mme de Dillmont containing full cross stitch and backstitch. Basta.

To my delight, I found a largish scrap of even-weave, most like Aida, but sloppy and rather grey-yellowish than white. I decided to test my new 8" Hardwick Manor hoop (Klass & Gessmann) on this project and sallied out to assemble the more or less fitting colors from my Soledi stash.

Problems encountered

1. The fabric was cut to the size denoted in the instruction file: 21.6 x 25.5 cm, enlarged by 3 cm. Yes, this was the first mistake, it should have been 3 cm on every side, ergo 28 x 32 cm instead of 25 x 29 cm. I must have been in la-la-land (where you can find me frequently, indeed), but no big deal, should have sufficed anyway.
Soon I began to wonder, though: not only did I have to put the fabric out of the hoop while stitching the edges - it even lacked one or two centimeters in width for the whole pattern to fit in! What had gone wrong? A miscount in the template? No. It dawned on me, that there is something like a thread count. My fabric had ca. 11 threads per inch, and indeed! The instruction said: "We recommend beginners start with 14 count Aida (the most common cross stitch fabric), which is what we have based our design size on." RTFMF! (read the f... antastic manual first!)

first cross stitch row
The first cross stitch row

2. I had a hard time matching the colours of my threads to those of the DMC threads given in the instruction. Harder still, however, is it for me to imagine the overall colour effect in the finished sampler. Maybe I didn't look closely enough, where which colour would be placed - anyhow, I don't like the palette chosen. Especially the pink is starkly out of place.

wrong colours and size
Wrong colours and size

Back to the bad size, it wasn't a big problem in the width. I just trimmed the pattern by three or four little crosses and was done with it. The problem was the height. So I decided to sew on a piece of fabric at both ends.

On this occasion, I proudly present my Old Lady: my sewing machine. She was passed down the generations from my maternal great grandmother, and she's 103 years old now! And she still works like a dream, all that with that old embrittled leather transmission belt! The only thing she's unable to do is zigzag stitch. But she's got a lot of various fancy presser foots instead.

my sewing machine
My treadle sewing machine
sewing head
Sewing head with thread guides
and builder's plate
driving wheel
Driving wheel with transmission belt
balance wheel
Balance wheel with bobbin winder
and stitch regulator
sewing machine

Isn't she beautiful?

sewing machine

3. The sewn on pieces even matched the grain more or less, but not perfectly, so that the stitches in those places are a bit distorted. You can see it in the photo of the finished sampler below.
4. I made some mistakes in counting. For example, the pattern in the bottom left corner is located too far up.
5. I ran out of some colours in the process and had to replace them with others, which increased my colour problem even further.

Lessons learned

1. The Hardwick Manor hoop is said to be the Rolls-Royce amongst the hoops. However, I noted that in comparison to my Elbesee hoop it didn't really make a difference. The former is thicker and curiously springy, so that you have to pull it apart while opening, while the latter isn't, but both are solid wooden hoops with well finished hardware, and both keep the fabric taut for a long while. On the downside, there's one spot near the screwing connection in both with a tiny gap between the inner and the outer ring, a little unbalance. So they are both quality hoops, though I prefer the Elbesee, because I'm not overly enthusiastic about the "springy" behaviour of the HM.

2. I've learned to start my thread with a loop on the backside. Aaah - no more darning in, no more near and far wasted knots! A pity it's suited for an even number of threads only. In this regard, it is convenient that counted cross stitch is done with two threads generally.

finished sampler
Finished sampler

3. A gorgeous Hardanger sampler shown in the facebook group of Neele'n Thread by Janice Schurr gave me an aha experience: Samplers are not merely practice pieces, they can even qualify for framing - if they are perfectly done, of course. That's why I adjusted my curriculum a bit: Instead of a sampler the first work in every module will be the above mentioned doodle cloth, while what I initially called "work" will be a really nice sampler qualifying even for framing, if possible.

4. and most important insight: Counted Cross Stitch isn't boring at all! Sure, it is to Freestyle Surface Embroidery as pixel graphics is to vector graphics, but well done and on a high count fabric, stitching crosses as tiny as possible, it can look really beautiful. Sure, it is like colouring by numbers, but it is a deeply meditative occupation. Looks like I fell in love with CCS.

This was the initial trick, but the second follows quick: the REAL SAMPLER...