Angela Nowicki



April - August 2018

Counted Cross Stitch

The Biedermeier Cross Stitch Sampler

I found this Biedermeier kit at a charity shop. It was counted cross stitch, and it was before I established my curriculum, so I thought it would be an unhurried pastime to cross stitch from time to time. The sampler was complete and not commenced yet: it contained the pattern with some black beads, a nice piece of even-weave fabric (Jobelan - a blend made of cotton and Modal, a cellulose made of beechwood), and all the threads needed (stranded cotton from MEZ AG Freiburg), meticulously sorted by colour groups.

Cross Stitch kit
Cross Stitch kit
fabric
Jobelan fabric

Later, when I had made up my curriculum, I decided to use the sampler as THE sampler for counted cross stitch, because it appeared to be big and nice - something I could eventually hang up to show off. After unpacking it, the manufacturer turned out to be Wiehler Gobelin, and as I googled them, I found out that they still sell a full range of tapestry and cross stitch kits. This one isn't available anymore, but how astonished was I to discover that the price of a similar cross stitch kit ranges from 65 to 140 Euros, while I got mine for 2 Euros only!!! What a bargain!

I came to value the bargain all the more after beginning to stitch the sampler. The design is so enchanting, the colours so well-matched, and the shades so cleverly chosen that they create depth and perspective in every motif. Obviously, the designer's name is F.C. Meyer, since the signature says so. And after all I like Biedermeier very much.

Cross Stitch pattern
Cross stitch pattern with beads
threads
Stranded cotton in 33 colours and shades

The yellow sticker on the pattern says:
"This pattern is an original replica of an embroidery sampler.
The original can be found at the German Sampler Museum - collection of Elfi and Hans-Joachim Connemann, Palais im Prinzengarten, Celle."
Of course, I was eager to have a look at my sampler. Unfortunately, it turned out that the Sampler Museum had closed on March 1st 2013. The exhibits were transferred to the Bomann-Museum for cultural history, where they lie in the depot since. As the Cellesche Zeitung informed in 2015, they are supposed to be exhibited again in 2018 at the earliest.

It was April 21st, when I started working at this sampler: washing the fabric, hemming the edge, later marking squares by ten double-threads (we're stitching over two threads here with two strands of cotton) with a blue sewing thread. What I discovered much later to be a synthetic thread which ruined the soleplate of my iron after ironing several times on the highest temperature. There was no help to it - will have to buy a new iron ... 😒

Problems Encountered

In my opinion, there was a couple of glitches in the design, mainly in the borders - be it an asymmetrical arrangement of stitches or an apparently mistaken colour. I think the borders were supposed to be symmetrical, so I adjusted what I considered to be a blunder.

There was stranded cotton enough and to spare in most colours, still in the end, I ran out of two colours: one olive and one dark green. The olive wasn't really a problem, for there was a very similar second olive there, the difference is scarcely noticeable. The dark green, however, was another cup of tea. I had to juggle a bit with it in the "House By The Lake", the motif in the lower right corner. In some spots I've replaced it with a more blueish green, in others with a dark olive. But I think, nobody will notice it, as long as he doesn't know how it had to be ...

Lessons Learned

  1. First and foremost: There's nothing like good quality material! After stitching several months on discarded bedsheets and the like with old or very cheap threads, shifting to a good quality fabric and good quality threads was an epiphany! Not only does the work look much neater, it's also incomparably more pleasant to work with. An entirely different feeling!
  2. Cross Stitch should be done always in the same order, i.e. the first (bottom) half (diagonal) of each stitch goes from the lower left to the upper right (or vice versa) and the second (top) half (diagonal) from the upper left to the lower right (or vice versa), so that the upper thread is pointing always in the same direction. At least that's how I did it. Depending on the look you want to achieve, you surely could build up the cross the other way around as well, but you should stick to the once chosen direction. I've discovered this "rule" by myself and indeed found it later confirmed in a book.
  3. Also, in a pattern with so many scattered patches of colour, you should always think twice in advance about what way you want to carry your thread along. You don't want to pull your thread on the back over great distances, but you don't want to end and start your thread too often either. It's not only annoying, but it would also be a waste of thread. Moreover, it would soon become tight on the backside when darning more and more thread ends in. Over time, I developed a whole logistic process about my thread guidance ... 😉
  4. I'm not sure if it would make much of a difference, but I decided to embroider the background first, where possible, and the foreground motifs last. Which might prove a bit difficult when working with a cross stitch pattern, because it shows a jumble of little symbols rather than the finished picture.
  5. But! For me, it's a wonderful experience to stitch not knowing what exactly is going to show up in the end. It's like playing at scratch cards ... or doing a jigsaw puzzle ... 😊
  6. Railroading! I discovered this specific cross stitch technique by incident and introduced it at once. It's easy: you only have to bring your needle up (or down) at every stitch between the two threads at the very base of them, where they come out of the fabric. I have the habit to untwist my thread every few stitches, anyway, and this is essential with railroading in order to take advantage of this technique at all, that is: the threads lay parallel, which gives a neater look. You can limit the railroading to the top stitch only, which is what I did, because the crosses in my sampler are so tiny (I have to work it with my magnifier lamp), that the naked eye would hardly observe a difference. Minus: Railroading slows down a bit, but once you fall into a certain rhythm, it doesn't matter that much.

As I said, I started the sampler April 21st. Today it's August 12th - and I am nowhere near the end! And I was stitching EVERY SINGLE DAY at least for one hour! Here's the succession of my progress so far:

may 6th
as of May 6th
june 3rd
as of June 3rd
june 28th
as of June 28th
july 26th
as of July 26th
jardinière
Jardinière
border
Border

September 3rd: The last black bead - the last stitch!!! The whole sampler took me nearly 20 weeks to embroider! Whew!
Because it was stitched in a hoop, it needed a gentle wash. I wasn't sure, however, whether all the threads are colourfast. In particular, I was worrying about the black and the dark red. So I took a scrap of old fabric and floss-doodled freehand a little seahorse, using the snippets of all the colours used, let it soak 20 minutes in well satiated hot soapy water and - no bleeding at all, hooray! Now the sampler is washed as well, ironed, waiting for framing ...

wash sample
Floss-doodled seahorse 🐙 😁
motif close-up
Close-up of a single motif
Biedermeier sampler, finished
The finished Biedermeier sampler
motif close-up
Close-up of a single motif

As I just found out in searching the internet, this kit is still sold by various online shops, but as a Permin of Copenhagen kit, not Wiehler Gobelin. Mine comes undoubtedly from the latter company, as you can see in the first photo on this page. There seems to be a bit of a confusion as to the first initial, whether it is an F or a J, but all of them agree that the original sampler was worked in 1820 and that it is a reproduction of an original on display in the German Sampler Museum in Celle (obviously a somewhat outdated information, as we have seen).