Stitch #4! Now we’re going to pick a section of our little crewel sampler to fill with cloud filling stitch, which is really, really fun!
Above, you can see that I’ve marked my area out and am placing teensy stitches in a checkerboard fashion (just like the last bit of the couching fill yesterday) in my fuschia color. Then I’ll take a second color (white, in my case, and two strands like yesterday’s for the same reason) and weave it under those little stitches – not unlike huck weaving, now that I think about it. My little stitches are about 1/4″ apart.
But I’m totally cheating and rather than show you the rest of the stitch here, I’m going to send you over to &Stitches, where I previously wrote a tutorial for this very same stitch: &Stitches’ Cloud Filling Stitch Tutorial. It’s a little cheeky, but I was prepping to show it to you when I had a funny feeling I’d done this before! So set your area up like I have above, then pop along to the tutorial to see how to weave in your top threads.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t really happy with how my sample in regular DMC floss looked, but I absolutely love it in crewel wool!
Ready for crewel filling Stitch #3?! You can see finished stitches 1-3 above, today I’ll show you how to add that white fill at the top – it’s such a lovely effect!
This is a method of filling an space solidly, which is in fact the fill method employed in the Bayeux Tapestry. You you can see it pretty clearly in this photo. You can probably already see what’s coming just by looking at the photo above, but the stitching basically goes like this: lay threads down side by side to cover the whole area, lay a few more across those, then couch those down to hold everything into place.
First cover the whole area with laid thread. In my sampler, I’m mainly using Appleton’s crewel wool, but the white is actually a DMC thread, which is a little thinner so I’ve held two strands together to get good coverage. Simply work the thread back and forth in loooong, straight stitches; I was able to just follow the grain of my fabric to get fairly straight lines.
A little tip: don’t work back and forth across the back, but rather bring your needle up just next to where it went in. Does that make sense? This way you’re not wasting all that thread on the back.
When you’ve filled the whole space, lay a few long stitches over it, perpendicular to the previous stitches:
Mine aren’t really perfectly spaced, but since I’ve used the same color (just one strand this time), it doesn’t seem to matter that much. You can, of course, play with effects here and use different colors for each part of the stitch.
To finish off, tack each of these top threads down with tiny couching stitches:
I used the light pink from my seeding section and used my ruler to space these stitches fairly evenly on my first ‘row’. After that, I was able to line them up in a checkerboard fashion by eye.
I love this fill so much, it’s so yummy and touchable! So here’s how we’re doing so far –
– I think I’m in love! And we’ll add stitch #4 tomorrow – it’s a fun one!
Ok, my lattice section is done and I’ve started the second section. I’m sure by now you’ve seen that I was right about the lattice – for a fairly straightforward combination of simple elements, it really is tricksy to get just right. I’ll be honest and tell you a secret: it’s absolutely killing me not to rip my lattice section out completely and start over. I wish I’d picked colors with slightly less contrast – they seem to just bounce off my ground fabric and show every tiny bit of uneven spacing a little too clearly. Also, it bugs me that my french knots look so … uptight. Not at all plump and delicious the way a french knot should be. What’s up with that?!
But this is about learning, so I’m trying really really hard to learn from these irritations – I think I might’ve been pulling my french knots a little too tightly as I got used to the bounce of crewel thread, they did seem to get more attractive as I went – and just get on with it.
My next block will be filled with seeding stitches, which is very, very common in crewelwork of all types. If you’ve never done seeding before, it’s exactly as it looks above: little straight stitches going every which way. It’s one of my most favoritest stitches: it works best the less you think about it, to help achieve a uniformly random look, so just tune out and stitch away. Very relaxing!
Crewelwork often uses seeding to create a shaded effect, seen clearly in this embroidered jacket in the V&A collection, made in the 1630s. I haven’t decided for sure, but I might try that here by fading these stitches out as I get closer to the edge.
I’ve been doing a lot of research about what really constitutes a crewel filling stitch (other than long-and-short stitch / shading as a solid filling, which is not included here) and here’s what I’ve learned: most of them are really just combinations of other stitches and there’s no, say, ‘directory’ of them. If you look at historical Jacobean crewelwork, the same combos sort of repeat endlessly but with minor differences.
I’m working up a little chart (above, looking very professional and official indeed) of what stitches I’ll put where, but the most common combination in old pieces seems to be the use of couching to make a simple lattice, then french knots, cross stitches, or detached chains to fill the spaces. This is what you think of when you picture crewelwork filling, am I right?
So that seems like a good place to start! Here’s a basic tutorial for how to work this sort of filling:
First things first. To start and end a thread in crewelwork, you will make a few teeeensy (just a millimeter or two) stitches in a nearby area that you will cover later. In our case, that will be along the borders between each section. Make a single knot at the end of your thread and go down into your fabric through the top, so that the knot sits on a line. Then take two or three little wee stitches on the line before starting to stitch your section. When you’ve done just a bit to make sure all is secure, you can go ahead and carefully snip that knot off. (This is also called a ‘waste knot’, by the way.) The little stitches will stay there and be covered up later on; you can start this way in any area that you know will be completely covered later. In the photo above, you can see one knot that still needs to be snipped off and my other starting stitches sitting along the other border lines.
I’ve chosen three thread colors (the two brighter colors are actually very slightly different shades, to give a bit of subtle depth). First we make a lattice with long, straight stitches:
This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, as the overall look really does depend on getting your lattice squares as even as you possibly can. Honestly, I’m not really happy with the evenness of my first couple of rows there, but I seem to be getting better as I go. A tip (shown above): to help get a straight and evenly spaced line, hold your thread down across where you want it to lay and insert your needle at the end point.
Once you’ve filled your space with lattice, you’ll tack down each intersection with a little stitch (in a new color, if you like). Again, this is a little trickier than it looks! You want the tacking stitch to be very small, but not so close to the lattice threads that it effects the straightness of the lattice lines. This will take a few before you get a feel for how long and close this stitch should be.
Then stick a french knot in the middle of each square – or whatever you like, really – and that’s the first block of this sampler filled!
Well, we better get started with our crewel filling stitches sampler! I apologize for not getting this up on the first of the month – I had a wisdom tooth out a few days ago (youch!) and didn’t plan far enough ahead to get it done before.
But I also struggled with how this one would go, to be honest. See, I thought you guys might like to do something a little more decorative than my usual minimalist style, and I worried about people getting bored. I thought maybe we should do some flowers or something.
On the other hand, I feel quite strongly about the inconsistent use of the word ‘sampler’ in the crafty world today, and I didn’t want to fall into it myself. It is my view that a sampler should be all about the stitches and nothing else. I mean, those antique cross-stitch samplers were designed for young girls to practice and show their needlework skills (including design) – a sampling of their work. But today we use the term to mean anything from a cross-stitched phrase to an embroidered alphabet – but I don’t think those are necessarily samplers at all! Those are simply embroideries, no sampling involved.
So what is a sampler then? Well, to me, it is anything that focuses on the making and use of new stitches. Yes, we could technically stitch up a flower garden that uses different fill stitches, but at what point is that no longer a sampler and should just be called embroidery? Especially if I supply a pattern and tell you where stitches should go? There is a reason I like my geometric, minimalist style of sampler, after all: the stitches themselves are the main focus.
That sorted, I realized that I was definitely leaning towards a 1960s – 1970s simplistic sampler style as my inspiration. You know the type – like these by Erica Wilson, where blocks of stitches just run into each other like a patchwork of textures. And I can never get enough of the colors and textures in crewelwork kits of that time – I’ve even made a Pinterest board for them!
So, are you ready? I’ve decided that our Crewelwork Filling Stitches sampler will be 4.5″ x 6.5″ because that’s a nice over-sized size for a pincushion, which would be a lovely use for our sampler when it’s finished. I seem to be going through a weird phase of pincushion-obsession, I’m not sure what’s up with that.
Anyway, so take your twill or linen union fabric and a large patchwork ruler, if you have one (or just use a regular ruler carefully if not) and mark a 4.5″ x 6.5″ rectangle. Be sure to leave enough extra fabric around the sides for sewing or framing later!
Then mark three random lines through your rectangle, so that it is chopped into six uneven shapes. We will fill these with six different filling stitches over the next few weeks.
I’ve basically stuck with the colors I picked the other day – I’ll need to add to these as I go because I expect we’ll have a stitch or two that uses more than one color, but this will get me started.