We have had a lot of holidays over and between the Easter period in South Africa which has given me time to do some “guilty pleasure stitching” – guilty because this stitching is not necessary or planned for any particular purpose, just for enjoyment (although it is always a pleasure to stitch). I find these projects broaden my horizons and help me to expand on a theme, giving me the opportunity to try out different techniques and colour themes without having to trek upstairs to my office and scan instructions every five minutes!
I read somewhere about a quilter who thought loving thoughts of the recipient whilst she made her quilt. I like to do this whilst I am embroidering thinking of you as the recipients! Try it and you will see it becomes a much more harmonious experience and your work will flow rather than be impeded by frustration and effort
One of the things that came to me recently while stitching was that of outlines. Some of my students find split stitch outlines challenging and perhaps you don’t always know the reason why some aspects of a design are outlined and others not, so today lets talk more about it.
Split stitch. This is my favourite outline stitch, why? Because it is simple to do, provides a nice, fine outline and suits all shapes. If you can do backstitch you can do split stitch. It is a variation of backstitch, but instead of coming up in the previous hole you come up in the middle of the stitch (or rather about two thirds into it). I like to go down into the stitches from the top because I can control it better – this means there is as much thread on the back as the front but then who looks at the back anyway?
Split stitch can also be used to fill a shape – in fact if you lengthen your split stitches slightly it looks very much like long and short stitch. Work the split stitch lines side by side, adjacent to each other to fill a shape. It is particularly effective when used for filling smaller items or stems. You can vary the shading in a stem by changing to a different shade each time in a split stitch line.
Double Running Stitch.
This is a stitch that is used a lot when outlining motifs in whitework embroidery – it is used to add a firm outline and also as a padding stitch for lines before overcasting on top. It is just like running or tacking stitch that you were taught at school however you only leave a small space between stitches, just picking up a few threads of the fabric, so there is very little thread on the back. Whilst dabbling with whitework it occurred to me that double running stitch could be used very successfully as an outline stitch for needle painting, why? Because most of the thread in this stitch is on the front and very little on the back, this means that when you stitch over the outline stitch with long and short stitch you get a nice, neat edge.
Does this make sense? Let me try to explain further – when you use a split stitch outline there is a line of thread on the front and the back, so when you go down or up against this line your needle will hit a wall or bulk of thread, but with running stitch there is only thread in the front so your needle will be free to slip down over this onto the back of your fabric. It is easier to work than split stitch, so try it and see.
Why do we use outlines?
The main reason is to define the edges of a shape that is going to be filled with long and short/satin stitch. It will provide a firm, raised edge for a particular aspect of our stitching such as a leaf or flower petal. If we fill a shape with long and short stitch without a split stitch outline it will probably result in a very wobbly edge and get lost in the background, but if we outline it before filling with long and short it defines the edge. The long and short stitch is always worked over the outline stitch so it will be covered.
Another reason is to distinguish each shape in a groups of shapes such as flower petals that overlap – we need to define each petal so that each one looks like it is sitting on top of the previous one and not just a mush of embroidery. The examples below demonstrate this.
It is not always necessary to work an outline before filling with long and short – as in the case of bird feathers, we want these to naturally extend from the outline of the bird. I generally steer clear from outlining long narrow shapes as it is more difficult to work long and short stitches over a parallel line, as shown in the example below. In this case if possible I dont add a split stitch outline.
Sometime you may want to use an outline stitch to enhance a certain shape, or add a little shadow after the stitching is complete. I use these a lot in my miniature embroidery by outlining parts of the embroidery with a dark neutral colour such as dark brown or gray. In this case it is best to use a very fine line because bulky lines will not look good. Think of it as colouring in a picture with crayon and then outlining it with a very fine pen, it makes it pop!
It can be very useful in whitework especially where you have filled something with satin stitch. If your satin stitch is not absolutely pristine with smooth edges the split stitch outline can hide wobbly edges. You can also use a different colour outline which adds a third dimension to the design. We are going to be talking a lot more about whitework “Trish Style” in the upcoming weeks.
Meantime wherever you are be it winter, spring, summer or autumn have a wonderful weekend and many happy stitching hours. Trish