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Welcome to this month's class instructed by
Mary D. Shipp of Stitches by Shipp

Mary Shipp is the author of several needlework books, as well as a designer and teacher. Her two-volume stitch encyclopedia Stitches for Counted Thread Embroidery, as well as her recent Color for Embroidery and Exploring Pattern in Stitches, have established her reputation for clear diagrams and good verbal descriptions. Mary's objective as a teacher is to develop materials that will encourage students to experiment with color, thread and stitches, and discover that they, too, can create needlework designs. We urge you to support the designers who are contributing the outstanding free classes and features you see at this site. Click here for information on ordering Mary's Books.

Falling Leaves
A Class on Border Design

Variegated threads lend themselves very nicely to borders, where they blend with related solid colors and a variety of stitches and threads. An especially good use for a variegated thread is as the center of a border, where I enjoy using a dense stitch that really shows off the specialty thread. Then I like to use other, more open stitches to provide contrast. Let's look at a border I call "Falling Leaves."

Figure 1. The completed border,
with Wildflowers Autumn Leaves as the featured thread

The border (left) was stitched on white 25 count Dublin linen from Zweigart, using Wildflowers #020 Autumn Leaves as the featured thread.

I selected three other threads to work with Autumn Leaves, which contains coral, burgundy, olive gold and gray areas. To increase the amount of warm color I added Impressions #2033, a medium value of rosy rust. Impressions is a wool/silk blend. I also chose DMC #8 pearl cotton color #902, a darker value of rust. For an olive thread I used Soie Cristale in Color #5004, which is a slightly darker and greener value of the olive in Autumn Leaves.

Notice that I have picked a medium and dark rust to accompany the coral from the Autumn Leaves Wildflowers. I have extended and darkened the olive in Autumn Leaves with a second, greener olive. I have not tried to match up the burgundy and the gray, because I wanted to limit the number of threads I would use. As it is, this range provides good value and color contrast. By increasing the range of warm values through the use of solid color threads, I emphasized the warmth of the color scheme, then balanced it with the olive. The differences between cotton Wildflowers and pearl, silk and wool Impressions, and glossy Soie Cristale provide contrast of texture. Balance and contrast with regard to color, color temperature, value, and texture were all considerations in planning this design.

There are three stitches used in my border. The center, which I worked first, is Running Cross Stitch.

Figure 2. Running Cross Stitch. Black stitches show
compensation, but should be stitched in the main thread color

Example A in Figure 2 is regular Cross Stitch, done in the cross-as-you-go method. Each stitch is over a 4x4 block of fabric threads. Example B is Running Cross Stitch over 4 threads. Notice that the second complete Cross Stitch has been moved 2 threads to left (halfway) so that it starts directly under the intersection of the previous Cross. In the border, we will stitch Running Cross over a larger block of threads.

Figure 3 shows the beginning of my border. Here the Running Cross is worked over 12 horizontal and 6 vertical fabric threads. (Running Cross does not have to be square; a rectangle is fine.) This is a large stitch, but since each stitch unit is overlapped halfway by the next one, those long runs of thread will be held in place. I used 1 strand of Wildflowers on 25 count linen.

Figure 3. Starting the Autumn Leaves border

Running Cross may be worked over any number of horizontal fabric threads. The only thread count requirement for the stitch is that it must be over an even number of vertical threads, so that it may be divided in half. The stitch turns corners well, but for this to happen it must be worked over a square of threads--in other words, use the same number of vertical and horizontal fabric threads for each stitch unit.

Running Cross is a dense stitch; as such it provides a wonderful showcase for a variegated thread such as Wildflowers.

The second stitch in my border is Backstitch, diagrammed in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Backstitch, as worked by a right handed stitcher

Right handed stitchers should start from the right side of the fabric with a regular Running Stitch, A-B. Left handed stitchers may find it easier to start at the left and move toward the right. The Running Stitch shown is over four fabric threads, although any number of fabric threads may be used. After executing A-B, bring the needle up the same number of fabric threads to the left of Point B, at Point 1. Come back to Point B (Backstitch) rename it Point 2, and take the thread to the back of the fabric. With the thread on the back of the fabric, move to the left the same number of threads beyond Point 1 and come up at a new Point 1. Move to the right (Backstitch) to Point 2. Repeat to the end of the row.

In the border, I used 2 rows of Backstitch on either side of the Running Cross Stitch. Each stitch covers 6 vertical fabric threads, and the rows are 2 fabric threads apart. I worked them in Impressions #2033, the lighter of the two rusts. In between, I stitched, as shown in Figure 5, a row of Running Stitch, over and under three fabric threads. I used the dark rust #8 pearl cotton, DMC 902 for the Running Stitch. These 3 rows of linear stitches work together as a unit and provide contrast of stitch shape with the Running Cross.

Figure 5. The Backstitch/Running Stitch unit of the border

Two colors of rosy rust thread in two different textures provides a nice contrast with the variegated Autumn Leaves. The border at this stage is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Repeat the Backstitch/Running Stitch unit
on the other side of the Running Cross

Variation in stitch shape is another way to provide contrast of texture. Notice how the angled lines of the Running Cross contrast with the horizontal emphasis of the Backstitch and Running Stitch.

Please do not feel that my choices in this border with regard to stitch position or size, thread color and location, or any other factor are the only options. There are many arrangements that could be created using these threads, in these colors, to work these stitches. At the end of the class I will show you two more borders using the same threads in the same colors, but differently arranged. In the meantime, why not experiment on your own? Your choices will be different from mine, but they, too, will be interesting, and what is more important, yours, not mine.

The outside of the border is worked in overlapping Fly Stitch, explained in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Fly Stitch

Fly Stitch is based on a loose loop, which is held in place by a short vertical stitch. This transforms the loop into a "V" shape, which may be taut and angular, or left loose to achieve a bit of a curve. I prefer my Fly Stitches to be somewhat curved. In the diagram, the thread comes up at Point 1 and goes to the back of the fabric at Point 2. Point 2, in this case, is 6 vertical fabric threads to the right of Point 1 and between the same pair of horizontal fabric threads. In order to divide the vertical threads evenly with the tie down, there must be an even number. Come up at Point 3, 4 threads below and in the center of the loop, and go to the back at Point 4, In this case, Point 4 is just 1 fabric thread below Point 3; the tie down may be longer if you like. In the border, the tie down is over two horizontal fabric threads. Catch the Loop 1-2 under Stitch 3-4. In Example A, the Fly Stitch is repeated 6 fabric threads to the right, so that the stitches do not overlap. In Example B, which I used on the border, the second Fly Stitch is only 3 threads to the right, so that the stitches overlap.

In my border, I worked this stitch in 2 strands of Soie Cristale #5004, which brings the green from the Autumn Leaves Wildflowers to the outside of the border. The silk thread provides a nice contrast with the less shiny cotton and silk/wool blend used elsewhere. The mildly curved shape of the stitch contrasts with the angular and linear shapes of previous stitches. In addition, the lacy nature of the Fly Stitch makes the edge of the border "open up" visually.

Two other borders are shown in Figures 8, 9,10 and 11. They are created from the same threads used in Falling Leaves, but the stitches are differently arranged.

Figure 8. A nonsymmetrical version of Falling Leaves

Figure 8 diagrams a nonsymmetrical border stitched with Autumn Leaves Wildflowers in the center. Below this are 3 rows of plain Backstitch, using Impressions 2033. Above the Wildflowers, I used one row of Backstitch in Impressions, and a row of regular, not overlapping, Fly Stitch in Soie Cristale #5004. In this case, the Fly Stitch was worked over 4 vertical threads, with a tie down over 1 thread. Notice that the "top" of the border is more open than the "bottom". With a non-symmetrical border, this sort of visual distinction helps you know which side is which. If I had wanted to make the bottom of the border even more pronounced, I could have whipped the 3 rows together with the same thread used for the Backstitch. The actual border is shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. In a nonsymmetrical border, the "bottom" should appear
heavier than the "top"

The final border is very light in appearance. Because the variegated Wildflowers is used in an open stitch rather than a dense one, the variations in color may not be as noticeable as in the two previous borders. The variegated thread does, however, establish the color scheme for the design as a whole. This is a fun way to used a variegated thread. Pick one you love, then match its colors with solid threads, and work them all into a design.

Figure 10. A lacy border using the same color scheme

Once again, the Wildflowers Autumn Leaves is in the center, for 2 facing rows of overlapping Fly Stitch. On either side of the center are 2 rows of Backstitch in Impressions #2033. To the outside of this, rather than Running Cross, I used 2 rows of regular 2x2 Cross Stitch, arranged in a checkerboard pattern. The thread, is Soie Cristale # 5004. I did not use Running Cross because I felt it would be too dense and overpowering for the rest of this particular border.



 Figure 11. Autumn Leaves Wildflowers creates the color scheme
in this open border

Building a border is an exercise in trial and error. We need to remember that we are looking for balance and contrast in color, thread texture, and stitch shape. We cannot, however, expect to have a good design if we select, more or less at random, three or four threads of different types and colors. Using a variegated thread to establish the color scheme helps a great deal with color selection, because we are using the variegated thread to act as a unifying design element. We also consider which colors we would like to emphasize (here, the coral/rust family and the olive) and which will remain in the background (the burgundy and smoke gray). We take into account how much variation in darkness/lightness (value) we would like to have. Usually we want to have light, medium, and dark threads. If we include two or more color families, we should balance their use, at least to some extent. Balance is not always necessary--the most dramatic designs are often quite unbalanced. This is a matter of personal preference.

In addition to thread color, thread texture is an important design element. It is possible to work a border in all one type of thread, letting color and stitch shape provide contrast. This emphasizes these two elements and reduces the focus on the thread itself. One can also stitch a border in just one color and type of thread; this will place all our attention on stitch shape and pattern. Again, it's up to you. Since I love threads, I tend to look for different textures--rough, smooth, shiny, dull, and include variety in texture as well.

We should avoid picking a hodgepodge of stitches. For a harmonious border we need to have both similarity and variety between them. We also should vary the size of the different parts of the border. In my Falling Leaves border, the Running Cross in the center is quite wide in comparison to the rest of the border. The unit made up of Backstitch and Running Stitch is narrower, as is the Fly Stitch edging.

A different version of the same border, stitched in Wildflowers #089, Caribbean, accompanied by Waterlilies #106, a variegated olive, Soie Cristale #7024, solid aqua, and #1065, a solid tannish gray, is shown as Figure 12. Ordinarily I would frown on the use of two variegated threads, the Wildflowers and Waterlilies, in the same composition. In this case, the Waterlilies is only slightly variegated, and it works. There are few hard and fast rules when you start playing with thread.

Figure 12. Caribbean Wildflowers #089 is the featured thread
in this version of the border

There is an artistic principle that should be mentioned here, because to some extend all the borders shown here are in violation of it. This is the 1- 3-5 Rule. The rule runs that if you have a wide variety in one design element, for example five different threads, you should have less variety in another element (three colors perhaps?) and even less variety in other elements, for example one stitch used throughout. Any time a design seems overly busy and fragmented, check to see that you have not broken the 1-3-5 Rule. If you have, reduce the variety in one or more design elements, and see if this helps. On the other hand, if you like what you have designed, remember, rules were made to be broken.

How do we achieve a good design? We pick our colors, threads, and stitches. Then we experiment. We eliminate some elements and add others, if necessary. We PLAY!

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: No part of these instructions nor the included designs/charts can be reproduced or distributed in any form (including electronic) or used as a teaching tool without the prior written permission of Mary Shipp of Stitches by Shipp. One time reproduction privileges provide to our web site visitors for and limited to personal use only.

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