There are a number of different forms of needlework that our family has cultivated through the years. Each variety adds a special touch to whatever it's on; a personality, a beauty, a message of love from the maker.
Cross-stitch is the easiest form of needlework to teach to young children because there's no guess work as to where the next stitch should go. As long as they know what color to use and what relation the next stitch has to previous ones, the material guides stitch length and placement. We have a cross-stitch sampler pattern booklet that's been in use since Jeremiah started to learn, that has all sorts of little pictures children like: hens, bears, flowers, houses and bonneted girls. All of us have learned with these little designs on extra large cross-stitch material. It takes a while for the little ones to get the X's just right; not crossing two at a time and getting the right colors in their places. Once the basic skill is mastered all sizes of material become available. As they desire to, each one works on bigger and bigger pictures until their skill allows them to make large wall hangings if they desire to do so.
I started learning how to cross-stitch when I was six years old. The picture I'm making is of a barnyard with a tractor. I have to have lots of help to show me just where to put the needle unless there are a lot of stitches in a row. Then I can do that row. I can't tell what part of the picture I'm making; I'm just told where to make the next stitch. It will be a lot more fun when I can tell what to do by myself. Maybe the next picture I make I will be able to do better.
I have done more cross-stitch than any other crafts, usually during group reading. My most recent one was a full picture of a moose. It must have taken me almost a year working on it 1-2 hours a day. Personally, I like to do a complete area at a time, so first I did the moose, then the trees and ground and finally the sky. This makes me feel like I'm getting more of it done earlier on.
I had made a number of large cross-stitch wall hangings before I made the bell pull I am designing in the picture. (See the herb article under basics/gardening for the finished piece.) It was a nice variation of style, having the four pictures and the lattice work. Originally the pattern was for a fancy checked Aida cloth, each picture being made in a lower square, but we couldn't find any of that material so we made our own grid around the pictures. The pattern itself is quite elaborate with different greens for each plant and lots of little details that make the pictures very realistic. We always like to put Bible verses with our wall hangings to make them more meaningful and remind us of the Lord. It was rather surprising to find this one with Scripture in a secular craft magazine. After the cross-stitching was complete we sewed a muslin back onto it so that it had a completeness about it, since it won't be in a frame. With Dad's help, I'll make a hanger for the top and an attachment on the bottom for the bell.
Cross-stitch is an easy skill, but following an elaborate pattern takes real concentration. I have done several small items over the years but this was my first large picture. It is a bouquet of fresh flowering herbs tied with a ribbon.
I made a cross stitch bookmark. Previous to this I had been desirous of having a special bookmark of my own, because Hannah and Sarah each owned one. After starting, I rapidly cross-stitched the simple design. Then I finished the edges for a completed bookmark. It now marks a page in my Bible. Eventually I may make another one or even several, but I will always remember the first one I ever made.
To cross-stitch on non-cross-stitch material we use tear-away-cloth, which is a form of cross-stitch material that comes apart easily to enable each strand to be pulled out after the design is complete. When I cross-stitched on my bibs, I used this material. A piece the appropriate size for the design being stitched is tacked onto the bib and then the design is cross-stitched through the tear-away-cloth and the bib. Once it is complete the tacking stitches are removed and the strands of tear-away-cloth are pulled out one at a time, leaving the cross-stitch precisely where you wanted it.
Several of us girls have cross-stitched bread cloths for our hope chests with designs that match our kitchen themes. My dish set has a simple leaf pattern around the rim with little blue oval flowers. Because it's so simple I tend to use the same colors but not necessarily the exact pattern. I also add a pink in the same dusky tone as the blue and green to increase the interest. In the case of my bread cloth, I used a pre-made pattern and chose my own colors. Because we have a large family and I intend too as well, Lord willing, I wanted a larger bread cloth than the ones sold commercially. With this in mind I worked with a defective cross-stitch afghan material and cut
Cross-stitch is very versatile, whether it's used to make pictures or to accent some other item. Colors can be changed, items rearranged, added or subtracted. Some designs can be extended, like a trellis of Morning Glories I did once that I needed to be taller in order to accommodate the verses I wanted. Words, of course, can be changed relatively easily. And new designs can be made up to suite the need of the moment. Another trellis I made contained a pair of praying hands, which I didn't want. I removed them and Mom helped me design a Humming Bird to take their place. To be sure, the majority of patterns do fine just as they are. The more cross-stitch you do the more comfortable and skilled you will become at altering your patterns.
Tip: use graph paper to make your own designs.
This category contains an almost endless quantity of stitches, and an equally extensive variety of ways to use them. Embroidery, more than cross-stitch, is used to decorate already made articles. Since it doesn't actually produce an item, we don't spend a lot of time developing our skill in this area and leaning lots of stitches. For the most part we stick to a basic set of stitches that we've acquired over time as we've needed them; stem, chain and split stitches, satin and long-and-short stitch, daisy stitch, back stitch, and a few others if we need to produce a different effect. Once a needle can be wielded effectively it's very easy to learn a new stitch. We use the same floss for embroidery as we do for cross-stitch and just choose how many strands will produce the desired result. Unlike cross-stitch with it's precise grid of holes, embroidery is done on any material and takes a bit more skill to get even stitches. Even so, our children enjoy learning and making things with embroidery.
When I embroidered a handkerchief for Hannah the pattern that was drawn in pencil kept rubbing off as I worked on it and Julia had to keep drawing it back on. I was trying to make it secretly in us girls' room, so Mom told Hannah not come in. I copied the design from a hanky Mom made, only I used pink instead of red for the flowers. I also made a secret hanky for Caleb. Mom helped find some cross-stitch patterns that boys would like. I chose a duck one. There were so many colors and I had to make them in just the right places like the pattern, but I did make some mistakes. It took a long time. He thinks it is so special that he almost never uses it. I guess he likes it a lot.
Though embroidery uses the same floss as cross-stitch, the technique is different. For one hanky I made I learned an outline stitch, the lazy-daisy stitch and the French knot. It was a simple pattern stitched in one corner of the cloth. It is easiest to embroider the pattern if first you draw on the design and then embroider it.
Designing needlework patterns does not have to be difficult. As always, starting with small projects helps to build confidence. I made both embroidery and cross-stitch patterns to match my set of dishes which has allowed me to perk up the plainer kitchen items while simultaneously drawing them into the pattern and color theme that already exists. Just like with all pattern making, it is best to be very comfortable with the individual
Tip: There are computer programs to make patterns off of pictures, especially if you want to reproduce a photo.
Clothing made from patterned material do best with single colored decorations like lace. But solid colored clothes do well with embroidery or cross-stitched accents. I made this dress from a sheet as a trial of a new pattern. It turned out perfectly without any alterations so I kept it and added the embroidery to help spice it up. Too much of one color can be either overwhelming or drab, but a little added color can break up the monotony and enhance the overall impression. Embroidery draws attention to itself wherever it is, so care should be taken to not stitch it in places where it would be inappropriate to draw attention. One little wool dress I made needed something to break up its large amount of red so I did a little cross-stitch hen on the front and a chick on the collar. It turned out real cute.
Crewel is a lot of fun. Basically it is embroidery done with strands of wool yarn rather than with cotton floss. I did this project years ago and really enjoyed myself. There were at least twenty different stitches used in the pattern which lent much interest to the learning process. Postponing the rabbit's tail until last was my way of avoiding the one stitch I wasn't sure about. When the time came to do it, it wasn't as hard as I thought because there was plenty of gray yarn left with which to work. Disliking my first try, I took it out and still had enough yarn left to do it again. One fun thing that all of us do (I guess it runs in the family) is to plan ahead so that the carry over threads on the back of our projects are as short and neat as possible. Planning ahead does pay even when the projects are small. It's good practice in preparation for the bigger projects and responsibilities of life.
With a little creativity in designing patterns yourself, embroidery can easily be adapted to any need. Cross-stitch patterns call for exact floss numbers but embroidery leaves it up to you, so it puts to good use those skines that loose their numbers or are from unusual companies. Not much time is required to learn a stitch and there really are no rules, so it's easy to work with and apply to any project.
With a needle and thread an amazing variety of styles and effects can be created, whether in the form of a full picture wall hanging or a decorative embellishment to a piece of clothing or a household item. The time it takes tells of the love and care of the maker. Each piece holds a special message that becomes more meaningful as you experience for yourself the time and effort it takes to make something, even something very small. Homemade items may cost more in the way of time than store bought ones do in money, but they are incomparably more meaningful and valuable to those who receive them.
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