10 November 2015

Worst Needlepoint Stitch Ever?

Back in my teens and twenties, I was not knitting. Instead, I was working cross stitch, embroidery, and canvas work. All of these are slow techniques, with canvas work often being very slow. There are several reasons for this. First, the entire canvas is often covered. Even if you only worked say, five stitches per inch, that would be 25 stitches in every square inch. The squared part of the equation is not your friend. (Area = side × side) It multiplies up fast.

Secondly, canvas work is sometimes done with novelty threads but sometimes worked in silk or cotton stranded floss. When worked in floss, the directions usually specific a specific number of strands to hold together. These strands are stroked into place so that they all lie parallel on the surface of the canvas. Every up and down of the needle is more like up, down, stroke into place, tug gently to settle. Not fast. But because the threads are highly directional, the effect is multiple subtle tints and shades of the same hue. The directional sheen thrown off from this technique can be spectacular.

Years ago my mother purchased a small canvas work kit, "Strawberry Trellis Pincushion" at Winterthur museum in Delaware. It is based on a pocketbook inscribed "Henry Row 1794" in their collection (accession # 1964.0811.) The colors matched her living room. I agreed to make it up for her.

Normally, I am happy to do this sort of work. I recognize the slow pace, but I also find it can be meditative. It is nice to get lost in the steady progression of a beautiful piece. It is nice to enjoy the beauty your own hands can produce. Many canvas work pieces also have a variety of stitch patterns or thread types. About the time you are bored with one area, you change threads and pattern and move onto a fresh, new, exciting section. Let me state for the record, that is not this piece!

I was reminded of this piece this week when I attended a program about American embroidered samplers at Textile Appreciation Society of Atlanta. Dr. Lynn C. Tinley, independent scholar and adjunct history professor, Oglethorpe University, was the presenter. Dr. Tinley showed slides of beautiful samplers. Many of the samplers used cross stitches counted across unbelievably fine linen. But some of them also used queen stitch, which is the stitch used throughout the strawberry trellis pincushion.

Why is it called queen stitch? First off, it uses lots more thread than regular stitches. You might need to be royalty to afford it, particularly if you were using silk imported from halfway around the world. Because stitches run in both directions, it produces a lovely, subtle sheen reminiscent of silk velvet. And it covers the canvas quite completely on both the right and wrong sides. But it is a royal pain to work. As you can see in the detail, the stitch is a diamond shape. There are four long vertical stitches tacked down with four small horizontal stitches. What makes this stitch a special pain is there will be places in the pattern with ten(!) sets of threads in a single hole. It is even slower to work than counted cross-stitch.

 One of my goals for 2014 (last year) was to finish abandoned projects. I can not even tell you what year I started this thing, as there were times it sat untouched for at least a year or two, clamped into the embroidery stand in the corner of the living room. It was about half done when I picked it back up in the summer of 2014. I made it a point to work on it while watching Crossbones (the pirate show starring John Malkovich on NBC that only ran 9 episodes). I continued to work on the dang thing while watching evening newscasts. I'm not sure how many hours are in this project, but I would guess between 50 and 100. (For scale, the whole project is about 4 inches on a side, or just over 6 inches across as displayed en pointe. The detail above is one inch high by two inches wide.) Also, as the entire project is the same stitch worked in the same pattern over and over, there was nothing to break up the monotony.

By the time I finally completed this annoying little thing, my mother had redecorated her living room and changed the color scheme. She had the piece for awhile, but then gave it back to me. I haven't decided if I should frame it or mount it in the top of a box or turn it into a pincushion. A good project is one that looks beautiful and, ideally, is less work than it seems. Even if it takes time, the time spent is pleasant because the journey is enjoyable. This project is the opposite. It looks okay but not spectacular, and no one who hasn't worked queen stitch will have any idea what a pain it was to work or how boring or how much time it soaked up. Hence, I am wondering is this the worst needlepoint stitch ever?


villiputti said...

Why not turn that 'dang thing' into a pincushion? Ar least then the piece is put into good use and you can stick all your pins into it. What better use is there to a 'dang thing'.
I think the stitch looks lovely but painful to work with. Could be the worst stitch, you're more of an expert than I.
Thanks for the post, I loved it!

Jolie said...

Oooo, I like your idea. You are right — sticking pins in it as if it were a voodoo doll might make me feel better about the whole sad affair.