Cross Stitch Patterns from Fine Art by Scarlet Quince
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Scarlet Quince Ramblings

Cross stitch ... art ... life

Needle book
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Here’s an idea for speeding your stitching in a couple of different ways. (It isn’t my idea, by the way — it was sent to me by a very clever person.) It relies on having enough needles so that you never unthread a needle. I do this more or less, by wrapping the floss on a needle around the appropriate bobbin, and leaving it there until the floss is used up OR I am done with that symbol for the foreseeable future, at which time I unthread the needle and wrap the floss onto the bobbin and file it in my bobbin box.

An even better way is to make a needle book out of felt sheets! Not a little bitty needle book like you might have for sewing needles. Buy several sheets of felt. They are approximately 9 x 12 inches. You can use safety pins to fasten them into a book, or use 1/4″ metal grommets and binder rings (or just put them in a 3-ring binder). Then, using our floss labels, stick the labels to the floss sheets in rows in numerical order. Leave the length of a needle between the rows (she says she discovered the needles should be stuck in from top to bottom, i.e. pointing down). It looks like this:

She says “I am constantly combing the threads down but they still get all tangled together. That’s OK though. I can still pull out the color I need.”

If you put the needles in horizontally, you could get a lot more per page (my needles are only a little longer than the floss labels are wide). I don’t know if they would tend to come out, but you could also wrap the floss tail around the needle, like this:

This is on a dishtowel — I don’t have any felt right now. This should keep the needle from coming out accidentally and it would solve most of the tangled tail problems. It does take extra time to wrap the floss on, but surprisingly, you don’t have to UNwrap it. Just pull the needle through. Even with a long piece like this, it comes easily!

You do need a needle for EVERY symbol, so you don’t want to be buying your needles 6 at a time. You need bulk needles and here are a few places you can get them:

Anita Little Stitches – Bohin and John James packs of 25 or 50
Nordic Needle – Colonial size 24 only, pack of 1000
Stitchtastic (UK) – unspecified brand, packs of 50, 100, or 500
John James (UK) – packs of 1000

or search for “bulk tapestry needles”, “1000 needles” etc. but be aware that some sellers of needles in bulk don’t sell to consumers. (I got Bohin needles from Anita Little Stitches and they are really nice needles. I mean they’re really nice. Too good for me — I keep dropping them and rolling my chair over them.) I believe John James are also good needles. I have no experience with Colonial needles. All the above vendors ship worldwide. Maybe sometime I’ll get a bunch of different needles and see how they stack up!

Guideline vs fishin’ line
Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

I just finished a tutorial on gridding, in which I mentioned Easy-Count Guideline. I had more to say about this but didn’t have room in the tutorial.

(If you’re coming late to the party, Easy-Count Guideline is a red plastic monofilament “thread” which comes on a spool in a little enclosed drum. The thread feeds out of a little hole in the drum.)

I read a post in the forums at some point in which someone stated that she uses Easy-Count Guideline but because it’s so expensive, she saves and reuses it. So how expensive is it? Well, it lists for $9 for 100 yards. $9 isn’t huge, but it is kind of a lot for a notion. Sewing thread is about $1.12 for 100 yards. DMC embroidery floss is about $4 for 100 yards. So what is so special about Easy-Count Guideline? I bought a spool to find out.

It says “Patent Pending”. I’m not sure what they’re patenting here. They didn’t invent monofilament line. True, the little box is pretty cool — if you’ve ever used nylon “invisible” thread, you know that as soon as you loosen the end, it starts unspooling itself like crazy, and that’s not an issue with this packaging. If you read their web site, you would think that they invented gridding. Almost none of the benefits they list are unique to Easy-Count Guideline. The only advantage it has over anything else you might use to grid is that it is really, really strong. You can’t pierce it with a needle, so you can leave it in until you’re finished stitching … completely finished. I feel fairly confident in saying that you won’t be able to pull this stuff hard enough to break it. I am not as confident that if you leave it under 500 stitches that you will be strong enough to pull it out. In the limited testing I’ve done, you have to pull hard to get it moving but it is slippery so once started it comes out fairly easily. But I don’t trust that I would be able to get it out from under a whole row of stitches, so I’m basically removing it as I go. I am also stitching on 22-count Hardanger cloth currently, and the Guideline takes up a lot of room. If I stitch over it, it raises the stitches a little, and in these cramped quarters it’s tricky getting past it.

I wondered why you wouldn’t just use some other, less expensive, plastic thread, maybe something that comes in multiple colors (I am hugely sold on color gridding). I went to JoAnn and was surprised to find that aside from the “invisible” nylon thread (which is unsuitable for gridding for obvious reasons) there is actually no non-spun sewing thread. I did get a spool of Sulky Sliver (also something I read about in the forums) but I couldn’t find it locally. It is a “thin, flat ribbon-like polyester film that is metalized with aluminum to make it brilliantly reflective”, according to Sulky. It comes in lots of colors and it’s probably not possible to pierce it with a tapestry needle, so you could stitch over it, and it’s about $1.88 per 100 yards. It’s pretty strong, but not as strong as Easy-Count Guideline. MRA was able to break a length of it, which he couldn’t do with the Guideline. Would it break being pulled out from under a lot of stitching? Let me know if you try it — I’m not going to. I do like it for the page boundaries with my color gridding — the metallic thread really stands out and since it’s more plastic than metallic, it’s easy to work with.

But back to Easy-Count Guideline — how is it any different from fishing line? I went to Academy to find out.

It turns out that a lot of fishing line is colorless, but it does come in red and green. I got red, 8-pound line, which was the lightest they had in stock. It was $1.50 per 100 yards. (Look for monofilament line, not “braided”.) It is a transparent red, while the Easy-Count Guideline is more opaque, but it’s hard to see a difference on fabric.

The top one is Guideline; the lower one is fishing line. It’s pretty hard to see any difference. The threads going vertically are sewing thread, and this is 22-count Hardanger cloth. The Guideline might be a teeny bit softer but they both tend to kink at the end of stitches. Fishing line comes in lighter weights and 6- or 4-pound might be better. The fishing line was taped to the spool and it does start unspooling the second the tape is off, whereas Guideline has that coolio box … but I put the fishing line inside a zip-loc bag and poked the end through the bag, and now it can just live in there and do its thing. (If I wanted to futz, I could probably make a sleeve for the fishing line like the Guideline has.) The Guideline also has extensive instructions — seriously. And not altogether helpful instructions, in my opinion. They assume your pattern will not have a 10 x 10 grid and want you grid from the center out and then mark the pattern to match your fabric. Obviously, you need to make the fabric grid match your pattern grid, and the center point is quite possibly not at the intersection of two bold lines. Probably the key point is to take long stitches since this material strains the fabric. They want you to have 6 stitch lengths on top and 4 underneath so you have a series of broken boxes to match the grid in the pattern, like this:

I could not find Easy-Count Guideline at JoAnn or Michael’s, but a shop specializing in needlework might have it, and it’s easily found online. Is the nice packaging worth $7.50? That’s what it boils down to, that and the fact that anyplace that sells sporting goods will have fishing line.

One last note from a reader, beading supply stores sell a product similar to Guideline in a variety of colors for a much lower price. It’s called nylon beading cord. It may not be available at general craft stores but you can easily find it online.

Labels again
Friday, August 5th, 2011

This is miscellaneous followups to the last two posts.

I’ve moved the color swatches on the labels to the bottom (under the numbers). I think this makes more sense for filing, since it puts the numbers at the tippy-top of the folded label. It seems to me that the colors grab the eye no matter where they are, but what can you do.

I heard from someone who uses the giftwrap tape to keep her labels attached that it sticks better to plastic bobbins than the regular tape, and that’s the reason she uses it.

I tried another approach to helping the labels stick: I scuffed up both sides of the top of a plastic bobbin with a nail file. I didn’t expect this to help because one side is already textured, and the other is smooth, and the current labels didn’t stick well to either. But when I tried to remove the label I put on the scuffed-up bobbin a week or two ago, I had the devil of a time getting it off. None of my labels stick that well to unscuffed bobbins! If I was going to try this on a larger scale, I would use a piece of steel wool (moderately fine grit — the kind for sanding, not the kind for dishes — and make sure it was leaving visible scratches) and do both sides at a time. I’d then rinse the bobbins in water to get all the dust off (and dry them, of course) before attaching labels.

However, I am hoping that none of this will be necessary with the labels with the “more aggressive” adhesive. I still haven’t received the samples I requested and was running out of time to order new labels, so I just took a leap of faith and ordered a batch of that kind. That was yesterday, so my samples will probably come today. Keep your fingers crossed for sticking power!

There’s still a lot of work to do before the color labels will be available, but we’ll try to get them out soon.

Update: the samples did come today, and they are much stickier. Will they stay permanently stuck to plastic bobbins? Time will tell, but they will definitely stay stuck longer than the current labels.

The stickiness of labels (or lack thereof)
Friday, July 29th, 2011

If you use plastic bobbins, you have a problem with the floss labels coming unstuck. They stick at first, but then one side or the other starts to lift. My bobbins have a slightly textured side, while the other side is smooth. The labels don’t seem to adhere reliably to either side. We switched to different labels at one point in the hopes of solving this problem, but while the new labels seem to stick a little better, they still tend to lift.

I called my label supplier today and explained the problem and asked what they would recommend. They explained that sticking to plastic is tricky because plastic, being a petroleum product, emits vapors which acts against the adhesive. They do have a type of label I haven’t tried yet, which I’m told has their “most aggressive adhesive”. I’ve requested samples and I really hope this solves the problem. (I still have a lot of cardboard bobbins, but I bought 1000 plastic bobbins from Nordic Needle and as I finish the floss on a cardboard bobbin, I’m replacing it with plastic.) My bobbins have a fairly large hole in the top, so I press the two sides of the label together at the hole, so it’s sticking to itself. This insures that the label won’t hop right off the bobbin, but the corners still lift, and pick up cat hair and what have you and that just makes the lifting problem worse.

One person told me she uses Scotch Giftwrap tape (in the purple dispenser) to attach her labels to plastic bobbins and she has no problem with them coming off. I was thinking that that was a double-sided tape, but it doesn’t seem to be, so now I’m not sure what the special advantage of that tape would be, unless it’s that it disappears better than standard tape. I don’t know if it’s stickier. But I hate to tell people they need to use tape on supposedly sticky labels, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for “aggressive adhesive”.

Big boo-boo
Monday, June 27th, 2011

So I was stitching last night, minding my own business, when it slowly soaked into my consciousness that the needle I was using to stitch the & symbol, which should have had a green and a gold thread, actually had two brown threads. (No, I don’t memorize the colors for each symbol but some I just learn after I’ve stitched them for a while.) I pulled out the last 3 or 4 stitches which were around the edges and then decided that would be a good time to quit for the night. I’m not actually sure of the extent of the damage — there are at least a few more wrong stitches, and to get at them I will have to rip out all the surrounding stitches. I’m going to look at it and maybe decide that it’s not worth bothering with. Although the thread is the wrong color, it is similar in darkness. It’s in a very confettic area but there is a pattern although you have to step back to see it.

I’m not sure how this happened. I may have parked a needle in the wrong place, although I think I’m really pretty careful about that. Much more often, I think, I just put floss back onto the wrong bobbin. I don’t know how I do that. I think maybe I look at the right bobbin and then pick up a different one. That sounds odd but I’ve caught myself doing it. Then later I notice I have 4 colors of floss on one bobbin, or I pick a bobbin up and realize that the color on it is clearly wrong (like a light color with a dark symbol, or vice versa). Sometimes I can figure out what the symbol for the floss should have been and sometimes I just have to throw the floss away because I don’t know what it is.

Earlier today, I thought, “I should snip half an inch of the two colors of floss on each bobbin and tape it to the bobbin.” That would be a way to check whether I was putting floss on the right bobbin. And even if I still put it on the wrong bobbin, I would probably notice when I went to use it again. My next thought was that that sounds like kind of a chore, so now I’m thinking about printing floss labels with the colors. The numbers and symbols would still be black, but there would be two little swatches or lines of the appropriate colors added to the labels. This wouldn’t necessarily let you know which thread on a bobbin was which, if it was ecru and sand for example, but it might keep you from putting blues on a bobbin that was supposed to have pinks.

What do you think?

Tips from a stitcher
Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

A stitcher wrote asking how she could share her stitching tips. I said she could post them in the forums, or send them to me and I’d put them online. This seems like a good place for them until I can merge them into the tips pages. (If YOU have tips you’d like to share, please send them! Everyone has their own little tricks, and yours may be just what someone needs.) Here are her notes:

Although “self-taught”, I have been an avid cross stitcher for 40+ years after seeing waste-canvas monograms used by a friend of my mother’s when I was in high school. Over the years, I discovered several tips that make stitching easier.

1. Rather than use the pre-lined fabric I saw referenced in the blog, I use an extra-fine, water-soluble pen to draw a line on every 10th grid to match the graph I am using. If the center of the graph is or is not on the 10th grid, I make my fabric match the pattern. Then, when stitching I know exactly where I am on both the fabric and the graph. If the centerlines are not on a line already marked, I also mark these lines as well, but with broken lines and arrows so they stand out. Unfortunately, I have only found these pens in the same color of blue, so I do not have the option of using another color. These lines stay sharp until time to wash the fabric, but if a marking mistake is made, a damp Q-tip erases the mark, but let it dry completely before remarking or the blue color will run. Another version of the pen is available in purple, but it is not quite as fine of a tip and disappears after a short period of time and is good only on areas I stitch immediately. Both pens are found in sewing or quilting notions and are well worth the expense and time to draw out the lines!! I have never had any problems getting the lines to disappear with water!

2. When traveling, I always take along a cross-stitch project, I try to select an area in my design where there will be some “fill-in” work and draw this area with the same water-soluble pen. Then I do not need to count, but can simply fill in the drawn area with the correct color. Years ago I was stitching a design based on a Jim Harrison painting and I was able to mark several areas in this manner and also write into the area the correct color to use. Stitching in the car was easy and (almost) fool proof! Of course, detailed designs like the gorgeous Scarlet Quince designs do not lend themselves to large fill-in areas, but I wanted to share the tip anyway.

3. The pens work well to draw letters on the fabric as well.

4. I do a lot of original designs based on photographs or combined graphs using graph paper with the same bolded lines based on 10 squares per inch as most designs are drawn. This allows me to carefully mark the graph paper to see how the design will look when stitched. Just remember to allow for the difference in the stitches per inch vs. the number of grids per inch on the paper or your design will be considerably smaller than the drawing!!!

I hope these ideas are helpful to some other stitchers!!!

Me again. The water-soluble marking pens usually say that they are water soluble. The (usually but not always) purple pens where the ink disappears on its own either say “disappearing ink” or “air erasable”. If you have a fabric marker and you’re not sure about it, please test it before you do a lot of work gridding. I hate to think of anyone doing a lot of work gridding only to find that the lines had disappeared 24 hours later (or wouldn’t wash out)!

What’s with all the blended colors?!
Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Many people tell us, “I like your patterns so much — now if they just didn’t use blended colors!” or “There are 450 DMC colors — why isn’t that enough for you?”

Here’s what happens if you replace the blends in a couple of our patterns with the closest solid colors. The pictures on the left are the actual patterns, with blended colors — the ones on the right are using solid colors only.

With blends
With solids only

With blends
With solids only

Nighthawks in the news!
Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Barbara Miller finished stitching Nighthawks – Edward Hopper, took it to the Art Institute in Chicago to visit the original, and she made the Chicago Tribune!


You can read the article here. Alas, they don’t mention Scarlet Quince, but you can’t have everything. The author of the article was clearly not too conversant with “the craft style known as counted cross stitch” so some important information was omitted: this was stitched on 32-count linen, using Q-Snaps, with hair clips to keep the extra fabric rolled up and out of the way.

It’s an amazing achievement and I feel both impressed and proud!

Color grid
Saturday, November 6th, 2010

The piece I’m stitching, Blue Peacock – Jesse Arms Botke, has a lot of areas that look much like other nearby areas — the background, the tips of the feathers. I usually just put in grid lines at page boundaries and for patterns with a variety of small objects, that’s good enough. I don’t need every tenth line gridded to keep my place. That wasn’t working with this pattern, so for the first time, I added grid lines on the fabric corresponding to all the dark vertical lines on the chart. (I don’t need horizontal lines because I don’t leave gaps within a column of stitching, only within rows.) Although it was easier to keep my place, I found I was still doing a lot of counting. Maybe I’d be stitching the asterisk symbol, tie off one place, then look around for more asterisks and find some the 4th block over on a page. I’d count over on the fabric, compare what I’d highlighted as complete on my chart to what I had stitched on the fabric, and because I sometimes forget to highlight stitches as I finish them, it wouldn’t quite match so I’d count the blocks on the chart and fabric again. All in all, a lot of counting just to do a couple of stitches.

I suddenly realized that if I gridded in different colors, and marked those colors on the lines on the chart, I wouldn’t need to count. I could just say to myself, “Just right of the orange line” or “Midway between the red and blue lines”. I got out my box of thread and I found some fine-pointed felt-tip markers that someone gave me years ago that miraculously have not dried up and redid my grid. It would be nice to have a wider range of colors since dark colors can be hard to tell apart, but I found that the pale colors are hard to see on the fabric. (I have many more colors of floss than left-over thread, but floss tends to leave little shreddies when you pull it out, at least on aida, so something with a harder finish is better for gridding.) So I’m using a medium blue, gray, dark green, brown, dark red, red, pink, and orange, and black for the page boundaries.

Here’s how it looks on the fabric (about 2 pages worth).
Fabric grid

And this is the first page of that on the chart.
Paper grid

As an additional sanity check, I’m making sure that the colors are in different orders on every page. If I’m looking for an area bordered by blue and red, and the color to the right of the blue line is gray, then I must be on the wrong page. So far that hasn’t come up but it can’t hurt.

This is making my stitching go SO MUCH FASTER you wouldn’t believe it. Not fast, mind you, but fastER. I haven’t timed myself with this method but my impression is that I’m stitching at least twice as fast. Right now I’m whipping through a section where it’s the tips of the feathers and very mixed colors. I haven’t worked in this area in a while in preference to doing background the peacock’s body but I remember that it was very slow going. I don’t get discouraged so much by millions of isolated stitches, as by the feeling that I’m spending most my time not stitching but hunting for my place. I’m totally sold on this — I will probably do this in the future even on pieces that don’t strictly need a grid.

An improvement would be to go out and buy thread that is strikingly different colors. It’s easy to tell the thread colors apart on the fabric but the corresponding markers don’t come out as different as would be ideal, particularly the reds and oranges. If I had a dark yellow, a turquoise, a medium green, etc. it would help, but I just used what I had around.

The Michael’s experience
Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

I ran out of 3854 Sunday night. First there were 2 strands left, then 1, then none. My progress on the peacock is heartbreakingly slow (I hadn’t realized how slow until I went back to the first page of the chart, which I had highlighted in pink and began highlighting in green) so it wasn’t a crisis. But it did mean that I needed to make a list of the floss I still needed, which meant making progress on the Get-The-Floss-Organized-I-Mean-It-This-Time project. I have a box of the bobbins I’m using currently, a couple of boxes of bobbins not in use, several bags of miscellaneous floss, a little set of plastic drawers with extra floss for the current project, and weirdest of all, a lot of floss in baggies paperclipped in numeric order to wire coat hangers hanging in a closet. The intent is to merge all this into 2 sets, current and not, organized somehow, so I can find what I need in finite time, and know fairly definitely whether I’m really out of a color or not. A friend who was moving gave me a whole lot of those Sterilite plastic chests of drawers, the kind with 3 drawers, each the size of a ream of paper, and I have all those baggies … those will figure in the answer but I’m not sure yet exactly how. Anyway, after much pawing through piles of floss, I arrived at a shopping list and went to Michael’s.

One of the things about Michael’s (and other not-exclusively-needlework stores) is that you can’t just take a skein from the 3854 bin and GET 3854. You must examine the label before you put it in your basket, or you may get 3853 or 3855 (which would at least be excusable) or 720 (which isn’t). Who puts the floss back in totally wrong places? When I find that, I “help” by leaving the misfiled floss on top of the rack. The other thing is that they are always out of random colors (probably; there could be some misfiled far from the correct bin but who knows?). Once I spoke to the manager after making a couple of trips only to find that they were STILL out of the color I needed and pressed him fairly hard about when they were getting more. He assured me that they would have it tomorrow because they got a shipment every day and their inventory system wouldn’t allow them to run out. He explained that when the floss was scanned at checkout, it was subtracted from the inventory and when they got low it was automatically reordered.

He really believed that. Here’s what happens when you arrive at checkout with a pile of floss. The clerk scans the first two skeins — this usually takes 3 or 4 tries because the bar codes are so small. She then counts the skeins and rings them up as 43 of whatever the last color she scanned was. The manager would probably have spent an hour scanning the individual skeins because he knows what happens to the inventory if he doesn’t. I’m sure if I had told him how it really works he would have said “They know not to do that.” It would be better if they would realize that some things are too small, and purchased often in too large quantities to scan individually, and that they just needed to keep an eye on those items. But they have a System, so they don’t, and that’s why I still have 4 colors I will have to get somewhere else.

I guess there is a lesson in here for me: if I really want to know what floss I have (and more importantly don’t have) it’s going to take more than putting it in drawers and hoping for the best.

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