Sunday, March 30, 2014

- Kitchen Towel photography: Trying to capture subtle stitches (updated 2/8/2015)

Note: Click here for all of the Kitchen Towel index links.

I've been watching the sun climb into the sky all morning ... every half hour going out and taking yet another round of pictures, trying to capture the subtlety of the stitches on my kitchen towel as well as a napkin. It's time to stop trying and go with the best I've got for now.

What I didn't mention in yesterday's post was that before there was a towel, there was a napkin ...

Running stitch on cotton/linen napkin detail. Note how the lower horizontal line of stitching is "off track"

It was a test piece, worked on a West Elm cotton/linen blend napkin with DMC cotton floss. As each DMC strand ran out I began a new color, all in soft earth tones of course (and therefore equally difficult to photograph). The problems I encountered were two-fold: the machine-made hemstitching on the napkin did not parallel the warp and woof of the fabric (see the right side of the napkin) and the warp and woof were not evenly sized, making it harder to "follow the line," particularly when stitching at night.

Still, I learned a lot from practicing on this piece. Mostly that it was fun to do plain old running stitch, particularly with no real plan, end product, or deadline. I had nothing to lose except for a few hours of my time ... and since much of that time was spent sitting in the sun, that in itself was sufficient. But I also found a stitch size and rhythm that suited me, I tried out some different knots for starting and ending, and I realized that doing my own hemstitching on an evenly woven linen would be a good idea the next time around.

Upon completing the napkin (which has since become a kitchen towel), I set my sights on a pale green linen tablecloth that had been cut into before. The quality of the linen was middling, the tablecloth having been purchased for about $30 at Target many years ago (when it was used for a smaller dining table than we have now). However, it seemed to have a good hand  (what Merriam Webster defines as the "the feel of or tactile reaction to something") for its intended purpose, so I cut a piece about one inch larger all around than my favorite kitchen towel, following the weave of the linen by eye. I turned under a 3/8" hem (which is what "felt right" for the weight of the linen) and hemstitched it at about four threads per stitch (note to those who have hemstitched: I did not pull a thread because the linen quality was too poor, so I took the lazy way out and just followed the weave of the linen).

After hemming the towel, I chose eight DMC cotton flosses in colors that reminded me of the ocean, all with very soft, gray tones: light green, medium green, light blue, light blue-green, medium blue, cream, taupe, and charcoal gray. I made lines of running stitch following the weave of the fabric from the bottom to the top of the towel, choosing a new starting point and a new color for each row. Knowing the towel would get much more handling and laundering than most needlework, I chose to do a double running stitch when beginning or ending a thread.

Sadly, the pale green floss looks more like amber
and the pale green linen ground looks more gray than green.

I also drew some random circles on the linen using a compass and pencil, having seen something similar on Pinterest that appealed to me. The pencil faded away after a couple of washes ... one unanticipated advantage of making a quotidian piece that will get a lot of laundering. As with the beginning and end of each row, I used a double running stitch at the beginning and end of each encounter with the circle, which also made it more visible.

Note the bits of floss furling out at the top of the circle ...
a failed attempt at a different knotting technique.

As I worked, I decided I didn't really want to do the whole towel one way, so I free-styled. In the end, one half of the towel was dominated by closely worked vertical rows with small stitches and blank circles (which have inspired me to do a phases of the moon piece in the future), while the other half focused more on the intersections created by working horizontally in varying widths.

The happy result was not only did I get to try out different techniques, I now have a different "look" depending on how the towel is folded and hung over my oven door handle.

Someday soon I'll go to the camera store in Austin to get the camera checked out and then ask them how best to capture the details of color and stitching with my DSLR. But for now it's enough to show my work in progress (both the needlework and the photographic work) and move on.

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