Tuesday, May 19, 2015

- Measure twice, stitch once: Building a house of cloth

I love precision. The careful counting of threads on an unmarked cloth  ...

Single strand of DMC cotton floss back stitched on 50 count linen

And I come by this obsession honestly. First, influenced by my cousins, whose Norwegian relations introduced them to counted cross stitch long before it made its way to the States. Then, as an aspiring Needleworker for Colonial Williamsburg (where I created my own dream job, then walked away ... long story), influenced by the Ann Pasteur Maupin sampler acquired in 1981 and pictured here. Worked by a ten year old, the b-side of the sampler was virtually the same as the front. You can also see the sampler reproduced here in kit form  (I just discovered the link today).

In the beginning of my own counted stitching I had relied on even-weave cotton cloths like Hardanger and Aida to regulate my stitches ... then graduated to evenly woven linen, with its variations in thread thickness. I quickly learned that cross stitches could slide under a tabby weave, the desired diagonal becoming an undesirable straight stitch if pulled a little too tight. And thus it became clear to me why Ann Pasteur Maupin was taught a three-part cross stitch: by repeating the first diagonal of the cross the stitch was "locked in" before adding the opposing diagonal, thereby achieving something close to a mirror effect on the b-side ...

B-side of three-part cross stitches


But these days I'm sorta over cross stitch. Been there, done that. Movin' on ...

And yet ... and yet ... I do love precision.

So what's next? A new Kitchen Towel series to warm my daughter's new house, which is currently under construction ...

The living room looking out onto the patio


Local limestone worked by some very talented stonemasons

First in the series will be a rendering of the house plan designed by my son-in-law and drafted by the builder. The base cloth is a piece of Belgian linen from a repurposed duvet cover, the color neither blue nor green ... a color as variable and sensitive to light as the sea and equally hard to capture in a photo. After copying and pasting the house plan PDF into Word (I've just never gotten into PhotoShop, so I make do with what I know) ...



I blocked out the extraneous bits and reprinted the house plan on some "vellum" inkjet paper that I bought some time back, figuring it might come in handy ...


It took a fair bit of time prepping the cloth, first hemstitching the towel at the rate of fifteen doubled stitches per inch over the 14 x 24 inch dimensions (that's 28 plus 48 times 30, almost 2300 stitches) based on one of my favorite towels from the original kitchen towel series ...



After which, harem cloth was obsessively basted to the back: about fifty rows of thirty stitches each ...


In other words, there were nearly 4000 stitches in the cloth before I even began to stitch the house plan ... the plan that had been re-sized and printed to match the towel size without too much thought to ultimate stitch size, believe it or not. But the printout ended up scaled almost perfectly to sixteenths of an inch. Which was helpful, since the linen averaged about three threads to a sixteenth of an inch.

I began stitching the dining room since it was somewhat central, using the dimensions of the inner walls as a guide after discovering that the printed plan was pixilated to a degree that required some fudging of details. Likewise, the variations in linen thread thickness from whisper-thin to slubby added another dimension of uncertainty ...



Still, I found my rhythm and soon began intuiting quarter-inch doorways and single-stitch window frames, inner walls and outer walls, which details to leave in and which to edit out ...



Even so, I was somewhat surprised (and more than a little relieved) when I found myself back in the dining room with all the walls matching up after circling clockwise from bedrooms to great room to master suite to garage. Not that I actually measured twice and stitched once. I confess there were many times I retraced my steps after stitching a line too far. But I'm well pleased with the results ...

A-side


And delighted to learn-by-doing that the harem cloth added a degree of stability that made my counted work much easier than it ever was on plain linen ...

B-side


B-side close-up

Now all that is left to do is add a few more details, baste on another layer of harem cloth as a backing, and quilt the three layers together ... but that's for another day, another post.

16 comments:

Mo Crow said...

I love this so much Liz, your stitching is so perfect, a major inspiration!

Liz Ackert said...

Which is exactly how I feel about your drawings!

Dana said...

What a personal and meaningful gift, and what beautiful craftsmanship! Your daughter will love this.

Liz Ackert said...

She's used to having a stitching mom, so I expect she will ... although it may be challenging to convince her to actually use it in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, I have gained a much deeper appreciation for the house plan by literally going over every bit of it (at least once)

yvette said...

yes the stitching makes you loving it more and more!
love
( i had troubles leaving comments but here i am)

Suzanna said...

It's quite beautiful, and what a good idea! I admire your stitching, and am looking forward to seeing the next steps...thanks for describing the process.

Liz Ackert said...

Thanks much ... I'm already thinking about the next towel in the series (and even looking ahead to a third series for my St Louis daughter)

jude said...

I love that you love precision. It is the first thing I noticed. But it has a softness because there is such heart in it.

Liz Ackert said...

Thank you ... I am very happy with the way the stitches lie on the cloth, which is surely a function of the harem cloth backing. It also keeps thread ends on the back from showing through to the front and enabled me to invisibly backstitch all my beginnings and endings without any knots. I can't imagine working without harem cloth these days!

Liz Ackert said...

So glad you made it past the Blogger obstacle course ... every so often I think about switching to another blog site. Then I feel slightly queasy ...
Anyway, thank you ... for your patience and persistence and kind comments.

Susan said...

Oh I like this, Liz. Your daughter will be so pleased. Precision with a sense of place and home. I am amazed at the straight lines you achieve with such a fluid sort of cloth. I love the differences in line - double and single and dotted. It's wonderful.

Liz Ackert said...

Thank you ... it was fun interpreting the architectural drawing into stitch. I'm planning on doing a combination back-stitch/running stitch for the quilting (which will be aligned with the north/south and east/west lines of the property), but am still mulling what color(s) to use.

grace Forrest~Maestas said...

i have such a huge grin looking here....it's amazing to me....once again, i
could never even dream to do it...i have no straight lines in me no matter how i try
so this is a delight to see...and how True to the blueprint...
love this

Saskia van Herwaarden said...

amazing! absolutely amazing & beautiful in so many ways: the precision, the scale, the details, the stitching, the clarity of vision and suberb execution, I take my imaginary hat off!

Liz Ackert said...

Ah, but how I envy your fluid lines, the expressiveness of your cloths. Still, this piece is a reminder to myself that it takes all kinds.

Liz Ackert said...

Thank you Saskia ... but much as I said to Grace, I in turn doff my hat to your wild hares and recumbent dogs, with their fluid lines and incredible expressiveness.