Stitch of the Month 
April 2004: One-Way Couching Patterns with Cross Stitch Tiedowns

by Ann Strite-Kurz

Pattern 1. The first pattern of this series is a one-way pattern with horizontal laid rows that are placed two threads apart. The cross stitch tiedowns are arranged as staggered units in alternating rows, forming solid diagonal paths in both directions. Depending on the density of the threads used and the contrasts between the values or colors used, this simple pattern can look very different.

Overall View


Step 1. Horizontal Tramé Rows. The laid rows can be completed in the usual "back and forth" manner described in the Introduction.

Step 2. Cross Stitch Tiedowns. These units can be executed in either horizontal, vertical or diagonal rows. I prefer to execute the stitches in horizontal rows from top to bottom. The traveling paths will always fall behind the tramé rows with this sequence and the crosses can be executed the same way in both row directions. The angle between the stitches is somewhat less sharp in the right-to-left rows but it is still adequate to keep both ends of the stitches snugly wrapped so no changes are needed.


Step 2 Sequence Chart

Example 1. The first example shows this pattern as a grounding or background pattern behind the head of an owl. Both steps are executed in #8 pearl cotton on 24-count Congress cloth so the textures are the same. Although the laid thread is slightly lighter than the thread used for the crosses, any contrasts are minimal between the values of the threads. Further subtle contrasts are created by the presence of slightly exposed canvas threads between the laid rows, but these "canvas peekaboos" are less conspicuous at viewing distance than the open holes, which give the pattern a slightly "perforated" appearance. In spite of this light, airy quality, the background still appears almost solid at viewing distance compared to the next interpretation.

 Owl Background
Example 1
(click on image to enlarge)

Example 2. This interpretation has sharper contrasts since the laid rows of dark blended metallic are placed on a white 24-count ground and tied down with black crosses. The exposed canvas between the elements here is more prominent not only because the thread colors are dark but because both threads are also lighter in weight than the soft twisted #8 pearl in the previous pattern. The laid work here is executed in a #8 Kreinik metallic braid, which is slightly thinner than the fluffy pearl of the same weight, and the crosses are stitched in a very fine #12 pearl cotton. In the previous pattern the heavier crosses appear more like squares that blend with the laid rows but the thin crosses here appear more like Xes that connect diagonally to form an open pattern of diamond repeats in the negative space between the units. These strong black "outlines" dominate, making the laid threads recessive and inconspicuous at viewing distance, but the glimmer of the blended metallic is clear at close range.

Example 2

NOTE: Crosses executed with a thin thread in this pattern will resemble blackwork outlines rather than canvas stitches, especially when executed in a dark color. The visual effect changes dramatically and can be an effective contrast or focal point within a design with mostly dense texture stitch patterns. The laidwork is secondary but it still forms a foundation for the stronger elements, adding depth to the layering.

Example 3. The third sample of this pattern uses a red-orange Sparkle Rays as the laid thread. A gold metallic braid is used for the crosses so this arrangement reverses the traditional concept of using the metallic as a bottom layer. This pattern also appears perforated. Although the braid is wide enough to cover the horizontal canvas threads, portions of the vertical threads and the holes between them are visible between the laid rows, making the pattern slightly open.

A second example of this same arrangement is shown on a black canvas. Notice how the open areas form small triangles on the dark ground. This was less obvious in the example on white canvas.

Example 4. Variation I. This sample uses the same main framework as Example 2 but clusters of four brick stitches are added inside the diamond outlines and placed in staggered groups to suggest flowers. Such an alternating arrangement of elements also forms a diaper pattern with visual diagonal repeats in both directions. The heavy red velour stitches completely cover the laid threads in the flower clusters but the metallic is visible in the open diamonds between the flowers.

April Diaper
Variation I
(click on image to enlarge)

Charted View


Steps 1 and 2. Horizontal Tramé Rows and Cross Stitch Tiedowns. The first two steps in all the variations should be added in the same manner suggested earlier for Examples 1-3 so no further charts are needed.  

Step 3 Sequence. Brick Stitch Clusters. These clusters are added in vertical paths since this direction provides more efficient traveling between the clusters. In a stitched sample, it is possible to reverse the direction of the final stitch (h) and carry the thread to stitch i to start the new row. The velour fills the canvas holes and these holes are also next to the crosses so any changes in the tension from the pivot will be inconspicuous. Sometimes I do this in a regular filling as well to avoid traveling in surrounding outlines or patterns with a heavy thread. As long as such maneuvers do not affect the appearance of the pattern on the front side, they are acceptable.  

Step 3 Sequence Chart  
Step 3 Sequence Chart  

Example 5. Variation II. This sample uses the same main framework (Steps 1 and 2) as Example 3 but adds a different element as Step 3. This time single brick stitches are added in all of the open areas between the crosses in black velour. The "dimpled" effect of these dark stitches forms an attractive accent and makes the pattern almost solid.


Overall Chart

Step 3 Sequence.  Brick stitches. These stitches are added in vertical running stitch paths as numbered in the sequence chart.

Sequence Chart

NOTE: These stitches could be added in horizontal paths like the brick stitches in the pattern couching examples of the February Stitch of the Month segment, but I prefer the use of vertical running stitch rows as diagrammed. In this direction the upright stitches are less apt to lean, and the traveling threads are also shorter. Having a different direction for this sequence also spreads out the traveling paths on the back side of the canvas. Multiple parallel paths sometimes cause undesirable overloaded areas.

Individual running stitches will also appear slightly larger compared to the back-stitched ones of the previous pattern because any tension on the thread is minimal. In addition, a running stitch path is more frugal with thread usage - certainly a consideration if the thread of choice is expensive. Neither of these features influenced my decision this time, however, but once a decision is made, it is important to be consistent throughout the pattern.  

Example 6. Variation III. Another more open variation of a one-way pattern with cross stitch tiedowns is presented next that would make an attractive background. The laid rows are vertical in this arrangement and four threads apart. The tiedown stitches are in clusters of three and they are placed six threads apart. The position of the clusters in the alternating rows is staggered and zigzag rows of double tent stitches are worked horizontally between the laid rows as Step 3.

Thread Identification. In the sample a yellow Fyre Werks ribbon is used for the laid rows, a golden-yellow #8 pearl cotton is used for the crosses and a red #8 pearl cotton is used for the Step 3 accent. The ground is an 18-count white mono canvas.


Overall Pattern


Step 1 Sequence. Vertical Tramé Rows. Lay all of these vertical rows in the usual back-and-forth manner.

Step 2 Sequence. Cross Stitch Clusters. Add the top crosses in vertical paths as numbered on the chart. The traditional method of doing crosses would place these paths alongside the laidwork rather than conceal them. Therefore these crosses are executed in a manner that carries the traveling threads behind the tramé threads. When traveling between rows, the working thread must travel outside of the design area and start the next row from an aligned position. I usually take what I call "rollover" stitches over a single canvas thread to hold the stitches in the desired position to pivot and travel between the rows. Such stitches usually sink with a tug and do not interfere with any mat or frame that is added around the design later. Background patterns are usually more open than regular open fillings, so measures to conceal all of the traveling threads are even more important.  

Step 2 Sequence Chart

Step 3 Sequence. Double Tent Stitches. These zigzag stitches are added in horizontal rows of running stitches. The traveling threads will carry behind the cross stitches in this direction. When traveling between rows, the thread will lie in an open area next to the laid thread if simply carried, so I recommend taking a tacking stitch in the backing of the center cross between stitches 6 and 8. Position this stitch strategically so that the thread can be carried to stitch 7 at an angle that will place it under the completed stitch. To travel from stitch 12 to stitch 13, simply weave through the backing of the three crosses in-between to reach the starting point of the new row.

Step 3 Sequence Chart

Example 7. To complete this segment, I am presenting a second view of this same open pattern in a monochromatic treatment. The laidwork and tiedowns are executed in an overdyed green Impressions thread. The tramé rows are laid in two strands of this wool/silk blend and the crosses are stitched in a single strand. The four-way double tent stitches are stitched in a chartreuse braided metallic to add a touch of glitz, but since the value of the metallic is similar to that of the Impressions green, the main contrasts are created by the negative space of the open white ground.


CONCLUSION. When we see a pattern, we tend to get tunnel vision and do not anticipate all the possible variations that can be created from a single arrangement. One of the things I want to accomplish as the Stitch of the Month designer for 2004 is to point out how much variety can be achieved by simple changes in the colors, the values, the textures and the densities of the threads used. In March I showed how patterns could be expanded and how new elements could be added in the open areas created. In this segment I showed the same pattern in different thread densities as well as colors. I also introduced the concepts of spreading out the laid rows and using clusters of the tiedown stitches instead of single stitches. As the monthly segments progress, I will not only introduce new patterns but I will present more ways to create variations from specific "parent" stitches or patterns.

In addition, several technical points were introduced such as pivot stitches which deliberately interrupt or break the consistency of a sequence in order to make it easy to travel between rows without changing the appearance of the stitches on the front. This is sort of like saying you have to be inconsistent to make things look consistent, and this will all make sense shortly!  In regular canvas embroidery, there are very few rules - just guidelines - and the main goal in achieving technical excellence is to aim for total consistency. Simple one-stitch patterns usually build in rows of individual units that nest together with no exposed canvas between the units. When planning these sequences, the only "universal" rule is to add new rows so that the stitches come up in empty holes and sink into filled holes to avoid piercing or disturbing the previously laid threads.

In composite patterns with spread-out elements, it is often necessary to both come up and sink in previously filled holes when later stitches are added between existing units. Therefore the rule that overrides all others for this style of patterning is always to maintain equal tension on both ends of every stitch (another way of saying "keep the stitches snugly wrapped"). If this is done, the canvas holes are never cluttered, and later stitches can share holes cleanly without piercing previously laid stitches. Stitch lengths of repeated stitches will always appear uniform as well. In order to maintain a consistent tension on every stitch, it is sometimes necessary to alter the way a stitch is laid. Usually this need occurs only at the beginning and/or end of a row, and such a change in the usual rhythm or direction is called a "pivot stitch."  Hopefully by seeing the way such changes are made in the sequences provided in this program, such adjustments will become intuitive to you in future situations. Few stitch encyclopedias deal with this problem so it has become a sort of "crusade" within my teaching goals.

With composite patterns there is the added challenge of having multiple sequences and multiple threads that must be secured. Special measures must be taken to prevent overloaded backings that can distort the carefully laid stitches on the front by shrinking the coverage. Wool is flexible and less vulnerable, but cotton and synthetic threads are more rigid, and any strain from overpacked areas will show. Preventive measures include using different directions for the various sequences so that the trails intersect on the back rather than forming bulky parallel paths. My use of away knots rather than waste knots also enables the starting and ending threads to be secured in a deliberate manner that spreads out these thread tails better. (See the February 2004 Stitch of the Month for information on these knots, and how and when to use them.)

Open patterns are the most challenging of all. In addition to maintaining a consistent look throughout the pattern, one must also eliminate or minimize the visibility of the traveling threads. In my mind the concealment of these traveling threads is the highest priority, and I have used a number of unconventional stitch manipulations in my sequences to accomplish this. More of these will be revealed in the patterns that follow.

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