Stitch of the Month
July 2004: Two-Way Couching Pattern with Alternating Spacing of the Laid Rows
by Ann Strite-Kurz
This month I am presenting a single composite pattern with multiple steps. This pattern was used as a prework exercise for students in a class on diaper patterns because it can look very different depending on the arrangement of colors and values combined. Each student received the same sequence instructions, but I deliberately did not include any guidelines on color so that each student could create a unique interpretation. Some of the examples stitched by my pilot students will be shared at the end to show the variety that can be attained from simple differences in the degree of contrasts present. The darker elements tend to change the dominances within the pattern and I think the different transformations will surprise you.
(click on image for a larger view)
This pattern also introduces the concept of uneven placements of the laid rows. The arrangement has pairs of laid rows in both directions that are three canvas threads apart. Each of the pairs are placed six threads apart so the main framework is no longer just squares. Instead the main framework forms outlines of alternating large and small squares in both diagonal directions. In addition, there are four-way rectangles around each of the squares. This is less obvious in the overall view above but it is clear in the second chart which shows only the two-way tramé rows.
(click on image for a larger view)
I have used this pattern in two of my designs. The monochromatic example shown first uses several different brown threads with gold laid rows. This combination was ideal to suggest the crusty texture of the protective armor of an armadillo. Notice that the main outlines of the laidwork are also repeated in the blackwork background around the pattern. This is a strategy that I often use to unify my designs.
The second design uses the pattern as a border and incorporates the three colors of the central figure, which is a pansy. This version of the pattern is much more dramatic and is a true diaper pattern with high contrasts and at least two colors.
The complete pattern has six different steps. In trying to isolate a single repeat, notice that the small squares and rectangles form a border around each large square. Notice too that the top side of one border also forms the bottom side of the adjacent border. Similarly the right side of one border forms the left side of an adjacent border. Thus the shapes within the pattern repeats clearly overlap, and a single repeat is just half of each rectangle and a quarter of each small square corner. A dotted line is placed around this single repeat in the lower left corner of the overall chart to distinguish it. I have pointed this out because such overlapping elements can be confusing when trying to analyze a pattern. In needlepoint we tend to view patterns in terms of stitches and textures rather than in terms of shapes, but some of my most interesting patterns have been developed from linear outlines found in pattern books. First I chart them as blackwork patterns to get the appropriate proportions on a grid and then I adapt them to interesting composite patterns. As you can see in the Mamadillo detail, the scale of the canvas pattern is somewhat larger in order to accommodate the multiple stitches. The straight lines are four threads long in the canvas interpretation whereas they are only three threads long in the blackwork pattern, but the proportions are similar in both patterns.
Once the main framework of laid rows is established as Step 1, the laid threads must be secured at the overlapping intersections as Step 2. Thereafter the additional steps simply embellish the remaining open areas to create a sophisticated composite pattern. Because this layout is more complex than any of the earlier patterns, I have provided lettered sequences for Steps 1 and 2.
Step 1 Sequence. All of the vertical rows are laid first in a right-to-left direction, as lettered from a-j. Next the horizontal rows are added from top-to-bottom using the k-t sequence. Normally the traveling threads would carry behind an outline when a couching pattern is used as a filling, but no attempt has been made to conceal the traveling threads in the sample since the outside edges of the pattern are not compensated.
Make sure that the vertical rows are seated very firmly so that the top layer can lie straight. Otherwise it will be difficult to locate the sinking holes for the Step 2 stitches that have to wrap over both layers where they intersect. Do not try to secure these thread tails until additional fillings are completed. The logical place to bury them is in the Step 2 backing since it will be denser than that of the later steps.
Step 2 Sequence. These tiedown stitches are worked in vertical paths using what I call the "eyelet method" of laying the radiating stitches of each cluster from the outside in. Each cluster of four diagonal stitches could have been worked in a circular path but I found it easier to travel from row to row in a consistent manner by splitting the clusters into two separate long rows. The traveling threads will automatically fall behind a laid thread throughout the sequence. After stitch t, travel to u to start the new row. Stitch u is in the same place as stitch a was on the first row so repeat the a-t sequence on each row.
NOTE: This sequence is simple and keeps all of the stitches snugly wrapped, but the "split" downhill and uphill rows will use a bit more thread. If an expensive thread is used, it would be thriftier to work each cluster in a clockwise path as a-t-s and b when the rows are worked downhill. However, it would be necessary to change the sequence of the last cluster to a counterclockwise path of i-j-k and l to be able to travel gracefully to the right to start the next row in an uphill direction. Repeat this i-j-k-l sequence on the first cluster of the new row, but the remaining clusters in the uphill row should be added as m-h-g-n. The advantage of an eyelet rhythm is that it can be worked in either direction, but it requires more thinking to maintain a consistent tension on each stitch as the row directions change.
NOTE: These rows could also have been worked horizontally using the same concepts.
Step 3 Sequence. This sequence adds the small cross stitches inside each rectangle. I could have worked all of the vertical crosses first in vertical rows and then added the horizontal clusters in horizontal paths, but this would require longer traveling threads between rows. By combining the sequences, it becomes convenient to travel diagonally from rectangle to rectangle, and the short traveling paths are concealed behind the Step 2 corner stitches. To clarify the sequences better, each rectangle is identified with a number to show the order of adding its cross stitch clusters. The actual sequences of the crosses are lettered. Some are repeated, so the different sequences are lettered only once.
NOTE: This chart and the remaining ones are abbreviated. They show only a small portion of the pattern to enable you to have large detail views of the sequences. There are enough repeats to indicate a complete sequence for each row, so simply continue to add the additional repeats until each row is completed. I will walk you through this third step to make things clear. Unlike the other sequences, this one introduces the concepts of a split sequence and side trips to connect some of the rows of cross stitches. This technique enables you to conveniently get back to the original starting point without having to turn the canvas and weave through the backing.
This step uses a combined sequence that works the vertical crosses as the main path, and the clusters of horizontal crosses to the right of each vertical row are added as side trips. To accomplish this in an efficient manner, it is necessary to manipulate the sequences of the cross clusters. Since the horizontal Cluster 1 is above the vertical Cluster 2, the sequences start here. As a side trip this sequence must both start and end on the left side, so all of the lower-left-to-upper-right stitches are worked first and then the lower-right-to-upper-left stitches are laid as a return trip to enable the thread to be carried a short distance to i to start Cluster 2. Cluster 1 is a "split row" but Cluster 2 completes each cross as the path progresses downward and is not split into two trips. At Cluster 3, repeat the a-h sequence (only the stitch directions of the first cross are indicated on repeated sequences). At Cluster 4, repeat the i-p sequence. On the overall pattern for the sample, these two sequences will be repeated again twice, and Cluster 5 is actually the last horizontal cluster so the sequences shown here are abbreviated.
Cluster 5 uses the "unsplit" q-x sequence, both to complete the last horizontal row and to travel to the next vertical row, so each cross is completed in a left-to-right path. Cluster 6 is the first side trip on the new uphill row so it has a capital letter sequence that is worked in split rows like Cluster 1. However, this time the direction of the top cross lies downhill because the thread must travel uphill after stitch H. Cluster 7 is worked in an unsplit row as I-P. Repeat sequence A-H for Cluster 8 and the remaining horizontal side trips and add Cluster 9 and the remaining vertical clusters using the I-P sequence. At Cluster 10 the sequence will be worked left-to-right in an unsplit sequence like q-x but the stitch directions are altered again to maintain a consistent tension on both ends of every stitch.
I know these directions are tedious to read, but after doing a couple of rows the rhythm should automatically kick in. Clusters 11 and 12 represent the third vertical row, but it will also be the second downhill row, so return to the lowercase sequences to add these clusters and include all of the horizontal clusters to the right as well (shown only on the overall chart). The fourth vertical row will be uphill using the capital letter sequences again, and the final vertical row will be downhill. As an edge row this final row will not have any side trips.
Composite patterns often have isolated fillings like this, and when it is practical, I find it useful to manipulate stitches in this manner to create more efficient sequences. With cross stitches it is necessary to keep the top stitch uniform and in a consistent direction (lower-right-to-upper-left here). The stitches themselves are versatile, however, in that they can be laid top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top in either direction and still appear uniform as long as both ends of every stitch are snugly wrapped. When a stitch direction is altered, it is referred to as a pivot stitch because it enables the row direction to change gracefully with no telltale signs.
Step 4 Sequence. These large crosses are added to the remaining squares. They are worked in horizontal rows using the numbered sequences provided. No manipulations are needed and the traveling threads will always travel behind the Step 3 clusters between units and between rows. Later steps will also conceal the traveling path between the two stitches of each cross.
NOTE: Step 5 will add an upright cross to each large Step 4 cross. If you choose to do Step 5 in the same thread, which is certainly an option, it would be better to combine the sequences so this is why it is mentioned here. The end result would still be a diaper, just a less busy one!
Step 5 Sequence. These upright crosses will also be worked in horizontal paths from top to bottom in the pattern. There is no reason ever to change the direction of the underneath stitch, but the top stitch should always be laid away from the direction of the next stitch or row. Therefore stitch 2 should always be laid from right to left when the row direction is left to right.
The rows in the reverse direction will lay the stitch from left to right as shown in stitches 6 and 8. The pivot stitch can be either on the second stitch of the next row or it can occur on the final stitch in each row as in stitch 4 of the first row.
Step 6 Sequences. The final step adds a window of four straight stitches around the Step 4 and 5 units inside each large square. These brick stitches are worked in two separate rows of back stitches. The numbered sequence adds the upright stitches in horizontal rows and the lettered sequence adds the sideways stitches in vertical rows. If the canvas is rotated 90 degrees clockwise, the lettered sequence will be in a more comfortable upright position.
Start these two sequences with a split "shoelace" thread, which is a double length thread that goes down at a and up in 1. Then divide the thread into equal lengths and use one half for the numbered sequence and the other end for the lettered sequence. I often use this technique to minimize the number of starting and ending tails (a definite priority when many steps are combined in a single pattern). Since pearl cotton is a twisted thread, it can be stitched in either direction with no noticeable difference in the wear at either end, so this is frequently my preferred choice when I need to "abuse" a thread in this convenient manner.
CONCLUSION: Composite patterns have unique challenges and I hope some of my ways to avoid excessive traveling paths and to connect isolated portions efficiently will come in handy when you confront other patterns that are not charted for you. This pattern is almost solid, meaning that there are some exposed canvas threads but no exposed holes. Therefore I did not have to conceal the traveling threads as such, but I did try to minimize the lengths where possible and to assign different row directions for some of the sequences in order to avoid having too many parallel traveling paths on the back. Having some perpendicular paths will keep the back tidier and make it easier to spread out the starting and ending threads as well.
In the beginning of this segment, I promised to share some of the examples of the pattern that were executed by my pilot students. I have identified each stitcher and I hope you enjoy the individuality of each interpretation. As I often say, there is no such thing as a bad pattern - just a poor interpretation of one! These arrangements are all clearly winners yet look how different they are!
Example 1. Stitched by Sue Neely
Example 2. Stitched by Kaethe Pittman
Example 3 Stitched by Doris Akers.
All three of these examples are monochromatic with a dominance of blue values. Example 2 uses only middle and dark values and similar weights of thread, so the main contrasts are created by the white canvas "peekaboos" between the stitches. The presence of exposed canvas is less apparent in the other two examples because the cross stitch clusters are a middle value blue and the tiedown stitches are silver, but the distinctive white accents are attractive in the darker interpretation of Example 2. Example 3 also has thicker laid threads that cover the canvas more.
In Example 1, the light blue tiedown stitches executed in Fyre Werks are similar in value to the thinner thread used for the crosses inside the squares, so even though the threads are different, the colors merge and form a strong network of diamonds in this interpretation.
Example 4. Stitched by Sandy Meono
Example 5. Stitched by Frances Packer
Examples 4 and 5 use similar color treatments, but Example 5 has sharper contrasts, making each of the details stand out clearly. Example 4 appears more neutral since the ground color is similar to that of the thread used for the cross clusters inside the rectangles. The pink tied crosses inside the squares also appear bolder since both layers are in the same thread.
Example 6. Stitched by Lee Courtney
Example 7. Stitched by Marsha Boysen
Examples 6 and 7 use intense colors and have high contrasts so every element is clear. Notice the differences in the tied crosses inside the squares, however. The heavier red ones in the patriotic example are bolder because both layers are red and the surrounding stitches are a softer, recessive pink. The more delicate green ones in Example 7 look more like blackwork motifs in the finer thread, and the square outlines around the crosses merge to form circles around the crosses since both steps are in the same color.
Example 8. Stitched by Kathey Hunter
Example 9. Stitched by Nona Duffey
final two examples definitely have different dominances. Like Example 1, Example
8 has a strong diamond network that appears to be on top of the other elements
because the tiedown stitches and the tied crosses are both dark green. The pink
tramé rows appear less like laid rows since they form ovals inside the
diamonds. In Example 9, the laid rows are even less obvious because of the strong
dominance of the intense yellow tiedown stitches. One is more aware of the flower
shape that these yellow stitches are forming, and this same flower outline is
also apparent in the border that was discussed earlier.