ANG: American Needlepoint Guild - Stitch of the Month - June 2004

Stitch of the Month
June 2004: Shading Effects with Two-Way Couching Patterns with Cross Stitch Tiedowns

by Ann Strite-Kurz

One-way couching patterns like burden stitch with long flat satin stitches have great potential to reflect light. As a result I have used this stitch to shade mountains and other large surfaces, using more of a random bargello effect, but two-way patterns have an even greater potential to reflect light because of the directional changes in the long tramé rows. Light will cause shadows to form and sometimes the vertical threads on the bottom will tend to appear slightly darker behind the horizontal rows even though both layers are stitched in the same thread. This feature is even more enhanced when multiple strands of silk or cotton floss are used for the laid rows because these shiny threads reflect rather than absorb the light. The directional changes of the perpendicular laid threads further augments this "shaded" effect, and the use of a darker value for the underneath row will intensify the contrasts further.

I have used the simple two-way tramé pattern shown in Examples 1-3 of the May Stitch of the Month segment in several designs as a shading device. A charted view of the pattern is provided below to refresh your memory about its composition.

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Two-way Tramé with crosses

Style 1 - Subtle Shading with a Structured Pattern.

Example 1. The first pattern was used in an underwater scene to simulate the water. In this interpretation the laid rows are stitched in two close values of pale blue stranded floss with the slightly darker value on the bottom layer. The crosses are stitched in a silver metallic braid that is also similar in value, so the pattern is subtle with minimal contrasts like a grounding. The sheen of the floss suggests wetness, however, and any light play tends to create movement as well as shadows which could suggest ripples. The glimmer of the soft silver metallic was also intended to simulate "muddled reflections" so the pattern achieves a touch of realism if the viewer has a little imagination.

June SOTM
Example 1
(click on ex. for a larger view)

Sequences. This pattern is structured and should be executed in the same manner as Examples 1-3 of the May Stitch of the Month segment. The vertical tramé rows are laid first as Step 1 and the horizontal rows are added as Step 2 after the vertical rows are completed. The cross stitch rows are stitched in horizontal paths as Step 3.

Style 2 - Naturalistic Shading with Zones

Example 2. This pattern can also be used for more sophisticated shading treatments in natural objects. Example 2 features a small strawberry. The vertical laid rows are executed in a middle value pink pearl cotton and the horizontal rows are laid in a light pink pearl. Some of the crosses are stitched with the same middle value pearl cotton but others are stitched in a darker cranberry shade of pearl cotton that produces the appropriate shading to distinguish the ripe from the unripe sections of the fruit. In experimenting with this technique, I found that I did not have to split any of the crosses to achieve the illusion of a soft curve between the two values or "zones." The only compensation occurs along the outside edges and the transitions between the zones are graceful.

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Example 2
(click on ex. for a larger view)

All shading devices on canvas tend to be somewhat stylized since it is difficult to use the beautiful long and short technique on a grid without actually splitting the canvas threads to control the placements of the encroaching stitches. This couched shading technique is sophisticated, however, because the layering produces a unique blending effect. It works particularly well on bold flowers like those painted by noted artist Georgia O'Keefe, and I recently stitched the following pansy in the same technique.

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Example 3
(click on ex. for a larger view)

Example 3. Pansy. The strawberry was stitched on 24-count Congress cloth whereas the pansy is on 18-count canvas. It difficult to see how much bolder the pansy pattern is, however, because the view of the small strawberry is enlarged to indicate the individual stitches better. I used similar pearl cottons in the #5 size for the pansy crosses but the laid rows are stitched in a shiny Marlitt rayon thread and a purple metallic.

When shading with this pattern, a somewhat more random method to add the crosses works better. The main lines or curves between the shading zones must be established first as an outline and then filled in once they have been determined. To accomplish this, the rigid horizontal paths are no longer used. I usually work the outline of each zone first, traveling in whatever direction is needed to form a graceful curve. When the inside area is filled, I return to the horizontal sequence but the back side of the pattern will not be consistent. This will not matter, however, because the pattern is almost solid and any traveling threads will automatically be concealed. The key thing is to execute the crosses so that there is always tension on both ends of every stitch. To accomplish this in the curved outlines, the bottom stitch is laid bottom to top when the previous unit is above it, but it is laid top to bottom when the previous unit is below it. In addition, each top stitch should always be laid away from the direction of the next unit. It takes practice to learn to make the appropriate adjustments but once the concept of maintaining an adequate pull or tension on both ends of every stitch is understood, you will anticipate the proper pivots easily.

The chart below provides a sample outline to demonstrate the necessary pivots. It creates a simple outline of crosses and no changes are needed in the regular sequence until the direction of the path shifts at the bottom of the chart on stitches q-r. Stitch r crosses from top to bottom, and thereafter both stitches in each cross are laid in this direction because the path is now traveling uphill.

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Cross Stitch Sequence

When attempting to shade flowers with this technique, each petal should be stitched as a separate unit. Notice how the value zones in each pansy petal are independent and do not meet along the outlines. To reinforce this concept of isolation and individuality further, the pattern placements in adjacent units should be moved one thread over in at least one direction to break the alignments. If continuous pattern placements are used, the textures will merge somewhat and the shading will be less effective even if the placement of the colors and values are different. It will not be possible to shift the placements in both directions in every adjacent petal, but as long as the placements are changed in one direction, the shading will look natural.

NOTE: It is easier to achieve an obvious differentiation in bold patterns with larger repeats. There are more canvas threads between each repeat, enabling the pattern to be shifted more dramatically. However, shifting the pattern by just the one thread in this small scale pattern will still create an adequate break.

CAUTION. When using this shading device on large figures, it is important to keep the canvas upright so that the top cross in each unit remains consistent. I usually use the American or English cross, which places the top stitch in a lower-right-to-upper-left direction. However, it is equally correct to use the Danish cross, which reverses the order and places the top stitch in a lower-left-to-upper-right direction. The key thing is to make the slant of the top cross consistent throughout the pattern once a choice has been made.

Example 4. Hibiscus. The final example shows an even larger flower with a deep throat. The hibiscus is on 24-count Congress cloth like the strawberry and is interpreted completely in #8 pearl cotton except for the blended metallic in the center. Three shades of red are used in the shading but the values are close so the shading is more subtle. If you look closely, you will notice that I did not shift the placements of the pattern in the adjacent petals either. Since there are veins in many of the petals, and since the six petals are arranged around a center circle with two rings of shading, no further differentiation was necessary. With seven different overlapping petals, I think staggered rows might have been too busy. With even patterning around the edges, the eye is definitely less distracted and can focus on the center throat as intently as the hummingbirds are.

June SOTM
Example 4
(click on ex. for a larger view)

The hibiscus is actually about the same size as the pansy, but because of the finer canvas mesh, there are many more crosses in the same size petals. To suggest the cavity of the throat, I used a dark blended metallic for the crosses in the center zone. Yellow beads were added to this area to suggest the stamens, but I did not attempt to add a pistil since there were no other three dimensional elements in the design.

CONCLUSION. This simple shading device has proven very useful to me. The slightly airy quality of the technique is ideal with some of the other open patterning that I use, yet the coverage is heavy enough to allow you to shade freely and not worry about having to conceal any traveling threads. The back side of the canvas will actually be quite messy from the randomly laid crosses, but the dense backing will also make it easy to secure all of the traveling threads. I hope these examples will encourage you to consider other possibilities for shading with this unique couching technique.

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