Stitch of the Month
November 2004: Two-Way Diagonal Couching
Pattern with Upright Cross Tiedowns
by Ann Strite-Kurz
This couching pattern is unusual in that the main framework of four-way hot wheel units is stitched first. Then the laid rows are added by weaving under the aligned diagonal stitches of the main framework. Since it is more difficult to lay diagonal tramé rows accurately, especially in two layers, I sometimes find it more efficient to postpone this step so that the laid rows can be placed within the guidelines of an established counted pattern. This approach is particularly useful when the pattern is a symmetrical band like the shape presented because it is easy to locate the appropriate sinking holes each time when the count is even.
I have developed a number of open patterns that are formed with four-way clusters of stitch units. Such arrangements are particularly pretty for open patterns since the bold shapes formed in the negative space between the units become an integral part of the pattern. These shapes are enhanced further by the use of a dark ground, which heightens the contrasts between the ground and the stitched areas. Such arrangements also combine well with laidwork since the open areas tend to be large.
The small scale unit that forms this pattern is called hot wheels because of its resemblance to the miniature cars of the same name. It is actually a variation of an enlarged Scotch stitch. In the chart below, I have shown a single cluster with the square parent stitch in the lower left section. If the three long center stitches of an enlarged Scotch are “perforated” in the same manner that another variation called dotted Scotch is formed, a smaller portion with four “tires” can be isolated, as indicated. An upright version of this stitch was included in the August SOTM pattern, but I repeated this chart here again since the original variation is being used this month.
Chart of Stitch Source
This stitch is less useful as a solid pattern of offset repeats, but it is very attractive as an arrangement of four-way clusters. It forms an outline of circles that alternate with small squares. Stitches with indentations also tend to suggest curves — another nice feature since there is a limited number of ways to create soft curves on a canvas grid.
View of Stitched Pattern
The main framework of hot wheel clusters shown in the sample above is stitched in a yellow velour on an 18-count black canvas. The laidwork is executed in two strands of #8 Kreinik metallic blend #235, Red Embers. The upright cross tiedown stitches are stitched in a #8 red pearl cotton.
Step 1 Sequence. Start this step along the left edge. Work these clusters as split segments in vertical rows. Almost two complete sets of lower case lettering are needed to identify this sequence so continue to the second a after stitch z.
Step 1 Sequence Chart
The first row executes the left half of two clusters and the second row adds the mirrored right half of the same two clusters. The lettered sequence consistently works the units from top to bottom, using a series of back stitches to add the “front tires” first, then the “body of the car,” and finally the “rear tires.” Since the unit position zigzags as the sequence progresses, pivot stitches are needed to conceal the traveling threads between units. Immediately after the first pivot stitch at f (a running stitch), the thread will pivot again at g to keep the stitch direction in a position that will maintain a snug “back stitched” wrap on both ends of every stitch as the rows travel downhill. The angle between these two stitches is at 90 degrees so it maintains an adequate tension between the stitches to keep the holes open and uncluttered, making these two stitches appear as cleanly laid as the previous ones with a tighter wrap. The path between d and e falls behind stitch c and the path between stitch e and f falls behind stitch e.
Units that have parallel side stitches enable a sequence to be manipulated in this convenient manner, so a number of my open patterns that have four-way frameworks incorporate stitches with this useful feature. In this case the hot wheel units have a pair of side-by-side “tires” or tent stitches, so it is possible to pivot on these pairs to change directions at either end. The same maneuver also conceals the traveling threads between the stitches since it will always carry behind the end of the longer middle stitch, which is the body of the car.
These same pivots occur again between stitches k and l, and further adjustments are needed after stitch p. When the row direction changes from downhill to uphill, the last unit must be added as a side trip that will bring the path back to stitch u to continue the sequence for the uphill row. By reversing the order of stitches s and t, and using a pivot at t, the traveling thread carries efficiently from t to u with a snug wrap, and the traveling path is also concealed at the same time behind a canvas thread.
Stitches u-y represent a similar side trip and since the x-y path falls behind stitch v, stitch x was chosen to be the second stitch in the w-x pivot. The path from stitch w to stitch y would be exposed. Along the top edge the transition is smoother with only a single pivot needed between stitches o and p. At stitch t the sequences reaches a repeat point so go back to the first stitch f to continue.
Step 2 Sequence. The laid rows must be woven under the body-of-the-car units as they are placed, so they will appear to have been laid first. The first sequence shown below shows the traditional manner of laying all of the stitches in one direction before all of the stitches are placed in the perpendicular direction. This method is usually satisfactory but requires long traveling paths between rows. When patterns are open, these paths will show unless there are surrounding areas to weave through, so I am offering an alternative approach that is somewhat more random, but it will conceal the traveling threads behind the actual laid rows.
Step 2 Sequence Chart.
Alternative Step 2 Sequence Chart
In the alternative sequence, the laid rows are split to enable the rows to be connected with more of a maze path sequence that follows a zigzag route. After each row is completed, a backstitch is made on the next perpendicular row right at the juncture where an upright cross will overlap the intersecting rows for Step 3. After this single back stitch, the thread will reenter the same hole to lay a long stitch across to the other side. All of the long rows are executed this way, and I refer to this technique as my “flying leap” technique since the thread takes a flying leap across the canvas after each back stitch pivot. Most laid rows are done with expensive metallic threads, but this approach is also frugal, using a minimal amount of thread. Since stitch f is a short corner stitch that is a single back stitch, stitch g can be taken with one long running stitch. A similar situation occurs between stitches o and p. After stitch i, there is no zigzag turn since the corner stitch is already completed, so another special maneuver occurs that will add corner stitch k as a side trip before the path continues in a reverse direction.
Because the shape here is symmetrical, the maze path will work the entire area in a continuous path. In asymmetrical shapes, there are apt to be dead ends or interruptions in the sequences, but the same concepts can still be used successfully.
Step 3 Sequence. An upright cross or a brick stitch is usually an ideal tiedown stitch for two-way diagonal laidwork rows. One advantage of the cross is that it allows you to pivot more easily, and this advantage will be displayed in both of the sequences that follow.
Traditional Step 3 Sequence Chart
The first sequence is the normal manner of adding these stitches in parallel diagonal rows. However, because the pattern is open, I altered the direction of the vertical stitch to conceal the traveling threads between the units. Normally these stitches would wrap in the opposite direction from the row path, but this would leave the traveling path exposed so the direction is reversed to force the path to lie behind the laid thread. The tension between stitches c and d, e and f, etc. is not ideal, but it is adequate to keep the holes uncluttered around the stitch ends, so the “end justifies the means.”
The edge threads between stitches b and c, h and i, p and q, and v and w are concealed behind a canvas thread in this sequence so they present no problems.
Alternative Step 3 Sequence Chart
An alternative sequence that I like to use for some situations is the “split one” that is shown above. In this sequence half of stitch c and e is executed, and then the path takes a side trip to stitch d before returning to stitch e. This maneuver would be ideal for a less symmetrical shape where a path from b to d would not be concealed. These split sequences are used in every unit before an outside compensation is taken, and they work only when the tiedowns are two stitches instead of the single brick stitch, so I usually prefer to use the full upright cross to give me greater flexibility to adjust the sequences as needed.
Variation 1. A variation of this same pattern is shown below in a new design called Autumn Sunset. The filling is inside the circle area shown in the detail, and it has an extra step which adds red-orange upright crosses inside the open squares. Heavy velour brick stitches are also used as the Step 3 tiedowns instead of the upright crosses shown in the original pattern. Notice that the diamond outlines formed by the couched laid rows are more prominent in this interpretation. A similar bright yellow thread is used for the hot wheel clusters, but because the design is stitched on a white ground, the contrasts are minimal and these units no longer stand out as the main focal point. Changes in the dominances within a pattern usually result from changes in the value contrasts. Although subtle changes can be created by the use of different colors, different thread weights or different grounds, the most dramatic visual metamorphosis occurs when the contrasts are altered.
A chart of the original pattern with the addition of the new upright crosses is shown below. No sequence is needed since they should be added in a similar diagonal sequence. I chose to split the compensated half units into three partial stitches in the sample because I think this is a more attractive option that is consistent on all four sides. A purist may disagree with this solution, but in my opinion, any improvement in the overall appearance of a pattern, particularly a symmetrical arrangement, should be acceptable.
Variation 1 Chart
A second variation is presented below that adds regular crosses to the open squares instead of upright crosses. This addition makes the pattern denser. A four-way cluster of tent stitches can also be used for a similar appearance with a dimpled center. Both of these variations are denser patterns that eliminate more of the visibility of the ground. Any time a pattern has exposed areas, further fillings can be considered that will fit these areas. Multiple variations are possible from the same core pattern and I have introduced only a few possibilities here.
Variation 2 Chart
CONCLUSION. This pattern has exposed you to several new ways to consider charting stitch sequences. When I started to design open patterns, I discovered that different priorities had to be considered. Most traditional solid patterns are executed in successive vertical, horizontal or diagonal rows of stitches that nest comfortably together in shared holes. The only real rule or guideline requires that stitches come up in empty holes and sink in the filled holes of the previous row to keep the working thread smooth and the stitches snugly wrapped at both ends. With open patterns, the elements tend to be scattered and traveling distances are longer between stitches. Therefore new solutions that conceal the traveling threads are needed in addition to manipulations that will keep all the stitches snugly wrapped. I hope you will find some of these less conventional approaches useful for other dilemmas that cannot be handled in the usual manner.
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