Stitch of the Month
September 2006: Variations on the trellis background stitch

by Kathy Fenchel

Background areas often present a challenge when working on a canvas.  You would like the background to be interesting, but at the same time, you don’t want it to overpower the design.  In addition most stitchers do not want to spend endless amounts of time stitching something boring.  In the past, many of us have spent an inordinate amount of time stitching many, many, many square inches of the basketweave stitch to complete backgrounds.  I look at some of my first needlepoint pieces and wish that I could have back the huge blocks of time I spent stitching those immense basketweave areas!

One of my favorite background stitches is the trellis stitch and its’ unlimited variations.  It can be a very open, airy stitch or it can also be relatively dense so that the canvas is not exposed.  It’s your choice. 

To begin, you must be comfortable with following diagonals; your canvas must be stretched very tight and be securely attached to stretcher bars. The trellis stitch is a stitch in which long lengths of thread are laid diagonally across the entire canvas. There is no room for error. The threads must follow the count and be laid correctly. Once the threads are laid in one direction, they are then laid in the opposite diagonal direction.  This may sound a little confusing, but as you read through the following instructions and study the diagrams, it will start to make sense!

In the diagram below, the three trees in the center of the design area represent the stitched subject of the design. The aqua lines represent the beginning steps of the trellis background.

  1. T begin, a long length of thread is laid across the diagonals in the upper right corner (1-2).
  2. The thread is then carried down the back side, four canvas threads, brought to the surface, and is again stretched across the diagonals (3-4). It is not necessary to carry the thread across the back of the canvas to start the next stitch as you normally would.  If you do, it may show through from the back to the front of the canvas because this is such an open technique. And it would also consume more thread than it is necessary to use.
  3. The third and fourth stitches mimic the action of the first two.
  4. The fifth stitch (9-10) bumps into the stitched tree.  If the stitched area is very narrow, you can carry your diagonal thread behind it and continue to lay the diagonal thread on the other side of the design element. The danger involved is that you may lose sight of your diagonal! In the diagram below this is NOT done. Instead, the diagonal ends at the tree and then travels (11-12) back up to the top of the canvas and continues on.
  5. Stitches 13-14 and 15-16 are carried behind the middle tree.  There are two reasons as to why this was done.  Stitch 13-14 is only passing behind two canvas threads.  There is only a minimal chance of losing the diagonal! Stitch 15-16 begins in such a tiny space between the two trees that is more efficient to stitch it while you are already in the area...but it is a risk!  This is where the diagonal count can go astray!!!!!

  6. In the following diagram, the diagonals have been completed. If you have counted correctly, they will match up perfectly. If they don’t, it means that one of your diagonals is not correct and it throws everything off. It must be corrected before you move onto the next step!!!

  7. Using the same thread, begin laying diagonals perpendicular to the first ones. In the diagram below the second set of diagonals are shown in brown, but in reality should be stitched with the same color as the first set of diagonals. As you look at the diagram below, please note that the diagonals ALWAYS intersect over a canvas hole. This is a must!!!!!

  8. Once both sets of diagonals are correctly in place, it is time to become creative! The diagonals must be secured in place. There are several ways to do this. The “diamonds” created by the diagonals can also be stitched. You can use the same thread to do this for a subtle effect, or you can use a contrasting color, a metallic, a thread of a different weight, two different threads, beads, sequins.... the sky is the limit! Study the diagrams below for inspiration. Several patterns have been diagramed but do not be limited by them!
Sample one
In the adjacent sample alternating intersections of the trellis are secured by alternating horizontal and vertical ties. The best way to execute this stitch is to work up one diagonal thread, and down the next diagonal thread. You will change the direction of your tie-down on each trip.
This is a very open stitch and much of the background canvas will show.
Sample two
Each intersection is secured with an upright cross-stitch in this sample. This technique is very effective if you stitch the lattice in a color that contrasts with the color of the canvas and then secure the intersections with a thread that is the same color of the canvas. In addition you can add a Smyrna cross, a bead, or French knot in the center of each “diamond” for a more solid effect.
Sample three
In this sample, the size of the upright cross tie-down alternates. This variation often works well for night skies. The large upright crosses can be stitched in a dark color, perhaps the color of the trellis, and stitch the small upright crosses with a metallic thread. You can also increase the size of the smaller upright cross to create a heavier background for greater coverage.
Sample four
The intersections in this diagram are secured with a small couching stitch. The needle brings the thread up on one side of the intersection and down on the other side using the same canvas whole. The center of the diamond is filled with a bead.
Sample five
In the adjacent diagram, the intersections are secured with a couching stitch. The diamonds are filled with alternating mosaic stitches. An alternative might be to only fill alternate diamonds with a mosaic and put a French knot, bead or Smyrna cross in the open diamond. Another alternative would be to fill the diamonds with an upright mosaic.
Sample six
Horizontal and perpendicular threads (aqua lines) are laid on top of the trellis pattern. Alternating intersections of the laid threads are secured with a cross stitch of a third color and the opposite intersections are couched. In addition you could add additional horizontal and vertical threads of an additional color to create a multi layered look. Or just add beads!

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