The Zen of Stitching

Today I’m starting a series of posts about the logic, or the zen of stitching. Why does a stitch need to be made a particular way? Does the order of the strokes of a stitch matter?

When I teach in person, I try to get the students out of the diagrams and to think of the logic of the stitch we’re doing. If I can get them to do that, they can stitch faster and with fewer mistakes, because they understand the stitch and can execute that stitch in any project by any designer with fewer mistakes. Their stitching can flow and be more enjoyable.

Most of us are self-taught. Most of us have never taken a class, and in those classes the teachers usually don’t explain the why of a stitch, just the how. I spend a lot of time while I’m stitching thinking about the stitch, not just the how, but the why. Why do the strokes need to be made in this order? How does it affect the back (which in turn will affect the front)? Is there equal pressure on each end of the stitch if I do it this way as opposed to that way? What is the logical way to travel from one stitch to the other? This last is what is usually left out in most stitch reference books – we see one stitch in isolation, but don’t see it paired with other stitches to know how to travel from one to the next.

This series of posts is going to explore several stitches, with diagrams, to explain not just the how but the why. The ultimate goal is to improve your understanding of the stitch, and to allow you to get out of the diagrams so you can enjoy your stitching more. I’m going to start with some very basic stitches, but we’ll finish the series with some whoppers like double fan doubleds, so bear with me.

The first stitch is very basic, a cross stitch. Easy peasy, right? Most of us cross stitch in rows, like this:

cross stitching 1

then like this:

cross stitching 2

This is a very efficient way to stitch. For the first part of the stitch, the needle is coming up in an empty hole, which makes for prettier stitching. For the second part of the stitch it isn’t possible to come up in an empty hole, but there is equal pressure on both ends of the stitch, which still makes for a prettier stitch.

The next row ideally would be below the first row, so that the needle is coming up in an empty hole and going down in a shared hole:

cross stitching 3

And so on. But what happens when you can’t stitch in neat orderly rows? What if you’re stitching in vertical rows? What happens then? Let’s say you need to stitch in a vertical row, from the bottom up (top down is the same as a horizontal row), and you still need to keep equal pressure on each end of the stitch. Each of your stitches still needs to cross in the same direction – the stitch on top needs to be the same for each cross stitch. But you can’t come up in the hole you just ended a stitch in. So now, you need to stitch like this:

cross stitching 4

The first stitch of the vertical row is the same, but the next stitch (3-4) begins with the base stitch in a reverse direction. The top stitch is made the same way. This allows each cross to finish with the same stitch on top.

Next time – cross stitching over 2

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