Before working with your fabric and thread, it is always a good idea to wash your hands to remove any oils from your skin.
Prepping Your Fabric
The piece we will be working on has a finished size of 3 3/4 " x 3 3/4". You want a working piece of fabric that is at least an inch larger on each side than your finished piece. For your first piece, you might want a little extra margin, or a piece about 6" x 6". I always tape around the unfinished edges of the fabric with masking tape before I begin, making sure to cover 3-4 threads on both sides with the tape. This will keep your fabric from fraying as you work and provide a little stability. Since you will eventually cut it off, it will not matter. Or, if you'd rather, you can sew a running stitch around the edge with your machine. The sewing machine is not my friend, and so I prefer tape.
I am going to give you the chart for this piece, and each lesson, I will highlight the particular stitch that we are working on. Hopefully, by the end of the lessons, you will be able to stitch with ease for either charts or photographs, because sometimes charts are not available. I am also hoping to give you some basics so that you can create your own charts. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Cut several lengths of size 5 Perle Cotton thread. Keep them between 12-15 inches long. Any longer than that and the thread will become overworked and your stitches will start to look fuzzy.
For the most part, you will use a 24 gauge needle for size 5 thread, and a 26 gauge needle for size 8 thread.
To start this piece, pick a starting point that is at least 20 threads from the left side of your fabric and at least 36 threads from the top (at the red arrow. You will be stitching the highlighted green areas). Bring your thread up from the back of the fabric, and leave a tail about an inch and a half long on the back of the fabric. For the first few stitches, you are going to hold the tail with your left hand* as you stitch over the top (or bottom, depending on how you look at it) of it with your right. This will hold your stitches in place. (see picture below) You will only need to do this with the first thread in a series. After the first thread, you will simply draw the next thread under the last few completed stitches to hold it in place. Ideally, you want the tail of your thread tucked under about 4 Kloster blocks (or the equivalent), and if it changes direction, that's even better.
It is also better to end a thread at the end of a block or section of stitching, rather than in the middle. On longer stretches of stitches, it sometimes can't be helped.
That is also how you will end a thread. When you still have several inches left (or at least slightly more than the length of your needle), draw the thread back under your completed stitches (on the back of the fabric) so that about an inch and a half is tucked in. When you are passing your needle underneath the completed stitches, notice how the texture of the fabric translates through the tip of the needle to your finger. When you can feel the tip of the needle moving over the fabric, you will know that your thread is passing beneath all of the other threads, and not through them. This is an insignificant detail, since you can't see the results from either side, but if you ever have to pull a thread out, you will be thankful that you didn't create a tangled mess when you were tucking under loose ends.
You can clip the thread shorter if you need to, but be sure to leave a piece long enough to hold onto--you'll need that later. I will include a picture of the back of the fabric when today's stitching is done.
The satin stitch is one of the foundational stitches for Hardanger, and it has several manifestations. For today, you will only need to know the Kloster blocks, but I'm pretty sure that once you can do those, you will be able to do any of the others by simply following charts. Ship's Heads are a beautiful form of satin stitching, but some people find them frustrating. You do have to be meticulous with your counting, but I don't think they are all that hard.
Kloster blocks are simply small sections of satin stitch that are five stitches over four threads of fabric and four threads wide.Come up in your starting hole (1), and go down four threads over, on the same parallel (2). Then come up directly below your starting stitch (3), and down directly below where you went down before (4). Do this until you have 5 parallel stitches. See? Easy. 5 over 4, and 4 wide. That's a Kloster block. Now skip 4 threads and do it again, only this time, at the end bring your thread back up in the same hole as the start of the 5th stitch (5). Turn the fabric 90* and stitch another block. When you finish that block, turn the fabric back to it's original orientation and come up 4 threads to the left of the last place you went down, but on the same parallel (6). You have now successfully made a left and a right turn, and are ready to finish stitching your satin stitches with the chart. As you can see on the chart, there are four sections where you will need 13 stitches instead of 5.
- Count carefully. You will pick up speed over time, as you eye becomes familiar with what the stitches "should" look like. Now is not the time for speed.
- A majority of Hardanger stitches cover the fabric in multiples of four threads (of fabric). This is essential to many elements of the embroidery. So start pounding the number 4 into your brain.
- I find it easier to keep the tension and appearance of my stitches even if I turn the fabric so that I am always working in the same direction-in my case, down and counter-clockwise.
- If you find that you thread is getting twisted, simply hold your fabric up and left the needle hang until the thread stops spinning. You will eventually learn to pass your needle on a certain side of the thread as you enter each stitch to avoid the twisting. However, this is one thing that I can't talk you through, because if differs for each person, depending on how you hold your needle. (I may yet figure out a way to take a picture to demonstrate though.)
- The satin stitch is probably the easiest and fastest of all the stitches, but it is also the gauge you will use for many of your other stitches, which is why you do it first. It is possible to begin a piece with the buttonhole stitch, but if your satin stitch is already in place, it will be easier to catch mistakes in the other stitches quicker. Again, this goes back to your Rule of Four. I think you will understand as we go along without further explanation.
- Tension-With all of your stitches, you want to keep the tension of your thread even. The fabric should stay as smooth as before you placed any stitches, with no puckering. And the stitches should lay flat with no sagging. Don't get frustrated if this doesn't come to you at first. Before you know it, it will be automatic.
One of your goals should be to make the back side of each piece as pretty as the front. In order to do this, you must be aware of the path your thread is going to take, even on the back. You don't want beautiful stitches on the front and wildly wandering threads on the back. Where you start and stop each thread will play into the final result. Let's examine the photo:
The other thing to note is how most of my thread tails point toward the middle of the piece. I did that on purpose because I don't like the tails hanging into sections where I know I will be working in the future. There are three tiny tails that hang over where I will be cutting and working wrapped bars later. I'll have to deal with them when the time comes.
You might ask why I don't just cut them off completely. I will do that when the piece is finished (just before I cut it from the rest of the fabric), but I need to be able to at least get a fingernail on the tails now. Sometimes, when you are tucking another thread under, you have to be able to hold them down, or they will pull through with the second thread.
Do you see the satin stitches highlighted in orange on the chart? This is yet another manifestation of the satin stitch, but instead of being parallel, each stitch pivots from the same corner.You will use this pivot technique on corners (buttonhole and otherwise), and also with the eyelet stitch. However, I am going to wait until the buttonhole stitch is in place before stitching that part, because it will be easier to hide the tails under the buttonhole. As you can see, thinking about the back side of your piece can determine how you go about making the front.
And so, this is what we have so far:
*I am right-handed. Therefore, all of these instructions will be from a right-handed mindset. If you are left handed, I'm sorry. I have no idea how to instruct you and will have to assume that by now, you are used to reversing directions on your own.
**If at any time, my instructions are not perfectly clear, please let me know. I want to make this tutorial the best it can be.