Why, Is That Trellis Stitch I See?

I returned to needlework from knitting in 2001, when I stumbled onto stitching an entire sampler in miniature by mistake. Looking for a suitable follow-up piece, I was drawn to Darleen O’Steen’s “Cranberry Sampler”, because… well, because it had squirrels on it. I have a bit of a thing for squirrels, which is good for a cross-stitcher since they’re a popular and traditional motif in historic samplers and reproductions. So I bought the chart, pulled the threads, picked a linen and then sat down to start. Oops. I realized instantly I was in way over my head. The design called for a bazillion fancy stitches I hadn’t done before: double cross, long arm cross, detached buttonhole, needle weaving and wrapping, double running, and two that would become my nemeses — Montenegrin and the dreaded trellis.

Somehow I managed to stumble through it (thanks to Boomer’s collection of needlework reference books) and finished it:

The design followed a traditional true sampler style, where the work got harder as you go top to bottom. The first few rows were pretty simple satin stitches (just long, straight, easy-to-count stitches) and reversible cross. The going got tougher with the carnation motifs.

Cranberry Sampler

The green vine was done in Montenegrin, an interwoven stitch that manages to squeeze 10 different needle positions in the space of a normal cross stitch. Counting it and going on a diagonal nearly killed me. But it makes for a stunningly intricate, dense finished result. It shows of the richness of a nice silk thread well. The carnation leaves were filled in with my favorite stitch of all time, queen stitch and the petals with long arm cross.

The next fun bit was the boxers:

Cranberry Sampler - Boxer

Boxers (little putti outlined in double-running stitch) are a very traditional motif in 17th century English band samplers. They bring a fun insouciance to the piece, I think, with their jaunty smiles, crazy hair-helmets and detached-buttonhole loin cloths. There’s a matching set on the other end of the band, but those are deliberately left unstitched to mirror authentic antique samplers. I entered this work in the Phoenix Needlework Show in 2002 and was marked down for not finishing it. Morons! That was intentional! Sheesh. Some people!

Things really started to heat up with the two big medallion motifs. The first one was pretty much a repeat of the stuff I learned doing the carnations and it turned out well as a result:

Cranbery Sampler

The second one? Not so much:

Cranberry Sampler - Trellis Stitch or No?

The green blobs you see pretending to be leaves are supposed to be intricately and evenly filled in with trellis stitch. (Trellis is so evil no one has diagrams of it online!) It was a disaster. A complete and utter disaster. I ended up just sort of randomly weaving and knotting the silk until it sort of filled in the space it was supposed to. Just after finishing the entire work I proudly showed it off to a member of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America. Of course the first thing she did was point to that mess and say, “Oh, that’s an interesting stitch! What is it?” “Trellis,” I sniffed, and walked away. Stupid trellis.

Fortunately whatever self-esteem I may have lost after Trellis-stitch-gate, I gained back with the bottom portion:

Cranberry Sampler - Whitework

This section is all about whitework (stitches done in a thread that closely matches the color of the linen). The first part was mostly satin with some buttonhole bars tossed in; it was fun and easy.

Cranberry Sampler

The second part was sheer terror. The technique calls for hem stitching an area and then cutting out every other two threads, making a bigger grid than the linen’s usual weave.

Cranberry Sampler

OK, cutting threads out of the middle of a project I’d already spent months working on? NOT FUN. I’m still not entirely convinced, four years later, that the entire thing won’t unravel if I look at it funny. Once I got the threads cut and pulled, I wrapped the threads that remained, making them into a sort of lace-like substance. The design of the squirrels is created with dove’s eyes, the perfect stitch for a perfectionist (which I’m most distinctly not when it comes to stitching, particularly when I’m this close to the end and just want to get it finished and hanging on the wall).

All in all, I’m incredibly proud of my work on this piece. I absolutely adore the design and the bright (but still historic and classy) colors, so I desperately wanted my contribution to the piece to stand up to the designer’s. True samplers like this are a tremendous amount of fun. I may grouse about doing diagonal montenegrin, and I may not be able to do a perfect (or even adequate) trellis, but I tried and mostly succeeded to learn something new.

8 Comments

Filed under Pins and Needles, Stitching

8 responses to “Why, Is That Trellis Stitch I See?

  1. *shakes head*

    I’m never not amazed when I stop by IPB Living. I don’t know how you made it through. As soon as I would have seen the different stitches, it would have been “F.T.S” all over the place.

  2. I feel the same way, HG. I remember being absolutely amazed at Pookie’s enthusiasm and perseverence working on this project. I would have been right there with you, though, thinking, “Life’s too short for this ‘trellis stitch’ crap.” :D

  3. As soon as I would have seen the different stitches, it would have been “F.T.S” all over the place.

    Hee hee! Kate the Great and I have a long-running joke about having to stitch in miniature or “over one thread”. She keeps starting projects without realizing they have over-one stitching, and I keep ending up with samplers that have over-one verses. Our motto is “fuck this over one shit”. I’m slowly working my way through a big piece that has random letters of the alphabet strewn on it and I’m totally going to change them to F T O O S to stand for our motto! (I also have a piece with a similarly themed inside joke on it that I’ll be writing about soon, so look for it!)

    I should add that these fancy stitches are really fun and easy to learn with good diagrams and some patience. Except trellis. That shit sucks.

  4. I look forward to the F T O O S piece. Hee hee, indeed.

    I really do need to bust out my piece. It’s been a few months since I’ve worked on it. I don’t have anything else to do this week (see how I’m still procrastinating on my reports?)………………………………

  5. I should add that these fancy stitches are really fun and easy to learn with good diagrams and some patience. Except trellis. That shit sucks.

    Uh huh. Sure. :P

  6. Caitlin

    Oh my god, I just… how do you guys DO THIS?

    I don’t even understand. I can barely get needlepoint and basic cross-stitching down! Mine always looks assy and horrible!

    How in the fucking fuck did you do that sampler? (And where in the goodness gracious do you find samplers like that? I had to settle for Oriental Sunrise Sorbet With Cranes or some crap like that that I picked up for needlepoint at Michael’s. It was the simplest one there and it’s got about 8,000 colors. I’m a tad frustrated, can you tell?)

  7. how do you guys DO THIS?

    Years of practice, tons of patience, and a whole lot of guilt about spending so much time in front of the tv watching hockey!

    And where in the goodness gracious do you find samplers like that?

    That’s such a good question that I’m going to write a post about what resources are available online to find nice project! Thanks for the idea, Caitlin!

    As for things with zillions of colors, I’ve finally admitted to myself that I don’t like doing projects with lots of little bits of colors here and there. I found a design that was stunningly beautiful but when I realized it had lots of little blobs of color that were only two or three stitches I said, “Life’s too short.”

  8. Caitlin

    That’s such a good question that I’m going to write a post about what resources are available online to find nice project! Thanks for the idea, Caitlin!

    Hey, no problem! You guys always have the coolest sampler/stitchery things and I always see the “Zen Master Chinese Symbol Pillow” series or something at Michael’s, so I get confused on where one buys the cool ones.

    I had a friend that used to make all her own stitching patterns, but they were very ODD stitching/needlepoint patterns. She would just mark them off on canvas. Of course it was things like skulls and crossbones, the Crass logo, and freaking horror movie posters that she was stitching but, still. Lots of work.

    (You guys are immensely talented by the way. Still can’t get over the fact that you can do all that trickery with needle and thread. Sigh.)

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