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BLOG / September 19 2017

Cross-stitch birds—my way

It’s always magical how new embroideries come to life. This is the story of how my lessened eyesight led me to explore traditional cross-stitch in a total different way.

As you may know, one of my vital sources of inspiration is old crafts magazines. Whenever I’m searching for new ideas or just need to put myself into creative mode, I look for some old magazines and let myself be inspired by their pages. By doing this I reenact a favourite pastime of my childhood: I loved looking at the same issues of crafts magazines (my mom’s) again and again, inspecting each project and later asking my mom which one we could do.

So when KOEL magazine approached me last year to create an embroidery pattern for their second issue, I rushed to my magazines stash. I flickered through some magazines from the early eighties and found several cross-stitch motifs—flowers, alphabets and birds. I was drawn to the birds designs and selected a few. I drew the motifs on a grid I had traced on cereal box cardboard (my favourite craft material) changing some details to my liking. I cut out the shapes and arranged an overall pattern with the birds.

The birds could be stitched as single cross-stitch motifs or, if feeling brave, you could tackle the whole flock. You can see more of this project in KOEL issue 2 or directly from their site.

After delivering the pattern I wanted to try it myself. I had bought a blue cotton fabric and had expected to do counted cross-stitch on it. Of course, I couldn’t even get through five stitches when I realised it was impossible to do. I couldn’t see a thing!

So if couldn’t do cross-stitch the way I had planned, then I would need to devise a manner to still use the birds motifs without straining my eyes.

I traced a dot grid on different parts of the fabric (if you look closely in the top image, you will see small white dots surrounding the stitched “K”) and used them as a reference for placing my stitches. I covered the dots with French knots or used them as a base for a trellis grid. To complete the motifs, I employed cross-stitches (done freely on the fabric, not counting the threads) and long, straight stitches.

So don’t be discouraged if you ever find yourself not knowing how to do a stitch, achieve a certain effect or, like me, not being able to see (that small). I know, in the moment it can be very frustrating, but go ahead, forget about the original idea, do it your way and love the results.

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I turned 40 and my eyes are not the same anymore. Now I need eyeglasses and a magnifier to actually see my stitches. So doing canvaswork feels like holidays for my eyes (at least with a 8.5 count canvas).

This “Sweet Pair” comes from a cross-stitch sampler I saw last year at the Chicago History Museum. I counted the stitches and modified some things to my taste: I changed the modesty undies for leaves instead, made the apples much bigger and gave Eve longer hair.


Sweet pair who still from morn to night

The moments pafs in kind delight

And fondly bill and gently coo

May I be innocent as you


Harriet Rich A[ged] 11 1822

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Every embroidery deserves a beautiful frame and a gentle way of framing. Forget about glue, sticky tape and staples! Here’s one of the projects from my book Colour Confident Stitching to show you how to neatly frame an embroidery to hoop.

• Center the inner ring over the embroidery and trace its shape using a small running stitch (here shown in yellow thread). Trace a line 2″ from this stitched line and cut out fabric.

• Cut a length of thread that’s slightly longer than the perimeter of the hoop shape. Hem the border half inch inside with a running stitch all around the shape. Do not cast off.

• Mount the embroidery in the hoop aligning the yellow running stitch with the ring of the hoop. Close and tighten knob. Remove the running stitch. On the back, pull both ends of the hem running stitch until it gathers neatly inwards. Tie firmly.


You can find Colour Confident Stitching in Amazon and Book Depository




Todo bordado merece ser enmarcado de manera amable en un marco bonito. Así que olvídate del pegamento, las cintas adhesivas y los corchetes. Aquí te enseño con uno de los bordados de mi libro Colour Confident Stitching cómo montar de manera prolija tus piezas en un bastidor redondo.

• Centra el anillo interior sobre el bordado y marca la forma con un hilván pequeño (en la foto aparece con hilo amarillo). Marca una línea a 4-5 cm por fuera de este hilván y corta la tela.

• Corta un hilo un poco más largo que el perímetro de la forma del bastidor. Haz un dobladillo de 1 cm hilvanando todo alrededor de la figura. No remates el hilo.

• Monta el bastidor alineando el hilván amarillo con el anillo del bastidor. Cierra el bastidor y apreta la perilla. Remueve el hilván. Por el revés, tira ambas puntas del hilo hasta recoger ordenadamente todo el margen de tela hacia adentro. Amarra.



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I bet you already have all you need to make these lovely woven patches: a small amount of yarn, a large blunt needle, a piece of cardboard (cereal box cardboard works!) and scissors. These patches are great for covering worn-out elbows or holes or just for embellishing your favorite knits.

For this project I chose to work with a monochromatic palette. What’s that about? It’s a color scheme built of varying intensities of the same hue (pink, in this case). I also added some warm neutrals for achieving contrast and texture. Why did I choose this scheme? The monochromatic scheme is safe to work with as you are juggling varying intensities of the same color rather than different hues therefore you can get a more controlled look which will be easier to match to your wardrobe.

(Interested in learning more about color schemes? In my book Colour Confident Stitching I explain the meaning and preferred use of color schemes and how to build a beautiful color palette).

Got all the materials with you? Scroll down to find the directions for these woven patches and start the fun!




Apuesto que ya tienes en casa todo lo que necesitas para hacer estos parches tejidos: un poco de lana, una aguja de lana grande y con punta roma, un trozo de cartón (el cartón de las cajas de cereales funciona perfecto) y tijeras. Estos parches son geniales para cubrir codos gastados o agujeros o solo para adornar tus tejidos favoritos.

Para este proyecto decidí trabajar con una paleta monocromática. ¿De qué se trata? Es una combinación de colores que se construye a partir de distintas intensidades de un mismo color (en este caso rosado). También le incorporé algunos neutrales cálidos para ganar algo de contraste y textura. ¿Por qué la escogí? Una armonía monocromática es segura de trabajar ya que solo compatibilizas versiones de un mismo color en vez de varios colores distintos lo que ayuda a conseguir una apariencia más controlada y fácil de combinar con el resto del guardarropa.

(¿Te interesa aprender más sobre combinaciones de color? En mi libro Colour Confident Stitching explico el significado y uso sugerido para estas combinaciones).

¿Ya tienes contigo los materiales? Sigue leyendo que abajo vienen las instrucciones para tejer estos parches.


How to weave a patch

1. Cut a circle of cardboard and draw a grid on it. The circle here is roughly 9 cm of diameter with a grid of 4 mm. Draw an inner circle 4 mm smaller and cut slits in all vertical lines. Don’t go through the inner circle line.
2. Secure the tail of your yarn on the back with masking tape and start running the vertical threads through the slits until you cover the whole circle.
3. Start weaving in the middle using a blunt needle. Go under the first thread, then over the second one, under the following and so on. In the next row invert the sequence: go over the the first one (note you are working now from the opposite side), under the next one and then over the following thread and so on. The third row starts from the same side as the first one following the same sequence.
4. You can change the colours of the yarn or experiment with different sequences, for example, going over two threads and under one for a herringbone effect.
5. When finished remove carefully the cardboard circle or tear it if necessary.
6. Hand wash your patch, weave in all tails and sew it to the material to be mended (I used sewing thread) tucking in all the border loops.




Cómo tejer un parche de lana

1. Corta un círculo de cartón y dibuja una grilla en este. Este círculo mide aprox. 9 cm de diámetro con una grilla cuadriculada de 4 mm. Dibuja un círculo al interior 4 mm más pequeño y haz pequeños cortes en todas las líneas verticales. No pases de la línea del círculo interior.
2. Fija con cinta de papel por el reverso el extremo de la lana y comienza a pasar los hilos verticales a través de las hendiduras hasta completar todo el círculo.
3. Empieza a tejer en el medio usando una aguja de punta roma. Pasa por debajo del primer hilo, luego sobre el segundo, debajo del siguiente y así sucesivamente. En la siguiente corrida invierte la secuencia: pasa sobre el primer hilo (fíjate que ahora se trabaja desde el lado opuesto), bajo el segundo y luego sobre el siguiente y así. La tercera corrida comienza del mismo lado de la primera y siguiendo la misma secuencia.
4. Puedes ir variando los colores de la lana o experimentar con distintas secuencias, por ejemplo, pasar sobre dos hilos y bajo uno para un efecto de espiga.
5. Cuando esté terminado remueve cuidadosamente el círculo de cartón, rómpelo si es necesario.
6. Lava a mano tus parches, mete con la aguja todos los extremos sueltos y cóselo al material que va a ser remendado (para esto usé hilo de coser) doblando hacia adentro todos los lacitos del borde.

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Next time you feel your embroidery is taking too long, remind yourself that embroidering is more of a marathon than a sprint. It requires a lot of training and several stages until you cross the finish line. I’ve outlined the timeline I followed for this fruit sampler—the whole run took me around 40 days!

Motif. I used a design I had created years before for block-printing. The clean lines and geometric shapes offered enough surface for practising and allowed to render each fruit freely in the stitch’s own language. Tip: Out of ideas? Check the patterns in your upholstered furniture, pillow covers, totes and see which ones you can use for embroidering.

Colour. I visited the Design Episodes exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago and immediately loved the colours of this bold teapot (Fleetline by Peter Shire for Memphis). I took a picture and kept it for my reference (I can’t resist a combination with blue, pink and neutrals). Tip: In my book Colour Confident Stitching you can find a step-by-step guide to capture and use colours from inspiring sources.

Stitch plan. Using an outline of the motif, I decided on the stitches I’d use in each section and the direction they’d take. I considered the texture each stitch brought into the composition and positioned them so as to get a balanced piece.

Tracing. I cut out the motifs from thick paper with a fine utility knife; I then use every cut piece as a stencil or template to trace the whole design (this helps to keep a clean line when tracing on fabric as compared to doing it freehand).

Stitch sequence. If I’m teaching, the order goes from easiest to most complex. For other cases, I start with flat stitches and leave more textured or delicate ones for the end or start with stitches from background shapes and move toward foreground elements.

Ready to go? See below how my students did with the sampler! Some of them finished almost in time while others took a slower pace. One of them complained that stranded and pearl cotton were too thin for her to see and stitch comfortably. So I suggested that she blew everything up: use wool yarn instead of embroidery floss and stitch the enlarged motifs on an open weave fabric (such as linen) so she could work at a totally different dimension. And it worked!





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