Thoughts about stitching with overdyed threads

I always stitch with overdyed threads.  I do this because I like them.  I love the serendipity of the colour placement, and the fact that a piece stitched from the same pattern will be different every time.  If you have a symmetrical design, you can take care with the threads (sometimes starting a new length before you have finished the last) so that the colours fall in the same place on a mirrored image, or you can just stitch as the thread comes and see what happens.

I think I’m unusual in that I ONLY stitch with overdyed threads, but at the same time, I do appreciate from a design perspective that a plain/solid colour can be the best way to enhance and complement an overdyed shade.  But there are so many types of overdyed threads around these days that I can get around this.  Some overdyed threads have quite dramatic, contrasting colour changes; others are far subtler, and often only have very minor variations within one shade of the same colour (sometimes not even as dramatic as light to dark).  Therefore, I simply pair a more dramatic colour scheme with one in a shade of minimal contrasts, and then neither shade is compromised.  Subtle shades can usually be stitched together without danger, but more dramatic colour combinations stitched within one piece can either clash, or just look messy.    Serendipity is one thing, but the point of design is to harness a thread’s special features, and makes its character workfor, rather than against you.

Which brings me to my point, really.  Now personally, I’m not a big stitcher of cross stitch (although I have done quite a lot in the past) but I do enjoy designing cross stitch, and I love to see the finished results – especially if someone else has done the stitching!  BUT when I create a design, I visualise in my head how it would look if I had stitched it myself.  When we are talking about overdyed threads (which we are) and somebody else stitching the design, it would be rare for a stitcher to automatically stitch it in the same way that I would myself and therefore come close to my visualisation.

This leaves me with something of a quandary.  Should I give the model stitcher guidance on how I would like the finished piece to look?  I have decided yes, I should.  Because although everyone else who stitches the design might stitch it in a different way and therefore have a different visual end result, at least I have demonstrated the design as it matches my own vision.  But then, should I give the same guidance within a kit so that subsequent stitchers can replicate the design as closely as possible to the model stitcher’s version?  Or should I leave out the additional stitch guidance, and allow the stitcher to make her own choice of style?

My instinct is to go with the latter as I don’t like to be dictatorial, nor do I want to encourage stitchers to be sheep, capable only of replication and not original thought.  The tagline to my business name, TangleCrafts, is ‘Explore, experiment, enjoy!’ because that is exactly what I want people to do.  We are talking about creative people – those people who, in their leisure time, simply want to create.  Of course I shouldn’t talk down to them.

The quandary lies in the fact that many people see a design and buy a kit because they DO want to replicate it exactly.  If I have left the design unguided, then I have given the stitcher the choice of whether they wish to replicate or innovate.  But I have hereby made the assumption that they already have the relevant knowledge in order to make that informed decision.  Given an unguided design, it is possible they will neither know how to translate it into the cover design they have seen, nor how to put their own stamp on it.

So then I feel obliged to include the guidance, which is probably what you think I should have thought all along.  This then leaves me with a choice of exactly what guidance to inlude:

1.  ONLY chart with guidance on how to replicate the cover design.

2.  Chart with replication guidance PLUS a chart for the same design that is open to individual interpretation.


3.  Chart with replication guidance PLUS an open interpretation chart PLUS guidance in potential different ways to interpret the design.

Perhaps I am overthinking this – it is something I do.  But I think it’s an important decision to make, because the information I include within a kit sends a message to the person who buys it.  Having been pondering this whole thing lately, I am more or less decided.  My kits will include information to the level of point 2 above.  I wouldn’t be happy only providing the information of how to replicate the design, nor would I think I had done my job as a designer if I hadn’t told them how to.

Take look at the ‘Tiffany Acorns’ photo I have added below.   My model stitcher, Shari, followed the guidance I provided to the letter, when she stitched this kit.  Notice how the acorn pattern is echoed within itself, emphasising ts curved contours.  Imagine how different this design would look if it had been stitched from left to right, right to left, leaving the effect of horizontal stripes.  By no means am I saying ‘my way of stitching is better’; simply that the method of stitching makes a difference to the overall appearance, and in design terms, this must be taken into account.

But rather than overload my kits with excess information – because this is an issue that is relevant to more than one of my designs, but individually, they are only small –  I think I am going to produce a separate booklet.  This would in essence be a beginner’s guide to cross stitching with overdyed threads, but would include some ideas for moving on a step for those stitchers already familiar with the techniques.  It would also include a selection of sample patterns to practise what it preached!  I could then market the booklet alongside the relevant kits, giving the individual stitchers the choice of whether they think they need the extra information or not.  For me, I think this is an ideal compromise!

I have ideas for various stitch techniques that would give basic information on ‘how-to’ and then progress to next-step development – basically, ideas to encourage and inspire stitchers to think creatively, rather than to be limited by charts and instructions.  Amongst other things, I’m thinking about freeform and 4-way bargello, and graduated/shaded blackwork.  Perhaps once all the individual thought-booklets have been produced, I could look at trying to get them published, but bound as one entire book – ‘Stitching Outside of the Box’.  What do you think?

I think counted thread embroidery can get a bit of bad press from the ‘arty’ embroidery community, but really, it can be every bit as creative.  We stitchers are creative people, let’s celebrate that!

A cross stitch design, (c) TangleCrafts, 2008
Tiffany Acorns ~ A cross stitch design, (c) TangleCrafts, 2008.