Needlework Questions and Answers

I'll post questions about needlework and my answers here. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'll give you my opinion or what I do know. Many of the previous questions have turned into separate files on the topic. Before submitting a question, please take a look at my list of tips and tricks and follow that link; your answer may be here already!

Question 1 How much fabric should I leave for finishing?
Question 2 What is couching?
Question 3 How can I speed up my stitching?
Question 4 Can 22-count Hardanger fabric be considered 22-count aida?
Question 5 Can needlepoint stitches be copyrighted?
Question 6 How do you get a neat back?
Question 7 Do I change the way I make my stitches as I go around the edge on a circular tablecloth?
Question 8 What is a bullion or wrapped bar stitch? Question 9 Is it necessary to pre-rinsing thread or pre-wash Aida?
Question 10 How can I clean a bellpull without disassembling it?
Question 11 How can I remove adhesive residue from the edges of a family sampler?

How much fabric should I leave for finishing?

The general rule is 2" on each side; that means add 4" to each dimension.

Sometimes you need more (say 3" on each side for a total of 6" to each dimension), such as when the fabric easily unravels or is otherwise difficult to work with.

Sometimes you can get away with less.

When you're going to frame the piece, I highly recommend the 2" as the minimum. The 3" measurement is better, especially if you're going to take it to a framer to stretch and mount. Sometimes this fee increases if there is only a bit of fabric to work with.

What is couching?

This means securing a thread (or ribbon, string of beads, etc.) to the surface of the work by means of small stitches.


The example above is a view looking directly downward at the piece. The couched thread (represented by -----) goes to the back of the work (pierces the fabric) only at a and b. It does not pierce the fabric at any other points but is held in place by the couching stitches (represented by | ).

You can couch with short vertical stitches, cross stitches, bullion knots, etc.

It's also possible to give the *effect* of couching by running a thread underneath completed stitches (rather than actually couch the thread on). I did this in my mini sampler Christmas ornament because it was an afterthought! And also easier than having the couched thread flopping around loose!

Hint: Lay the couched thread (thread to be couched) on the surface of the work. Then run only the end a to the back--don't bring the entire couched thread up at a, as this frays the couched thread unnecessarily. Then couch the thread, and when you're finished run end b to the back of the work.

The thread to be couched is also called the laid thread.

You mentioned on RCTN that you found a way to speed up your stitching. I could really use that idea! What is it?

First of all, this answer is predicated on your having mounted your fabric taut in some kind of stretcher device. (I use a scroll frame.) When the fabric is taut, it is impossible to use the "sewing method," so this is "stab method" advice. (The "sewing method" aggravates RSI and also makes it easier to split threads by mistake, in my opinion.)

Put your skilled hand beneath your work and less-skilled on top.

Here's the "secret." Send the needle to the back of the work and as soon as it passes through, immediately turn it around and send it back to the top of the work without pulling the floss through at all. Now pull the needle to the top of the work, followed by the floss tail.

This means you pull through on the floss only once and) on each stitch, although you send the needle to the opposite side of the fabric twice. This cuts stitching time roughly in half.

Another way to look at it: you'll pull the floss through only back-to -front; but you'll send the needle through the fabric front-to-back *and* back- to-front.

I know that pulling the floss through only on the back-to-front leg of the stitch causes the floss to abrade more. To compensate, I just use shorter lengths of floss (12" or less). I think this is a very reasonable trade-off for halving time expended on each stitch!

Do a little test swatch and see what you think.

Can I use 22-count Hardanger fabric as a small size of aida? I'm afraid that maybe I shouldn't--that it's a different kind of fabric or something.

If you look at the weave, you'll find that it's very slightly different from aida, but not enough to worry about. Yes, think of 22-ct. Hardanger as 22-ct. aida.

Are there any needlepoint stitches that are copyrighted? If so, what are the names of such stitches? Also, I have researched from many different books and publications, do I need the written permission from the authors to use their stitches? For example, "The Needlepoint Book" by Jo Ippolito Christensen had a stitch called JoJo. I am sure this is her original stitch. Do I need her permission to use it in my book? In searching in different books, how many stitches may I use out of one book? For example, in Mrs. Christensen's book, she has 303 stitches. Would using one hundred of her stitches be legal?

As far as I understand it, there are no stitches so far that are sufficiently unique so to conform to the copyright guidelines as a "new stitch." This is the same as there are no new recipes under the sun. Stitches are either crosses, straight stitches, knots and other lumps, and loop stitches.

Some stitches, however, are known by their "inventors." These include the Rhodes stitch, named for Mary Rhodes; and Jean Hilton has several stitches that she's named. Denise Pratt has a lovely star-type stitch, too.

Drawings and descriptions of how to do the stitches are copyrighted, of course. As long as you do your own drawing and description you should be ok. I don't know the scope of your intended project, so you should consult an intellectual property attorney. (I am not an attorney.)

As to the JoJo stitch, I'd write and ask if it is copyrighted. If yes, then ask permission to use it. Make sure you state "used by permission" in your text and keep a hard copy of her permission letter in your files. Tell her you will give full annotation and credit to her, of course. If the stitch is not copyrighted, I'd still give full credit to her and also list her book in your bibliography. She may also ask you to buy a license to use the stitch if it is copyrighted. If it is not copyrighted, you need not pay her any monetary fee, but I'd be scrupulous about credit and in your bibliography and send her a copy of the finished publication, inscribed with your thanks.

As to limit on the number of stitches, if they're public domain, there is no limit. If they are copyrighted (and the "older" stitches certainly are not), then the limit is how many stitches she will give you permission to use.

Another note: If these stitches are available already in several sources, there may be some economic question about the feasibility of your doing another compendium. If you do decide to do it, you might want to put a particular slant on it so that it has its own market niche: such as large-print, left-handers, or some such.

How do you get your cross stitch project to look as good as the front? Also what about the back of a cross-stitched afghan?

Your work is never going to look as good on the back as the front unless you do reversible cross stitch, which I wouldn't recommend, as it's pretty tedious and easy to get wrong.

This answer does not please you, I know, so I'll elaborate.

First of all, the front is what's important so don't overly-stress on how the back will look! My opinion only, of course.

Second, try to end your treads by weaving them under the same color, if at all possible. Otherwise, weave under a similar color.

Third, make your stitches all in the same order, as this will produce the same "pattern" on the back.

Fourth, don't carry your threads at all. End them and restart.

Fifth, consider a loop start. (I would not do this on a piece bound for a competition, however.)

As for an afghan, if you do the above four things I think you'll be pleased. If the back bothers you, you can always slip stitch a piece of appropriately-patterned fabric to the back of the afghan to hide everything! Pre-wash the fabric first to pre-shrink it so you do have differentially-shrinking fabrics when you wash your afghan! More in this file, including how to make a cross stitch that reverses to a cross stitch.

I am stitching a tablecloth and need to go 'round in a large circle. How do I keep the same stitch leg on the top of the stitch from whereever you look at the design? Do I change the stitch at a corner or just keep the stitches the same as when I started?

If I understand you correctly, I'd hold the circular tablecloth with the edge (the part that is nearest the floor when it's on the table) toward my bellybutton. And stitch the sts with the same leg on top all the way around the cloth.

Anyone on the exact opposite side will see the sts going "the right way," but anyone 90 degrees around will see them going "wrong way." This can't be helped. Don't stress over it.

If it's a square or rectangular tablecloth, I would stitch the two sides traveling up- or downward. The top and the bottom would, of course, already have the same leg on top.

I have a cross stitch chart that calls for a bullion or wrapped bar stitch. Can you explain that to me? So far I haven't been able to find any directions for it. Thanks -- it's the only thing keeping this piece from being finished.

A bullion stitch is also called a bullion knot. Do you have a dictionary of sts? If not, then this will provide sufficient incentive to hop off to the book store!! I like Jan Eaton's COMPLETE STITCH ENCYCLOPEDIA. I got mine at Border's, not at my local shop. There are others, of course. The trick to this knot is that it's actually a backstitch type of stitch. I can't describe it in words; you'll need pictures. (I will try to draw a picture and get it up here, though.) Also look in the back of needlework magazines, where they diagram stitches.

You can create the same effect with a "mock bullion knot." Take a long straight stitch (a satin stitch, in other words) for the length that the bullion knot is supposed to cover. Come back up at the same point and then just wrap (like above!), until the satin stitch is covered with coils. Then sink the needle.

Someone told me that I should pre-soak my floss before stitching. Is this necessary? If so, how long should the floss be soaked and in what? On the same train of thought: should the Aida cloth be pre-washed as well?

The only reason to pre-rinse floss is to get rid of the excess dry dye on the surface of the thread. This is a problem with dark (black, particularly) and deep jewel colors (reds, turquoise, dark greens, etc.). If you wash your project after stitching is complete, you should be ok. If you want to pre-rinse, draw up a bowl of tepid water (right from the tap). Slip the paper tubes from the skein. Put floss in water for 30 minutes or so. If the water is clear, you're ok. If not, dump out the water and put in fresh; repeat until water is clear. Drain on white paper towels. If any dye leaks, rinse again. Really, though, I would not worry about this.

As to Aida, pre-wash only if the fabric is very stiff (lots of sizing--the sizing crystals act like little pieces of sandpaper), you're going to put it with other fabric for clothing (such as setting in a stitched panel in a jumper---in which case, you won't want the two fabrics to shrink at different rates; pre-wash the other fabric, too), or you're stitching with silk, which catches easily. Take a couple of stitches in the margin of your fabric to find out whether the thread catches with the amount of sizing in the Aida.

Years ago, I stitched a bellpull from an Eva Rosenstand kit, and it is treasured. Over the years, the bellpull hung next to my fireplace, and there were times when the damper wasn't open before the fire was started. Consequently, there is smoke "damage" along with normal soil. I would really like to clean it but not take the thing apart. I have hesitated to use any washes because of worries about the colorfastness of the floss, and broadcloth backing. And what about the buckrum stiffening? Please help me clean my precious bell pull without damaging it.

Several problems, the worst of which is the buckram, which will become sticky when wet. (I remember making hats with my mom in the early '60s, and we molded wet buckram over forms and let it dry; because it had been impregnated with sizing, it retained the new shape when dry.) Washing with the buckram stiffening on the bellpull is out, in my opinion. The broadcloth is fine. So is the bellpull fabric, of course.

Now, as to threads. What colors are used? Dark ones or jewel tones? These are most likely to run. Do you have any of the left-over threads in your stash? If not, can you buy some of these colors? The expense would be more than compensated to keep your treasure beautiful and undamaged. Test the thread to see if it's colorfast (even tho manufacturers do not guarantee colorfastness, many of the colors are fine; the disclaimer is at the behest of the legal staff). Soak and place on white paper towel to see if there is dye bleed. Dye bleed is important, really, only if you are going to wash the piece with soap (Orvus) and tepid water (see my article on this washing). This can't be done without disassembling the piece.

From what you've told me, dry cleaning is probably your best bet..or disassembling. (Not what you wanted to hear, huh?!)

I recently had to unframe a stamped cross stitched sampler that my mother-in-law started and I finished. I was horrified to find that the framer had used masking tape and spray adhesive to attach the fabric to the mounting board. She also attached the mat to the fabric using double face tape. I have soaked the piece in Orvus and cold water for a week, and have been able to remove some of the adhesive residue, but there is a lot left on the fabric. The piece has no monetary value, but it has great sentimental value to me. Do you have any idea how I could remove the adhesive without causing damage to the fabric?

What a challenge for you! I'm imagining that there is sticky residue, as when you remove a price sticker from something. I suggest that in a hidden spot (or the most-hidden spot!), you dab on a little de-greaser, such as Goo-Gone. Let it sit for 30-60 min and then get in there with a soft-ish toothbrush and see if you lift any of the goo away. If so, continue, doing a small amount each time (say 2"). Then soak all in Orvus again to remove the oil; this is a petroleum-based product, alas.

Your other option is to reframe, covering up the adhesive stain. You probably will have to cut it away. Your framer probably will be able to help you choose a frame/matboard combination which will maximize what's left of the sampler. Another though: can you cut away the damaged area and sew on strips of fabric? If you use a color which highlights the colors in the sampler - - as long as it is a fairly light color - - this might look good. Or some natural/white/off-white fabric. When I say fabric, I'm speaking of the type of fabric on which it is stitched.

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Last updated Feb. 20, 2001.