Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  


Are You Caught in Design Gridlock?
By Lois Caron

(Please note: this page contains a large number of charts and photos below which may increase your downloading time. Please allow sufficient time for graphics to load. It's worth the wait.)

* Do you feel that when you stitch a design you must use exactly the colors and stitches that the designer used?

* If the dyelot of the thread you purchased isn't precisely the same as what it appears to be in a photograph for a cross stitch pattern or on a needlepoint canvas, do you think the end of the world is at hand?

* Do you think you don't have the ability to be creative on your own?

* Do you think that you don't have any original ideas?


If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions you are caught in a creative traffic jam and are on the road to Design Jail. I hope our Design Contest will show you how much enjoyment there is in following lesser known paths. You'll still arrive at your destination, but you'll have more fun along the way. Or, perhaps you'll discover something new by exploring different routes and following your own instincts.

With each Design Contest we will provide a small motif as inspiration. From this you will create an entirely original design. Some of you are probably frozen in your tracks at the very thought of taking such risks! Take a deep breath and relax. The following exercise is a fun and non-threatening way to explore the fascinating world of design. You'll soon be hooked and will end up with more ideas than you know what to do with. Even if you decide not to enter our contest, take up the challenge for your own amusement and enrichment.

How do I start?

The motif you are to use is charted on the Design Contest page. Duplicate it, arrange it, turn it, take parts of it and/or add to it until you come up with something you think might work. Our only requirement is that the motif must appear in its entirety somewhere in your design. When you have a promising idea, print out the chart -- or several copies of it.

What next?

Now decide on an approach to your design. Do you plan to stitch it entirely in cross stitch? If so, will it be on Aida or on evenweave linen? If on linen, will the stitches be over one or two threads? If you're a needlepointer, what mesh canvas do you need to work on to make the design the size you want? Will you be using decorative stitches and, if so, how do they fit into the overall scheme? Perhaps your true love is crewel embroidery -- or hardanger, or darning patterns. Can you find a way to adapt your idea to your favorite technique?

I've got an idea, but how do I choose colors and threads?

One of my favorite ways of designing is to choose colors and/or threads at random. This doesn't always work, of course, but a surprising number of times I end up with something far superior to what I would have had if I carefully planned the color layout.

If you're too timid to try this just yet, think in terms of what your major color is to be, what areas of your design you wish to emphasize and whether you want a dramatic impact or something soft, subtle and soothing. Is it a feminine or masculine design? Unless your design is entirely monochromatic, you'll need at least a little contrast here and there. Ask yourself as many questions as you can think of and list them in order of priority. Gradually you'll be able to pick colors and threads which will give you the results you're trying to achieve. When in doubt, less is better. We've given you a limit of six colors, chosen from any of The Caron Collection threads, but you'll see that we use far fewer in our examples.

I have the beginnings of a design, but I'm still not satisfied.

Not all ideas will come to you at once. Leave your sketch alone for a couple of days. When you go back to it, you'll see it with a fresh eye. Once you start stitching, your original idea may be transformed many more times before you complete it, especially if you use decorative stitches, which often suggest intriguing new possibilities as you see the patterns they form on your fabric or canvas.

I want to use decorative stitches, but I don't know where to start. I don't know many different stitches.

There are lots of good reference books. Stitches for Effect is a recent publication which is an excellent starting point. Many of the designs now being published in magazines are using more and more stitches. Glance through these publications for ideas. Your library is probably the richest source of reference material. A great number of wonderful books were published in the 1970's and they should be available in most libraries.

Personally, I like to let the design tell me what to do. By looking at the chart or doodling on my fabric or canvas, I can usually come up with something that fits the space and gives the appropriate effect. See the examples below. I don't worry about whether the stitch exists, or if it has a name, or even whether there is a "correct" way to construct the stitch. This does lead to problems sometimes when I need to write instructions!

I've started stitching my design, but I'm not sure I like what is happening with it.

In general, follow your instincts. Often, an idea in its initial stages will look awful. Stick with it for awhile. Chances are it will start turning out OK as you progress further. Sometimes, though, once you begin you know you've made a bad choice and have to try something else. Other times, your beginning idea will evolve and change as you go along and you might end up with something totally different than you expected when you started. Many times, work in progress will suggest other ideas. Incorporate them if they fit with what you're doing, or start an idea notebook for later experimentation. Many of my designs are the results of "What if..." journeys.

To give you a few ideas of how to proceed, I've taken a simple motif (different from the one in our contest) and developed it into a variety of patterns. Click on the grids with borders for a stitched version of the chart.

 1. In this design, the motif has been repeated at regular intervals to create an all-over pattern. A simple approach to stitching is taken. The entire design is cross stitched over two threads on a 28-ct Jubilee fabric (14-ct Aida would also be suitable). The threads used for this first trial are Wildflowers, Impressions and Candlelight. 2. What happens if the motif is rearranged slightly and stitched over one thread? This grouping of four motifs can be duplicated and made into a pair of earrings. For added textural interest, the flower petals were treated as units, and stitched as cross stitches over two threads.

3. Different groupings of the motifs adapt nicely to narrow or wide borders, useful as components of a sampler, a decorative border around a pillow design, a hat band or innumerable other projects. The following two examples show some of the variations possible.


 a) motifs are lined up one above the other to form a narrow band. Two adjacent rows, separated by narrow lines make a wider band. This could be repeated for an all-over background pattern, used in a patchwork type of design, or utilized as a decorative pattern for wallpaper, a ladies dress or in a stylized garden design. I elected to interpret each symbol as meaning one thread of the fabric, and have used a variety of decorative stitches, for a petite and delicate design. b) Here the motifs have been turned upside down and fitted into one another to create and entirely different effect. Each symbol represents one thread of the fabric and I've chosen stitches different than those in the example above.

   4. Now we start having some fun! The original motif isn't as apparent in the finished piece, but look at the colored area on the chart. If you keep looking, you'll see how the motifs were arranged, and sometimes overlapped, to form a completely new pattern. Even though cross stitch over two threads is the only stitch used, a whole new look has been introduced by looking at the negative space and incorporating it into the design. Color manipulation helps to make the design look more complex than it really is. I like what happened with the pastel colors used in the center medallion. I'm keeping this one in my notebook as an idea of how to distribute color in a garden scene for some future project!

5. The chart at the left is another arrangement. This time the full motif is only used in the central medallion and is overlapped. The border consists only of the "stems and leaves". At first, I thought this was the most boring of my doodles. But look what happened when I started stitching! I already have ideas for radically different looking designs using this exact chart, but by changing threads, colors and background stitches.

 6. Here are some ways that the medallions in #4 and #5 could be interpreted using different stitches.


7. Here, just the flower petals constitute the pattern. By taking a different approach to the charted grid each time, we can get two different patterns. The same stitch was used in both, but it has not been arranged alike both times. The spaces created in either design can be filled in an endless array of ways.



8. This is still another arrangement of the motifs. Who knows what will happen when this is stitched!

9. So far, we've seen only geometric constructions. Let's try a scene. On the left is a preliminary sketch for a landscape.

10. And why not a patchwork pillow incorporating some of the things we've developed above?

As you can see, there are infinite paths to explore. The winding byway can be far more interesting than the superhighway. Investigate one or two and see where they lead you.

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