opus mariss

Embroidering through Time and Space

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Caveat em…broider

I usually have a pretty good idea of where a project is going, and how to get there, but not always.

I was pretty gung-ho about this project and wanting to get it done for the beginning of March, so I started stitching while still having questions about how the stitch worked.   Instead of taking a few hours and making up some test swatches, I just started stitching.  Which led to do something I didn’t like, that didn’t look right, and had to be taken out.  Which I hate doing, and was a huge waste of time, plus the time it takes to re-stitch the area correctly…bleh.   So learn from mistake.


Don’t do what I did.

Long Armed cross stitch is a directional stitch in order to get the characteristic rows that kind of look knitted, you need to work your rows or columns of stitches in a back and forth method. Switching the direction that the long arm of the stitch is tilted towards. If you do it correctly you get a really cool textural effect, if you don’t it looks essentially like modern cross stitch . I didn’t have a complete grasp of that concept when I started stitching my first shield.  The photo at the below shows the two different effects.

The white back ground of the shield is stitched with the long arm of the cross going the same way in each row. It’s kind of boring and very “modern”.  The Blue wavy bit is stitched with the long arm of the cross alternating angles and creates row that almost look like knitting.  That is the way the stitch was worked in the middle ages.  And, the reason I decided to use the stitch in the first place.

Heraldic long armed cross stitch

Fragment linen and silk embroidery (1301 to 1500), inventory number 2574 Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nurnberg Germany

In this photo you can clearly see the “knitted row” effect.  Two rows of embroidery form each visual row.  Medieval embroiders also switched the orientation of the rows to suit their design needs.  In the pale heraldic motif the stitches move top to bottom throughout the lozenge.  In the dark motif the bars are stitched side to side and the central design is stitched up and down.  This switching of orientation is very different from modern cross stitching which is done left to right(or right to left depending on handedness).  I had figured the orientation switching and worked that into my design.

But, (and here is the big important take away from todays post).  I clearly remember thinking to myself, “Are they stitching back and forth, or from the same side each row? I should make up a couple quick samples and see if it makes a difference.”  And I didn’t.  I just started right in, picking the wrong way to do the stitch.  Compounding the problem, I didn’t stop when I realized it didn’t look right.  I kept going thinking somehow I would come to like it.  I didn’t.  So learn from my mistake, take the time to answer all your questions about the stitch. And if you don’t like something, take it out early on.  Don’t wait thinking it will magically get better with time, it won’t. (That might actually be pretty good advice for a lot of stuff in life.)   But I’m back on track now, and much happier with the way it looks.


looking better already

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Central Asian Boar’s Head Project

This project has kind of stalled. Hopefully if I go ahead and post it here as a work in progress it will get moving again.  The original piece dates from the 7th century c.e.  It is a silk on silk embroidery from central Asia, most likely the area where China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan all come together.  It is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Here is a link to the original piece http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/72582?img=0


detail view of Textile with Boar’s Head Roundels, silk on silk embroidery, 7th century, central Asia, 22 1/16″ x 18 7/8″. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York accession # 2004.260

Silk on silk embroidery –

for my recreation, I have chosen to use a stranded silk embroidery floss from Needlepoint INC. Silk. I picked this particular silk thread because my local embroidery shop carries this line in a wide variety of colors. I also feel it has a better sheen than Soie d’ Alger.

The colors I am using are:
#565 Iris Blue Range
#352 Pistachio Green Range
#984 Taupe Range
#867 Pumpkin Range
#992 Black & White Range

For the ground fabric I finally settled on a silk Matka in “Oatmeal” from B. Black and sons in Los Angeles. The fabric is amazing and comes in a wide selection of colors. I found that it was a little “soft” for embroidery, and lined it with a linen gauze which gave it the stability needed. Also the fabric has a very soft hand similar to a cotton flannel and you do need to take some care when stitching not to rub against it more than necessary.

cartoon on vellumdesign basted onto ground fabricpaper removed split stich outline
Outlining has begun. Split stitch over the basted design lines. Basting threads are removed after they are stitched over.
starting to fill in colorpositioning lines for peacocks

Starting to fill in the color. Split stitches following the contour of the boar’s head.
The embroidery of the central roundel is finished. I am now moving on to the four peacocks. Here is an image of how I positioned the peacocks in relation to the roundel.
boar with basting lines for peacockfilling in the birds
Outline of one of the four peacocks basted onto the ground fabric.

Starting to fill in the peacock’s body. Again, using split stitch following the contours of the outline.






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Eyelet of the Beholder


finished 003I made this small pouch last year for an artisans exchange. It is stitched in a stranded silk floss on linen.  The embroidery was inspired by an extant fragment of what was probably an altar frontal. The original in Uppsala Cathedral is stitched in red, blue and yellow silk and metallic gold threads on a linen base cloth.  I changed the colors in my piece, in order to better suit the person it was being made for.  I also made a small change to the motifs, in the original the yellow and blue figures are swastikas.  On the original the difference is subtle. But, when I changed the color- way on mine the black swastikas felt a little too aggressive, so I closed the lower arm off into a loop to make the eagle motif.  I like the way the colors work together, but I think this combination has a more modern than a  “medieval” feel to it.  The entire piece is worked in a pulled eyelet stitch with 16 stitches per eye.

fragment with eyelet embroidery

photo credit -Textile treasures of Uppsala Cathedral_, Agnes Geijer, 1964, plate 49



Getting started, two motifs finished two more in progress. The penny is for scale.  (this photo was taken wrong side up)  The eyeletsare worked on point and called a diamond eyelet stitch.  Each arm of the “point” is worked over four threads with 16 stitches per eyelet. The eyelets are worked as you would a counted stitch, moving your needle through the holes in the warp and weft of the ground cloth. I used a sewing awl to open the center of each eye, before stitching it.  I also found that my tension was more even, if I worked the 4 compass points of the eyelet first, then circled back around and filled the areas in between in on a second pass of each eyelet.progress 2 001






All the colors are in, and the white “paths” are about half way done.  You can really see how the colors work together.   bag 8-4 004



20togo 006  Twenty eyelets left to go.

change of plans 003 I played with the idea of using a metallic thread on the center eyes to give the piece a little sparkle. But I didn’t have the right weight and the gold wasn’t thrilling me either. Silver may have worked better.  I ended up keeping the centers white, like the paths.




All the embroidery finished, and the piece has been flat lined with a piece of violet linen to accentuate the “eyes” .

change of plans 007

















stitching up the edge with an applied braiding stitch.




And the finished pouchfinished 003