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Review: The Needlepoint Book by Jo Ippolito Christensen

I’m sure many of you remember the articles I wrote about my experience with canvaswork . It was the most challenging course I’d taken at the RSN and the most frustrating technique I had to learn.

My tutors were excellent and did their best, but I just couldn’t get my head around the whole concept: there were too many variables for me to get a clear picture of how the finished piece would look. I didn’t know how a particular stitch would look when it was on the canvas. I didn’t understand compensating stitches, or stitches with direction and movement vs stitches that are static. The size and repeat of the stitch never entered my mind when I was choosing what stitch to put where. Of course, my tutors helped me with all of it and that was the point of taking the course.

But how much easier it would have been for me at the beginning if I’d had The Needlework Book by Jo Ippolito Christensen in my library to read before I began the course! The publishers very generously sent me a review copy and I am so glad they did so I can share my opinion of the book with you .

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The Needlepoint Book is a big, heavy, gorgeous book. And, although the title implies that the book is for needlepoint or canvaswork, the information in much of the book applies to embroidery of all kinds.

If you stitch a kit or design where all the elements have been decided by the designer, then your task is to execute the stitches in the threads provided. The emphasis is on your skill and the beauty of your stitching. If, however, you choose to create piece of your own, you need to understand color, fibre choices, stitches that are appropriate for different places, stitch order, and a myriad of other things, so your design will be successful and beautiful. All of these elements are discussed, and many examples are given, which will help us designing our own pieces as well as stitching a painted canvas.

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The first chapter I read was Chapter 7 entitled “Choosing Stitches”. This is what I really struggled with during my course and the area I know I need to understand better, in order to create more successful needlepoint/canvaswork pieces.

The first statement in Chapter 7 encapsulated exactly how I felt when I started to learn this technique: “Any needlepoint creation, especially a painted canvas, has so many components to it that it’s hard to keep up sometimes.” No Kidding! Although my canvas wasn’t painted, the colors were determined by the image I was reproducing, The stitches, however, were not.

Her solution gives me hope for the future: “You conquer this situation the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time!”

Well, I can do that! “Schritt für schritt” we say in German – step by step.

Jo Ippolito Christensen goes on to explain the elements of successful stitch choices, step by step. She discusses compatibility, scale/proportion, space, movement – including dynamic and static stitches with specific recommendations and where to find the stitches in the book – size and shape of the area to be filled, how to work diagonal areas with other angles and texture. Whew! And that’s only the beginning of the chapter!

Next she writes about distorting of the canvas, mixing stitches and what kind of stitches work for very specific uses. She includes recommendations for letters and numbers, creating curved lines, what stitches to use for borders, compensating stitches, how to create detail and when to stitch specific areas of the design elements so that what is in the back looks like it’s behind what’s in the front of the design.

Then, like any good teacher, she gives her readers a summary of the guidelines she has just explained so clearly. Lastly, she encourages all stitchers to evaluate their choices and see each project as a learning experience. She writes “Trial and error soon turns itself into experience. The main idea in stitching is to have a good time!”

I’ve given you a glimpse into the book by writing specifically about Chapter 7. The rest of The Needlepoint Book is equally helpful, clear, interesting and inspiring. I love it!

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The experienced, long time needlepoint/canvaswork stitchers undoubtedly already have the older versions in their libraries. I haven’t seen those editions but I understand from reading other reviews on needlework blogs, that this edition is organised differently (and better) and there are more stitch diagrams. Something to consider…

If, like me, you are relatively new to needlepoint/canvaswork and want a resource that covers everything, then The Needlepoint Book is for you! I would even be willing to say that if this is the only book you have on needlepoint/canvaswork it will suffice for many years of stitching before you will want or need anything additional!

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Loveday crewelwork – Tri-color leaf 1

After I’d embroidered the ivy leaves, the strawberries and worked up quite far on the trunk and branches, I decided to stitch one of the large leaves. The large leaves are worked in three colors throughout the piece: a dark green, a light apple green and a beautiful teal blue. These colors, in combination with the Wedgwood blue of the background fabric, really look fabulous!

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The large leaf is a composition of a set of small leaves within the large leaf. Inside the large leaf shape are lots of little leaves worked in padded satin stitch and their stems are – big surprise – worked in stem stitch! If you look carefully at the photo above you can see that the satin stitch is worked at a slight angle on each of the smaller leaves. Stitching them in this way ensures that each stitch will lie flat over the split stitch outline and the padding. If I had made the first long stitch go exactly up the middle of the leaf from bottom point to top point, the subsequent stitches towards the edge of each leaf may have “fallen off’ the edges over the split stitch. The angle keeps the threads on the top of both the padding and the outline stitching.

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The outline of the large leaf was stitched using a double thread couched down with a single thread, just like the stem of the strawberries. I really exaggerated the ruffled effect on the generous curves of the leaf.

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For a finishing touch, the area in the center of the large leaf was filled with tiny seeding stitches. It always reminds me of scattering bird feed whenever I stitch seed stitch. In this case, that’s particularly apt as there are quite a few birds on this design!

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I think this is one of the prettiest things I have ever stitched! The combination of the single, smooth, satin stitched leaves, the sprinkling of the seed stitch and the ruffled outline in the two green and teal blue threads is simply stunning.

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What do you think?

 

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Loveday crewelwork- sweet strawberries

The two large strawberries at  the bottom of the tree are worked in padded long and short shading. Now, before you ask me what padded long and short shading is, take a deep breath and think about it. It’s a padded satin stitch but shaded, using longer and shorter stitches to blend the colors together. Padded long and short shading.

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Whenever I’m doing any satin stitch motif I always, always outline the shape with split stitch – usually very tiny split stitches so I can get around the curves of the shape as accurately as possible. I learned a long time ago that skipping this step means that the satin stitch won’t sit as smoothly as I’d like and I have a real soft spot for super smooth beautifully flat satin stitch.

The next step is to pad the area with straight stitches. In this case I only did one layer of padding. When padding a shape you always want to have the last layer of padding – the one directly under the sating stitch – going perpendicular to the final satin stitch layer. I don’t always stitch the padding stitch right up to the edge of the shape, especially in the case of strawberries when I want them to look round and fat.

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To get the shadow from the leaves on the top of the strawberry, I began the long and short shading with the darker of the two red threads. Remember to bring down the first row of threads when doing long and short shading well down into the shape. You can always cover the first row up as much as you need to with the second row. If the first row is too shallow you’re not going to get a good blend with the second color.

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The first row of dark red thread went up through the top area of the padding. The second row of long and short shading, worked in a bright red, came up through two layers of stitching – the padding and the first layer of long and short shading.  To get the little bit of dark red shading on the bottom of the strawberry, I added dark red threads at the outside edges of the third row of L&S shading, bringing the dark red threads down over the split stitch outline.

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Then I did something a bit unorthodox but it worked! I stitched the fourth row of L&S shading as usual, except I brought the bright red thread up through the third row and down through the third row on the ends, so a tiny bit of the dark red showed through. If you look really closely at the right strawberry in the photo above you can see that little bit of dark red peeking through. It isn’t strictly long and short shading I suppose, but it worked! The finishing touches to each strawberry are the tiny yellow straight stitches snuggling down into the strawberry.

The leaves of each strawberry are worked in padded satin stitch and went very quickly. The stem is done using one of my favourite techniques – a couched double thread. Using a double thread on the line of the stem, I couched them down using a single thread with little stitches about ¼ inch apart.

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I think the couched thread looks so pretty if it isn’t pulled tightly so it ruffles slightly. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is to use a fat, blunt needle slid under the double thread to make sure I don’t pull it too tightly as I stitch. If I forget and begin to tug too hard as I’m going along, I can always go back and use the blunt end of the needle to gently pull the thread into a little bump.

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Doesn’t it look pretty? It makes me long for summer strawberries and the warm sun!

 

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