A few names have been bounded around with hushed tones, as people suspect cross stitch is not only cool, but celebrity cool. Well, I’m here to tell you it is. Not only is it super cool, but some of its fans might just surpise you.
Yeh, that’s right; Thor. Well, Chris Hemsworth who plays Thor… Apparently the only thing that interested him as a kid was cross stitch. Like long stitcher. Maybe he’s reading now… Chris? Proof
We haven’t just put those two images together randomly either. Judi Dench, devoted cross stitcher decided to offer some of her stitchings to her Pride and Prejudice co-stars Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, specifically “You’re a c*nt” and “You Are a F*cking Sh*t”. No word on if Keira or Matthew put them up in their homes… Proof
The star has been known to cross stitch in a few films, including that of Black Adder and Young Victoria. Taking a few ques from Judi she stitched rude words into hankies. No word on if they cross stitch together or not. Proof
Jumping back to the 1970’s, the American Football player Rosey Grier not only admitted to cross stitching on a regular basis, but even brought out a rather good book showing that men really do cross stitch! Proof
Yeh, film legend Henry Fonda. Turns out that cross stitching between shoots is old hat! Credited with over 100 movies, Henry stitched throughout the 60s and 70s, but it wasn’t until his twilight years that cross stitch really became important when he would stitch when he was recharging his pacemaker (yeh, you used to have to charge them up). Proof
OK, Marge isn’t technically real, but she cross stitches all the same! We love you Lenny!
We’ve all heard the horror stories over threads about melting threads and bleeds, and as a result settled with DMC threads. Now, I’m a DMC fan, so I was thinking I’d try a few threads out, complain about how they sucked and go on my jolly way. Well, I was wrong. Turns out that all those horror stories are pretty much exactly that; stories. Whilst most do have some truth to them, cheaper Chinese copy threads aren’t all that bad. I took a new DMC thread, a DMC thread from 1998, a DMC thread from 2016 that had been on a shop floor, an Anchor thread, a CXC thread (known as a Chinese DMC copy), and a Royal Broderie thread (a Chinese DMC copy that mostly goes without a brand name online). I then stitched some test squares, projects and a few party favours to test them all against some of the compaints people had. Below are my findings which show that those Chinese threads aren’t that bad after all. I will state for the record, that I still use DMC threads though.
The Colors Don’t Match
FALSE(ish) This was the number one complaint I came across during my research, and I was expecting to see some serious color mis-matches. My first initial stitches showed a slight difference in color, but nothing great enough to phone home about. But then I got to some of the other DMC threads. I said above I used three DMC threads, new ones, ones from 1998, and some from 2016 that were stored on a shop floor under hallogen lights. The difference in these threads were astonishing. Far greater than the difference in the chinese copies, the older DMC threads lost there lustre and most looked a little greyed out. This is an issue I’ve seen before. In fact, batches of the same color from DNC come out differently too. In the below picture you can see a significant difference between dye lots.
TRUE(ish) This rumor centers around the CXC threads in particular. They’re made from a composite of poleyester and cotton (much like a dress shirt is). Despite some online retailers stating they are 100% cotton, which is where this rumor comes from. Now from a tradition stand point, the threads of cross stitch should be cotton. However, does that mean you shouldn’t use the composite ones? I think not. Now being plastic composite does have some impact on the threads, which we talk about below, but being part plastic isn’t a terrible thing. In addition to this, its only CXC threads that are like this. The slightly cheaper, often no-brand, threads by Royal Broderie are 100% cotton.
FALSE Yes, some threads include plastic. But melting? No. Polyester is a high temperature fibre, and it does melt at some point, however the melting temperature is 50 degrees higher than the ignition point of cotton. Yes, you heard that right. The cotton threads would have had to burst into flames before the polyester threads started melting. This story has to be completely made up. I know a few people who know people who have melted threads, but no one could give me proof, and there is always a chance that it was some super cheap thread which might melt.
They Don’t Fit Needles!
TRUE(ish) For some reason I’m yet to work out, the strands of thread in the Chinese variants are slightly thicker. This goes for both the CXC and generic threads. However, they are only slightly bigger. Increase the needle size by one, and you’re sorted!
They Destroy Needles!
TRUE(ish) As per above, the needles used with these Chinese threads need to be slightly bigger. If they’re bigger, then there is no problem. However smaller needles will catch at the fibers, destroying your needle eye.
They Break And Knot!
JURY IS OUT I tested 17 colors of each thread, and with it I got breakages, and knots. However they were all fairly spread over each brand. The cheapest Royal Broderie threads broke most, without a doubt, but the CXC threads didn’t break at all; instead they knotted a lot. In fact, CXC threads knotted a lot when being taken off the skein, however I have heard removing them a different way helps with this. I know from experience that breaks and knots happen, and most can be avoided by good technique, but I didn’t find anything that suggested more problems with the cheaper threads.
TRUE I don’t want to get too technical here, but both of the tested Chinese threads had less of a shine. Was it noticable? Yes. Is it a problem? Well, no. Combining the threads would look bad, you could see it as clear as day, however when only using the single brand it was hard to see any real difference. In addition I feel Anchor threads have less of a shine than DMC, and they are one of the most expensive threads to buy.
The Colors Run!
FALSE & TRUE Cotton can be dyed in two ways, a color fast way, or a ‘quick dye’ which bleeds and runs. The Royal Broderie threads are a quick dye, so they bleed. It wasn’t obvious as first, however you can simulate wear on threads by washing with higher heats, which shows a very clear bleed. CXC threads on the other hand, don’t. This is probably due to their polyester cotton blend, which needs the color fast dye method to dye them in the first place.
They’re Hard To Get!
FALSE(ish) You can get either CXC threads or Royal Broiderie from ebay, amazon or alibaba. Getting them to your house quickly; that’s harder. Getting exact colors; also hard. Now, in recent times picking up specific colors has got a lot easier, however in general you pick up packs of 50 threads, random colors. This can work out really well (you can get a full set quickly and cheaply), however picking a single skein of a specific color is still a pain to do. Most of the time they come from China (being Chinese and all), so postage is a few weeks. So long as you prepare ahead of time, its not a big deal.
If its a no-brand Chinese thread, its terrible quality, don’t touch them. DMC is superior to CXC, but consider the downsides to cost, as it may be a viable thread, especially for people starting in the hobby. CXC threads tend to knot, they are duller than DMC, they aren’t 100% cotton, you needle to use a larger needle and they can be fiddly to get hold of sometimes. I know a lot of people that will be turned off by this list, myself included, however the price difference between DMC (£0.89 at the time of this test) compared with an average CXC skein (£0.22 at the time of this test) is a massive difference. Using a slightly inferior thread for less might be a viable option to many. They really aren’t as bad as some of the rumors suggest…
I recently moved house, and with it came a slew of stitching station opportunities, however there was one big problem; super thick walls. Our two foot thick walls cut pretty much all the light out, and as we moved North, there was less light anyway. So it was time I found a solution.
Initially I jumped into looking for daylight bulbs, afterall everyone goes on about them. However all isn’t as it seems.
Daylight bulbs are a great tool, and I’m not here to say otherwise, in fact for a lot of people getting a daylight bulb is a matter on health (yes, you squinting at your aida). Daylight is a lot easier to take in with your eyes and when working with detailed things, like stitching, lighting your area and aida is super important. You could just save your eye sight. There are loads of reasons you might want a daylight bulb other than saving your eyes though, such as great color matching of threads or a strong light that doesn’t heat or take too much energy. In addition most don’t need replacement bulbs that often (or at all).
This is where you probably expect me to mention getting your hands on bulbs? Nope. In fact, before I started looking into getting a daylight lamp I had the impression they were super hard to find replacements for. Turns out, they’re everywhere (in the EU at least). Due to 2000’s legislation over fluorescent lights, all bulbs in the EU need to be energy saving or LED. Those lights are mostly daylight bulbs. But even so, most LED lamps don’t even need replacing! And let me guess, you expect me to talk about heat? Wrong again! There are some bulbs that heat up, I won’t lie, but most are LED based, which are completely heat producing free (well, not completely, but they aren’t like normal bulbs).
So what exactly sare the problems? Well, its two fold:
Not all lamps are created equal
I said earlier that some bulbs heat up, adn they do. Some bulbs use a lot more energy, and some bulbs just aren’t what they say they are. In truth, not all lamps are created equal. There is a huge difference in price of these lamps, and some of them are terrible. Finding the right one for your needs is actually super hard. I have some tips down below from my struggles, but its not an easy thing to get into (much to my annoyance).
It interferes with sleep cycles
I love my sleep, in fact other than cross stitch its my prefered use of time. But daylight bulbs do have an impact. The red light receptors in your eyes pick up on subtle changes in light levels, which in turn puts you into a sleepy mood (in a similar way to fluorescent lights do). Daylight bulbs effectively copy this, making you go through the same cycles. The problem is it also works the otherway, meaning if you use it late at night (like much of my stitching time is) you feel more away, meaning you struggle to get down. You can negate these effects by only using the lamp in the daylight hours, however you should be using real light whenever possible, so it kinda makes the point of the lamp worthless (unless you’re working on detailed work). However without me realising it I stumbled upon a fix that isn’t mentioned in many places. LED lights don’t create red light. I’ll spare you the boring details, but what that means is it doesn’t impact your sleep. YAY!
However, that said, the benefits FAR outway the problems, and with more and more lights becoming LED and daylight bulbs, I decided to stick with my daylight lamp.
Finally, cost is a big problem. My favorite sewing supplier has lamps ranging from $20 to $250. Initially they don’t seem too different, so working out if one is better than another (I remind you that they aren’t all the same) is only made harder thanks to weird pricing.
This is an advert, but shows off the lamp fantasticly!
But not all in in vein! I have some tips to make purchasing your next daylight lamp a little easier. Get the right lamp for your craft – Daylight lamps are made for different crafts, so find one specific to needlecraft. A simple way to find one is to use an online retailer specialising in your craft, however if you go ‘in store’ check with the clerk for some expert advice. Get the right lamp for your situation – Stitch in your living room? Then a USB powered lamp is not going to be much use. And in the same way, having a lamp meters above your head isn’t going to be helpful either. Pick a floor lamp that sits at chair height. Do you need magnification? – Some lamps come with magnifying sections for ease, however this raises the price by some way. Think about if you actually need one or not. In most cases it might be easier, cheaper and more effective to get a seperate magnifying glass. Don’t get confused with the fancy looks – Everyone wants something that looks good, but there is a definate premium for fancy looks. Normally these fancy lamps aren’t great at shedding light and aren’t fit for purpose.
Simply put, until the 1940s they weren’t sized at all. Each brand of needle provider came out with their own size guides, some based on width others based on length. Somehow people struggled through without much problem, until sewing machines were invented. Each sewing machine manufacturer standardised their sizing, however they all standardized differently. Each stating that theirs was the best way of sizing needles. Suddenly, issues were arising as manufacturers were suggesting a needle size that wasn’t uniform and people hated it. Soon a group of needle makers came together and made their own system, which was so popular other manufacturers quickly had to adapt to their system.
The system they picked was based on the way the machine sewing needle was constructed. Unlike a tapestry needle the machine sewing needle has a hole right by the tip. This means that the end of the needle is the largest point. The width of this needle in hundredths of a millimeter was now known as the size, in NM or Number Metric. So a NM 130 needle has a width of 1.3 milimeters.
That’s great, but we use tapestry needles.
However, hand needles have a very different structure to a machine needle and so this system couldn’t be copied. Here in lies the issue. All those needle manufacturers that missed out on the machine needle sizing came up with their own systems for hand needles. They went around and asked other manufacturers to use their needle size system for a specific type of needle in exchange to use anothers system for a different type of needle. The method most chose (we’ll talk about excepctions in a minute) was wire guage thickness. In this system the higher the number, the more the wire is pulled. However, much in the same way the needles had issues with sizes, so did wire (and it still does) which is why no needle size matches another.
The exception to the rule
I said above that there were exceptions to the rule of higher the number, smaller the needle. In an interesting turn of events, knitting needles struggled on the sidelines whilst the needle size war was going on, and no one ever settled on a size. As a result in the UK the larger the number the smaller the needle, but in the US the larger the needle. Most now use milimeter thickness, however Japan uses a system of increasing numbers meaning larger needles, before then changing to milimeters at 7mm wide. This means they have both an 8mm needle, and a size 8, which is only 4.5mm thick.
($52 ($47 with discount)) We start with the behomoth of cross stitch software, on Mac or Windows. MacStitch is simply the Mac version of the ever popular WinStitch, a full service cross stitch software that not only competes (but ranks better in our tests) than the likes of PCStitch. It has over 30 different brand of threads, including select options, such as DMC grey scale, has an inbuilt print to pdf (unlike some, PCStitch), and runs without strong demands on RAM. As a result, its the first place to look for a Mac software option.
But it does come with some drawbacks. The first, is of course the price. Whilst the initial outlay of $52 ($47 with discount) seems steep, its comparable to the price of any Windows options, and is BY FAR the cheapest Mac software option. Secondly, thanks to its full service option, it comes with a learning curve. However, the same can be said with any software, regardless of platform, and as confidence grows, the extra options will become invaluable. As a final point, if the time comes you wish to move away from Mac, all your saved patterns and files are compatable with the Windows version of the software, and whilst you’ll have to buy that copy, it saves you a serious headache if that time comes.
(FREE) I hear what you’re saying, do you NEED to pay? Well, if you want a full suite of options you need a paid bit of software. However, if you want, there is a free option. But instead of software, its online. StitchFiddle has long been our favorite online pattern maker, and or good reason. Its simple to use, has fantastic image creation software (see below) and most importantly, is free.
Nothing in life is truly free though, as StitchFiddle is very limited in what it can do. It only has DMC or Anchor treads, it has very simple size selection (but does go up to 2000×2000), and even more simple image editing ability. However, for a quick image conversion, its the bees knees, offering a great print to pdf option.
($191) Here’s where we start getting into some pricier options. For a long time Jane Greenoff pattern making software was the only one around, and over time she got quite a following. However, the first of our pricy Mac options, and the very first Mac software, has been lifted directly from the old Jane Greenoff software, which means its complicated, has a limited selection of threads, and limited in many of its features. Its a higher cost that the likes of MacStitch, and has considerably less features. Its only real positive is its ability to work with very old Macs (MacStitch works with XP onwards).
($199/FREE) Stitch Painter is a fairly complicated program, with a similarly limited set of features that DP Software Cross Stitch Pro has. However, it does have a free demo, which despite various prompts, doesn’t seem to run out.
($155) Our final pattern creator for Mac is StitchCraft, and whilst it isn’t pretty at all, it does get the job done. Considering its cost, there is simply no reason to go with something this hard to use.
I’ve been part of many conversations about cross stitch in events and in almost every conversation something simple is said that raises a question; is it embroidery floss or thread? This appears to be the biggest misunderstanding in cross stitch, so we’re going to look into which, and why.
You cross stitch with two strands of embroidery thread; these strands are called embroidery floss. The skein is also called embroidery floss.
Floss or Thread?
We’ll start by talking about yarn. Yarn is fibers spun together to make a tight bound material. The way that you construct this spin is the route of the issue. Yarn can be spun two ways, S and Z.
The Z twist is used in sewing machines as the twist causes less fraying and unravelling. However S twist is used for threads specifically meant to come apart. This is where we get down to the brass tacks of the issue. Embroidery floss (yes, floss) is made up of 6 stands of embroidery thread. The 6 strands are spun with a z twist. These are then combined using a S twist, made to come apart. As a result, when you stitch you take out 2 stands of THREAD from the embroidery FLOSS.
You’ll notice if you look closely though that DMC strands (and Anchor) are also spun together in a Z twist. So does that mean those are still threads? No. They’re still designed to come apart, so are classed as embroidery floss.
So what should I say?
Either! Circling back to my first sentence, in every event I’ve attended someone always says “actually its embroidery floss”. Turns out that its interchangeable as you stitch with embroidery floss and thread.
Embroidery floss or stranded cotton is a loosely twisted, slightly glossy 6-strand thread, usually of cotton but also manufactured in silk, linen, and rayon. Cotton floss is the standard thread for cross-stitch.
This week we have an amazing blog piece by Rachel Piso, who has dug deep into the history of samplers in the past, but now looks into something not that many people are willing to talk about; mourning samplers.
In my last post about historical cross stitch, in which I listed the reasons I’m so in love with samplers, I talked about the aspects of the stitchers’ lives that were recorded in fabric—namely their education, status, families, and interests. Going deeper, I’ve been reading about how all of those qualities represented their feelings, roles, and experiences surrounding death.
I’ve admired mourning samplers for as long as I’ve been studying antique needlework, although I never really got far beyond their beauty and technique. Most of them held similar imagery: a grieving woman draped over a tomb surrounded by willow trees. After reading further, I realized how this visual was representative of women and their roles at the time, especially relating to pain and misery.
In the 18th century, death had been moved from homes to hospitals, and therefore made more private and personal. It became “fashionable” to mourn. This led right into the Victorian era, when an entire etiquette formed around mourning (e.g. the heavy black dresses, veils, armbands, etc.).
It was accepted that men were stoic and self-controlled, while women were sentimental and over-emotional. Melancholy was a distinctly feminine trait, even considered an illness (see also: female hysteria, but that’s a whole other subject I’m also fascinated with). You can see these gender roles represented in the samplers.
With the culture shift to intense displays of grief, and since needlework was already an established component of girls’ education, mourning samplers became popular.
While it seems that these pieces were completed with the idea of working through loss, the fancier samplers (called “fancywork,” appropriately) were assigned as school projects and as a way of demonstrating skill, especially for the upper-class. And not only were they used as teaching tools for advanced cross stitch and embroidery, they instilled society’s expectations of a proper girl: to keep busy, be patient, and have good taste and morals. They were proudly displayed in homes as an example of the accomplishment and character of the girl who created them. All in all, they were evidence of the abilities that would make her a desirable wife.
Of course, they were also works of art used to remember a loved one in a time before photography. Some even included “hairwork”—stitches made with the hair of the person who had died. Side note: I’ve tried this with my own hair. Not easy.
There is so much to learn and examine with mourning samplers that I could write about them for weeks, but as usual, I was overly-excited about some antiques I found and needed to talk about them. This is a very bare-bones info on the subject, but I hope to touch on them more in the future.
Note: If you’re interested in learning more, many books centered around cross stitch history touch on them. I also recommend Women and the Material Culture of Death (edited by Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin) which examines the things women create/wear/keep in connection with death and mourning.
Copyright is such a contentious issue, and it can really get people fired up. Designers and those who are in the needlework industry get accused of being “copyright police” when they point out that designs have been stolen, or take legal action to get illegal copies of their designs removed. Stitchers who benefit from the free/illegally sold charts (some of which are unaware they’re illegal) don’t see the problem as they figure it’s a digital copy so it’s not like you’re walking into a shop and stealing a physical object. This brief article goes into the issues behind copyright infringement, and why stitchers should care. As a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer but I have done a lot of research, and each country’s laws are slightly different.
Free cross stitch patterns
Many designers use free patterns as a way to give back to their supporters, and to encourage people to check out their paid designs. Some designers only do freebies in their designer’s communities (like a Facebook group), some do freebies on their own website, and others will freely share them on sites like Pinterest. It can be hard for stitchers to know whether the pattern is being shared legally, or whether it’s a stolen copy (either a scan from a magazine or book, or an upload of a designer’s paid pattern). A good rule of thumb is that if the pattern isn’t coming directly from the designer (from their Facebook page or group, or is linked to their website or blog), there’s a high probability it’s an illegal copy. Many sites that host “free” patterns are actually set up as a honey trap (a cyber trap) – each pattern file has been embedded with malware or spyware that gets transferred to your computer when you click on it or download it. I used to be a military intelligence officer and cyber threat analyst, this is a real threat. Nothing in the world is really for free, so you have to ask yourself why this site can offer thousands of free patterns and expect nothing from it. Obviously there are legitimate needlework companies that provide extensive collections of free patterns, such as DMC and Kreinik.
Why is copyright infringement a problem?
It can be easy to think that illegal patterns aren’t that big of a deal, as the files are digital. That’s not the case – designers can lose tens of thousands of dollars of revenue from their most popular designs being stolen. It’s also heartbreaking to the designer to see people abusing their products they’ve spent weeks and months making. I know of one UK designer who just announced she’s pulling all her patterns from online and is retiring because of the theft of her patterns, she wanted to leave the patterns for sale as a legacy for her children. She can’t do that now, and is completely heartbroken, it’s like the theft of decades of hard work. Also, designers’ reputations can be damaged from illegal copies, as true customers aren’t sure if they’re getting a legal pattern or not. Copyright infringement does have a direct impact on designers and their ability to keep designing. Without designers, the industry will die.
For the stitcher, purchasing or downloading an illegal copy of a pattern means they’re possibly not getting the full pattern (such as special instructions, colour keys, things the designer has included to make the pattern easier to stitch). As stated above, they could also be getting a file that’s had malware embedded into it. If the art itself has been stolen and made into a new pattern (such as an unlicensed Disney image), it’s also probable the pattern won’t stitch up well. Cross stitch software isn’t “drag and drop” in that you need to do hand alterations and have experience to produce a high quality pattern that stitches up well. Many illegally produced charts are simply uploaded into software and then a chart produced. So hundreds of hours of stitching are wasted on producing a subpar image, and a lot of money on floss and fabric goes down the drain.
Below is a downloadable PDF with some of the basic things you can do as a stitcher to ensure you’re getting a legal pattern. Most stitchers are aghast at the extent of copyright infringement and want to make sure they’re not inadvertently contributing to the problem. Hopefully this article has helped you become a little more aware of the issues, and things to look out for when getting patterns (whether free or paid).