Embroidery thread or floss?

6 stands of cross stitch embroidery thread illustration (source: DMC)

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.

The Answer

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.

Yarn_twist_S-Left_Z-Right
S- and Z-twist yarn (wikipedia.com)

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.
6 stands of embroidery thread
6 stands of a standard embroidery thread (source: DMC)

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.

Death and cross stitch

Mourning Sampler (USA), ca. 1850; wool, silk and metal-wrapped silk embroidery on cotton foundation; H x W: 11 3/4 x 15 1/2 in.; Gift of Anonymous Donor from the Fraser/Martin Collection (source: rachelpiso.com)

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.

  Left: Silk on linen mourning needlework, ca. 1819, wrought by Hannah Farless, 15'' x 16 1/2''. Provenance: Rentschler collection Right: Mourning Sampler (England), ca. 1810; silk embroidery on silk foundation; H x W: 41 x 16 1/8 x 15 9/16 in.); Gift of Anonymous Donor from the Fraser/Martin Collection
Left: Silk on linen mourning needlework, ca. 1819, wrought by Hannah Farless, 15” x 16 1/2”. Provenance: Rentschler collection Right: Mourning Sampler (England), ca. 1810; silk embroidery on silk foundation; H x W: 41 x 16 1/8 x 15 9/16 in.); Gift of Anonymous Donor from the Fraser/Martin Collection

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.

Mourning Sampler (USA), ca. 1850; wool, silk and metal-wrapped silk embroidery on cotton foundation; H x W: 11 3/4 x 15 1/2 in.; Gift of Anonymous Donor from the Fraser/Martin Collection
Mourning Sampler (USA), ca. 1850; wool, silk and metal-wrapped silk embroidery on cotton foundation; H x W: 11 3/4 x 15 1/2 in.; Gift of Anonymous Donor from the Fraser/Martin Collection

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.

Mourning Sampler (USA), 1803; silk embroidery, paint and ink on silk foundation; H x W: 18 1/2 x 21 in.
Mourning Sampler (USA), 1803; silk embroidery, paint and ink on silk foundation; H x W: 18 1/2 x 21 in.

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.

Mourning Sampler (USA), 1839; Embroidered by Emily Silcox (American); wool embroidery on cotton foundation; H x W: 8 1/4 x 11in.
Mourning Sampler (USA), 1839; Embroidered by Emily Silcox (American); wool embroidery on cotton foundation; H x W: 8 1/4 x 11in.

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.
 
Originally posted on Rachel Piso’s blog. Check out her instagram for more.

Why you should care about copyright

copyright defintion Image (source: wikipedia)

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.

copyright defintion
Shared under Creative Commons License!

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).
 
By Dana Batho
Artist and Designer @ Peacock & Fig
 
Illegal patterns cheat sheet

Cross Stitch Upcycling

Restitch working (source: Instagram)

Today we have a fantastic guide from @restitch, an artist I’m frankly in love with. His upcycling of completed cross stitch he finds in charity stores are great, and they always look just like the original artist made them that way. He’s opened up his crafty ways and shows you how to make a pattern like him.
 
Hi, my name is Johan Ronström and I’m @restitch on Instagram, restitching old second-hand embroideries with video game characters.
 
Below is a guide on how I made the pattern for my Mario pillow. I usually do my patterns like this, in Photoshop, since I use it in my day job and am very familiar with the program. But most steps use normal tools, and you can follow along with a basic understanding of the program and some google skills! Enjoy 🙂
 

 
Here’s what I do in the video step-by-step:
 
– Count the number of pixels/stitches that needs to be covered
– Covering that pixels from a photoshop document that I made
– Converting it to a Smart Object, so I can transform it as much as I want without quality loss
– Transforming it to roughly match the size by dragging the corners in Free Transform
– Matching the grid all around the edges with Transform -> Warp
– Covering up sneaky stitches by copying empty squares from the original image
– Adjusting the color of the cover-up with a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer (set to only affect the layer below)
– Smoothing out the edges by painting in a Layer Mask
– Googling for Mario 1 sprites in 1x resolution
– Copying the image into a new Photoshop document
– Picking out one sprite and removing the background with the Magic Wand
– Googling for a reference image from Mario Odyssey
– Changing the colors of the sprite into the Mario Odyssey colors, using Magic Wand
– Taking a screenshot of the sprite zoomed in (this is the key to the kingdom!)
– Pasting the screenshot in a new document
– Removing the frame and the background with the Magic Wand
– Copying the big sprite into the pillow document
– Converting it to a Smart Object, so I can transform it as much as I want without quality loss
– Creating a new layer and drawing center guidelines
– Transforming it to roughly match the size by dragging the corners in Free Transform
– Positioning it where I want it in relation to the center
– Re-arranging the layers and reducing the opacity of the guides
– Changing the colors of the sprite to match the colors of the pillow, using Magic Wand
 
Finally, I can follow the pattern from my phone! 🙂

 
These are a few more examples of my patterns:

The Year Of Cross Stitch – 2018

the simpsons cross stitch home sweet home (source: pinterest)

Over the last 10 years of cross stitch blogging I’ve seen a lot happen to the craft, and last year I created a post entitled 2017 cross stitch trends. In it I detailed what I thought we’d see in cross stitch for the following year. In some cases, I was totally correct, in others, not so much. So, for 2018 I decided to get a few friends involved and see what their takes on the future ahead would be.
 

Cross Stitch Magazines

No one saw the fall of Cross Stitch Collection in 2017, it was a fairly massive bit of news. With rocketing costs for printing, and a dwindling ‘traditional’ cross stitch market, magazines are feeling the push. The Cross Stitch Collection may have been the first, but personally I don’t think the last.
In part, most magazines have lost touch with cross stitchers. Now, people are moving to modern stitching, and I think publishers and kit designers might be waking up to that in 2018, just like DMC is currently. Mr X Stitch isn’t as positive, however his own XStitch Mag is proof that modern cross stitch is here to stay.

I’d like to think that other parts of the cross stitch ecosystem might tap into the fact that we live in the modern world, but that’s probably a pipedream. All I know is that XStitch will continue to thrive and disrupt the sector. If people want to subscribe, please do.

 

Threads

Another big surprise of 2017 was DMC’s new threads. Mostly due to the fact that we’d been asking for a permanent set of threads of a few years without word, but the introduction of 35 new threads is a massive deal. So, what about 2018? Now that DMC has filled in most of their gaps of color, I think we’ll really see speciality threads pick up some pace.

Regarding 2018 cross stitch trends from a thread maker’s perspective, I can say that things are looking brighter. That is, brighter colors are in the forecast. People have been asking Kreinik for more neon colors, brighter oranges, and more bright blues like sky blues. I think color cheers us up, so people will be looking to their stitching threads for a boost. Metallic finishes are still a trend, too. Sparkle just makes things special.

 

Software

We regularly track the best cross stitch software both free and paid, and for most of a year there has been no change. However, once a month for the last 4 months, we’ve had an established name throwing in the towel. Software takes a lot of time to update, and with updates on Windows and Mac being nearly constant, it’s a big undertaking.
However, with more and more users moving to Mac (which we see as the most traffic at the moment), we think more and more cross stitch pattern creation software companies will go out of business, and those that don’t will try to take on the Mac market.
There are two things that stand in the way, the first is free online software, such as StitchFiddle which have consistently got better and better over the years. The second are big players such as UrsaSoftware, with MacStitch.
 

Streaming

This year we featured a great series of posts on Twitch, where we look into the rise of these massive video sharing platforms. This trend means one of two things; either first off, we’ll see a massive growth in their audiences, with specialist tools coming out to support them, or a balanacing out of their market share and becoming a core feature of all cross stitchers content consumption.
But regardless of what happens, it shows that cross stitchers aren’t afraid of new things, so I think we might see something new come out of the ashes if the ‘pop’ really does happen.

My dream for 2018 is that the Twitch Creative will keep expanding to new audiences. I hope that we can have a larger presence in the broadcasting community and prove that cross stitch is a thriving art as opposed to a dying art as some believe. On a personal note, you can look forward to a new creative podcast coming your way in 2018.

 

Patterns

We never normally speak about patterns, as we want to remain independent, however recently we’ve seen a change in patterns. It might be small at the moment, but snarky patterns appear to be making a comeback, with more and more Etsy listings having them. We’ve even seen a few in lifestyle magazines.

There is a growing interest in non-traditional topics, and a huge explosion of patterns featuring simple graphics with snarky or rude phrases. This trend seems to have been spearheaded by Julie Jackson of Subversive Cross Stitch, and now other designers are adding their own take on this trend. The mix of inappropriate phrases and images with a traditional craft seems to really appeal to many stitchers, and provides them with a way to relax that’s also comic relief from their hectic lives.

 

Embroidery

Whilst cross stitch is our main passion in life, finally, let’s talk about embroidery. Cross stitchers tend to try out a series of new crafts throughout any given year, and I think embroidery will spearhead this year. The biggest reason for this, is the sheer volume of Sashiko I’ve seen on clothes, magazines, wallpapers and bags. I think this year we might just loose a few cross stitchers.

The Surprisingly Interesting History Of The Cross Stitch Needle

gold cross stitch needles (source: ebay)

What do chimpanzees, Leonardo Da Vinci, the goddess Shiva and the first ever printed advert have in common? Surprisingly, it’s the humble needle. So, pull up a chair and let me tell you how it’s all connected.

World Map showing the history of the needle
World Map showing the history of the needle

 
For a long time, it was suspected that needles were tied into the history of embroidery, however, long before we regarded art forms, we needed to clothe ourselves. Original estimates suggested that we threw on some fur and strode out into the world, however cave paintings from Aurignacia (modern day South Europe) suggested that needles were made from bone and antler back in 28,000BC (Yes, that’s 30,000 years ago). It took them until 17,500BC to create something similar to an eye like modern needles, but with this came a change to a tapered point.
We’ve marked this at point (1) on our map, and is where our story begins.
 
HOLD UP! Not so fast. In August 2016, a yearly dig in the Denisova Cave, Siberia, Russia (1b) found a needle. At first glance, this looks like a standard needle, made of a bird bone, with an eye. But this needle actually predates not only Augrignacia, but Humans themselves. Denisovans are closer in blood line to chimpanzees than to modern humans, and offer a glimpse into a world 50,000 years ago, when they were using needles very similar to ours.
We’re yet to see proof of the age of the needle, but we thank the Siberian Times for the story.
Worlds oldest needle (source: wikipedia)
Worlds oldest needle (source: wikipedia)

 
As homoisapiens started to reach across the world, so did needles. Our next stop is in Armenia (2) where metal work starts to take shape in 7000BC. Starting with copper and later bronze (one of the first bronze items in the Bronze age period) needles changed to metal in 2500BC.
 
Not to be outdone however, Indian sword smiths cast amazing Khanda swords, the sword of Goddess Shiva, in iron (3). This miracle quickly starts to move to Europe in 1195BC.
&nsbp;
Moving closer to modern history, commercialism comes into play. In 500BC a drawing plate, how modern cross stitch needles are made, is developed (4).
The earliest known advert; a bronze printing plate for advertisement of needles, China (source: wikipedia)
The earliest known advert; a bronze printing plate for advertisement of needles, China (source: wikipedia)

To go along with this, in the Song Dynasty in China, a copper printing plate has been found to print posters in the form of a square sheet of paper with a rabbit logo with “Jinan Liu’s Fine Needle Shop” and “We buy high quality steel rods and make fine quality needles, to be ready for use at home in no time” written above and below. It’s considered the world’s earliest identified printed advertisement. (6)
 
Not one to be outdone, ever, Leonardo da Vinci designs a lapper for grinding needle points, and actually constructed it in 1496AD (7).
Lapper For Grinding Needle Points by Leonardo da Vinci (source: gettyimages)
Lapper For Grinding Needle Points by Leonardo da Vinci (source: gettyimages)

Finally, we end our journey with Germany, where, in Aachen 1615AD (8), the first steel needles are made.

The Best Biscornu In The East

Sashiko Biscournu in red (source: peacockandfig.com)

Something that I’ve never made is a biscornu. It’s basically a staple of a cross stitchers tool kit however, So I decided I just couldn’t wait any longer.
 
But it just isn’t that easy. So instead of following any old guide, I went to the best guide supplier on the internet; Peacock & Fig.

Sashiko Biscournu in red (source: peacockandfig.com)
Sashiko Biscournu in red (source: peacockandfig.com)

Together I’ve made a sashiko inspired pattern which she’s stitched up and made into a guide for you!
 

 
You can download the two patterns here:
Biscornu pattern side 1

Biscornu pattern side 2

Or you can direct download a black and white version

How to propery store cross stitch needles

Tulip Sashiko Needles come in a glass vial (source: sewandquilt.co.uk)

So, there you are, happily stitching away, and BAM! Your needle breaks. Fine you think and you dive in your pack and pull out a slew of needles to find… They’ve opened and gone everywhere!
 
Recently I came up across quite a problem; how to store your needles better. Now there are a few needle storage methods out there, and a few I picked up from fellow stitchers after asking around, however it was shocking just how many people had the same problem as me. So I put on my top hat and went to work!
 

The failing needle storage method

Needle storage in old CD cases (source: craftster)
Needle storage in old CD cases (source: craftster)
Let’s start with what you probably have set up. Packs upon packs of needles randomly thrown into your pack, causing massive headaches when you’re looking for a needle, and no way of actually tracking which needles you have. Yeh, this is no way to store anything, let alone needles. When I reached out I spoke to an old friend of mine who stored theirs in old CD cases, and whilst this is a genius use of old cases, it’s hardly helping.
 

Pebbles

John James Pebble needles (source: sewandso.com)
John James Pebble needles (source: sewandso.com)
“I use a pebble!” I hear you shout. Well, yes, pebbles are great, but let’s face it, unless you only have a few needles (we all know that’s not the case), or a seriously massive stash of pebbles somewhere, these just don’t cut the mustard.
However, before you think they aren’t worth the money, I personally have a pebble in my travel kit. It’s perfect for only a few needles and keeps them safe from pricked fingers.
 

DMC Needle Organizer

DMC needle organiser (source: sewandso.co.uk)
DMC needle organiser (source: sewandso.co.uk)
Oh, the DMC needle organizer. When I first saw this a year ago I was SO pleased. It looked perfect. However, the reason I started writing this post, was due to the 10th time I’ve accidently dropped open the lid. In addition, the needles constantly switch between segments, making storage of different sizes or types a serious pain.
I now loathe this thing. Now, I need a real solution.
 
 

THE SOLUTION?

File Storage

Needle storage in a5 paper files (source: twitter)
Needle storage in a5 paper files (source: twitter)
My initial thought was to go back to packets, but with a better storage method, and for about a month, I did just that. An A6 storage file actually works perfectly for needle cases, and with little tabs to label them, it makes sorting a breeze.
However all was not well. You really need to keep these suckers straight. Mine fell over a few times and the needle cases came tumbling out. Whilst that’s not a great issue, it became a pain to keep resorting all the time.
 
That’s when it hit me!
 

THE SOLUTION!

Tulip Sashiko Needles come in a glass vial (source: sewandquilt.co.uk)
Tulip Sashiko Needles come in a glass vial (source: sewandquilt.co.uk)

I was reading the most recent XStitch Mag and saw a page featuring fancy Tulip Sashiko Needles. And they came in a glass vial. Very fancy I thought, but shooting back to my pre-med days I realised doctors store used needles in plastic tubes. I reached out, and you know what? They don’t do it anymore. Something to do with health and safety. However, one plucking doctor friend of mine mentioned he’d seen some specifically for stitchers.
 

Needle Tubes

Needle storage tubes (source: alibaba.com)
Needle storage tubes (source: alibaba.com)
Honestly, I think these things might just be the best thing since sliced bread. Not only are they super cheap, seal like a dream, stack up without issue, come in various colors heads for easy identification, come with labels, AND they fit perfectly into that long slot on a thread storage box.
 
Although there is the more whimsical side of needle storage. How about needles in a high heeled shoe, courtesy of Peacock & Fig?
heel pin shoe (source: peacockandfig.com)
heel pin shoe (source: peacockandfig.com)

 
If you’re interested in tapestry needles, we’ve been featuring a great series including answering that annoying question Why are cross stitch needles given random size numbers?, and How are cross stitch needles made?. Of course, we also have awesome guides like finding the best size needle for your work.

Ever wondered how cross stitch needles are made?

gold cross stitch needles (source: ebay)

With each cross stitch project taking hours upon hours to complete, its easy to not think about that tiny needle in your hand, however the life of an embroidery needle is a facinating one. Not only were the very first made 30,000 years ago (not a typo, that’s thirty thousand years), but Leonardo da Vinci himself invented a machine to made embroidery needles. It would be silly of us not to have a blog about its awesome history, but for now, how about a video showing how modern cross stitch needles are made?
 

 
In the mood for more ‘how do they do it’ videos? Check out this ace one on how Kreinik makes embroidery thread.