Monday, February 26, 2007

Why "The Two-Handed Stitcher"?

Once upon a stitching time, there was a stitchery store in Palo Alto, CA called "The Ugly Duckling." It was located in what originally was a big barn belonging to Leland Stanford (as in Stanford University). Over time it was eventually turned into a charming assortment of shops plus the usual bank, hair salon, ice cream parlor, etc. But the best shop was, of course, the cozy and charming stitchery store....which at that time was primarly filled with cross stitch stuff.

They also had an intriguing assortment of classes. I was especially fascinated by a series of classes on BLACKWORK. A technique I hadn't ever seen up close and personal before. And I was smitten! The series of classes started out with a small project, just to get a feel for blackwork.... Then there was a more advanced sampler of blackwork designs....Then a medium sized medieval grouping of monks.... And finally, the PIECE DE RESISTANCE -- a HUGE elongated drawing of a medieval woman (taken from an English brass rubbing) with what looked to my dazzled eyes to be about 100 different blackwork patterns, plus gold couched outlines and real gold leather applique on her dress. WELL! I really had to take this series of classes, because I just had to learn this gorgeous technique!

I believe the teacher's name was Diane Owens, and she was a lover of ALL THINGS ENGLISH. She had extensive training in English embroidery techniques, so she was an especially wonderful teacher for this fascinating and traditional blackwork technique. I remember the class was a rather small group of women, all as excited about this piece as I was. And we all got to choose our own colors for this medieval lady; most stitched her in black, but someone stitched her in burgundy, someone else chose dark blue, and I chose a dark forest green.

We sat in a circle in the store, and each of us had a big Dazor magnifier light to use - a real luxury in those days! We even had the opportunity to buy a real English floor stand, that we learned to use properly: basting heavy carpet/twill tape along the edges of our fabric, then positioning the long, massive side bars to provide optimum stability and tautness to our long length of laced-up fabric.

Working on this huge project was so different from any other small, hand-held cross stitch project I had ever done. We all sat stitching with intense concentration, totally focused on our variety of minute and elaborately stitched blackwork patterns. And time and time again, the teacher would insist, cajole, and encourage us to use both hands to stitch. "I know it feels awkward at first," she said, "but if you work at keeping one hand on top of the fabric, and one hand under the fabric, you can pass the needle from one hand to the other, and over time it really will become more natural to you."

And she was right. Over the years, stitching with two hands has become second nature to me, and I simply don't feel comfortable stitching any other way. Of course, the advantages of two-handed stitching became immediately apparent and quite attractive to me because I realized I could stitch FASTER, and thus could get projects done quicker....which also meant I could start even MORE projects sooner. Yes, I definitely became hooked on stitching with two hands.....

And, oh, yes....I also fell in love with blackwork. Which set me off on a life-long quest to find suitable ways to incorporate traditional blackwork techniques in other, more contemporary settings.

And, yes, I'll admit there are some drawbacks to two-handed stitching.
...and as for the use of laying tools.....
....well, I'll leave those topics for another time, okay?

1 comment:

Katherine said...

I, too, remember the Ugly Duckling with great fondness. I wish I knew where they were today, some of the patterns were original to the owners. In fact I still have a piece of Aida in my projects for another day drawer with their sticker in the corner.