Monday, December 23, 2013

Russian Santa: Choosing a Background Shape

I am a bit unusual in that I always stitch my background before anything else. Of course this time I started with the face as I waited for the poll on how to finish the Northern Light Santa closed, and then waited on input about background from Leigh Richardson of Leigh Designs and Sue Parsons of West Coast Finishing. I also am waiting for threads since I'd chosen the perfect color but didn't have it in the right thread type, so I had to SOS Rainbow Gallery to come to the rescue. (More on that later.) 

First, the poll:  Eighty-four percent of Blog's readers voted for a stand up figure, eleven percent wanted an ornament and five percent didn't care how my Russian Santa was finished.  I consulted Leigh as this will be a model for her trade show booth and she agreed that a stand up figure was preferable.  So we know how Blue Russian will be finished!  He will be a stand up figure.  That's always good to know before you start a background.  (Here's the final poll, by the way.)

So what's the perfect amount of background needed for a standup figure?  I consulted Sue Parsons, who as the owner of West Coast Finishing, knows everything there is to know about the best way to finish stand ups.  She suggested either a dome shape or a squared shape for a standing figure.  She also said about half an inch of space around the figure would be enough from a design perspective (although more background is better than not enough, since too much background can be shortened in the finishing process).  She also told me for a boxed edge shape, it's best to have a square background but otherwise a rectangle would work.  Here's the West Coast Finishing website, in case you are curious about Sue's work.

I talked to Leigh about this. She likes the dome shape idea plus little ball feet under the figure and a small braided edge.  Since this is her model, she gets to choose, but it also sounds just right for this small, elegant Russian Santa.

The angel figure in the link below is from one of Nimble Needle's customers.  It shows both a boxed edge and an edge that echoes the shape of the original design.  It also has a small braid around the front and back edges.  No dome shape here, but otherwise this illustrates several of the things Sue and Leigh talked about beautifully.

If you scroll down this page from Chandail's website until you find the Bell Santa series, you will see domed canvases made up into a unique rounded bell shape on the back side.  Again, this isn't quite what Leigh envisioned but it shows the domed arch top very well.

Remember the ball of navy perle cotton I pulled out with all those threads and put back since I didn't think it was the right texture for my Santa?  I got it out again and went to work outlining Santa.  Here is the figure with a line ten threads away from the top of his head and the bottom of his feet.  This is an 18 count canvas so 9 threads are about half an inch.  Going out ten threads enables me to stitch to within one thread of the perle cotton, making it easier to remove my basting outlines later.  Joining up the lines in a rectangle shows me that there is a lot of background on either side and counting down ten threads from his feet makes him look like he's floating on air.  I need to adjust those outlines of perle cotton some.  But it is easy to pull out the basting lines and redo them.

Here he is again, this time with a line across the upper third of the canvas.  This is what I'll use to figure out the dome shape at the top.  By the way, see the knot of blue thread above his head?  That's the center of the canvas top and bottom lines.  Sorry, I haven't gotten around to pulling out the bottom line yet so Blue Russian is floating on air still (too much vodka?).

I printed out a paper copy of the above photo, folded it in half length-wise, drew an arch with a protractor starting at the midline on the right side and then drawing up to the center knot at the top, pulled out my scissors, and got to work cutting!  What you see above is the paper pattern, cut to shape.  I didn't round off the top where you see the knot, just so you could see the middle of the top line.  I did cut off the bottom space so that the bottom of the design is the bottom of his robe.  When I unfold the paper pattern, I'll have a model to use to baste the arch at the top.

Here is the Blue Russian Santa with his domed arch background basted in.  I adjusted the top to be a dome and moved the bottom line to just under the hem of his robe, but I can see I will need to work a bit on the right side as it isn't quite like the smooth curve of the left.  I'll do that today.  I did notice that there are only 7 threads on the diagonal between the tip of Santa's staff and the curved edge of the design, a bit less than I would like, so I may try to fix that as well.  Stay tuned!

By the way, my friend Ann uses architectural stencils for arches and other shapes.  It's a little expensive to stock up on these but Ann has had hers for years and finds them very handy when she needs them.  I'm talking things like these--

This has been rather long, so let's talk about background stitches and threads next time.  After all, there's no hurry as a lot of folks are still waiting on their Russian Santa canvas and others are just too busy during the holidays to do any stitching.  This is supposed to be a relaxed stitch-a-long, after all.

By the way, all the above will apply to any Russian Santa if you want to do a stand up figure with a domed arch top.  Some folks want ornaments and some will rather have a boxed edge or a more squared off top.   Don't worry!  The backgrounds I will discuss next will work for any finished shape.

Yes, I said backgrounds with an S.  I'm going to present three background stitches--the one I am going to use and two alternatives.  I promised Leigh I'd talk about things that would apply to all the Russian Santas, not just mine.  Stay tuned!

Questions?  Email me at and I'll get back to you within a day or so.

Written by Jane/Chilly Hollow
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