Thursday, May 3, 2018

Stitchpirations: A Review

Carolyn Hedge Baird very kindly sent me a copy of her latest book, Needlepoint Stitchpirations, for review.  The first thing that struck me is how big this book is--327 pages, spiral bound, with a clear plastic sheet on the front and back for protection and durability.  Interestingly, the book was actually compiled in 2013 but it was so long, Carolyn split off the tiny scale stitches into her Teeny Tiny Needlepoint Stitches book.  The subtitle of this book is "Inspiring Stitches for Inspired Stitchers," and Carolyn quotes stitchers she knows about their needlepoint inspirations throughout the book.  That, combined with Carolyn's occasional black and white clip art illustrations, gives a sociable, fun flavor to the book.

The diagrams in the book are all black and white.  Many are numbered to help you follow the correct stitching path, but not all are.  There are no photographs of the stitches used on a canvas, but Carolyn gives tips as to what threads to use and what sorts of places to use the stitches in some of the brief descriptions that accompany the diagrams.  Generally speaking there are 1-3 stitches diagrammed on each page, usually of a different stitch, although Carolyn does occasionally post variations of a stitch or give you the bare bones of a stitch with suggestions on how to add to the framework to create your own variation.  There are probably over 400 stitches diagrammed in the book.   Carolyn does occasionally insert a blank grid graph for you to diagram your own stitches or a place at the end of a chapter for you to add Notes.  Here is a page I picked at random that shows you what the diagrams are like—

A Peek Inside Stitchpirations

As you can see there's room for you to pencil in notes or sketch a variation of the stitch on the grid.  The book itself is divided into an introduction with thanks to contributors and a bit about Carolyn's books, thirteen chapters, and five indexes.

The chapters are:

Outlining Stitches
4 Way Stitches
Combination Stitches
Inside Out Mosaic Variations
Cross Stitches
Diagonal Stitches
Eyelet Stitches
Laid Fillings
Open Stitches
Painted Pony Angel Wing Stitches
Favorite Books

The Indexes are:

Stitches Mostly in Alphabetical Order
Stitches with Beads/Sequins
Stitches with 3 Kinds of Thread
Stitches with 4 Kinds of Thread
Stitches with 5 Kinds of Thread

This book is huge, way too large for me to read thoroughly before I review it here.  I wanted to talk about all the chapters, to give you a flavor of what they cover.  "Outlining Stitches" covers the normal outline stitches (stem stitch, wrapped back stitch, etc.) and then talks about stitches useful for thin lines, for covering lines that are two canvas threads wide, and for covering lines that are fatter than two canvas threads wide.  Some of the stitches she recommends are unusual for needlepoint such as Pekinese Stitch.  In "4 Way Stitches" Carolyn describes non-directional stitches that cannot be reversed, but look the same however they are turned.  Carolyn often uses these for backgrounds.  "Blackwork" stitches are an open stitch, nice for backgrounds, light coverage, or over the top of a tent stitch foundation.  Carolyn talks extensively about how to change the inside of a blackwork skeleton to change the look of the finished stitch and provides several such frameworks for you to customize.  "Combination Stitches" are just that, combinations of stitch patterns that make a intricate design.  Carolyn encourages readers to play with thread types here, especially metallics, and to add beads and other embellishments.

"Inside Out Mosiac Variations" is a short quirky chapter that shows how to use inverted mosaic stitches to create lovely lace-like patterns using a framework of the inverted mosaic.  "Cross Stitches" covers stitches that are made from crossed stitches, some of which are dense, some of which are not.  There are a lot of stitches I've not seen before in this chapter.  Carolyn urges folks to remember to make sure their crosses are always crossed in the same direction on their canvas EXCEPT if you are doing two sides of a coat (for example).  Having the top stitch be / instead of \ on one side of the coat gives additional interest to the stitching—something I'd never thought of!  "Diagonal Stitches" are not Carolyn's first choice for a background, but she loves them for rounded items, clothing and butterfly wings—anything on your canvas where you need a mirror image.  Carolyn diagrams mirror images in at least a third of the stitches in this chapter, which is useful if you can't easily rotate stitches in your head.  "Eyelet Stitches" is another short chapter with some very pretty eyelet stitches diagrammed and tips on how to make your eyelets look good.

 "Laid Fillings" covers all sorts of laid and couched stitches.  It's not as thorough as Jean Taggart's Laid Fillings for Evenweave Canvas, by any means, but Jean's book is out of print.  Carolyn gives a nice overview of laid stitches of various types, though.  "Open Stitches" covers a variety of open stitches that will allow the intricate shading of your canvas to show through, creating depth.  If you have ever considered covering an entire canvas with just one stitch, this chapter has quite a few different stitches that would be lovely used in this way, although Carolyn likes to use them for shaded backgrounds like skies.

"Painted Pony Angel Wing Stitches" is subtitled "Or Areas Painted With Close Dots."  It's a small chapter but an interesting one.  If you are familiar with the Painted Pony angels, you know that many of the wings have little regular polka dots on them.  Carolyn has diagrammed close regular polka dots and then come up with a variety of stitches to put between the dots to create amazing patterns.  Amazing!  If you aren't familiar with the angels, here is a selection, courtesy of Nimble Needle in New Jersey.

"Beading" covers supplies from needles to hemostats and even defines Bead Soup.  Once you have a bit of orientation, Carolyn talks at length about various ways to add beads to canvas, from tent stitching to basketweave beading to stacking beads and making beaded fringe.  If you are looking for help with beading, I think Carolyn's chapter is very good.  It covers most of the ways to add beads to needlepoint canvas.  It's a fun chapter, full of ideas.  The final chapter, "Favorite Books," is a one page list of books Carolyn uses constantly and loves.  If you want to fill out your needlepoint reference library, this is a good place to find titles you might not know.

The Indexes help organize all the stitches in the chapters in various ways.  Besides the normal alphabetical index of stitch names, you can find stitches that use beads and/or sequins, plus you can find stitches that use 3 kinds of threads, 4 kinds of threads or 5 kinds of threads.  This is a unique way of thinking of stitches.  I asked Carolyn about it and she told me her students love mixing thread types in stitches, so this seemed a natural way to look at the stitches in this book.  It's not something that is emphasized in many books--Gone Stitching's Got Stitches? is the only book about multi-layered stitches I know of--so it's a valuable resource when you are trying to broaden your mind when it comes to complicated stitches.  I don't use multiple threads in compound stitches much, and it is something I should play with.  I'll be able to do that with this book, especially since occasionally Carolyn recommends thread types to use with a particular stitch.

So should you buy this book?  If you are a beginner, you don't need this yet.  If you don't do painted canvases, it really isn't going to be much help. If you are a tent stitch person you'll find this an eye-opener, but it won't be a Must Read because of your stitching preferences.  But, if all you stitch are painted canvases that you embellish, and you are constantly running out of ideas, this is a great book to read and re-read.  It is not a rehash of Carolyn's earlier books, but a wildly inventive teacher's look at unique and interesting stitches.  I am going to have great fun reading and re-reading this, learning from Carolyn and adapting her ideas to my stitching style.

Written by Jane/Chilly Hollow
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