I should preface this article with a disclaimer.  Every serious stitcher has opinions on how to execute petitpoint.  Some of my methods are not “conventional”, however I have developed them over quite a number of years and believe they are the best solution for me.  Others may think differently and ultimately it is up to the individual and there is no definitive right and wrong way to do things, only what works best for you.  Have a go at some of my ideas and see what you think. 

Just about the worst thing that can happen when you are stitching is to suddenly realise you don’t have enough backing fabric (silk gauze etc) left to complete the design.  To avoid this, always work out the dimensions of your fabric using the following formula:  Number of stitches divided by thread count plus a margin on all sides .  (I usually allow a ½ to 1 inch margin all round the piece).  Many people start stitching in the middle of the design, so that the design is naturally centred on the backing.  Personally I prefer to stitch from the top left hand corner, as being right handed this means that my working hand is not rubbing against any completed stitching.  As long as you have done your figures correctly it will be safe to start at the edge of the design.  This method helps to keep the work clean, as even if you have washed your hands, a certain amount of oil and moisture is transferred to anything you touch.  Over time this residue of body oil and perspiration can mark the work, so it is always worthwhile to wash and block the piece before finishing.

There are three stitches commonly used in petitpoint – half cross, tent stitch and basketweave stitch.  They all look the same on the front of the work, but each one is executed differently and has different applications.  In each description I am assuming the stitch is being worked from left to right across the backing.
-Tent or continental stitches are worked from top right to bottom left and create a diagonal thread on the back of the work, are thicker than half cross stitches but thinner than basketweave.  They have the advantage of covering the backing better, but the disadvantage that they can easily distort the fabric due to the slant of the thread at the back of the work.  A loose but even and careful tension is required.  They can be worked in any direction and are the easiest stitches to unpick.
-Half cross stitches are worked from bottom left to top right and create a vertical thread on the back of the fabric.  They are thinner than tent stitches and will not distort the fabric as much as tent stitches because the thread on the back follows the direction of the silk gauze weave.  Their main disadvantage is that you must work rows horizontally consistently – if you change direction (working vertically) it will show as a distinct line on the work.  Also when you look at them from the front, you will be able to discern which direction the rows are running in.  This is not such a terrible thing, as if you look at the plain background on antique rugs they often had the look of horizontal stripes.  These stitches use less thread than tent stitches, but they are the most difficult stitches to unpick. 
-Basketweave stitches are worked diagonally across the fabric, each stitch working from bottom left to top right - they are in fact tent stitches worked diagonally.  They have the advantage that no horizontal line is visible in the finished work, however a diagonal line is visible in large areas of plain colour.  They create a horizontal and vertical weave on the back of the fabric, hence the name.  Care is required when using basketweave stitch not to change the direction of the stitching otherwise a line will show, so always end your thread in the middle of a row.  Basketweave is the thickest of the three stitches, and is used in full size work where hard wearing is expected.  However, as miniature carpets, rugs, seat covers etc are not subjected to wear, I see little point in using this stitch, unless the thread (or colour of thread) you are using requires a thicker stitch to cover the silk gauze.

So what does all this tell us?  It seems to me that the three stitches have different applications and all have their good and bad points.  My solution to the problem varies according to what I am stitching, and is also influenced by the fact that I prefer to work “in hand” rather than on a frame (the exception being large works such as carpets).  I use half cross stitch for the main part of the design to minimise distortion and to reduce thickness.  I generally use half cross stitch also for the background, unless the thread seems a little thin when laid on the backing, in which case I may use basketweave.  (Note that sometimes the colours vary in thickness from one another even in the same brand and weight of thread).  I rarely use tent stitch because the resulting fabric is thicker and also distorts more easily.  Even when repeatedly blocked, a distorted piece may never hold it's shape properly unless supported by a frame.  For stitching carpets or rugs, where I am concerned about the thickness of the finished item, I use half cross exclusively.

Silk gauze is very abrasive on thread.  Your thread should be no longer than 8”, otherwise it will fray too much.  As you stitch, you will find that the end of the thread frays.  To avoid ending up with wisps of thread in your work, trim it regularly.  If the whole length of thread is frayed, start a new and shorter length.

To help minimise distortion, pull the thread through the gauze gently until you just start to feel resistance.  After a while, you will get the feel of how much tension to use – if your work is distorting try loosening your tension and if your stitches look loose then tighten it.  Nine times out of ten you will work too tight, so relax and loosen up a little!  If you are using tent stitch, especially watch the amount of tension on the thread as you pull it through from the back. 

While stitching you will find that your thread starts to kink.  There are two ways of combating this – the easiest is to just let your needle and thread dangle and unwind itself.  The second is to learn to twirl your needle slightly with each stitch to counteract the kinking.

To help minimise thread splitting, try as much as possible to bring your thread up in an empty hole.  If you do split the stitch, unthread your needle and gently tease the stitch out and try again.  Don’t be tempted to “unsew” your stitching.  If you have to rip out a section of stitching because of an error, use the blunt end of your needle and work a stitch at a time, first from the front and then from the back.  You may need to use tweezers to remove all the stray wisps of thread from the silk gauze.  Don’t reuse worn thread which has been unpicked - end it off and start a fresh length.

Instead of working in a frame for smaller items, try just taping the edges of your silk gauze with Magic Tape.  If you use the right tension and stitch, the work won’t distort.  Don’t use ordinary sticky tape as it will leave a residue.  This method of “working in hand” also allows you to “scoop” to complete each stitch in one movement rather than two (you will need to practice this to get your tension right).  Personally, I prefer to work the stitches in two movements, back to front and front to back.

For a reusable stitching frame, try stitching your silk gauze to a square of plastic canvas with a window cut in the middle of it.  This is what I do when stitching carpets, as the plastic canvas allows for some flexibility but will still hold the fabric taut and square.  Make the frame sides a couple of inches thick.  When you use this type of frame, you can actually roll the frame up in your non working hand so that you can stitch the centre of the piece comfortably.

When framing a picture, there are several ways of attaching your work to a cardboard backing.  I never apply glue or iron on interfacing directly to the back of the stitching, as over time it can discolour the work.  I always use acid free cardboard, otherwise the acid in the board will eat into your work and ruin it over time.  I prefer to lace the work at the back of the mount, working from the centre outwards on each side, then tying the ends together at each corner.  If you must glue, at least use one which is acid free and apply it to the back of the mount then overlap your fabric around the mount board – this way the glue isn’t in contact with the front of your work.

If you decide to back a rug for the sake of neatness, slip stitch a piece of fine cotton lawn to it around the edges before fringing.  This piece of fabric can also be signed and dated using an acid free permanent fabric marker (i.e. Pigma pen).

To back a cushion, you can oversew a piece of synthetic microsuede, silk or cotton around the edges of the finished piece, using the same thread as you did for your stitching.  Don’t try to mitre your gauze or backing fabric, just tuck the corners in tight with your needle.  If you are using microsuede you can cut it to the exact size of the cushion because it won’t fray, but you will need to add a seam allowance if using cotton or silk.  Begin stitching from a few stitches in from the bottom edge and don’t forget to stuff the cushion before you stitch right around it.

To finish off the edges of a flat item such as a bell pull, mat or carpet, I work the outer 2 rows all round with the silk gauze folded double, then trim the excess silk gauze away at the back once the stitching is completed.  You can then add fringing or buttonhole stitching to the folded edge to finish it off.

Copyright Beverley-Anne Miles, 2009

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