Fridays with Franklin: Fluff My Cushions, Part Two

fwf-logo-columnsizeFor an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

For the first part of this series, click here.

Somebody call the Vatican, because we’ve had a miracle.

Before I set out to make this pillow cover I measured the pillow. Of course.

My trusty tape measure said (and still says) it is 16 inches square. Measure twice, crochet once.

I worked the Tunisian crochet bit of it to be a bit smaller than that, so I could add a contrasting border in single crochet. That made for a fun change, and was quite simple.


I’m very pleased with the effect. Crochet borders are, as the kids on my lawn say, da bomb.

The finished dimensions of the front panel after wet blocking were almost identical to finished dimensions of the pillow itself, because what I like in pillow cover is zero ease. I want the cover to fit snugly. A loose cover, to me, resembles a sagging diaper or ill-fitting skirt.

Then something extraordinary happened. The moment I began the next stage–cross stitch embroidery of the center panel–the work expanded to cover 400 square miles.

It’s all fun and games until your crochet blots out the sun.

Or so it has felt at times.

Cross Stitch Over Tunisian Crochet

There are so many excellent guides to cross stitch readily available that I will forbear for the moment to write one here. I do want to talk a bit about what I’ve encountered working cross stitch over a foundation Tunisian crochet.

What makes this crochet fabric so ideal for cross stitch are the nearly perfect little squares that are its hallmark.

If you have only worked cross stitch before on even-weave fabrics like Aida canvas, it can seem confusing at first as to where exactly you ought to take your stitches. There’s some wiggle room here; but you do want to make sure that once you establish your choice with the first stitches, you stick with it throughout

Here’s where I chose to make my stitches–in and out of the four orange dots. The orange cross to the right of them shows the size and shape of the typical resulting stitch.

Since this is a crocheted fabric, the grain of it is not perfectly square like a true even-weave. The individual cross stitches will show variation.

To keep them as consistent as possible, I’ve worked with the fabric always oriented in the same direction (that is, the same edge always at the bottom while I stitched).

The Importance of Guidelines

When I teach cross stitch, I hammer home the importance of first laying out your guidelines with running stitches in thread. Don’t skimp on your guidelines! The larger your design, the more guidelines you put in.

This is the chart I’m using. My guidelines are marked with dashed lines. You’ll note they’re every tenth stitch, in both directions.

Why so many? Why not just the customary two, to pinpoint the center?

Because in large designs–especially large abstract (non-representational) designs like this, it can be too easy to make a mistake and not realize you’ve done so. The design looks fine, at a glance. You move along, and count from a bit of finished work to establish your next row of stitching–and then, only after doing a bunch more work, you realize your error.

Nobody enjoys ripping out. Put in a bunch of guidelines; and when you count, count from them first. Use stitches you know to be correct as a secondary reference point.

To mark my guidelines, I used regular old sewing thread.

These guidelines also allowed me to look at the design as manageable blocks instead of a large and potentially confusing whole. So I could focus on working one 11×11 square, like this.

That’s  harder to goof up and, frankly, less daunting psychologically.

Keeping Your Twist

I got a very alarmed e-mail from a reader who told me you cannot, simply cannot, embroider with yarns designed for knitting and crochet.

I beg to differ, seeing as I and many others have done so for years. In fact, the booklet I referenced last time, from the early 20th century, was quite gung-ho about it. If it were impossible, someone would have twigged it by now.

I will say that any yarn or thread you choose for embroidery must be strong enough to withstand the repeated abrasion that comes from being pulled through the fabric. Most lightly spun and all unspun yarns are unsuitable–they will fall apart as you work.

Yarns with lots of texture (like coils) won’t pull readily through the small hole made by your needle, nor will yarns with additives like sequins. Beaded yarns may work, if the beads are quite small, but beaded embroidery is a topic I’ll leave for another time.

HiKoo CoBaSi Plus

HiKoo CoBaSi Plus has worked very well, with one caveat. Like any embroidery strand made from fibers that do not stick together (this includes purpose-made embroidery cottons with multiple plies), the yarn will tend to untwist as you work.

Just pause every so often and twiddle the needle to put the twist back in. That’s all.

Some Now, Some Later

I began working the central motif as I’ve always worked cross stitch: row by row, laying in the first part of the cross from left to right, then completing the row by working back from right to left.

Then, after realizing how much of this piece would be done on the road while teaching or in company when I was liable to mis-read my chart, I decided to take a different tack.

When I’ve been in a situation that allowed me to focus–at home, in my workroom, or alone in a hotel room–I’ve worked only the first part of each cross stitch, filling out the design.


Then, when I’ve been in distracting situations like airplanes and airport lounges and cafés, I’ve worked over those established stitches–in other words, that’s when I’ve done the mindless work that requires no counting.

Where Am I?

It’s gone well, though I have not as I hoped finished all the embroidery yet. As I said at the beginning of this installment, what began as a cover for a tiny little pillow keeps growing larger, and larger and larger. Still–I’m pleased. The entire first layer is in, so now I merely fill in the second layer. (I may add borders in the blank areas to the right and left, but I’m not sure yet.)


We’re going to have to pause this project for a bit, anyhow–because a newborn baby in the apartment upstairs needs a warm sweater, quickly, and I have just the thing waiting to be knit up: Zitron Gesa & Flo, with a dash of Schoppel-Wolle Edition 6 Light Fingering.


I’ll show you in two weeks.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
HiKoo CoBaSi Plus (55% Cotton, 16% Bamboo, 8% Silk, 21% Elastic Nylon; 220 yards per 50 gram hank)
Zitron Gesa & Flo (100% Ultra Fine Merino. 98 yards per 25 gram ball; shown in Color 8: Lavender)
Schoppel-Wolle Edition 6 (100% Merino Extrafine Superwash Wool. 328 yards per 50 gram ball; shown in Color 2296: English Garden)
Addi HeartStopper
Addi Click Crochet Hook Interchangeable Set

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via

He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site ( or his Facebook page.

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