As I write this, I’m packing for the final leg of a marathon teaching travel that began in May. With less than 36 hours between getting home from an engagement in California (Stitches SoCal in Pasadena) and departing for an engagement in Minnesota (Vogue Knitting Live! in Minneapolis), I’ve been focusing on a small, light project that I can pick up and put down easily, and that fits neatly in a corner of a crowded shoulder bag.
Socks must be the most popular travel project in all of knitting, and my obsession with embroidered socks continues.
Not long ago I worked a pair of socks with duplicate stitch bees in Zitron Trekking XXL Sport…
I didn’t even know what I’d embroider on them, I just knew that I would embroider on them. These plain, solid socks just seem to be asking for it.
The bee socks were worked in duplicate stitch (described in detail here). The result was extremely satisfactory. For this blue pair, it seemed a shame–what with this being a column about trying new things–to just repeat the technique.
Instead, I reached for waste canvas.
The last heyday for waste canvas, so far as I know, was in the 1980s. My mother used sheets and sheets of it to embroider sweatshirts. I remember ducks with gingham bandannas, teddy bears, hearts, daisies, and other exponents of le style country kitchen.
She used to wear these dainty, whimsical creations with an old pair of jeans while she was using her favorite chainsaw to prune the trees in the backyard. My mother was a complex woman.
Waste canvas is an evenweave fabric that allows you easily to work even cross stitch on any fabric you can embroider. Unlike duplicate stitch, cross stitch over waste canvas isn’t tied to the gauge of the knitted fabric–or even the grain of it. Nor do you have to use an embroidery yarn of the same weight as the yarn in the knitting.
That was an attractive idea, given the number of Edwardian cross stitch motifs I’d love to have swirling around my ankles. (Gryphons and cupids, anyone?)
You can see in this close-up how the stuff is structured.
The warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) have the same number of threads per inch (therefore, evenweave). In the weft, every fifth pair of threads includes one blue thread, as an aid to your counting.
I decided to test a small cross stitch design on one of the blue socks. This motif came from a 1905 filet crochet book, in which it was a tiny part of a large and flamboyant border.
The sock wasn’t a swatch, but this design was. I didn’t want to commit to anything large and fancy without a test.
I cut out a piece of waste canvas slightly larger than the motif and marked the horizontal vertical and center lines with sewing thread.
I used more sewing thread to baste the canvas to the sock over the ankle.
And when you’re embroidering on a tubular piece of work like a sock, it’s sound practice to put something inside the tube to prevent your stitching through the opposite side of the work. Had I been at home, I’d have used one of my mushroom-shaped darners. Since I wasn’t I reached for a convenient piece of cardboard provided by the hotel.
Then I stitched.
The cross stitch here is no different than cross stitch on Aida cloth–the fabric most modern embroiderers use for the technique. You make your stitches over the intersections in the waste canvas, using a sharp needle. For a fingering weight yarn like the Zitron Trekking XXL Sport Sock, my favorite is a size 18 chenille needle. It has a large eye through which the yarn fits readily, and a sharp point that slices neatly through the knitting without abrading it unduly.
Of course, it was at this moment that I realized the stitches along the horizontal center of the motif are crossed in a direction different than that of all the other crosses. A major no-no in good cross stitch.
I keep telling myself, This is just a test. It’s just a test. It’s just a test.
When your cross stitch is finished, for good or ill, you pull the canvas out of the work. I usually start by removing the basting and marking threads, and clipping away some of the excess canvas.
Then, with a tweezer, I begin to pull the canvas threads. It usually seems to work best if I start at the right or left edge and pull vertical (warp) threads first.
Then the horizontal (weft) threads get pulled.
Until at last your stitching stands on its own. This is very psychologically satisfying. I always get a shiver of delight. Even if you must admit that your stitches could be more even, and perhaps you should not do this ever again on a plane flying over mountains.
Working over waste canvas is a straightforward and pleasant process, one I highly recommend. By no means should you limit it to handknits. I often use it to fancy up (for example) store-bought or hand-me-down baby and children’s clothes that need that little extra something.
I think this little star is just fine, but I’m encouraged to dream bigger. And weirder. The old pattern books are beckoning. There’s a cherub in a chariot. A peacock in a spray of acanthus leaves. A head of Pan in a Greek key border. These are not the sort of things you find in off-the-rack men’s socks, and that’s exactly what I want.
And so the experiment continues.
See you in two weeks.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
Zitron Trekking XXL Sport Sock Yarn (75% Superwash Merino Wool, 25% Nylon. 459 yards per 100 gram skein.) Shown in Color 1476 (bee and star) and Color 1496 (sock).
Waste Canvas, 8.5 count from Charles Craft
addi FlexiFlips flexible knitting needles (length 8 inches, shown in size US 0)
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 Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist 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 Ravelry.com.
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.