Pretty colors

Whilst I still have access to a digital camera, I may as well post pictures of some recent miscellany.

We found large quantities of wire hangers in the basement while cleaning up after a flood two weeks ago. So, given that one has to use up one’s scrap yarn somehow, the following resulted.cimg08394


Yarn is wound around a pair of hangers from both sides in the basic friendship bracelet stitch, as you probably already know. There are sixteen of them, counting the rather eyesmarting set of five.

Also, some  work on my new spinning wheel, which continues to be great fun. (The most recent batch is actually shows some improvement in evenness, but it’s in NY.) I have an upright wheel worked with both feet. Each color below represents between 2/3 and 3/4 of a pound of wool, spun into 2-ply yarn.


I continue to be delighted by how much faster the wheel is than my drop spindles – each color’s worth of yarn was finished in about an afternoon. Whee!

Progress on the Gryphon Tapestry

(an explanatory supplement to esqg’s recent pictures)

I’ve been working on the top (the eagle part); esqg on the bottom (the lion part).  I’ve been working on the wings, and (in the pictures esqg posted yesterday) am just about to start working on the head. Esqg, meanwhile, has been navigating a dense assortment of legs and tails, and has just finished the tuft of hair at the tip of each tail.

By measurement, we’re about a third of the way done (we’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time this week weaving). On the other hand, progress in inches is  likely to start slowing rapidly: I’ve had it pretty easy so far but once I get to the head, things will start to get, well, if not hairy, than at least very, very feathery.

The pictures also show the evolution of the s-shaped crack in the middle of the tapestry, which appears to be developing more or less according to plan. The plan is eventually to cut the tapestry in half along that crack (so that esqg and I each get a tapestry to keep), and hem each side with ribbon. I’m confident that we’ll be able to do this, but I’m starting to worry about exactly how. Experience with the dragon tapestry has shown that it’s safe to take a tapestry out of its frame: that is, you can cut the knots on the outside of the frame, and the warp threads won’t rebound backwards into the tapestry anywhere near far enough to risk unravelling the edges. In principal, this should be similar–and even easier, since once the tapestry is out of its frame, the threads won’t even be under tension. On the other hand, I think I hadn’t quite realized how very little margin there’s going to be at the edges of the tapestry. It will presumably be necessary to assure ourselves that the threads on the edge of the crack are well and truly locked to their warp threads before cutting anything.


This summer my sister brought me a large skein of wool from the Aran Islands, and as I was much in need of a scarf, I decided that the sensible course was to cable the living daylights out of it. Here’s the result, which I finished in late December.scarf2

It was knit on size eight needles and a single double pointed needle for the cabling. The wool is approximately sport weight and slightly heathered; I estimate there were roughly seven hundred yards thereof.  It still smelled quite strongly and pleasingly of lanolin when I began to work with it. The pattern can be found here: (Note that this pattern is copyrighted to its originator. I am very grateful to him or her for posting it so that others could use it, and am only posting my results with it here so that my friends can see.) The completed scarf is quite thick and measures 52 inches by 7 inches. Each pattern repeat is about 3 inches long. Here is a closer look at the pattern.scarf4

As you can see, there are ten strands to the design; the six middle strands work their way once across the diagram in the course of two pattern repeats. The temporarily outermost strands of the six also twist around themselves. The scarf is knit such that all cables are worked on the even-numbered rows of the sixteen-row pattern; the odd numbered rows are simply knit or purled as appropriate. At the start, a pattern repeat took about two hours to complete, but familiarity with the design allowed me to whittle that down to ninety minutes by the end of the scarf.

And now onward to the next project…

Better tapestry pictures

We’ve been making progress! There isn’t much to say about it, except that I now have a proper digital camera so you can see the results.


I have now crocheted two versions of a Potholder Stitch Oven Mitt: one for me and my roommates, one for my father.  The website with the instructions seems to have been shut down!  So, the way I do it is with Sugar&Cream cotton yarn, because it’s good for high temperatures and it’s variegated.  I use a size G hook, but another size would be okay.

The tricky thing is how to do a potholder stitch.  You start with an ordinary chain for row 0; then, for the first row, you single-crochet only in the back loop of that row, leaving the front loops.  At the end of the row chain and turn, and then single-crochet through the back loop of the first row and the remaining (front) loops of row 0.  You’ve left the front loops of the first row alone, so for row 3 you use those loops along with the back loops of row 2.  The overall effect is a kind of crocheting that is twice as thick and the stitches on a given side all face the same direction.


0: Chain 21 stitches.  Turn. 
1: Sc (single-crochet) into back loop only of row 0, 19 stitches.  Chain 1.  Turn.
2: Sc (single-crochet) into back loop of row 1 together with front loop of row 0, 19 stitches.  Chain 1.  Turn.
3-30: Continue, until you have 15 rows visible on each side.

Thumb: Do only 5 stitches for row 31; chain 1, turn.  Continue for a total of 10 5-stitch rows.  Then to neaten up the top, pull a loop through *both* loops of the first stitch of row 40 and the back loop of the last of row 39; pull another loop as usual for the second stitch; yarn over and pull through all three loops.  So, in other words, crochet the first two stitches together but use up the front loop too for the first stitch because you won’t need it.  Do the next stitch as usual; then for the third, crochet the last two together, using up the front loop of the last.  Chain 1, turn.  Crochet the first two stitches together as before, and do the third one single-crochet through all three loops.  Knot the yarn, cut it.

Fingers: Go back to the other 14 stitches, and do as the thumb was.  I do it for 14 full stitches, making the thumb stick out slightly.  The original instructions have it just for 13, so the thumb can go straight up.  Anyway, do 20 rows for this (10 on each side) then decrease each row at beginning and end, so by 2 stitches and using up the extra loops, 3-4 times or until satisfied with the shape.  Finish.

Finally, you go and make another one, and sew them together on the edges except at the bottom.  I ended up crocheting them together along the edges and then turning it out, but that may not be the best way to do it.

Here’s a picture of the first one I did:

Gryphon tapestry: claws, wingtips and diagram

Elisabeth,  silkspinner and I have made progress on the gryphon tapestry!

We found a small picture of a gryphon online, scaled it up so that it was low-resolution, and traced outlines onto graph paper.  We taped enough graph paper together to make a diagram to scale, and scaled up the beginning diagram by the low-tech method of drawing in nine squares what originally was in one.  Then we used a lot of our imagination to fill in some details on the main diagram; there may be too many details to cover in the tapestry, but given what we know of the techniques of the last one we think we should be able to manage.  We have not yet had the perseverance to reproduce our single gryphon in mirror image on the other side, so we now have half a diagram taped to the back of the tapestry.  Still, it can be used!


The two pictures here don’t quite fit together; my photography skills are currently limited by my cell phone’s camera.

lowerdiagramWe bought a variegated yarn for the background color, so that it varies between dull green, blue-green, and blonde.  We have three levels of shading for the “lion” hindquarters, and three for the eagle, as well as gold and black.  When weaving the dragon tapestry we had trouble finding all our threads of the right thickness, so we ended up with some five-ply threads that we had to re-ply (in pieces) into three-ply thread.  This time we shouldn’t have to do much of that, though the black thread will have to be divided up.

In the past week or so Elisabeth and I began weaving, leaving a gap of one bare warp thread for the divide between the two halves, and making sure the halves are woven at the same rate.  Today, we brought it with us to New York, and this afternoon silkspinner joined us in working on it!  Elisabeth started the tips of the wings today, but so far they’re hard to see because the “eagle green” color (a yarn handspun by silkspinner herself) is as dark as parts of the background.  Meanwhile silkspinner and I struggled through the first rows of the hind claws and tail.  I copied what she did, some of which you can see here:

lowerdivide1Here you can see the wood frame and warp threads where they appear in the middle of the divide.  Since this is the edge, the curve of the divide is especially steep.   The overwhelming majority of the color in this picture is supplied by the variegated background thread, but towards the top you can see the bottom of the claws in gold, the lion color, and the lion-shadow color.  The splotch of lion to the right is the bottom scoop of the tail.  So far we’re at 20 rows on the bottom and 21 at the top!

Gryphon Tapestry: Threading up the Loom

Three years ago, Elisabeth and I decided that it would be a great idea to make a tapestry.  There should be upcoming posts from us or the others recruited to the cause; it took two and a half years and had many contributors.  It is purple, and features a dragon.  In any event, since she and I are living in the same place this year we have decided to make a smaller tapestry together.  This time, it will be green, with gryphons!  Or griffins, if you must.  We spent much of today making the frame and threading it.

Here are some differences between this tapestry and the last one: The frame is about 2 feet on a side, coming out slightly wider than it is tall–instead of almost 3 feet wide and a full 6 feet tall.  There are just as many (actually a few more) warp threads as last time, however, since they are spaced at 6 to an inch instead of 4 to an inch.  Since the weft threads aren’t thinner (Elisabeth thinks they’re thicker), this should make the pixellation of the tapestry closer to square.

The most interesting and possibly painful thing about this tapestry is that it will be divided into two parts, each featuring a gryphon to mirror the other.  We’re thinking that we may make a jagged or curved border (depending on how you look at it) to show that the two pieces should fit together.  This will allow each of us to take one gryphon with us when we part ways in the spring, perhaps for help with traveling (or in my opinion, lie detecting.  There are lots of myths about gryphons but one is that it is impossible to tell lies in front of them).

To make the frame, we took a piece of wood 1/2-3/4” thick, 2.5” wide, and 8 feet long.  We cut it into two 26” pieces for the top and bottom, and two 22” pieces for the sides.  We also bought two (we thought only one, but apparently two) metal corner-braces from the hardware store where we got the wood, and used them on diagonally opposite corners.  (We learned the hard way that it’s a good idea to brace at least one corner when we made the dragon tapestry.) It might be more stable to brace opposite corners, but this way we could pick our right angles more carefully.  The side pieces were inset and the top and bottom nailed over them, because the warp threads will pull the top and bottom inward so we wanted them braced against the side pieces.

We made a two-inch-long mini-ruler of 1/6” by marking down to the 1/2” and then estimating.  Using a tape measure along the middle of each piece, we made marks for 24 inches on the top and bottom, leaving about 1/4” margin inside of the side pieces.  We drilled with a 3/32” bit that broke after completing its task. 😦  Since 1/6″ is so small, we wanted to pick the smallest size we had that would allow the warp threads to pass through. Even so, we had enough trouble drilling the holes so close together that we ended up staggering them above and below the center line in order to keep them farther apart. We’re hoping that the resulting 3-D effect will flatten out fairly quickly once we start weaving.

The warp threads are twisted cotton twine, just like last time.  On the one hand, we couldn’t have got the thread through the holes without tapestry needles (we got them through on the last tapestry, and did much of our weaving, before Silkspinner brilliantly bought large tapestry needles, but those holes were bigger); on the other, since the only tapestry needles I have are size medium (too small), getting the needles threaded was a production in itself.  So each thread did double duty, with a knot at one end, going from one side to the other, knotting in the middle to preserve tension (and in case one half breaks) and going back and finally knotting at the side where it started.  That way we only had to do half as much threading and 3/4 as much knotting as otherwise.


We’ll update you with more pictures!  Especially when we have a real camera to work with.  Here’s the nailed-together and threaded frame, with Elisabeth hiding behind it, courtesy of my cell phone camera.  The next step is to test out the thread we bought for the background weft, as it’s a unique variegated yarn and if there isn’t enough of it we can’t get more. :/

Two-sided sampler

When my husband and I went to visit his parents a few weeks ago, they showed us a new acquisition: an embroidery that depicted a tiger on one side of the cloth, and a leopard on the other side. Apparently the technique of double-sided embroidery is a specialty of the Chinese province Suzhou, home to one of four principal schools of Chinese embroidery.

Let me say first that this embroidery was a masterwork in every respect. Both the tiger and the leopard were exquisitely realized in silk, and somehow–I’ve only begun to think about how–the embroiderer had arranged the threads so that when light falls on the tapestry it highlights and shades the animals as though they were three-dimensional.

But it was the two sides of the embroidery that most entranced me. I’ll never be a great embroiderer, but I’m a competent one, and I basically understand how embroidery works. But this… when I first saw it, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how it could possibly be done. And so of course I had to try to figure it out.

By definition, in order to embroider on both sides of a piece of cloth, the two patterns have to involve the same color at every point where the needle goes through the cloth. The difference between the pattern of threads on the two sides of the cloth may arise only from the different paths taken between points. Tigers and leopards were far beyond me, but I started thinking about pairs of very simple shapes that could be described in terms of lines that shared end-points.

The first such pair I thought of was a heptagon and a seven-pointed star. The principle was clear: on one side of the fabric, you stitch around the edges of the seven points; while on the other, you pass from one point to the point nearly opposite it and thus form a star. Of course, this is complicated by the necessity of alternation of stitches–when the needle goes down on one side of the fabric, it comes up on the other, and therefore it’s necessary not only that the two shapes share points, but that it be possible to make all the necessary lines on each side by alternating stitches.

My spatial skills are lousy, but with a pen and paper and some thought, I was able to demonstrate that it is possible to create a heptagon on one side of a cloth and a heptagram on the other without repeating any stitches or cutting the thread. I’ll reproduce my work if you’ll forgive the hideous quality of the graphic.

From there I moved on to something slightly more elaborate: text. Casting around for two words of the same length, I settled on “Warren” and “Claude”–in honor of my husband and his father (I figured I had my in-laws to thank for the initial inspiration, and since Warren and his father are in many ways similar I supposed they would enjoy being represented as flip sides of a coin, as it were).

The first challenge was to figure out how to represent WARREN and CLAUDE (with one as the mirror image of the other) with the same set of dots. This involved a little artistic license regarding the shape of a few letters, but eventually I came up with a pattern that seemed legible on both sides. For the sake of simplicity, I had originally intended to make each pair of letters correspond, while admitting that it would be more elegant to offset them such that I could create spaces between letters on one side by running thread on the other side as part of a letter. I ended up deviating from this principle once, treating LA and RE as a unit (it turns out to be pretty difficult to make L and E out of exactly the same dots, but adding A and R to the mix solved the problem). I also made use of the fact that, while it’s possible to define a line with two dots, there’s no harm in adding additional dots to a line if they’re helpful on the other side.

When it came time to figure out how to realize these letters in alternating stitches, it quickly became apparent that, whereas it’s possible to create the star and the heptagon without repeating any stitches, it was not similarly possible with the pattern of dots I’d designed for the letters. Lots of repetitions proved necessary, as well as the (still more inelegant) practice of sticking the needle through the middle of a line shared by both sides, thus duplicating half of a line in order to change the orientation of the needle and allow me to make a particular stitch on the right side of the fabric. I display the result below.

"Claude" side

(Thanks are due to esqg for her help in plotting the points of the letters on graph-paper, as well as general moral support)

Executing the pattern with thread and cloth, I came up against a couple of unanticipated practical implications of a double-sided embroidery. Since there’s no back side, there’s nowhere out-of-the-way to tie knots. When both sides of the fabric are equally important, hemming becomes more challenging. Some other technical challenges had nothing to do with the double-sidedness of the project–for one thing, the cloth proved surprisingly anxious to unravel and uninterested in being hemmed; for another, I did the embroidery in the middle of the night and in the middle of studying for exams, and it’s thus messier than it would have been otherwise. If I were doing this again, I would twist repeated stitches together (wrapping the later ones around the earlier ones) so as to ensure that they look like a single line rather than like two.  Nevertheless, as a first attempt I’m pleased with it.

Questions remain. How do techniques change when you’re covering blocks of space rather than tracing lines? Covering area seems harder to visualize to me, but it may actually be easier, since a block of color provides cover for knots and for midpoints on the other side. I continue to be curious about what properties a pair of shapes need to have, absolutely and relative to one another, in order that they can be embroidered without any repeating stitches–but I figure this as a problem for mathematicians. I’ve asked several, and await their thoughts.

Having satisfied myself of some capability to reproduce the wheel, I may turn in future projects of this sort to explanations of how they do it in Suzhou. Silkspinner has also pointed out that a similar technique exists in the medieval European embroidery technique known as Blackwork, and it may be worth investigating that as well.

I’d love to hear any thoughts on next steps, especially regarding other sources for further investigation of this sort of embroidery, and the thread-path questions raised above.

Welcome to the HRSFANS crafts blog

(I’ve tagged a bunch of categories that I anticipate we’ll want, so that they can come into existence)