Time for the final, albeit belated, installment for National Craft Month. Preparations for teaching at STITCHES South in Nashville got between me and writing about my embroidery!
In this post I’ll show you how to add afterthought herringbone stitch embroidery to a knit scarf, adding a little more pizzazz to a plain piece.
Why embroidery? As an elementary school child one does lots of arts and craft projects. I did even more as a Brownie and Girl Scout, including those involving hoop and needle. I have a distinct memory of working the Scout motto in cross stitch on brown linen; it may still be in one of the memory boxes in the basement. I recently came across the ambitious (and thus incomplete!) bit of embroidery at right, done on a cut-open pillowcase. If you have ever seen a Yes album cover, it may look familiar; at the time I was very taken with the artwork of Roger Dean.
I never got rid of my embroidery floss or hoop, and have hopes of getting back to the Real Thing some day. I’m halfway Jessica Marquez’s fabulous Craftsy class Design It, Stitch It: Hand Embroidery (affiliate-linked here!). But I had this bandana scarf made years ago that cried out for a little somethin’ somethin’, and so in this post, we’ll give it that with a little herringbone stitch embroidery (no hoop required).
So here’s the scarf. It was based on one in Sally Melville’s book The Knit Stitch, worked back and forth in garter stitch from the bottom up. Stitches are added at each side to create the lower triangle, then a lot of stitches are added at each side to create the rectangles that wrap around the neck. I’d held a strand of solid color sari silk with a strand of skinny mohair boucle and used a large needle, but ran low on the blue as I got to the rectangular bit. Since I had both silk and boucle in another color, I worked a wide stripe, then finished with the remaining blue.
Now, I love stripes. But this big taupe stripe never made me happy, and the scarf always felt incomplete. I thought of ripping it out, but… have you ever ripped mohair boucle? Yecch. The idea of using it as a canvas has been lurking in the back of my mind for a long, long time, it was just a matter of figuring out what to do on it.
First, I looked at the overall shape and pondered where to work. Just on the stripe? Just on the triangle? On both, with different colors? Since the stripe was what niggled the back of my brain, I decided to work on the stripe first, then re-assess.
What material should I use for my stitching? The scarf’s fabric is nubby and irregular, and the garter stitch at large gauge adds to that feel. Whatever my choice, it would need to contrast well with that, in both in texture and in color. In my stash I found a nice fat multi-color silk chainette that seemed like it would work when I held a strand against the stripe fabric.
Which stitch to use? I’d taken Stitchopedia (fabulous book!) out of the library, and been pondering possibilities. Since it is so easy to take out stitches (almost as easy as frogging ;-), I tried them out on the scarf. Both the look and easy peasy process of making herringbone stitches appealed; here’s how I worked them.
During my stitch experiments it was clear that the herringbone stitch itself would need to be scaled up. You’ll see below that I worked across two ridges and every other stitch, zig-zagging back and forth on top of the ridges. You may find a different scale and number works better for your project. I decided to leave a ridge of plain taupe at the top and bottom to give the stitching a background instead of covering the entire taupe stripe with stitching. That left me 4 ridges, perfect for working two rows of stitching at the scale I’d liked for contrast purposes. I used a blunt tapestry needle (no need for a sharp needle on this fabric!), and threaded a couple of yards of the chainette on it. I started at the left end, and worked from left to right.
To stitch: Begin by taking the needle from the back of the work to the front where you want to start, bringing it up to the left of a stitch and leaving a 4-6˝ [10-15 cm] tail. Count over one stitches and down two ridges, and insert the needle front to back on the right side of the stitch (photo 1). Bring the needle up on the left side of the same stitch (photo 2). Go over a stitch and up two ridges, insert the needle to the right of the stitch from front to back, and bring it up to the left of the stitch from back to front OR do both steps at the same time (photos 3, 4). Gently pull, adjusting the tension so the yarn of the stitch is at the same tension as the fabric, neither stranded loosely (flopping around) nor tightly (puckering the fabric) (photo 5). The finished row of stitching is shown in photo 6.
Joining Yarn, Dealing With Tails
Taking yarn/thread in and out of fabric causes some amount of wear on it, plus working with more than a yarn or so can be tangly and uncomfortable. That means that at some point you will need to join another length, and you’ll need to have a plan for securing those pesky tail ends. Consider the nature of your stitching yarn/thread (“stitching element”), your fabric, and your project as you consider the options of splicing ends, weaving ends, and knotting ends.
Splicing requires that elements be splice-able. My chainette’s nature ruled that out. The chainette tended to fall apart when tugged too hard at the end; if it held together better, I could have tried weaving ends through the fabric of the element itself to “splice.”
Tail ends woven on the wrong side requires a wrong side, though sometimes careful weaving can hide the tails or at least minimize them. I said the chainette fell apart when tugged, so had some concern that a tail might catch on some piece of jewelry and pull out (think a sewn seam that gets snagged, and the resulting pulled-out thread that unravels). Plus the scale of the element would make it more visible on the “other side” of the scarf (not really a wrong side, just not a “right side!”).
Lastly, knotting. I’ve used knots (sometimes with a dab of Fraychek) just as an extra means of ensuring slippery yarn tails don’t slide out. One must always consider that knots tied on the wrong side may work their way to the right side, however. The fabric of my scarf is fuzzy and dense, with the boucle filling in some of the holes of the fabric; this would help keep knots from switching sides. Small, closely trimmed knots would be less visible than weaving on then scarf’s other side, too. Plus tying knots and trimming the ends close would secure the chainette. So for this project, this yarn, and this fabric, tying knots with tails was my chosen joining method.
At the beginning and end where there wasn’t another end to knot with, I wove the end in, and tied an overhand knot before trimming to prevent the chainette from unraveling.
Herringbone: The Next Row
Looking at the first row of stitching (photo 1), I realized I had two simple options for the next row. I could work the second row in the same stitch columns as the first (photo 2) or I could offset them (photo 3). I liked the offset, so continued it across the row.
So: here’s a photo of the finished scarf. I’ve considered adding more to it, but have decided I like it as-is. The beauty of this sort of embellishment is I can change my mind next week, and easily add something else to it! Having a little knowledge of other needle arts opens up new opportunities for “fixing” things that don’t please us WITHOUT resorting to the dreaded frog.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the National Craft Month series. So long, March—it’s April!