Lesson #10 A Dozen Tips for Better Tension
If you have been stitching for some time you will know that the art of embroidery technique lies not in knowing how to difficult stitches but in achieving good tension. For example, the actual stitch sequence of the most difficult stitch I know is one of the simplest: what is Satin Stitch but up in one place, down in another. How hard is that, yet working Satin Stitch well can be one of needlework’s most rigorous tasks.
I wish I could offer a magic formula for beautiful tension. Alas, not possible, but here are a dozen suggestions that might help improve tension.
First: warm up on a doodle. The first stitches you take after you have been away from stitching for a while usually aren’t your best effort, so why not get your fingers warmed up and fluid, then start work ‘for real’.
Second: establish a rhythm and work the area uninterrupted. Don’t, for example, jerk the last stitch you take before you put down your needle to answer the telephone.
Third: take care in choosing your needle. Make sure it smooth and comfortable in your hand. Be careful to watch that the eye of the needle isn’t rough. Watch too that it isn’t too small for the thread. Using a needle that is slightly too large helps guide the thread through the canvas without damaging it. The minute a needle shows signs of tarnishing, discard it for a silky-smooth and satiny new needle.
Fourth: use a length of thread that isn’t so long you are pulling and pulling and pulling.
Conversely, don’t work stitches with a thread that is too short. A thread that is too short often produces jerky motions.
Fifth: check the thread for consistency of color if the thread is a solid-dyed color.
Sixth: check the thread weight for consistency. If you are using ply from a stranded floss, make sure that each is the same weight from top to bottom, and that each one is the same weight as the next.
Seventh: make sure the weight of the thread sits comfortably on the canvas. If you use a thread that is too heavy it will fight for space in the hole with the next row. Anytime you have to fight a thread or jerk it to make it fit, guess what happens to your tension.
Eighth: watch the thread to make sure it isn’t wearing or fuzzing or losing its luster.
Ninth: try to watch that the angle your needle goes into the canvas is consistent with each stitch
Tenth: try not to change thread in the middle of a row.
Eleventh: use a sharp needle to begin and end threads.
Twelfth: check stretcher bars and canvas frequently to make certain the canvas is stretched evenly on the stretcher bars. I am not necessarily a fan of a drum-tight canvas but an evenly-stretched canvas is important.
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