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'Advanced' Continental Stitch: Is There Really Such a Thing?
Here we go, with the Advanced Lesson on the easier version of Basketweave, Continental Stitch. If you have followed my Advanced Lessons, you will know that I just spent two of my Advanced Lessons on one of needlepoint's most basic stitches. Now it's time to deal with the even more basic version of the stitch, Continental Stitch.
A Bit of Personal History
As long as I have stitched, I have enjoyed making figures. Actually it goes back even farther than my stitching days. When I was a child I spent more than a year with a serious illness. When I was finally home again after a long stint in the hospital, my mother kept me entertained by drawing paper dolls for me. I would draw all the clothes for the paper dolls, hours and hours worth. Eventually I drew my own paper dolls and that was the beginning of my time drawing figures.
Fast-forward to young adulthood when I discovered stitching and it seemed natural that I would do figures in needlepoint, but I discovered it wasn't as easy as drawing a figure with a pencil. The constraints were ever so much greater.
It didn't take long to discover the problem with needlepoint figures: the face. The figures can be beautiful, but all too often the project is marred by an ugly face. What do we do about ugly faces?
If you have spent a lot of time looking at painted faces you will see that the artist has one or two tools we stitchers don't have: the swish of a pencil, the swash of a paint brush, whether on paper or artists' canvas or whatever. Poor us, we have the regimentation of the grid of a canvas and everything is angular. No nice swishes and swashes for us stitchers.
We have all those geometric stitches and way too much information to put into a small face: eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, eyebrows, and so on. Too many features, too much shading, and what do we have when we are finished? Guaranteed ugly.
First of all and most important, eliminate many of the details in a needlepoint face. We don't need literally to put in every detail of a face, we just need the suggestion of features. I always think of it this way: a good chin-line and a graceful suggestion of a face.
The problem is, how do you do 'graceful' on a grid, and that's where Advanced Continental Stitch can help. Advanced Continental Stitch is really an Embellished Continental Stitch. Let's look at its most simple form.
Notice the three Continental Stitches and then the
long 'embellishment' stitches on the left and the right.
See how the whole unit of 5 stitches gives weight to
the center and then uses the long stitches to make
the curves. This is how I build the features on faces.
I look for the strongest part of an arc and I stitch that part in a series of Continental Stitches.
Then I embellish the Continental Stitches with longer stitches.
The trick of course is assessing where to put the weight of the Continental Stitches and how to shape the feature with the long stitches. Bottom line: trial and error.
For as long as I've been teaching needlework (which is too long) people have asked me to teach how to make faces. So one time at a seminar, I looked around my class and decided everyone in my class could do most of the patterns, why not try teaching a bit of my most often requested class: how to make faces (I was teaching a figure).
Over the course of the day I wound my way through looking at a face: the proportions, what tinkering with the features can do, what features to keep, which ones to eliminate, what happens when you include too many, the importance of the chin line, etc etc.
Then I showed my students the stitches I always use to create a face and how and why I used them. They are all Needlepoint's most basic stitches: Basketweave and Continental, plus a sprinkling of very basic Cross Stitches. That's it.
Now I had billed this class as Intermediate level and one person was upset with me. She said I had billed the class as intermediate but had only taught basic stitches for much of the day and she hadn't learned anything new, ie no new stitches. In one sense she was right, every one of the stitches I talked about was a basic stitch. In another sense she wasn't right. Yes, the stitches were indeed very basic but what I did with them was not.
Here is where I find a gray area in descriptions of levels, for knowing how to do a stitch is one thing, knowing what to do with it is something all together different. The stitch may be one a beginner learns how to do, the up at 1, down at 2, part, but the what to do with the stitch can linger for years and be the subject for the Advancing Student for indeed a long long time.
So here I am, all these years later, maybe 40+ years after I first learned how to do Basketweave and Continental Stitch (aka Diagonal Tent Stitch and Tent Stitch) and I still struggle.
Here's my most recent example: I confess, I worked harder on Catherine's face than on any I remember doing. It presented some special challenges and I ended up stitching her face on doodles 3 times to work out my ideas and another three times 'for real'. Yep, that's a total of 6 times.
And you know what? it was all in Basketweave and Embellished Continental Stitch, plus a few basic Cross Stitches. All needlepoint's most simple basic stitches, yet it was the most difficult bit of stitching I've done in recent memory.
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Is anyone ever Advanced? Advanced always implies to me someone who knows it all. Now I know some people who think they know it all, and likely you do too, but I know I don't know even a substantial amount of what there is to know.
Rather than think of myself as an Advanced Student, I think of myself as an Advancing Student. I learn a bit here, I figure out a bit there and the days move forward.
These lessons include some snippets of what I have learned and figured out, snippets that have helped me move more of the days forward.