Skylark's Song

Lynn Schoeffler 2009

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Do the piles of beautiful old vintage linens in antique stores and rummage sales call to you like they do me? I always stop to riffle through the stacks, even though most of the embroideries are really too big for my crazy quilt projects. This sweet old table topper caught my eye recently, with its round of six blue doves lovingly embroidered with rows of Blanket Stitch. (A quick check with Rissa's Pretty Impressive Stuff Stitch Dictionary reminds me that the stitch is indeed Blanket Stitch, not Buttonhole Stitch.)

Because the doves are really too large for small CQ patches, I found a smaller pattern to stitch, and experimented with the stitch placement as was done on the original piece. As I looked at each individual dove on the topper, I could see that every one had a different pattern of stitches.

Here are a few hints for stitching smaller birds, and the pattern I used, which you can enlarge or make smaller on your own printer.

The thread I chose was a variegated, stranded cotton; I used one strand. Start with about 18" of thread. The longer length is one reason to use cotton thread, because it doesn't fray or get slightly fuzzy like silk. You need a longer length to avoid having to start a new thread in the middle of the larger shapes; this ensures a nice clean line of little purls at the top of the Blanket Stitch.

Use a hoop! And see Rissa's article to learn how to pad it with ribbon. This really helps avoid hoop marks on your fancy fabrics.

Trace your pattern with a dark Sharpie; test the pen on a sample of fabric first to make sure it doesn't bleed. A clean pattern line will help ensure even rows of stitching. Freehand the interior lines on the body of the bird to make the individual shapes to stitch.

Whenever I stitch a straight-style stitch, I do it at a slant, if possible--it's so much easier to get nice smooth shapes! As you can see by the photos, using a slanted stitch in these small shapes will allow you to finish the shape with a very fine point.

The first stitch for each individual shape is done like a Lazy Daisy stitch; this makes a nice rounded edge to start with. Work from the left to the right of the shape.

Follow the first stitch with the next two or three Blanket Stitches, establishing the slant. As you work the shape, you may begin to see that your stitches are either getting longer and more slanted, or shorter and more straight up and down. If you learn to adjust each stitch as you go, this will become less of a problem.

When your stitches become long and too slanted, bring your needle out as close to the last stitch on the top of the shape as you can--this is the stitch that forms the purl. When you insert the needle down into the lower line as you complete the stitch, move it slightly to the right--a little more than normal. Do this for one or two stitches to bring the slant back to the correct position. The photos shows an exaggerated version; you can see by the position of the arrow where the stitch started to become too long.

At the end of the shape, you can see that the needle is inserted under the previous stitch. This is what gives the end of the shape the rounded edge; you can do it several times if necessary.

Conversely, if you find your stitches losing the slant and becoming straight up and down, bring the needle out at the top of the Blanket Stitch, just slightly farther along your pattern line. Tuck the needle slightly under the previous stitch, and slightly above the lower pattern line (photo 7). Do this for one or two stitches until your slant is established again. The arrow in photo 8 shows the slant resuming its shape. You can see how nicely pointed the wing shape becomes with a slanted stitch.

This is also how the heads of the skylarks are rounded; just like the spokes of a wheel. As you start around the curve of the head, about every third stitch is tucked under the previous stitch, sometimes it's even every other stitch.

When you have each shape completed, try this trick if you see that you have a thread or two that doesn't lay smooth and flat: insert the head of your needle underneath most of the stitches. Gently and carefully pull the needle up (toward your face), causing all the stitches to fall in line. If you still have a stitch or two standing out, try it from the back of the fabric. Resist the temptation to do this with the point of your needle!

Finally, if you notice a little chink or notch in your line of purls, gently nudge it into place with your thumbnail--if it's not too bad, you can smooth out the line.

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