The Last Stitch

Whitework Chessboard
[Cross-stitch] [Geometry]

Size: 161W x 161H
Backing: Cotton napkin (mediumweight), using 14-gauge waste canvas
Finished Size: 11.5" x 11.5"
Time Frame: months

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Colors Used: (6-strand embroidery floss)
Main board: white
Border: Silver & Gold metallic floss (DMC), mixed with white


Whitework Chessboard

[Click for larger image]


The chessboard project started as an excuse to test out waste canvas. I'd never worked with tearaway canvas before, and wanted to work a small motif on an inexpensive fabric, just in case the results were poor. But I got ambitious, and came up with a plan that ended up taking months to finish, and which really showed what great stuff can come from cheap, common materials.

The red cotton napkin was one of several that I had picked up out of a bargain basket at a local kitchen goods store, and almost all of the white floss used was recycled from a kit that I received as a gift. I'm not generally a fan of kits, as they tend to be somewhat restrictive, but the quantities of thread that it contained in black, white, and shades of grey made an excellent addition to my supply. The waste canvas (Charles Craft) was pretty inexpensive, and came from a crafts supply store in a handy folded-sheet. Even the metallic floss was only a little more expensive than regular floss, and since it's used sparingly here, as in all my designs, I've still got plenty of it around. So all told, the materials probably cost me less than USD$3. I love bargains!

The chessboard design gave me a chance to try out more tiny motifs than I ever have occasion to use, although coming up with 32 different patterns that all fit within an 18x18-stitch square was a challenge. I wanted to have variety, so there are some rectangular grid-style patterns, some interlocking shapes, different arrangements of curliques, and even a few "somethings", like the butterfly and heart motifs. Incorporating the grid borders into each square's pattern helped provide an anchor, and helped me to maintain the proper stitch count. Of course, I'm pretty sure there are some diversions from the patterns in the stitched work, but keeping the grid consistent is really the important thing here.

Even the orientation of the various motifs isn't all that vital, since chessboards can be viewed from any orientation. And even if it's used to actually play chess, there's no hard-and-fast rule about which squares are "black" and which ones are "white" in this design. I wanted to emphasize that rotational symmetry with the border design, and provide some kind of motif-driven link between the board itself and the game. In the end, space considerations prevented me from putting in pictures of chess pieces around the border, since they would end up being either scrunched up along the board edge crosswise or elongated and stylized. Considering that both the game and the board design seem overly complicated but actually stem from a very few simple concepts, I figured that simply putting the names of the six chess pieces around the board would achieve the look and intent I sought. Gold & silver floss both highlighted the border motif, and worked quite well in contrast with the red backing, so I think the effect was quite nice.

Removing the tearaway canvas was straightforward but called for a bit of patience, as the threads were quite whole, but became unglued with a spritz or two of warm water. Tweezers were invaluable in gently tugging out the threads, especially those few that were snugly tucked under the grid threads. I was very glad indeed that so few of my stitches had caught the canvas threads, since plucking those threads out without harming the stitch was particularly challenging. After all of the canvas thread was gone, blocking proved to be essential in this piece, since the rectangular nature of the design made any skew or stretch in the fabric readily apparent. A little more water, some straight pins, and a gridded cardboard sheet I use in sewing did the job nicely and without all the fussing about with irons and towels that craft books talk about. I hate ironing, and I'm not convinced that all that steam heat wouldn't mess up the mixed colors and stitching, so this method will probably be what I use when blocking is necessary. Overall, I think this little guy turned out well, and many of the motifs may find their way into my other designs.

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