Friday, March 5, 2010

Fabrics and Colours Part II

Continuing on from yesterday's post and a couple of items I touched on just briefly.

How do you decide what the perfect fabric is for a design?

First you want to decide on the base fabric you want to use. Aida, linen, plainweave... It totally depends on the project. If your project will have specialty stitches or partial stitches, Aida won't work unless you're stubborn and don't mind piercing threads. This isn't a big deal if there isn't a large amount of it, but when you're talking about half the project or more, it can become a pain and even make the project more difficult to do, and can lead you to using evenweave. When it comes to evenweaves, some people are partial to plainweaves, some are partial to linen. A lot of people, myself included will call linen, linen, and everything else evenweave, though this is sort of a misnomer. Linen can be evenweave too! The only difference? Linen is made from linen, plainweaves can be cotton, cotton/rayon and a multitude of other fibers. Both are considered evenweave, meaning there are the same number of threads per inch in both the warp and weft.

Next you want to determine what count of fabric you want to use. Lower counts are great for those just starting out with over 2 stitching, or for those whose eyes just can't see the higher stuff. Higher counts are great for saving yourself some money on floss (less strands needed) and framing costs. If you want high count (above 32) you're kinda stuck with linen, as I've only found one supplier of plainweave that is 36 count, and I can never get their page to load properly. So of course count will be one of the determining factors.

When choosing a count of fabric, first decide what count you are most comfortable working with. Designer recommendations are just that - recommendations. Just because a model is stitched on 40 count, doesn't mean that you need to use 40 count. You can use whatever YOU are comfortable with. You will have to make adjustments to the number of strands of thread you use, but any design can be changed to suit your needs. The only real limitation to changing counts of fabric is when you are talking about beadwork and/or charms - they just don't fit on some counts, and trying to find petite beads in similar colours isn't always possible.

I hear a lot of people say that they use lower counts for doing specialty stitches. Sometimes this is helpful if you're just learning the stitches, but it's not necessary. I love doing specialty stitches on 36 and 40 count, they look so delicate and they're not really any more difficult, you just have to be able to see the holes. If you can see them for cross stitch, you can see them for specialty stitches too. Keep in mind that when you start inching up above 40 count, the weave of most linens gets very dense, so pulled stitches can become more difficult to do.

Another determining factor for count of fabric is coverage. How dense do you like your stitching to appear? This is 100% personal choice. I know lots of people who are happy with 1 strand even on 32 count, personally I don't like the way it looks. I like denser coverage, and will double up or use thicker thread right up to 36 count. You have to decide what you like. Again, a designer can recommend how many strands to use on a specific count, but your eye is the best judge. If you don't like it, double up or up the count until you are happy. It's your project after all!

And finally, sometimes a colour you want to use is only available in certain counts/types of fabric, so that may also be a determining factor in what count you end up using.

Next you want to decide what colour of fabric you want to use. Solid, hand-dyed, heavy mottling, multiple colours, the choices these days are endless. Things to consider when choosing a fabric:

Are there a lot of thread colours? Sometimes simple is best. A solid fabric, or something with soft subtle mottling might be the best option. You don't want your fabric to overpower your stitching, you want it to complement your stitching. Make sure the fabric you choose has enough contrast to your thread colours - you don't want them to blend into the background. If the design has mostly warm colours - browns, oranges, orange reds, olive greens - you want to stick with fabrics that have a yellow undertone. If your design has mostly cool colours - blues, blue greens, blue pinks, purples - you want to find a fabric with a pink or blue undertone. This will enhance the colours in your threads. You'd be surprised how different a thread colour looks stitched on two different fabrics!

Are a lot of the threads variegated? Again, you want to stick with something fairly solid or very softly shaded so it won't compete with the threads. Your main goal is to pick something that shows off your stitching. Remeber, fabric is the background, your lovely work is the foreground. Heavily mottled/multicolour fabrics might be gorgeous, and might even have the same shades as your thread, but if it draws your eye away from your stitching, then it's probably too much. The easiest way to tell is to try test stitching a small motif in the threads you're planning to use. You'll get a better feel for how the final product will look, and whether you've got the right idea with your fabric.

Is it a monochrome? Is your thread multicolour or more solid? The more solid the thread colour, the more options you have for fabric colour. This is where those heavily mottled or multicolour fabrics can look really cool. Solid black thread on a wild red/orange fabric looks spectacular. As does solid white thread on a deep purple/blue fabric. If you've chosen a multicolour thread, you want to again stick with something a little simpler for fabric. Picking your favourite colour from the thread and then going with fabric a few shades lighter can be really stunning.

Determining when to use a multicolour thread and when to use a solid thread can also be tough sometimes. For me, it depends on how intricate the design is. For a pattern that has a lot of small detailed lacy looking parts, you want to be sure that you're not going to lose the design in the colour changes of the thread. Again, test stitching is key - test stitch a small area of detail with your chosen colour and stand back and look at your stitching. Can you clearly follow the design with your eye or is it tough to make out? If you can see it clearly, you're on the right track. If it's hard to follow, then you might want to try something with less colour changes.

The last thing I want to touch on is a question which I see asked often - when should I use opalescent fabric? My answer to this would be - NEVER!! I absolutely hate stuff. lol

But seriously, a good way to decide whether or not to use sparklies is to figure out how much sparkle you want, always remembering that the fabric is the background to your stitching. You want your stitching to be front and centre, you don't want the fabric to draw the eye away from it. So things to consider are: Does the design have metallic threads/beads/crystals? If it does, then using an opalescent fabric might diminish the intended effect of these. If you've spent a lot of time fighting with metallic threads or attaching beads and embellishments, you don't want to stand back and look only to have the metallic thread in the fabric competing with all your hard work.

Another thing to consider is that opalescent or metallic fabric will cause a lot more wear on your threads! That's one of the main reasons I can't stand the stuff.

Opalescents can be very beautiful and very tempting, and when used with the right design, can add that little extra wow factor. When used with the wrong design, they can detract from your stitching.

Of course all of this is just suggestion - only you know what you like and what you want, and only you can decide what looks best for you!!

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