Thursday, January 15, 2009

Needle-blending a sky

There are any number of ways to stitch a sky in needlepoint. Some prefer to use decorative stitches; others, like me, espouse the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple, stitcher). How to approach a needlepointed sky depends on two factors: the amount of sky relative to the rest of the canvas; and the complexity of the subject matter it surrounds.

I've stitched 76 lighthouse canvases to date--some well, some not so well. Learning from experience is a good thing! I've found that the more complex lighthouses, either in terms of decorative trim or color, require a more subdued sky or background. Lighthouses that are relatively plain and/or all one color can benefit from a little spice in the background. This "spice" can be from an overdyed thread, a decorative stitch, or--in the case of the St. Marks Lighthouse project, a technique called needle-blending.

Needle-blending is a simple yet economical formula of combining strands of floss to imitate an overdyed thread without the diagonal "streaking" problem that occurs when an overdyed thread is stitched in basketweave.

For instance: I use 4 plies of floss as a rule when stitching on 18 ct. canvas. The color family of blue that I chose for the sky begins with DMC #3761. By checking with my DMC color card, I find that the next closest shades in the same family are #519 and 518. So starting at the horizon on the canvas, I stitch four plies of basketweave in #3761 straight across, in sections about five to six threads deep, making sure to dip down a stitch or two at random intervals. The next section across, I use three plies of #3761 and one ply of #519, again dipping down a stitch or two across this section.

The formula continues, with two plies of each thread, and then one ply of #3761 and three plies of #519, until I'm stitching four plies of #519. The next section, I start mixing in the #518 with the #519, in a formula of 3-1, 2/2, and 1/3. By the time I'm getting close to the top of the canvas (remember, I was working from the horizon up), I'm using four full plies of #518. In addition to basketweave, this needle-blending technique can be used with other non-directional stitches, such as Nobuko.

I've shown three examples of stitching a sky. On the left is Michigan City (Indiana) East Pier, with a basketweave background in a solid color of floss. Center is Milwaukee Pierhead, with the sky stitched in a needle-blended basketweave. And on the right is Chicago Harbor, using a Nobuko stitch in needle-blended floss.

Now I'm off to needle-blend the sky in basketweave for St. Marks Lighthouse!


Possibilities, Etc. said...

I really like the way the center lighthouse looks with the shading of the needle blending. I vaguely remember seeing that in the 70's at some point, but never learned to do it. I'll watch with rapt attention on St. Marks - and then copy you. Thanks for this tutorial.

LIZ said...

I like the center one best too! I also learned the needle-blending technique back in the 70s and have used it now and then over the years. It is still the best way to achieve subtle shading, in my opinion, IF you can get the right shades to work with. I seem to remember something about never having more than 3 stitches in a row going in any direction in the area where you are changing to the next mix of shades?

Anonymous said...

If I had to choose my favorite, I'd go with the one on the right. The shading is even more subtle on that one. It takes more time and planning to do the sky this way, but really worth the time. These are beautiful!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this timely post. I have been staring at a canvas of a mermaid for days now trying to decide how to do the sky. I've done the waves in diagonal mosaic, and had stitched a sample of Nobuko for the sky but it just looked too monochromatic. I'm definitely going to try the Nobuko with this blending technique. Now off to the LNS this weekend to find compatible threads!