Bermuda sloop part three: the first stitches

After a great amount of effort went into finding the center of the soft bread cloth fabric I am using for this cross stitch, along with a certain amount of math to determine where the upper-most left-hand corner would be, it was finally time to make the first tiny X in my cross stitch.

Starting that first X should not be very difficult. After all, it’s just an X on a piece of cloth that corresponds with information on a chart.

But before I can make that X, I need to get my thread ready.

When using DMC brand thread, the cross-stitcher finds six strands of brightly colored string twisted around one another. Together, these make a decently thick strand of colored thread, but we do not want them to be nearly this thick for cross stitching purposes.

The power of the cross stitch is the delicacy with which the colorful X interacts with the color of the cloth it is stitched on, brightening or darkening a scene depending on the cloth. Very little of that background color should be visible, but at the same time, the thread should not be so thick that it sticks up from the cloth.

For cross stitching on a size 14 cloth like I am using, two threads of a color are appropriate. The size 14 for the cloth only means that there are 14 squares per line of fabric in an inch, for 196 squares in an inch of fabric space.

Separating out only two strands from the total six can be a bit of a headache for the inexperienced stitcher. I prefer to wind my DMC thread onto a plastic or paper bobbin shaped like a capital I. The ends of the bobbin have locations to tuck the thread to hold it in place.

First, I unwind a length of the color I need until it is about as long as my arm. I tucked the thread through the thread-holder location slit on the bobbin, and returned to the loose end of the thread. I carefully pulled the thread apart at the end so that I was holding two strands in my left hand and four strands in my right.

Then, I simply raised the thread up. I slowly pulled the threads apart, and the bobbin spun wildly in the air as the thread separated. When it was finished twirling, I used my fabric scissors to snip the two strands free from the others.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t use my fabric scissors for cutting other things, but I do. I only own the one pair of left-handed scissors, after all.

I held the two loose strands up with my left hand and casually discarded the bobbin and remaining four strands onto the tortured and pock-marked desk top that serves as both computer space and crafting space in my home. I plucked at the loose end of the two strands a couple of times with my fingertips, and they twisted back together slightly to create the illusion of a single piece of thread.

I then turned to the package of embroidery needles. These come in packages of eight or ten, of which I chose one that was about the length of my index finger from the first knuckle to the fingertip. It was also razor-sharp, although I knew it wouldn’t be for very long. I am hard on needles.

Licking the end of the thread, I moistened the two strands so they would stay together well. Then I pushed the threads through the eye of the needle with practiced hands. Then, I stabbed the needle into the side of a plush fox I have on my desk. I know it’s not an approved pin cushion, but it keeps my needle from walking off while I am doing something else.

I wound the remaining four strands of thread back onto the I-shaped bobbin and slipped the bobbin back in numerical order in the plastic sewing box that serves as my sewing kit.

I do not like to tie knots in my cross stitching projects. I find that knots, even small ones, create bulges in the final product when it is mounted in a frame. Since I do not like unsightly bulges, I refuse to tie knots.

Which means that keeping the thread in place when the first stitch is started can be a challenge.

I drew my needle from the back of the piece to the front, careful to raise the needle through the designated hole that I had earlier marked with a sewing pin. I reached under the piece and gripped onto the end of the string, drawing it carefully toward my material. When my fingers touched the cloth, I stopped pulling.

I placed my needle through the nearest hole in the cross stitching cloth to the downward-diagonal of where I had brought the needle up through originally, and was careful to hold onto the string end as I did. I tugged the thread end to the right and into the path of my needle, holding it taught against the back of the cloth.

I then pulled the needle up through the hole directly above the one I had just put it into, and pulled the string until it was just tight. I dropped the needle back down in the left-hand hole to complete the first X in the cross stitch, and then let go of the tail of the thread.

The first X would hold the thread tail in place for now. I turned to the cross stitch pattern and counted out the number of stitches I needed to make in the first row for this particular color. Only one. But the next row down required three stitches. So I tugged the thread tail down and into the path of those stitches, and further secured it in place with the help of additional stitches of this color.

From here, the cross stitch will both progress quickly and take a frustrating amount of time to finish. Join me in the next part of my Bermuda sloop project as the colors start adding up and I start making mistakes in reading my chart.


Gretchen Richards is a reporter at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She is a fifth-generation artisan, skilled in numerous art forms. She enjoys sewing her own clothing and custom purses, making quilts, and weaving. She is skilled in knitting, crochet, embroidery, counted-cross stitch, and working with cloth of all types. Gretchen also paints with acrylic, practices calligraphy, and is skilled in metal-working and book binding.