Tips for “Stitching Faster”
I’m frequently asked “How do you stitch so fast?” I always remind them that although I’ve stitched a lot of models in our shop, they’ve been over the last 16-17 YEARS!! If you, like many other stitchers, give your work away, you don’t see the accumulation of your work as I do. People are often under the assumption that every wall in my house must be covered with stitching – not true. I actually have a lot of empty walls and those that aren’t empty have a variety of things on them – photographs, quilts, a little stitching, and a few prints. I am lucky to be surrounded by stitching in my work environment. I digress, though! You want to know how you can stitch faster…One more personal story – when I was in high school, my mother had a gift shop and sold hand made items. She taught me to cross stitch and I got paid (not much!) to stitch things for her to sell in her store and at craft shows. The faster I could finish something, the more I got paid so you can see the correlation there! I also found that I loved the variety of patterns and also learned what sold well.
My first tip is to be ORGANIZED – that’s an article for another day. I personally like to keep my threads in floss bags on a ring in numerical (or alphabetical for overdyed threads) for the particular project I’m working. If you can’t be organized overall, it’s good to just start being organized with the individual project. Taking the time to have your threads and everything you need for one project all together will save you time in the long run, allowing you to stitch more, which is another way of saying, “Stitch Faster”.
Have good “equipment” – the proper size needle(s), nice fabric to hold, and the frame you feel most comfortable working with (a q-snap, scroll frame, stretcher bars for needlepoint, or your bare hands). For cross stitch, I use my bare hands; for needlepoint, stretcher bars or a scroll frame, depending on the size and the project type; for specialty stitches on linen, a q-snap because I need the fabric taut).
Have the right “stitching environment” – a comfy chair, the best lighting you can afford (I use an Ott lite), and magnification if you require it. The most important thing is to find a spot where you feel as if you’re in your “stitching nest” or “zone”. You’ll need to be able to pick up your threads and scissors without stopping to look for them – the entire ring on floss is hard to lose and the scissor fob keeps the scissors from falling between the couch cushions. One customer writes, “Setting up a stitching corner has helped me tremendously. It includes a floor lamp with a magnifier arm, and a scrapbooking cart that keeps some commonly used tools handy in the shallow drawers.
How about keeping a shopping list handy? Just like a grocery list, if I'm running low on a frequently used DMC or other thread, I put it on the list for the next time I visit my LNS.
One item that's helped more than I expected is a stitching block. I bought the one from My Big Toe. Still haven't stitched the band around it, but I use it. It has four holes. I keep a pair of regular scissors, my Lift N Snip scissors, a laying tool, and a trolley needle. I'm thinking of adding a small pincushion for needles, too.”
Now that we’ve talked about proper preparation, let’s start stitching! Here are some tips, not particularly in any order. Different tips work on different type projects so one tip may be something you do just on certain things. It’s also good to know yourself and what type of stitcher you are. Some people only work on large projects, some only small, some one at a time, and some of us can’t help but have 20 things going at a time. I personally think a variety is good – some small, one or two large, and something just for me. I never like to work on something that I feel “forced” to stitch – whether it’s a gift or a something that’s become a chore, I like to be able to put it aside and pick up something that feels fun. I’ve learned over the years to look at the chart before deciding to stitch something – if it’s not well done, or hard to read, I may think twice.
** Threaded needles – this tip is straight from an email and is one I like to use myself! ”Whether I have one large area to stitch of one color, or multiple changes of colors...I will thread as many as 8-10 needles, place them in my pincushion, and away I go”. There are a couple of different “thread park” items available in the shop to keep the colors straight – you can see them in the E-Store under NeedleworkTools. Most of my personal favorites are there.
** Stitching goes faster if you keep going with a color as long as you can. The back is also neater if you minimize the places you have to end a thread. If you decide to leave holes, just don’t skip more than about 4 stitches. For a neater back, if you are bringing your thread across an area that has already been stitched, work the needle under the existing stitches.
** Use a magnet board and a magnetic linekeeper. This allows you, at a glance, to see the area of the chart where you are stitching, saving time spent asking yourself, “where am I”. It also helps prevent stitching errors causing time to be spent “stitching backwards” – there are tools available to make this process (of ripping out) faster too!
** Mark the Chart - Mark the stitches you’ve completed on the chart with a highlighter or transparent marker. The pencil-style ones have smaller tips than the big fat magic marker style, and the darker colors (pink, blue, green, orange, and purple) are easier to see than yellow. Some people like to pre-mark the stitches they are planning to make in one color, and then mark them off with a different color as they stitch. This two-step approach helps to avoid missing near-by stitches. If you find you’ve marked a stitch as completed that you haven’t actually done, circle it with a pencil. You can erase the pencil mark when the stitch has really been done.
If a project is stitched with two strands of thread, start off with loop method. Cut a strand of thread twice as long as you would usually use. Fold it in half and thread both ends through the needle. Make the first half of a cross stitch, leaving a loop of thread at the back. Hold the loop with your thumb. Before you bring the needle up to make another stitch push the needle through the loop of thread and pull taut. A note about this method: it is not “technically correct” as floss is directional and will not lay as smoothly with this method. When you fold one strand in half, you then have floss going opposite directions. This is not usually noticeable to most, but I always like people to know what is correct so I issue a disclaimer. I personally use this method when I have a lot of color change and want to control the amount of thread on the back. I do not use this method when stitching a large area of all the same color. I also don’t use it when working with overdyed threads that change a lot – I do sometimes use it with overdyeds that are very subtle (sampler threads are a lot of the time).
** Two-hand technique
You’ll need a hands-free frame. Keep one hand under your work (your dominant hand is best) and the other hand on top. You pass the needle up and down and it can really save time. You’ll want the dominant hand on the bottom because usually it has more control over where the needle goes. Your eye will assist the hand on top. Because you keep the hand underneath you usually don’t have to search for the hole as much as if you are going back and forth with only one hand. I have over time, trained myself to have either hand on top or bottom so I can change position at times to keep it from being so repetitive. This is a good method for people who have wrist issues. You also aren’t “gripping” the needle constantly and I think my hands don’t get the “cramped” feeling from long bouts of stitching.
** Stitch "In the Hand"
Also called the “sewing method”, keep your hand on top of the fabric and scoop the needle through the fabric in one motion. I personally do this most of the time when cross stitching and use my fingers to create a small stitching are that is somewhat taut but flexible enough to maneuver my needle through. If you’ve never done it before, there can be a bit of a learning curve. You also have to be careful to not pull on the thread making the tension too tight. Rules are rules, so you will need to decide what works best for you.
**Backstitching – try to do the backstitching when an item or a group of items (ie: persons, trees, birds) is completed. This will help avoid missing any stitches, especially ¼ and ¾ stitches. My rule here is to try not to pick a project with a lot of backstitching because it’s not something I enjoy – EVER! Case in point of knowing my stitching likes and dislikes.
** Choose a project where you only have to use a single strand of floss so you don't have to lay any threads!
** Think about your life style and see where you might be able to squeeze in some stitching time – you may be running Mom’s Taxi Service, waiting at a doctors/dentist office, having the car repaired, riding in a car, watching sports practices or games, etc, etc. Keep a zippered mesh bag packed with everything you need for a project – the chart, floss, fabric, scissors, needles, etc. When you’re leaving the house, grab the bag and you’ll be ready to take advantage of the “wait time” – I often ask my friends to drive so I can stitch! You’d be surprised how much you can get done even just driving around town. Have this bag (or several) prepared ahead of time and you’ll never be without something to work on while you’re waiting in the car. I do suggest having the project started and a needle threaded ready to go so you will easily know where to begin when you open the bag! It’s also a good idea to have the project be fairly simple or if it’s a large project, to have a border or some part of it to stitch that doesn’t require a lot of color change or concentration.
I stitched a whole border on one large project while I talked to my mom on the phone (over multiple conversations). I’d always have a needle threaded for the straight borders and when she called or I called her, I’d be able to stitch and converse because I didn’t have to think about stitching a straight line of black border while I was talking or listening. I’d also not have to really stitch any boring part when I could be doing more complicated parts of the chart. I also have the benefit of feeling good whenever I look at that sampler because my mom is unknowingly part of it because of the time I spent with her when I was working on it. In case you’re wondering, it’s my “Alphabet Sampler” from Carriage House.
My last “tip” is something I still struggle with – it’s the not being able to make a decision issue I have. I often find myself during my stitching time either admiring my handwowrk or looking at the chart trying to decide where to now? Unless it’s truly time to stretch or take a bathroom break, sitting there “not stitching” is not getting the thread through the fabric faster! When I sit down to stitch, I’ll often set a goal for the time I’m going to spend and just move through, trying not to stop the stitching motion, except to re-thread. This is when I’m most “efficient”. It does also help when I have multiple needles threaded.
I do recommend stitching with other people, either in groups, guilds, or at stitch-ins and retreats. You can learn a lot just from being around others and it's a lot of fun!
You may be wondering why I want to be efficient and quick – it’s just the way I am and it's true with almost everything I do. The one exception is when I am on vacation I like to shop and poke around and move slow! There are so many things I like to do and so many great projects, I will never have enough time to do all I want. If you’re more of a pokey person, you’re either not reading this article or you may just decide being pokey is just the way you are.