Bermuda sloop part two: Preparing the cloth

Anyone who crafts for any amount of time will agree that there are two types of crafts: those where the set up takes longer than the crafting, and those where the crafting time takes longer than the preparation.

Cross stitching is one of the latter types of crafts. It takes only a couple of hours to find all of the supplies, but the actual stitching of the project will take days, if not weeks or months, to complete.

The first part of any embroidery or cross stitching project is to find the center of the cloth being used. This allows the sewer to ensure the cloth will meet two conditions: that it is large enough for the project to fit on, and that the project is mostly centered on the cloth.

The cloth in this case is an 18 inch by 18 inch piece of bread cloth, a soft yet durable material with tiny holes already laid out for cross stitching.

Some sewers will count the full number of stitching squares across the cloth, and then again down, before determining the geometrical coordinates of the precise center.

I prefer a slightly more relaxed method. I fold the cloth in half, and then again into quarters. When it is folded like a wash cloth about to be put on the bathroom shelf, I shove a threaded needle through one of the holes nearest the center.

Then, I simply unfold the cloth, careful not to take the thread out while doing so. Somewhere in that small four- or six-square area is more or less the center of the cloth, and good enough for me to start working from.

Last week, I explained how the pattern I made for the Bermuda sloop cross stitch looks like a sheet of graph paper with each square having a symbol inside that corresponds to a color of thread. What I didn’t explain is that the pattern maker I used was kind enough to mark the middle of the graph paper for me.

Being left-handed, I like to start at the upper left corner of a cross stitch design. So I counted the number of squares I needed to the left of center and counted them out on the cloth. I stuck a sewing pin in the appropriate hole to mark the spot.

I repeated the process by counting up from the center on the graph paper, then on the material as well. By counting up from the spot where I had placed the sewing pin, I was able to locate the upper-most corner of the cross stitch. I placed a sewing pin here so that I would know where to start my stitches.

Before the sewing can be done, however, the cloth needed to be restrained somehow. Attempting to cross stitch on loose material is next to impossible. The stitches will not come out evenly, and the material just flops all over the place. This is why I prefer to use an embroidery hoop with my projects.

These hoops come in different sizes, ranging from a few inches to a foot or more across. They are made from wood and from plastic, and some of the fancy ones are made of metal.

Personally, I don’t like the wooden ones. I always end up getting splinters while using them. Because I ram my sharp embroidery needle into my fingers often enough without the threat of getting a splinter as well, I prefer the smooth plastic embroidery hoops.

Regardless of what they are made of, these hoops have a single solid band and a slightly larger band that has an opening at one point. That opening is bridged with a screw with a large knob that can be operated by hand.

To place the cloth in this hoop, I arbitrarily chose which would be the front side of the cloth. Both front and back are the same, so it was a simple decision to make. I placed the embroidery hoop with the screw face-down on my desk, and then laid the cloth out over it, with the sewing pin that marked the upper left corner an inch or so from the sides.

Then, I took the solid plastic loop and placed it over the slightly larger loop with the screw. With the cross stitching material sandwiched between the two loops, I pushed the solid loop until it popped securely inside the larger one.

This caused the material trapped between the loops to become taut.

I lifted the loop off of the desk and tightened the screw on the larger loop until I could not tighten it anymore by hand. Then I placed the hoop back down with the taut material against my battered desk.

Making a cross stitch that looks good is a matter of getting all of the thousands of little X’s more or less the same tightness on the cloth. In order to achieve this, the cloth itself must be taut across the embroidery ring.

I used my left hand to hold the ring in place forcibly with my fingers, and used my right hand in a gentle sideways pulling motion to tug the cloth tight inside the ring. Then, I rotated the ring slightly in a clockwise fashion and repeated the process a couple inches later. I did this around the ring until the cloth was so tight that I could have drummed on it if I had wanted.

Finally, the cloth was tight, the center was marked, and I knew where my first stitch was going to be placed. Join me next week as I finally start cross stitching this Bermuda sloop on the ocean at sunset.


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. She also paints with acrylic, practices calligraphy, and is skilled in metal-working and book binding.