Samplers and quotes are a continual attraction to stitchers of all kinds. From magnets which declare whether the dishes are “clean” or “dirty” to elegantly bordered and framed sayings, the combination of words and stitches allows almost anyone to become a designer.
Today I will discuss choosing an appropriate quote, picking a style of alphabet, spacing and choice of a border. With these tools, you can make your own quotable quotes in needlepoint.
Choosing a Quote
When doing a quote in needlework, you need to be aware of the space each letter will take up and the effect this will have on the size of the finished piece.
Ideally a quote for needlepoint should be short. Quotes for cross stitch can be longer because you can use Backstitched letters to put more letters on each line. The quote should also be something which breaks into more or less even lines. For example “Kiss the Cook” is great as either a one-line or a three-line quote, but is not good as a two-line quote.
Once you have chosen the quote the next challenge is choosing your alphabet. A finished quote can use letters from one or more graphed alphabets. A number of these alphabets available on the Web can on my alphabet charts Pinterest board or in the list of Free Alphabets on All about Needlepoint. Some possible combinations are:
- all capital letters
- upper and lower case
- fancy or larger capital letters
Since the design for your quote comes almost entirely from the shape and style of the letters these considerations are very important. You can test an alphabet/text combination by using similar font on your Word Processor and trying the phrase out.
There are many books available, both for needlepoint or for other kinds of counted stitchery, that have a wide variety of alphabets. You can also use a book of fonts or typefaces to design your own alphabet.
There are three kinds of spacing to consider when graphing a quote: the space between the letters of a word, the space between the words and the space between the lines. The right amount of this “white space” can make your design sing. The wrong amount can make it look crowded and amateurish.
Since it is much easier to erase pencil on graph paper than it is to take out stitching, it is important to work all of this out on graph paper first. Sometimes it takes several tries to get the spacing right.
When spacing the letters in a word, your goal is to keep a consistent amount of white space between the letters. Then the letters will look evenly spaced. This does not necessarily mean that you have the same number of unstitched meshes between each letter. For example if the word “love” was charted so that each letter is two meshes away from the next letter, the first letter looks too far away. Move the “l” over one thread and the word looks balanced.
Spacing between the words is very dependent on the amount of space you want each line to take up. Usually I start with spacing about three or four times my target distance between letters. If the letters are three meshes apart (ideally), the words are nine meshes apart.
Once you have decided these things, graph each line separately onto graph paper. Now cut them out.
The amount of space between the lines of a quote is probably the hardest thing to judge. This space acts as a visual pause in the viewer’s mind. If you put the lines to close together they will look jumbled. If you put them too far apart, they will look like they do not belong together.
The thing which makes line spacing so difficult are those letters, like l, t, d, and f, which stick up (ascenders) and those letters, like j, p, and g, which hang down (descenders). In addition to these, you may also have capital letters which are bigger than the rest of the letters.
If you put the lines too close together, the ascenders and descenders interfere.
I have found that the best spacing between lines is the size of the ascender (top of smaller letters to top of big letters) + the size of the descender (base line of letters to bottom of big letters) + 2 or 3. Using this formula, I place each of my lines on a clean sheet of graph paper. I adjust the spacing between all the lines until it looks good. Then I tape down each line to create my final chart.
Borders on samplers, if they are used, are usually one of three types: decorative stitches, mitered or corner medallions. Each one gives a very different look and each has its own challenges.
There are many decorative stitches which when worked in a single line can make dramatic borders. Some of these include herringbone, Norwich, rice (graphed here), and gobelin. For some of these stitches you need to be sure the length of each side of the border is divisible by the size of the stitch. Partial stitches and compensation do not look good on these kind of borders, and you will need to rearrange things to make the decorative stitch fit. Since I almost always count wrong, I rarely do these kind of borders.
Mitered borders are those which “turn” the corner evenly to make a graceful transition. I find these borders, challenging as well, because it is often hard for me to reverse the pattern to go along the second edge.
My favorite choice for borders is to use a corner ornament. In these kinds of borders, the border is interrupted for something different at each corner. Many modern cross stitch samplers do this, so you have probably seen many examples. These corner ornaments can be a simple square or they can be a complex decorative stitch or other design.
When choosing a border for your sampler, be sure to use or design something which is appropriate for the quote (don’t put baby blocks on a wedding sampler), equal in fanciness, and makes the quote be the focus of the border.