I first came across Irregular Continental in the late 1970’s in the first edition of The Needlepoint Book. It intrigued me, as I know it has fascinated many others, but the directions made it sound too hard to do. As a result I have avoided it for decades.
Recently I figured out a method to make this stitch. Yes, it will still look different for each stitcher and each project. With this method though, you’ll be able to do this stitch when and where you like.
What Is Irregular Continental?
Unlike Continental, this stitch has individual stitches that go over more than one intersection. In fact they can go over lengths up to five intersections. These longer diagonal stitches are scattered randomly over the area.
The remainder of the area is Tent Stitch.
Why Use Irregular Continental
As you can see from the picture, Irregular Continental breaks up the even surface of Continental and gives it texture. Areas done in this stitch do not look flat, unlike areas of Continental.
You’ll find two different looks from the longer stitches. Stitches over three or more intersections seem to “float” above the Tent Stitch ground. Stitches over two intersections don’t sit as high but act as a subtle break in the smooth surface of Tent.
As you can see in the completed parts of this Hawaiian quilt, Irregular Continental creates a varied texture.
How to Make the Stitch
This varied texture is both its beauty, but also the problem. This stitch is not exact. The stitches are several different lengths, and they are used randomly. You cannot stitch this in regular rows. Each use and even each section of the same area will look different.
The key to making this stitch, as you can see in the sample, is to stitch all the longer stitches in an area first. Make the stitches of different lengths but all on the true diagonal.
The stitches can be separated, placed end to end, or side-by-side. You can make them dense or more scattered. The more densely the longer stitches are placed, the less they will float. Densely packed longer stitches will take on the look of Diagonal Gobelin as the base instead of Tent as the base.
Once you are happy with the longer stitches (and this is a matter of your taste), fill in all the remaining intersections with Tent Stitches.
Generally Continental (Tent made in straight rows) works better than Basketweave (Tent made in diagonal rows) because the rows are very short. As the Tent Stitches are added, you’ll get the effect of the finished stitch.
Always work ahead with the longer stitches, then fill with Tent. Using this method you’ll have control over Irregular Continental even if you don’t have regularity.
Irregular Continental Tips
Because you will be working ahead always add things to show the correct direction of the stitch. I keep my magnet in the upper right corner. Other people put additional tacks in that corner. My friend Sandy Grossman-Morris always puts a mark in that corner.
Avoid using overdyes. Because you are making the longer stitches, then filling in with Tent, overdyes will not look good. You can get strange juxtapositions and abrupt changes in color between long and short stitches. In addition, overdyes bring attention to the thread. The point of this stitch is to put attention on the irregular texture, overdyes detract from this.
Use a single color of non-metallic thread.Here are the same problems as overdyes — attention is taken away from the stitch’s texture, but for different reasons. With different colors too much emphasis will be on the longer stitches. With metallics the attention goes to the thread’s texture which masks the texture of irregular stitches such as these.
Stitch on a frame. Continental, which has oblique stitches only on the back, distorts canvas more than Basketweave. Stitching on a frame counteracts this tendency.