In a house full of bookshelves, my studio is no exception. I have four tall bookshelves and they are mostly filled with vintage books. I love them, but for many folks the purchase of a vintage book opens a strange world. Today I’ll share my tips on using them.
Back before painted canvases became really popular (pre-1980 or so) most needlepoint was either charted (see the next section) or used line drawings to convey the design. Because of this you will often find designs, both simple and complex in books.
To use them you place the drawing under the canvas an trace it. The book may suggest doing this directly from the page – don’t do that! It’s hard to do and the curved surface means that often shapes can be distorted.
The wonderful thing about line drawings is that they aren’t tied to any mesh size. That vintage book may suggest stitching on 12-mesh canvas, but you can trace onto 18 mesh and have a project the same finished size instead of one 50% smaller.
For success in using a line drawing from a vintage book, make a photocopy. You will also find it easier to trace if you go over the lines with a wide black marker. This will make those lines easier to see through your canvas.
Although you will sometimes find hand-drawn charts for projects that use textured stitches, most charts in vintage needlepoint books are designed to be stitched in Tent Stitch.
When stitching from a chart consider each square to be one Tent Stitch. Sometimes there are areas or backgrounds that are large enough to use textured stitches. If that is the case stitch the focal point or areas around the textured stitch area before you do that stitch. I find it extremely difficult to keep track of the chart when doing a textured stitch.
Counting on a diagonal can also be hard. Therefore I recommend using Continental for charts unless you have already outlined the area. Then you can use Basketweave.
Many older charts are quite large and complex. If this describes your chart, make a copy. Use a highlighter to mark off areas that you have completed. I also find it easiest to stitch an area completely, then go to an adjacent area. Many stitchers do not do this they stitch line by line, parking the different colors in the margins.
If you are dealing with many colors, you might find it easier to use the thread rulers cross stitchers use to keep track of colors. Make a copy of the color key and list the thread next to each symbol. Transfer the symbols to your thread ruler and add your thread. This will keep you on track.
With only a few exceptions, needlepoint books from before the mid-1980’s have hand-drawn stitch diagrams. That’s because creating diagrams like those in The Needlepoint Book was hard, time-consuming, expensive, and very fussy. Most folks opted for drawing the diagrams.
Because the lines representing stitches are often very thin, this can make them hard to read.
The best alternative is to find the same stitch in a newer book and use that as your reference. There are so many newer stitch dictionaries out there that often this is not hard.
If you cannot find the stitch, don’t give up! Make a copy of the diagram and get out a set of inexpensive colored marking pens. Use the pens to go over the lines, making them wider and easier to distinguish from the grid. Most of the time you only need to use one color, but you can use more than one if you want to distinguish steps or areas.
Once you have learned the stitch you can throw out your copy.
I want to take a moment out to talk about color. An aspect of color is the colors of vintage projects. Whether the “country” colors of the 1980’s or the clashing vibrant brights of the 1970’s the chances are that the colors in vintage books are not colors you would use today.
Don’t worry about this or allow it to keep you away from vintage books. You can easily change the colors and/or threads to ones that suit your current project.
You may be surprised by the lack of color inside the books. That’s because until very recently color printing was an expensive process, Because of this most publishers minimized the use of color and grouped the color pages into one section. This allowed them to feature color pictures and heavier paper while still keeping costs reasonable.
Most books that feature projects will have clear black & white pictures where the project is described and the color picture in the color section. Good books will cross reference and have pictures of all the projects.
I do have many that don’t have pictures of everything or that have pictures of projects not in the book.
In short, if you don’t see a color picture look around.