To the Germans in the Nineteenth Century, and more particularly to Prince Albert, we owe the tradition of the Christmas Tree. In addition to the large fir trees, the Germans also made smaller lacey trees made from dyed feathers attached to horizontal branches. These trees were particularly good places to show off treasured ornaments.
Today, if you can find an original tree, it will probably cost the Moon. There are reproductions, but they are also expensive. But I love the spare and delicate look of the feather trees, so I decided to make it in needlepoint, as a freestanding decoration for Christmas.
The tree project demonstrates the use of layering to build up the design and to add dimension to the finished needlepoint.
Begin with a piece of 18 mesh mono canvas about 10 inches by 12 inches or so. Bind the edges. Following the map,above, and using a micro-tip permanent marker, mark the design on your canvas. The numbers refer to holes not threads. Now you are ready to begin stitching.
The bottom layer of stitching is the background, which is stitched over the entire canvas, except for the pot. The background should be a pale color, in a fuzzy textured yarn or metallic thread. Pearl Kreinik #8 braid would be a lovely choice, as would any pale color of crewel wool. You will need 30-35 yards.
Because the background stitch exposes the canvas, you may need to color it slightly (I did).Do this before you begin to stitch. To color the canvas, use the acrylic paints in the bottle from your local craft or fabric store. Since there are many brands, you should be able to find one which closely approximates your background thread. Add white paint to this, so there is about 50% color and 50% white. Blend and mix with water to thin to the consistency of milk (really thin). I used very little paint and sponged it onto the canvas with a natural sponge to create a slightly uneven color on the background. You can also paint it on with a paint brush. The color should be thin enough not to block any holes, but if you have added enough water, this holes will open as the canvas dries.
I stitched mine in a pale gold silk/wool blend to match another Christmas canvas I have. I used The Thread Gatherer’s Shepard’s Silk in Sunflower. Since this comes in 25 yard skeins, I bought two skeins and used all of one and part of the second.
Stitch the baqckground in Slanted Gobelin Darning, above. Leave two threads open between rows.
Now you are ready to begin the feathers. They are done in DMC Floche in 319. Because Floche comes in ample skeins, you will only need one skein (and will have lots leftover). Cut through the skein in 2 places to make strands about 18 inches long.
The feathers are done in two stages. The first stage is a simple partial cross stitch over two threads, bottom line above. Note that the top and bottom of the branch slant in a different direction, so little arrowheads are formed. The two sides also slant in opposite directions, so they meet in the center in a V.
Next you need to make the branches look fuller and more bushy. This is done by creating little groups of three over the existing stitching, top line above. Some sections will look fuller than others, this is just fine. As you stitch you will notice that the stitch really builds over the background. This is the first part of the layering and will create a delicate set of feather branches.
At the end of the branches, make half diamond eyelets without pulling to create rounded ends.
The next layer adds the branches and trunk to the tree. I used JL Walsh’s silk and wool (no longer made) to make the branches and trunk. Since you only use a little of the brown thread, you can use something from your stash. It should however, be a rough thread instead of a smooth one. Some possibilities include Rainbow Tweed from Rainbow Gallery, Impressions, Persian wool, or Overdyed wool from Threadworx.
This area is couched. First do the horizontal branches. Stitch one long stitch, beginning at the center for each branch. In the Walsh silk/wool I used two strands. Now attach the thread to the canvas, by stitching it down with a thinnner thread in the same color (I used one strand), every three or four threads. Do not pull the couching thread too tightly, the branch should lay on top of the finished stitching. Do this for all the branches down the center ditch of the branch.
Finish by doing the trunk. This is done using the same process, but making the long stitches vertical instead of horizontal. Because the trunk is thicker, you will need to repeat this process five times next to each other to make the trunk. Try not to have your couching stitches line up, but distribute them randomly.
The final step is to make the pot. This is stitched in a slightly open variation of the Web Stitch, leaving one open thread between rows. Once again I selected from my stash using DMC 666 for the perle and Kreinik 003 for the braid. Work each diagonal row of Web stitch completely before going onto the next. Lay down the perle, then stitch over it with the braid. Doing it in this way helps maintain the proper tension on the base thread and maes it much easier to do the couching. When you have completed the pot, do chain stitch or backstitch around it to hide the edges. Block if desired.
Now comes the fun part. I had a stash of flower and star beads and some beach-themed charms, which I thought would make a fun tree. I added some colored beads to these for ornaments. The white iron-on applique star at the top came from a fabric store. The ornaments should hang down at various levels and I used metallics to attach them. You could also use small ornament hangers, like those for mini-ornaments. There are many sites on the Web for beads, buttons and charms.
Each bead is hung from the branch using the same method. A thread is brought up from the bead and hooked around the couched area of the branch, from front to back. This gives the appearance of the ornaments truly hanging from the branches instead of being “sewn” on.
The round beads are the easiest. I used either Kreinik 1/8″ ribbon or #16 braid, depending on the size of the bead’s hole. First I tied a knot at the end of the thread, trimmed the end of the thread, and bought the thread from the bottom to the top of the bead. The knot secures the bead to the thread. Next I looped the thread around the branch. To secure the thread I brought it up from the back of the canvas through the center of the thread to make a loop. I then ran the thread around the top of the branch and back into the canvas, knotted and secured.
Flat beads with open centers are couched on. Using a thin metallic (#4 braid) bring up the needle in the center of the bead. Stitch to the outside of the bead, either one or two times. Go completely around the bead maing a stitch at every indentation.
The charms are attached using a similar method, but couching only on the little ring at the top of the charm.
The star is attched by stitching over the star in a decorative pattern.
Finish the tree as a stand-up.
This tree is easy to make and can be customized by changing the pot and/or background color. Think about making trees to match different collections of embellishments you have. My next one will be a nativity tree because I have a collection of small nativity figures that are ornaments. They have never worked well even on small table-yop trees, so this would be perfect to display them.