Updated January 5, 2021.
Think about an outfit that you love to wear. It makes you feel good; it looks good on you and the colors light up your face. It’s suitable for the things you do and for the weather. No matter how great you look in a bikini, I can assure you that it won’t be your favorite outfit in Chicago in January.
No matter what that outfit might be, it expresses harmony. The harmony comes from all the parts of your outfit working together to create something that is perceived as a whole. That whole isn’t just the parts of your outfit but how they look on you and how they fit where you are and what you are doing.
Needlepoint has it easier than our clothes because, mostly, we don’t wear them. To be harmonious, the needlepoint needs to have the elements work together and suit the design, its use, and where it lives.
As a thought experiment, let’s consider a dog collar. These are popular items to stitch. What would make it harmonious?
- hard-working threads
- stitches that won’t snag when the dog runs through bushes
- lined so it’s comfortable on the dog’s neck
- the right width for the dog (not too wide or too narrow)
So the dog collar stitched with pearl cotton, lined in flannel, and using small stitches starts to get us to a harmonious project. But what if it was only 1/2″ wide and for an Irish Wolfhound? Or 1.5″ wide for a Yorkshire terrier?
Suddenly everything good comes crashing down because there is dissonance between the dog and the collar. It isn’t harmonious. Put the narrow collar on the small dog and vice versa and you have harmony. Every part of this project affirms what it is and who it is for. Thread, colors, stitches, finishing, motif, size, and location (the dog) all work together to make a whole that looks good and is proper.
Now let’s look at a finished piece from my stash (pictured at the top of the article, to see if it has harmony. It’s a mitten sampler I stitched several years ago using variations of Scotch Stitch.
Let’s look at the aspects we defined when talking about the dog collar.
Thread: There are many threads used in this piece. They cover a variety of textures, but most are matte or nearly so. Because similar noticeable textures are used in patches that don’t meet and are sometimes used differently, the large number of threads is harmonic.
Color: Every patch and every thread, except the dividing line for the cuff, is blue-violet. Although different values are used, the hue is the same. Without the silver stripe, it could get to be a bit boring. It should work, but it runs the risk of being dull with so many patches in similar colors.
The silver stripe changes everything. Because it is the longest patch, it already attracts attention. Because it is a different color, your eyes go right to it. It becomes the focal point.
Focal points are an important aspect of any good design and we should always put our most noteworthy stitches, threads, and colors there. Put them someplace else, and your design might look off. Put them in the best place and your design looks more harmonious.
So what about my mitten? Originally I liked the narrow range of colors; now I’m not so sure. I don’t see anyplace else but the silver stripe to be a focal point, but I’m not sure I like it. Having a dividing line as the focal point seems a bit odd. So, for me, the jury is out for harmony here. What do you think?
Stitches: Every patch in the mitten uses a different stitch. But they still have strong harmony because they are all Scotch Stitches. That means they follow either the boxy look of Scotch or the in-and-out pattern of Diagonal Scotch. Because the Diagonal Scotch variations are spread throughout the design, it adds some variety (accents) while still maintaining harmony. The harmony of this piece is strongest here.
You can find all these ariations in my 25 Scotch Stitches course (available here).
Finishing: It isn’t finished, but what if I decided to finish it as a Christmas stocking? It’s about 7″ high and 5″ wide. It certainly could be finished that way. Would that be a problem? Probably. It’s too big to be an ornament but too small to be a stocking substitute. The finishing is not harmonious with the item.
Location: Sometimes finishing disharmonies can be fixed by changing the location. What if, instead of a stocking substitute, I put pine branches in it and hung it on a door as a decoration? That would be unconventional (it isn’t a traditional holiday color), but it would work in most houses.
So is my mitten harmonious? Possibly, but it’s running kind of close to the edge. We can improve it by looking at the places with problems and seeing how to fix them.
You can and should do this with your own needlepoint. Look at each aspect of a finished piece and consider how it contributes to the whole. Does it work with or against the other aspects? Is it suitable for its use?
Do this before you start to stitch and while you are stitching. It will help you plan your projects better. If you find dissonances as you stitch, it won’t be too late to correct them.
A great way to learn to look for harmonies is to look at the projects you’ve abandoned. Why did you give up on them? Where are the dissonances? Can they be fixed?
Now look at stitched but unfinished projects and think about how you might finish them. Is it harmonic or not? What can be changed to make them harmonic?
Finally, look at a piece you love. Why do you love it? Where are its harmonies?
By looking at and thinking about our projects, we learn what makes things look good. These ideas we can then apply to our next project.