I just love Elizabeth Bradley‘s needlepoint designs. I have all her books, have done several of the smaller charts, but I have only done one of the big kits. Doing one can be daunting, but the time you spend in preparing your kit for stitching and the method you use for stitching will be greatly rewarded by the lovely finished result.
When you order your kit, determine your background color. There are several standard background colors, one of which is included in the kit. If you buy your kit in a shop, the background color will probably be chosen for you.
Your stitching will go more easily if you spend a little bit of time preparing your kit for stitching.
Air out the threads by putting them in a basket or old cotton pillowcase.
Now separate your wools for the design by color. I cut off a bit of each color and tie it to the color block on the side of the canvas. This is an extra bit of insurance for color matching. The colors on the canvas are not the same as the colors of the threads, so doing this will help you match thread to paint. The thread colors are very similar but the colors on the canvas are easily distinguished. Putting the samples with the color blocks can help in stitching — it certainly helps me.
The canvas itself has the corners marked clearly, but it helps to mark the sides completely. Use a permanent, non-xylene or dye-based marker. Draw the lines along the sides matching the corners.
If you are using one of the darker background colors and don’t want needlepoint dandruff, give the background a wash of color, just enough to keep the white from standing out. Paint the entire background area lightly with a wash of acrylic paint thinned with water. You can use broad strokes for the areas up to the edges of the design then carefully paint the area next to the design. Because the canvas is screened with oil-based paints, the acrylic paint doesn’t cover the design, making painting the background a bit easier.
Remember, if you chose to paint the background, it doesn’t need to look great, it will be covered completely by the background stitching. This is just to make it look a bit more finished when stitched and is entirely optional.
Finally tape the edges of your canvas as it is quite stiff and will catch on the wool.
All Elizabeth Bradley designs are worked in Victorian Cross Stitch, that is Cross Stitch on canvas. It differs from Counted Cross Stitch in that each cross is made completely before moving onto the next cross. Like needlepoint, all the stitches go over intersections of the canvas.
You should pick a direction for the bottom part of the cross (I used upper left to lower right) and use it consistently. A change in the direction of the cross really shows up. As with all needlepoint, the stitches should lay on top of the canvas, and not distort the canvas at all. Because you are doing Cross Stitches, the thread is thinner in relationship to the canvas mesh than is usually the case with needlepoint, so this level of tension was easy to maintain.
Decide at the very beginning whether you are going to follow the chart (which comes with the kit) or the design printed on the canvas. Most people (myself included) have trouble moving from one method to the other. If you are going to use the chart, think about stitching on the back (blank side of the canvas).
I chose to use the canvas. If you do this you will notice that sometimes the color change does not line up exactly on the intersection. In these cases, you will need to use the photo of the completed design and your own judgement to decide on the color.
Spending time with your canvas examining it pays off in helping you plan your method of stitching. Many people start at one end of the design and work along vertical or horizontal rows parking the colors of thread in the background as they switch.
Since I hate having threads hanging around, I went color by color, beginning with the lightest tones. Because there are blocks of color, I decided where to begin each color so that I had the shortest distance between areas, keeping my starts and stops of thread to a minimum. If there were more than seven or eight threads between two areas, I ended my thread, as Bradley suggests.
Decide the direction of your stitching. Most designs are square and should be stitched in horizontal lines. Stitching your rows in the same direction will help them look more consistent. Bradley suggests that you always work your rows in the same direction (for example left to right). If you do this, end your wool and start up again whenever the row is longer than seven or eight stitches. Otherwise just move your needle to the beginning of the new row.
If you go color by color, as I have, always go from the lightest thread to the darkest. This will not necessarily be the lightest color on the canvas. I look at the wools in my bag and pick the lightest to use next.
The background should be made in rows in a single direction. It may not look like it as you are stitching, but this really makes a difference. The background is done in cross stitch as well.
If you are going to finish your piece as a pillow, you will probably not want to add a border. They will however look outstanding when finished with Victorian-style fringes and trims. I’m thinking of using long bullion fringe on the edges of mine.
Making multiple kits and finishing them as rugs is very popular with Bradley kits. A chart for a border is included with the kit and additional borders are found in Bradley’s books and on her website. They will also often have classes in both the US and UK on doing this.
The back of the chart has detailed instructions on how to put together multiple pieces to form a carpet, how to join the pieces together and how to calculate how much wool you will need.
In 2000, a Bradley wool rug won Judge’s Choice at the ANG Seminar. It is a real treasure and stunning.
Bradley kits are tremendous fun, designed with care, using outstanding materials and with very complete instructions. I would recommend them to any needlepointer who likes traditional design.