This spring two new pattern darning books came out. They cover a wonderful, if not well-known, technique. They are both great, but each has a different focus. In this dual review I’ll start out by talking about pattern darning, then review each book. At the end I’ll give you the details about the books.
What is Pattern Darning?
Pattern Darning came out of the extremely practical notion of repairing worn clothes instead of throwing them out. Worn areas would be repaired by weaving a new fabric on top of the worn areas, usually with thicker yarn.
Plain weaving (over1-under1) is practical; but not very decorative. Pattern darning evolved to make decorative weaves, i.e. patterns, for these areas. Essentially what this did was turn something practical into an ornament, especially if it was stitched in a different color so the pattern would stand out.
Running Stitch is made in a particular sequence for each row to create the pattern.
I’ve seen lovely examples of pattern darning on samplers in museums. These decorative patterns in different colors of cotton were particularly nice for table linens because they were so pretty.
Today pattern darning is mainly done in recreational embroidery. It can be done on any evenly woven ground from the finest linen to needlepoint canvas.While this is an old technique, there are few modern books on the subject, with even fewer currently in print.
This book is designed as a textbook and pattern book on this technique. The first several pages of the book look at the technique, some of the materials that can be used, and basic stitching instructions.
Next the book covers one delightful aspect of the technique, that many patterns create new patterns on the reverse side. In this section, which covers pattern creation and understanding, you’ll also find sections on converting charts to darning, and more.
The bulk of the book presents almost 300 different darning patterns. They are grouped by category with black and white pictures of the stitched patterns. In a delightful touch for the project-minded among us, many of the fill and medallion patterns are presented as charted small projects. If you want to stitch one of the patterns, just use that section of the chart. If you want to make the project, stitch the entire design.
The charts, while varied in size, are fairly easy to read with black stitches on a graph. My only problem with them was that the fine lines in the grids sometimes made starting and stopping points harder to see.
The vast majority of these patterns are geometric or are simple designs adapted from traditional needlework. This makes most of these patterns adaptable for many uses in needlepoint.
My only complaint, and it’s a small one, is that in much of the text the focus is on doing pattern darning on linen and other evenweave fabrics instead of on needlepoint canvas. This fabric-centric approach colors other things that might make the transition to needlepoint harder than it should be. For example if you use her suggested thread weights you’ll find coverage on needlepoint canvas to be too thin, I know I did.
Because Finger Step has done many projects packs on needlepoint, I would have liked to see some of this reflected in this text. It would not have taken much time to do so and the book would be better for it.
It Is about Darn Time
Many stitchers come to this technique because they see a wonderful piece using darning patterns, usually as a background, and want to try it. Some of the most charming examples of this are from needlepoint designer Sharon G.
In this book she brings together those pictorial darning designs to create amazing backgrounds for many needlepoint pieces. They form one chapter of patterns in the book with many creative ideas.
Many of the other chapters cover more geometric patterns, often named by the stitching sequence. You can see several in the ornament above. As you can see, these patterns can work well throughout a piece.
The book is divided into chapters by technique, making it easy to find a pattern you like. Another great thing about this organization is that it makes it easy for you to find patterns similar to ones you know and enjoy already.
Each pattern is presented on one page. The diagrams are quite large with thick black stitches and canvas-like grey grid lines, making the stitches very easy-to-see. Printed on the stitches are arrows that show the direction of stitching
Under each diagram there are some notes about the potential uses of the pattern. For example I chose the pattern for the sky in the ornament above because the notes said it would make areas recede. In addition each chapter has a short introduction explaining the types of patterns found here.
Sharon also takes pattern darning into areas you may not have considered. While many of us know that darning can be done horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, how many of us have tried that? This book has patterns for all of them as well as a great, and easy, suggestion on how to find lots more vertical patterns. It also has a chapter of mixed patterns, ones that use darning stitches in different directions and multiple passes.
Sharon is also not afraid to up the bling of pattern darning by creating patterns that incorporate beads. The final chapter, “Zigzags,” includes patterns that have very strong textures, some of them looking like Bargello. Although these patterns are made in the usual way, they could create very exciting possibilities for focal points, an area that doesn’t often see darning patterns.
With a brief introduction on how to do the technique, this book is packed with creative ideas for stitchers.
Side by Side, Susan Jones, (Finger Step Designs, Lusby, MD), 2015 – distributed by Custom House
You can buy it on-line through Alex Paras Needlearts
It Is about DARN Time, Sharon G, Newfoundland, PA, 2015 – distributed by Fleur de Paris