Sunday, August 3, 2008

Stitch School: Chicken Scratch

I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't participated in a Tie One On apron challenge for more than a year. I stopped by a few days ago to check out what's been happening in my absence and discovered that the current theme is Gingham Summer. What a perfect opportunity to practice chicken-scratch embroidery!

Chicken scratch embroidery (also called snowflaking, Tenneriffe lace, or Amish embroidery) is a form of cross-stitch that is done on gingham fabric using the edges of the squares instead of counting threads. It's usually done with white thread so the end result looks like lace. You can also work the designs with thread that is the same color as your gingham—this is called reverse chicken scratch.

The technique uses three simple stitches—the double cross-stitch, the straight running stitch, and the woven circle stitch. I'll show you all three.

Double Cross Stitch
Work a cross stitch from corner to corner in one square of the gingham. If you're using the darker color for reverse chicken scratch (in this case, red), work in the white blocks.

Then work a straight cross stitch over this. Remember to do your cross stitches in the same order so all your threads go in the same direction.

Running Stitch
I talked about running stitch a while ago and this is essentially the same thing. Working from right to left, take a stitch from one side of each gingham square to the other, skimming under the squares in between.

Woven Circle Stitch
Bring your needle up in the same hole as the running stitch. Slip the needle under the running stitches to form a circle.

Go around the circle a second time, then insert your needle in the same hole that you started from.

Here's what they look like together.

These pictures are of a lavender gingham apron that's for sale on my website. Very simple design with rows of chicken scratch on the waistband, along the top of the pocket, and above the hem. It's exactly the same design I showed above; just repeat to form rows.

lavender gingham apron

chicken scratch

To read more about chicken scratch embroidery and to see some different designs check out:

A Feeling Stitchy post on Chicken Scratch.
LindaB's Flickr set with beautiful examples from her vintage apron collection.
General instructions including a pattern for a heart-shaped motif.
Some background and a pattern for an eight-pointed star.

I have another gingham apron that uses a combination of rickrack and embroidery and I'll show you that next time.

in case you haven't heard enough about gardening

This really isn't a gardening blog but it's hard to tell lately since that's all I've talked about. It's certainly more interesting than talking about my business accounting or cleaning my house, which are the other things I've focused on this week. So, to continue the theme for one more day, let's talk about gardening books.

I actually read quite a bit of non-fiction and gardening books are something I've been turning to lately. Not so much the how-to books but the ones that read like fiction, the personal accounts of people's attempts to garden for the first time or to live closer to the land. I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle right now (from the library) and picked up several interesting-sounding books on my recent trip to the used book store:
• Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind by Stephen Buchman
• Two Gardeners (Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence): A Friendship in Letters edited by Emily Herring Wilson

I'll probably save them to read this winter when there's snow on the ground and the garden seems like a distant memory.

If gardening books interest you, too, you might want to check out Barnes and Noble's weekly roundup of five themed books. This week's theme is gardening and a few of their featured books are going on my must-read list.

• Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
Arkell’s 1950 tale chronicles Bert Pinnegar’s eight decades in an English manor house garden.

• Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols
Nichols’ 1932 memoir of a cottage in the British countryside and its attendant flora.

• The Education of a Gardener by Russell Page
One of the most famous garden architects of his time, Page (1906 – 1985) designed the gardens at Leeds castle and the grounds of PepsiCo headquarters in Purchase, NY.

• Gardening for Love by Elizabeth Lawrence (yes, the same woman in the Two Gardeners book mentioned above)
This book, by an American original once called “the Jane Austen of the gardening literary world,” chronicles the author’s long correspondence with a circle of Southern women who traded seeds and bulbs through agricultural market bulletins.

Back to stitchery and needlework next week- I promise :)

a favorite garden center

Greystone GardensI'm not sure I've mentioned exactly where I buy all the lovely plants for my garden. I'm blessed to have two great places within ten miles of my house. One of them is Greystone Gardens and it's an irresistible place. More than a garden center, the property is laid out with walking paths and stone walls, arbors and bridges, and water features. Perfect for finding inspiration in their careful juxtapositions of plantings. Very English garden. And that's not surprising because the owners—Paul and Susan Epsom—are from England and the gardens themselves feature an English cottage garden theme.

Greystone Gardens I love to go early on Sunday mornings when it's cool and less crowded. The birds are singing in the woods, the sun is just hitting some of the more wooded sections, and I'm free to wander around. I usually start in the shade garden area in the back where the plants are grouped together under a black-tented arbor. If it's rained recently, the air will be misty and you'll hear the sound of the water tumbling over the rocks in the waterfall and creek that run behind this area.

Greystone Gardens At the center is a section for vines (clematis and honeysuckles) and then rows and rows of perennials on tables. I love that they have unusual things and unusual varieties of more common things. Like that Verbascum chaxii I showed in one of my previous posts. There are sections of roses and herbs, shrubs and trees, and water plants around a lily pond that is filled with frogs.

Inside there's a gift shop that's open year-round and that's stocked full of interesting bird houses and feeders, pottery containers, garden ornaments, and lovely garden-themed gifts. I often Christmas shop here. And, if all this wandering around leaves you hungry or craving tea and scones, you can have lunch or afternoon tea in the Garden Cafe. There's an outdoor patio if the weather is nice.

Greystone Gardens Paul is the gardening correspondent for PBS' Victory Garden and has won Garden Globe awards in 2003, 2004 and 2005 for his on-air work as a garden correspondent . Both he and Susan really know their stuff when it comes to plants and gardening and are always available to chat, answer questions, and give advice.

I don't think many of my blog readers live near enough to visit but it's worth checking out your own local garden centers. You never now what treasures you'll find.

what a difference a day makes

Not quite an "after" picture yet but we're making progress. The stone walkway is in...

garden walk

A few plants have been added. And a bench.

garden walk

I bought the bench for half price at a fancy garden center north of Indianapolis years ago and have been lugging it around ever since. It's been used on the porch of every apartment I've lived in that had a porch. It was in storage for a while. And I think I may have used it as a couch (a very hard one) at one point. It's been in several locations since we bought this house but never one where it "fit" so perfectly.

Next up is a trip to the English garden center in a town nearby. We still have lots of holes to fill!

in the garden

Unbelievable that it's July already - where does the time go? My absence from blogging this past week might lead you to think that I'm adjusting to my state of unemployment by sleeping late and generally goofing off. Not so. I'm up with the birds and at my computer most mornings, working on my website and getting Primrose orders ready to ship. I'm also taking the time to clean my hard drive of old unused files and archiving everything. One of those things I've never had time to do before.

And I've been working in the garden a lot. Last weekend we ripped out a large, very ugly, bayberry bush and some ivy (you can see some of the dead vines on the chimney that need to be removed) on the driveway side of the house. This involved a chain attached to our truck and lots of cursing but you don't need to hear about that part. Now there are two new blank canvases to fill - so exciting!


Brian set two long flat stones for steps at one end and will be making a stone path through the center that will lead out to the herb garden in front. Sort of where the footprints are in the first picture. The stones you can just see at the left in the second picture are part of the wall that surrounds the steps that lead down to the basement and their tops will be a great place for those creeping plants that I love so much.


We came home from a trip to the garden center yesterday with the trunk full of plants. It looked like so much in the car but barely made a dent in the space we have to fill. As with most gardens it will evolve over time and I don't expect this to be fully filled in until next year. I like to see what survives over the winter and will probably move some things from elsewhere in the spring when the plants are small and easier to dig up.

I'm taking a break today to get my hair cut, pick up the DVD of the first season of Mad Men that releases today (yay - finally!), return some library books, and have lunch with my friend Jenny who's a teacher and has the summer off. I've been working on a post about some great vintage embroidery books I found last week at a used book store (one from 1890!) and a Stitch School about chicken scratch embroidery. So, look for them soon!