I promised I’d give, not exactly a step-by-step how-to for the freeform embroidery I did to cover a rock, but at least some guidelines to help you get started.
The things you’ll need are:
- a small rock – I recommend something that fits easily in the palm of your hand. And believe it or not, an irregular shape is actually better than a very regular one – the curves and edges of the rock will help your stitching to stay in place in the early stages.
- your choice of yarn, perle cotton, or embroidery floss. This doesn’t take much yarn – scraps will do the job! I suggest something with a smooth finish – that seems to stitch more easily – and with variegated colors to lend the maximum interest in the finished stitchery. Larger yarns will cover the rock more quickly, but may be harder to add beads to; smaller yarns will give a finer detail and allow more subdividing of the surface, but may fray more quickly and will take longer to cover.
- a tapestry needle of appropriate size for the thread or yarn. Don’t use your best quality needles – they will get scratched as you work against the rock’s surface.
- (optional) beads that will fit over the threaded tapestry needle. If you really want to use beads, test this out before finalizing what thread and needle you’ll use.
The technique is blindingly simple. Everything you see here is stitched using the blanket stitch. (I used to think I was using buttonhole stitch until I went looking for that link and learned the difference!) I use variegated threads and yarns to highlight the changes in direction of my stitching.
Take a length of about 2 yards of your chosen thread. This will be getting dragged regularly against the rock, and will wear and fray, so you don’t want to use a piece any longer than this. In fact, as you work you might find you want a shorter thread to avoid breakage of your yarn.
Click any picture for a bigger image if you want to see the details better. Also, please note the rock being stitched on is not the same one in the finished pictures, so the shape is quite different.
The Starting Line
Find some point around which you can securely tie the beginning of your yarn or thread. Tie the yarn with a square knot. Leave one tail about 2 to 3 inches long. You want this starting line to be tight, but not so tight you can’t get your needle under it.
Your First Stitch
Thread an appropriately sized tapestry needle on the long tail of your working yarn, and begin making blanket stitches to cover the line around the rock. Snug this first stitch up against the right hand side of your square knot.
Several Stitches Along
Continue working stitches down your starting line. Don’t snug them up tight against each other! Eventually, you’ll be stitching a row of blanket stitches along the other side of this line, and you need a little space between the stitches you’re making now to be able to fit those new stitches in. See the picture above; you want to leave about a yarn’s width of space between the upright legs of your blanket stitches.
Begin Covering The Tail Yarn
About an inch before you get back around to your square knot, begin working your stitches over both the starting line and the short tail. Once you feel the tail is sufficiently anchored, cut off the excess close to your stitching.
First Stitches of Second Round
When you’ve come back to the square knot, work your last stitch or two right over it. Then, simply continue around, only now you’re working each blanket stitch into a blanket stitch from the previous round. Your needle will pass under the horizontal, upper thread of the stitch, just as it passed under the starting line for your first round.
My camera batteries died at this point, so unfortunately I don’t have images of any subsequent steps.
Once you’ve stabilized the starting line with a row or two of stitches, you can start to work intuitively. I frequently start to throw bridge lines across other parts of the rock. These bridge the openings in your stitch work, making a connection from one side of the gap to the other. Wherever you want to put a bridge, just carry your working thread over the gap to the stitches on the other side, and anchor it by working blanket stitches into the existing stitches there.
You can increase (work two stitches into one) and decrease (skip a stitch) as needed to conform to the shape of your rock. Most of the pattern in my rock is created by a combination of the variegated yarn, and by further subdividing the unstitched areas of the rock with bridges.
Most areas are filled by simply working around and around until there’s no more room. Some small sections might be filled by working back and forth (simply reverse the direction of your stitching). Sometimes I’ll do that to change the shape of a large opening, sometimes just to fill a very small one.
With an interesting rock like this piece of granite, you might not want to completely cover the stone. Openings can be left wherever you like – I try to find odd bits of patterning in the rock that I want to feature.
Ruffled, Beaded Frames
The body of this rock is covered with a DK weight baby yarn. The beaded ruffles around some of the openings are also blanket stitch, but worked up from the rock’s surface. I stitched them with variegated DMC embroidery floss, in colors to complement the baby yarn.
I went with floss (and a smaller tapestry needle) partly for the visual contrast with the baby yarn (though the yarn is glossy, the floss is glossier), and partly because the size 8 beads I was using needed a thinner thread and needle.
The first round is stitched one blanket stitch into each stitch around the window. For subsequent rounds, I caused a ruffling effect by stitching two blanket stitches into each stitch of the previous round. After about two rounds, I started adding beads.
The beads are added as you go – before inserting the needle into the stitch below to begin your new blanket stitch, simply thread a bead and slide it down to the work. I added beads in two ways – either I slid them down and left them laying on the top, horizontal thread in the stitch, or I passed the needle through them again in the opposite direction from the first pass, leaving them positioned vertically on a pair of threads to form the leg of the stitch. I always did at least one round of thread only stitches after a round of beads, to help frame the beads themselves and make them stand out a little better.
When you need to add in new thread, first lay the starting tail of the new thread along the top of the stitches you’re working into, then stitch over it along with your base stitches for about half an inch. Then, thread your needle onto the new yarn, and draw it through your last made stitch from the back. Now, begin working over the end tail of your old yarn as you begin working with the new. After several stitches, you can clip the loose ends short.
Sometimes you’ll need to end a thread without adding a new one. In that case, I run my needle under the already stitched areas, coming up a half inch or so from where I went down. I then go down again exactly where I came up, and change directions before coming up again. I’ll do this about two or three times before trimming the yarn as close to the surface as I can.
If I want to add a new thread without also ending an old one, I’ll start the thread the same – by running under the work a little before coming up where I want to stitch.
Where From Here?
Claudia was delighted with her little rock – she said she has a pile of papers she keeps from blowing away by putting a watering can on them, and this will be so much better. As for me, I picked up a second rock in the parking lot on the way back to the car at the end of the Festival, and I’ll make myself one that coordinates with Claudia’s for my own souvenir of our meeting!
I’m also starting to get ideas for other objects to cover – a nicely dried tree branch with the bark stripped, for instance, or found objects from a flea market or yard sale. I find the process very satisfying, and the results are beautiful.
I hope this little guide inspires you to try the technique for yourself. It’s not that hard, requires very little in materials, and has no pattern to follow. Pick up a rock at the beach on vacation, or a piece of driftwood, or anything, and craft a nice memory piece to treasure!