Variations on the Running Stitch

My faithful readers will know about my love affair with kantha-style stitching and the monthly samplers that I stitched last year. In making these samplers I discovered that the kantha stitch form has seemingly infinite variations. And it is all based on the simple running stitch.

The time had come, I thought, to share my love of kantha-style stitching. I offered an introduction class to my local quilting group, who graciously agreed to be my guinea pigs. This was followed by a second class. To my delight, some of the stitchers also fell in love with kantha and produced more variations.

Jean Schaefer took to the stitching like a duck to water and completed her sampler during the class. She then went home and added enchanting stitched creatures to the leftover spaces on the sampler cloth. She calls them ‘doodles’ done with needle and thread and is planning a ‘proper’ project. (I mistakenly thought the bird was dead (!) but Jean explained that he is just upside down)

After filling the four quadrants of her sampler cloth (above left), Hilary Mohr moved on to make her own beautiful flower design after the class. She says that she is captivated by the potential of running stitch. It shows in the work pictured above (right). As hilarymohrdesigns she makes elegant “mindful” clothes and accessories and said that she will in future add kantha-style stitching to her creations.

Gwenda Euvrard was also captivated and, despite her busy life, added this flower within a circle to her sampler after the workshop. Her stitching is remarkably neat and precise. It struck me that stitching style is a little like handwriting as everyone who attended the class produced different renditions, despite following exactly the same instructions for stitching the three basic patterns, taken from traditional kantha.

I have saved the photograph of Irene Vermaak’s sampler for last because it is also extremely neat and precise and gives a good example of what we did during the introduction to kantha-style stitching class.

This close-up view shows the three stitch styles of bricking (top left quadrant) stepping (top right) and the base-line for the blocking stitch (bottom left quadrant). The final quadrant shows two variations of the weaving stitch. Below is a full-size photograph of the sampler on which I demonstrated during the classes, and the kit, which included a pattern sheet, needle and thread and three layers of cotton and ramie fabrics.

What better way to spend a morning than sitting around a table, stitching together. The comments and quips were enlightening. Some said that what looks so easy is, in fact, not so. This is because one has to concentrate on the negative spaces. I was speaking from experience and could show them an example where I lost the flow and ended up also losing the pattern that the stitches make. We also joked about the ten thousand hour rule and worked out how many hours per day it would take to notch this up within x number of years. (Malcolm Gladwell claims in his book Outliers that in order to master a craft one has to put in ten thousand hours of practice.)

I have new respect for Miss Perks, who taught me and about 30 other 14-year-olds how to sew by hand. What a difficult task that must have been — I can’t image how she managed to convey her knowledge to a group of sweaty-palmed, disinterested adolescents. I am however grateful to her because she taught me a life skill that has stayed with me. The group of grown woman that I had the pleasure of teaching recently all wanted to learn and asked lots of questions. Even so, I found it is not that easy to pass on the tacit knowledge that is in one’s fingers. The best way, I found, was to demonstrate how to do it, rather than to over-explain with words.

We intend to meet again for a more advanced lesson. But before that the Festival will be coming to town in less than a month’s time. Speaking of which, here is the latest advertisement for my exhibition.

27 thoughts on “Variations on the Running Stitch

    1. It was wonderful and I also wish you could have been around the table.
      I used new, well-washed fabric for the samplers — an outside front layer of ramie cotton, a layer of cheesecloth in the middle, followed by a layer of calico

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  1. How delightful that you were able to do some teaching, and it looks like you were very successful in conveying the information. So many beautiful samples! I’ve done a little of that blocking stitch, and it’s not as easy to keep the stitches even as it looks!

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  2. Beautiful designs, Mariss. You must be so proud of your stitchers — they’ve produced some very beautiful and dazzling patterns. I liked your discussion about having to attend to the negative spaces of the stitches — this is so true. I tried to handsew a face mask and can attest to how tricky it is to get even spaces between stitches. Bravo on what looks like a wonderful class. 🙂

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  3. I am not at all surprised at your delving into the teaching of a hands-on workshop for Kantha. Your handouts look like they could be the start of a small book – you’ve said info on Kantha is hard to come by, especially in a comprehensive source. Perhaps you should consider putting together a DIY Kantha Stitiching Book??? Or submitting an idea to an actual craft book publisher. You have credits in the artistic world (your coming show is just one of many) which publishers are always looking for in their craft/art authors….hmmmm.
    Anyway, if there’s a way to send a copy of the handouts (PDFs?) via email, I’d love to be your first American guinea pig – I mean long distance student!
    😉

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  4. Yes, Mariss you need to get published 🙂 I would be your very worse student but then again I’m happy with my haphazard running stitching wherever I want them to “run”

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  5. i like the picture of the table with everyone’s pin-cushions showing. Good luck with your exibition!

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  6. This looks like a great way to spend a day… And I loved seeing all the different designs your students created! Your point about trying to communicate in words what your hands know rang true too. I find this all the time when I teach knitting! I’ve come to think of it now as not so much passing on knowledge as cheerleading – giving people the confidence to have a go, and then to keep trying until it makes sense. I hope your group comes back for more… From the looks of it, I’m pretty sure they will 😊

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    1. Appreciate your thoughtful comment and insights, Helen. Cheerleading is a really good description of the process of teaching hand skills. I too hope they will come back for more. I enjoyed the exchange of energy and chats around the table as they stitched.

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  7. Welcome back o faithful reader. Thank you for your enthusiasm about my class — maybe one day…. Thanks too for commenting on the exhibition poster. (I have been having fun with the app called Canva).

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