To be honest, the June 1960 issue didn’t really have any designs that enticed me. The little summer tops were nice, but I still hadn’t finished the little summer top I started in April, the embroidery and tapestry designs didn’t excite me, and I have plenty of hats and don’t wear stoles. However, way in the back of the issue, along with the comic, the “teaser” ad for the July issue, and the “Suggestions from Readers” there was a little motif for a knitted or embroidered parakeet. Perfect, I thought — I can make a little cross-stitch picture as a cute wedding present for two friends who are getting married in August and love budgies. A parakeet and a budgie are the same bird, right? Just the American and British names for them? But wait — Stitchcraft is a British magazine. Why would they use the American word?
And then I noticed that the parakeet in the motif is not a budgie at all, but an actual wild parakeet — like a smaller parrot. It’s cute, but not quite what I wanted. I thought I could use the motif as a starting point to create my own design that looked more like a budgie, so I made a copy and thumbed through my ideas notebook to see what I could do with it.
And what do you know — at some point in time I must have thought ahead and copied out a little motif from the March 1969 issue of Stitchcraft — a “Special Request for Bird Lovers” — and forgotten about it in the notebook! There are even two birds in the motif, so I didn’t have to try and mirror-copy a modified parakeet. So this month’s project is a sort of fast-forward to March 1969 in lieu of a project from June 1960.
This was my first time working in counted cross-stitch and I thought it would be easy. You just have to count the squares and thread the embroidery cotton through the holes in an x, right? I was so, so wrong. First of all, I didn’t know what “gauge” fabric to buy, so I chose one that seemed medium-sized to me, where I could see the holes pretty clearly. I should have chosen a size bigger, since the holes were still absolutely tiny to my (perfectly good) eyes. Counting the holes was much more difficult than I expected, since they all looked the same and seemed to move around when I tried to count them.
To top it off, the fabric was too pale, so that the white in the blue-and-white bird didn’t have enough contrast to show up properly. Not wanting to buy more fabric, I tried dyeing the fabric slightly darker with tea. I simmered the fabric in a pot with the tea for about ten minutes, then rinsed it in hot water with vinegar to set the colour. It worked perfectly, so at least something about this project was easier than I thought it would be. Here is the original fabric (top) and the dyed fabric with practice stitches in pink and brown (bottom). The brown stitches are the beginning of the branch on which the budgies are sitting.
The embroidery itself was slow-going and not totally accurate, i.e. I do not think I always got the right number of threads (2×2 for each cross). Even when I did, the stitches were uneven and raggedy. (I did make sure that the stitches are all going in the same direction and the same top-bottom stitch pairing.) Also, it was just plain no fun to work. What a pity — the idea was so good!
So I did what I had to do: quit and started over. On larger-weave fabric (Aida). Which was also too pale and had to be dyed. Where the dye didn’t take as well because the fabric was not 100% linen like the other. Where the design was obviously much larger than the first try and I actually preferred it smaller. But at least it worked! So fast, so easy! I embroidered one entire bird in a day! And it actually was fun to make.
After I finished the birds, I embroidered the initials of the happy couple underneath in simple block letters (not that it was simple to get the right stitch count and center it) and framed it in an embroidery hoop with the help of this helpful YouTube video. I just happened to have some leftover fabric for backing that had a giant bird on it — how perfect! (The buttonhole-stitch framing is not perfect, but that’s life.)
So all in all, it was a long and difficult journey, but I learned a lot and am happy with the result. Also, I think my friends will like it, which is the most important thing.