A wall-hanging that brings the country into your living room can be done effectively on a really large scale if you use bold-weave fabric and heavy rug yarn.
The design will be more fun to do if kept primitive and stylized, using a variety of crewel stitches that express texture. Mass together the silhouette shapes of leaves, with bright birds among them. Below, the tree trunks can be gnarly and knotted, using circles of buttonhole with open, wavy bands of stem stitich. On the ground, between the trunks, squirrels, raccoons and rabbits can play among a "powdering" of forest flowers and ferns.
My first version of this sort of design was inspired by the editor of Woman's Day magazine. She saw a small sketch I had made on the back of an envelope and asked me to design a 6-by-9-foot panel from it as a room divider.
I started with a bold weave, Haitian cotton fabric in a mossy green. Then I cut out the shapes of the trees and trunks in newspaper, arranging them to fit together like a patchwork forest, leaving spaces between the trunks to give enough air for everything to breathe. The animals and flowers, arranged in a pleasing composition below, were large enough to show their distinctive features. Once you have the design in silhouette you can outline it with tailor's chalk on the fabric. If it is apt to smudge, make it permanent with bold basting stitches in a contrasting cotton thread.
Now you are ready for stitching. One of those large oval quilting hoops on a stand is a tremendous help; you don't have the whole bulk of the fabric in your lap. Stem stitch gives a lovely, ropy outline to long, smooth leaves, and open buttonhole fits perfectly around scalloped edges of oak leaves. Of course, you can vary the weight of the wool you use. If you outlined some leaves with bold rug wool in stem stitch, you can fill in with open fishbone or herringbone, using Persian wool.
Couching (sewing down the rug wool with evenly-spaced stitches in finer Persian wool) is a good stitch to use for birds or animals, where you want a close, solid effect. The way you place your tie-down stitches can make a pattern. Line them up, brick them (placing them alternately just like bricks) or work them in diagonal rows. On a scrap or a corner of the same fabric you can try out stitches as you go.
When the panel is finished, you could edge it with one of those broad, woven tapes which coordinates in color with your background fabric. Stitch evenly-spaced loops of the same tape at the top and bottom and slide two wooden rods through the loops, with decorative finials (tips) at either end of each rod. This will finish it like a French tapestry, with a result just as effective as if it took skilled weavers at least 10 years to do.
Q. I've been working on a needlepoint design that consists mainly of a large black tree on a white background, 20 by 24 inches. It's 14-mesh white mono canvas. I've been using tapestry wool, but I don't like the way the black is working out. Could the tree be painted on instead, and if so, with what type of paint?
A. It's rather hard to tell what's wrong, but it sounds as though your tree is very black and flat. Try the texture of Van Dyke stitch. It is an excellent one that will give you the effect of a gnarly tree. You can divide the trunk into V-shaped sections and work in different shades of brown and black or grays, tans and browns instead of having such a monochromatic effect.
Q. Recently I completed a Don Quixote needlepoint canvas. The background is stark white and the figure is black. I attempted to block the canvas by tacking it down and dampening it. When it dried, the outline of the black figure had run and there is now an outline of lavender around the entire figure. Should I take out all the black stitches and bleach the background, add another row of black around the figure or just consider the work a total loss?
A. Adding another row of black around the figure will thicken it too much.
Why not take out the row of lavender and work white stitches over? Before you do either, though, you might try taking out a bit of the black wool, wetting it and squeezing it dry between paper towels to see if any color runs out. If the black wool is fast then the color is running from the painting of your design. That can be eliminated by soaking the whole thing in cold water and rubbing the back of the canvas with a cake of Ivory soap.
This is best done if you nail it out on artists' stretcher strips instead of a board. Then the back of your work is open, allowing you to clean and dry the needlepoint much more quickly and easily.