Over the past few months, I have had so much pleasure to be able to make and offer some truly unique needlework notions to you all. I have loved the part of spending time making them and ensuring that they are all different. It really is lovely to be able to work with beautiful needlework notions while we do our needlework and it is even more special knowing that they are handmade, not mass produced in a factory somewhere.
Our latest range of needlework notions have just been released on our website –
These are such truly stunning pieces and look too decorative to be practical. Yet, I assure you, they are totally practical – they just have the bonus to look extremely decorative.
So what are counting pins? And what are they used for?
Well …. If you do Cross Stitch or Blackwork, then these are the tools that you will be looking for in your needlework work basket, especially when you need to start counting squares. Basically these tools are needed when you need to count out stitches on your AIDA or evenweave linen fabric.
I have been doing cross stitch since I was 7 years old (that’s too long ago) and I was taught to do cross stitch by my mother who had grown up doing it. I remember she taught me how to follow the chart, find the middle point, count how many squares to the bottom of the chart along the vertical midline and then count out to the right to find the starting point of where I needed to start stitching with my needle and thread.
I then had to count exactly the same squares/stitches on my fabric. At times it could be trial and error, finding the correct starting point and lots of recounting. There were no such things as counting pins to help you keep track. I usually used my needle that was threaded up, ready to start and just hope that I didn’t use count mid-way while counting down from the midpoint of the fabric and then out to the right to find where my first stitch needed to be.
I can remember that over the years, I had miscounted and a few of my pieces were really close to the left hand side as I had miscounted.
If you are cross stitchers, you are probably lost as to the way I am counting to get my starting point at the bottom right side of the piece. It was the way I was shown by my mother, and she was Dutch. She had been shown how to do cross stitch from her mother, my grandmother and I guess it was the way that they did cross stitch. Basically you started from the bottom right hand side of the design, working your way upwards and across to the left until you had completed the design. It seemed a logical process to me (I guess it being the only way I was taught). The stitches were also worked in columns going from right to left. You went up the column working the right slanting stitch and then coming back down the column to complete the cross stitches. It meant the needle was always facing the same way and it was easy to start the next column to the left of the column just completed. It was when I moved here and brought the English Cross Stitch magazines that I discovered that cross stitch was worked completely differently.
I did so many cross stitches as I was growing up, working from the Dutch cross stitch charts that my mother had sent over from Holland by her family. Cross stitch was still relatively new in New Zealand, and I cannot recall seeing kits, patterns promoted while I was growing up in the 70’s.
I remember my first job after I left school. It has an old department store, elegant but showing the wears of age, neglect and of times gone by. It had started as a family store back in the early 1900’s – grand wooden staircase going up to the first floor which was for Women’s wear – outerwear and underwear. Ground floor was for the menswear, haberdashery, and fabric dept (where I worked). There was a huge cellar that went underneath the entire store, I hated having to go down there to get extra stock, it really gave me the creeps! Who knew what lay in the depths of that cellar? Actually one year, staff found some forgotten stock which they used for an annual fashion show. It was a box of ‘fashionable’ swimwear (male and female) from the 1920’s.
The family had gone since sold it on to a local farming corporate business when I started there in the late 70’s after leaving school, but the old elegance was since visible, even though it was abit shabby. However, the wood panels and stained glass windows were still very visible and played an important role in the character of the building. My dept manager was a lovely elderly gentleman (past retirement when I started there in my teens) who had worked there from the early 30’s after leaving school when the family still owned it and could still remember the day of the Great Earthquake in 1931 and destroyed both neighbouring towns (Napier and Hastings). His stories of that day and how the store shook on its very foundations were fascinating. He had many other stories of the changes he had seen over the years. But more importantly, his knowledge of fabric and sewing will always stay with me, his words of wisdom still sound in my head at times. He was one of life’s true gentlemen and when I left the store to do other work, he wrote a glowing reference, which I still have today.
I have really got side-tracked writing about the department store when I was really discussing cross stitch patterns. I was saying that there was not a lot of interest in cross stitch in New Zealand…. Well the department store does play a part in it. I remember we had a sales rep come round and he was showing us some of the latest products to arrive in New Zealand …. All the way from Holland. They were cross stitch kits … a new arrival into the country. I remember my dept manager saying that he really didn’t think they would take off and he didn’t order any for the store …. But my eyes grew wide … I fell in love with one of the designs …. And it was in Dutch! The rep and my dept manager offered it to me at wholesale! I jumped at the offer … it was the first ever cross stitch I had brought and a kit with all the threads and fabric included! I felt so special! Still a huge expense and took over half of my weekly wage! My mother, however, gave me a stern talking too when I got home about spending so much money on needlework.
I worked on that cross stitch and loved creating each and every stitch. It was the largest piece I have even worked on, and it was my pride and joy. Would you believe that I still have that piece? It is framed and hangs on my landing and every time I look at it, I have so many memories …. How I came to get it, my first job after leaving school, the many, many months I worked on it and marvel on how it has survived all these years and travelled halfway round the world from New Zealand to Northern Ireland.
From that Dutch kit, I have completed numerous cross stitches since then and they have graced the walls of my home. Some have long gone, given away or never came with me from New Zealand. Even with the countless designs I have stitched over many, many decades, I can honestly say that I have never come across the latest notion that I have launched on the website. When I discovered and read up about them, I knew that I just had to have these handy wee tools. They are a complete game changer and makes it so easy to count and start your work in the correct place. Over the years I have used pins or needles to help me count, but I have found that they can slip out or you need to secure them over a couple of holes which can be confusing. Pins/needles can also be quite small and awkward to hold with your fingers while counting out squares on fabric.
These counting pins are larger, have an extremely sharp point, but also have a cap to place on the end to secure into the fabric so they don’t fall out and also to protect your fingers from the sharp points. With having beads etc at the top of the pin, it makes it easy to hold them while you are counting out the squares on the fabric.
So how do you use the counting pins?
I mentioned above that I had been taught to start stitching in the bottom right corner and work my way across to the left to complete the design. Many others start in the middle of the design and work their way out and away from the centre until the design is complete. Whatever way you start your cross stitch, you still need to do some counting, and this is where the pins come in handy.
I started off a cross stitch design for Alyssa the other day. I am trying to encourage her to get into cross stitch and she chose this design of two foxes. I folded the AIDA fabric in half twice to find the mid-point on the fabric, so I knew where to start counting from. I found the middle point of the chart, well actually I looked to see how many squares there was in the design going down and across the chart. I halved those figures to get my counting figures for going down and to the right from the mid-point.
I placed my first pin into the fabric which was the middle, taking the sharp point of the pin through to the back of the fabric and placed the cap onto the end of the pin so it was secure and would not fall out of the fabric.
So going from the mid-point on the fabric, I counted down 75 squares and placed a second pin into the fabric and secured it like the first pin. I now knew where the bottom of my design would finish.
Now counting to the right from the pin, I counted 65 squares and placed my third pin (green counting pin) into the fabric. I now had the far right bottom corner square placed on the fabric.
As I mentioned before, I had always been taught to start there (but there are always times when rules need to be adjusted) and I looked to see where the first actual stitch was on the chart to begin stitching. On checking the chart, I came to the decision that it was not practical to start at the bottom corner as there really were NO stitches to be made there. They started more in the middle of the chart to the right. That was no problem. I still had my middle pin secure in the fabric. So I started counting my 65 squares from the middle pin going to the right as I had done at the bottom. The green beaded pin is the outer right side of the design.
So now I had that marked, I was able to find the stitch that was the best starting point on the chart. This starting point is shown by the amber beaded pin just to the left of the green pin – 9 squares to the left of the outer right side and 1 square below the midway point. Since the counting pin is secure in the fabric, there was no fear that I would lose my starting point.
I remember in the past; I would find my starting point with my needle (as that is usually what I would have on hand as I was about to start stitching) and then had to remove my needle so I could thread it up with the correct thread colour. With no marker in the fabric it was so easy to lose the starting point, so I would sometimes wriggle my needle before removing it so it would make the hole larger, and it would be easy to spot (usually). Not good habits to have.
These counting pins are a game changer! I really don’t know how I managed without them for so long. I was actually wanting to start a new cross stitch just so I could use them! Rest assured, they are just not for starting a new project. Even while you are working on your cross stitch project, they are still very useful for counting. Remember the times you had to count out squares to go from one area that has been worked to a new area? There may be a big gap in the stitching as the fabric may be unstitched in the final design. I remember I have miscounted the squares to work a new area of stitches, only to discover further into the design, that I have miscounted by a square or so. It can be so frustrating! But these pins are handy for this, counting the squares and leaving them in the fabric until they are no longer needed. They even work great if you need to work a long line of stitches, just place the pin in where you need to finish up. You only need to count once and not worry about constantly having to count your stitches.
The pins are equally great for working on Blackwork designs. Basically, any needlework where you use either AIDA or evenweave fabric.
The hidden bonus of these notions? Well, they are decorative so make for truly stunning tools …. But …. When you aren’t using them for counting out your stitches on fabric …. They make for stunning shawl pins or just as a brooch to set off a jacket. They deserve to be shown off and not lie in your needlework basket. I love using mine to close my cardi which doesn’t have buttons or even to secure a shawl around my shoulders. They are basically dual purpose – handy needlework tools and decorative accessories for our outfits.