HOOKED ON CATS?

Frederick the Literate — a Dimensions Counted Cross-stitch Kit

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Amazon also carries Frederick in a  ($52.99)and a  ($20.23).

Pros: Engaging and humorous design; challenging without frustrating.

Cons: Won’t fit standard frames; similar symbols in same color can cause mistakes.

Frederick the Literate is my third counted cross-stitch project; the second one from Dimensions; and the second of three with cats as the subject, worked over black cloth. I reviewed my first “cat on black” project, Fuzzy Kitten, late last year in the now defunct Epinions.com. One of the main themes of that review was the ease of following the chart. The greatest challenge for me in counted cross-stitch is remembering where I am when I pick up my work. In that first project, I had a great idea and then complicated it. I decided that I needed to color in the chart to remind me which stitches I’ve already worked. The first thing I thought of was to get my felt-tipped pens out and color each group of stitches to match the colors I needed to use. It didn’t take long before I realized that this would be confusing when I have to go back over the cross-stitch with straight stitches. I could only see the black lines through darker colors. The cyan and magenta lines were totally lost (cyan is the aqua-like ink used in four-color printing). I ended up dependent on the packaging photo. This time, I decided to only use a yellow highlighter from the very beginning. The highlighter is transparent enough for me to see any symbols for detailing (French knots, straight stitches, etc.).

Although I ironed out the trouble with the chart by using yellow highlighter, I ran into a frustrating problem my second day of working on Frederick. The chart uses two similar symbols in the same color for different thread colors. One is an X and the other is a tiny square with loops at the corners (like the Command Key symbol on Macs) – and both are in cyan. The symbols on the chart are so small that I didn’t notice that the difference until I worked a few spots with the wrong color. The two thread colors were also similar – one was made by combining a length of dark brown and dark gray thread, and the other was just two lengths of dark brown – making it tougher to discover my mistake. When I did, I spent a day pulling out the wrong color. I was unable to salvage any of that thread, so I have to be careful with the rest of that thread. I keep a strong magnifier in my supply kit and use it when I’m working with either of those two symbols. My first suggestion to the chart printer is to make one of those two symbols black or magenta.

With the exception of this flaw, Frederick is a fun project. Frederick is a tabby sprawled on a bookcase shelf, napping among the volumes. He managed to intertwine himself with the books on the upper shelf. His head peeks out on the left, and his tush is nestled on the right with his tale and a back leg dangling over the lower shelf. Behind his head floats a model of a fish, a bird decoy flanks his rear, and an owl figurine stands guard on the lower shelf. The color scheme is warm – rich burgundies and maroons coupled with dark blues and greens. Gold metallic accents, bookmarks, and worn spines complete the aged look of the books. The titles are adorable feline puns like “The Caterbury Tales” and “Tale of Two Kitties.” One book called “Holy Cats” sports a gold cross on its spine. I plan to change it to a Star of David to better fit a Jewish home.

The supply of thread, which comes in its own organizer, looks sufficient to finish the project. Once I pull thread out of its slot in the organizer, I set up a Ziploc bag for that color by writing the color number on the bag with a Sharpie. After the project is done, I put any leftover thread into its bag and save it in case I run short of that color in a future project. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but this is my insurance policy. You can write the color name along with the number, but color names are subject to change while the numbers are always the same. I’ve found that #15000 can be called Antique Gold in one kit and Light Brown in another.

Remember that the same color may also come in different weights and textures depending on whether it’s a cross-stitch, crewel embroidery, or needlepoint project. If your tastes for needlework is eclectic, set up a large Ziploc for each brand and type of needlework project it came from (Examples: Dimensions Counted-Cross Stitch Kits or Bucilla Needlepoint Kits). If you find an abundance of leftovers, get creative and create you own designs.

My one major gripe with many of these needlework kits is the size of the finished product. Frederick the Literate has a 12”x11” finished size. The Fuzzy Kitten project I completed last year has a 12”x12” finished size. These sizes don’t work with standard frame sizes. The main reason that Fuzzy Kitten is in a drawer instead of hanging on my bedroom wall is that I can’t find a perfectly square frame. I actually visited Dimensions’ website in case they sold frames separately, but there were no frames in their inventory. I’m not one to give up easily, so I found their customer service link and requested guidance in finding frames to fit their projects. The reply was swift and polite but frustrating.

In England, where Dimensions’ parent company is located, frames to fit their projects are sold at craft shows. Unless there is a regional variation, craft shows in the United States are galleries for artisans – not an outlet for odd-sized picture frames. I learned that some customers make their own simple frames. My high school oil painting class had a section on frame building and mat cutting. Trust me. My talents don’t lean toward even the simplest carpentry. I’ll have to bite the bullet and buy a custom frame. Because I will also have to get a custom frame for Frederick, I decided to wait until it’s done and order matching frames.

My advice to anyone thinking about starting embroidery or needlepoint as a hobby is to make sure you have at least two embroidery hoops in different sizes, a magnifier, a few needle threaders (some nice ones have blades inserted in a notch to cut your thread), a sturdy tote bag, and an organizer for your supplies (I use a glove compartment organizer with a Velcro closure). Start with a small project that will allow for trial and error while you explore your working style. My first project was a 5”x7” design that pictured a nest of robin’s eggs with the caption “Home is Where You Build Your Nest.”

Robin’s Eggs in Nest — My first project
Fuzzy Kit

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