FAQ's About
Counted Thread Embroidery

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Proprietress of THE SCARLET LETTER

Why do we offer complete kits of the samplers as well as just the charts?

When we reproduce antique samplers, our goal is to as closely approximate the original materials as possible using linen grounds of an appropriate thread count, thickness, and color, as well as silk, cotton or wool flosses, carefully matched to the threads of the antique. To this end, the majority of the linens used in our kits are exclusively and specially woven and dyed or over-dyed, for The Scarlet Letter, by the finest looms producing evenweave linens in Scandinavia.

Our exclusive unbleached and hand dyed linens very closely match antique linens, in weave as well as color. The colors of our linens are subtly shaded, the linen yarns used in weaving them are of a certain thickness that we have specified to the weavers, all in order to achieve the closest possible match to the types of linen used two and three hundred years ago.

When we reproduce a kit, you can see what the finished reproduction will look like on this website, and on the color photo on the cover of the kit itself. All of our kits are designed with careful and meticulous attention to every component, so that the finished product will be as much like the original example as possible. Each piece is designed to be worked on a specific linen, and we believe that The Scarlet Letter's exclusive linens are the finest antique reproduction linens on the market today.

However it is understood that many people prefer to select their own linen or change colors to suit their décor, so this is why we also provide the chart and instructions only, which include suggestions for floss colors (DMC cotton and Au Ver a Soie, soie d’Alger silk) and dimensions for working the piece on 25, 30, 35, and 40 count linen.

PRICE OF KITS VERSUS GRAPHS In most cases it is less expensive to buy a complete kit rather than just the chart/instructions, and buying the materials separately, at a later date. If you are certain that you will complete a particular design as presented in the kit, we recommend buying it complete. We can substitute linens in our kits for a nominal fee.

Is there a shop in my area where I can buy Scarlet Letter kits and charts?

Although there are several shops, both domestic and international, that handle some of The Scarlet Letter kits, none stocks either all of the kits or the various related merchandise available either online or through the catalogue. Click here to see a complete list of shops that carry Scarlet Letter kits.



The rating is not a strict formula. Basically, smaller samplers with simpler stitches are rated Beginning. Larger pieces with more stitch variety are rated Intermediate. Samplers with very complex, elaborate designs and stitches are rated Advanced.

What is most important in selecting a sampler is to pick one that appeals to you visually. If you have never stitched before, but are attracted to a piece in the Intermediate range, it is easily within your ability to complete it. Each kit comes with complete and thorough instructions and stitch diagrams. A motivated beginner could stitch any of the Advanced designs, given proper motivation and the ability to read and follow our clearly written instructions.

How difficult to execute are stitches other than cross stitch?

They are not at all difficult. The majority of the stitches used in samplers are simply variations on a counted thread cross stitch. Clear diagrams and instructions for executing these stitches are given in each instruction packet supplied with each kit.

How should the linen be cut: with the selvages on the right and left?

The question has been most succinctly and best answered by Ginnie Thompson in Second Steps in Counted Cross Stitch: Special Techniques for Linen: "The best Danish linen, often in kits, is truly evenweave and may be worked with selvages at top and bottom." The linen used in all Scarlet Letter kits is the finest Danish evenweave available on today's market. Selvages can be top, bottom, right or left, it makes no difference, because this fine linen is truly evenweave.

Should I wash my linen and floss before starting to stitch? Should I wash the finished sampler before framing it?

No to both questions. Some hand-dyed linens are not colorfast; likewise some shades of cotton floss are not colorfast. Silk should never be immersed in water. Exercise simple precautions while stitching: store your piece-in-progress in a sealed bag, and always wash your hands before stitching. Some people mistakenly assume that their hands bear vile germs and oil that will stain their work if they touch it. In centuries past, vegetable-dyed silks were absolutely not washable. Stitchers never wore gloves, and hygiene was not up to today's standards. In the thousands of early samplers we have seen, not one has shown evidence of spectral fingerprints coming through to mark and stain the piece!

Should I wear gloves while I stitch?

Absolutely not. Stitching should be a pleasurable experience, so why impede your progress, your tactile pleasure, and your ability to execute finer stitches, with gloves? (See previous question regarding "spectral fingerprints.") Today's society seems to be obsessed with hygiene. Linen is a very durable fabric. It was used to wrap mummies in ancient Egypt and can survive centuries of abuse. Some museums require people to wear cotton gloves to handle their textiles; others are adamantly opposed to this practice, because the cotton glove causes more abrasion to the textile than the bare human hand. We at THE SCARLET LETTER are of the latter persuasion.

How much linen should be allowed for the border?

We allow at least two inches on each side in our kits. Remember that all antique samplers were stitched right up to the selvage edge of the linen, so two inches is more than generous for an historic reproduction. We find that more than two inches of extra linen on each side makes stitching cumbersome. If, however, you require additional linen for your border because of framing issues, or the type of scroll frame you use for stitching, we will gladly cut a special piece of linen for you with more generous margins, for a small additional fee.

My finished sampler looks very rumpled. Should I iron it?

"Stretching" the sampler, that is pulling it tight over an acid-free mounting board prior to framing it, will remove most of the wrinkles in the linen. However it is not a bad idea to lightly iron it on the back side with a dry iron prior to stretching it. You needn't be concerned with removing every single pucker and wrinkle because stretching will pull these out.

What is the difference between using cotton floss and silk floss?

The differences are subtle. On finer linen thread counts (35, 36, 40) silk floss is preferred. You use just one strand of silk floss in your needle, whereas you use two of cotton (silk has more body), so on finer linens stitches made with silk floss will look cleaner and tidier and less bulky. Also, silk is smoother and easier to work with than cotton, and the colors of silk floss tend to be subtler, with more translucence. Almost all of the original samplers we've reproduced were worked with silk floss. The drawbacks to silk are that it is more expensive than cotton, and you cannot immerse it in water.

How neat should the back of my sampler be?

As neat as practical. So long as you don't take great distance leaps with your threads so they show on the front, anything goes. Having seen the backs of thousands of early samplers, we can assure you that precious few were stitched reversibly, and the majority were a hodgepodge at the back. Unless you plan to frame your sampler backwards, worry about the appearance on the front, not the back.

Whose name should I record on my reproduction sampler: the original maker's, or mine?

We maintain that the person who does the needlework deserves the credit, so by all means sign (and date) your work. The girl who stitched the original sampler very likely copies parts of it from one of her classmates, siblings, or teachers, so it is not a totally original design. What is unique is your rendering of the pattern, so applaud yourself and record your name. Some people dislike altering the pattern by inserting their name. One alternative is to work our initials and the date into a row of alphabets or initials, or include them in the margin of the sampler, where it is folded over onto the back and can't be seen. It is vitally important for you to mark your work.

Should I use a hoop or an embroidery frame?

You should use a device like this if it is most comfortable for you. We recommend using a hoop or stretcher bars for areas that are satin stitched, to maintain an even tension in your stitches. If you use a hoop, remember to remove it between stitching sessions. Don't worry about the hoop leaving marks in the linen---these will come out when the piece is stretched. If you use a hoop, do not keep the tension too tight.