Picks and Pans Review: Cross Stitch

updated 11/07/1988 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/07/1988 01:00AM

with Erica Wilson

Surrounded by teddy bears in tiny sweaters, Wilson mixes basic and advanced techniques in Knitting (55 minutes). The designs she displays are creative and beautiful, but beware: They are too intricate for rank beginners. Wilson comes across as a mix of Queen Mum and royal nanny. "Speak to your knitting," she advises, "as though you were its master." Threaded into her instructions are such inventive tips as a method for preventing angora sweaters from shedding: Consign them to the freezer. Her original designs are exquisite, including a version of the now-famous Princess Diana sheep sweater. A more thorough, printed guide, Erica Wilson's Knitting Book (Scribners, $24.95), is due in bookstores this month. In Cross Stitch (53 minutes), Wilson leads viewers stitch-by-stitch through the ins and outs of one of the oldest needlework forms, stitching in tiny x-shape patterns. Working out designs on fabric calls for a pole sitter's patience, but Wilson's sensible approach—consider a complex design in sections rather than as a whole, for example—should steel the fainthearted. The camera close-ups are excellent, and Wilson's instructions are precise. When she flubs, she shows how to correct it. On this tape the designs are complex: a garden in lush bloom, for example, or the cartoon kitten that's the symbol of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. Before attempting any of these pretties, however, there's the business of threading embroidery floss. "Squeeze the thread as though it were a flea about to jump," Wilson recommends, "... and don't let me catch you spitting on it." Never. (Craft Collectors, $29.95 each, 212/832-7290)

GOOD HOUSEKEEPING KNITTING, CROCHET, QUILTING: THE BASICS

ADVANCED METHODS

Call these the Plain Jane variations on Erica Wilson's themes. Trapped in this bland production is Barbara Johnston, a needle-arts instructor, designer and consultant who won't be mistaken for a Miss Personality. She is, however, mighty nimble with her knitting needles. Johnston's 57-minute beginner's tape first tells knitters how to measure gauge (the number of stitches and rows per inch), then troops through a range of simple techniques (knit, garter and purl stitching) that follow "casting on" (preparing your needle) and precede "binding off" (finishing the project). "It may feel just a tad awkward at first," observes Johnston as she dips right into the insert-wrap-pull-and-slide rhythm of her knitting project, a pair of floppy slippers. She explains how to knit argyle and cable patterns and includes tips on selecting colors and creating special textures. In a chapter on crochet basics, Johnston makes a granny afghan square that could be the start of that cuddly lap robe you've always wanted. Crochet stitching has its own chorus: "Yarn over, pull up the loop, yarn over, pull through two." Even though Johnston slows from her usual pace, true tyros will be lost without constant replay. Beginners won't be bewildered, however, by the very good segment on quilting. Lessons on how to use a template, how to block a design, how to assemble and pin-baste a log cabin square are all lucid. More challenging projects, such as how to attach a sleeve to a sweater, come with Advanced Methods (57 minutes). "Now let's make a hat," says Johnston, as she conjures up an apple red tam. Tips abound as she weaves her way through little-old-lady afghan and crochet stitches. Thread treated with a cube of beeswax is smoother and sturdier, for example, and glazed batting makes a better quilt filling; unglazed pulls apart. If you are working a quilt in a floor frame, be sure to push the inner hoop upward. The tighter the frame, the puffier the quilt. Patience, patience, patience. Everyone makes mistakes, including Johnston, a poised and able instructor who remains the very model of composure—even when she stitches her batting to her lap. (Kartes Video, $14.95 each; 800/582-2000)

A READER'S DIGEST VIDEOGUIDE: SEWING BASICS

CREATING YOUR OWN WARDROBE

"Welcome to the Reader's Digest Sewing Studio," says homespun Loral Lockheart, a woman who would fit right in at Timmy and Lassie's house. This video sewing studio is just the place to be if you are an aspiring seamstress with only a primitive acquaintance with the craft. The excellent Sewing Basics (119 minutes) covers setting up a sewing space, surveying sewingphernalia (dress forms, seam rolls, tailor's hams, point pressers), selecting scissors, getting to know your notions (buttons, seam bindings, hooks) and making friends with your sewing machine. Lockheart's instructions for threading bobbins, making buttonholes and mastering zigzags and zippers are complete, and the camera work is sharp. The tape, which comes with a detailed manual, shows a sweeping range of the subject so that viewers should become fluent in darting, trimming, clipping, notching, gathering, easing, hemming, pressing and almost ready for Creating Your Own Wardrobe (110 minutes). In that tape, viewers learn to analyze and measure their figures, choose flattering styles, adjust patterns to fit figure flaws, lay and cut a pattern and adjust the garment to fit—all a mere prelude to preening in front of your pals. Don't forget to take out the pins. (Random House, $29.95 each; 800/638-6460)

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