The Power of Three


Hi Everybody,

It’s been cloudy in western Scotland these past two weeks, with a bit too much rain and wind for July but there is the promise of some sunshine this afternoon and tomorrow.

Three of my pretty duck eggs.

In the past I have written posts about American textile artist Deborah Boschert’s ‘Design Guides’, which are so useful for makers of small textile quilts and wallhangings like the ones you find in this blog. Her Guides offer a series of ideas for what we might do when faced with our blank piece of fabric, canvas or paper, and allow us to create simple but successful compositions – without worrying  too much about formal standards of design  – and to which we can then further surface detail or embellishment as we think fit.

Deborah offers useful information on eight Design Guides in this book

In earlier posts I looked at ‘One Amazing Line’ (See the post ‘Design Composition and Play’ on October 31st, 2017) and ‘Third Plus’ (A post of the same name on March 9, 2019). Today I want to say a little about the Design Guide she calls ‘Magic Three’ . You can see part of one of her examples of Magic Three called ‘River Gathering’, the three fishes on the front cover of her book in the photo here. In the book she tells us that “groups of three are pleasing to the eye”.  I have certainly always found that to be true. Whenever I am arranging groups of ornaments or pot plants around the house or even in the garden, a group of three (usually in varying size)s just look right together somehow: modern and interesting, not too busy or cluttered, not even and yet balanced. Pythagoras called three the perfect number.

It’s an interesting thing, the proliferation of threes within our culture and beyond: in the Holy Trinity and other biblical references, where the number three refers a to divine wholeness; in  the mathematical rule of three; in literature and children’s stories such as the three little pigs, or Goldilocks and the three bears, or the three witches in Macbeth; how good things come in threes; the three stages of life and the three act play. You can probably think of lots more. With regard to speaking, writing (whether literature, film scripts or advertising) as well as in music, the rule of three asserts that anything presented in threes is  liable to be more interesting, enjoyable and memorable. Three is the smallest number you need to create a pattern and patterns are easier to absorb and remember.  And then there is all that clever stuff about triangles…

The Three Billy Goats Gruff? Not quite

For her ‘Magic Three’ composition, Deborah Boschert suggests that we create our three shapes (of anything we like) in different sizes and arrange them at different levels within the space we are working in. And this arrangement applies to any format, horizontal or vertical, (portrait or landscape) and from a tiny composition to something quite large.

I thought I would try the Magic Three idea along with another experiment in Strip Weaving. Instead of embellishing my strip weaving project with English Paper Piecing motifs as I did last time, I wanted to try transferring a line drawing onto the woven background. (For more of the detail of the method of Strip Weaving, please see my earlier post on Strip Weaving  – June 2020)

I set myself the challenge of three different coloured fabrics, three different coloured threads, three different decorative stitches and an image made up of three shapes of different sizes. My shapes were joined in a single image but they needn’t have been. I could have spaced them individually across the background area if I wanted.

I chose two solid colours in different tones to add interest without looking overly busy and a piece of multicoloured striped Indian cotton,  and wove strips of varying widths of fabric together, vertically and horizontally to create my background.

I don’t like raw edges so I pinked the edges of the strips to discourage fraying. If you don’t like raw edges either, it has occurred to me that this project could be done, EPP  style, with the fabric wrapped around strips of paper which would give them neat, turned in, edges.  You wouldn’t need to do many, three to five horizontal and vertical strips would be plenty, and shouldn’t make them too long or the papers would get too floppy to work with.

I was careful to retain a decent sized square of solid colour which could accommodate my drawing and to make sure none of the horizontal strips would cover this area and interfere with the image. Then, once I had sewn down all edges and added a bit surface stitching, I was ready to transfer my line drawing.

The original sketch had a grandfather and a baby in it, so I had to remove them to have the group of three that I wanted (photos 1 and 2, below).


I transferred the image by tracing my drawing onto dressmakers tissue paper (photo 3, above), then pinning the traced drawing onto the fabric in the area where I wanted it to be,  pinning along the edges to keep it from moving, and stitching over all the traced lines.

When the drawing was completely covered by stitches, I gently tore away the tissue paper, leaving the stitched image on the fabric. Any tiny details like spaces between fingers or between waves in hair, are best added  in later, because it’s quite difficult to tear tissue away from tiny details like these, without pulling up the threads. It can however be accomplished quite successfully with a good pair of tweezers and a fair bit of patience. It’s a great technique.

IMG_5905 2

I wasn’t intending to write another post about strip weaving at first, so I haven’t photographed each of the stages but, as it was a development of my earlier strip weaving experiment, I realised that you may find aspects of it interesting.

This was how it turned out – at first:

Take One – not super successful.

Hmm. There was lots wrong. I had made a couple of mistakes filling in bits that shouldn’t be filled in and the checked strip under the image was not straight enough to match the one above. And I hated the long strips below the image that I originally thought would add interest if left dangling.

So, back to the drawing board.

I thought about turning all the bottom strips under, like the other three sides, which would put the image in a kind of square frame, but eventually I just shortened them.  I added some dark red to the women’s lips, gave her some gold earrings and straightened the wonky coloured strip as best I could without having to remove all the vertical stitches as well as the horizontal ones.

It looks a little better now:

IMG_5904 2

There’s still room for improvement and I know what I would do differently next time. It took just over half a day to finish, so it would be an easy project for you to try over a free weekend.

Till next time….



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