Friday, January 30, 2009

Warmer now!

I always was a monogamous stitcher, but this past week I realized why. There's definitely something to be said for stitching one project at a time: you see a heck of a lot more progress that way!

Angel #2 is now more aerodynamically stable with two wings, and she's a lot warmer with her shawl. The latter was stitched in Tiny Knitting with The Thread Gatherer's Sheep's Silk "Light Moss." Sheep's Silk is a thinner silk/wool blend and ideal for this stitch. Tiny Knitting is the Kalem stitch on a smaller scale: over one intersection instead of two. It's great for small areas and also produces a more delicate look. For you knitters out there, think worsted with size 8 needles (Kalem) versus fingering yarn on size 2 needles (Tiny Knitting). The shawl will also get looped turkey work at the bottom edge later on.

Her overskirt is now half done in a framed Scotch stitch. The overall effect of a windowpane plaid is created by first stitching a grid of white floss, at seven stitch intervals both horizontally and vertically, which ties in with the white metallic of the wings. The Scotch stitch is then worked in rows of a floss darker than the shawl, and the final grid is added in the same pink as the ribbons at the hem of her underskirt. Interestingly, using a slightly larger scale stitch--Scotch versus mosaic on Angel #1--and a darker color for the predominant stitch gives an overall appearance of a pattern more contemporary than the one in Angel #1. Polly Flinders meets J. Crew.

Now to finish them both!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Flying on one wing

Have I mentioned how much I dislike stitching the same canvas twice? In the rare instances when I've found myself in this situation, I've tried to make the second time around as different as possible from the first. With that said, I introduce Guardian Angel #2!

Working from the same line drawing, I plan to change the colors and stitches on this second angel to keep myself motivated. She's flying on one wing so far--using Kreinik tapestry braid in #032 instead of gold--but like any proper angel, her halo is on straight, her makeup has been applied, and her hair is done. Unlike her buddy, she has a side part to her hair, which is worked in a gobelin stitch using Silk & Ivory. Her underskirt was also stitched in a different color family of pink from the first angel.

Angel #1 now has wings in Nobuko stitch. What a versatile stitch Nobuko is--equally suitable for trees in the background of a lighthouse, as used in the St. Marks lighthouse canvas, as well as lacy wings for an angel! She also has a shawl of Vineyard Silk "Tea Rose" stitched in diagonal mosaic. I deliberately skipped every other stitch at the bottom of the shawl and will later insert looped turkey work once the overskirt is finished.

Pattern has now been added to her overskirt through a simple combination of stitch and color. I first stitched grid lines of white floss, at intervals of five thread intersections both horizontally and vertically. I added the lighter pink floss in mosaic stitches and finished the windowpane plaid effect with a darker pink to match the Vineyard Silk.

It's time now to concentrate on Angel #2, who's looking a little chilly on this snowy winter morning!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Not just a pretty face

Whenever I work on a canvas portraying a person, I like to stitch the face first so I have something smiling back at me as I tackle the rest of the stitching. This little angel's face was worked with floss and her hair styled with Felicity's Garden "Fawn" in a gobelin stitch. Her halo was stitched in basketweave in Kreinik #12 tapestry braid.

Complicating the stitching of her underskirt are the flowers she holds in her hands. To avoid a lot of fussy compensation, I worked this area with floss in basketweave. There will be plenty of time later for more interesting decorative stitches!

I was happily stitching away on the little angel yesterday when I received a discouraging phone call from another friend who also lives a great distance away. The bottom line: I need to stitch not one, but two guardian angels.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Someone to watch over thee

I'm approaching my next project with mixed feelings. A dear friend has just embarked on a journey of healing, extending over many months, with which I am very familiar. She lives more than half-way across the country from me, but I wanted to give her something to remind her she's in my thoughts and prayers. So I've designed this little guardian angel to watch over her during her recovery.

The basic design elements are in place: the angel is holding a bouquet of spring flowers, symbolizing hope and renewal, and the hem of her underskirt is trimmed with a stylized rendering of the Susan B. Komen "For the Cure" ribbon. I deliberately kept the treatment of the ribbon subtle, not knowing where my friend will display her angel, but cognizant that a lot of folks don't want to broadcast to the world their medical condition.

When DS #2 saw the scan of the design, he remarked "Nice idea, but isn't it kinda plain?" I assured him that this little angel will be anything but plain by the time I'm finished stitching! I've sorted through my stash of threads and have some possibilities--now I have to make this angel as bright, cheerful and uplifting as I can!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Let the light shine!

St. Marks Lighthouse is finished!

The fronds of the palm trees were stitched "free hand," using one strand of Impressions "Jade," and the bushes were worked in French knots with Wildflowers "Moss Green." The ground at the shoreline was worked in a gobelin stitch with Felicity's Garden "Fawn." I like using Felicity's Garden for natural elements because it produces a soft, heathery look.

The water, frankly, gave me fits! I had originally intended to work it in a Kennan stitch, using two shades of blue darker than the sky, with a little green added. Several attempts, using different shades of blue and green floss and in different numbers of plies, were abysmal. The stitch just looked too contrived, producing stripes where I would have preferred waves. As DH pointed out, "Nature doesn't work in straight lines."

Untimately I relied on a tried-and-true stitch--diagonal cashmere worked horizontally--to produce exactly the effect I was looking for. I blended two plies of DMC #517, one of the darkest shades in the same color family as the sky, with two plies of #501, a darker blue-green. The result is a body of water with a wave pattern stitched in and an irridescence one would normally find on the water's surface on a sunny day. Once again, the technique of needle-blending came to the rescue!

Monday, January 19, 2009


I love stitching trees! Probably, in part, because I'm very fond of green, but also because they can be stitched in any number of ways.

For the St. Marks lighthouse, I chose one of my favorite threads--Thread Gatherer's Sheep's Silk, a silk/wool blend--and one of my favorite stitches--Nobuko. Having already stitched the sky in a needle-blended basketweave, I was looking for some contrast in texture for the trees. The "Green Leaves" Sheep's Silk is an overdyed thread, which provides automatic shading as it plays out of the needle.

The roof of the lighthouse keeper's house was worked in DMC floss using a gobelin stitch to mimic the tiles on the actual roof. More floss was used for the trunks of the palm trees, and Sheep's Silk "Moss Green" formed the single line of grass at the shoreline.

I'm on the home stretch with this lighthouse, so better get back to stitching!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Painting a Florida sky

Beaming myself to a Florida lighthouse is certainly a toasty idea on this crisp Cape day! We've been snowed in for a few days, so I've taken advantage of the weather by stitching like crazy.

There have actually been four St. Marks lighthouses. The first, constructed in 1831, was so shoddily built, it was reconstructed the same year. It suffered the common fate of foundation erosion, and was succeeded by a third lighthouse-- which was destroyed by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. The one we see here was built in 1867 and today is surrounded by a wildlife refuge near Tallahassee, Florida.

I've stitched the sky using a needle-blending technique (see previous post) in basketweave. And now that the lighthouse itself has been stitched, again using DMC floss in basketweave, you can see how the variation in the sky makes the white areas really pop.

Working my way down the canvas, I'll add the trees in the background and give the adjoining lighthouse keeper's house a roof.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Needle-blending a sky

There are any number of ways to stitch a sky in needlepoint. Some prefer to use decorative stitches; others, like me, espouse the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple, stitcher). How to approach a needlepointed sky depends on two factors: the amount of sky relative to the rest of the canvas; and the complexity of the subject matter it surrounds.

I've stitched 76 lighthouse canvases to date--some well, some not so well. Learning from experience is a good thing! I've found that the more complex lighthouses, either in terms of decorative trim or color, require a more subdued sky or background. Lighthouses that are relatively plain and/or all one color can benefit from a little spice in the background. This "spice" can be from an overdyed thread, a decorative stitch, or--in the case of the St. Marks Lighthouse project, a technique called needle-blending.

Needle-blending is a simple yet economical formula of combining strands of floss to imitate an overdyed thread without the diagonal "streaking" problem that occurs when an overdyed thread is stitched in basketweave.

For instance: I use 4 plies of floss as a rule when stitching on 18 ct. canvas. The color family of blue that I chose for the sky begins with DMC #3761. By checking with my DMC color card, I find that the next closest shades in the same family are #519 and 518. So starting at the horizon on the canvas, I stitch four plies of basketweave in #3761 straight across, in sections about five to six threads deep, making sure to dip down a stitch or two at random intervals. The next section across, I use three plies of #3761 and one ply of #519, again dipping down a stitch or two across this section.

The formula continues, with two plies of each thread, and then one ply of #3761 and three plies of #519, until I'm stitching four plies of #519. The next section, I start mixing in the #518 with the #519, in a formula of 3-1, 2/2, and 1/3. By the time I'm getting close to the top of the canvas (remember, I was working from the horizon up), I'm using four full plies of #518. In addition to basketweave, this needle-blending technique can be used with other non-directional stitches, such as Nobuko.

I've shown three examples of stitching a sky. On the left is Michigan City (Indiana) East Pier, with a basketweave background in a solid color of floss. Center is Milwaukee Pierhead, with the sky stitched in a needle-blended basketweave. And on the right is Chicago Harbor, using a Nobuko stitch in needle-blended floss.

Now I'm off to needle-blend the sky in basketweave for St. Marks Lighthouse!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Move over, Pepper!

Yesterday, I was itching to stitch my newest project, and went looking for the stretcher bars to mount it. Occupying pride of place on those self-same stretcher bars was Pepper, the cheerleader, my newest entry in the "Penguins on Parade" series.

Poor Pepper had been sidelined for lack of pompoms, and I had even made a trip to my LNS some time ago to obtain the necessary threads. So I pulled out my assortment of Paternayan wool--wow, how long ago has it been since I've used this thread?--and proceeded to stitch pompoms in a single strand of red, white and blue wool in French knots. Definitely a tight squeeze, but how fluffy the final product!

Next up on the stretcher bars, courtesy of DH, executive vice president of stapling, is the St. Marks, Florida, lighthouse.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Let the tea ceremony begin!

The three little geishas of "Nippon Textures" by Gail Hendrix are robed, coiffed, and ready to pour!

I knew that stitching the hair of these ladies would be a bit tricky, so I first did a little research into how these hairstyles were actually constructed. I discovered that Japanese women began styling their hair in an up-do called a shimada, or traditional chignon, in the 17th century. Of the four main types of shimada, two are represented here. The geishas in the center and right are modeling a taka shimada, a high chignon worn by younger women. The geisha on the left is sporting a style resembling a divided peach, worn only by maiko or apprentice geishas, that was either called momoware or "split peach."

Maiko geishas always used their own hair in these hairstyles--the use of wigs only began much later toward modern day. Arranging these hairdos was such a complicated and time-consuming procedure, the geisha was trained to sleep with her neck on a small support called a takamakura. Rice powder was sprinkled around the support. If the geisha's head slipped off the support, the rice powder would adhere to the pomade in her hair and she's know it was time to go back to the hairdresser.

These geishas' hairdos are styled with black Silk & Ivory in long stitches. I first determined the logical break between sections of hair, according to photos I had studied, and then stitched each section separately. I was careful to follow the natural line of the hair--away from the face--and occasionally had to fit in some vertical stitches to make the turn from the right to the left side of the head. The beauty of the Silk & Ivory was that it covered the canvas perfectly, even in sometimes very long stitches, and provided a natural loft that resembled human hair.

The crowning glory to these hairdos were the elaborate haircombs and hairpins, or kanzashi, which were stitched primarily in Kreinik tapestry braids. I used the same gray Vineyard Silk for the combs on the left and center geishas, and stitched the flower of the right geisha in French knots of the yellow Vineyard Silk.

What a fun diversion this canvas was for me! Thanks, Gail, for giving me a "busman's holiday"--let's do it again sometime!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Decisions. decisions

Using DMC floss #433 (brown) and 815 (maroon), I finished the pattern of the central kimono and outlined all the remaining areas. It's interesting how the addition of these darker colors served to define each kimono and give each geisha her own "personal space." Then it was time for the big decision: what stitch and thread to use for the background.

Appronimately three-quarters of the design area on this canvas is a swirl of pattern and color. To introduce even more texture at this point, by using a decorative stitch for the background, would frankly have made me dizzy! So I chose to use basketweave, not as a default stitch, but as a deliberate attempt to give my eyes--and those of anyone else looking at the canvas--a place in which to rest. The shade of DMC floss I chose was the lightest shade in the color family of the tan and brown I'd already used.

I'm happy with this decision because it places the emphasis on the geishas, where it belongs, and because the neutral background will provide the perfect foil for the central geisha's hairdo--my next challenge!

Friday, January 9, 2009

A touch of gray and splash of yellow

I've made some progress! I worked next on the gray kimono of the central geisha, using Vineyard Silk "Evening Haze." The collar was worked in a gobelin stitch and the back of the kimono in basketweave. I chose DMC floss #414 to stitch the outline of the kimono pattern. The same thread was used for the back of the obi knot in a Smyrna cross, and also for the pattern of the kimono of the right geisha.

Moving on to the yellow areas, I chose Vineyard Silk "Creme de Brulee" for the kimonos. (When I give up my day job, I'm going to apply for the position of "Chief Namer" for some thread manufacturer!) The pattern of the central kimono and collar of the left kimono were stitched in basketweave; the collar of the right kimono was worked in a gobelin stitch. The inside of the figural pattern on the central kimono was worked in Kreinik #12 tapestry braid - #091, which was also used for the Smyrna knots on the right kimono.

The same Kreinik thread was used for the yellow circle of the obi knot and for the pattern in the center circle. I then finished the obi knot with the same red Petite Very Velvet I'd previously used, and rings of black Petite Very Velvet and Kreinik #12 tapestry braid - #002V. I also worked the outside of the right kimono collar in a single row of the gold Kreinik braid.

All that remains to finish the kimonos are the outlining stitches of darker brown and red, and at that point, I'll be able to make a decision on how to approach the background!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A dusting of white

Here's where a bit of texture comes into play! I chose to do the white areas in Kreinik braid--#032--for a little bit of bling. In the right section of tan are Smyrna crosses in #8 fine braid. These Smyrna crosses are echoed in the kimono of the geisha to the left. And for the obi knot of the central geisha, I used #12 tapestry braid in the same color.

A little much? I think not. My research showed that geishas could be identified by the colors they wore. The brighter the kimono, the younger was the geisha. And "maiko" geisha, or those in their apprenticeship, had the brightest kimonos, with obi knots that were even more flamboyant in their coloration. So why not celebrate youth?

More work on the kimonos in the next post!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

"On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love said to me: 'It's time to take down the Christmas tree."

But I did snap a photo before all the ornaments were put away! This is our primary tree, situated between the kitchen and family room where family and friends seem to congregate during holiday time. It's traditionally decorated with lighthouse ornaments, all of them designed and stitched by yours truly.

This year there were 74 lighthouses hanging on the tree--there would have been 76, but I didn't have time to stitch models for the two newest ones: Biloxi, Mississippi, and St. Marks, Florida. Twenty-five states and two Canadian provinces are represented, ranging from Washington State to Nova Scotia, and from California to Florida.

Of course, there will be more next year--I'm always finding a new one that appeals to me, or someone asks me if I can design one for them. The latter is the part I most enjoy--knowing there's a person out there who really wants a memento of a particular lighthouse. I research all of my designs thoroughly for authenticity, and then stitch-paint them to insure accuracy.

The lighthouses will emerge later this month to take a trip to The Needlepointer in Everett, Washington, for a trunk show, but for now. alas, they're all tucked snugly in their beds.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Moving along with tan

The next sections I've chosen to stitch on the "Nippon Textures" canvas are those with varying shades of tan. There's a bit of a departure here from the three distinct groups of red that I discussed in my last post. The tan sections on the far left and far right meet in the accents of the central geisha's kimono, then travel to the bottom of the canvas in the kimono of the left geisha.

The section on the far right will later have a figural pattern in white, so I chose to stitch it in basketweave in DMC #435. Using this same thread, I added the accents to the pattern of the central geisha's kimono. I also used this thread in the back of the obi knot on the far left. Here I had a little room to play with, so I used a diagonal mosaic stitch--good for small areas which can benefit from some texture.

The background of the left geisha's kimono is stitched in basketweave using Vineyard Silk "Sahara." Then I added the darker accent with the DMC #435 in single stitches. Later this area, too, will have a figural pattern in white.

Next up will be the white, for a little bit of glitz!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Applying makeup

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd be stitching the women's faces first as I begin the "Nippon Textures" canvas by Gail Hendrix. It's a purely practical approach for a needlepointer to stitch white and lighter color areas first, so darker threads adjacent to these areas don't rear their ugly heads on the surface of the canvas later. But after doing a little research last night, I discovered I was also perpetuating an age-old ritual.

Geishas of the Edo period in Japan were a far cry from our modern-day "escort service" personnel. They were, first and foremost, entertainers: highly trained professionals who sometimes served as apprentices for as long as five years learning how to play several musical instruments and performing ancient tea ceremonies. The first step in preparing for an evening's entertainment was applying very elaborate make-up.

The foundation of this make-up was a thick, white paste, which required several hours to dry. It also contained a significant amount of lead, and was eventually replaced by rice powder when modern science discovered the inherent health hazard of this ingredient. The eyes were accentuated by charcoal and the lips were tinted with red. The "make-up" for the ladies in this canvas was stitched in basketweave, using four plies of DMC cotton floss in Blanc for the faces, #310 for the eyes, #817 for the lips, and #317 for the outlining.

The price of a kimono even at that time was incredibly expensive, so the women had to wait until the make-up was completely dry--heaven forbid some of that white goop would accidentally drop on the kimono. So now that the make-up has been stitched, I was able to move on to the garments themselves and indulge in lovely bright colors!

The title of the canvas itself suggests that texture should play an important part in interpreting the design, but achieving texture in such small areas to be stitched posed a challenge. Most of the areas didn't allow for decorative stitches, so I chose to use different types of thread to provide my texture. I also wanted to draw on my current stash of thread as much as possible, and luckily, as a designer myself, my stash is significant!

I've started to stitch in the three areas of red--a wonderfully cheerful color on a snowy winter day! I began with the knot of the obi worn by the center geisha, using Petite Very Velvet in basketweave. The center of that knot will get the same treatment when I'm finished with the white. Moving on to the geisha on the right, I used the same thread, again in basketweave, to stitch the background of her kimono. Then I stitched the collar of the third geisha in Trio's "Really Red." It's fascinating to see how effective this triangular placement of color on the canvas is in separating yet unifying the three women at the same time!

I plan to continue stitching different areas of the canvas in this fashion, applying a layer of a different color family as I go along. Approaching a canvas this way is a far cry from what I normally do--I'm your typical "start at the top right and work down to the bottom left" kind of stitcher. But I was so struck by the role color plays in the canvas, I'm hoping you will be, too, as you follow my progress.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A new year, a new project

I'm starting 2009 with a new project that's quite a departure from my usual ones: stitching a canvas designed by someone other than myself! It's not often that I have either the time or inclination to do this, but every now and then a canvas comes along that just "grabs" me. And because I'm a stitch painter myself, the skill with which the canvas is painted is as important to me as the subject matter itself.

When Gail Hendrix of Squiggee Designs asked me if I'd like to stitch the model for her new design, "Nippon Textures," I agreed for a number of reasons. I love oriental art, I find it difficult to turn down a fellow dog lover, and the canvas is beautifully stitch-painted.

"Nippon Textures" is styled after the work of Suzuki Harunobu (1724-1770), a woodblock print artist recognized as the inventor of Japanese color prints. He spent his life in Edo, today known as Tokyo. Edo also lent its name to that period in Japanese history (1603-1868) when the country was ruled by military leaders called shoguns. Harunobu's favorite subjects were beautiful women and courtesans, or Geishas, three of which are featured here in Gail's canvas.

Interestingly, Japanese numerology dictates that odd numbers are lucky, with three, five and seven being particularly lucky numbers. So stitching three Geishas seems to me to be an auspicious way to begin a New Year!

The balance of color in this canvas also carries out the concept of "threes"--bold splashes of reds and yellows against an otherwise neutral pallette of browns, grays and white. I've decided to let my eye dictate where my fingers will stitch as I work on this canvas, within reason, of course! The white of the Geishas' faces must be completed first, but then I'll be able to indulge myself in some glorious color!