Monday, March 30, 2009

If, at first, you don't succeed....

Having finished my egg project, I decided to reward myself by starting the ornament canvas for my son that Gail Hendrix had painted for me. There's a lot of white background to the canvas, and I wanted to add a little texture as the letters and flying eagle mascot will be a solid green. I also didn't want to hassle with a lot of compensation, so I opted for a diagonal mosaic stitch for the background.

While visiting my LNS, I got the bright idea to try a new thread for this canvas: Vineyard Silk Shimmer. I'd been very pleased working with Vineyard Silk Classics, and thought the "Cloud" Shimmer would add a bit of sparkle--it has a very fine silver metallic thread running through it that would also complement the snowflakes in the background.

My first problem occurred in trying to thread the needle--definitely not a good omen! I don't own a needle threader for the simple reason I've never met a thread I couldn't coax through the eye of a needle. After a lot of mumbling, I finally got the needle threaded and started to stitch. What was supposed to be a diagonal mosaic stitch started looking like a bullion stitch-gone-wrong. At this point, I had what is called in our family a "Life's too short" moment, and put Shimmer to one side.

Luckily while at my LNS, I had also purchased a cone of Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #032 to finish off the wings of my Heart Angel. A cone is roughly equivalent to five spools--not a lifetime supply but guaranteed to keep me stitching for quite a while! Rethreading my needle with the Kreinik thread, I was soon happily setting stitches that did look like diagonal mosaic.

As you can see from the photo, it didn't take that long to finish the background! Then I worked the little cap at the top of the ornament with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002V and #002 in alternating vertical rows.

I'll go back and give Shimmer another chance on a project down the road--the thread is too expensive to just pitch! And it occurred to me that there may be a "grain" issue here, making it necessary to pay close attention to the direction of the metallic when threading the needle.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Polishing my halo

I'm trying very hard to keep my belated resolutions for 2009, so I finished the Egg for All Seasons that had "gone missing" in my office/studio. This one's called "Baroque," a simple yet graceful little ornament.

"Baroque" was stitched with black Petite Very Velvet, Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002, and white DMC cotton floss.

Now that this project is finished, the siren song of a new, unstitched canvas is calling to me. There are less than nine months until Christmas, so I think I'd better answer the call and work on the canvas Gail Hendrix painted for me to give my son. After all, getting that ornament finished was another resolution!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Belated resolutions

I didn't make any New Year's resolutions for 2009--maybe I should have! On a recent car trip of two hours' duration, I was bemoaning the fact that I didn't have anything to stitch. You can't exactly haul a canvas on 18-inch-square stretcher bars in the car with you, and that's the size of my Kyrgyz pillow. The thought of it between you and the front passenger airbag just isn't pretty. I knew I had an unfinished Egg for All Seasons that I could work on, but for neither love nor money could I find it in the controlled chaos that is my office/studio.

I also had wanted to do a piece of needlepoint to commemorate No. 1 son's graduation from college last May. But like the cobbler's children, who are the last to get new shoes, my poor guys don't even have Christmas stockings. So, to make up for lost time, I asked Gail Hendrix of Squiggee Designs to design an ornament for my son's alma mater. Here it is!

It arrived in no time, and, delighted with my purchase, I went rummaging in the chaos for the appropriately-sized stretcher bars. That was when I finally found the unfinished Egg for All Seasons.

So now approaching the end of March, I've finally made some resolutions: (1) Clean up my act; (2) Never start a new project before finishing the old one; (3) Always have a project handy to stitch in the car: and (4) Finish this college ornament before No. 1 son's younger brother hopefully graduates this December. But being no angel, I figure that three out of four isn't bad!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thinking warm thoughts

It's only one week until April, but I'm peering over my computer monitor looking at snowflakes dancing by my window. This weather phenomenon is called "ocean-effect snow," one of the blessings--or curses--of living 35 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean.

A day like this makes me wish I could join Polly the Penguin, playing her ukulele on the shore of Waikiki. This little penguin was actually commissioned by my friend Sandy Rabideau of Peacock Alley Needlepoint, who shares my quirky sense of humor and wanted a gift for a penguin-loving friend living in Hawaii.

Polly's body is stitched with black Petite Very Velvet and "Snow" Felicity's Garden. Except for a touch of Kreinik #12 tapestry braid for the ukulele strings, the rest of the ornament is stitched in DMC cotton floss. I used diagonal cashmere stitched horizontally for the water and Nobuko for the sand.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bringing new meaning to color

A little more than one-quarter of the Kyrgyz pillow is now stitched. I've been a good girl and have kept up with the background stitching so far! Except for the golden brown, all of the colors I'll be using appear in this progress photo.

The more I've stitched, the more I've been wondering why the Kyrgyzstani woman who embroidered the original tush kyiz chose the colors she did. Her threads were undoubtedly hand-dyed using vegetable dyes. But did she use specific colors to convey special meaning to this wall hanging for a marital bed?

After doing a little research on the symbolism of color in Asian cultures, here's what I found out about the meaning of the colors I'm using:

Red: Happiness, marriage and prosperity
Pink: Marriage
Blue: Self-cultivation and wealth
Green: Eternity, family, harmony, health, peace and prosperity
Gold: Strength and wealth
Brown: Earth, hearth, home and endurance
Black: In its positive connotions, career, knowledge and formality

So in essence, the mother of the bride or groom who created the original hanging was conveying any number of good wishes to the newly-wed couple through her colorful stitching. Considering that the almost 7-foot fragment from which I adapted my project is part of a much larger piece of embroidery, I can only hope for the stitcher's sake that the Kyrgyzs believed in long engagements!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When the swallows come back to Capistrano

The Mission of San Juan Capistrano de Sajavit, the seventh in the California mission chain, was dedicated on November 1, 1776. Around March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, thousands of swallows have for years visited the area in route from wintering in Argentina to summering in California's agricultural valleys.

Unfortunately, recent restoration of the mission has prompted the birds to find homes in the parking lot across the street. Ornithologists are hoping that, when construction is completed, the swallows will once again return to their historic roosts in the bell tower and grounds of the mission itself.

I "reconstructed" this mission with a variety of overdyes, including Caron Watercolors and The Thread Gatherer's Sheep's Silk, along with DMC floss and perle cotton. There are lots of French knots in this one!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Patrick the Penguin and I wanted to be among the first to wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day! 'Tis a grand day for me, who's 100% Irish! But everyone is a wee bit Irish on March 17, and it's a great day to lighten up! I'll still be stitching black Silk & Ivory for my Kyrgyz pillow background, but I'll be thinking GREEN!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A lot of black, a little color

I've started stitching the first quadrant of the Kyrgyz pillow and am happy so far with my progress. There's a LOT of black background in this piece, so I've tried to discipline myself to stay "one step ahead of the shoeshine, two steps ahead of the county line" in stitching the background before interjecting a bit of color.

The canvas is mounted on 18-inch-square stretcher bars, and reaching the top really IS a stretch but doable. I'll rest my weary arm by heading down to the lower section of the quadrant, where soon I'll hit another patch of color!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ready to stitch!

I've finished transferring the design elements to my 13-count canvas as a line drawing, and now I'm ready to stitch! The colors of Silk & Ivory I'll be using, besides the black for the background, are:

#29 - Guacamole (green)
#67 - Peanut Butter (golden brown)
#161 - Lida Rose (pink)
#110 - Blueberry (Wedgwood blue)
#15 - Honey (golden tan)
#68 - Cayenne (rust red)
#08 - Taupe (light tan)
#64 - Curry (gold)

These threads should provide a nice splash of color against the black background.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Measure once, count twice

The first step in adapting the Kyrgyz tush kyiz fragment to a needlepoint pillow was to measure the three major design elements: the central medallion, the smaller medallions in the four corners, and the "tulips" at the top, bottom and sides. My goal is to reproduce this design in the exact size as the original.

I raided my stash for suitable threads and found that Silk & Ivory was the only one having all the colors most closely matching the original textile. And since I'm going to stitch the pillow entirely in basketweave, 13-count canvas was called for. So I multiplied the dimensions of the three elements by 13 in preparation for working them on graph paper.

The central medallion and smaller medallions (bottom photos) were relatively easy to figure out, because each has center lines from which to plot the diagonal lines radiating out. Each square on the graph paper represents an intersection on the canvas. I counted and recounted to be sure each section of these elements was the mirror image of the one across from it.

The "tulip" motif wasn't that easy. I made a copy of the photo and traced the tulip design, then manipulated the size on the computer (top right). With the tulip now the exact size, I traced it onto graph paper, making sure my tracing lined up exactly with the lines on the graph paper. I then marked each square so one side would mirror the other and all stitches would fall on an intersection of the canvas, not in a gulley (top left). If you have determined that you're "on target" at this stage, stitching the canvas later will be a breeze!

The next step will be to transfer my graph paper charts as a line drawing to the canvas itself. I'm the type of stitcher who likes to see everything in front of me on the canvas before I pick up my needle!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Exploring a distant land

Thanks to a dear friend here on the Cape, I have a new project in which to immerse myself--once again adapting an original work of art to needlepoint. For this, a little background is definitely in order!

Kyrgystan is a country in central Asia. an entirely mountainous land slightly smaller than the state of South Dakota, with a population today of a little over 5 million people. But the first written record of the Kyrgyz tribe, nomads of central Siberia, appeared among the Chinese in 2000 BC. The tribe's history has been tumultuous, highlighted by a takeover by the Mongols--Genghis Khan's son--in the 13th century, and its annexation by the Russian Empire in 1876. It regained its independence from the USSR in 1991.

Its history is also rich in its textiles, cotton being one of its significant industries. Long known for its exquisite embroidery, the Kyrgyztani are moving away from the traditional, more personal family heirlooms--less favored by today's generation--while still maintaining a trade in felt rugs to the general public.

Luckily, there are some who cherish these traditions, including Canadians from British Columbia who are retrieving and preserving non-commercial textiles from this area. The piece I am working from is a tush kyiz, a large, elaborately embroidered wall hanging. Made by older women to commemorate the marriage of a son or daughter, the tush kyiz hung over the marriage bed as a symbol of tribal tradition. Now out of favor with the younger generation, it is no longer being made. But this fragment -- almost seven feet along-- has been preserved and mounted--gifted to my friend and on loan to me for further study.

I'm hoping to adapt this amazing work of art to needlepoint as a pillow. I've measured the motifs, compared colors with the threads in my stash, and now have a bit of calculating to do. The motif I'm planning to adapt is at the center of the complete picture and at the right in the smaller picture. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 6, 2009

A magic carpet ride

Today we're celebrating the third anniversary of the closing on our Cape house. The three-year history reminds me a little of the opening of Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities"--"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." House-hunting in January is never a walk in the park, but we found the pick of the litter, bid on it, and--here we are. It needed a lot of work, something we were used to after transforming more houses than I care to count. So the work began.

The one thing about remodeling a house: the sparkling new additions make the areas you haven't touched look even worse. So after we added a new garage and kitchen, the adjacent family room looked like Poor Pitiful Pearl (anyone remember that doll?). So we redid the family room! And after the metamorphosis, the butterfly needed a new pillow for one of the newly recovered sofas.

So here was my answer: "1,001 Nights." That's the name I decided to give the pillow, and in no way reflects the amount of time it took me to complete it! Based on several oriental rugs we had around the house, I arrived at a composite design and started stitching. The pillow is 12 inches by 16 inches and done in basketweave on 13 count canvas with Silk & Ivory. It provides a nice splash of color against the oatmeal fabric with which the sofa was covered. Its home is also on the sofa which "the girls," our two little dogs, are NOT allowed to sleep. I may be a dog freak, but I'm not totally crazy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Both large and small

When I design, it's usually something on a much smaller scale than that of "Nellie's Imari," the gorgeous pillow canvas designed by Judy Harper. But I love Imari designs so much, I adapted two of the pieces in my porcelain collection to create this "Egg for All Seasons."

My "Imari" egg was stitched in basketweave using DMC floss, with the outer navy border done in Petite Very Velvet. It incorporates colors of which I'm very fond-- navy, peach and jade green--in a series of mirror-image motifs.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In my "spare time"

Have you ever wished that you could train your toes to be more useful? I wish this often, particularly during busy spells like this one, when I'm painting my little heart out for an upcoming trunk show (Peacock Alley Needlepoint in Ada, Michigan, on March 21). It's impossible to design, stitch and paint canvases simultaneously. So I generally paint by day and stitch at night.

And on the extremely few occasions that I stitch an OP (Other Person's) canvas, I'm very picky. Not only must the subject matter really grab me, but also it must be extremely well-painted--after all, I'm a stitch painter myself. I started painting and marketing my own designs in the mid 90s because I was frustrated by how few well-painted canvases were available and which suited my taste.

Then last year, I saw a canvas and fell in love: with Judy Harper's "Nellie's Imari" (right photo). I love Oriental art, have a small collection of antique Imari porcelains inherited from my mother, and the navy blue sofa in my living room was crying out for a new pillow. "Nellie's Imari" is an on-going work in progress: I began stitching on September 1 and pick it up when I have a minute, or when I'm feeling really wicked and want to play hooky.

The first photo is actually a scan of the work in progress, and a crooked scan at that! But I found it extremely difficult to fit 20-inch-square stretcher bars inside my scanner! Except for the Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002V, the piece is being worked in basketweave entirely in Vineyard Silk. This thread has a lovely hand to it and the sheen is wonderful. Unlike most of my models, which endure a lot of wear and tear as they traipse across the country for trunk shows, this pillow-in-the-making will be an heirloom passed down to future generations and thus worthy of the expense of this thread. Hopefully a future daughter-in-law (I should live so long!) will fall in love with the design, too, and claim it for her own.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wishing Spring might come soon

I awoke to snow this morning. Flurries intermittently appeared during the afternoon. Now, at 8 p.m., it's started to snow again. Enough already--this winter stuff is getting old!

At least on the Cape, winter is still in full throttle. But I'm dreaming of days ahead, when my little crocuses start popping their heads through the still-soggy ground, hoping an itinerant chipmunk doesn't need a snack.

So, if you were wondering where I get the inspiration for some of my designs, now you know! This crocus was stitched in long stitches with DMC #5 perle cotton, with a background of DMC floss and Kreinik #12 tapestry braid.