Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Egg well done!

If you recall, way back at the beginning of May, I received an e-mail from Gaile in Wisconsin, asking for help in stitching my Eggs for All Seasons "Candlelight Window." After a 15-year hiatus in needlepoint, Gaile was testing the waters with a painted canvas. And what a treat--the other day I received a picture of her finished canvas. Excuse me, but I don't think Gaile needed any help at all! Look how beautiful her ornament is!

I asked her about threads and stitches she had used, as well as her overall experience getting back into the swing of things. Here's what she wrote:

"Basically the stitches I used were basketweave, straight and slanted gobelin, a few continental where needed to fill in, and French knots for the pine boughs. I have a large stash so I bought only the Petite Very Velvet, which is a treat to work with. For the wallpaper, I experimented with several threads, but liked the way DMC Medici wool looked and so I used that for the background as well as the burgundy crosses and the valance. The white part of the valance is Silk & Ivory. Then I used blue #5 perle cotton for the window frame and woodwork, and white #5 perle cotton for the paneling beneath the window. I had a small bit of red silk which I used for the candle, because the sheen was nicer with it than cotton floss.

"Actually, the stitches just seemed to flow....I've avoided painted canvases because of having trouble deciding where to change colors, and there was no question at all on this canvas. It was a pleasure to stitch, and when it was finished I was a little sorry....hated to see it come to an end. But I love the ornament. It just called to me, and I'm so glad I was able to get it. Now it'll be on our tree for many years to come."

The pleasure was all mine, Gaile! I'm so glad you had fun--that's what needlepoint is all about! This one is headed for my Guest Gallery for sure!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A "berry-nice" finish

The Raspberry Island lighthouse in the Apostle Islands chain on Lake Superior is now completed!

The most difficult decision in stitching this canvas was the choice of stitch for the forest behind the lighthouse. I needed something low-profile, so as not to overpower the building, but that gave the appearance of foliage. I finally settled on the diagonal oblong upright cross, a stitch designer Carole Lake featured as the ANG Stitch of the Month in July 2002.

But trees in a forest aren't all the same shade of green--individual trees, with their own distinct colors, ultimately blend into one another to give an overall effect. So I decided to section off different parts of the green background, using the same stitch for all but changing the threads. The outer left and right sides, as well as a small portion at the center top, were stitched with Impressions #5000; the sections next to them used Impressions #5061. The areas in the foreground were stitched with Sheep's Silk "Green Leaves." If you click on the photo, you'll be better able to see the distinction between the threads--subtle, yet realistic.

With a different dyelot of Sheep's Silk "Green Leaves," I stitched the small tree in front of the tower in French knots. I then added the metallic tops of the chimneys using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #101, and Raspberry Island lighthouse was finished!

Friday, June 26, 2009


After finishing the keeper's house and tower, I moved on to the aky, stitched in basketweave with four plies of DMC cotton floss #3755. Then the mailman arrived, with a care package! In it was a skein of Sheep's Silk "Leaf Green Dark"--perfect for the grassy bluff in a Nobuko stitch.

The water proved to be a bit trickier. A lot of folks like the light, airy look of a painted canvas that's been stitched in a weight of thread that doesn't quite cover the canvas itself. Others like to use a stitch which leaves part of the canvas exposed. Somehow, I just can't see either of those treatments used for a small lighthouse design. Chalk it up to personal preference!

I wanted the visual effect of movement which can be achieved with the "Water Stitch" developed by David McCaskill, but I didn't want to have any exposed canvas or use metallic to highlight the ripples in the water. So I experimented and came up with a very modified Water Stitch--needle-blending again! This time I used DMC floss #322 and #312--darker shades in the same blue family as the sky--with two plies of each. Just like the original Water Stitch, I placed gobelin stitches--over three threads wide and one thread high--alternating the angle every other row. But I overlapped the stitches to eliminate the exposed canvas intersections. The impression of movement is still there, but the canvas is completely covered.

The rocks at the water's edge were worked in a satin stitch, using four different tan/gray shades of DMC floss. Next up--trying to tell the forest from the trees!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Waiting for reinforcements

Setting plays an important role in the design of the Raspberry Island lighthouse: the tower and keeper's house are nestled in a forest as well as perched on top of a bluff. I realized I was running precariously low on threads for trees and grass, so I'll need to make a trip to my LNS as well as order some threads that it doesn't carry. To keep this project moving along, I decided to stitch the building first with threads I did have available.

The lantern room and roof lines were stitched with DMC #5 perle cotton, which provided additional weight visually against the rest of the building, stitched in DMC cotton floss primarily in basketweave. I'll wait to stitch the metallic tops of the chimneys after the trees have been worked.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A visit to Raspberry Island

Some time ago, I was asked to look into lighthouses in the Apostle Islands along Lake Superior. I discovered that, strangely, nobody knows exactly why this chain of islands is so named, as there are 22--not 12--in all. Partly because of its name, and its cheerful, cherry red roof, I chose Raspberry Island as the locale for my next lighthouse adaptation to needlepoint.

By the 1850s, maritime commerce on Lake Superior was booming, and a need was identified for an aid to navigation from Duluth, Minnesota to Bayfield, Wisconsin. The U.S. Lighthouse Service carved a clearing out of the forest on a bluff at the southwest point of Raspberry Island, and by 1862, construction was completed on a two-story single-family keeper's house with a short, square wood tower rising from the center of the roof. It wasn't until the following year, however, that the Fifth Order Fresnel lens finally made its way from France and the lighthouse became fully operational.

By 1906, the lighthouse boasted of a head keeper, his two assistants and their families, which necessitated extensive renovation of the original house and tower to the duplex you see here. In 1947, the light was converted to automatic operation; 10 years later, the Coast Guard installed a battery-operated beacon on top of a tall pole on the grounds. Congress appropriated funds for another renovation in 2006, which included measures to prevent further erosion to the bluff upon which the lighthouse sits.

This should prove to be an interesting lighthouse to stitch! There'll be no needle-blending of the sky on this one--there's not that much sky to work with. The trees in the background and the slope leading down to the water will be a challenge, however, so do check back in a couple of days!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Another lighthouse finished

The East Chop lighthouse is finished! After needle-blending the sky with DMC floss in basketweave, I finished the tower itself and moved on to the greenery.

To maintain the illusion of fog in the background, I chose a lighter shade of green--Impressions #5061--for the tree on the left, working it in a vertical diagonal cashmere stitch. The deciduous trees on the right were stitched in French knots with Sheep's Silk "Green Leaves," using one strand and one wrap for each knot. The bush in the foreground was also stitched in French knots, this time with Impressions #5000--a darker green--with two strands and one wrap per knot. Using two strands here made the bush look more pronounced, adding to the visual depth of the whole canvas.

The small bush at the right below the water was worked in a simple satin stitch with Silk & Ivory "Ivy." The path around the lighthouse foundation was worked in gobelin stitches with some Matte 18 I found in my stash, and the fence was also worked in gobelin stitches with DMC #5 perle cotton.

The overall effect of this canvas is of a lighthouse captured on a foggy day--just what I was aiming for. Even clear blue skies can get boring after stitching as many lighthouse models as I have!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Paradise Lost

Isn't it funny how things change as you get older? When I was a kid, summer was my favorite season: school was out, and my friends and I could go to the beach, have picnics, and generally chill out. Now summer is my least favorite time of year. The good news is, I live on Cape Cod, one of the prettiest places I know. The bad news is, I live on Cape Cod, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US.

Little Parker the penguin needn't worry about my usurping his spot on the beach. A) I'm too busy painting; B) I never was a sun-worshipper; and C) I'm waiting until fall, when all the visitors have gone home, to go back to the shore and collect shells.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The fog has settled!

Finally! I finished stitching the basketweave background on the East Chop lighthouse, using the needle-blending technique!

Since the last photo I posted, I started using DMC #3753 cotton floss with the #3752--four plies total--decreasing the darker shade by one ply and increasing the lighter shade accordingly. By the time I reached the top of the sky, I had started using white with the DMC #3753--the lightest shade in this blue color family. At the very top, I ended with 2 plies of #3753 and two plies of white.

I'm very happy with the result---it really does look like a foggy sky! When I'm finished stitching the lighthouse itself, I'll make some decisions about threads and stitches for the trees and bushes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The fog rolls in

Stitching time has been at a premium lately--too much painting to do!--so progress on the East Chop lighthouse has been slow. The white tower is now stitched, with DMC cotton floss in basketweave, and I've begun the needle-blending technique on the sky.

According to one definition I found, fog is basically condensed water vapor in cloudlike masses lying close to the ground and limiting visibility. So in order to stitch fog, in which the sky is darkest at the horizon and gradually lightens, I have to needle-blend in a totally different thread progression from what I've done before for a sunny sky.

Checking my DMC color card, I found the grayest blue family, and began by stitching the water in DMC #931 in gobelin stitches to simulate waves. Then at the horizon, I began to basketweave the sky--at random intervals over a height of six to eight threads high--with DMC #932. Here's the recipe for the sky so far:

Section 1: DMC # 932 - four plies
Section 2: DMC #932 - 3 plies, #3752 - 1 ply
Section 3: DMC #932 - 2 plies, #3752 - 2 plies
Section 4: DMC #932 - 1 ply, #3752 - 3 plies
Section 5: DMC #3752 - four plies

As you can see from the photo, the gradation of color is very subtle. I'll continue the process, introducing DMC #3753 into the mix as I work toward the top of the canvas.

And why have I worked on some of the grass, and why does it look so muddy? The answer to the first question: I needed something to work on in the car, and I don't recommend needle-blending in an automobile! Too many plies floating around makes it hard to keep track of where you are in the process! I'm actually using a moss green Wildflowers in a diagonal mosaic stitch for the grass, and my scanner loves to wreak havoc with this shade of green!

I'll be back when the fog has completely settled in!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A perfect gift!

I received several gifts for Mother's Day this year: flowers from No. 1 son, chocolate turtles from DH, and a lighthouse photo from No. 2 son! The flowers soon faded, and I ate the candy, but the last gift lives on!

Because of copyright reasons, I usually am unable to show the original photo or photos from which I develop a lighthouse design for needlepoint. But in this case, the photographer was my son, who took a day trip from Boston to Martha's Vineyard with some friends last month. Living with me and my lighthouses for so many years, he knew exactly what I'd be looking for in a photo. What he and his friends hadn't counted on was the weather the day of the trip--overcast and somewhat foggy. Not exactly ideal conditions for tromping around the Vineyard, but the day proved to be perfect for me! His photo of East Chop lighthouse will give me an excellent opportunity to try my hand at needle-blending a foggy sky!

In 1646, the term "East Chop" was first used by Thomas Mayhew, the governor of Martha's Vineyard, in reference to the "eastermost chop of Holmes Hole." The word "chop" was an English term for the entrance to a channel; the name "Holmes Hole" was officially changed to Vineyard Haven in 1871.

The present lighthouse, a 40-foot cylindrical cast iron tower, was constructed in 1878. Originally painted white, it was re-painted a reddish-brown in the 1880s, giving it the nickname the "Chocolate Lighthouse." It returned to its white marking sometime in the first quarter of the 1900s. The lighthouse's characteristic flashing green light was automated in 1934, and the original Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern optic in 1984. The land surrounding the lighthouse was sold by the Coast Guard in 1957 to the town of Oak Bluffs for use as a park.

I'll need to stitch some of the white tower first before attacking the sky, so stay tuned!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

When enough is enough

Looking at the copyright date on this canvas last week, I realized to my horror that I'd been sitting on it for almost five years! The poor thing moved from Texas to the Cape on stretcher bars more than three years ago, and I hadn't touched it since. And what has changed since then? Absolutely nothing!

I'd originally thought, after arriving at the point of stitching you see here, that I'd add some beads to the garland above the door and the little trees on either. That didn't work. So I pulled a length of Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #032 and started over-stitching in the two areas. That didn't work, either.

I'm not a huge fan of beating a canvas into the ground with layers and layers of stitches and embellishments, and I realized that was exactly what I had been doing with this canvas. So I've decided enough is enough--here's the newest entry in the Doorways to the Past series: Holiday Home.

Thanks to my good buddy from college days, who provided the model for this doorway when she purchased a former ship captain's home built in Maine in 1836. Since she's never at the house at Christmas time, I asked her if she minded if I decorated it for the holidays, and she replied, "Go for it!"

The house itself was stitched in DMC cotton floss and perle cotton. All the greenery was stitched in Impressions, using either French knots or what I call "free embroidery." The brick path was worked in a modified Scotch stitch with Sheep's Silk--"Lingonberry" is perfect for bricks!--and the front porch was worked in a gobelin stitch using Needle Necessities overdyed floss.