Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Border and background

In the last few days, I played catch-up with the black matte border of Petite Very Velvet. When I felt sufficiently virtuous about the amount I'd stitched, I decided to tackle the issue of the center tan background.

I had considered a decorative stitch for this area, but the more I worked elsewhere, the more I became convinced this wouldn't work. The center squares, with the black and white stitches outlining them, appear to me like patchwork appliqued onto a ground fabric. With each square a different design, and ultimately to be adorned with a ceramic button, adding any more to the background would make the overall canvas much too busy. I asked DH what he thought, and his reply was, "If you want those squares to look like they're floating, then you have to use basketweave on the background." Out of the mouths of babes! (And yes, he is still cute after all these years!)

I kept track of how much Felicity's Garden I used on the background so far, and was pleased to know I'd have enough "Peanut Butter" to finish the whole project! To celebrate, I finished the square on the top left--nothing fancy, just basketweave, because I felt the little medallions in the corners were decoration enough.

Next I'll have to play catch-up with the shooting stars in the background of the border. Working with the Kreinik metallic may be a welcome respite, as the humidity has spiked in the last few days. Stitching with silk/wool blends in this kind of weather leads to a "sticky fingers" syndrome!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Slowly but surely

After my last post, I was asked, "How do you work around the randomly placed stars when you're stitching the black border in basketweave?" Answer: I don't work around them at all. I treat them as I would a name on the cuff of a Christmas stocking or wording on a whimsical door hanger. In this case, when I'm following the up-the-stairs, down-the-pole pattern of basketweave and come to a gold painted intersection, I skip it and move on to the next black intersection. It keeps the stitching smoother that way, and doesn't create any problems when I go back and fill in the stars and dots with my metallic thread.

I finished my first card of black Petite Very Velvet and decided to treat myself by stitching the first square in the top right corner. Pretty straightforward, actually--mostly tent stitches with a green gobelin-over-two section. I added a new thread--Sheep's Silk "Ivory" for the off-white boxes--to the threads I've already used. Then I got to the center large green square--decision time! The centers of all of these squares will eventually be covered with a rather large ceramic button. I decided, just for fun and because it carried the "square" design element of the canvas further, to stitch this area in a framed Scotch stitch. It will give me something textured to look at as I stitch the rest of the canvas!

For square #2, I stitched the corners in Scotch stitches--again carrying out the "square" shape dominant elsewhere. The rest of this square was stitched in basketweave--it, too, will be covered later by a button.

I got a little carried away stitching the second square before doing more border, I confess, but I had another reason: I was trying to let the canvas "speak" to me as I stitched, so I would be absolutely certain of my stitch choice for the tan background when I came to it. There's a fair amount of this background to do, so I need to make my decision soon. I do hate leaving a lot of background for last!

Friday, July 24, 2009

On the border

As I started stitching Mindy's Country Christmas canvas, there were two things I hoped to accomplish. First, I wanted to stay as true to the colors and feeling of the canvas itself. After all, her choice of colors was one of the attractions of the canvas for me, so why change them? I also hoped to keep the Country in the canvas--the design strikes me a bit like a patchwork quilt, and I'm counting on being able to use a variety of different threads from my stash.

And because it's a purely decorative, rather than utilitarian piece, I plan to deviate from my basketweave-only principle of stitching pillows. Alas, it will only be on display for perhaps five weeks a year, and I doubt anyone would lean against a pillow with nine ceramic buttons attached!

I've been reading quite a bit lately about the pros and cons of stitch guides for painted canvases. This canvas is the type that provides a built-in stitch guide for many areas. Looking at the black and white checkerboard outer border, choosing a series of mosaic stitches was a no-brainer. I worked these in Brown Paper Packages "Trio," the three-ply strandable version of Silk & Ivory. The tan thread at the outside edge of the checkerboard is Felicity's Garden "Peanut Butter;" the inside red thread is Trio "Bordeaux."

Moving inward to the black matte shot with stylized stars, I chose black Petite Very Velvet in basketweave as the perfect foil for Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002V. Since the canvas was already painted black in this area, I placed a red Christmas napkin--how appropriate!--in my lap to help me see the holes better. Stitching black-on-black is never easy, but putting a contrasting color such as white or red underneath the canvas really helps, especially when you're stitching at night.

The border inside the Petite Very Velvet was worked in gobelin stitch over two threads with Vineyard Silk Classic "Deep Peacock." I'd bought a skein of this thread purely on impulse this past spring while visiting my LNS. It was such a pretty color, I couldn't resist buying it although I wasn't sure at the time what I'd use it for. Sometimes impulse purchases are serendipitous!

When I've stitched a little bit more of the border--I'm about one-quarter of the way finished--I'll treat myself and start stitching some of the little squares!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Christmas in July

It's just starting to feel like summer here on the Cape, but already I'm looking toward Christmas!

I generally have a lot on my stitching plate working models for myself, but every now and then, a canvas designed by someone else just calls to me. And when the canvas is by an incredibly talented designer AND stitch painter, I feel compelled to seize the moment!

The first time I saw what will be my next project, I just fell in love. I also thought, "Why didn't I come up with something cool like that?" LOL But luckily Mindy, of Mindy's Needlepoint Factory in Oregon ( beat me to it! It had all the elements I look for in a canvas: a little bit folksy, perfectly balanced, great colors for my family room at Christmas, AND stitch-painted! When you throw in some absolutely darling ceramic buttons for the center of each square, you know why I was hooked!

Best of all, Mindy very graciously gave her permission for me to blog-stitch this canvas, so stay tuned while I unwire the buttons, mount the canvas, and rummage through my stash for just the right threads to bring Country Christmas to life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Setting the traps

The little Lobsterman nutcracker is finished, and I accomplished my goals!

One of those goals, as you may recall, was to try out a thread new to me. Sometime ago, at a visit to my LNS, the owner excitedly handed me a card of Petite Frosty Rays to try out. He'd been using it on a Cooper Oaks beach scene, and decided it produced the perfect look of wet sand. Being well-stocked with my lighthouse canvases, he thought I might find some use for it.

Petite Frosty Rays, upon closer inspection, was a lot like Flair, which I used eons ago with some success. Stitching with these threads--a nylon/rayon sheath that encases a fine metallic filament--is a lot like stitching with Barbie-doll pantyhose. The metallic filament part turned me off from using it on a lighthouse model, as I like to aim for more realism when stitching those canvases. But in a fantasy piece such as the Lobsterman, I decided a little bit of glitz wouldn't go amiss--and free thread is free thread!

The card specifically states to use short lengths and stitch taut, and as far as thread length is concerned, Rainbow Gallery isn't kidding! The area of sand was too small to use my "sand and snow stitch" from a previous posting, so I worked it in a horizontal diagonal cashmere. Does my sand look "wet"? I think so. Will I run out and buy another card anytime soon? Probably not. I used almost the entire card (six yards) for this small area--not terribly economical.

Once the sand was in place, I used DMC #3 perle cotton to stitch the boots--each side three rows of gobelin stitch over three threads, with the toes in a satin stitch. Then it was time to stitch the traps themselves, and those little devils gave me fits!

On a doodle canvas, I tried seven different combinations of threads to achieve the color of wood weathered by salt water and air as well as the texture of wood. I finally settled on a curious marriage of one strand of DMC #5 perle cotton #414 (gray) and one strand of a tan Impressions. The outside of the traps were worked in a modified gobelin stitch; two plies of DMC cotton floss in long stitches produced the netting, against a background of floss stitched in basketweave.

I'm happy with the way this replacement model worked out--different from the original on 18-count canvas in both stitches and threads, but I'm now more familiar with what does and doesn't work on 13-count canvas!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Catch of the day

Slowly but surely, I'm getting to the bottom of the Lobsterman nutcracker canvas!

After finishing the stitching of his slicker with the Silk & Ivory "Big Canary," I added the closures using Kreinik #16 medium braid #002V. This thread has been in my stash for ages, dating back to the days before Kreinik kindly introduced its #12 tapestry braid for those of us for whom #8 fine braid was too thin and #16 medium braid was too fat for 18-count canvas.

I then "went fishing" for a thread for the lobster itself. I needed something to provide contrast to the Silk & Ivory as well as the perle cotton of the life preserver AND was the right shade of red. (No need to remind the kiddies that lobsters in their fresh-from-the-water state are actually an ugly greenish-black and don't achieve the characteristic "lobster red" until they've emerged from a boiling water bath!) I decided on good old DMC cotton floss #817, working each segment of the lobster in a satin stitch. I've had a fair amount of experience dissecting these crustaceans, so I'm familiar with where all the joints are!

I'm on the home stretch now, and should be able to wrap this little fellow up for the finisher in a day or two!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Heading skyward

My next decisions in stitching this little Lobsterman nutcracker were choice of thread and stitch for the sky background. Keeping in mind one of my goals was to experiment with familiar threads in a different way, I decided to try Vineyard Silk on 13-count canvas. I've used it on 18-count canvas, with beautiful results, and had been told it worked equally well on the larger mesh.

I had originally picked out a skein of Vineyard Silk Tone-on-Tone in the pretty blue shade of "Atlantic." It was a good thing I tried it on doodle canvas first: it wasn't exactly the vibrant shade of blue I was looking for and the variation in color, from an almost baby-blue to indigo, would definitely not work here. It's a lovely thread, but not for this canvas, so I put it aside but look forward to finding a use for it down the road.

I did have a skein of Vineyard Silk Classic "Jewel" in my stash, which was almost a perfect match to the painted background. I stitched this in a basketweave, so as not to compete with the "Big Canary" Nobuko stitch of the slicker--I want the Lobsterman himself front and center! This experiment, too, was a great success: the thread covered perfectly on the 13-count canvas and was as much fun to use as it has been on the smaller mesh. It's nice to come across a thread which provides great "bang-for-the-buck," in that it can be used in a number of different applications.

With the background completed, I pulled some DMC #3 perle cotton for the life preserver, working it in a diagonal mosaic stitch. It provided a good contrast in texture to the Silk & Ivory used for the slicker.

I'll finish stitching the slicker and add the lobster next!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Up close and personal

I have three goals for this project: (1) to try familiar threads in a different way; (2) to try at least one new thread; and (3) to pull all threads from my stash. That being said....

When I work on a canvas that features the face of a person, I like to do the face first--that way I have someone looking at me and cheering me on as I progress. This little guy wasn't designed as a sinister Ancient Mariner--he's the quintessential dead-pan Downeasterner. Stitching faces on 13-count canvas in the past, I used DMC #3 perle cotton. Okay, but a little rough around the edges. So I decided to try DMC cotton floss, using 8 plies, for the face in basketweave except for the nose and cheeks in a satin stitch. My first experiment succeeded.

Before I could stitch the moustache and beard, I needed to pick a thread and stitch for the fellow's slicker. Piece of cake: in my stash was an unopened skein of Silk & Ivory "Big Canary " (think Big Bird from Sesame Street). Silk & Ivory works beautifully on 13-count canvas, even in a Nobuko stitch, which I decided to use for the main part of the slicker.

When I'd stitched enough of the slicker around the face, I then needed to choose a thread and stitch for the beard and moustache. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: No 50/50 silk/wool blends are created equal. Silk & Ivory is a 50/50 blend, but so, too, is Felicity's Garden--about half the thickness of S & I and heathery in appearance. So I combined one strand of Felicity's Garden "Granite" (a dark gray) and one strand of "Baby Squirrel" (a lighter, brownish gray) to stitch his forelock, eyebrows and moustache. The beard was stitched with the same combination of threads in an upright gobelin stitch--twice, going down through the same holes, to give it more prominence. I could have used Silk & Ivory for these areas also, but the lighter-weight Felicity's Garden gives them a finer, hair-like appearance.

Next up: choosing a thread for the sky!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A little experimenting

Many of you may know that I stitch models for each of my designs. In fact, I don't paint a master for a new design until I've stitched it, just in case the design itself needed a little tweaking.

A couple of years ago, the model for my Lobsterman nutcracker stand-up "went missing" during a trunk show--the only time this calamity has befallen me. Now that I have a new brick-and-mortar shop carrying my canvases in Maine--The Stitching Mantis in Cape Elizabeth ( decided it was high time to stitch a replacement model for the shop to display.

The first model was the 18-count canvas version, and I do dislike stitching the same thing twice, even if it is my own creation! So the new model will be a 13-count canvas example, which will give me an opportunity to experiment a little with new threads and stitches. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ready for inspection

With the addition of bushes and trees, Horton Point lighthouse is now finished!

The bushes flanking the doorway were stitched in French knots using Sheep's Silk "Camouflage." The knots were done with a single wrap to keep the bushes at a lower profile.

The little fir tree on the right was worked in layered long stitches using Impressions "Emerald." There are some fairly bright green sections in this overdyed thread which I cut out, as I wanted to highlight the medium and dark blue-greens.

The trunk of the tree in the foreground was stitched with three strands of Burmilana, while the leaves were worked in French knots with two wraps using Sheep's Silk "Green Leaves" to give them more prominence.

The roof and gallery of the lantern room were stitched with DMC cotton floss, while the optic itself was worked with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #008HL.

Now to decide what my next project might be!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Blue skies over Long Island

I finished my needle-blending of the sky over Horton Point lighthouse. Having begun with four plies of DMC floss #813, I continued using the following formula:

Section 2 - 3 plies DMC #813, 1 ply DMC #827
Section 3 - 2 plies DMC #813, 2 plies DMC #827
Section 4 - 1 ply DMC #813, 3 plies DMC #827
Section 5 - four plies DMC #827

By the time I finished stitching Section 5, I was just below the bottom of the roof line of the keeper's house. Since the sky was already fairly light at this point, I continued with the four plies of DMC #827 down to the top of the tree in the foreground. I then resumed needle-blending, adding DMC #828 to the mix. The last section stitched just at the horizon combined two plies of DMC #827 and two plies of DMC #828.

For the water, I again blended threads--DMC #826 and 825--two darker shades in the same color family as the threads used for the sky. The water was worked in gobelin stitches over two threads to achieve the impression of waves in a very small space!

Now I'll start adding the greenery and the lighthouse will be ready for your inspection!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How random is random?

I've not made a ton of progress on Horton Point lighthouse since yesterday's post. The grass is now finished, using Sheep's Silk in a diagonal mosaic stitch, and the path is laid with DMC #5 perle cotton.

I've also started stitching the sky, using the needle-blending technique in basketweave with DMC cotton floss #813. This seemed to be a good opportunity to answer a question I've received several times: How random is random when you're stitching basketweave using this technique?

I figured a picture was worth a thousand words, so click on the photo and you'll see for yourself!

For those of you who've followed my needle-blending process over several projects, you may have noticed that I sometimes start at the top of the sky and work my way down, while on other occasions I've started at the horizon line, and stitched with the canvas turned upside down. For this project, I started with the darkest shade of blue working from the top down to be sure the thread I choose for the oxidized roof of the lantern room will stand out sufficiently from the sky.

Next I'll start the actual needle-blending, adding DMC floss #827 and finally #828 to the recipe!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Special effects

Since there is so much white in the Horton Point lighthouse design, I decided I should concentrate my stitching on the tower and keeper's house first, rather than attack the sky as I usually do. The surface of both buildings is stucco, a feature I wanted to highlight in my choice of stitch and thread.

I've stitched stucco before, primarily for some of the Missions of California designs. One combination which has worked for me is a Nobuko stitch using DMC #5 perle cotton. The Nobuko stitch provides the visually rough, somewhat swirly look of stucco; the perle cotton adds the sheen to mimic the play of sunlight on a surface full of nooks and crevices. An additional benefit of using perle cotton is I know the buildings themselves will stand out in relief against the sky, when I later stitch it with cotton floss.

The asphalt roof, window frame and door are a very dark green--what I once heard a Connecticut house painter refer to as a York green--a traditional colonial color. I also wanted a thread with a flat appearance to contrast against the white stucco. Rummaging in my stash, I found a card of Matte 18--a 100% cotton thread--in the perfect shade of green. The roof was worked in a gobelin stitch over two threads; the door is a simple satin stitch.

Now that the shadow lines and window are stitched with DMC cotton floss, I can start working on a fair amount of sky!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hand-picked by George Washington!

With the sounds of fireworks still reverberating in our ears, it seemed appropriate that I should select for my next project a lighthouse location originally identified by George Washington himself!

Washington was only twenty-five years old when he rode from Virginia north through Long Island, New York, and came across two likely sites for a future light station: Montauk and Horton Point. In 1790, now-President Washington commissioned the construction of the lighthouses, but while Montauk was soon operational, it wouldn't be until 1855 that sufficient land was acquired by the government for the Horton Point lighthouse pictured here. The lighthouse was completed in 1857 for the princely sum of $7,500, with a fixed white light as its nighttime identification.

By 1932, however, it was decommissioned and a new optic light was installed atop a skeletal steel tower constructed on the bluff overlooking Long Island Sound. Between 1941 and 1950, the original tower was used as an observation post by the Army, Coast Guard and civil defense personnel. It fell victim to vandalism during the 1960s, but was luckily rescued by the Southold Historical Society. The skeletal tower was dismantled, the original structure was renovated extensively, and the Horton Point lighthouse was re-commissioned in 1990 with a flashing green modern optic as its identification. The historical society continues to operate a nautical museum in its first floor and basement.

I'll start working on the white tower and keeper's house first, then forge ahead with the sky and rest of the scenery.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

It's the 233rd birthday of the United States, and a time for celebration!

The "Fourth of July" doorway pictured here was not a figment of my imagination: it's actually someone's doorway! A few years ago, a needlework shop invited attendees to its annual needlepoint retreat to submit photos of their doorways for me to convert to needlepoint canvas. When I saw this doorway, I fell in love! And luckily, the proud owner was happy to give me permission to market it after the retreat.

The main part of this doorway was stitched in DMC cotton floss and #5 perle cotton. The bunting was stitched with Silk & Ivory; Sheep's Silk, in a Nobuko stitch, formed the grass. The cat was stitched with black Petite Very Velvet, white Medici, and DMC cotton floss yellow eyes, just like the original!

One of my favorite parts of this design are the two urns of geraniums flanking the door, created with mounds and mounds of French knots in two shades of DMC floss to create more of a 3-D effect. The urns themselves were first padded with a basketweave of floss before adding the top layer of satin stitches in DMC perle cotton.