Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Slow but sure progress

One of these days, I'll figure out how to stitch and paint canvases at the same time! I've been painting my little heart out this week and haven't had a lot of time for the Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse, but I figured I'd better show a little progress lest I become known as a slacker!

I finished stitching the sky, continuing my needle-blending with one ply of DMC floss #3755 and three plies of #3325, and ending at the horizon with four plies of #3325. Based on the photos I've been using, I think the spacing of the color changes turned out just right!

For good measure, I stitched the lantern room, using black DMC #5 perle cotton--a slightly heavier thread to make this area stand out against the sky. The lantern--which unfortunately you can't see terribly well in this photo--was stitched with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #008HL. This lighthouse has a fixed green light which shines 12 miles out to sea--one of only five lighthouses I've adapted to date to have a green light.

When I finish with the details of the tower itself, I'll move on to the surrounding scenery. So bear with me--I'll get there, slowly but surely! (Exiting stage right to the painting table!)

Monday, September 28, 2009

A subtle sky

I began stitching the lighthouse at Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire, over the weekend, beginning with the white of the tower itself in four strands of DMC cotton floss in a basketweave stitch. Then I started in on the sky, using four strands of DMC floss #3755, again in basketweave (left photo).

Over the years, I have either purchased or received as gifts a large number of lighthouse reference books which have served as launching pads for my needlepoint adaptations. Almost all of the photos of the Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse show the tower against a virtually cloudless blue sky, which seemed to be a very appealing portrayal. I decided to needle-blend this sky, too, but using only two shades of floss and staggering the color changes to create a more subtle sky.

In the right photo, all the white of the tower and the railing of the walkway have been completed, and I've begun needle-blending. I first combined three plies of DMC #3755 and one ply of #3325. At the point where I stopped, I was using two plies of DMC #3755 and two plies of #3325. All this basketweaving makes for slower stitching but also a smoother look.

When I finish stitching the sky, I'll move on to picking threads and stitches for the lighthouse foundation and water!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

(R)evolution of a lighthouse

From the comfort of my armchair, I'm traveling north today to the harbor at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where a light to aid mariners has shone since 1771.

By the time New Hampshire separated from Massachusetts in 1679 and became a colony in its own right, Portsmouth was already a center of maritime trade and shipbuilding. The first aid to navigation was a crude lantern, fueled by whale oil, hoisted atop a pole over what then was Fort William and Mary (now Fort Constitution).

In 1774, British troops had established a blockade of Boston Harbor to the south. Portsmouth residents retaliated by raiding the fort and seizing a supply of gunpowder, a precious commodity in those days. Legend has it that the keeper of the lighthouse drove a wagonload of gunpowder to patriots at Breed's Hill outside of Boston, where a crucial battle in the Revolutionary War was fought in June 1775.

By 1784, an 80-foot octagonal wooden tower stood in this spot, subject to rain, winds and high water, not to mention being shaken to its foundation by the concussions of the fort's huge cannon. By the time President George Washington paid a visit in 1789, the lighthouse was in such poor repair that the keeper was summarily fired.

The tower was rebuilt in 1804 and stood until 1877, when it was replaced by the 48-foot cylindrical structure fashioned of bolted iron plates that still stands today. This is my first New Hampshire lighthouse, and when I've finished stitching it, I'll have a representative of all six New England states!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Putting a lid on the box

The lid insert for my little Sudberry House box is finished! I must say, it was a fun AND quick project!

Within a 3-1/2 inch circle, I managed to use four shades of blue, three shades of pink, and white and green DMC cotton floss; three colors of Kreinik metallic thread; and Petite Very Velvet velour thread. Stitches included Scotch, gobelin, mosaic, framed mosaic, satin, cashmere and Smyrna cross, with a little basketweave thrown in for good measure.

I'm pleased with the finished product: balancing the light and dark areas within the circle was my biggest challenge, but I think I've accomplished this. Too bad I don't have another box--I could see this design worked in a number of colorways. As I mentioned to a friend the other day, this project was super-easy to stitch because I was using my favorite colors--unfortunately for me, I'm giving it away! I'll try to take a photo when the box is assembled.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Setting the tone

I took a trip to my LNS over the weekend to purchase some thread for the center section of my crazy quilt box lid insert. I'd already done some online "window shopping" of color cards to see what might be available in a velour thread, and hoped Barry at Town-Ho Needleworks would have something that fit the bill.

The selection quickly narrowed to two threads: Petite Very Velvet #V618--a Wedgwood blue--and Fleur de Paris fine mesh velour in a light pink shade. Fleur de Paris discontinued manufacturing this thread some time ago, unfortunately, but I wasn't overly concerned about using it for a personal project. The choice of thread ultimately was based on the tone I wanted to set for the piece: I was striving for a decidedly feminine look that had a touch of sophistication and a little taste of "country." I bought both threads and took them home, but in the end decided the PVV packed a little more of a punch and would better accentuate the "string of pearls" effect I planned to stitch in this area.

My blue color palette in DMC cotton floss includes #3753, 3752, 932 and 931. After working the white areas of the top segment in a gobelin stitch over two threads, I added the darker blue stripe in the same stitch using DMC floss #931. I then moved to the bottom segment, stitching first the white and then the blue in the same color floss in a mosaic stitch.

Next I moved to the ribbon band of rosebuds, working the background in basketweave using
DMC floss #3753. The outside edge of this band was worked in a running stitch using DMC #5 perle cotton #932. After stitching the background of the center segment with the PVV in basketweave, I added the gold "string" using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002V. The "pearls" were worked with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #032 in Smyrna crosses.

So far, so good--I've balanced the light and dark values within the quilt patches and can start adding the medium values of blue to the unworked areas. Once I've established the placement of the blue shades, I can start working in the pink and hopefully maintain the light/dark balance across the piece.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thinking inside--and outside--the box

I went rummaging in my studio/office the other day, trying with no success to find a couple of models. They had a somewhat limited audience, and it occurred to me that perhaps I had never unpacked them from our move from Texas three and a half years ago. So I dove into a couple of packing boxes and came up empty-handed in terms of my initial search. But I also discovered a treasure-trove: three Sudberry House boxes of different sizes and a hand mirror, all in their original shrink-wrap. Pretty cool, huh?

There's little more intriguing--to me, anyway--than a brand-new box awaiting a lid insert! And I also needed a present for someone special. So after considering and rejecting a number of design options, I settled on a crazy quilt pattern. I've used the concept for several "Eggs for All Seasons" and enjoyed both the planning and the stitching.

The particular Sudberry House box I'll be using is the company's Petite Round Walnut model, which takes a 3-1/2 inch lid insert. I worked out the design on graph paper, using the trusty compass I inherited from my father to make sure the circle was perfectly round. Through trial and error--there are very few decent erasers in our house, thanks to me--I then worked out the placement of the various quilt segments. Only then was I ready to transfer the design to canvas.

My color scheme will be blues, pinks and white, and while the stitches I'll be using have already been "built in," the colors I've used to paint the canvas are not hard and fast. I've pulled four values each of the pinks and blues in DMC cotton floss and have a few different shades of metallic threads from which to choose, so I'll work out which color goes where as I stitch along.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Farewell to Vancouver

Point Atkinson lighthouse is ready to shine--on a Christmas tree, anyway!

The lantern room was stitched in DMC floss #666 in satin, tent and gobelin stitches. The guard rail of the walkway leading down the cliff toward the keeper's house shared the same color floss. The tower itself was worked also in DMC floss in basketweave.

The water was worked in DMC floss #312 in gobelin stitches over two threads to provide the suggestion of waves in a very small space. The rocks at the base of the tower were stitched in DMC #5 perle cotton in satin stitches.

For the grass, I chose Sheep's Silk in a diagonal mosaic stitch; another Sheep's Silk in French knots provided the foliage nestled among the rocks. The tree branch to the left and bush to the right were also stitched in French knots, this time using Impressions. Whenever the design area that's going to receive French knots ends at the edge of a canvas, as in this case, I always work the outside row in tent stitches--it keeps my finisher smiling as she seams the sides of the ornament!

Now I'll go back to painting canvases and contemplate where my next project might take me!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


The hexagonal tower of Point Atkinson lighthouse makes for some interesting angles, but when it comes to stitching, doesn't allow room for much beyond basketweave stitches. So after outlining the white of the tower, I decided to stitch the sky in a Nobuko stitch to provide a little contrast. And to provide a more realistic-looking sky, I opted to use the needle-blending technique using four strands of DMC cotton floss.

Starting at the top of the canvas with DMC floss #334, I worked six rows of Nobuko stitch across. I then followed this "recipe" in stitching down to the horizon:

Row 2: DMC #334 - 3 plies; DMC #3755 - 1 ply
Row 3: DMC #334 - 2 plies; DMC #3755 - 2 plies
Row 4: DMC #334 - 1 ply; DMC #3755 - 3 plies
Row 5: DMC #3755 - 4 plies

I then added DMC floss #3325 into the formula, gradually subtracting one ply of the darker shade and adding a ply of the lighter shade. By the time I reached the horizon, I was using four plies of DMC floss #3325.

Now I can finish stitching the tower itself and move on to the details at its base!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Exploring Point Atkinson

In between painting canvases this weekend, I did some research on Point Atkinson lighthouse and, contrary to what I'd been told, there's a wealth of information to be had about it and other British Columbia lighthouses. My first priority was to find a view of the lighthouse appropriate for my ornament format. The lovely photo supplied by my neighbor (see my last entry) was inspiration enough to fuel my search. In case you're wondering why I couldn't use that photo, the photo of my final design pictured here will give you an answer.

Ideally I love to incorporate water in a lighthouse design; the first photo included water, but at the very bottom of the photo. Furthermore, the 185 acres of virgin forest behind the lighthouse in the first photo obscured any sky at all. And in order to include both water and forest, the lighthouse itself would have been minuscule, leaving no possibility of detail. Then I found a photo taken immediately behind the lighthouse, overlooking that incredible cliff in the first photo. Using this angle, I could have my cake and eat it, too!

The first lighthouse at Point Atkinson was built in 1874 and was a wooden tower with a keeper's house attached. In 1881, the acreage that now encompasses Lighthouse Park in Vancouver was set aside as a backdrop for the lighthouse. The 60-foot hexagonal tower we see today was built in 1912, equipped with a third-order Fresnel lens emitting two white flashes every five seconds as its nighttime identification. Keepers remained on duty at the lighthouse until 1996, when the station became automated. Designated a National Historic Site in 1994, it is owned and operated by the Canadian Coast Guard.

As I begin stitching the canvas, I'll first outline the white of the tower and proceed with some needle-blended sky, so check back in a couple of days to see my progress!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The armchair traveler

When you're a full-time resident of Cape Cod--tourist mecca of the Northeast--folks assume that your life is a year-round vacation, and to some extent that's accurate. The truth is, the most exciting place I've gone all summer is to Boston's Logan Airport to pick up our son visiting from Texas. Work, houseguests, the economy and a myriad of other obligations kept a vacation this summer out of the cards. Luckily our next-door neighbors, whose kids are out of school, married and self-sufficient, are more flexible--they just returned from a glorious cruise to Alaska!

To thank me for not killing their houseplants while they were gone, my neighbors brought back a terrific photo of a lighthouse for me. The photo above was taken as the cruise ship was leaving Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and heading north. But which lighthouse was it? The cruise ship social director didn't give a blow-by-blow commentary--my neighbor could only tell me where the ship was when the photo was taken. I went on an online search-and-discovery mission to find out which lighthouse it was: Point Atkinson! A new lighthouse for me, and the third Canadian lighthouse to be adapted to needlepoint, Point Atkinson will also be my first lighthouse in British Columbia.

More research will be necessary before I can design a canvas: I never paint a lighthouse design without several photos to go by, and I suspect the angle of this photo may not be suitable for my ornament format. I'll be back when I've found just the right photo to work from and have come up with a design!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Age of Aquarium?

My previous needlepoint projects have, for the most part, been pretty straight-forward: a lot of stitching, with an occasional charm or button added for good measure. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd take on the task of interior decorator to a bunch of fishes! To paraphrase an old saying: "It's hard to remember your original goal was to drain the swamp when you're up to your eyeballs in alligators!"

Remember that this whole project began when Judy Harper and I began noodling the merits of the jacquard stitch for a water background. Judy loaned the fish designs and I provided the water. But as I worked, I realized something was missing: a little seaweed and coral to make the fishes feel at home. So, finally, after adding some surface embellishments, I can call this collaborative effort a "wrap."

I started first with the brilliant rose Petite Frosty Rays, making a bed of coral with French knots and using a size #20 needle instead of my customary #22. The bed of coral to the left was worked with Petite Frosty Rays using random long and short stitches. The lighter green seaweed on the outer edges of the canvas were worked in random length stitches topped by French knots using Petite Sparkle Rays. Then came the bubbles!--best described as Smyrna cross variations using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #1432--a variegated metallic that combines both white and blue.

Last but not least, the DMC memory thread, in two shades of green, formed the sea grass in the center. Since I hadn't used this thread before, the last step took longer than all the others! I dug out a very large tapestry needle that I hadn't used since weaving threads for my last knitting project and used it to enlarge the canvas hole where the thread was to be inserted. Following a sketch I'd made of what I wanted the grass to look like, I tacked down the thread at regular intervals with a single strand of DMC cotton floss in the same colors--#704 and #911. I then used the tapestry needle to enlarge the exit hole, bent back and clipped the end of the thread, and tacked it down on the back of the canvas.

Voila! The fishes have a home, and I'm going back to some good old straight stitching for my next project!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In search of seaweed

I took a trip to my LNS this morning in search of seaweed to embellish the "Judy/Anne" underwater collaboration! Fortunately, Barry, the owner of the shop, is used to my oddball ideas and soon joined in the spirit of the quest.

I may not eventually use all of the threads pictured here, but I think I have a broad enough selection. From top left, moving clockwise, are: DMC's memory threads in two shades of green; Petite Sparkle Rays in a silvery green; Petite Frosty Rays in a brilliant rose and tangerine; and the Petite Very Velvet which I'd already used for the seaweed around which the little seahorse wraps his tail.

In doing a Google image search of seaweed, I was struck by both the variety of shapes and colors which fall within this category. Now I need to play with the threads on doodle canvas to determine which stitches are best suited to enhance the canvas and create a stylized version of seaweed. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A trio of fanciful fishes

I finished stitching the last of Judy Harper's fanciful fishes this morning, and I guarantee this one isn't headed for obscurity, either!

For the third fish, I wanted to use colors I hadn't used on the other fishes, and I felt I needed warm colors to balance the seahorse. So I chose hot pink--one of my favorite colors--toned down by a bit of deep aquamarine and what I'd call "heliotrope," not quite blue and not quite purple.

I began by outlining the fish in DMC #5 perle cotton #335, and then filled in the remaining areas with DMC cotton floss in basketweave.

I still have a little bit of background to finish, which I'll work on over the weekend when I'm not marathon canvas painting. Then first thing next week, I'll visit my LNS to find some seaweed, for these little fishes need a habitat!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Leveling the playing field

Amazing, isn't it, what a little outlining can do!

After my last post, I finished stitching the angel fish in Judy Harper's original canvas colors. A reader had suggested that I change the colors of the fish so they'd stand out more, but I loved the way the blues and greens blended so well together. Judy e-mailed me to explain that black and silvery angel fish are found in fresh water, whereas angel fish in salt water, where sea horses are found, are more vibrantly colored.

Next it was time to choose a suitable color for the outline. I experimented by laying a variety of blues and greens against the canvas, finally selecting the DMC #5 perle cotton #991--the dark green which appears within the fish that had been stitched in basketweave with floss. Within a short time, the little angel fish went from obscurity to prominence and is now ready to play with the big guys!

I'm back in the water now, filling in the background around the final fish. I've now gone through two skeins each of the DMC cotton floss #518 and #3848 and one spool of the Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #006--pretty good mileage so far--and have plenty of thread to finish the background. But you can be sure that after I pull the colors for the third fish, my first order of business will be to outline it first!