Saturday, October 31, 2009

A "spook-tacular" finish

Just in time for Halloween, stitching on the Point Lookout lighthouse is finished!

After adding the path using DMC floss #644 in a gobelin stitch, I worked the grass with Sheep's Silk "Green Leaves Dark" in Nobuko stitch. The bushes were stitched in French knots using Silk & Ivory "Ivy." The landscaping is complete!

Paranormal psychologists called in by the State of Maryland to investigate the strange doings in and around the lighthouse are not the only ones to have witnessed unusual occurrences. One such witness was Laura Berg, the last person to live in the lighthouse and the founder of the Point Lookout Lighthouse Preservation Society.

She, along with several others, participated in a seance in the lighthouse in the late '70s and was photographed during the event. The developed photo revealed the presence of someone unobserved by seance participants: the shadowy form, standing beside Laura Berg, of a man in a soldier's uniform, standing casually with legs crossed, who appeared to be leaning into the wall.

While still in residence at the lighthouse, Laura Berg awoke one night to the sight of six bright lights swirling on the bedroom ceiling. Detecting the smell of smoke, she rushed downstairs to find the space heater in the living room on fire.

Rangers at Point Lookout State Park have also had unexplained "encounters." One ranger going about his duties to secure the lighthouse for an imminent electrical storm reported seeing a young, clean-shaven man peering into one of the windows. When the ranger opened the door to investigate, the young man disappeared through the screening of the enclosed front porch. The ranger later learned that his visitor's appearance matched that of one of the passengers of the Express, a steamer wrecked on the Point Lookout shore during a similar electrical storm in 1878.

Gathering weather data along the beachfront, another ranger encountered an elderly woman, obviously agitated, who walked with eyes cast down as if looking for something she'd lost along the path. She shrugged off the ranger's offer of assistance and he continued on his way. When the ranger looked back a short time later, the woman had disappeared. Several weeks had passed when the tombstone of Elizabeth Taylor was discovered in one of the rooms of a local hotel. Records revealed that the Taylor family cemetery had been located on the same stretch of beachfront where the ranger met the old woman. Was it the spirit of Elizabeth Taylor, searching for her family members, that the ranger had encountered?

The Point Lookout lighthouse may not have been one of the most picturesque lighthouses I've adapted to needlepoint, but you have to admit its history certainly has been exciting!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Building the lighthouse

With the sky and water stitched, I started in on the Point Lookout lighthouse itself. I worked the tower in DMC floss #666 in a combination of tent and satin stitches, and the front porch in white DMC floss in tent, Scotch variation and gobelin stitches over two threads.

Stitching small architectural elements isn't always easy: you want to give a hint of how the different areas are constructed, but the size of the areas limits you to the types of decorative stitches that might be suitable. For the roof of the house itself, I used DMC floss #815 in a cashmere stitch to mimic overlapping shingles. The corrugated roof of the porch was constructed of DMC floss #355 in alternating vertical rows of tent and gobelin stitches over three threads.

The house itself is constructed of brick that has been painted a tan color, but the areas to be stitched were too small to use a decorative stitch that might suggest brick. Here I used basketweave in DMC floss #842, which keeps the overall look in scale and further accentuates the decorative stitches I did use on the roof sections.

Ann Davis, the keeper of the lighthouse from 1830 to 1847 whom I mentioned in my previous post, was not the only female keeper. Pamela Edwards, the keeper during the Civil War, must have been one tough cookie! In addition to maintaining her rigorous duties at the lighthouse, she was surrounded by doctors and patients at the Union Army hospital as well as a burgeoning population of Confederate prisoners-of-war. No wonder the laughing, female voice, cussing a blue streak, that paranormal investigators recorded has been attributed to her!

It is believed that at some point, Pamela Edwards was forced to house within the lighthouse itself several female prisoners who had been accused of spying or being Confederate sympathizers. The last employee of the State of Maryland, who lived with her husband in the lighthouse until 1981, complained of an unexplained smell of death and decomposition emanating from one of the upstairs bedrooms. She made numerous attempts to scrub the room, but each night the smell reappeared.

Paranormal psychologists brought in to investigate this phenomenon detected "vibes" of pain and suffering coming from the room. They finally decided the location must have been where the female prisoners had been detained, and once their report was made public, the smell suddenly disappeared. Did the ghosts of these prisoners feel vindicated and leave the lighthouse once their previous existence had been confirmed by experts?

I need to finish "landscaping" the lighthouse, and have a few more ghostly stories up my sleeve, before we slide into Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Needle-blending a gloomy sky

I began stitching on the Point Lookout lighthouse with the sky, which I wanted to be in keeping with a haunted lighthouse. I chose a gray-blue color palette of DMC cotton floss, starting at the top with four plies of DMC #932 stitched in basketweave. Randomly staggering the stitches at the bottom of each section, I followed this " recipe" down to the horizon:

Row 2: Three plies DMC #932, one ply #3752
Row 3: Two plies DMC #932, two plies #3752
Row 4: One ply DMC #832, three plies #3752
Row 5: Four plies DMC #3752
Row 6: Three plies DMC #3752, one ply #3753

I then added the water, using DMC floss #931 in a gobelin stitch over two threads. It was then time to work on the lighthouse itself, so I hopped on the computer to check the exact shade of red for the lantern room and tower. Some photos I hadn't seen before came up in my search, and I realized the roof of the house itself wasn't black: it was a red so dark that, in most of the previous photos I'd consulted, it had appeared to be black. Not to worry--I'll cover over that black paint with dark red when I get to the roof. I knew there was a good reason for my not painting a master for a lighthouse design until the model had been stitched!

In my previous post, I mentioned the study of ghostly activity, commissioned by the Maryland Committee on Psychic Research in 1980, which produced tape recordings of 24 different voices within the lighthouse. One of those voices, which distinctly utters the words "My home," has been attributed to Ann Davis, wife of the first keeper James Davis. When he suddenly died only two months after his appointment in 1830, Ann took over his responsibilities until her death in 1847. Her apparition, dressed in a long blue skirt and starched white blouse, at the top of the lantern room stairs has been documented by several people.

From 1971 to 1972, a young state employee, along with her husband and infant son, lived at the lighthouse. Each night she tucked the baby in for the night with his head at the top of the crib and, on one particularly chilly evening, clipped a blanket and top sheet down around the sleeping child. Halfway down the stairs to rejoin her husband, she heard the baby utter a blood-curdling scream. When she raced back to the bedroom, the child was sound asleep--at the other end of the crib, facing the opposite direction. His covers had been removed and the bed re-made so he'd still be snug in this new position.

Was it the benevolent ghost of former keeper Ann Davis who had taken it upon herself to rearrange the child? More stitching and more stories still to come!

Friday, October 23, 2009

A haunted lighthouse: believe it or not!

It has stood on the same spot for almost 180 years, but has been vacated for the last 30. Its beacon, the aid to navigation that provided the reason for its existence, was removed 44 years ago. But some folks say there's still a lot of activity going on at Point Lookout lighthouse in Scotland, Maryland, dubbed the most haunted lighthouse in the United States!

The grounds of Point Lookout State Park, at the mouth of the Potomac River where it meets Chesapeake Bay, haven't always been quite so desolate. Originally part of St. Michael's Manor owned by Leonard Calvert, first governor of Maryland while still a British colony, the spot was a mecca for visitors to its wharf and summer cottages when the lighthouse was built in 1830. With the coming of the Civil War, however, the area's charm as a summer resort dramatically changed.

In 1862, the federal government leased land on the point to construct Hammond General Hospital for the care of wounded Union soldiers. The following year, some Confederate detainees were assigned to the hospital. After the Battle of Gettysburg, however, Camp Hoffman--the Civil War's largest prison camp--was constructed on the site to house a maximum of 10,000 Confederate soldiers. By 1864 the population had exploded to 20,000. Conditions were squalid: drinking water was contaminated and make-shift tents provided little protection from the elements. More than 4,000 Confederate soldiers died and were buried a short distance from the camp.

Renovations to the original lighthouse were made in 1883 to allow space for two keepers' families and again in 1927, when it reached its present 2-1/2 story size. By the early 1950s, the U.S. Navy had begun buying parcels on the site and when the Coast Guard turned the lighthouse over to the Navy in 1965, the Fresnel lens was removed and a steel light tower was constructed offshore. After years of disinterest, the Navy did restore the lighthouse exterior in 2002, returning it to its original 1927 paint scheme, and the State of Maryland assumed ownership in 2006.

Oddly enough, it wasn't until the state took over the lighthouse that strange noises and sitings began to occur. Paranormal psychologists were brought in, confirming in taped recordings the existence of 24 different voices and documenting apparitions both in the lighthouse and on the grounds.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, stay tuned for a little stitching and some interesting--and slightly spooky--stories about the spirits of Point Lookout lighthouse!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An encore performance

The "Dreamgirls" are back--from the finisher, that is. I thought those of you who followed my progress in stitching this little Halloween door-hanger might be interested in seeing how it turned out.

The finishing was done by Stitchery Square in Camden, Maine, who turned this project around in plenty of time for the upcoming holiday. Once again, Michelle McCreery, a very sweet and talented lady, has worked her magic with black and metallic white cording and an over-the-top embellishment of sparkly orange and black-and-white ribbons and a little purple doo-dad for good measure.

Our across-the-street neighbors' renovation project is behind schedule, so perhaps this will cheer up the lady of the house!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A double-photo finish!

Both versions of the "Victoria" mini-sock design are now completed!

To finish the lace cuff on the mini-sock on the left, I added black Petite Very Velvet and Smyrna crosses to the squares made by the grid of DMC #5 perle cotton that I'd already established. Then I stitched the last ribbon motif, using white DMC floss in basketweave for the background, #991 in satin stitch for the holly, and #304 in a cross stitch for the berries. I chose not to use French knots for the berries because, as a model, this little sock will get a lot of wear-and-tear traveling around and single French knots could be too easily snagged.

I finished off the cuff on the right mini-sock and, again, had one more ribbon motif to complete. For the filigree ribbon, I chose DMC floss #819--a very pale pink--in basketweave for the background, Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002V , and Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #032 for the "pearls."

So here we have the same basic design, with two very different color schemes and cuff treatments--I look forward to learning which version YOU like best!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A touch of lace

I've been a busy bee this week, working on the two versions of my "Victoria" mini-sock design.

Yes, Cyn, I did go to the local fabric store, but don't get excited! I went to look, not to purchase. Lace, indeed, was on my mind, and I wanted to get an idea of the different styles to determine which ones would be best for the cuffs on the mini-socks. Bet you never realized how many different types of lace there are: crocheted lace, gossamer lace that looks more like netting, cotton with a starched, perky look--the list is virtually endless! And don't forget the different colors, too: pure white, ivory, and "blond." Having figured out which style and color would be appropriate for each version, I hurried home to stitch them!

As you can see from the photo on the left, the "darker" version really isn't that dark anymore. When I finished stitching three of the four ribbon motifs, I took a long, hard look at the canvas and realized the background of the fourth ribbon should stay exactly as I'd left it unpainted: white! As I began stitching the two upper ribbon sections in basketweave with white DMC floss, the strangest thing happened--the green on the "rosebud" ribbons appeared greener, and I decided it wasn't a bad thing at all as it softened the look of the "jewel tone" ribbons.

I finished the filigree ribbons on the "lighter" version, as you can see in the right photo, and then I got side-tracked--time to stitch some lace! I had already studied some needlepoint lace-making techniques outlined so clearly on Judy Harper's "Freebies" blog and knew essentially which styles would be suitable for each sock. To answer NC Pat's comment, I never planned to link the versions with a coordinating cuff color--I'm treating each version as separate but equal. Getting out my graph paper, I planned out the shapes of each cuff and the spacing of the grid which will eventually produce the lace itself. Believe me, this step took a lot longer than the actual stitching!

The sock on the left has a cuff of crocheted lace, using DMC #5 perle cotton. I tried it on doodle canvas first, with both the perle cotton and Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #032, and decided I liked the perle cotton best. I first established the "points" on the edge with diagonal oblong cross stitches, ending with a "drop" at each point worked in a variation of the Leviathan stitch three threads square. Next I filled in a grid that resembles the basis for a framed mosaic stitch. I'll go back and fill in the squares to create a pattern with the black Petite Very Velvet.

The cuff in the right photo is one-third completed, with the stitching of the grid begun in the center "festoon." I used the same DMC floss #712 that I'd used in the plaid ribbon to mimic the look of "blond" lace. The squares of the grid were filled in a pattern of the taupe Petite Very Velvet and Smyrna crosses stitched with the floss.

I still have ribbons as well as cuffs to finish, but I feel like I'm on the home stretch now. And I proved to myself that I could stitch lace, not just buy it!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More ribbons, more decisions

When I finished stitching the "jeweled" ribbons on the "Victoria" mini-sock on the left, it was time to re-assess the color situation. At this point, the color choice was heavily weighted toward reds, and I decided it was time to play up the greens a bit more.

So for the background of the "rosebud" ribbon, I chose DMC floss #504 for the background, stitched in basketweave, with DMC #991 for the leaves and DMC #304 for the flower buds in satin stitch. Using the pale green background pulled in the green from the plaid ribbon already stitched, and will tie in the green of the holly when I get to that ribbon.

For the mini-sock on the right, I wanted to strike a balance between light green and pink as well as brighten the colors here a bit. For the vertical "filigree" ribbon, I selected DMC floss #962 as the background, accented with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #092. The pink shades tie in the rosebuds as well as the pink of the plaid and keep the overall design from looking too somber.

When I finish stitching these ribbons, I'll have only one more ribbon motif to mull over as well as the cuffs of both mini-socks. I'm thinking a trip to my local fabric store as well as my LNS may be in order!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Looking both ways

The two versions of my "Victoria" mini-sock design are now equal in stitching progress. Each has edgings for all the ribbons and one horizontal ribbon is complete.

For the mini-sock on the left, I chose DMC #5 perle cotton #498 and a dark green Fleur de Paris fine mesh velour for the edgings, each worked in a gobelin stitch over two threads. The "jeweled" ribbon was stitched in basketweave with DMC cotton floss #304 for the background and Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #008 for the "emeralds."

The edges of the ribbons of the mini-sock on the right were worked in Fleur de Paris pink fine mesh velour and DMC floss #503, again in gobelin stitches over two threads. The rosebud ribbon was stitched in DMC floss #504 for the background, #501 for the leaves and #961 in satin stitch for the flower buds.

I'll finish these horizontal ribbons on both mini-socks, then it will be decision time for colors on the other ribbons. The trick will be to keep the left sock from being too dark and the one on the right just bright enough!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dramatic versus delicate

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you--I've painted another canvas!

I was making great stitching progress on the "Victoria" mini-sock when I received a comment on a previous post from Jan Fitzpatrick ( She'd originally thought I was going to use white Petite Very Velvet for the background, then decided my choice of the black PVV was the way to go.

It was at that point I started to re-think my concept of a "Victorian" Christmas decoration. Not only were there dramatic jewel tones, for which black would be the perfect foil, but also there were delicate ornaments as well with predominantly pastel colors. I decided just for fun to do both, blog-stitching them side by side!

I painted another canvas, this time using pinks and pale greens instead of the burgundy and hunter green. The only change between this design and the first is in the motif for the left and right vertical ribbons: I substituted another filigree design for the holly and berries, which would have required much darker threads.

The background for this mini-sock is also Petite Very Velvet, in a shade Rainbow Gallery calls "taupe" but to me looks like a tea-dyed velvet. The gold metallic thread is the same Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002V I used on the first mini-sock. I've started stitching the lightest shade in the plaid ribbon using DMC cotton floss #712.

I have some catching up to do on the new canvas to reach the point where I left off on the first, and then we can compare them side by side!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Balancing light and dark

I began stitching my "Victoria" mini-sock by establishing a black velveteen background, using Petite Very Velvet in basketweave. Next I worked the outside edges of the ribbons trimmed in gold, using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002V in a gobelin stitch over two threads.

The plaid ribbons are the darkest areas, so I decided to stitch them first to provide myself with a benchmark. I don't want this mini-sock to appear too dark, and having the darkest sections worked will help me decide how light and/or bright the threads of the other ribbons will need to be to maintain a balance.

Next came the selection of red and green color families appropriate for a Victorian Christmas. I chose DMC cotton floss #304 (red) and #502 (green) for the plaid, working the squares in mosaic stitches framed by tent stitches in black floss and the Kreinik metallic braid.

With one ribbon design done, I still have three more to go! I also will soon need to make a decision about the cuff treatment, as that will affect my choice of colors for the other ribbons.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Making good on a goof

Last weekend, while painting a Christmas mini-sock for an order, I did something I very rarely do--I miscounted. Nuts! A 9 x 10 inch piece of canvas went by the wayside, and I cut another one--and this time I didn't goof!

Sitting at my painting table this morning, bemoaning my poor discarded canvas, I suddenly had an idea for a new mini-sock design. Better yet, I had a name for it: "Victoria." What's in a name, you may well ask. For me, everything! My stitching cronies who are privy to the machinations of my designing mind will tell you that without the right name for a new design, I'm just not ready to take the plunge and stitch!

So here it is: a woven-ribbon pattern that incorporates many of the motifs of a Victorian Christmas mini-sock. Holly, rosebuds, filigree and tartan plaid have been threaded through a background that right now looks decidedly white. Ahh--that's just to save my poor old eyes. I see a lot of black Petite Very Velvet in my future to make this design as opulent as any turn-of-the-century Christmas decoration! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A time to rally

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time for all of us to rally to fight this insidious disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, one woman in eight will fall victim to this disease during her lifetime. Gee, that's strange: the risk factor is exactly the same today as it was 11 years ago when I became a statistic myself. What are we doing--or not doing--to improve the odds of beating this foe in our lifetime?

Obviously, putting our money where our mouths are is a good start. In addition to the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, there are many other worthwhile organizations raising money to fund research for a cure and to support victims of the disease.

But we can also advocate for ourselves: when was the last time YOU had a mammogram? Statistics have shown that the earlier breast cancer is detected, the greater is the chance of surviving the disease. Just think: an hour of your time spent, once a year, could save your life. You might actually reach the bottom of that pile of UFOs in your stash--a scary thought!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sailing away from Portsmouth, NH

Finally!--the Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse is finished! This canvas didn't require a lot more work--just a few more hours in the day--but I took a couple of evenings, parked myself down, and set to finishing it.

The trees posed a bit of a challenge: how to make them stand out against the sky while still keeping them in the background. I solved this dilemma in two steps. First, I chose two different threads of relatively similar weight--Impressions #5061 and Sheep's Silk "Green Leaves." Then I divided the tree line randomly as I worked in a satin stitch, using the Impressions at the shoreline and the Sheep's Silk above. Since the Sheep's Silk is an overdyed thread, the shades of green vary, mimicking the effect of sunlight playing on the tops of the trees.

The water was worked with DMC cotton floss #312 in a horizontal diagonal cashmere stitch, which provides the look of movement in a relatively small area. The dark gray foundation for the tower and walkway are DMC #5 perle cotton #414 in a gobelin stitch over two threads.

The rocks under the foundation were worked with DMC floss in a satin stitch; the supports for the walkway were stitched in vertical diagonal cashmere using the same thread, with the shadows surrounding them worked in tent stitch in floss two shades darker.

As I resume my painting, thoughts of what my next project might be will be turning in the back of my mind!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Time out for Santa!

One of the most exciting parts of being a designer is seeing how someone else has interpreted my canvases. I received an e-mail yesterday from Pierrette Pattyn, self-proclaimed president of the ABS Designs Fan Club, with wonderful news: after stitching it last year, she finally finished "The Morning After" canvas, portraying Santa taking a well-deserved nap after his all-night flight to deliver presents.

Pierrette followed the stitch guide which accompanied the canvas fairly closely and, as usual, did a bang-up job of it. What I found particularly neat was the way in which she finished it--flat, with a side cording, and an easel to prop it up in the back. Pierrette told me she used a green stretchy velour type of material for the back which alternates shades as it catches the light.

She's close to the end of stitching "The Night Before," the companion canvas of Mrs. Santa knitting a last-minute Christmas scarf, and will finish it in the same way. The beauty of the easel treatment is that these pieces are light-weight and can be displayed on a mantel, table-top or virtually anywhere a person needs a little Christmas! Great job, Pierrette, and thanks for sharing!