Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Turning back the clock

I'm returning once again to the subject of clocks, this time adapting to needlepoint a Shaker wall clock dating to 1840.

The Shaker religious movement was founded by Mother Ann Lee, an illiterate factory worker, who fled religious persecution in England in 1774 with eight believers and settled outside of Albany, New York. Officially organized as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing in 1787, the group was more commonly referred to as "shaking Quakers" or Shakers because of the vigorous and ecstatic dancing in their religious observances. They established communities in which men and women lived as brothers and sisters, where all property was held in common, and each was assigned a task to help transform earth into heaven. At the time the clock I've modeled was originally produced, there were more than 6,000 Shaker believers living in 19 communal villages in New England, Ohio and Kentucky.

The Shakers were well ahead of their time in their belief in social and economic equality: in the year they officially organized as a religion, equal rights were granted to women believers, and Southern Shaker communities began freeing slaves and buying back the freedom of enslaved believers in 1817. Inventors of hundreds of labor-saving devices, including clothespins and circular saws, which they freely shared without patents, the Shakers strove for perfection in everything they did, raising the benchmark for American crafts and architecture.

The Shakers brought new meaning to the saying "A place for everything, and everything in its place." On the walls of their communal dormitories were wooden peg rails, upon which everything used in daily life--from coats, shawls, baskets, fruit carriers, clocks and chairs--was neatly stored. My vignette attempts to capture this "moment in time" in Shaker life, and I'll be working this canvas with some simple threads and stitches in keeping with the Shaker spirit.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A very good choice

With only the trees and grass remaining to be stitched on the Seul Choix Point lighthouse canvas, it was easy to finish this project over the weekend.

For the trees, I was looking for a stitch which would provide a little texture and a thread which would provide a fairly low profile so as to not overwhelm the buildings in front of them. I used one strand of Impressions #5061 in a diagonal vertical oblong cross stitch--a very long name for a very simple stitch! Impressions is one of the thinner silk/wool blends, but when stitched over a canvas painted the same dark green, covers very nicely.

In order to accentuate the height of the lighthouse itself, my design area for the grass is only four threads deep. I still wanted a little texture here, so I used Sheep's Silk "Green Leaves Dark" in a diagonal mosaic stitch.

Many thanks to my Michigan reader for tipping me off to the existence of this lighthouse--it was a fun stitch! My next project is ready to go and I hope to work it in a "timely" fashion!

UPDATE: I just received this e-mail from my Michigan reader, who was unable to post this and asked that I do it for her:

When I asked Anne to consider adding the Seul Choix Lighthouse to her collection of Michigan Lights, I hoped "my only choice" would become a needlepoint treasure to stitch. It surely has become that, and Anne did a marvelous job researching the light's history as well (even telling of its haunting!). Now I can't wait to add the canvas to my own collection, a piece that will promise to "light" my memories of a most special place. Thank you, Anne, it's a "keeper"!--Noel Horn

Thank you, Noel--and let's hear from others out there who'd like to see their special lighthouse adapted to needlepoint!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A lot of construction going on!

In the last few days, I've made considerable progress on the Seul Choix Point lighthouse--the buildings are all finished!

The bright red lighthouse tower was worked in satin stitch with DMC floss #349, with trim added in either tent or gobelin stitch over two threads with DMC floss #367 (green) and #738 (tan). Windows for the tower as well as the keeper's house used DMC floss #318 in either mosaic stitch or gobelin stitch. To imitate the look of limestone blocks for the tower's foundation, I used DMC #5 perle cotton in a Scotch stitch variation.

On to the enclosed corridor between the tower and house! Here I used DMC floss #817, a slightly darker red, in satin stitches for both the roof and the side, with DMC #5 perle cotton #436 for the foundation.

The roof of the keeper's house was worked in slanted gobelin stitches over two threads with DMC floss #349, with white DMC floss for the trim. Then it was time to stitch the three black rectangles, which on the painted canvas look like windows but are actually screens fronting a deep porch. Out with the doodle canvas! Using an alternating basketweave, I auditioned several shades of gray/brown floss, finally using DMC #645 and 647 to get the look I wanted. The foundation of the porch was worked in a Scotch stitch variation with DMC floss #414 and 543.

All that remains are the trees and the grass, which I'll finish up over the weekend!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nary a cloud in the sky

I started stitching the Seul Choix Point lighthouse with the tower itself, basketweaving with white DMC cotton floss down past the tree line so I could work on the sky.

Once again the sky is needle-blended , but this time I was hoping to create the impression of predominantly deep blue. Starting at the top of the canvas with DMC floss #3755, I worked down just past the lowest green railing before adding lighter values of blue. The next sections, stitched over approximately six threads deep, used the following formula:

Row 1: DMC floss #3755 - 3 plies; DMC floss #3325 - 1 ply
Row 2: DMC floss #3755 - 2 plies; DMC floss #3325 - 2 plies
Row 3: DMC floss #3755 - 1 ply; DMC floss #3325 - 3 plies
Row 4: DMC floss #3325 - four plies
Row 5: DMC floss #3325 - three plies; DMC floss #3841 - 1 ply

I'll continue to work on the tower, adding the architectural details which make this lighthouse so colorful and distinctive, and then move on to the keeper's house!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The "only choice"

This armchair traveler is headed to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to visit a spot once known only to Native Americans and French fur traders. A blog reader fortunately brought it to my attention--and I do love adapting lighthouses which hold special meaning for those of you kind enough to follow my needlepoint adventures!

Seul Choix Point lighthouse stands watch over a small harbor on Lake Michigan on the south shore of the Upper Peninsula approximately 60 miles west of the Straits of Mackinac. The location was dubbed Seul Choix, or "only choice," by the French as it was the only safe refuge for canoes heading toward the straits across Lake Michigan's rough waters. The lighthouse is the one bright spot remaining in what once was a thriving fishing community in the 1800s.

Completed in 1895, the conical brick tower stands almost 79 feet high and housed a third order Fresnel lens which was subsequently automated. Its two-story keeper's house, large enough to house two families, was restored and furnished to look the way it did in the early 1900s. A small, enclosed corridor leads from the house to the tower itself.

As is true of so many lighthouses, tales of ghostly inhabitants surround Seul Choix Point lighthouse. Could footsteps sounding on the tower stairs, items moved within the keeper's house exhibit, and the strong smell of cigar smoke be signs of a former keeper still at work?

Designated a National Historic Landmark, the lighthouse is now operated by the Gulliver, Michigan, Historical Society and is open to the public from Memorial Day to October.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fishbowl finale

Just in time for the first day of Spring, my "Fantasy Fishbowl" is finished!

It's just a little bowl, after all, so I decided to use only two water plants for decoration. The sword plant on the left was worked in a type of "free embroidery" with one strand of Watercolours "Jade."

The water sprite plant on the right took a little more practice stitching before I attacked the actual canvas. I used a green Petite Very Velvet, draping the thread on top of the canvas as I went along to see where I should place the next branch and anchor it with a leaf.

I'm happy with the way this project turned out--the placement of the elements, the color of the water, the gravel at the bottom, and the little fishes themselves all make for a pleasing image that would appeal to grown-ups and kids alike.

Next week I'll head back on land again to visit another lighthouse!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Swimming along

All three little fish are now swimming merrily along in the "Fantasy Fishbowl"!

The little fellow on the left was stitched with Vineyard Silk Classic "Citron" and "Dandelion"as well as the "Bright White" and black Trio from the first fish. I'd originally thought to capitalize on the angle of this fish by using a diagonal mosaic stitch, but after the first row I said "Yuck!" and ripped it out. I did put a couple of long stitches in for his mouth--I was humming "Give me back that filet o' fish" at the time--but the main portion of his body was stitched in basketweave. His tail was worked in slanted long stitches with a few long stitches of "Dandelion" laid on top. A cross stitch of Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #005 formed his eye.

The fish at the bottom incorporated the same threads in a combination of satin and tent stitches with a cross stitch of Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #019 for his eye.

I've assembled my threads for the seaweed, practiced a lot on doodle canvas, and now it's time to take a deep breath and start stitching!

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Gourmet" gravel and one little fish

I'd thought long and hard about what thread to use to stitch the gravel at the bottom of the fishbowl. The stitch itself was a no-brainer: French knots! I was looking for a thread that looked slightly "wet" without any sparkle and "hard" like little pellets.

Then I remembered a recent trip to my LNS, when I was rummaging around in the plastic boxes of Kreinik thread and came across one I hadn't seen before. The owner explained it was the "Gourmet" line and I distinctly remember asking him what it might be used for. I suddenly had my answer: aquarium gravel!

I've used six different colors of Kreinik #16 medium braid here, ranging in colors from Pink Lemonade to Boysenberry Blue. I switched to the #16 medium braid, instead of the #12 tapestry braid I normally use on 18-count canvas, because I wanted a compact French knot that could be executed with one wrap of the needle. The threads immediately adjacent to the bowl itself were worked in tent stitches to keep the gravel "inside" the bowl.

I then treated myself by stitching the little black-and-white angel fish, using Vineyard Silk Classic "Bright White" and black Trio in a combination of satin and tent stitches. The fish eye was worked in a single cross stitch with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #150V.

Two more fish to go, and I can start decorating the bowl!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A bowl half full

I started off by stitching the outline of the fishbowl itself, using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #032. The lip of the bowl was formed with slanted gobelin stitches over two threads, the sides with tent stitches, and the base with more gobelin stitches over either two or three threads.

Now to fill the bowl! There's a fair amount of water background here, and I didn't want it to look like a great blue blob. I decided to build in layers within the water--needle-blending with a twist!

When I needle-blend skies for my lighthouses and other landscape designs, I try to pick a blue color family of DMC cotton floss in which the values are very close together to produce a seamless sky. For the water here, I picked a color family in which the values are wider apart. I also counted the threads from the top of the water to the gravel area at the bottom--66 threads. That gave me six layers of water with a depth of roughly 11 threads each. (Note: Stitch-painters tend to count a lot!)

Here's the formula I'm using to needle-blend:

Layer 1: DMC floss #3811 - four plies
Layer 2: DMC floss #3811 - three plies, DMC floss # 598 - one ply
Layer 3: DMC floss #3811 - two plies, DMC floss #598 - two plies
Layer 4: DMC floss #3811 - one ply, DMC floss #598 - three plies
Layer 5: DMC floss #598 - four plies
Layer 6: DMC floss #598 - three plies, DMC floss #597 - one ply

When I'm finished, I'll have water that more closely resembles a watercolor painting (no pun intended) than a photograph. Then I can pour in the gravel!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life in a fishbowl

I'm treading water for my next project--a little design called "Fantasy Fishbowl." The bowl is five inches wide on 18-count canvas, a size suitable for either framing or as an ornament.

Why a fishbowl? Over the years, my two lads must have parented at least a dozen fish apiece, and I've presided over as many "naval funerals." Children and adults alike are fascinated by fish, and I thought it would be fun to bring a few to life in needlepoint!

When I've finished stitching the basic elements you see here, I'll add a few more elements to enhance the little fishes' habitat!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The end of the line--for now

I've stitched all I can on this project, just shy of the parents picking out a name for the baby girl for whom this little clown is intended. The only "given" at this point is her last name, indicated by a "C" in the green ball at top right.

The hair portion of the clown's wig was stitched in French knots with Silk & Ivory "Begonia." I was looking for something a little more interesting than simple tent stitches for the jumpsuit's closure, and after experimenting a bit on doodle canvas, worked this in braided knitting over one thread with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002. Looks a little like a zipper, don't you think? The date at the bottom was added in tent stitches with the same Kreinik tapestry braid.

I'd painted the shoes black, following the original "rainbow" colorway, but as I worked my way down through stitching the jumpsuit itself, I became more convinced the shoes would look more "baby-like" if I stitched them with white thread. So I first padded this area with white DMC floss in basketweave, then topped it with satin stitches in white Petite Very Velvet. I then added pompoms of French knots with white Silk & Ivory.

The little clown will take a nap for the next three months or so until I can finish the initials in the two remaining juggling balls!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Suiting up

Stitching has been slow going these last few days as I prepared for a trunk show and tax returns! But I've dutifully plodded along with the background and started on the little clown's jumpsuit.

This area of the canvas has what I call a "built-in" stitch guide: a series of Scotch stitches in diagonal rows of alternating colors. Once again, I'm using DMC cotton floss for the Scotch stitches.

Having reached the bottom right corner of the background, I'll finish that over the weekend and ponder what thread to use for the hair portion of the little clown's wig.

TRUNK SHOW NEWS: For all you snowbirds as well as Florida residents, my trunk show at Needle Nicely in Vero Beach begins today and continues through the month. Do go visit Mary Agnes Rhudy Cussen, the owner, and tell her I said hello!

Friday, March 5, 2010

You can't fool Mother Nature....

...but sometimes Mother Nature can sure fool you! Just when we began to think spring was around the corner, we awoke this morning to more ocean-effect snow. DH snapped this photo through the window of Papa Cardinal, who appeared totally unfazed by either the photographer or our latest accumulation.

Our "windfall" also took the weatherman off guard, who last night predicted temps in the 50s for tomorrow--go figure!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Collared and cuffed

Having worked what I considered to be a respectable amount of background, I tackled the top portion of the little clown. First up were his hands, which I first padded with tent stitch in white DMC floss and then added satin stitch in the same thread on top of that.

The cuffs were worked in slanted gobelin stitch over two threads and the collar in satin stitch. Surrounding these areas are tent stitches in Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002.

For the arms, I was looking for a non-directional stitch, and chose Nobuko stitch in DMC floss #961.

A little more background to work, and I'll be able to start in on his jumpsuit!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Pretty in pink

I started out stitching the little clown canvas with--as usual--the background, using DMC floss #963 in basketweave. It's a good thing I'm very fond of pink, since there's a fair amount of background to this piece. The stripes in this design, however, serve several purposes: not only do they add a little extra color and tie in with the pattern on the clown's jumpsuit, they also break the background down into smaller, less intimidating areas to stitch.

When I felt I'd made sufficient progress on the background, I moved on to the clown's face--I like to work this area early on so I have someone or something smiling back at me as I continue to stitch! The "skin" portion of the clown's wig and most of his face were stitched with DMC floss in basketweave while the cheeks were worked in a satin stitch. The nose was stitched first in a Leviathan variation, ending with vertical long stitches on top.

As I finished stitching the various elements of his face, I ended off the needleful of thread by filling in a few of the stripes above the clown's head. Tonight I'll resume stitching on the background and treat myself to working a little more on the clown himself.