Friday, July 30, 2010

Sunrise over Fenwick Island

It all began when DH, executive vice-president of stretcher bar stapling, was helping me get the Fenwick Island lighthouse canvas ready for stitching.

"What are you going to do with this one?" he asked.

"Probably needle-blend the sky, but that's about it," I replied.

"The same blue sky stuff? You can't do that! This little guy may be authentic, but he needs something! How about a sky at sunrise?" he challenged. "You blended different colors before on the Kansas postcard, and that turned out just fine--you really should try it!"

Muttering under my breath, I headed for the computer and began a Google image search for sunrises--there are some things that your imagination can't conjure up and still look realistic! I found just the right photo, printed it out and showed it to DH. His response: "Go for it!"

Armed with a doodle canvas, bags of floss and my DMC color card, I started the "Grand Experiment." I knew I needed three colors--pink, yellow and blue--that were of the same value so they would transition smoothly. My final selection narrowed to DMC floss #776, 818 and 819 (pinks), DMC floss #3823 (yellow) and DMC floss #3756, 775, 3841 and 3325 (blues). Then it hit me: no way would the lighter shades of floss cover the blue sky that I'd already painted on the canvas. Back to the painting table, where I worked up another canvas without a painted sky.

Three days later, here's the result--a sky at sunrise! It's taking me some time to get used to seeing one of my lighthouses without a solid blue sky behind it, but DH has given it his blessing! For those of you who'd like to try this at home, and would like the exact formula of floss combinations that's too lengthy to go into here, just e-mail me at

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On the road again

This armchair traveler is hitting the road again, heading south to Delaware to explore Fenwick Island lighthouse!

In my research into this lighthouse, I discovered that the establishment of the State of Delaware was actually the culmination of a 1700s version of "family feud." Two of the most prominent families--the Penns of Pennsylvania and the Calverts of Maryland--disputed where the easternmost border should lie between the two colonies. A land survey of 1751 finally settled the issue: a stone monument was placed at Fenwick Island, with the Penn coat of arms carved into its north face and the Calvert coat of arms inscribed in its south face. King George III of England himself ratified the border in 1769. It was from the three lower counties of Pennsylvania that Delaware was subsequently created.

By 1856, the U.S. Congress had determined the need for a lighthouse along the unprotected 60-mile stretch of Atlantic coast between Cape Henlopen, the light at the southern entrance to Delaware Bay, and Assateague Island lighthouse in Virginia. The sum of $25,000 was appropriated for the Fenwick Island lighthouse, a 75-foot brick tower with a third-order Fresnel lens first lit in the summer of 1859.

Unlike Cape Henlopen, its lighthouse neighbor to the north which crumbled into the Atlantic Ocean in the 1930s, Fenwick Island lighthouse withstood the test of time and the elements until 1978, when it was deactivated by the Coast Guard and its lens removed. Ownership of the lighthouse was transferred to the State of Delaware, which supported the efforts of the Friends of Fenwick Island Lighthouse to reactivate the station.

Restoration work was begun in 1997, and the following year a rededication ceremony was held in which the original third-order Fresnel lens was once again illuminated.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ready for an Open House!

With the hydrangea bushes planted at the foundation, the "Cape Cod Summer" doorway is finished!

For those of you not familiar with hydrangeas, their blossoms resemble large blue snowballs. The color can range from a light blue to a very intense dark blue when the plants are given a healthy dose of aluminum sulfate!

I wanted to accentuate the flowers in these areas, rather than the leaves, so began with a background stitched in basketweave using Sheep's Silk "Dark Moss," a 50/50 silk/wool overdye. Then I took my ring of blue floss-away bags outside and held various skeins up to one of my hydrangeas to pick just the right value--DMC floss #799!

Using four plies of floss, I stitched the flowers in French knots, using a single wrap but stitching each thread intersection to achieve the round, snowball appearance I was looking for.

In working this canvas, I've broken down different sections--woodwork, clapboards, doorway, etc.--and stitched each as separate segments to illustrate how one goes about attacking a painted canvas. There's no hard-and-fast rule to which section you stitch first, or whether you actually finish one section before moving on to another--it's just my way of doing it. But I think you'll agree that by breaking down the canvas into "bites" or individual elements to be stitched, the process becomes less intimidating and more pleasurable!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Siding the house

With all the white woodwork stitched, I'm now free to start filling in! I decided to next attack the clapboards that form the siding for the house.

You'll often find Cape Cod-style houses sheathed with clapboards on the front facade, while the other three sides are covered with cedar shingles. In typical frugal Yankee fashion, the early builders put their more expensive materials facing the street--but today I believe the tide has turned and the cedar shingles are more expensive.

If you refer back to the photo in my last post, you'll notice that I haven't painted in any breaks between the clapboards. In order to keep this area in scale, I've stitched the clapboards in rows of slanted gobelin stitches over two threads, using DMC floss #762--a pale gray which, strangely enough. looks an awful lot like the color of my house!

When I finished siding the house, I treated myself by stitching the light fixtures on either side of the front door. The style of these fixtures is known as an "onion" light, pretty typical for the Cape and Islands, so named because of its shape. I used Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002V--in oblong cross stitches for the hanging bracket and a combination of satin and tent stitches for the light itself.

For those of you still wanting to see a little color on this canvas, stay tuned: I'll be installing the door next!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Taking the first bite

Where do you begin stitching on a painted canvas? In the case of "Cape Cod Summer," the answer was easy. Most experienced needlepointers advocate stitching the lightest areas first, and there's a lot of white in this canvas.

I like using DMC #5 perle cotton to stitch wood: it gives a "raised" look to these areas that will contrast nicely with other threads when I fill in later. I started with the horizontal board at the top of the canvas, working it in slanted gobelin stitches over two threads. The pediment over the door was stitched the same way, with a row of tent stitches beneath. The door casing was worked in a vertical slanted gobelin stitch over two threads.

I framed the window with more slanted gobelin stitches, adding mullions with tent stitches, and filled in the window box with a satin stitch.

On to the fence! Once again using the white perle cotton, I worked the posts in a slanted gobelin stitch over five threads. The balls at the top of the posts were first padded with white cotton floss in basketweave, then satin stitched with the perle cotton to provide additional dimension. The slats of the fence were worked in a slanted gobelin stitch over two threads, with the horizontal supports in tent and mosaic stitch.

When these areas were done, I treated myself by adding the roof, again with slanted gobelin stitches, using one ply of Trio "Caviar" which provides textural contrast against the perle cotton.

Not too shabby for two nights of work! By stitching these white areas first, I've broken down the rest of the canvas into more distinct and manageable areas--"bites," if you will--which I'll work on over subsequent evenings.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summertime, and the stitchin' is easy

A few weeks ago, a needlepoint shop contacted me with a request: could I design a Cape Cod doorway for a customer who was fond of my Doorways to the Past series? I already had one Cape doorway--Nantucket--but the customer was looking for one with more of a cottage feel, complete with hydrangeas and a picket fence. I finally came up with this design, called "Cape Cod Summer," which incorporates all the elements that make my part of the world so charming at this time of year!

I shared this photo with a friend, who responded that she wouldn't know where to begin to stitch the canvas. A strange comment, I thought, from someone who is a phenomenal stitcher! It's a fairly straight-forward design and stitch-painted, which takes the guess-work out of where one color ends and the next begins.

Some designers rarely stitch their own canvases, but I always stitch my models as a "test-drive" before painting a master: if there's any "tweaking" to be done, I want the kinks ironed out before the canvas reaches the customer's hands. As I blog-stitch this canvas, I'll be breaking down the individual elements into manageable "bites" of stitching--the easiest way I know to avoid "choking" on a painted canvas, be it an architectural design or an entirely different design theme.

Looking for an armchair vacation to Cape Cod? Join me as I develop a virtual stitch guide for this canvas!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

April arrives in June!

No, the recent heat and humidity haven't affected my mind yet--I know it's the second week of July! But I've been busy painting orders and have been totally engrossed in stitching the postcard series for my son. It was high time to catch up on an unfinished project!

My neighbor's new granddaughter, April, arrived toward the end of June, so I needed to wrap up the pastel Rainbow Clown canvas. All that remained to be stitched when I'd put it aside were the first two initials--A and S--and the background of the balls the clown is juggling. An easy evening's work!

Now the little clown is heading off to the finisher to be made into a stand-up. I'm hoping it will grace April's nursery long before her cousin is born at the end of August!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Stitching up a storm

With the completion of Kansas, my three postcards, designed by Denise DeRusha and stitched lovingly for my newly-transplanted son, are ready for the framer!

Sunflowers are the official state flower of Kansas, so I wanted to make these as pretty and realistic as I could. The petals were worked in a satin stitch with Vineyard Silk Classic "Citron" and "Dandelion." The centers of the "faces" were stitched in basketweave with Vineyard Silk Classic "Topaz," and I then added French knots of Sheep's Silk "Gingersnaps" between the centers and the petals.

On to the tornado! I had checked in with regional expert and stitching buddy Sue Dulle for recommendations: there was one operative word in all her suggestions--"fuzzy"! This made sense, as tornadoes are really super-sized dust storms. I practiced on doodle canvas, using several different threads in my stash, and finally settled on Trio "Caviar" which I stitched in basketweave. Using an old toothbrush, I then began to "fuzz up" the stitched area, isolating it with a piece of card stock to avoid disturbing already-stitched surrounding areas. I brushed, and brushed, and brushed some more--and finally produced a tornado!

Many thanks to Denise DeRusha, first for designing these charming canvases and allowing me to blog-stitch them, as well as providing me with what I hope will be the perfect gift for my son!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Amber waves of grain

I thought it was pretty appropriate that I was stitching shafts of wheat on the Fourth of July! In researching photos of wheat on the internet to determine how best to stitch this area, I came across some interesting facts.

The Kansas wheat crop, primarily of winter wheat, averages 300 million bushels a year. In nine out of 10 years, it leads the U.S. in wheat production, bested only by North Dakota in that odd year.

But I get ahead of myself: before I could stitch the wheat, I needed to stitch the background! Denise DeRusha's painted canvas has a wash of pale green in spots that I found attractive and wanted to keep, but how? The center background sections of the other two postcards I've stitched are needle-blended, but using successive values of one color family of floss. I decided to perform an experiment, using three shades of floss of similar intensity but different color families entirely. The result is a little like swirling pistachio ice cream into French vanilla and topping the confection with whipped cream!

I used DMC floss #772 (pistachio), #3047 (French vanilla), and #746 (whipped cream), turning the canvas upside-down and working toward the horizon. I began with two plies of green and vanilla, graduated to four full plies of vanilla, then back to adding green where the canvas was painted that way. Then I started fading to vanilla again, using one ply each of green and vanilla with two plies of whipped cream, ending at the horizon with four plies of whipped cream. I'd never tried this before, but am so happy with the results, I may just try it again!

I then added the wheat, using Sheep's Silk "Gingersnaps," a 50/50 silk-wool blend, in a combination of stem and satin stitches. The little houses on the prairie were added in a Scotch stitch variation with floss. All that remain now are the sunflowers and tornado, and I'll be finished!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A frame, a sky and two turtles

I'm stitching slowly but steadily on the Kansas postcard, getting the basics done while I contemplate the trickier elements!

The frame for the postcard's center scene is finished, using the same DMC floss #920 in a slanted gobelin stitch over two threads and a filler stitch of diagonal mosaic that I used on the other two postcards. Two sides of the perimeter have been stitched in three rows of basketweave to make life easier for my framer.

I added the date in which Kansas entered the Union, changing the yellow as originally painted to navy so all three postcards would be the same. Then came the little box turtles, the official state reptile of Kansas, worked in each of the bottom corners in tent stitch and a satin stitch for the shell.

I've stitched the sky in basketweave, using DMC floss #318, because I don't want this area to detract from either the tornado or the bottom center background--I have great plans for this latter area!

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Fourth of July!