Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Last but not least

"Oceana"--the name I've given to the third needlepoint interpretation of a Sailor's Valentine--is finally finished! I've probably attached more beads, chips and trinkets to canvas in the last several weeks than I've done in a lifetime.

The sandy corners of the canvas received some darling little starfish. At 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions, I sewed on some mother-of-pearl chips and Czech opal beads.

Surrounding the center diamond are four sea glass chips that, to me, anyway, resembled swimming fish. Another specimen shell from my friend in Florida provided the centerpiece.

This was certainly an interesting experiment in combining "found" treasures with colors and threads I particularly favor to create a small ornament or scissors fob. While I was inspired by Sailor's Valentines in determining the octagon shapes of these designs and their shell decorations, I can see other shapes adapted to make personalized designs using different shapes and trinkets lurking in your stash to embellish a needlepointed background.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finishing the background

After finishing the blue center sections, I moved on to the four corners, stitching sand in basketweave with DMC cotton floss #3033. I then added some seafoam using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #032 in French knots.

Now for some top stitching! The seaweed was worked in stem stitch with one strand of Watercolours "Evergreen." I then added little sea "treasures" with French knots and Smyrna crosses in three different values of blue floss in the same color family.

At this point, I need to decide if my stitching is completed--I don't want to start sewing on any trinkets before I'm really ready for them!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Exploiting the properties of a thread

Just for fun, I decided to try out one more version of a Sailor's Valentine--this time with a bit more of a contemporary feel. As you can see, I've already begun stitching the background .

The center diamond was worked with a solid blue DMC cotton floss, while the outside used DMC Color Variations floss. I generally shy away from a variegated thread, for the simple reason that a certain amount of diagonal streaking is inevitable when stitching in basketweave.

Streaks in a sky certainly wouldn't do as the baskground for a lighthouse, for instance. But here, I'm trying to give the impression of water, with all its subtle shadows and currents. So the variation in color from lighter to darker values actually becomes an element of the design.

So far, so good--now I need to finish stitching the background so I can start embellishing!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Still simple, just not sparse

The "Rose Beach" sailor's valentine is finished--really finished! And this project taught me a good lesson.

For someone who generally avoids beading like the plague, incorporating the pearls and sea glass chips into this design was a stretch for me. Had I realized I wasn't finished stitching, I never would have added these little trinkets when I did. I wound up playing dodge-em cars as I added a few more elements to make the design more in keeping with the spirit of a sailor's valentine. Moral of the story: stitch first, bead last!

So what elements did I actually add? Around the center circle, I worked a chain of French knots in DMC floss #224, with French knot rosettes in the same floss around the scalloped border. Flanking the rosettes, I added Smyrna crosses with Gold Rush XS--I found an almost-full card of this thread in my stash, and wondered why I hadn't used it before. Now I remember why! Finally I attached a few more pearls around the center circle, directly across from the original pearls at the points of the octagon.

At this point, I stepped back, gave the canvas a long, hard look, and said "No more!" The design was still simple, just not sparse, and the new elements were in balance with what I'd originally stitched. I also learned that different designs sometimes call for different treatments--I certainly wouldn't have attempted to go "over the top" working a lighthouse canvas. But interpreting a sailor's valentine in needlepoint required that I go "above and beyond" my usual inclination toward the KISS principle, and I'm quite happy with the result!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Almost, but not quite

By yesterday afternoon, I had finally reached the stage where I could start to embellish my sailor's valentine, which I've decided to call "Rose Beach." I had worked a "fishnet" pattern in the baskground with DMC floss #223 and Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #032.

I exiled our two dogs to the screened-in porch: let's face it--I'm a klutz--and had visions of playing 52 pick-up with the assortment of beads I intended to use, and two eager mouths ready to snarf up whatever tidbits Mama dropped! I laid out a pattern on the canvas--pink pearls at the points of the octagon, rose quartz chips "captured" in the net, and one precious calico scallop shell supplied by a friend as the centerpiece. Some time and much teeth-grinding later, I called to DH, vice president of photography, to take a picture.

"You're not finished yet," he commented as he took several shots. "This is too plain. Sailor's valentines have tons more stuff on them than this one does," he added. Harrumph! I shared the photo with a friend, whose second opinion concurred with that of DH: more "stuff" was needed.

So now this poor long-suffering stitcher, who has tried so hard to keep her designs as clean and simple as possible, is going to send the dogs back out on the porch and add more embellishments in hopes of making this canvas more in keeping with traditional sailor's valentines. Cover your ears and stay tuned!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Another day, another design

What do we have here? The beginning of another sailor's valentine! I had so much fun developing "Beacon" that I decided to create one entirely different. My goal here is to use colors more typical of a conventional valentine while retaining the spirit of a sailor's valentine in my choice of "found" objects to embellish it.

Two little problems are getting in my way: I'm waiting for some "reinforcements" to arrive so I can determine the exact placement of the treasures that will decorate this piece. And I've also had a lot of painting to do: every ABS Designs canvas is stitch-painted by yours truly, and there are only so many hours in a day!

But I have managed to stitch the basic outline for this new piece, using Antique Light Mauve Petite Very Velvet in basketweave. For a nice clean edge, I worked the perimeter in a stem stitch with DMC cotton floss #225. Now if everyone claps really hard, the USPS will hopefully come through soon with my treasures!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Embellishing the valentine

My "Beacon" sailor's valentine is finished, with the addition of shells both stitched and real!

When I'd completed stitching the segments of the octagon, I outlined the perimeter with ecru DMC #5 perle cotton in stem stitch to give the piece more of a finished edge. Using the same perle cotton, I stitched starfish and some Smyrna crosses in the tan segments. DMC #5 perle cotton #642 worked in stem stitch and French knots formed the seaweed.

I then dug out a package of tiny shells I'd "imported" from Texas when we moved to the Cape over four years ago--a new twist on bringing coals to Newcastle! I attached the shells with two strands of cotton floss around the center scene to form a frame. I'm happy with the effect--a little like looking at the lighthouse through a porthole.

This project was so much fun and worked up so quickly that I may search out some more "treasures" and design another version of sailor's valentine!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Working out from the center

I started work on my little Sailor's Valentine--I'm calling this one "Beacon--by stitching the center scene first. This entire area was stitched with DMC cotton floss.

Yes, I needle-blended this sky, too, with one small addition--a tiny cloud I worked in using the lightest shade of blue in the color family.

I then began working the outside foundation stitches in basketweave, which will make it easier for me to stitch on top of these areas later. The lightest segments were worked in ecru Petite Very Velvet, while the darker areas have been started with DMC floss #842. These two shades should blend nicely with the top decoration I have in mind for later!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A teeny, tiny lighthouse

A couple of weeks ago, DH and I visited a regional antiques show in our hometown. A lot of lovely things were displayed, among them some Sailor's Valentines which always draw me like a magnet.

What is a Sailor's Valentine? In the 1830s-1890s, seafarers primarily from the Northeast would often endure long voyages. To occupy their time while aboard ship, they often carved ivory or bone into decorative as well as useful objects to bring back to loved ones as tokens of affection. They also amassed collections of shells, which they would assemble in a myriad of patterns within an octagonal presentation case. The cases themselves ranged in size from eight to 15 inches in diameter and were either two-sided--a double valentine--or single-sided, which were less common.

Modern research has revealed that many of these sailors weren't quite as talented as originally thought. Rather than create a Valentine on their own, they purchased them from natives at ports-of-call, the most notable of which was Bridgetown, Barbados. This information struck a chord with me, as DH and I visited Barbados on our honeymoon many. many years ago and we're coincidentally about to celebrate an anniversary at the end of this month!

So, just for fun, I decided to create my own Sailor's Valentine in needlepoint! The canvas shown here is designed for use as either a scissors fob or an ornament. The outside dimension is three inches in diameter and the lighthouse inset is 1-1/2 inches in diameter--probably the teeniest lighthouse I've ever painted! I'll be stitching the unpainted segments of the octagon and then doing some surface embellishment to decorate my valentine, so do come back to check my progress!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Game over!

There's something to be said for a hurricane: you can get an incredible amount of stitching done waiting for it to arrive! Good ole' Earl got down-graded to a tropical storm and became more of a "pseudo-event" here on the Cape, but thanks to all of you who sent positive thoughts our way!

"The Gamblers" is finished. and I think I now have worked the "sillies" out of my system! After completing the border and the ghosts themselves, I concentrated on the table. I needed a matte thread which would resemble felt for this area, so I selected a green Petite Very Velvet. The color and texture were just fine, but the higher profile of the PVV created little "wells" where the poker chips would be stitched.

I needed to raise the chips above the background as well as give them the appearance of being stacked. So I first padded the areas with DMC floss in basketweave, then turned the canvas 90 degrees to work oblong cross stitches horizontally on top of the padding. Voila!--stacked poker chips!

Now it's back to painting, as I contemplate my next project!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Another player joins the game

I've been working the last several nights on the orange background for "The Gamblers."

Since the first ghost had already been stitched with metallic thread in basketweave, I wanted a decorative stitch for the background to provide a little texture. But I didn't want the profile of the stitch to overpower the ghosts. My solution: to work this area in a Nobuko stitch, but with three plies of DMC floss #970 rather than my usual four plies. Because the thread is an exact match to the painted background, it covers well and doesn't compete with the ghosts.

Of several "progress" photos taken at this point, I liked this one best because it shows more clearly the high profile of the black Petite Very Velvet in the border. This shot shows the border looking more like a frame for the center scene, and the symbols of the card suits stand out against the white diagonal mosaic background.

The ghostly card-shark on the right has been stitched and his competitor across the table has been started. When I'm finished stitching with white metallic and working the background, I'll go back and add the shading and "facial features" to these little guys. But for now, I need to make some final preparations for the onslaught of Hurricane Earl, which is predicted to barrel down on Cape Cod and the Islands sometime tonight!