Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dressing Mother Ginger and celebrating a blog birthday

Most of us have heard the expression "My, how time flies when you're having fun." It's hard to believe that The Cape Stitcher is two years old today! My thanks go out to all of you who have taken the time to visit and watch my progress in bringing painted canvases to life!

Now to Mother Ginger! I've made my color choices, and not for the first time am I glad that I never paint a master for a design until I've stitched the model. Mother's cap and shawl remain white, worked in satin stitch for the cap and diagonal mosaic stitch for the shawl using Vineyard Silk "Bright White." But I've changed her dress to a gray, using DMC #5 perle cotton #318 in a Nobuko stitch for the bodice and hoop skirt and tent stitch for the sleeves, which are outlined in DMC floss #444. Her face has also been stitched in basketweave with DMC floss #950.

With these elements in place, the color choice for the background became clear: a royal purple to set off the colors of the other costumes, intersected by vertical lines of gold metallic to emphasize the vertical composition of the design. I'm using DMC floss #550 in rows of side-by-side mosaic stitches and Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002 for the gold stripes.

A good start! Now I'll work from top to bottom, adding background and costumes as I go.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Act II, continued!

Next up in my new series based on The Nutcracker ballet is Mother Ginger, the title character in the last divertissement, or independent dance, of Act II. Tchaikovsky based this character on the nursery rhyme Mother Gigogne, or the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, and derived inspiration for the music from a French folk song.

Unlike the other entertainments provided at the banquet for Clara and the Nutcracker in the Land of Sweets, this one is a light-hearted frolic. The character of Mother Ginger, traditionally played by a man on stilts, lumbers onto the stage wearing an enormous hoop skirt and garish wig. At a musical cue, Mother opens the front of the skirt and an assortment of children--lucky members of the ballet company's school--scurry out and scamper around the stage.

When I worked up this design two years ago, the hardest part was including seven figures in a diamond-shaped ornament 4-1/2 inches high by 4-1/2 inches wide! Revisiting this canvas, I didn't change the composition, but I will need to make some decisions about color to make Mother Ginger and her brood come to life!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Exit stage right

Coffee, the Arabian dancer, has finished her performance!

With the background completed, it was time to add the final details to her veil. A couple of months ago, I had picked up some interesting new--to me, anyway--threads for a Sailor's Valentine that I was working on. I didn't use the thread for that project, but vowed to find a use for it, as the colors were so appealing.

To finish off the veil, I used DMC Color Illusions #5 perle cotton #4030 in a satin stitch. In some variegated threads, the space between color changes is too great to use in a small space, but this one was just perfect. No need to "cut and paste" the thread to achieve the right gradation of color here! The weight of the perle cotton makes the veil stand out from the background, and the light playing off the twist in the thread gives the illusion of transparency, which is just right for a gauzy veil.

Next up: I'll continue with another character from Act II!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Still working behind the scene

Now that the slanted gobelin stitch section of the jacquard pattern is finished behind little Coffee, I've started filling in with tent stitches using DMC floss #869.

Notice that the direction of the jacquard pattern--from bottom right to top left--is opposite that of the veil which covers part of Coffee's face. This "opposition" creates tension and adds to the exotic flavor of the overall design.

I've trimmed the veil itself with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #014 which will make it easier to fill in this area later.

I'll be back on Friday with a finale, but in the meantime, hope all of my readers have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving Day!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Making it easy for myself

I decided to work the background for the "Coffee" canvas in a jacquard stitch, so before I picked up needle and thread, I picked up a permanent marking pen! I certainly don't mind counting threads--after all, I am a stitch painter--but I didn't want to struggle with compensating around the central figure that interrupts the continuity of the jacquard pattern.

Once I had marked where all the tent stitches in the pattern would fall, I began stitching on Coffee's costume. Her halter top was worked in slanted gobelin stitches over two threads and the harem pants in a Nobuko stitch, both using Trio "Natural," a silk/wool blend that provided enough loft to raise these areas above the background. I then trimmed both top and pants with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #014. Her face, trunk, arms and feet were stitched in basketweave with DMC floss #841.

I've started working on the background, using DMC floss #842 for the slanted gobelin stitches in the jacquard pattern, and will finish this area before filling in with the tent stitches.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Coffee time!

The second canvas in my series of ornaments based on The Nutcracker ballet is the Arabian dancer, who symbolizes coffee. This lithe little lady appears in Act II as the first in a series of divertissements, or independent dances.

Poor Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky ran into a serious problem as he was composing the music for the ballet: half-way through the first act, he had exhausted the story line of E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker and Mouse King, the tale upon which the ballet was based. The original story ends with the battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and the rodent monarch is defeated when Clara throws a shoe at him.

Tchaikovsky decided to treat the rest of the ballet as the unfolding of the young girl's fantasy, in which the Nutcracker becomes a handsome prince who takes her on a magical journey through the Land of the Snowflakes to the Land of Sweets. A sumptuous banquet is held in the Land of Sweets for Clara and her Nutcracker, and Coffee leads off the entertainment. Tchaikovsky's inspiration for the music to which the Arabian dancer sensuously sways was actually a lullaby from Russia's Georgian province.

Do come back and watch my progress as Coffee comes to life!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When the clock struck midnight....

....I finished the Herr Drosselmeyer canvas!

I first finished the background, working tent stitches to frame the Scotch stitches, using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #003.

On to the inside of the clock case, where I used DMC floss #938 and white for the inside border and the dial. More DMC floss #938 in basketweave filled in the area behind the clock weights. I used two plies of DMC floss #310 in cross stitches for 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions and two upright stitches to strike midnight.

Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002 in half-mosaic stitches decorated the corners around the dial, with vertical long stitches forming the clock weights.

I'll move on to Act II of The Nutcracker on Saturday to begin my next canvas!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More progress on Herr D

I'm on the home stretch now stitching the model for the Herr Drosselmeyer canvas.

All the Scotch stitches are now in place for the background. I usually "frame" as I go along, but need to acquire the thread for the tent stitches. But before I could finish this part of the background, I needed to stitch the clock cabinet. I often use perle cotton to simulate the look of wood grain, and here selected DMC #5 perle cotton #801 in a series of slanted gobelin stitches over two canvas threads.

Once I finish the background, all that remains is the inside of the clock itself, and I'll be done!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mein Herr

Stitching on my first model in The Nutcracker series is well underway, and Herr Drosselmeyer is temporarily, at least, suspended in mid-air!

I began as usual with his face and hands, using four plies of DMC cotton floss #948. His top hat, cape and shoes were stitched in basketweave with black Petite Very Velvet. For his coat and trousers, I used Trio "Caviar" in a framed mosaic stitch for the coat and slanted gobelin stitch over four canvas threads for the trousers.

I then went back to his face, adding hair in tent stitches and a beard in French knots with one strand of Felicity's Garden "Snow." His mouth was then worked with two plies of DMC floss #666 in a single horizontal stitch over the French knots. The eye patch was formed with a single mosaic stitch and the eye in a cross stitch with DMC floss #310. The frogs on his coat were stitched in braided knitting with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002.

I've now started on the background, working Scotch stitches with four plies of DMC floss #666 which will be framed in tent stitches later.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Getting in the holiday mood

I honestly don't remember the first time I saw a performance of The Nutcracker, but I do remember the first time I danced in the ballet. I was a flower--actually more like a bud, since I was pretty young at the time.

Years passed, and the Christmas after we were married, I conned DH into seeing The Nutcracker--it was his first ballet, and his appreciation for the music outweighed his disinclination for tutus and tights. The performance became a rite of passage for our sons when they reached the age of five, and this year our oldest son will be taking a special someone to see her first performance of the ballet.

I began work on a series of ornaments inspired by The Nutcracker two years ago, got discouraged, put them away to simmer, and only recently pulled the designs out for another look. Launching the series today is Herr Drosselmeyer, the mysterious but kindly gentleman whose gift of a nutcracker to young Clara is the impetus for the ballet's story line.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was commissioned to write the music for a ballet based on the tale Nutcracker and the Mouse King by German writer E. T. A. Hoffman. First performed in December 1892, the ballet tells the story of a family's Christmas eve celebration. I'll never forget one production I witnessed: as the party winds down, the guests depart and the family goes to bed. The stage lights dim, reappearing to focus on the sight of Herr Drosselmeyer perched atop a grandfather's clock. It was this memory that inspired my pose for the dapper old gentleman!

I'll be stitching the models for this series in the weeks to come, so do come back to visit and watch my progress!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A warm wee lass

A week or so ago, I had rummaged through my stash in search of the perfect thread for Maureen's shawl. I wanted the color to be in keeping with the way Judy Harper had painted the canvas but not necessarily all one color. Three possibilities jumped out at me, and I stitched up some samples for Judy's consideration. Happily, her choice and mine were the same!

The winner was Sheep's Silk "Forest Berries," a crewel-weight silk-and-wool blend. The overdyed thread has a lovely combination of deep rose, magenta, plum and green. The stitch I used is diagonal vertical oblong cross--I call it the simple stitch with the complicated name! I began on Maureen's right side above her arm, following the customary stitching path from bottom right to top left.

Moving on to her left side, I wanted the diagonal of the overdye to go in the opposite direction. Normally I'd just turn my canvas 90 degrees and stitch away--but not with this stitch, which becomes diagonal horizontal oblong cross and looks entirely different from the other side. What to do? I began at the top right, near her shoulder, and worked downward toward her arm. This stitching path uses a little more thread and provides more padding on the back of the canvas but creates the desired direction. I continued stitching the shawl below her arms, again orienting the stitching path accordingly to indicate where the ends of the shawl cross over one another.

Time to add the fringe! With Judy's permission, I had painted out the fringe she had indicated before I stitched the apron to provide a smoother line of framed mosaic stitches. Back in the fringe went with some looped turkey work, using a collar stay to insure the loops would be even in length.

Maureen was a joy to stitch, and I thank Judy for the opportunity to pilot-stitch this canvas for her. Here's hoping more little ethnic dolls roll off her painting table soon!

Monday, November 8, 2010

All but the shawl

I worked on a few remaining details on Judy Harper's Maureen canvas in preparation for attacking the shawl.

I needed to choose a green for the trim on her apron which would coordinate with the thread I'll be using on the shawl. DMC floss #320 blended best, so I worked the top of the apron in a slanted gobelin stitch over two threads and the edges in a stem stitch.

I wanted the shamrocks at the hem of the dress to look embroidered, so I again used the DMC floss #320 in tent stitch to outline them and then filled them in with a satin stitch using DMC floss #319.

Last, but not least, the Celtic cross that Maureen is holding! First I outlined the circle with a stem stitch, then added the spokes of the cross in cashmere stitches, all using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002V. The "emerald" at the center of the cross was added with a cross stitch using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #009.

Only the shawl remains, which I'll hopefully be able to finish by mid-week!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Crocheted lace for an apron

Maureen's apron is finished after rows and rows of framed mosaic stitch!

At the hem of the apron is a lovely pattern designed to look like Irish crocheted lace. I began working this area with a row of slanted gobelin stitches over two threads. Next came the interlocking chain pattern in basketweave, followed by another two of slanted gobelin stitches. The "fringe" at the very bottom was worked in a series of Smyrna crosses.

I then went back with the dark green Petite Very Velvet and filled in the areas where the dress peeks through the open areas of the lace. I'll need to find just the right shade of green floss for the edging of the apron so it will blend with the thread I have in mind for the shawl.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stitching a party dress

A lot of dark green Petite Very Velvet went into Maureen's dress, but it's all done except for the sections that peek through the crocheted lace of her apron.

I then moved on to the top of her apron, for which I already knew I would use white DMC cotton floss. But what stitch to use? The hem of the apron will be quite fancy, so I needed a stitch which would make a subtle statement of its own as well as provide textural contrast against the smooth Petite Very Velvet. I decided on a framed mosaic stitch--small in scale, but which compensates easily as the apron narrows from the bottom to the top.

I have quite an expanse of apron to work on before I can treat myself to the fancy work at the hem, so I'd better get to work!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Back from the beauty salon

No, not me!--I get a haircut every two years whether I need it or not! It's Judy Harper's little Maureen who's just had her make-up applied and her hair coiffed.

I began by stitching the skin tones in DMC cotton floss #948, with DMC floss #3774 for shading. I stitched over the eyebrows, going back later to add them on top of the worked areas using two plies of DMC floss #632 and then adding the eyelashes. The mouth is DMC floss #761.

Before starting in on her hair, I stitched the tops of her sleeves in basketweave with dark green Petite Very Velvet--I want this little gal to be decked out in her best duds!--and added a headband in the same thread.

I used my hands-down favorite thread for hair--Silk & Ivory--in "Cinnamon," a rich auburn shade. This 50/50 blend of silk and wool gives hair the sheen of silk, the loft necessary to make it stand out from the face, and the look of natural hair. I worked it in satin stitch, following the sections of swirls and curls as they were painted on the canvas.

I'll move on to the dress next, as there's a fair amount of basketweave to be stitched that I want to get behind me!

Monday, November 1, 2010

New month, new project

It isn't often that I get to start a new project on the first day of a month, but this one I'm definitely looking forward to. Knowing that I've been on an "Irish kick" lately, designer Judy Harper asked if I would pilot-stitch a canvas for her. As an outgrowth of her angels series, she's contemplating some new designs of dolls representing different foreign countries. Here's Maureen, a wee Irish lass!

Having already stitched Judy's July and December angels, I knew what fun was in store and immediately agreed. We've discussed threads and stitches I might use, and I have my marching orders: no bullion stitches for the hair, no "special effects," and--above all--no goop!

Halloween's over--time to move on to a female form that's fresh-faced and charming! I think Maureen definitely fits the bill.