Thursday, December 30, 2010

One dilemma solved

I figured out the solution to one problem: making the background of the Waltz of the Flowers canvas twinkle without being sickeningly sweet. Instead of using a pink metallic thread, for which the canvas was originally painted, I chose Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #201--a combination of gold and silver, which sparkles nicely in the pale green background without detracting from the dancers themselves.

With the top part of the background done, I moved on to the dancers' hair, worked in satin stitch with three different shades of brown Burmilana. Then I added the leaves in their hair with DMC floss #501.

The flowers in their hair will have to wait until I've chosen the thread for the "petal" part of their costumes so I can pick just the right shade of pink. The petal thread has been added to the "stem" thread on my shopping list for my trip to my LNS!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Selecting a background color, or how not to lose an arm and a leg

DMC cotton floss is the backbone of my thread stash: I've used it in combination with Kreinik metallic threads for the backgrounds of all my ornaments to date in the Nutcracker series. But sometimes, as with the Waltz of the Flowers ornament, color choice of floss can be tricky. I wanted this ornament to look very feminine and in pastel colors of pink and green.

The choices of floss for skin tones are somewhat limited, which made my selection of a background color even more important. Had I used a pink background, I ran the risk of either watching the dancers' arms and legs disappear or switching to a flesh tone that made them look jaundiced. So I opted for a pale green--DMC floss #504--for my background and a healthy pink DMC floss #948 for the skin tone.

Now that half of the background has been stitched, I can see that the pink I used to paint the filigree pattern won't work--I'm looking for a twinkle but I don't want the finished ornament to look like a bonbon. Yet another instance where I'm glad I don't paint a master for a design until after I've stitched the model--I can work out any kinks as I go along!

I raided my stash for the "stem" section of the dancers' costumes and found Silk & Ivory "Willow," which blended well with the background. The loft of the S & I provided the high profile I was looking for, but I'm not quite satisfied with the overall effect. Being a 50/50 silk/wool blend, the S & I provided the sheen I was looking for, but it's looking a bit too "woolly" to me. I think a trip to my LNS is in order to see if there's a more appropriate thread for the costumes!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Waltzing flowers

Christmas Day is over. The dishwasher is still churning, the crumpled gift wrap has been hauled away, and the refrigerator is bulging with leftovers. But the spirit of the holiday continues as the strains of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker can still be heard at our house!

The next ornament in the series based on the ballet that I'll be working on is the Waltz of the Flowers. I've danced this divertissement from Act II twice, many years ago. Each time the costume I wore was basically the same: a green "stem" bodice over a pink "petal" skirt. So this is how I've garbed my three little dancers, adding wreaths of flowers for their hair.

I'll need to choose a background color that contrasts sufficiently with the skin tones of the dancers, and I'm having second thoughts about the pink filigree pattern. So stay tuned to see how this one actually turns out!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sliding into Christmas

Just in time for Christmas, the Nutcracker himself is finished and ready to take on the Rodent Monarch!

His helmet and sash were stitched in basketweave with red Petite Very Velvet. His mustache and beard were worked in French knots with two strands of Burmilana.

I used black Petite Very Velvet for his belt and boots, and all the gold trim on his helmet, uniform and boots were worked with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002. As a final touch, I gave his helmet a plume by working Petite Peluche in tent stitches which I then "roughed up" with the tip of my needle.

Now I've got some holiday baking to do, so I'll be back after Christmas with the next installment of my series based on The Nutcracker ballet. In the meantime, I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Decorating the tree

I began stitching the Nutcracker canvas with the little fellow's white uniform. His jacket was worked in mosaic stitch and his pants in a slanted gobelin stitch over two canvas threads, both using white Trio.

His face and hands were stitched in basketweave with DMC cotton floss, and his "chops" were worked in tent stitch, again with DMC floss.

On to the tree background! I was looking for a stitch that would resemble the needles on a tree without creating too high a profile. I turned to a stitch I've used quite a lot for stitching trees in the background of lighthouse canvases--diagonal upright oblong cross--using four plies of DMC floss #991. I'm using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002 to fill in the "garland" as I go along.

This little fellow is working up quickly and should be finished long before he makes a grand appearance on Christmas Eve!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The title character

Years and years ago, DH and I attended a performance of The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center, which was probably the most elaborately staged production I've ever seen. Two scenes from Act I still stand out in my mind.

The first takes place after the holiday party guests have departed and the family retires for the evening. Before the wondering eyes of the audience, the Christmas tree begins magically to grow larger than life.

My second recollection is the moment after Clara has dispatched the Mouse King with a well-placed toss of her shoe and the Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince. The "break-away" costume for that production was designed by Kermit Love, one of the original collaborators with Jim Henson in creating The Muppets.

So in designing the title character for my Nutcracker series, I was inspired by these memories. I didn't want a garish creature who didn't have a prayer of eventually turning into a handsome prince, and I wanted to pose him in front of that awe-inspiring tree. But no self-respecting tree would appear in public without a little garland! So the first thing I'll be doing before I start to stitch this canvas will be to add a little gold to the background so that dense green looks more like a stylized Christmas tree.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Enter His Royal Mouseness

The Mouse King is fully clothed and ready for his performance!

His crown was stitched with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002L, the holographic gold, using a slanted gobelin stitch over two canvas threads for the base and adding "jewels" of Smyrna crosses with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #003. The rest of the crown was tent-stitched, adding French knots at the very top.

Using the same gold Kreinik braid, I tent-stitched the chain of his cape and edged the front of his jacket with braided knitting. The cape was stitched in basketweave with Petite Very Velvet V631.

With one arm directed downward and the other raised, his jacket called for a non-directional stitch. So I worked this area in a Nobuko stitch using Vineyard Silk Classic "Deep Wisteria." His ruffled shirt front peeking out of the jacket was stitched in French knots with white DMC cotton floss.

Using the gold Kreinik braid, I worked the top of his sword in a Smyrna cross and the hilt in slanted long stitches. The blade was worked in a diagonal mosaic stitch using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #001.

Last, but not least, I added long stitches on top of his face to create whiskers, using two plies of DMC floss #310. The Mouse King is now ready to do battle with the Nutcracker, the subject of the next canvas in the series that I'll be stitching!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moving right along

With the background completed on the Mouse King canvas, I started working again on his body. As you may recall, I'm using two strands of gray/brown Burmilana in basketweave.

The inside of his ears were worked in a satin stitch with pink DMC floss. His eyes were formed with Smyrna crosses using Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #005. I generally dislike using metallic thread stitching human eyes, but in the case of the rodent monarch it seemed appropriate.

His nose/snout was stitched in basketweave with black Petite Very Velvet to raise it above the rest of his face. For his pearly white teeth, I used white DMC Satin floss in slanted gobelin stitches over two canvas threads.

He'll eventually get whiskers, too, but I'm waiting to add them on top of previously worked stitches when I've finished giving the King some new clothes!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Subtle glitz

I was looking for a fairly subtle background for the Mouse King, one befitting his regal stature without taking away from his larger-than-life persona. I decided on a striped background again, this time alternating slanted gobelin stitches over three canvas threads in DMC floss #762 with tent stitches of Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #001.

Another important selection was that of the thread for the mouse himself--not quite gray, not quite brown, and with a bit of a furry look. In my stash, I found some thread "imported" from Texas--Burmilana #3504H--which has a heathery look that fits the bill perfectly. I've used two strands in basketweave so far to stitch his head and one paw.

I'll finish up the background, then start giving him some facial features to make him look a bit more dashing!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Big Cheese

It would be impossible to design a series of ornaments based on The Nutcracker ballet without including the Mouse King. His battle with the Nutcracker in Act I is the catalyst for the dream sequence which continues through the second act of the ballet. It was the one ornament I dreaded designing, however, for a simple reason: I loathe mice!

Living in Connecticut for so many years, and now in Massachusetts, it's inevitable that the occasional field mouse will make an unwanted appearance. DH and I have had a long-standing agreement: he gets rid of the mice and I get rid of snakes. Yes, we had several slithering visitors when we lived in Texas!

Gritting my teeth, I began with his pose--one arm raised in a call to battle--dressed him in royal purple and gave him a regal crown. By the time I was finished, I actually liked the little guy, and look forward to bringing him to life!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jumping for joy!

Little Tea, the Chinese dancer, is jumping for joy because he's finally ready for his performance!

Raiding my stash for a thread suitable for his jacket and pants, I could only come up with Silk & Ivory "Red Hot"--the perfect color, with enough loft to make the figure stand out from the background, but a tad tight on 18-count canvas. I would have preferred Trio here, but decided to make do with what I already had. The jacket was worked in a framed mosaic stitch and the pants in Nobuko stitch. The frogs on his jacket were worked in horizontal oblong cross stitches with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002.

For his ballet slippers, I used black Petite Very Velvet. The hair inside his hat was worked in tent stitches, with the long queue stitched in braided knitting.

I'll be going back to Act I of The Nutcracker for the next ornament in the series--one I dreaded designing but which is fast becoming one of my favorites!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The bling factor

I've finished the background for Tea, the Chinese dancer, and sincerely doubt this ornament will get lost on a tree!

When I had stitched the grid of cashmere stitches, I filled in the tent stitches with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #203--a color the Kreinik folks call "Flame." It's a combination of gold and red, which tones down the DMC floss #873 used for the cashmere stitches as well as highlighting the red of the dancer's costume.

Now to work on the costume itself and give the poor little guy some hair!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Establishing a background pattern

For the background of little Tea's canvas, I wanted a pattern that would accentuate the horizontal line of both his body and the ornament shape itself. A search through my stitch books revealed nothing of interest, so I decided to wing it and came up with a combination of stitches that seems to have done the trick!

Using DMC floss #873, I'm working a series of cashmere stitches--five canvas threads wide and two threads high--that will be intersected by a row of tent stitches. The profile of the cashmere stitches is fairly low, so won't intrude on the central figure.

But before I began the background, I stitched his face with DMC floss in basketweave and gave him his little coolie hat. I used DMC #5 perle cotton #739 for the hat, first turning my canvas 90 degrees to lay long stitches every other slanted row, then righting the canvas to work more long stitches in the opposite direction. I'll come back to stitch his hair when more of the background has been completed.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Time for Tea!

Another divertissement, or independent dance, from Act II of The Nutcracker is that of the Chinese dancer, symbolizing Tea. The male who traditionally plays this role requires the agility and stamina of a gymnast as well as the grace of a dancer. His performance is punctuated by a series of fantastic leaps, which inspired the pose for this ornament.

I've worked out an elongated diamond as the shape of this ornament to accentuate the lines of the dancer. The pattern for the background will hopefully reinforce the horizontal orientation.

This little guy should be a fun stitch, so do come back and watch my progress!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The gang's all here!

Mother Ginger and her brood are ready for their performance!

After stitching the inside of Mother Ginger's hoop skirt in basketweave with DMC floss #414, I began dressing the children with red, blue and pink Petite Very Velvet. The little blue jackets were trimmed with Kreinik #12 tapestry braid #002.

For their hair, I used various shades of brown Burmilana. Normally I'd use two strands on 18-count canvas, but here I used three for some additional loft. All of the hair was worked in a satin stitch, with braided knitting used for the braids on the little girl in the foreground.

My next canvas will be another character from Act II, so stay tuned!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Yikes, stripes!

I've made good progress on the background of Mother Ginger--enough so to reaffirm my decision to use a dark color here to make the characters "pop."

Mother Ginger herself has now donned a wig, stitched in French knots with Silk & Ivory "Pumpkin." And I've started dressing the children, changing the color of the shirts on the two munchkins peeking behind her dress from blue to red to contrast better with the purple background. The shirts and pants at the bottom were stitched in basketweave with red Petite Very Velvet. The children's faces and hands have also been stitched with DMC floss #948.

I'll be stitching the inside of Mother Ginger's hoop skirt next, so I can finish dressing the kids and give the poor little tykes some hair!