Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A cloudless sky

With such an expanse of sky behind the Sand Island lighthouse, how could I resist needle-blending?

This time I turned the canvas upside-down and began at the horizon with DMC floss #775 and #3841, two plies each. Stitching in basketweave six threads deep, I followed the following formula:

Row 2: DMC floss #755-one ply; DMC floss #3841-three plies
Row 3: DMC floss #3841-four plies
Row 4: DMC floss #3841-three plies; DMC floss #3325-one ply
Row 5: DMC floss #3841-two plies; DMC floss #3325-two plies
Row 6: DMC floss #3841-one ply; DMC floss #3325-three plies
Row 7: DMC floss #3325-four plies
Row 8: DMC floss #3325-three plies; DMC floss #3755-one ply
Row 9: DMC floss #3325-two plies; DMC floss #3755-two plies
Row 10: DMC floss #3325-one ply; DMC floss #3755- three plies

By this time, I'd reached just below the gallery of the lantern room, and finished off the rest of the sky with four plies of DMC floss #3755. Notice how the gradual darkening of the sky emphasizes the height of the lighthouse itself.

It should be a lot easier stitching the tower, since at least half of the sky was worked by the light of a window only, thanks to a power outage from Hurricane Irene!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A lighthouse on the proverbial postage stamp

Many lighthouses in the U.S. have endured over time despite the ravages of man and nature. A good example is Sand Island lighthouse in Alabama, located approximately three miles offshore the main entrance to Mobile Bay. The first lighthouse to be constructed on this site in 1830 stood on property totaling more than 400 acres. Since then erosion has stripped away the land surrounding it to less than one acre.

The original lighthouse was replaced in 1837 and again in 1858, when Army engineer Danville Leadbetter supervised construction of a brick conical tower. Topping nearly 200 feet, this lighthouse was the tallest on the Gulf Coast at the time.

During the Civil War, Union soldiers commandeered the lighthouse, using it as a lookout to spy on the nearby Confederate Army. This action miffed a small band of Confederate soldiers, who in 1863 made good on the promise to blow up the lighthouse by igniting 70 pounds of gunpowder at its base. The leader of the group proudly reported its success to Danville Leadbetter, who had become a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army.

A temporary wooden tower was eventually replaced in 1873 by a brick tower 132 feet tall, built on 171 pilings and overlaid with 12 feet of cement. Attempts to stem further erosion began in 1889, when nearly 2,000 tons of granite were deposited at its base, with 6,500 tons more added 10 years later.

Several lighthouse keepers and keepers' dwellings were lost to swirling waters before the station was automated in 1921 and finally deactivated in 1932. Finally stabilized by the granite at its base, the lighthouse stood empty when its lens was removed in 1971. It wasn't until 2003, when ownership of the island and tower was transferred from the federal government to a group from neighboring Dauphin Island, that restoration of the lighthouse could begin and continue to this day.

Do come back to check my progress as I reconstruct the Sand Island lighthouse on canvas!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Stitch guide news

Readers of Needlepoint Now magazine may recognize this canvas: a ring-bearer pillow project which I completed in the July/August 2011 issue. I'm excited to report that a stitch guide is now available for the painted canvas, courtesy of designer/teacher Sue Dulle (

The nine-page guide with color photo
includes diagrams of all the stitches used as well as a "road map" for their placement. Thanks, Sue, for the great job!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A tree grows in Baltimore

The Baltimore row/alley house is finally finished!

I popped in the last window shade on the far right--three plies of DMC floss #543 in a horizontal interlocking gobelin stitch, and was then ready to attack the tree.

To make nice fluffy French knots that would make the tree stand out from the building, I chose Silk & Ivory "Broccoli." I added a few tent stitches at the base of the tree using DMC floss and the tree was done.

And what do I work on for my next project? I'm leaning toward another lighthouse adaptation--what do you think?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Window dressing

I've been ticking off all the little details on my "to-do" list for the Baltimore row/alley house, and I'm almost finished.

To recap, let's start with the lamp post. This was stitched with Kreinik #16 medium braid #005 and #5520. Why medium braid, when I generally use #12 tapestry braid? I find the finer weight in dark colors, particularly black, to be a little too thin in certain applications.

With all of the lighted areas of the windows completed with DMC floss #745 in a satin stitch, I started in on the window shades. I wanted to emphasize that each of the three sections on this block is an individual housing unit, so I treated the shades for each differently. On the left, I used two plies of DMC #842 floss in a horizontal interlocking gobelin stitch. For the center unit, I worked alternating vertical rows of tent and stem stitch with three plies of DMC floss ecru, with a horizontal row of stem stitches at the bottom.

Two plies of brown Burmilana formed the doors, with the transoms worked in tent stitch and the doors in slanted gobelin stitch. For the tree trunk, I used three plies of another shade of brown Burmilana, again in slanted gobelin stitch, to be sure it would stand out sufficiently from the bricks behind it.

One more window shade, the leaves of the tree, and the tiny bit of ground at the base of the trunk remain to be stitched, and this project will be a wrap!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

All bricked in!

TA DA! I finished stitching all the bricks on the Baltimore row/alley house. I used up a goodly chunk of the second skein of Sheep's Silk "Lingonberry," but I didn't count the bricks as I went along. I'm a committed stitcher, but I'm not totally crazy!

I'm continuing past the base of the tree working the sidewalk in Nobuko stitch with DMC #5 perle cotton #644. And to reward myself, I began stitching the window sashes in shadow inside the previously-worked frames using DMC floss #415 in tent stitch.

While I'm itching to stitch the little lamp post, I need to decide first what thread I'm going to use. There are still a lot of little details to work out on this canvas, but at least I feel I've reached a major milestone!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Plodding along

It's been hard to find time to stitch on the little Baltimore alley house lately. Sometimes I feel like one of those Chinese acrobats who used to keep seven plates spinning on top of bamboo poles. The second he had the seventh plate spinning, he'd have to go back and give the first plate another twirl!

So when I finished bricking in the center unit, it's not surprising I got a little carried away! I filled in two of the darkened basement windows with a satin stitch using DMC floss #414

I then moved on to the sidewalk under the partial unit on the right. This is being worked in a Nobuko stitch with DMC #5 perle cotton #644, a pretty good match for cement.

I haven't rummaged in my "foliage" bag yet--for some strange reason, I keep all the threads I use regularly for grass, bushes and trees in one plastic bag. I need to pick just the right shade of green for the leaves on the tree and make sure I have enough. If not, I'll need to run over to my LNS--I owe Barry a dozen Nutcracker Suite ornament canvases anyway!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Heading toward the basement

I've added more "marble" to the row house in preparation for stitching more bricks!

After framing the two doorways with floss, I worked the trim under the windows with a slanted gobelin stitch over three threads. Two of the three basement windows have been framed, one stairway completed with more slanted gobelin stitches, and the other begun.

With that much completed, I couldn't resist filling in the basement bricks on either side of the far right stairs. I'm pleased with the shiny effect of the "marble" against the brick facade.

There's a lot more construction to do before I can begin the little details!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Row house progress

DH informed me the other day that, technically speaking, this is an alley house, not a row house--alley houses having two floors whereas row houses have three. Just as well, I thought--one less floor of bricks to stitch!

I've made it all the way across the top of the second floor, framing in the windows with floss as another course of bricks gets closer. Outlining the windows and doors is a nice break from working all these oblong cross stitches! I've gone through an entire skein of Sheep's Silk "Lingonberry" at this point, but luckily have two more skeins waiting in the wings!

I have some canvas painting and another canvas to finish this week--it remains to be seen how much progress I make on little Bal'more!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tweaking as I go along

As DH was taking the photo of the Baltimore row house canvas that I showed in my last blog, he remarked casually, "You didn't add any dentil moulding to the top of the building." "You didn't have any in your drawing," I replied. "No," he said, "but I'll probably carve some when I build my version."

After deleting a few expletives, I counted the canvas threads between the capstones. Yes! I hadn't painted the dentils, but I sure as heck could stitch them! So the cast-iron trim at the top was worked in DMC #5 perle cotton white and #415 in a combination of tent, mosaic, and slanted gobelin stitches.

For the marble trim around the windows, I chose white DMC floss. I'd initially thought of blending in a ply or two of gray to simulate the look of veining, but some experimenting on doodle canvas only produced some dirty-looking marble.

Choosing a thread for the bricks was easy: my hands-down favorite for bricks is Sheep's Silk "Lingonberry," a silk/wool blend with a subtle overdye. The stitch I'm using is a diagonal vertical oblong cross with the canvas turned 90 degrees. The design shows one full and two partial housing units, but butting the bricks together on doodle canvas didn't provide a distinct line between these areas. So I added the line with a single row of tent stitches using DMC floss #919. Another instance in which it pays not to paint a master for a design until you've stitched a model!

For once, I let DH do all the research for this design, so I wasn't aware of the unique screens sported by these homes until Cyn Davis of Maryland left a link in her recent comment:

It seems William Oktavec, a Czechoslovakian immigrant, began painting brightly colored designs and scenes on the window screens of row houses in Baltimore in 1913. Painted on the outside only, the screens allowed residents to look out but prohibited passers-by from looking inside unless there was a light source in the room. Check out this link to find out more about The Painted Screen Society of Baltimore!

Now to get back to brick-laying!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Just for fun

One of the reasons DH and I have stuck together harmoniously for so long is that we have many interests in common, architecture being one of them. My interest in architecture is manifested in the "Doorways to the Past" series and my adaptations of lighthouses to needlepoint. DH is an avid model railroader, who has scratch-built virtually all of the buildings on his extensive HO scale layout. Even before we moved from Texas five years ago, he was designing on the computer his dream layout for the new house on the Cape.

He's recreating a section of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad extending from West Virginia to "The Big City" (aka Baltimore) circa 1950, when steam engines were being phased out for diesel locomotives. When he needs a particular style of building for which a kit is unavailable, he researches, designs and builds one--a case in point being the mill he created a few years ago that was featured in Model Railroader magazine. Just recently, he determined that the buildings he needed to transition from farmland to The Big City--Baltimore row houses--would have to be developed from square one. A photo of the cardboard mock-up he created is at top left. I decided to take advantage of all his research and the design he'd generated on the computer to create a needlepoint version, shown on the right.

Baltimore row houses were constructed in the mid 1800s to fill the need for low-cost working-class housing created by the Industrial Revolution. Their appearance was distinctive: cast-iron trim flanking the top, red brick construction, and window trim and front steps of marble. So proud of the ability to own their own homes were these workers that the sight of them scrubbing those marble steps to keep them gleaming was common.

A century later, many of these structures had fallen into disrepair and were demolished by fire or the wrecking ball. Before the recent economic downturn, however, some developers moved to restore the buildings to once again provide affordable inner-city housing. I'll be stitching this canvas as my next project, returning a small stretch of row houses to their once-pristine condition. And I see a lot of bricks in my future!