Friday, November 10, 2017

A Six-way Bargello, Plus More Optical Illusions

8-way bargello pillow top
8-way Bargello Pillow Top
This post, I'm trying to make good on some projects I promised earlier this year. The first one was to give you a pattern for a 6-way bargello design. We have already done 4-way bargellos and an 8-way bargello (above), but a 6-way is different because the design is based on 60-degree angles, rather than the familiar 90-degree and 45-degree ones. I have designed several of these, but we will be starting with a very simple one. There will be others next year, but they will be a little more difficult. I suggest that you study the posts on 4-way (December 22, 2014) and 8-way bargello (April 22, 2016) before you begin a 6-way project. You may find that you want to try one of the others first, but I assure you this one is probably easier. I'm going to take you step-by-step through this project. Let's begin with the design, which you can download.

Pattern for six-way bargello project
Click here to download Pattern for 6-way Bargello
Since this is a 6-sided design, it makes sense to start with a 6-sided figure, the hexagon. I began by finding the center of my paper and marking it with a dot. Then I constructed a hexagon with the dot at its center. I then made 6 more hexagons, each starting from a point, not a side, of the original one. (If you are constructing a design like this, rather than using a pattern, you may want to make a cardboard template of the center hexagon to draw around as you progress.) You will notice that each of the spaces between the outer and inner hexagons as well as between each outer hexagon and its neighbor is a triangle. Where the bases of two triangles touch, they form a diamond-shape. Finally, I divided the central hexagon into 6 equal triangles. This gave me a choice of triangles or diamonds to stitch. I then made several copies of the design and began to work it out in various color combinations. You can see some of the results below.

Four possible color schemes for 6-way bargello
Four alternative color schemes for 6-way bargello project
As I worked on the design, I told J.D. that I could see an optical illusion forming in one of the designs. He said he could see one, too, but that he would have to erase some of the lines in the design to make it. I suggested that we each draw the design we imagined to see if we had different illusions in mind. When we compared our results, we had indeed seen different illusions. (We were delighted, because another of my promises was to provide more optical illusion designs!) This “game” continued for some time. Below are two of the more interesting ones, for the benefit of those of you who have taken up this pursuit.

Annake's and JD's floating block illusions
Annake's (left) and J.D.'s floating block illusions derived from the 6-way bargello  pattern

In the meantime, I prepared my canvas for the demonstration I'm going to show you now. For more information about preparing a canvas, see the post for May 11, 2014. I began with the triangles in the central hexagon. There are several ways to approach these triangles. An obvious one is to do two sets of triangles in two colors. That is, alternate the two colors as you move around the hexagon. To use three colors, work two adjacent triangles in the first color, the next two in the second color and the last two in the third color. Finally, you can use a different color for each triangle 6 in all. I decided to do two shade of one color in the hexagon, two more in the ‘star’ and a final three in the hexagons. Since it is autumn, my favorite season, I chose yarn in autumn colors.

You are probably going to look at the triangles and think, “This is going to be hard:  the triangles point in different directions and I will have a lot of slanted stitches.” No, they are just triangles with equal sides. They don't point anywhere. They don't do anything but sit there and wait for you to fill them with stitches!

I began with the triangle in the bottom center of the hexagon with yellow yarn. I started at the base of the triangle and stitched from the base to the side line of the triangle, increasing the length of the stitch each time until I reached the triangle's upper point. From there I decreased each stitch until I reached the end of the base. My first and last stitch may go over only one thread of the canvas. The other two yellow triangles form a ‘Y’ with the first one. Then I reversed the canvas to work the gold stitches. The most important thing is to have each gold stitch begin on its base line, but end in the same hole as the yellow stitch it meets. Don't leave any bare canvas. Any bits of the pattern line that show through or any irregularities in stitches meeting will be covered later with top-stitching. Your stitches should cover both sides of the canvas. Don't pull them too tight or you will deform the shapes of the triangles.

6-way bargello, Step 1
6-way bargello, Step 1
I am working on #12 cotton needlepoint canvas with tapestry and crewel yarns. You will have more or fewer stitches than mine, depending on the type of material you are using for a background and the yarn you are using. If you have a stitch that looks thin and doesn't cover the canvas, put another stitch right over it and pull it down firmly. No one will ever know … and I won't tell.

Now that Step #1 was complete, I moved on to Step #2. Here I was concerned with the triangles outside the center hexagon the ones that form a 'star' shape when they are completed. “Okay,” you will say, “now the triangles are pointing in different directions!” No, they aren't. Hold the canvas in the same position that you used to begin the center hexagon. This time work the triangle at the top. Be sure the stitches start in the same holes as those of the ones they are touching in the hexagon. Work that triangle the same way, followed by its companions at bottom right and left. Reverse your canvas again and do the other three triangles. All of your stitches at this point will be straight up and down. Didn't I say it was easy? When I finished the ‘star’, I took the time to top-stitch the sections of the center hexagon with dark brown. Step #2 is complete.

6-way bargello, Step 2
6-way bargello, Step 2
By this time I really liked the triangles because they each took very little time. I decided to do the outer hexagons in the triangles, but I wanted each hexagon to be in a single color. I removed the canvas from the hoop and drew the triangles lightly in pencil. (I am using a hoop because the canvas is very flexible and needs to be stretched taut.) Then I worked all 6 triangles in each hexagon in a single color and top-stitched the junctions in the same color. If you are doing all the hexagons in a single color, or in 6 different colors, you are free to start with any hexagon you like. If you are using 2 colors, your hexagons will form a ‘Y’. If, like me, you are using 3 colors, you will have 2 hexagons in each color, and they will be directly opposite each other. With the hexagons complete, I top-stitched around the ‘star’ points and the edges of the hexagons. Step #3 is done.

6-way bargello, Step 3
6-way bargello, Step 3
If you want to expand the design, you might fill in the triangles between the hexagons or make them into diamonds. You might add another ring of hexagons to the outside of the existing ones and proceed from there. Since I am preparing my design to be a round pillow-top, I am simply going to fill in the background to the outer edge of the circle. A sample of the background stitch pattern I am going to use is shown below. The finished pillow will be shown on a future post.

background stitch for 6-way bargello pillow top
Background stitch  for 6-way bargello pillow top
Until next time, have fun with this six-way design.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Questions & Answers, Autumn 2017

autumn crocus
Autumn crocus in bloom
For those of you who expected this post to be another still life lesson, I want you to know that Part IV is under construction and will be posted later this fall. The final article in the still life series (Part V) should be available before the end of the year. For those of you who don't favor still lifes (or have grown tired of them), the next art form will be Landscapes. Like still lifes, they can't get up and walk away, but they change a great deal because of the seasons, weather, time of day, and the presence of animals, people, vehicles, etc. In the meantime, there are questions to be answered and promised projects to be presented step-by- step. Keep watching for them. Here are a few of the current questions:

Can you show me a picture of the four-leaf clover design and the shamrock you made from the corner heart pattern?

I would be happy to do that. These were also mentioned in the April 10, 2017 post. Actually, the idea for them was suggested by J.D., who observed a sketch I was doing of the corner heart as a four-way design and made the connections to four-leaf clovers and shamrocks. It is always valuable to get another person's point of view. Here are the charts for both:

clover & shamrock patterns
Four-leaf clover & shamrock patterns

These may be done in either floss or tapestry yarn, depending on the background fabric. The outlines are done in dark green back-stitch. The leaves are filled in with a lighter green cross-stitch. The blue dots on the four-leaf clover indicate spaces where the background fabric should show through. The stem of the shamrock is done in dark green satin stitch. The shamrock, which is not a clover (it belongs to the oxalis family), has leaves that are spaced a little further apart, so I gave it a slightly more open appearance. But it is easy to modify the clover pattern to be done in the shamrock style, or change the shamrock to be done in the clover style.

Hey, J.D., how about you slow down and stop grumbling for a minute and explain something to me. I still don't understand what is so great about dandelions! Aren't we supposed to kill them on sight?

Okay, I’m calm again – after writing and discarding about a thousand words of impassioned tirade, I really am calm again. . . So, why would you want to “kill them on sight”? On the pro side, they aren’t toxic: as I’ve written previously, they are eminently edible and useful. And while I’m certain there are folks around who are allergic to dandelions, they are rare enough that I’ve never met any. Second, the bees seem to like the flowers – and assuming that you want to continue to see vegetables in your local supermarket, you’d do well to keep the bees as healthy and happy as possible. Third, a lot of birds like them, too: we have little finches come through every spring that absolutely stuff themselves on dandelion seeds. I don’t know how I’d put a market value on those little birds, but I think they are worth having around.

On the con side, you really can’t win the battle with dandelions. I once read something to the effect that in any cubic yard of typical topsoil in the continental U.S., there are enough dandelion seeds to plant an acre as crops. And that nice green lawn you’re trying to chase the dandelions out of is likely made up of grass species (probably bluegrass, or maybe Bermuda grass) that are completely inappropriate for the area you are trying to grow them in, requiring inordinate amounts of water and fertilizer which the tougher, more adaptable dandelions are just going to make better use of than the grass.

Now if, in the face of these arguments, you still have an uncontrollable urge to destroy innocent little yellow flowers, or just a pathological need to look out over unbroken swaths of uniform green, please do us all a favor and consider artificial turf. Hey, I’m totally serious: there are some pretty environmentally friendly products available these days. They don’t require much maintenance – no electricity or gasoline to keep them mowed, nor chemical fertilizers to make them grow, nor herbicides to keep out the dandelions; they don’t use up precious water resources; and they’ll free up your time for other pursuits – maybe meditation, which is bound to be better for your blood pressure than trying to kill every dandelion you see.

And mine as well.

Did you ever get a title for the bear and bee needlepoint picture (May 21, 2017)?

Yes, we did. We chose a reader's suggestion and decided to call it “What Kind of Sunflower Are You?”

Why didn't you use the set of objects J.D. did in his article for your still life? And why didn't you copy the things in the picture you chose like they were in the photo?

J.D. made many more photographs than the ones he chose for his article on arranging still life pictures. I particularly liked the one shown at the top of Part III. I liked the linear arrangement, the fact that the end objects were facing in opposite directions, and the fact that some objects overlapped others to give a perception of distance. The arrangement allowed me to teach several principles in the same project. I never intended to copy the textures of the objects, but rather to show patterns that suggested textures. Each object gave me a chance to make one or more points about the stitching (as given in the tips that followed the pictures). The patterns allowed me to contrast the different shapes, as well as comparing horizontal, vertical, and diagonal stitching, and all-over designs versus an isolated motif. Finally, with a little photographic magic from J.D., I was able to contrast delicate and bold outlining. I think the total design did everything that I intended for it to do. I hope you readers think so, too.

photo & embroidery still life collage

I like the tiny embroidery patterns you show from time to time (March 10, 2017). I have three kids under school age and I like to embroider small designs on their clothes. Do you have some more of them that you can share? Thank you.

I love to hear about mother-child projects like that! And you are very welcome. Below are some more for you. Since at least one of your children is probably past the toddler stage, some of these are slightly larger patterns to fit on larger clothing. They can be done like blackwork, with each line representing a single short, straight stitch. The patterns can also be modified to do in tent stitch with back-stitched details (good on the kind of canvas you can pull out when you have finished stitching) or in counted cross-stitch also with back-stitching. (See also the post for February 14, 2017.) The size of your design will depend on the kind of canvas or cloth that you are using. The colors are only suggestions.

Thank you for asking for more designs. I imagine other mothers will thank you, too. I will try to remember to put new ones in more frequently from now on.

small needlework design samples
Some more small needlework design samples

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Still Life in Needlework, Part III

Still life shapes
In Part II, I promised to show you a technique in which you could do a still life in black and white only. This is one of several related embroidery techniques which spread across parts of Europe after the Renaissance and eventually found their way to the Americas. It is called Spanish blackwork. Its patterns can be used in other styles of single-color embroidery, such as Russian redwork and Scandinavian whitework, as well as a multicolor style like Holbein embroidery. My choice of objects to portray is shown above in a photo that J.D. took at the beginning of the project.

I'm going to take you step-by-step through a still life picture in blackwork. The original 16th century blackwork was done in black silk and gold thread on white linen. I urge beginners in any of these monochromatic stitch techniques to begin with black floss on quarter-inch checked gingham because it is so much like graph paper. It is easy to work out the individual patterns (called diaper patterns) on graph paper and then repeat each individual line with a single stitch.

"Cat Nap," blackwork embroidery on 1/4" checked gingham
"Cat Nap," blackwork embroidery on 1/4" checked gingham

If you have done counted cross-stitch, you may want to work on the smaller “baby check” gingham to get more complex-looking patterns. I prefer pastel checks so the blackwork design stands out dramatically. If you are working on “baby check”, you may want to divide your floss and use only three strands instead of six. The stitch used for the patterns is a simple back-stitch.

Hot iron transfer for still life
Hot iron transfer for still life
In order to have a truly black and white (and gray) design, I'm going to work on white monks' cloth, where the squares are indicated by tiny spaces in the weave at each square's corners. I begin with a piece of monks' cloth that I have backed with interfacing and basted around the edges. I find the vertical and horizontal center lines of the fabric and mark them with a running stitch in a color other than black. This is to center my design; the colored stitches are pulled out after the design is worked. I made a hot-iron transfer of my design outline and transferred it to the fabric. (The transfer will reverse the design, so I studied mine carefully from the back against a bright light to make sure it worked well in reverse.) I chose the area to begin and used an embroidery hoop.

You will need a sharp-pointed crewel needle with an eye large enough to accommodate the floss and several skeins of black six-strand embroidery floss. I like to have several needles so I don't have to stop as often to thread my needle. I was working on monks' cloth, which is comparable to “baby check” gingham, I divided the floss to use three strands. Here is a picture of the first completed section, and close-up of the pattern used for it. Each line on the pattern is a single stitch. Stitches begin and end in the same spaces at the corners of squares.

Blackwork embroidery, Step 1: the Vase
Blackwork embroidery, Step 1: the Vase

Stitch pattern for the Vase
Stitch pattern for the Vase
Tip #1: The Vase. When you are stitching a pattern over an object with a complicated shape, begin at the widest part of the object. Start at one side and work the pattern line to the other side. Then stitch the pattern lines in order both to the top and the bottom of the object.

The next series of pictures show each of the other sections as they were completed, accompanied by a close-up of the graph-paper pattern for each. The lighter I wanted the section to be, the simpler the pattern I used; the darker I wanted it to be, the more complex the pattern.

Blackwork embroidery, Step 2: the Pitcher
Blackwork embroidery, Step 2: the Pitcher

Stitches for the pitcher
Stitches for the pitcher

TIP #2: The Pitcher. When you are stitching a radiating pattern like this one, find the exact center of the place you want it to be and mark it lightly with a pencil. Begin there at the center of the design; work outward, one step at a time.

Blackwork embroidery, Step 3: the Cup
Blackwork embroidery, Step 3: the Cup

Stitch for the Cup
Stitch for the Cup
Tip #3: The Cup. As you reach the border lines of the section, make as much of the pattern stitches in each square as you can without crossing the border-line. When your outline of the shape is completed, there may be small gaps where the pattern doesn't quite reach the outline. Fill these in with tiny stitches.

In this project, I concentrated on shape, pattern, and perspective only. If objects of the same size are placed side by side, the one with the faintest outline will seem the furthest away. If you make the objects overlap, so that the more faintly drawn objects are partly covered, you have started the illusion that they are behind the darker figures and are farther away from the viewer. This is called “recession in space”. This illusion can be considerably increased by combining it with lighter outlines. Because I wanted to draw your attention to this visual device, I used gray floss for the two objects “behind” the front three. You will also notice that their bases appear to be on a higher plane. You can use all these devices in your own still life projects.

Blackwork embroidery, Step 4: the Birch Bark Box
Blackwork embroidery, Step 4: the Birch Bark Box

Stitch for the Birch Bark Box
Stitch for the Birch Bark Box
Tip #4: The Birch Bark Box. Instead of back-stitch for this pattern, I used a simple running stitch. The marks on the birch bark appear in clusters on the box, but I didn't think that would show up sufficiently so I used the stitches for the entire pattern. I left an empty space for the line indicating the bottom of the box lid.

Blackwork embroidery, Step 5: the Candle
Blackwork embroidery, Step 5: the Candle
Stitch for the Candle
Stitch for the Candle

Tip #5: The Candle. Here the back-stitch is used vertically. Be sure that your stitches are as straight as possible. To make the wick more visible, I stitched it in black instead of gray.

Finally, I covered the outlines with solid lines of stitching. I wanted a bold, modern feeling to the picture, along with many contrasts, so I used the full six strands of floss for the outlines. I chose chain stitch, but I could have used back-stitch, outline stitch, stem stitch or any of several other stitches. I outlined the gray objects with the same number of strands of floss that I had used for the black ones. You might prefer a more delicate treatment. J. D. has shown here how it would look outlined in three strands of floss in a back-stitch or outline stitch. I then removed the colored centering stitches. A quick hand-washing in the sink with dish-washing liquid removes the remnants of the iron-on pattern. Follow this by a rinse and pressing with an iron set on 'cotton', and it's done.

How the still life might look with narrow outline stitching
How the still life might look with narrow outline stitching

To make your own blackwork still life, start with a simple outline pattern. Follow the directions for preparing the material. Use the patterns I used, see additional patterns on the posts for October 6, 2013, October 18, 2013, February 21, 2014, and January 15, 2017 or make up your own.

Now, you are ready to transfer those outlined areas of your design to your fabric. You can place your outline on a light-box or tape it to a sunny window-pane and trace it directly on your fabric., or you may want to use a hot-iron transfer. For directions to make one, go to the post for October 6, 2013. For more on monks' cloth, see see the post for April 30, 2014.

Go make something black, white, and beautiful!

Finished Blackwork Embroidery Still Life
Finished Blackwork Embroidery Still Life

Updated October 10, 2017, to replace all the illustrations Google Photo somehow lost :-p

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Going a Step Farther with Still Life

A Simple Still Life Composition
A Simple Still Life Composition
I'm happy to see that there is so much interest in translating still life from painting into needlework. It is evident that some of you are eager to learn how to set up your own still lifes and work from them. To help you with that, I'm going to turn the instruction over to our editor/photographer, J.D., to help you make and choose a pleasing still life arrangement.

[Gnome, grumbling] Okay, so here’s the story: Annake tells me, “I need you to take a series of shots for some points I’m trying to make on the next blog post about still life in needlework. Just find some interesting objects, make an attractive arrangement, and then shoot it from several angles. Here’s what I’ve written for the blog. Oh, and J.D. – keep it simple, please.”

Make an arrangement of 4 or 5 objects on a table or other flat surface. Move the objects into a grouping that pleases you. Try to use a variety of shapes –- some linear, some angular, some curved. Look at it from different angles: above, different sides, eye level, etc. If possible, take a few photographs from these angles with a camera or your cell phone. Here is a montage of photos J.D. took before choosing the one above. Notice how he has used light to emphasize reflections and shadows.

Montage of still life photos
Montage of still life photos, taken from different viewpoints
[Gnome] First part of the assignment completed: I shot these four pieces of pottery of different sizes and shapes, all with matte finishes in a limited range of colors against a plain off-white background so that you can concentrate on the shapes, placement, and point of view without any extra distraction. However, since I was not sure what Annake had in mind for the final product here, I was a concerned about the distortion of the colors under the artificial lights. (Those of you who seldom photograph under artificial lights may be unaware of how much different light sources can affect the color of your photos, but when you live in a hole in the ground you get used to compensating.) So, I used a variety of portable lighting to try to true up the colors. The photo on the right below, taken under a fluorescent grow light plus flash is the most accurate color representation.

original composition next to corrected colors
Still life composition (left), with adjusted lighting (right)
[Gnome] And, while I had all my portable lighting out, I decided to take some shots with unusual light directions, just in case Annake wanted to do something different with the composition before I cleared it away. Not exactly in keeping with Annake’s dictum to keep things simple, but I already had everything in place...

Montage of special lighting effects
Composition photographed with various light placements
Then I trekked up to Annake to show her the results, and find out what the next step was. She said, “Turn it into something that can be put on canvas or fabric for a needlework project. Here’s what I’ve written for our readers: ”

Make a sketch of your favorite view. If drawing is difficult for you, have a print made, enlarged if necessary, of your favorite photograph. Outline the most important features in a dark, bold marker.

TIP: Take this opportunity to simplify your design. Don't try to include every detail. Remember you are going to have to “translate” these lines and shapes into some kind of needlework. What you leave out is just as important to your final picture as what you leave in.

[Gnome] I do a lot of different things here in the Garden, which call for a lot of different skills; however, drawing isn’t one of those – that I leave to the boss lady. Tracing – now, that I can handle. Here’s a trace of the photo at the top of this post, ready to be transferred to whatever sort of material you want by one of the methods Annake has shown over the course of this blog.
Tracing of still life composition photo
Tracing of still life composition photo
Need anything else, boss?

At this point, I like to look at my design through frames or mats of different shapes: horizontal rectangle, vertical rectangle, square, oval and round. (Embroidery hoops are helpful for the ovals and circular views.) This helps me to decide whether to crop the background, how much to crop it, and what shape I want the final picture to be.

Still life tracing under a frame
Still life tracing under a frame
[Gnome] No sooner said than I’m going to go play with some of these shots I’ve taken (not all of which have been shown in this post!) to see what I come up with. This still life stuff is kind of fun!

You ought to try it.

J.D., Annake’s Garden Gnome (filling in for)

Updated October 10, 2017 to replace the mysteriously disappearing photos.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Late Summer Questions and Answers

wild asters
Wild asters in bloom
I know you have been busy with the Still Life posts, but what else have you worked on lately?

I've been finishing some projects that were put aside while I worked on others. One of these was a mirror-image piece done in upright Gobelin stitch on needlepoint canvas. Here's a picture of it shown horizontally. The pattern is mirrored both from side to side and from top to bottom. Seen in this way, it is pure geometric pattern in design.

mirror image needlepoint horizontal
Needlepoint, horizontal view
mirror image needlepoint vertical
Needlepoint, vertical orientation
But look what happens when it is shown vertically. Now it is a stylized representation of the fields and forests, mesas and mountains of western Colorado. I don't usually do a design that leans this far toward the abstract, but this one was fun.

I'm thinking of framing it with two hangers on the back of the frame, one on a long side and one on a short side. Then it could be displayed either way and changed back and forth as desired. What do you think?

You showed a picture of a basket of strawberries at the top of Part II of the Still Life series (August 21, 2017), but you didn't tell us anything about it. Are you going to tell us about it?

Certainly. Here it is again:

still life of a basket of strawberries
Needlepoint still life of a basket of strawberries
There are a great many things to consider in doing a still life painting or its equivalent in needlework. Here is a cheerful little needlepoint of a small basket of strawberries on a blue-and-white checked tablecloth. It is done in a poster-like style with little indication of depth and no highlights or shadows. The emphasis, instead, is on line, shape, color, and texture. Still, there is a good deal of pattern involved. Something like this is a good exercise for a beginner taking up still life needlework. This is the sort of design that can be found in a child's coloring book, for example, for anyone not yet ready to make an original design. The design is done in acrylic yarn on #10 needlepoint canvas. The checked tablecloth is a simple bargello pattern done in upright Gobelin stitch.

sample of stitch for checked tablecloth
Sample of stitch for checked tablecloth
The body of the basket is a simple needle-weaving pattern that is shifted every other row. The yarn is brought up from the back of the canvas. Working from left to right, the stitch pattern is over 6 threads, under 2 threads, over 6, under 2, across. The return stitches from right to left are under 6 threads, over 2, under 6, over 2. The sample has been done in two colors to make this easier to see. The stitch pattern is continued until a block of 6 rows is completed. The next block of 6 rows begins shifted 4 threads to the right of the first one. The third block is just like the first one and the fourth is like the second one. Incomplete blocks can be filled in once the pattern is established. Each stitch begins and ends in the same squares as the adjacent ones. No canvas threads are left uncovered.

sample of stitch for basket
Sample of stitch for basket

The strawberries are done in Parisian stitch to indicate their surface texture. The sample is done in two colors for clarity. For more on Parisian stitch and related stitches, see the post for April 10, 2014.

sample of stitch for strawberries
Sample of stitch for strawberries
The ribbon-striped wallpaper is done in continental stitch, but the rows are done vertically rather than horizontally. To do this, do downward vertical stitches in the standard continental manner (lower right to upper left) and upward stitches in the return method (upper right to lower left).

Sample of stitch technique for wallpaper
Stitch technique for wallpaper stripes
Although this is a simple pattern, it still contains some information. The strawberries indicate that it is probably late spring or summer. The lighting indicates daytime. The checked tablecloth indicates that the room is a kitchen or dining room. The bow on the basket handle suggests that the strawberries are a gift. We don't know whether the gift has been delivered to someone in the household or whether it is a gift being prepared for someone else. Either way, it is a pleasant picture. (I like to think the basket is a gift for a friend.)

Are you still doing new crochet projects?

Yes, I am still doing crochet projects. A while ago I started a new line of baby afghans and “loveys”. Loveys are soft stuffed toys based on my puppet designs. I will admit that I have never been fond of the “Pink is for girls; blue is for boys” school of thought. For one thing, babies do not readily see pastels for quite some time. The first color that most of them notice is bright red. Toy-makers have known this for centuries and painted their toys accordingly.

baby afghans with lovies

I try to make bright-colored afghans that will appeal to toddlers (and also allow parents and caregivers to teach the children colors and words), and toys that can be used along with storybooks, made-up stories, and even songs. For example, here is “Cottontail's Garden” and its “lovey” (at the left side of the photograph).

Detail of "Cottontail's Garden" afghan and lovey
Detail of "Cottontail's Garden" afghan and lovey
The rows of different colors can be associated with the vegetables and fruits the child eats or sees in visits to the grocery store. The lovey could be a good companion to the child when books like the Peter Rabbit series are read or songs like “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” are sung. (Incidentally, J.D. says he feels hungry every time he looks at this afghan.)

This question is for J.D. You mentioned a hot drink made from dandelion roots. (July 16, 2017) I sure have plenty of dandelions. What can you tell me about the hot drink?”

(The gnome grumbles...) Okay, for reasons too complicated to go into here, I once had to come up with a hot drink made from ingredients easily available in northern Europe a thousand years ago. After some experimentation, I settled on:

4 parts roasted malt barley
1 part roasted dandelion root
1 part roasted chicory root

Grind together to the size and consistency that matches whatever apparatus you use to make coffee - or tea - and brew. No caffeine kick, but it tastes pretty good on a cold morning.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

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