Monday, July 31, 2017

Translating Art Forms to Nedlework

This is the first in a series of articles about applying the principles of forms of fine art to various types of needlework. Many people think that these principles apply only to painting, but that is not so. Fine stitching is every bit as beautiful as fine brushwork. And it is every bit as satisfying, as well. We are going to give you information that we hope will help you in either painting or needlework, as well as some history of, and interesting facts about, each art form.

country and western music punch needle design
Punch needle still life on a jacket back
Art is when anyone in the world takes any kind of material and fashions a deliberate statement with it.”
Thomas Hoving, Former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

That is my favorite definition of art! Now, before you read any further, get a large piece of paper and a marking pen. Write boldly “Art is when (insert your name) takes (list some of the tools and materials you can use to do needlework, such as a needle and yarn) and fashions a deliberate statement with it.” Put that paper somewhere that you will see it at least once every day. When you see it, read it out loud. Accept it. Believe it. Make it happen.

Your statement does not need to be profound. It may be as simple as, “I want to preserve this lovely rose in a way that it will not wither and die,” or “I want to make a cowboy picture for Billy while he is still at the age when he wants to be one.”

Still Life in Art Needlework, Part I

color sketch of cholla cactus
Color sketch of cholla cactus
Still life subjects have been inspiring artists for centuries. It is one of the easiest kinds of composition because you are dealing with inanimate objects, potted plants, vases of flowers and bowls of fruit, which can be moved and rearranged as you desire. Unlike our uncooperative shop cat, they will not get up in the middle of your sketch and walk out of the room. The flowers and fruit will last for several days, allowing you to work at your own pace. In this series of posts, we are going to examine still life projects in several kinds of needlework. I do many quick sketches in pencil, pen, pastel and crayon that I file for future reference. A few of these eventually become needlework projects. Here is one under consideration for crewel over a tapestry stitch background.

map of Italy with Pompeii labeled
Map of Italy showing location of Pompei
Most books about still life painting, if they deal with its history at all, start with the giants of Spanish late 16th Century and early 17th Century art, Velasquez and Goya. But that is about 16 centuries late. Today we think of a still life as a framed picture or perhaps a photograph on a calendar page, But the original still life pictures, dating from ancient Greece and Rome, were wall-sized paintings and mosaics. We have wonderful examples of these because of a terrible tragedy. In August, 79 A.D. (C.E.), Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the city of Pompeii with up to 20 feet (6 meters) of ash. When the ash was finally removed from the houses, the interiors were found to be remarkably well-preserved. The wall paintings of familiar objects give us a good picture of how each room was used. In one kitchen, for example, you might see pictures of kitchen utensils, towels, dishes, and foods like eggs and fruit. These were painted realistically and in great detail.

still life of kitchen condiments, cross stitch on monks cloth
Condiment still life, cross-stitch on monks cloth
There are a great many things to consider in making a complex still life like those in Pompeii or its equivalent in needlepoint. So let's start with something much simpler. Here's a sample of a simple still life design made up of common kitchen items. Both the arrangement and the treatment are linear. Lines, shapes, and colors are emphasized. Very little has been done to suggest depth or volume, except for a little darkening of color where shapes meet or overlap, and for occasional open spots in the embroidery to indicate reflections of light. The design is worked in cross-stitch and back-stitch in floss on off-white monks' cloth. It is meant to be appliqued on an apron.

closeup of CW punch needle design
Closeup of punch needle design
You can find all kinds of items in your kitchen to put together to make your own still life design. Or make a design of other items like children's toys or things from a person's hobby or occupation. Look at the arrangement at the beginning of this chapter. This is done in punch-needle work on the back of a jacket and features items that might belong to a country singer or musician.

You can always arrange your art or craft materials into a still life. When I start a series of works on a theme sunflowers or butterflies, for example I assemble a table full of reference materials to consider while I design. Since these cannot move or change on their own, they constitute a still life composition. You can see a group of those at the end of this post.

At one time, not too long ago, there were generally accepted rules for painting still life pictures. There were to be several objects on a table in front of a fairly dark background that wasn't very important to the picture. There was a very shallow depth of field. Textures were often more important than colors. The viewers eyes were supposed to be drawn upward and diagonally across the picture, usually to the right-hand side. It is easy to imagine just how dull and uninteresting many of the compositions painted according to the rules must have been. Aren't we lucky that artists today are not expected to follow those rules?

fruit and pitcher downloadable design
To download, click here
Here is a simple design that you can download. Bowls of fruit have always been acceptable subjects for still-life painting. Take the design apart and rearrange the objects. Add to or subtract from elements of the design. Draw in a tabletop for the articles to stand on. Add a vase of flowers. Make a background for the arrangement a wall, a window, an outdoor scene, etc. When you have achieved a composition you really like, play with different color combinations, real or imaginary.

owl chart with stitch patterns
Chart showing shading with simple blackwork stitches
A still-life need not be done in colors. Think of how expressive a pencil, charcoal, or pen-and-ink drawing can be. A good technique for doing a still life in a single color is Spanish blackwork (hereafter simply called blackwork). This technique flourished in Elizabethan times and has enjoyed a modern renaissance. The shapes are done in an outline stitch like chain stitch, Shading and filling is done with a variety of diaper patterns done in small straight stitches. For more about blackwork and for samples of diaper patterns, see the posts for October 6, 2013, October 18, 2013, February 27, 2014, and January 15, 2017. (Use our search engine to locate these posts.)

Next time, I will take you step-by-step through the making of both a multicolor design and one for a technique you can do in blackwork, redwork, whitework, or any single color you desire. In the meantime, choose your favorite version of the simple design above. Or choose another design that you have made up on your own. Now, having decided what form of needlework you want to use, you are ready to transfer those outlined areas to your canvas or fabric. If you are using needlepoint or rug canvas, tape your pattern to a light-box or a sunny window and trace the lines directly onto your canvas. For directions for preparing the canvas, see the bottom of the post for May 11, 2014. If you are using fabric, you may want to use a hot-iron transfer. For directions to make one, go to the post for October 6, 2013. Remember that a hot-iron transfer reverses everything in your original pattern, so be careful about using any lettering or anything that will look wrong if it is reversed.

Happy designing!

collage of illustrations that are still lifes
Illustrations from previous posts that can be considered as still lifes

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Questions for the Garden Gnome

(In order to give Annake some time to finish bits and pieces of projects and samples for upcoming posts, this time we are dragging the Garden Gnome out of his hole to answer accumulated  garden-related questions that have piled up since the end of last growing season...)

clary sage
Clary sage in the herb garden
How did the planting in the straw bales go?

It ended with mixed results. It depended upon how much water I could get to each one. The ones around the former compost pile did exactly what they were supposed to do and have all but disappeared. The remains can be mixed into the compost or plants can be planted into them directly. The ones that were half-successful will be broken down into compost or used as mulch on the raised beds.

all that's left of composted straw bales
All that's left of properly composted straw bales

straw used as mulch in the raised bed
Leftover straw used as mulch in the raised beds

Unfinished bales for garden border
Unfinished bales for garden borders
Are you going to do it again this year?

There were some bales that were placed too far for the soaker hoses to reach. They are largely intact. A few of those will be used this year as borders for other planting areas. They will get water when the interior plantings are watered and I will experiment with planting seeds in them again. However, the current severe drought will determine how much water we can use for that purpose. The rest may be made into compost.

What happens to the straw bale after you harvest the plants?

They disappear. They become dirt. This is a good thing, because good dirt is expensive and straw is cheap.

Are you selling any new and different herbs this year?

Two, fennel and clary sage. Fennel isn't really supposed to over-winter here, but ours didn't “get the memo”. Maybe it was the hay bales? Fennel, a member of the carrot family, has been used from ancient times. Roman soldiers ate it to give them strength and spread its seeds across Europe. Roman women used it for slimming. The Anglo -Saxons revered it so much they even used it as a charm against evil. It is popular in Mediterranean cooking. Fresh leaves and stems are used in salads, sprinkled over meat and fish dishes, and used in sauces. Like dandelions, all parts of the plant are edible. The roots (bulbs) can be eaten like celery or thinly sliced for salads. For a recipe and suggestions for use of this herb, see Annake's addition at the end of this post.

Much maligned, but wonderfully versatile dandelions
Speaking of dandelions, most people consider dandelions as weeds, but they don't know about the plant's good qualities. For example, the flowers are used for flavoring wines and liqueurs. The leaves are edible if you use young, fresh ones. (Please don't spray the plants with anything if you plant to use any part of them!) The roots can be roasted to make a hot beverage, although I recommend that you add other ingredients. The roots also break up hard ground and the plants seem to prefer hard ground. I seldom find a dandelion in a prepared bed. I'm perfectly willing to let them break up the hard ground for me. The flowers make a slightly orange-yellow dye and the roots make a russet brown one. Besides, the flowers brighten up the world when few other flowers are blooming.

Clary sage (pictured at the top of this post) is a very old herb, also originally from the Mediterranean. For those of you who know the folk song (or remember the Simon and Garfunkel rendition) Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme may be interested to know that it not our Thanksgiving sage is the “sage” meant in the song. It can be used fresh or dried to flavor breads, stuffing, cheese dishes and vegetables. Its aroma and flavor are much more like its mint relatives than our Thanksgiving sage. It has attractive spikes of lavender flowers. Annake tells me that it is used as a fixative in perfume-making and is really nice in home-made potpourri. She also says a few crushed leaves in your bathwater makes for an invigorating soak. (I'll take her word for that.)

oregon holly grapes
Oregon holly grapes
Are the fruits of the Oregon holly-grapes edible for people, too?

Yes, but they are really sour! With enough sugar, they taste a lot like vine grapes. I recommend mixing them with vine grapes to make an interesting, tart jelly. They are loaded with Vitamin C.

What can you do with rose hips?

These are also sour and also an excellent source of Vitamin C. Once removed from the rosebush, they dry quickly and keep for a long time. Early settlers used them to ward off vitamin-deficiency diseases like scurvy. They are commonly used in teas and jellies.

Our new columbine
Did you ever find out what this year's gift from the birds was?

Yes, in fact we found two. The first was a handsome pink and yellow columbine. I think we have shown you a picture of the cream-colored one they left us a couple of years ago. (April 20, 2017 post) The second was a pink sweet pea vine coming up in the rock pile near where Rasputin, our rhubarb, lives and plots world domination.

Now, go grow something and make the world a better place...

J.D., Annake's Garden Gnome

Annake's Recipe
Grilled Fish with Fennel

Clean and salt the fish. Lightly stuff it with fresh chopped fennel and sage. Slit the sides of the fish twice. Coat the fish with oil. Make a bed of fresh fennel stems and leaves in a pan. Put the fish on top. Cook, turning the fish and brushing it with oil. Serve garnished with slices of lemon.

Fennel is especially good with bass, but also with other fish, especially fatty ones.

Other Uses for Fennel:
  • Snipped fresh leaves or minced stems are good additions to salads. Try them sprinkled over fish, pork, cheese, eggs, beans, lentils or rice. Add the fennel just before serving.
  • Fennel is good with dishes of any of the cabbage family: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.
  • Add 3 T. of freshly chopped fennel to an omelet of 4 to 6 eggs.
  • Add sprigs of fennel to canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, or saffron oil for a tasty cooking oil.
  • Use 1 T. chopped fennel to flavor butter or mayonnaise.
  • Fennel roots and lower stems can be cooked and treated like carrots or new potatoes.
  • Use fresh fennel flowers, which have a delicate licorice (anise)fragrance. Mixed with nasturtiums and calendulas, they make a pretty bouquet and you can eat it as a salad, too!
  • Make a fennel sauce with ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 T. light cream, and 1 t. chopped fresh fennel leaves and stems. Good over fish.

Sweet pea
Sweet pea, bloomed out and ready to move to a better location

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

More Needlework Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

Paul Scarlett rose in Annake's garden
Paul Scarlett rose in Annake's garden
I made a needlepoint from your rose chart (August 26, 2013). I know roses don't come in blue, but it is my favorite color, so I made the rose in shades from baby blue to navy and I love it! Now I'm ready to do the background and I don't want just a plain color. How can I make the background really interesting without making my rose disappear?

Rose Needle Arts Chart
Rose Needle Arts Chart from August 26, 2013 post

Bravo to you for choosing your own colors! It sounds lovely. I'm going to suggest you try a patterned background (and learn a new type of canvas work at the same time). First, look at this rose (“our” rose) done in continental stitch in tones of baby pink to burgundy. The background is a bargello pattern. Bargello is an old form of tapestry work stitched on needlepoint canvas to provide an inexpensive fabric that looked like the much more expensive woven tapestries of the late Middle Ages. It is done in straight up-and-down stitches over a varied number of canvas threads. It is done with yarn and a tapestry needle, just like continental stitch. As you can see, the pattern did not overwhelm my rose. Blue is a cool color, so I don't recommend using the warm browns that I used for this rose. A silvery gray (you will need a light, a medium, and a darker shade) or perhaps a lavender might be a good choice. Take your rose with you so you can see the colors side by side before you buy the yarns.

Rose needlepoint with bargello background
Rose needlepoint with bargello background, made from chart

I'm going to take you through the stitch process with pictures. Outline the shape of a frame on your canvas in pencil, centering your rose. You are going to begin in the upper right-hand corner of the frame, but leave an empty row of canvas squares at the top, just under the frame line, and another empty row down the right-hand side, just inside the frame line. Begin with the medium shade of your chosen color. Don't use a strand longer than 18 inches. Bring your needle up from the back in the row to the left of the empty row on the side and two rows down from the empty top row. Stitch over the thread just above where your needle entered and immediately push your needle to the back again. You have made a stitch over 1 thread. Now make a stitch that passes over the thread below your stitch, your stitch, and the thread above your stitch (3 threads in all). Moving left, make another stitch over 1 thread. You have made a design that looks like a plus mark (+). Moving left, leave an empty row, then make another plus. Continue in this pattern across the frame. If you cannot make a whole plus at the end of the row, make as much of it as you can. Your first row should look like this:

1 row of plus stitches

Working from either the left or the right, put a plus (or a partial plus) directly underneath each plus (or partial plus) in row 1. The tops of the second row of long stitches share the same “holes” as the bottoms of the long stitches in the first row. Rows 1 and 2 should look like this:

2 rows of plus stitches

End your medium-colored yarn for the time being and run the end under the backs of established stitches. Thread your needle with the darkest shade of yarn. Secure the ends under the backs of some of your plus stitches. Remember those empty spaces between the horizontal arms of your pluses? Now you are going to fill them with stitches over one thread. Your first two rows should now look like this (I have used plastic canvas so that the individual stitches are easy to see)
2 rows of plus stitches with gaps filled in

Finally, fill in the remaining spaces with upright stitches in your lightest color. Each stitch covers 2 threads. No empty canvas shows between the stitches when you are using the size of yarn or floss appropriate for that canvas. Your completed rows should now look like this:

2 rows of plus stitches with gaps and spaces filled in

Detail of needlepoint rose and background
Detail of needlepoint rose and background interface
As you come to the edges of your rose, do as much of each pattern stitch as the space allows. I did all the plus stitches first, to establish the vertical rows of the pattern all over the canvas. Then I did the dark stitches to establish the horizontal rows. Finally, I filled in the light stitches. You, however, may prefer to work just one row of stitches at a time. Here is an enlarged picture of an area where the background pattern meets the edge of the rose. Don't forget to fill in the empty top and side rows.

The “plus” stitch you just learned is called Hungarian stitch. I hope this project has given you an interest in bargello stitching. If so, go to the post for April 10, 2014 or use the terms “bargello” or “Hungarian stitch” in our search engine for much, much more.

I have trouble with doing needlework from charts. I keep losing my place. Any suggestions to help me?

It is certainly important to keep track of the line in the chart that corresponds with the line of stitches you are working, as well as to keep an accurate count of the number of stitches you have completed. Otherwise, your finished project may not look very much like the chart! It is a good idea to keep the chart on a flat surface where it is easy to see all of it from your working position. I use a clipboard to hold mine in place. I keep a pencil with it. If I'm interrupted or have to be away from my work for any length of time, I make a small pencil mark by my last completed stitch.

If you are primarily losing the horizontal line in the chart and are not concerned with losing count of your stitches, the simplest solution is to place a 12-inch ruler with its top edge just under the chart line you are following. If you need to add weight to the ruler to keep it in place, glue a couple of coins to the underneath side of the ruler, near the ends.

Chart and ruler
Chart and ruler

For an easy-to-make tool to mark both the horizontal and the vertical lines in your chart, cut two pieces of stiff cardboard about 2 inches (5 cm) wide and 6 inches (15 cm) long. Staple or glue them together so that they form an L-shape. Place the L on the chart so that the bottom part of the L is directly below the horizontal line of the chart that you are following, and the upright part of the L is just behind the first stitch you are going to count. Mentally remind yourself to move the upright part of the L every 5 or 10 stitches you complete. This takes some practice, but will soon become automatic. Slide the bottom of the L up (if you are working from the bottom of the chart) or down (if you are working from the top) one space at the end of every completed row of stitches.

Chart and cardboard "tool"
Chart and cardboard "tool"

When I am doing latch-hook, I place my (much larger) chart above my canvas. I always start my rug or wall hanging at the bottom. At the end of each row, I turn that row of the chart under, crease it, and secure the ends with clips. I hope these suggestions make reading a chart easier.

Thanks so much for the article on counted cross-stitch (June 12, 2017). I used to do a lot of that but I haven't done any for years. Now I look forward to doing it again. Could you help me with a problem that I have always had? My floss gets twisted and I end up cutting a lot of it off and wasting it.

I'm so happy that you are going to start cross-stitching again! Encouraging people to do activities that they enjoy is one of the main aims of this blog.

First of all, I would suggest using shorter lengths of floss. I don't use anything longer than 18 inches (45 cm), whether I'm using floss or yarn. I tend to use shorter pieces of floss because the strands can separate and fray. Twelve inches (30 cm) often works better for floss. There are two ways to handle the twisting problem. The first is to hold the floss away from your work so that the needle hangs straight down. The floss should start un-twisting. Stop it before it begins to re-twist and smooth the floss between your fingertips before you begin stitching again. The second method is to put the fabric down and hold the loose end of the floss in one hand and the needle between your thumb and forefinger on the other hand. Gently slide the needle up and down the length of floss until the twists straighten out. Be careful not to fray the strands in the process. These techniques should save you both floss and frustration. Good luck!

Happy stitching.

Iris Needle Arts Chart
Iris Needle Arts Chart; download from our June 18, 2015 post

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Conversations About Cross-stitch

Antique Lithuanian tablecloth, blue cross-stitch on white linen
Antique Lithuanian tablecloth, blue cross-stitch on white linen
Last week, I was standing by a table covered with needlework books and materials at a sale, and got involved in conversations with several ladies who were looking at the items on the table. I was surprised at how many questions and requests for advice were about cross-stitch. It reminded me that I hadn't discussed the technique in these posts for quite some time. Today I hope to remedy that situation. I have combined and reworded some of the questions, putting them in italics. But first, a little background information.

Assisi work butterfly on monks' cloth
Assisi work butterfly on monks' cloth
Cross-stitch is a very old form of embroidery, probably used for more than 2,000 years. It is practically impossible to determine where and when it was first used because fabrics seldom survive for long periods. The stitch seems to have been “invented” a number of times, because it is present in ethnic embroideries almost worldwide. By medieval times, it was used in nearly every part of Europe, but also in Africa, Asia, the Near East and South America. Churches used it liberally for their linens and vestments, and royal courts used it for heraldic designs. It wasn't long before the technique spread to the village housewives, who used whatever fabrics and threads were available to them even human hair. It was called “cushion work” in medieval times because of its widespread use in durable covers for chair seats, footstools, and kneeling mats. Here, in colonial times, it was so popular in ladies' samplers of their handiwork that it was known as “sampler stitch”. It combines nicely with other embroidery stitches and is particularly attractive in blackwork, redwork, whitework, Holbein embroidery and Assisi work.

Why do the stitches have to be done the same way?

It is a matter of light. Light strikes the upper and lower halves of the cross-stitch in different ways. This is most important when you are using glossy floss or metallic threads, but it is noticeable even with crewel wool or acrylic knitting worsted. When stitches are not all done the same way, the surface doesn't look even. People will probably not know why this is so, but they will notice it and think “Something just doesn't look right about that.” Besides, as my grandmother used to say, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” So take the trouble to cross all your stitches the same way. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to put in all your bottom stitches in an area and then go back and put in all the top stitches, rather than making one cross-stitch at a time.

Does it matter which way you cross the stitches?

The English way to do this is to make the bottom half of the stitch from lower right to top left and the top half from bottom left to top right. The American and European way is to do the bottom half of the stitch from the bottom left to the top right and the top stitch from bottom right to top left. I work both ways, depending on where I start in the design. Left-handed stitchers may have a stronger preference for one way than right-handed stitchers. Try both ways and use whichever is mot comfortable for you. I don't think it makes any difference so long as you do the same thing consistently throughout the whole piece of work!

Samples of two styles of cross-stitching
Samples of two styles of cross-stitching

I have done a lot of cross-stitch, but sometimes I do areas I don't like. I've never been brave enough to take the stitches out and do them over. What is the best way to do that?

If there are a lot of stitches to remove, use very small, sharp scissors to clip each stitch on the right side of the fabric. Then use small tweezers to gently pull out the threads. Make a small pad of cellophane tape by wrapping it around your hand, sticky side out. To remove any “fuzz” from the area where the stitches were removed, pat the area gently with the pad of sticky tape. Turn the fabric over and do the same thing to that side in order to pick up any stray threads or fuzz. Then you should be ready to start over.

So far I have just done counted cross-stitch on things where the little X's are stamped on the fabric. Now I'd like to work from charts, but I don't know how to get started. What do you suggest?

Rose cross-stitched on 1/4 inch gigham
Rose cross-stitched on 1/4 inch gigham

I like to see beginners start on one of two fabrics. The first is ¼-inch checked gingham because it is so much like graph paper and it is easy to match the checks to the squares in the charts. Also, by stitching into the four corners of each “check”, you will make equally-sized and equally-spaced cross-stitches.

Monks' Cloth
Monks' Cloth
The other fabric is monks’ cloth, which has evenly-spaced holes for the ends of your stitches. Either one should be backed with non-woven interfacing, muslin, even a man's handkerchief. This will support your stitches and help keep you from leaving them too loose or pulling them too tight. (Too loose leaves the stitches easily snagged; too tight pulls the whole design out of shape.)

Downloadable cross-stitch snowflake pattern
Downloadable cross-stitch snowflake pattern
Choose a simple pattern with only a few colors to begin with. Remember it will be larger on either the gingham or the monks' cloth than it would be on the even-weave fabric the pattern was probably designed for. Try it all in one color first, so that you only have to be concerned with the placement of the stitches. If you like the result, then work the design again in colors of your choice. Here's a simple pattern of mine that you may use in any way you choose. You can find others on these past blog posts: August 26, 2013, June 18, 2015, March 21, 2016 and January 1, 2017; or, use "Search My Blog" in the right hand column to find these and other downloads.

Is it harder to do needlepoint than cross-stitch (indicating a piece done in tent stitch)? I already know how to do cross- stitch. And can I do cross-stitch on needlepoint canvas?

It is actually easier to do the tent stitch because you only do half a cross stitch each time! I work in continental stitch. I consider the half-cross stitch used in most commercial kits an inferior stitch for several reasons. (Don't get me started!) But, if you use a better stitch when working with a commercial kit, you will run out of yarn halfway through the project.
Gros-point butterfly with tent stitch background
Gros-point butterfly with tent stitch background
You can certainly do conventional cross-stitch on any even-weave canvas, including rug canvas. When you do this, it is called “gros-point”. You just have to remember that, instead of using the two “holes” in the canvas that you used in doing tent stitches, you need to allow for four “holes” for the top and bottom cross-stitches. This is a good technique both for beginners and for older women whose hands and eyes are not as good as they once were.

Do you have suggestions about working from patterns in books?

Here are a few:

a) Purchase a little more background fabric than the pattern calls for. You may eventually decide to use your finished project for a pillow top, quilt block, applique, etc. which requires seam allowances or margins to turn under. If you are using a different gauge of fabric than what they suggest, carefully count all the horizontal and vertical stitches to determine how much fabric you will need for the design and then add margins.

b) Buy an extra skein of floss or tapestry yarn in the most often used colors in the pattern just in case you have to take out stitches so you don't run out.

c) If you change colors or shades from those called for in the pattern, write the names or numbers of the ones you actually plan to use (lightly in pencil) on the pattern beside the ones you are replacing.

d) If you have trouble following a pattern, color the stitch squares in with colored pencils before you begin. That saves a lot of time and frustration!

colorful onion domes
Holbein embroidery featuring cross-stitch with other straight stitches
Stitch away!

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Quickpoint: Unfinished Business

Bear picture from previous post
Where we left off...
I want to apologize for dashing off last time and leaving you with an unfinished project. Things can get very hectic at Annake's Garden this time of year. We were doing a quickpoint project which was destined to be a new addition to my series of whimsical needlepoint pictures that I call ‘Close Encounters’. This quickpoint picture features a bear in a field of sunflowers and a background of snowy mountains and Colorado blue sky. When I left you, the picture was complete except for the bear's features and one more finishing touch...

Detail of bear's face
Detail of bear's face
The last step for the bear's head was to complete her features. The eyes, nose, and mouth were first done in tent stitch. Then some of the stitches were gone over in embroidery floss to give shine to the features. I tried to give the bear a startled expression. Tiny stitches show the reflections in her eyes. I exaggerated the size of the nose just a little because that is where the “close encounter” will occur.

Then it was time to remove the picture from the frame and gently steam-press its surface. J.D. then polished the frame and got it ready to receive the finished picture.

Bear quickpoint with one step left
Just one step left...

Waste canvas
Waste canvas
I call these pictures ‘Close Encounters’ because each shows a mammal encountering a very different kind of animal (in this case, a bee.) In order to add the bee to the picture I had to make smaller stitches than the quickpoint canvas would allow. I used a special canvas, called waste canvas. Its threads can easily be removed after the needlepoint (or cross-stitch) is complete. It can be used on fabric as well as canvas or completed stitches. Let me show you how it is done, starting with a picture of the waste canvas, which can be worked as either mono canvas or penelope canvas. Since I planned to do the bee in tent stitch, I chose the mono option.

I had to work out the bee design on graph paper. There are hundreds of species of wild bees in our western mountains. Some of them have bodies as large as as the last joint on my thumb! This design does not represent any particular wild species. Since I expected the thickness of the stitches on the bear's nose to present some problems, I first tried the pattern on waste canvas over a piece of heavy felt.

Steps in creating the bee on felt using waste canvas
Steps in creating the bee on felt using waste canvas
First a piece of waste canvas larger all around than the design to be stitched was cut out. If the design is very large, it is then pinned or basted to the background. (I prefer basting because it is more secure.) This one was so small that it didn't need to be basted. Then the stitches were put in just as they would be on regular mono needlepoint canvas. (I don't pull the stitches quite as tight as I would do ordinarily.) The next picture shows the finished design with some of both the horizontal and vertical threads pulled out. (A pair of small tweezers is useful for this.) The last picture shows the design on the felt with all waste canvas removed

The remaining steps were to repeat the design on the bear's nose and to turn the piece over to J.D. for framing. Now this ‘Close Encounter’ (title as yet undetermined – suggestions?) is complete. The meetings, so far, have been friendly. I hope this one will be, too.

Finished quickpoint picture of bear and bee
Finished quickpoint picture of bear and bee

Now I want to mention a use of quickpoint that I neglected to discuss in the previous post about quickpoint (March 31, 2017): quickpoint bargello.

Quickpoint bargello pillow top "Aspen Trees"
Quickpoint bargello pillow top "Aspen Trees"
Unlike tent stitch and the other traditional needlepoint stitches, bargello stitches are not short, slanted stitches. They are long, straight stitches. The lengths may differ, but a common stitch covers four strands of canvas thread. Two stitches share a square of canvas where one stitch begins and the other one ends. If you are working on #5 canvas, as I did in today's project, each of those straight stitches covers a lot of canvas, so you want to use a yarn that is going to cover that space under each stitch. You can see these long stitches put together in the “Aspen Trees” canvas here.

Quickpoint bargello pillow "Ocean Waves"
Quickpoint bargello pillow "Ocean Waves"

This type of bargello works up really quickly and is not hard for older eyes and hands. Here are some other examples of quickpoint bargello from the post for May 1, 2013. If you have never tried bargello, quickpoint is a good way to get started. The first one is called “Ocean Waves” for obvious reasons.

Bargello pillow and picture using the same stitch
Bargello pillow and picture using the same stitch

The second pillow is called “Evergreens” and features a strong all-over bargello pattern. The picture on the wall is entitled “Firs and Feathers”. It is done in a technique that I call ‘Bargello Plus’. This combines a large area of a bargello pattern with an area of conventional tent stitch to give a realistic addition, like the eagle in the picture.

Bargello picture "Bear-ly There"
"Bear-ly There", available in our Etsy shop

Here is another example of 'Bargello Plus', entitled “Bearly There”. It combines the bargello pattern used in “Aspen Trees” with a realistic figure of a bear.

Finally, here is a picture which uses the “Ocean Waves” bargello design with tent stitch inserts of a fish and a seagull. I called it “Seafood Surprise”. You can decide for yourself which creature is going to get the biggest surprise!

Bargello Plus picture "Seafood Surprise"
Bargello Plus picture "Seafood Surprise"

Finally, a question from a reader: Did you ever find a source for standard quickpoint canvas?

JoAnn's online site shows some simple quickpoint kits designed for children. They are inexpensive. You could re-purpose them to do any picture you want to do. Otherwise, I think your best sources are the “gently used” shops, yard sales, and garage sales. If you have a weekly shopping flier, you might put an ad in the “Wanted” section. Contacting needlework and craft shops online is another possibility. If you find a good source, please let me know, and I will pass the information along.

Have fun!

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