Thursday, February 28, 2013

Learning from Your "AHA!" Moments

I treasure “Aha!” moments. You know the ones I mean. They're the frames in comic strips in which a light bulb appears over a character's head, indicating that (often against all odds) an especially good idea has appeared in the character's brain at that moment. I can think of a couple of such moments that definitely changed my crafting life.

My mother used to buy needlepoint canvases with the central design already worked and then fill in the backgrounds to make pillows, chair seats, piano bench covers, etc. It seemed to me that she did acres of this stitching. I thought it was the most repetitive, boring activity I'd ever seen.

One of Annake's original hand-painted canvases
One day, however, I picked up a piece of canvas that she had trimmed off and wondered what would happen if I drew something on the canvas and stitched over it. I tried this right away and it worked well. Aha! I knew then that I'd be making my own central designs from that day forward. That would make the boring, if necessary, background work worthwhile. (It still does.) Since that time, a tapestry needle has never been far from my hand.

I had already done quite a bit of counted cross-stitch work. Patterns were available in magazines like McCALL'S and WOMAN'S DAY and could be purchased to iron onto linens. You could even buy linens already stamped. I particularly liked working with variegated floss because it had a more “painterly” effect.

I remember one time when I was adapting a counted cross-stitch design to tapestry work (I prefer that term to “needlepoint”).I kept running into areas that frustrated me. It would be so much simpler, I thought, if the charts were made for tapestry work to begin with. At that time (remember this was long ago), books of needlepoint patterns were relatively rare and very expensive.

Annake working from her hand-drawn chart
Annake working from her hand-drawn chart
Having drawn and painted canvases, as I still do, I could see how a chart could give me much greater versatility. For one thing, I could work the same pattern on objects of different size without having to redraw them each time. So I experimented and practiced and used up a great deal of graph paper learning how to turn little stair-steps of squares into the curves I craved. When I finally succeeded (Aha! Again), I fairly gloated because I could do the design without “cheating” with half or quarter cross-stitches.

Now I had my first charted design --- a flower, naturally. What would I do with it? Aha! I could hook it as a rug. I could cut squares of cloth to match it and piece a quilt top. I could work it into an afghan. I could bead it on a dress. I could make a mosaic. The list of possibilities seemed practically endless.

"Repurposed" Rolling Chart Cart
"Repurposed" Rolling Chart Cart
I still chart many of my designs on various sizes of graph paper. There are pads of the paper available to fit most canvas sizes. There are also graph patterns online that can be downloaded. Some of the atypical ones are really fascinating. There are programs to turn drawings, paintings, or photographs directly into needlepoint or counted cross-stitch charts. Some will even list the appropriate tapestry yarns or skeins of embroidery floss to match the colors in the original. How cool is that? I still do some of mine by hand, however, largely because I'm making them up as I go along.

And I'm still working on that list of ways to use charted designs.

I think it has become my “bucket list”. I'm always open for new ideas to add to it.

Any suggestions?

Mother & Child in Acrylic Paints
Annake's original study in acrylics that inspired the painted tapestry canvas above

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Welcome to Annake's Garden -- What We're About

People who see our name on our  business cards or on our banner at craft shows often ask me if it is just a catchy title, or if it is a metaphor, or if a real garden is involved somehow.

Indeed there is a real garden, replete with trees, shrubs, masses of flowers, grape arbors, berry bushes, vegetable beds and patches of herbs. The garden is sleeping now. The ground is frozen to a depth of three feet. Unfortunately, there is no comforting blanket of snow over the garden today, but we are hopeful that it is on its way. Skiers and snowboarders are not the only ones who pray for snow, you know. Gardeners need snow, especially those of us who need to ease the damages of a prolonged drought.

Our Head Garden Gnome is recharging his gardening batteries by browsing through a tall stack of seed catalogs and making wish lists. I'm fueling my springtime dreams by looking at pictures of last year's flowers.

SE View of Annake's Garden
SE View of Annake's Garden
We began photographing our garden's blossoms in mid-spring of last year. Our immediate goal was to make an album of lovely blooms to comfort a very dear friend who was mourning the death of an adult son. We finished one album and began a second, continuing to add to it throughout the seasons. We had missed photographing the early spring flowers, however, so we will be watching for the earliest snowdrops, crocuses, and windflowers more eagerly than ever this year. I'll keep a watchful eye on the fattening buds of forsythia and apricot and apple trees so I can bring a few into the house to force into bloom.

The photography had added benefits, too, not the least of which is our ability to share our flowers with you on this Website. We hope you enjoy them.

Black-eyed Susans
The Garden in bloom
The pictures also provide me with both inspiration and a wealth of reference for my art and craft projects. Flowers have been an inspiration for me since I drew violets in purple crayon on butcher paper when I was four years old. Since then they have adorned pictures, pillows, rugs, quilt blocks, clothing and a long list of other objects. I moved on to drawing and painting animals, landscapes, portraits --- even abstracts --- but I always come back to flower subjects.

iris needlepoint
Iris needlepoint, a current project
My pick-up work for this week is a small needlepoint picture destined for a round frame. Its subject is a sturdy bi-color iris (irises are my favorite flowers) which grows at the southeast corner of our front perennial garden. It has bright yellow standards and lavender-to-purple falls. We have another variety with purple standards and golden-yellow falls that is just as beautiful. I prefer the former flower for art needlework, however, because the darker tones at the bottom of the bloom seem to give the picture a more realistic “weight”.

In a sense, though, Annake's Garden is also a metaphor. It represents the group of artisans who contribute their talents to our enterprise. Their work is diverse, but there is a common thread. We all draw our inspiration from Nature, whether from aspen wood or weathered barn wood, natural gemstones, animals, trees or flowers, landscapes or skyscapes.

We're really hoping that "Annake's Garden" is a catchy title, too.

Please visit our Web garden often, and enjoy it with us throughout the year.


white poppies
White poppies along a Garden path

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