Thursday, May 16, 2013

Some Questions Answered

(To celebrate passing the ninety-day milestone with this blog, Annake answers some reader's questions that have accumulated...)

Q:  Why did you choose the name Annake for yourself and your business?

A:  Annake is what my Frisian grandmother called me when I was a little girl. My middle name is Anna, in honor of my grandmother's only daughter, who died long before I was born. My grandmother was my foremost role model.

A Bi-colored Iris from the Garden
Not quite five feet tall and weighing less than a hundred pounds, she had an indomitable spirit. As a young woman, she left her home on the western edge of the Jutland Peninsula, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America in steerage (below decks on a ship), traveled across half the United States by train to Davenport, Iowa --- all to marry a man she had never met. She was a respected midwife who delivered scores of babies, including six of her own. More than a hundred of them --- black, brown, red and white --- came to celebrate her eightieth birthday with her.

She was an accomplished cook and an expert needlewoman. Although she was severely crippled by arthritis by the time she reached middle age, she continued to knit, crochet, quilt, and embroider into her mid-eighties. Sadly, she outlived all of her family except my father, another niece, and myself. Still she never lost her grit, determination, or sense of humor. She will always be my guiding star.

Q:  Why do you use the orange daylilies as a background for your blog? Didn't you say that irises are your favorite flower?

A:  Do you mean besides the fact that our daylilies produce so many new bulbs each year that we give away a wheelbarrow load every summer? 

Daylily Latch Hooked Rug
Actually, this goes back to a time when I was teaching fifth graders about Georgia O’Keeffe. I made several oversized flower pictures in various media show the students, along with samples of O’Keeffe work, before I asked them to make their own large flower pictures. Their favorite was a study in pastels and crayon of an orange daylily. Several students asked me to make computer copies of the picture for them. I did that, filed the picture, and essentially forgot about it.

After I retired, I cleaned out my files and came across the original drawing. I decided to make a rug, using the picture as a basis for my design. It was the first rug I sold. The lady who bought it was horrified at the thought of putting it on the floor and walking on it. She said she didn't know what she was going to do with it but she had to have it. That's the kind of customer I like!

Day-Glo Daylily Needlepoint
I've also done a daylily as a large needlepoint. The colors came from my imagination; however, I see one in this year's catalogs that comes very close to my imaginary one. Is art imitating life or is life imitating art?
Red Iris from the Garden
Yes, I did say irises are my favorite flower. I can hardly wait for this year's blooms! Incidentally, another of the examples I did for the O’Keeffe project, a pink cut-paper iris, became the basis for still another rug. (See the photo at the bottom of the page.) I'm glad I didn't throw those samples away.

Q:  You have shown several works in progress on your blog. Will we get to see them again when they are completed?

Iris Needlepoint, Completed and Framed
A:  Yes, indeed. They can be seen on our Etsy shop site, of course, but I also plan to use some to illustrate future posts. The framed iris needlepoint I was working on in the February 12th post is shown here today. The wall hanging shown in progress on the February 28th post is in the blocking and backing stages now and will be shown soon. You can see the jewelry being made by another of our artisans on the April3rd post, along with much of her other work, on our shop site currently.

Q:  Does the Gnome really live under your garden? (This is from a child.)

A.  No, dear, he was only teasing you. The ground would be much too hard and cold to live under in the wintertime. Actually, the Gnome lives under our house.

I really enjoy your questions. Ask away!

Iris Latch Hooked Rug

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bravo, Bargello! -- a New Approach to an Old Needlecraft

After completing several large projects, I promised myself some time to play with the kinds of needlework that most delight me. If you read my previous blog post (April 17, 2013), you know I made some puppets. Then I turned to another of my favorites, bargello. Bargello is a “family name” for geometrically patterned counted-stitch needlepoint made with simple upright stitches on canvas. The name comes from the Bargello Museum, where many beautiful examples are housed. It is also known as Florentine embroidery, Hungarian point, and flame stitch.

Annake finishing the "aspen" pillow-top
Why am I so attracted to bargello? Because it's fun! I love to adapt old patterns to new purposes and to invent new ones. The possible combinations and permutations are infinite. They unroll beneath my needle like magic carpets. There's no boredom involved in bargello.

I've always wondered why more men didn't take up bargello.  The strong geometric patterns and the stunning optical illusions they can create ought to appeal to men. I once taught bargello to an Air Force captain and a major.  They said it kept them alert on night duty and made the time pass quickly and pleasantly.

Inspired by Earth Day, I decided to do a set of pillows or pillow shams in patterns that reminded me of habitats: forest, desert, ocean, etc. Then I would accompany each one with a a scenic or whimsical picture done partially in the same bargello pattern, but combined with other tapestry stitches and with a detail done in tent stitch.  I call this technique “Bargello Plus”.

The "evergreen" pillow and picture, together
After viewing my first completed picture, our resident computer guru remarked that I had encompassed several centuries of stitchery history and half a world of geography in one small project. I thought that was a wonderful idea! First the tent stitch was invented in the Middle East. Then came a variety of tapestry stitches out of Eastern Europe, possibly inspired by the elegant embroideries of the Byzantine Empire, including the Hungarian stitch I used for the sky. These stitches were combined into elaborate patterns in Florentine embroidery when Florence was a major European art center. Those patterns, especially variations of flame stitch, came early to the American colonies, where they were used in upholstery. Here I am in the Rockies, using all of the techniques. .I've added to the timeline by using 20th and 21st Century materials: gridded, quickpoint, and plastic canvas and acrylic, craft, and novelty yarns.

The "evergreen" picture close up
I've never hesitated to use and combine new or unconventional materials, even doing bargello on plastic window screen. It's great for inserts and anything that needs to be padded and the silvery gray color makes an unobtrusive background.

Traditional bargello uses several closely-related hues of the same color, but you may use any color combination you like –  the colors of a favorite sports team, for example. I'm working out some patterns now to do in Denver Broncos' blue, orange, and white for fall projects. Mild or wild, the patterns are appealing.

Both the triangular “evergreen tree” pattern and the rounded tree design inspired by our native aspen are adapted from 1970's designs. The tent stitch elements were charted  separately, then added to the design. I chose Hungarian stitch for the forest sky because its double diagonals echo the sloping profiles of the trees, the subtle slant of tent stitch and the strong shape formed by the eagle's wings. The tapestry stitches used in the aspen grove picture include brick and Parisian. I chose the bear to occupy a spot in the grove because his rounded outline fit nicely into the oval area created by omitting one tree.

Finished picture of aspen with bear
Another thing I like to do is to make small changes in alternate rows of the bargello motifs.  Can you spot my variations on the eagle picture and the aspen pillow? (Clicking on the pictures will give you a larger view) To elongate the ovals on the yellow pillow top, I worked in a 5-3 step (each stitch over 5 threads, skip 3 threads when making a step either up or down). Everything else is done in a 4-2 step.

As a teacher, I'm happiest when I can convince someone to try something new. If you've never tried bargello, I hope you will do so. If you would like some of my future blogs to be tutorials for it and/or sources of patterns, please post a comment and let me know you're interested.

Closeup of the "evergreen" pillow

 Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.