Thursday, September 12, 2013

Landscape Design Challenge for Needlepoint

Original needlepoint landscape "Saguaro Sunrise"
"Sunrise with Saguaro," available in our Etsy shop
I get really frustrated when people tell me, “I couldn't do an original design. I can't draw. I can't ever think of anything to do.” I want to say,”You're still breathing, aren't you?” As long as you're alive and able to see and move, you can have an original idea and you can certainly make an original design.

Some years ago I taught a needlepoint class at a Parks and Recreation facility. The students knew the tent stitch, which they'd used primarily to fill in the background around a completed design. I told them that they would create and stitch an original landscape during this class, including a bit of crewel surface embroidery. I assured them that no two pictures would be alike and that they would all be beautiful. They stared at me with varying degrees of shock and dismay. You would have thought I'd told them they were going to have to eat live grasshoppers! I heard a whole chorus of “I can't!”  I said,”You can.”

This is how we proceeded: I gave them a series of choices. When I write them out, they look a little like a Chinese restaurant menu. Choose one from Column A, one from Column B, etc.

ShapeLocationSeasonTime of Day
square evergreen forestspringdaybreak
circleEastern woodlandsummermorning
ovalprairie grasslandautumnafternoon

I didn't give them a choice of “Rectangle” because I wanted them to get away from conventional ideas.

Once they had chosen their shapes, I gave each one a template of her shape to draw onto her canvas. The people who had chosen ovals had to decide whether to use them horizontally or vertically.
"Cascades," original needlepoint landscape by Annake
"Cascades," original needlepoint landscape by Annake
Then we moved on to locations and what might be seen there. A couple had grown up on prairie farms and mentioned barns, silos, and windmills. That got the discussion started. I wrote their ideas on a chalkboard. I intended, as always, to do a picture right along with them. I chose a hexagon as my shape and mountains as my location. Everyone had a favorite season; I chose autumn. We discussed the color ranges associated with each one. (My chalkboard was filling fast.) Then we discussed how light, shadow, and color changed with the time of day. Soon their choices were complete, although no one chose to do a night scene. As I'd hoped, no two people had identical choices.

Detail of "Sunrise with Saguaros"
Detail from 'Saguaros,' showing shaded Persian yarns
Each one left that day with her choices, notes on many ideas, and a color scheme of yarns to buy and bring to our next class. I also suggested they bring along photos of anything they thought they might like to include in their compositions. The next week I had to convince them that “Less is more”. Most of them needed to leave out more details than they wanted to put into their pictures. I showed them how a few simple lines could suggest hills, a lake, a shoreline or mountain range. They got their sketches down to a bare minimum and traced them onto their canvases with permanent marker. I did a lesson on blending colors by splitting Persian yarn and combining three different shades, upright Gobelin stitch (the most versatile of all canvas stitches), Hungarian stitch and Hungarian ground.

Detail from "Cascades"
Detail from "Cascades," showing various stitches
Their “needle-paintings” developed rapidly and they began looking for stitches that fulfilled specific needs. “How do I make this wall look like bricks?” “What stitch will make this tree trunk look and feel rough?” As I taught the stitches, everyone in the class made a sample of each stitch on spare canvas. Even if they didn't use a particular stitch in their composition, they had it for future reference. In the meantime, I completed my mountain scene and one of a spot on the California coast.

"Monterey Cypress," original needlepoint landscape by Annake
"Monterey Cypress," original needlepoint landscape
The week before our final session I had them bring in a small drawing of something they might see in the sky (birds flying, a kite, a hot-air balloon) or in the foreground of their landscape. Tree limbs (bare, leafy, flowering, evergreen) were popular choices. They traced their choices on tissue from an old dress pattern, pinned them to their landscapes, and embroidered through the tissue. Once they carefully peeled the tissue away, their projects were complete. They thought they couldn't do it. But they could. And they did. No two were alike. And all of them were beautiful.

Detail from "Monterey Cypress"
Detail  showing vertical Gobelin and tent stitches
Now I have a challenge for all of you needlepointers who have only worked with kits, printed canvases, charts or canvases hand-painted by other people, and who think you can't do an original design. Go back to the “menu” and make your choices. With the seasons changing, you have lots to choose from. Observe for yourself the colors and light at sunrise, morning, afternoon and sunset. With a few simple lines, suggest a place. If there are elements you want in your design that you cannot draw, trace them from a photograph. Use any canvas and yarn. Use tent stitch alone or in combination with other stitches. Follow the directions for putting your landscape together. Share it with us (use our “Contact Us” page) and we can include it in a future blog.

Happy designing! Surprise yourself!


Branch detail from "Cascades"
Detail from "Cascades," showing tree branch in crewel embroidery

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


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for the compliment. I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. We were involved this weekend in an art and craft show/sale/benefit for a church preschool/kindergarten in a neighboring town. Came home to a series of thunderstorms, flash flood warning and snow! It's been hectic.
      Please visit the site often. I'm going to increase the frequency of my postings and hope you enjoy them. Annake

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Mechelle. I certainly value your opinion. I hope you will continue to visit the site. I'm planning to increase the frequency of my postings, as I hope to encourage interested needleworkers to broaden their horizons and to put more of their own ideas, opinions and personalities into their work. We are distinguished by the work of our minds and hands. Annake


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