Sunday, June 15, 2014

Painting Needlework Canvases

Rose photo, courtesy of Joy Jardine
J.J.'s rose photo
There are at least three reasons for painting needlework canvases. The first is to obliterate a design that is already painted on the canvas so that the canvas can be “re-purposed”. Many people buy kits, fully intending to complete the project. But they lose interest for whatever reason and it never gets made. Then the “orphaned” kits are consigned to thrift shops or yard sales. I picked up a pillow-sized kit for a dollar. The kit was complete, but I had no use for the cartoon design. Therefore, I needed to cover up the design. I put down a heavy pad of newspapers to protect my dining room table, and covered it with a layer of paper towels. This layer keeps the newsprint from discoloring the canvas when it gets wet. Then I thin white acrylic craft paint with a little lukewarm water. J. D. occasionally likes to bake some refrigerated cinnamon rolls for breakfasts or late-night snacks. I wash and save the little cups the icing comes in to use as paint cups. Any “leftovers” can be covered with aluminum foil and stacked in the refrigerator. They don't take up much room and stay liquid for an amazingly long time.

"Tweetie" canvas from a commercial kit
Painted canvas from a commercial kit
If you like, you can use the foam paint brushes for this type of work and throw them away when you are finished. (They fray against the canvas, so I don't recommend re-using them.) I prefer bristle brushes, however. Because the acrylic paint is water-soluble, it washes out completely with a little care and patience. A brush about an inch wide — either round or rectangular — is ideal for this purpose. To cover a design, I like to use a daubing or “pouncing” motion with my brush, so a round brush is slightly more preferable than a rectangular one. If you can find an old-fashioned shaving brush, that's perfect. Clean your brush promptly and thoroughly, spreading the bristles all the way to the ferule and rinsing until the water runs clear. Reshape the brush while it is damp and stand it in a container to dry with the bristles pointing up.

Annake painting out cartoon on canvas
Annake painting out the cartoon
First I press the canvas on the wrong side with a warm iron to take out any creases. Once it will lie flat, I place it in the middle of the newspaper pad. I dip my brush in the paint, then allow any excess paint to drip back into the paint cup. I work on one section of the design at a time, using just enough paint to cover the color. Some colors are more resistant than others. When I can no longer see the design, I rotate the canvas 180 degrees and touch up any spots the brush had missed. Then I stroke the white paint lightly over the entire canvas and let it dry completely. I discard the paper towels and any dampened newspapers.

Aspen bargello in progress, showing toned canvas
"Aspen" bargello in progress, showing toned canvas
The second reason for painting the canvas is toning. No matter how carefully you stitch, a few bits of canvas are likely to show through. The larger the mesh of the canvas, the more likely this is to occur. Therefore, I like to paint larger-mesh canvases with a tone that is prevalent in the picture. This makes the bits of revealed canvas less noticeable. For example, I toned the canvas for the “Aspen” bargello needlepoint (May 1, 2013 post) in a medium yellow and the one with the ocean wave bargello design (January 16, 2014 post) in a medium blue-green. You can see the toning on the edges of the canvas. At his point, I had not decided whether to do the pillow top in latch-hook or grospoint. I was considering a pink camellia or water lily as a subject, so I decided to tone the canvas in a medium pink. (I was also considering this blog post, so I decided to start fresh on the back side of the canvas I had just painted.)

Annake toning canvas horizontally
Annake toning canvas horizontally
For toning, I use long parallel strokes, so a rectangular brush suits me better. I cover the canvas with overlapping horizontal strokes, then let it dry for about an hour. It need not be completely dry. Then I repeat the process with overlapping vertical strokes. I pay particular attention to the outer edges where the pillow top will be joined with the pillow backing. Canvas is more likely to show through there than at the center of the design. Then I let the canvas dry completely. If I'm painting a much finer canvas like #14 mono canvas, I go back over the canvas with a pin to make sure there are no squares of mesh that were clogged with paint. If there are some, I rotate the pin point in them until they are open again.

Annake toning canvas vertically
Annake toning canvas vertically
J.D.'s sister, J.J., is also an accomplished photographer. Recently she sent me a number of photos she had taken on a trip to Florida. Among them was the dew-drenched rose at the top of this article. I was fascinated by the interplay of colors, especially the pale blue and lavender — so unexpected in this pink-and-yellow rose. So now I had the subject I wanted. My toned canvas was darker than some of the colors in the rose and lighter than others. That was exactly the effect I was striving to create. It would seem normal and unobtrusive wherever it showed in the rose itself, and should disappear in the dark blues and greens of the background.

Tools and materials for rose latchhook
Tools and materials for rose latchhook project
You can see the toned canvas up on pins ready to be worked, along with the yarns used to make the picture. Did I really use all of those colors? Yes, I really did — including the ones that needed to be cut. I was able to use some of the cut yarn from the kit (the multicolored pack near the center), but the yarn was far thinner than my other yarns, so I had to use two strands at a time. I made no attempt to show the dewdrops, but I would like to do the design again in petitpoint and sew on tiny, clear glass beads for some of the dewdrops.

Completed latch hook picture of J.J.'s rose
Completed latch hook picture of J.J.'s rose
Here are two views of the finished pillow top. I love Impressionist paintings and latch-hook allows me to achieve that pointillist effect. The second picture (below) is of the other side of the canvas, reversed so that its orientation is the same as the front. This gives you an idea of how the project would look in quickpoint or grospoint, except that you would not be able to see as much of the canvas mesh with those techniques. I will make a color chart of the back of the canvas for future reference before I make the top into a pillow.

Back of completed project, reversed to show pattern
Back of completed project, reversed to show pattern

There's a third reason for painting a canvas, but that's a topic for another day.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

11 Secrets for Needlework Success*

white columbine
We have some new questions to address. The answers don't require illustrations, so we are going to give you some of J.D.'s spring flower photos to enjoy while you read this post.

Do you have some rules for doing needlework?
Oh, dear. I'm not really fond of a lot of rules and regulations. I think they tend to discourage creativity. I'm more of a rule-breaker than a rule-maker. Why don't I just list some suggestions that I have found work for most kinds of needlecrafts, some of them even with latch-hook and crochet? Okay?
red and white tulips
Then here we go...
  • Come to your work with clean, dry hands. Remove all hand cream and lotion and as much skin oil as possible.
  • Store your project and materials in a bag (preferably cloth, not plastic) between sessions. Rolling the material is usually better for the material than folding it because it doesn't make creases or weaken canvas threads. Most grocery chains and variety stores now sell ecologically friendly cloth bags for about a dollar each.

    orange and yellow tulips
  • Check the back side of your work frequently. Bad things can happen back there, and they multiply if you don't find and correct them promptly.
  • If you need to remove stitches, lift them gently with the eye of the needle, not the point, and pull them out. This does less damage to all the materials, so you may be able to re-use the thread or yarn.
    chives in bloom
  • Always buy a little more fabric, canvas, floss, yarn, etc., than you think you need. You can use the surplus for practice or for small projects. You cannot always get more if you need it. Do practice new stitches, patterns, and techniques on surplus material before you start on a major project with them. This is your opportunity to learn and to be able to make mistakes without suffering major consequences.

    white and purple iris
  • If you are using a hoop or frame, get your material as taut as possible. Your needle should make a soft “pop” when it penetrates the fabric.
  • Don't use a strand of yarn or floss that is longer than 18 inches (about 45 centimeters). If your strands tend to twist badly or to form knots or tangles --- or if they look frayed from being pulled through the fabric or canvas too many times --- use even shorter strands.

    red iris
  • Don't pull your stitches too tight. That's a beginner's mistake which, sadly, some stitchers never outgrow. It warps the fabric or canvas and requires extensive (and often exasperating) blocking of the finished piece. Your stitches and background should both lie straight and flat. Resist the temptation to try to get in just one more stitch. If you're encountering resistance, you're probably pulling your stitches too tight.

    yellow iris
  • Allow enough thread, floss, or yarn to secure it by running it under completed stitches on the back of the work. If the strand is not secured, it may pull out with use and wear.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment. Some of my most interesting and satisfying results have come from experimenting with unusual materials, patterns, or techniques.

    cream and blue iris
  • If you find yourself unhappy with the way a project is going, put it away for a while and take it up again when you are feeling rested and relaxed. Sometimes I find that about three-fourths of the way through a project I decide I just hate the thing and don't know why I ever started it in the first place! (I'm not alone in this, either: see An Interview with Our Glass Artisan, December 30, 2013.) If I put it out of sight for a while, I usually find that there's nothing really wrong with it and it looks perfectly fine when it is finished. 
I hope you find these suggestions useful.

wild phlox

Do you use a hoop when you do needlepoint?
Not unless the whole project fits inside the hoop so that I don't have to take it out of the hoop and reposition it to finish it. The pressure of the hoop can distort the canvas mesh or completed stitches. I prefer a frame. If I am going to frame a needlepoint, I lace the canvas snugly over the back of the frame. I also have a square frame that is a perfect size for making pillow tops.


Why do you put backing on everything?
I certainly don't put backing on everything! I back fabrics that are soft (gingham, muslin), loosely woven (monks' cloth, decorator burlap), or slippery (satin, nylon). Basting these to a backing keeps them flat and unwrinkled, helps keep them from fraying around the edges, and makes them firmer to work on in hoops or frames. I don't back felt or Aida because they are firm and don't ravel. I don't back needlepoint canvas or other canvases.

Keep those questions coming!

*Okay, so they're more common sense than "secret", and we didn't number them (I did count them, though);  but I had to take ONE shot at one of those sensational post titles everybody seems to use -- J.D., Annake's Garden Gnome

crabapple in bloom
Crabapple in Bloom

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