Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Plants Ate My Blog Post (and Other Excuses)

purple irises
Early blooming purple irises
Hello – J.D., Annake’s Garden Gnome here. Annake is taking a short break from blogging, but didn’t want to lose the momentum we’ve built these last few months; so, she’s asked me to jump in and explain what is presently occupying so much of our time and attention.

First, an apology to readers using our archived posts. Due to Google’s decommissioning of Picasa (in favor of their new Google Photo application), we temporarily lost connections to all the photographs for our older posts. It took some time and a great deal of work to restore those posts, but I believe we have pretty much fixed the problems. To be fair, it took longer than it might have because I took the opportunity to address some other issues that arose from changes made over the last three years by both Google (to the Blogger software) and in the way we use the platform.

Our archives are extremely important to us: unlike many (perhaps most) of the blogs on the Web, the majority of our content is never supposed to become obsolete. We always intended that our archives be a continuing resource for readers, old and new. We do not shut off comments for those archived posts, either; so if you encounter a problem or if you find our content useful – we want to hear about it!

On to other matters: as Annake mentioned in our 3rd anniversary post (February 29, 2016), we are now heavily involved in area farmer’s markets. The original plan (a year ago) was just to add another venue for selling our crafts; as things worked out, we discovered a market for surplus from the kitchen and herb gardens, as well as excess from the flower gardens which Annake has struggled to give away for years. So, in an effort to make the Garden more self-supporting (a notion expressed way back in our very first blog post!), we are expanding our horticultural efforts with commerce in mind. The pictures below show some of what we are doing.

Straw bale planting - growing crops in straw bales - is an idea that seems to have taken off in the last couple of years. Since we had a good local source for the bales (a fellow Farmer’s Market vendor), we thought we’d give it a serious try. In addition to the additional crops, we've thought of other benefits this method might provide for us, such as -

Planting deer-repelling fragrant herbs among the rose bushes: even the heavy wire cages you can see around the roses don’t keep the really determined beasts out, so we’ll take any help we can – even if it’s just depriving them of places to graze from;

A “deer maze”, to discourage pregnant does from birthing more fawns in the space behind the storage sheds;

A way to contain and rehabilitate last year’s compost pile: beans, squash, and chard have already sprouted in that rich compost, and we’re planning on planting things the deer won’t like in the straw bales that surround it.

And the straw bales are not our only additions. Here’s a picture of the beginning of a new perennial herb bed we’re putting in. Up to now, our herbs have mostly been planted among other flowers and shrubs in the decorative garden areas; our aging bodies and local demand convinced us that we needed something more, dedicated to herb cultivation.

We also erected a  temporary greenhouse so that we have someplace protected to store plants we winter over in our permanent greenhouse, some of which have gotten completely out of hand despite the short days and cold weather...such as “Big Red,” the geranium shown in our last anniversary blog post or these potted herbs below.

potted herbs
Rosemary (left) and pineapple sage overflowing their pots; lawn sprinklers show scale

House plant starts
House plant "starts"
The space we’ve cleared in the permanent greenhouse is quickly disappearing under new houseplant pottings, the result of other greenhouse occupants’ insistence on  propagating themselves right out of living space. These offspring are headed for the Farmer’s Market, as well.

So, that’s a partial list of just the agricultural pursuits that are keeping Annake away from the blog at the moment. 

Additionally, we are creating more craft stock, items that are variations on things Annake has discussed in previous posts over the years that weren’t different enough to write a new tutorial on;

And, Annake is planning several new series of tutorials that haven’t gotten to the project stage yet;

Oh, and we're planning to publish several short e-books - starting this summer - based on compilations of some of the blog post series Annake has already written, complete with NEW additional content, patterns, and projects that won’t be available anywhere else (oooh, I just LOVE dropping bombshells like that in passing comments!).

As you can see, we are kind of busy around here; which is why we don’t have a craft tutorial post for you this time. But next time, we will - so keep watching!

jinx irises
 Small "Jinx" irises blooming away in the Garden
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Friday, April 22, 2016

An Eight-Way Bargello? Yes!

Four-way bargello "Autumn Explosion"
Framed four-way bargello "Autumn Explosion"
Is an 8-way bargello even possible? Of course. Before you began a 4-way design, you had to prepare your canvas. First, you had to make sure your canvas was square. Second, you had to find and mark the single square of canvas that was in the exact center. Third, you put in the horizontal and vertical center lines, dividing the canvas into four equal sections. Fourth, you put in the two diagonal lines from the corners of the canvas square through the center point. Now you had 8 sections! For those of you who don't have any experience with the 4-way designs, here are some past posts that you may want to study. I'm sure you will find them helpful. Just go to our Archive and look for these dates: May 11, 2014; July 20, 2014; September 29, 2014; and December 22, 2014.

Round Protractor and Center Guide
Round Protractor and Center Guide
Here are a couple of simple tools you can use to mark your canvas. The circular protractor can help you measure your lines for accuracy. Beginning at the top and moving clockwise, your lines should be at 0 degrees (or 360 degrees), 45 degrees, 90 degrees, 135 degrees, 180 degrees, 225 degrees, 270 degrees and 315 degrees, respectively. The little square of plastic canvas can be placed over the center square of your canvas to check the placement of the lines. You can make one of these yourself to use for future reference. Mark your canvas lightly with pencil in case you need to erase a line to correct it. Rub off any extra graphite with a tissue or cloth so that it doesn't tub off on your yarn. Tape the raw edges of your canvas. Decide which edge is the top and mark it N for north. Also Mark E, S, and W.

Four colors of yarn for 8-way project
Once you have you canvas marked, you can choose the colors of yarn for your design. Choose at least four colors. You will save time and effort if you have a separate tapestry needle for each color. Cut a piece of each of the four colors of yarn. Don't cut pieces more than 18 inches (46 cm.) long, because the yarn will start to fray from repeatedly being pulled through the canvas. Use a blunt-pointed tapestry with an eye that slips easily through the canvas.

Center stitch detail
Waste knot, stitch over 4 threads, stitch over 3 intersections, complete center
Make a waste knot in the end of your first strand of Color #1. Insert your needle from the top surface of the canvas, a couple of inches from the center. Pull the yarn through, leaving the knot on the surface. Bring your yarn up through the center square of canvas and point it along the line directly toward N. Skip four canvas threads and push the needle downward to make a stitch. Bring your yarn back underneath the canvas and up again through the center square. Repeat with stitches to E, S, and W, bringing the yarn back up through the center square each time. Now do the four diagonal stitches. Instead of skipping four threads each time, you will skip over three intersections (the angles where two sides of a square of canvas come together). Return to the center each time. After you have made all eight stitches, secure color #1 under the stitches on the back of the canvas and cut the yarn.

8-way Design, Stage 1
8-way Design, Stage 1
If you are a relative beginner, you may want to start color # 2 with a waste knot, as well. After that, you should be able to secure both ends of your yarn by weaving them under and around stitches on the back of your canvas. Once you have done several rounds, you can cut off the waste knots, thread the short ends of yarn in your needle, and secure them on the back of your work. Always start a new round at N. (It is easier to follow a pattern if you start each round at the same place.) Bring the needle with color #2 up in the same square of canvas where the first stitch with #1 ended. Work your way clockwise around the center, checking the diagonal stitches to make sure the ones on each side end in the same row of vertical squares. Secure #2 yarn on the back, and cut it off. Repeat the same stitches with #3 and #4. Now it is time to work backward toward the center of the design.

8-way Design, Stage 2
8-way Design, Stage 2
Start at the N line with color #4. Move your needle one square of canvas to the left of your starting stitch. Move it down 2 threads of canvas. Bring the needle up from the back and make a stitch downward over 4 threads. Move to the left again and down 2 threads. Make a second stitch over 4 threads. Move to the left a third time and down 2 threads and make a stitch exactly like the 2 you just did. Now move to the right of your original stitch and repeat those 3 stitches in reverse order. Be sure they begin and end in the same lines of canvas squares as the first 3. You have made 6 new stitches. Turn the canvas so that E is up and repeat the 6 stitches. Turn and repeat again at S and W. Secure color #4 and cut it. With color #3, begin again at N. Bring your needle up in the same square of mesh as the #4 stitch above. This time you will only have room to make 2 stitches to the left and 2 to the right (4 new stitches). Repeat all the way around. With color #2, start at N again. This time you will have room for only 1 stitch to the left and 1 to the right (2 new stitches). Don't do anything with color#1. You have made four complete points at N, E, S and W.

8-way Design, Stage 3
8-way Design, Stage 3
Next we will do the points along the diagonal lines. Turn your canvas so that the corner between N and E is up. With color #4, make a stitch to the left of your original stitch and down 1 intersection. This stitch will cover 3 intersections. Make 2 more stitches in this way to the left. The third one should end in the same square of mesh as the third #4 stitch from the completed N-E-S-W point. Make the 3 reversed stitches to the right, move on to the next diagonal and repeat. Use the same procedure to put in the 4 stitches in color #3 at each diagonal. Finally, fill in the 2 stitches in color #2 at each diagonal. You will see that the diagonal points seem longer and narrower than the first points. You may see some tiny places where the canvas is not covered. These will probably not be noticeable in the finished work. If they bother you, you can take tiny filling stitches, each across a single thread.

8-way Design, Halfway Finished
Halfway there!
Now you must make a decision about colors. You may want to continue repeating the first 4 colors in the same order. Or you may want to add additional colors, delaying the necessity to repeat colors. You may add as many colors as you like. I decided to use many colors, both dark and light, warm and cool. I did not repeat any of the colors in the design. This is what the project looked like when it was about halfway completed.

The work gets easier after the first four colors are put in. From this point on, we will work outward toward the borders. Just begin at N with each new color and follow the pattern, making two stitches meet in the same square of mesh where the N-E-S-W points and the diagonal points intersect. Remember that the stitches on the N-E-S-W points are each over 4 threads, while the stitches on the diagonal points are over 3 intersections. Start each new stitch in the same square of mesh as the completed stitch below it. The number of stitches on the sides of each point will increase by 1 in each consecutive row. You may want to continue the same pattern out to the edges of your canvas, making partial rounds where there is not enough space for complete ones. Or you may wish to stop while you have a complete “starburst” design and finish the rest of the canvas in a solid color either continuing with the straight stitches or changing over to tent stitch for the background. Each of the three techniques will give you a different design at completion. I decided to end the “starburst” design about half a dozen squares of mesh from the nearest edge of the canvas. I made the choice of background color based on the color of the frame I intended to use, and decided to work the background inward from the four corners in tent stitch (specifically basketweave).

Finished 8-way design with tent stitched background
Finished 8-way design with tent stitched background
If you enjoy this pattern, you will be happy to know that I'm working on a 6-way (more difficult) design which probably will be worked in a circle.

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

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reverse Applique

Kuna Woman Selling Molas (Wikimedia)
Kuna Woman Selling Molas (Wikimedia)
The term applique refers to the fastening of a cut-out cloth design to a fabric background, by hand or machine sewing or with glue. Reverse applique consists of layering two or more pieces of fabric together and then cutting through the layers to expose the color you want to have showing in each part of the design. The most extreme use of reverse applique I have seen is done by the Kuna (also Cuna or Guna) Indian women from the San Blas archipelago on the coast of Panama. These appliqued pieces are called “molas”. The women use large molas for the fronts and backs of the blouses that form part of their native costumes. Smaller molas sometimes adorn the short sleeves of the blouses. Other molas are made to sell to tourists.

wooden plate with Panamanian motif
Wooden plate with Panamanian motif
The subjects of the molas vary greatly. Some, like the eagle design below, are obviously copied from non-native designs. More traditional designs come from their folklore, like the design painted on this wooden plate (not done by the Kuna). Still others feature native animals and plants. Finally, some designs are copied — often in great detail — from commercial containers like cereal or detergent boxes or food cans: artist Andy Warhol would have loved the one I saw of a Campbell's soup can.

Eagle mola front and rear views
Eagle mola, front and rear views

The black-and-white American eagle is the pride of my collection. It has only two layers, but it is far from being a simple design. Each of the individual black pieces was cut out and the edges were turned under before they were hand-stitched to the white background. I want you to look closely at the back of this mola to see some of the hundreds of tiny stitches used to secure the pieces of the design, while circles of more tiny top-stitches were used around the eagle's eye. Just imagine the time and patience necessary to create this intricate design!

Red and blue leaf mola
Red and blue mola with leaf motif
Molas are typically made with smooth-surfaced cotton, but as more kinds of fabric became available to the Kuna women, more variety appeared in both fabrics and colors. Most designs have either a red or a black background. This leaf design, one of two I have by the same native artist, was atypical for its time with its blue border. (Modern molas use a much broader range of colors.) This is another one done with only two layers. The design's colors are more subtle than most., and the red fabric has a suede-like surface. Bear in mind that these designs are not drawn first; they are cut “freehand”!

butterfly pattern cut from blue construction paper
Butterfly pattern cut from blue construction paper
I am going to show you a much easier and faster way to do a reverse applique design. We are going to use felt. Because it is a non-woven material, felt does not fray or unravel at the edges; therefore, its edges do not need to be turned under. This saves both time and effort. We are going to do a simple two-layer design. (Later, we will try a design with multiple layers and inserts — but that is for another day.) You will need: two 9-inch x 12-inch (21.5 cm x 30.5 cm, approximately) rectangles of felt in contrasting colors, small sharp-pointed scissors, a sharp-pointed needle, thread, straight pins and the downloadable pattern below. Print out two copies of the pattern — one to use and one to file for future reference — or three, if you want to try the technique on colored paper first.
Choose two contrasting colors of felt, preferably one dark one and one bright one. Set the bright one aside. Pin the pattern to the darker piece, placing the pins both outside and inside of the dark areas on the pattern. Short pins with small heads are best for pinning. (You may be tempted to fold the felt and try to cut both halves at the same time; please don't!) Carefully cut out the dark areas as precisely as possible. Use the smallest, sharpest scissors that you have. I use a pair of Fiskars® mini-shears, but embroidery scissors or even sharp manicure scissors will do he job. If you are experienced with an X-acto® knife, you might use that, but I don't usually recommend it for felt. Unpin the pattern and set it aside. Keep the pieces you cut out of the wings because you may want to cut out circles, spirals or other shapes to decorate the wings after the butterfly is applied to the background. You may want to omit the antennae and cut more fanciful ones from your scraps to sew on later. Or you can embroider them or apply some other kind of trimming. Don't be too critical of your work. Remember this is folk art. It shouldn't look machine-made.

Butterfly reverse applique, 2 colors
Butterfly reverse applique in 2 colors
Place the cut-out pieces on top of the brighter felt. When you are satisfied with their placement, pin the design to the background, if you are going to hand-stitch it, or baste it to the background, if you are going to machine-stitch it. Felt has a tendency to stretch, so pin both sides of each cut-out shape wherever possible. You may use matching or contrasting thread for stitching. If you are hand-stitching, make your stitches small, neat, and regular. To make your stitches less apparent, use a thread the same shade as the felt. To emphasize the stitching, use a thread that contrasts greatly. You may also glue your pattern to the background if you like; I don't do this because I have not been satisfied with several fabric glues.

Butterfly reverse applique, 3 colors
Butterfly reverse applique, 3 colors
If you want to add a third color to your design, cut out the butterfly shape once it is applied to the brighter background and place it and the pieces of the “frame” on a third, medium-colored piece of felt. When I cut out the butterfly shape, I left a tiny edge of the wing color around the outside to make sure I didn't cut any stitches I had made along the edges of the cut-out. The “frame” is in separate pieces because that was all that would fit on a standard piece of printer paper. If your felt is large enough, you can cut out a “frame” in one continuous piece.

Butterfly reverse applique, 4 colors
Butterfly reverse applique, 4 colors
To add still a fourth color, at the two-color step use half sheets of two bright colors of felt and place their edges together so that the join is hidden by the black strip that separates the top and bottom wings. Then treat the cut-out butterfly as you did for the three-color design. If you decide to add a fourth color after you have done the three-color stage, just baste around the inside of the cut-outs on the bottom wings. After the rest of the butterfly has been sewn onto the background, remove those basting stitches. Use the cut-outs you removed from the original outline for patterns. Cut a piece a little larger all the way around than the pattern piece. Slide the fourth-color pieces under the edges of the butterfly outline and sew those edges through the colored pieces and the background.

There are many ways to decorate your reverse applique. Those of you who have been learning folk embroidery stitches will find many opportunities to use them. If you look at my finished project at the bottom of this post, you will see that I used several of the techniques mentioned in the article. You can frame your project or sew felt tabs on it and hang it from a small dowel. Three of these pieces on a longer dowel make an attractive hanging for a child's room. Try making your own designs. A child's coloring book is a good source of ideas. Or cut out a simple magazine picture, separate the sections, and trace it onto plain paper for a pattern.

This is a playful sort of pattern and project. Enjoy,

Butterfly reverse applique, complete with decorations
Butterfly reverse applique, complete with decorations

Photo Credit: "Kuna Woman Selling Molas", By Markus Leupold-Löwenthal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

All other photos, copyright Annake's Garden, 2016

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