Friday, September 16, 2016

Sunflower Splendor

The Chinese poet Kao Ch'i (1336 – 1374) wrote of the sunflower:


 “Its radiance bursts forth in summer's bright light,
Its clusters nestling against the dark green shade.
Evenings, it droops like the common hibiscus,
But blazes at noon with the pomegranate flowers.
A subtle scent spreads across our mat,
A fresh splendor shines upon our feast,
When all the other flowers have bid us farewell...”

I've loved the sturdy sunflowers since, as a child, I gathered wild ones with goldenrod and Queen Anne's lace along the country roads around our farm. Turning their bright faces to the sun, they pointed my way to the one-room country school; then, magically, they turned around to brighten my journey home at the end of the day. I still admire them for their familiarity, even though J.D. grows much more exotic ones today. (I will share some of those with you at the end of this post.)

I have used the sunflower as a subject before (August 26, 2013) in an embroidery on checked gingham., using basic cross-stitch, long-armed cross-stitch, star stitch, French knots and plain chain stitch. Here's a picture of the finished and framed project, along with a close-up of the center of the flower.

sunflower embroudery with detail
Having decided to use the sunflower as the subject of the “Autumn” picture in a Four Seasons series of needlepoints (May 16, 2013 and July 18, 2013), I gathered together the photographs J. D. had taken of our sunflowers, photographs from other sources, a live specimen, even a scarf with a printed sunflower motif. I traced several circles, the size of the opening in the frame I planned to use, on plain paper and began to make sketches of the flowers.

collection of sunflower examples

pencil sketch of sunflower

This is the sketch I decided to use. I shaded the petals and suggested the surface stitches that I planned to add to the completed needlepoint.

Marked canvas
I transferred the outlines onto #14 white mono needlepoint canvas, using a black fine-point permanent marker The very fine details were left out so that I could concentrate on the larger color areas when I started stitching. I rubbed the front and back surfaces of the canvas vigorously to remove any excess ink that might otherwise come off on the yarn.

Yarn selection for sunflower needlepoint
Then I selected tapestry and Persian yarns to match the colors of the sunflower as closely as possible.

I prefer to work with natural sunlight whenever possible, so I put the materials away until the next morning. I worked one color area at a time, beginning with the lightest yellow and working toward the darker tones Wherever possible, I used the basketweave stitch; otherwise, I used continental stitch. Once the color areas were completed, I put in the solid-colored background. I consulted my pencil sketch again to determine the finer details. Then I used thinner strands of yarn to outline the individual outer petals with backstitch. Moving on to the center of the flower, I used French knots in two sizes and colors to show the raised area of reproductive flowers. Steam-ironing the completed canvas was the last step before framing the picture

Finished sunflower needlepoint
Finished sunflower needlepoint

Sunflowers belong to a very large variety of flowers called Composites (Compositae). They are actually made of two different kinds of flowers. The large, showy petals are actually individual flowers that serve to attract the insects and birds that pollinate the flowers. The very tiny raised flowers at the center of the blossom are the ones that produce the seeds. If you look closely at other Composites, like coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, you can see the two kinds of flowers clearly. We save the seeds from the best flowers for replanting and add the rest to our winter birdseed.

sunflower collage
Some exotic sunflowers in Annake's Garden

Have a wonderful season, whether it is Autumn or Spring where you are,

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