Monday, July 31, 2017

Translating Art Forms to Nedlework

This is the first in a series of articles about applying the principles of forms of fine art to various types of needlework. Many people think that these principles apply only to painting, but that is not so. Fine stitching is every bit as beautiful as fine brushwork. And it is every bit as satisfying, as well. We are going to give you information that we hope will help you in either painting or needlework, as well as some history of, and interesting facts about, each art form.

country and western music punch needle design
Punch needle still life on a jacket back
Art is when anyone in the world takes any kind of material and fashions a deliberate statement with it.”
Thomas Hoving, Former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

That is my favorite definition of art! Now, before you read any further, get a large piece of paper and a marking pen. Write boldly “Art is when (insert your name) takes (list some of the tools and materials you can use to do needlework, such as a needle and yarn) and fashions a deliberate statement with it.” Put that paper somewhere that you will see it at least once every day. When you see it, read it out loud. Accept it. Believe it. Make it happen.

Your statement does not need to be profound. It may be as simple as, “I want to preserve this lovely rose in a way that it will not wither and die,” or “I want to make a cowboy picture for Billy while he is still at the age when he wants to be one.”

Still Life in Art Needlework, Part I

color sketch of cholla cactus
Color sketch of cholla cactus
Still life subjects have been inspiring artists for centuries. It is one of the easiest kinds of composition because you are dealing with inanimate objects, potted plants, vases of flowers and bowls of fruit, which can be moved and rearranged as you desire. Unlike our uncooperative shop cat, they will not get up in the middle of your sketch and walk out of the room. The flowers and fruit will last for several days, allowing you to work at your own pace. In this series of posts, we are going to examine still life projects in several kinds of needlework. I do many quick sketches in pencil, pen, pastel and crayon that I file for future reference. A few of these eventually become needlework projects. Here is one under consideration for crewel over a tapestry stitch background.

map of Italy with Pompeii labeled
Map of Italy showing location of Pompei
Most books about still life painting, if they deal with its history at all, start with the giants of Spanish late 16th Century and early 17th Century art, Velasquez and Goya. But that is about 16 centuries late. Today we think of a still life as a framed picture or perhaps a photograph on a calendar page, But the original still life pictures, dating from ancient Greece and Rome, were wall-sized paintings and mosaics. We have wonderful examples of these because of a terrible tragedy. In August, 79 A.D. (C.E.), Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the city of Pompeii with up to 20 feet (6 meters) of ash. When the ash was finally removed from the houses, the interiors were found to be remarkably well-preserved. The wall paintings of familiar objects give us a good picture of how each room was used. In one kitchen, for example, you might see pictures of kitchen utensils, towels, dishes, and foods like eggs and fruit. These were painted realistically and in great detail.

still life of kitchen condiments, cross stitch on monks cloth
Condiment still life, cross-stitch on monks cloth
There are a great many things to consider in making a complex still life like those in Pompeii or its equivalent in needlepoint. So let's start with something much simpler. Here's a sample of a simple still life design made up of common kitchen items. Both the arrangement and the treatment are linear. Lines, shapes, and colors are emphasized. Very little has been done to suggest depth or volume, except for a little darkening of color where shapes meet or overlap, and for occasional open spots in the embroidery to indicate reflections of light. The design is worked in cross-stitch and back-stitch in floss on off-white monks' cloth. It is meant to be appliqued on an apron.

closeup of CW punch needle design
Closeup of punch needle design
You can find all kinds of items in your kitchen to put together to make your own still life design. Or make a design of other items like children's toys or things from a person's hobby or occupation. Look at the arrangement at the beginning of this chapter. This is done in punch-needle work on the back of a jacket and features items that might belong to a country singer or musician.

You can always arrange your art or craft materials into a still life. When I start a series of works on a theme sunflowers or butterflies, for example I assemble a table full of reference materials to consider while I design. Since these cannot move or change on their own, they constitute a still life composition. You can see a group of those at the end of this post.

At one time, not too long ago, there were generally accepted rules for painting still life pictures. There were to be several objects on a table in front of a fairly dark background that wasn't very important to the picture. There was a very shallow depth of field. Textures were often more important than colors. The viewers eyes were supposed to be drawn upward and diagonally across the picture, usually to the right-hand side. It is easy to imagine just how dull and uninteresting many of the compositions painted according to the rules must have been. Aren't we lucky that artists today are not expected to follow those rules?

fruit and pitcher downloadable design
To download, click here
Here is a simple design that you can download. Bowls of fruit have always been acceptable subjects for still-life painting. Take the design apart and rearrange the objects. Add to or subtract from elements of the design. Draw in a tabletop for the articles to stand on. Add a vase of flowers. Make a background for the arrangement a wall, a window, an outdoor scene, etc. When you have achieved a composition you really like, play with different color combinations, real or imaginary.

owl chart with stitch patterns
Chart showing shading with simple blackwork stitches
A still-life need not be done in colors. Think of how expressive a pencil, charcoal, or pen-and-ink drawing can be. A good technique for doing a still life in a single color is Spanish blackwork (hereafter simply called blackwork). This technique flourished in Elizabethan times and has enjoyed a modern renaissance. The shapes are done in an outline stitch like chain stitch, Shading and filling is done with a variety of diaper patterns done in small straight stitches. For more about blackwork and for samples of diaper patterns, see the posts for October 6, 2013, October 18, 2013, February 27, 2014, and January 15, 2017. (Use our search engine to locate these posts.)

Next time, I will take you step-by-step through the making of both a multicolor design and one for a technique you can do in blackwork, redwork, whitework, or any single color you desire. In the meantime, choose your favorite version of the simple design above. Or choose another design that you have made up on your own. Now, having decided what form of needlework you want to use, you are ready to transfer those outlined areas to your canvas or fabric. If you are using needlepoint or rug canvas, tape your pattern to a light-box or a sunny window and trace the lines directly onto your canvas. For directions for preparing the canvas, see the bottom of the post for May 11, 2014. If you are using fabric, you may want to use a hot-iron transfer. For directions to make one, go to the post for October 6, 2013. Remember that a hot-iron transfer reverses everything in your original pattern, so be careful about using any lettering or anything that will look wrong if it is reversed.

Happy designing!

collage of illustrations that are still lifes
Illustrations from previous posts that can be considered as still lifes

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Questions for the Garden Gnome

(In order to give Annake some time to finish bits and pieces of projects and samples for upcoming posts, this time we are dragging the Garden Gnome out of his hole to answer accumulated  garden-related questions that have piled up since the end of last growing season...)

clary sage
Clary sage in the herb garden
How did the planting in the straw bales go?

It ended with mixed results. It depended upon how much water I could get to each one. The ones around the former compost pile did exactly what they were supposed to do and have all but disappeared. The remains can be mixed into the compost or plants can be planted into them directly. The ones that were half-successful will be broken down into compost or used as mulch on the raised beds.

all that's left of composted straw bales
All that's left of properly composted straw bales

straw used as mulch in the raised bed
Leftover straw used as mulch in the raised beds

Unfinished bales for garden border
Unfinished bales for garden borders
Are you going to do it again this year?

There were some bales that were placed too far for the soaker hoses to reach. They are largely intact. A few of those will be used this year as borders for other planting areas. They will get water when the interior plantings are watered and I will experiment with planting seeds in them again. However, the current severe drought will determine how much water we can use for that purpose. The rest may be made into compost.

What happens to the straw bale after you harvest the plants?

They disappear. They become dirt. This is a good thing, because good dirt is expensive and straw is cheap.

Are you selling any new and different herbs this year?

Two, fennel and clary sage. Fennel isn't really supposed to over-winter here, but ours didn't “get the memo”. Maybe it was the hay bales? Fennel, a member of the carrot family, has been used from ancient times. Roman soldiers ate it to give them strength and spread its seeds across Europe. Roman women used it for slimming. The Anglo -Saxons revered it so much they even used it as a charm against evil. It is popular in Mediterranean cooking. Fresh leaves and stems are used in salads, sprinkled over meat and fish dishes, and used in sauces. Like dandelions, all parts of the plant are edible. The roots (bulbs) can be eaten like celery or thinly sliced for salads. For a recipe and suggestions for use of this herb, see Annake's addition at the end of this post.

Much maligned, but wonderfully versatile dandelions
Speaking of dandelions, most people consider dandelions as weeds, but they don't know about the plant's good qualities. For example, the flowers are used for flavoring wines and liqueurs. The leaves are edible if you use young, fresh ones. (Please don't spray the plants with anything if you plant to use any part of them!) The roots can be roasted to make a hot beverage, although I recommend that you add other ingredients. The roots also break up hard ground and the plants seem to prefer hard ground. I seldom find a dandelion in a prepared bed. I'm perfectly willing to let them break up the hard ground for me. The flowers make a slightly orange-yellow dye and the roots make a russet brown one. Besides, the flowers brighten up the world when few other flowers are blooming.

Clary sage (pictured at the top of this post) is a very old herb, also originally from the Mediterranean. For those of you who know the folk song (or remember the Simon and Garfunkel rendition) Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme may be interested to know that it not our Thanksgiving sage is the “sage” meant in the song. It can be used fresh or dried to flavor breads, stuffing, cheese dishes and vegetables. Its aroma and flavor are much more like its mint relatives than our Thanksgiving sage. It has attractive spikes of lavender flowers. Annake tells me that it is used as a fixative in perfume-making and is really nice in home-made potpourri. She also says a few crushed leaves in your bathwater makes for an invigorating soak. (I'll take her word for that.)

oregon holly grapes
Oregon holly grapes
Are the fruits of the Oregon holly-grapes edible for people, too?

Yes, but they are really sour! With enough sugar, they taste a lot like vine grapes. I recommend mixing them with vine grapes to make an interesting, tart jelly. They are loaded with Vitamin C.

What can you do with rose hips?

These are also sour and also an excellent source of Vitamin C. Once removed from the rosebush, they dry quickly and keep for a long time. Early settlers used them to ward off vitamin-deficiency diseases like scurvy. They are commonly used in teas and jellies.

Our new columbine
Did you ever find out what this year's gift from the birds was?

Yes, in fact we found two. The first was a handsome pink and yellow columbine. I think we have shown you a picture of the cream-colored one they left us a couple of years ago. (April 20, 2017 post) The second was a pink sweet pea vine coming up in the rock pile near where Rasputin, our rhubarb, lives and plots world domination.

Now, go grow something and make the world a better place...

J.D., Annake's Garden Gnome

Annake's Recipe
Grilled Fish with Fennel

Clean and salt the fish. Lightly stuff it with fresh chopped fennel and sage. Slit the sides of the fish twice. Coat the fish with oil. Make a bed of fresh fennel stems and leaves in a pan. Put the fish on top. Cook, turning the fish and brushing it with oil. Serve garnished with slices of lemon.

Fennel is especially good with bass, but also with other fish, especially fatty ones.

Other Uses for Fennel:
  • Snipped fresh leaves or minced stems are good additions to salads. Try them sprinkled over fish, pork, cheese, eggs, beans, lentils or rice. Add the fennel just before serving.
  • Fennel is good with dishes of any of the cabbage family: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.
  • Add 3 T. of freshly chopped fennel to an omelet of 4 to 6 eggs.
  • Add sprigs of fennel to canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, or saffron oil for a tasty cooking oil.
  • Use 1 T. chopped fennel to flavor butter or mayonnaise.
  • Fennel roots and lower stems can be cooked and treated like carrots or new potatoes.
  • Use fresh fennel flowers, which have a delicate licorice (anise)fragrance. Mixed with nasturtiums and calendulas, they make a pretty bouquet and you can eat it as a salad, too!
  • Make a fennel sauce with ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 T. light cream, and 1 t. chopped fresh fennel leaves and stems. Good over fish.

Sweet pea
Sweet pea, bloomed out and ready to move to a better location

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