Saturday, September 27, 2014

SFS #9: Autumn "Harmony" Variation!

Have you ever had a project that Almost Never Was? That seemed to take FOREVER and a day?! That frustrated you to no end?!! That you made so many silly mistakes on that you took out more stitches than you put in?!!! For me, this was that project:

Stitched on 18 count Charles Craft Silver Standard Aida in Ecru, using 2 strands of DMC Floss for cross-stitch and 1 strand for Mill Hill seed bead attachment

This is my variation on the "Autumn" section of the "Harmony" Sampler from Just Nan. As you may remember, I won the pattern from Meggie's Great Giveaway, and the original colourway called for special overdyed silks that were released with the limited-edition kit. You can see a beautiful kit finish of the entire design here.

Since Meggie also sent along some lovely DMC Colour Variations overdyed threads - including a beautiful Autumn Mix - I thought I'd substitute that for the overdyed silk. That's the skein on top of the hoop at the top (#4122), with the original colourway on the pattern at the bottom left, and both of them at the top of the photo below:

But when I started to really look at the pattern before I started stitching last Fall (!), I noticed that all these cute motifs just got lost in the variegated thread. Now, I do realize that monochrome patterns meant to be stitched with overdyed threads are designed for a certain look, and I can appreciate the appeal of that style.

However, what happened is that I fell completely in love with this handsome little Squirrel and his floomphy tail, and I wanted to stitch him in a squirrelly colour:

And then it was only a short hop up to his friend Mr. Crow, the Grape Thief...

...and it all took off from there :)

Pulling the colours was the easiest part of this project, and they make a very pretty palette :) I've made a list of the numbers for the floss and beads for easy reference, because these colours could be adapted to any Autumn project, not just this design:

The bead names and finishes are my own that I added for some description. The same colour in another finish - like the three golds - can look completely different!

At first, I only intended to use three colours of beads, but as I added some details (like the red berries on Mr. Crow's branch) I just pulled beads from my Mill Hill stash and started stitching them on. I've never used so many different colours and finishes together in one project, but it was so fun that I'll definitely try to mix it up again!!!

It is honestly RIDICULOUS how much trouble I had while stitching this, and it would take days to detail so I'll spare you the pain :) Sufficient to say if it's a stupid stitchy mistake, I made it! I miscounted, I miscoloured, I misplaced, I miscalculated...there was so many miseverythings going on that it was miserable going at times LOL ;)

These oak leaves? I stitched them THREE TIMES because I was one stitch out :(

I truly came close to completely abandoning this project. As you know, I'm not a rotation stitcher and I like to finish one project before going on to another. I was so frustrated with this at one point that I thought about throwing it out!!! I've never done that in my entire life and am not about to start but that tells you how upset I was. I think it's because I had this vision in my head but I just couldn't trust that it would happen that way. I was plagued by the Demon of Doubt.

And then, suddenly, Hallowe'en came and went and Autumn was officially over, so I put it away nearly done. I just had the lettering and some minor details left to do, but there were still a few things to figure out and I just wasn't in the mood. But when I put it away, I had intentions of finishing it this year, which was a major victory by then.

Thankfully, I stuck it out with some help and good advice :) Karen very generously encouraged this project from the very beginning, when all I had was a few stitched motifs and a lot of angst about how it was all going to work out. Her enthusiasm is what actually led me to dig out the design this year and finally Final-Finish it off!

My Stitchy Guru Mother couldn't understand my vision, since I was hard pressed to put it into words other than "falling leaves and lots of beads!". This is the closest to Primitive I've ever gotten, and that style doesn't lend itself well to embellishment. But she was super supportive of my stitching as always. As she often says, it's only fabric and thread, and if you don't like it you can take it out and try again!

Which is exactly what I did do for several elements, including the fence behind the Squirrel. I worked it in white, cream, super bright white (B5200) and several grays (which looked like tombstones) before settling on black for a wrought-iron look. And adding a few extra stitches between the crosses at the tops of the posts really helped.

And I'm especially happy with the Owls! Although there was a slit pupil in the design, I filled in the eyes with yellow, and added some orange to make little beaks.

The swoosh accent on each side of the lettering seemed a little plain, so I sketched out at least half a dozen variations before deciding to bring in the leaves from the sides and put them on a branch. If I ever want to do one of the other Harmony Seasons in the future, I think this motif could easily be adapted to coordinate - berries on the branch for Winter, green leaves for Spring, blossoms for Summer ;)

As for the Final Finishing, I made my usual padded ornament with corded trim. Because it's larger than usual, I used three layers of quilt batting for the insert this time. I forgot to take a photo of the back, but you can see the fabric here:

It's some sort of cotton blend that my Stitchy Guru Mother had in her stash that just happened to match the Squirrel perfectly! Thank You, Stitchy Karma Gods :)

For the cording, I used two skeins of orange (740) doubled together for width and twisted it by hand. The double thickness works with the larger size of the ornament, but I only had just enough - less than half an inch at the end! - for the edging and the loop (which I made together, in the way I explained for the ornament in the last SFS).

Although I love the look, I had a LOT of trouble trying to sink the end of the double-thick cording under the knot. Eventually I tied the ends together with a length of floss, threaded that through a darning needle, and took the end down into the ornament and out the front, underneath one of the grape leaves. It stretched the Aida and took some finangling, but I was able to nudge the fabric back into shape.

Overall, I think my "Autumn" was worth all the trials and tribulations I experienced! It's so easy to get wrapped up in the small details in a piece of work and lose sight of the larger design, and with this project I learned to take a step back and consult some good friends for perspective :) I usually just barrel on ahead and worry myself silly in the meantime, so this is a lesson I'll try and remember for the future.

My favourite part? The beading! It doesn't just sparkle, it glows in the sunlight :)

My SFS Spending for September, Month #9:

Nothing! Nada! Nyet! Non! For the third month in a row (yay!) my spending is $0.00. Which really surprised me, but it's largely because I haven't sorted my Christmas Gift Stitching out yet. So next month will likely see some splurging ;)

That adds the full monthly allowance of $25 to my bank, for a grand total of $147.03 Banked, Hopefully I'll make it over the $150.00 mark next month!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

SFS # 8 - No Stash, But A Small Finish!

August always seems to be a time of change for me and my family, and this year has proven to be no exception! It's been a rollercoaster month - some highs, some lows - but hopefully it'll all work out for the better in the end :) This Autumn will certainly be interesting at least LOL! My apologies in being so behind in e-mails and blog visits. Thank you very much, as usual, for your patience, and I'll be trying to catch up soon!

I haven't had much time for stashing or stitching, but I did put the backing fabric and floss I bought in June (SFS #6) to good use, and managed to finish this ornament:

The design is my Spring Variation of the Just Nan "Christmas Hearts" freebie, which I stitched for my second entry in the JN SAL. I was hoping to share this little finish with the SAL as well, but unfortunately some negative experiences have caused Zeb to put the JN SAL on hiatus. I really enjoyed the two months I joined in, and I'd like to thank Zeb for all of her hard work and for creating a wonderful Stitch Along!!!

Here is the back of my ornament, which is just plain pink 100% cotton fabric:

I assembled it in my usual way, using a padded insert made with two layers of quilt batting stitched together. The biggest challenge was the cording, because I couldn't find any commercial burgundy cording to match. I've never been good with making floss cording. My Stitchy Guru Mother is, and has a surefire method using a hand drill fitted with a cup hook for the twisting, but I twisted this one all by hand myself.

Although I bought two skeins of floss to make the cording, I ended up only using one, and I tried something different by tying a knot at one end of the cording to make the hanging loop first, instead of doing the loop and the cording separately.

In all honesty, this is best hand-cording I've ever made, and I'm very proud of it :)

Not only do I have trouble making it, but I have MAJOR problems sewing it on! With commercial cording, the twists are hard (wrapped around a firm core) and it's easy - well, relatively speaking LOL - to pop your thread into the spaces between the twists. Floss cording is soft, often has to be re-twisted and smoothed as you go, and will show your stitches, so it's very tricky to hide your thread. Or at least, I find it so ;)

As you can see, the twists aren't perfectly even, but it's a big improvement for me :) I've tried many methods of attachment over the years, but the combination I ended up with here is the best yet. I'm going to try to recreate it sometime in future, and if it works again I'll definitely share! Sometimes I find myself doing things with no idea of how I'm actually doing them, and this was the case here LOL!

And I also think this is the best corner I've ever turned :) It makes me ridiculously happy every time I see it. All my corners are squishy instead of square, no matter how much I poke and prod at them! Now, if only I could get all four the same...

My SFS Spending for August, Month #8:

This is the first time I've had zero spending for two months in a row (yay!), but it was completely by accident not by design :) So I spent $0.00, adding the monthly total of $25.00 to my Bank, for a grand total of $122.03 saved! So I did make it over the $100 Bank mark, which makes me ridiculously happy for some strange reason LOL.

But I don't think this trend will be continuing. I love Autumn and have a few projects lined up, and it's getting near the time to start thinking about Christmas Gift Stitching (ugh - it's still WAY to early for me!), so I can foresee some Serious Stashing going on in September :) That's actually pretty funny, because my timing is off as always - Mel generously gave us a bonus $25 to spend this month. But that's always how it seems to go with me: a day late and a dollar short, as they say ;) I'm also thinking about my Sampler of Samples, so I've got some Stash Diving to look forward to as well!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

SFS #7 + A FC Forget-Me-Not Bouquet!

Wowzers, it's so unusually hot here this summer and I'm really feeling the heat! Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining; I know a lot of people are loving this heatwave. But I usually stitch with everything spread out across my lap and piled up on every nearby available surface, so it's just been too much to manage for me. Thankfully, fine crochet has come to my rescue; it just needs a hook and some thread :)

Thanks to the wonderful comments on my last post about the Vintage Needle Arts Sampler, I have decided to make my own littler sampler of samples :) But instead of planning everything out right away I'm going to start making some things and hope they all come together at the end! This will be a great chance to use some of my most Special Stash, and to try some new techniques ;) Like this pretty fine crochet posy:

It's my own Variation on this lovely FREE Violets Pin by Maggie Petsch for Kreinik:

The original uses strands of the super sparkly Kreinik Blending Filament crocheted together with the cotton, which is an interesting idea and would be great for special occasions. It's a very adaptable pattern and is fairly easy to stitch, the tricky part was figuring out the assembly! It's also a little large for a brooch but cute as an ornament:

I really love the backing doily, the little loops were fun to do and add a lot of detail :) To make the Violets into Forget-Me-Nots, I just made the first round yellow and used a Magic Circle so the stitches would pull more tightly together. The Violets had four small petals and one large, so I made all five of mine the same size. I also shortened the stems a little so they wouldn't trail over the bottom edge, and added the little white crocheted bow in place of the ribbon, which took some finangling LOL!

The biggest change I made is actually one you can't really see. The flowers and stems were supposed to be stitched directly to the middle of the doily, but all the tacking and darning stitches from the coloured threads would show up on the white back. Since this will be an applique of sorts, the back won't be seen, but I wanted to see if the pattern would work as an ornament too. So I made a false front simply by repeating the first three rounds of the doily and stitched everything to that!

And as I was joining the two pieces, I noticed that the false front and doily back formed a little pocket, so I added a bit of fibrefill stuffing and the posy just came to life! All the flowers mounded up like a real bouquet, the stems flared out and the ribbon bow stood out more! You can see the effect more on the back here:

And from the side you can see how the flowers (I made seven in all) layer together:

I'm so pleased with how this turned out! I think it's a wonderful start to the Sampler of Samples (I really have to come up with a better name, but we'll call it that for now LOL). And it can easily be changed to other flowers; add a sixth petal and work them in pink and you have Cosmos, with white you'd have Daisies.

Forget-Me-Nots are a humble little flower and often overlooked, but I have always loved them for their cheerful look and the wonderful sentiment. They also seem to me to be very determined; we've been very fortunate to have a few growing wild on the lawn every year, and I've even seen them pop up in sidewalk cracks :)

My SFS Total for Month #7, July:

I'm happy to report that for only the second time ever (the first being March) my total is $0.00! That leaves the Monthly Budget of $25 free, adding up to the grand sum of $97.03 in my Bank. I'm hopeful that I'll hit the $100 saved mark next month, which will be encouraging to see even though it's all imaginary money LOL!

Wonderful News: Mel, the Host of Stitch From Stash (SFS), has just had her blog Epic Stitching chosen for a magazine feature and she's having a Great Giveaway for her Followers to celebrate!!! Congratulations Mel - well deserved :) (Disclosure - sharing the news does give me an extra entry, but I'd share the news anyway!)

UPDATE: The Giveaway has now been drawn :) Congratulations to the Winners!

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Unique Vintage Needle Arts Sampler

Just a quick post to share a truly remarkable sampler that I saw the other night on Antiques Roadshow! It was from the "Vintage Toronto" broadcast, which updated the prices on the objects originally assessed in 1999, and this has been the show's only Canadian adventure to date (although we did have a spin-off for a while).

The Sampler was stitched by *Maria Taylor - the bottom center panel with the neat drawn-work edging has her information - as her application for the position of Home Economics teacher in 1879. What is amazing to me is not only all the small samples of different needlework types but the way it is presented, in the beautiful frame with the hand-made triangular rickrack around it! Needless to say, she got the job :)

(*In the Appraisal Transcript, the Appraiser says "Harriet" was the stitcher and the owner - the stitcher's grand-daughter - does not correct him, but in the last photo of the slideshow, it is clear that first letter is an M, as it is identical to that letter as she stitched it for "St. Marie's School", so Maria is my best guess at the actual stitching!)

The pictures on the website are a bit blurry, but you can see the full video of the Appraisal here at PBS, and it is well worth watching!!! Maria was an amazingly talented stitcher, and has everything from teeny tiny knitted socks to perfect miniature dresses (the sundress and crocheted hat above her signature panel is especially cute). I'd love a clearer look at it, but I noticed panels of needle darning and weaving, hand quilting, smocking, embroidery and needlelace work.

In the center is a wonderful petit point design of a handsome hound:

And my very favourite aspect is the impossibly delicate sheet music bars, from "Home Sweet Home", above the hound panel. The detail is so incredibly fine and accurate, I think you could actually play from it! And it's such a lovely sentiment :) 

It sort of sums up the whole display - the samples are the epitome of the domestic arts, which speaks to the importance of the idea of family life at the time. Because when she made this spectacular Sampler, not only was she applying for a paying job as a teacher but she was - like most women at the time - also proving her competence in "home making" skills which would be an asset in a marriage match. 

Her full-sized work must have been gorgeous, and we know from the conversation that she did marry and start a family. I imagine that her children must have been beautifully clothed :) What a lovely testament to a very talented lady's abilities! 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any information on whether the Sampler was sold, but hopefully that means that it will be passed down through the family and treasured for generations to come. It's truly priceless as an heirloom but it has also maintained it's monetary value at $1500 to $2500, from 1999 to 2013 :) 

Personally, I find this piece to be incredibly inspiring! I've become very interested in trying different styles of needlework lately but I'm wary of committing to an entire project in one style. Especially since the fine linen work - drawn thread, darning, weaving and the like - are so tedious to work. I was thinking of doing little samples, but had no idea what to do with them when finished, and that seemed wasteful.

I really like this idea of framing them all together in a display, although I would try something on a MUCH smaller scale LOL! Maybe an 8 x 10 frame ;) What about you?

PBS also has an archive of all their Needlework Appraisal Videos - Happy Browsing!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

SFS Month #6 - Some Simple Supplies

From a quick glance at my blog reader, I know almost everyone is wondering where June went, and I'm definitely one of them! The last few months have been really hectic for me, but I'm looking forward to having things settle down soon. A HUGE Thank You for all the lovely response to my last SFS post about Treasure Hunting!!! It's awesome to learn that there are more believers in Stitchy Karma out there ;)

After my great finds last month, my buys this month were focused on what I needed to final-finish an ornament for my other group, the Just Nan SAL (please see sidebar for more info). I bought some backing fabric - a pretty pink cotton - and DMC floss (#3685) to make corded trim for my Spring Variation of JN "Christmas Hearts":

Happily, I also thrifted a nice bonus! Treasury of Needlecraft is an older multi-craft book from 1993, so it's a little dated, especially the Plastic Canvas section. But I fell in love with one of the projects, "Grandma's Lockets" designed by Sam Hawkins:

It's a lovely tumble of flowers - including one of my favourites, pansies! - twined with pink ribbon and two beautiful gold filigreed lockets! I love the strong colours and the whole cross-stitches, which remind me of Berlin Woolwork. To me, it has a timeless heirloom quality, and I like it so much I might make this my next project :)

SFS Spending for June, Month #6

The needlecraft book was $2.99 because it's hardcover. Although the charts are in Black and White and not Colour, they are clear and well laid out so I think the price was worth it! I bought the fabric and floss together at my local fabric shop, so the floss was more expensive than normal, 89 cents each. The pink cotton was $9.99 a meter and I bought a full quarter since I love the colour, so it was $2.49.

Altogether, including taxes, I spent $8.99, leaving $16.67 in the monthly budget for a total of $72.30 in my bank! Although using my stash, rather than not shopping, is my goal, it's still really fun to watch those numbers in the bank go up and up ;)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book Review: The Embroiderer's Story

Many sticky notes are the sign of a really good read! Er, that's my excuse anyway ;)

It's a little bit embarrassing to admit that this post has been over two years (eek!) in the making! Way back in 2012, I wrote about the Jane Bostocke Sampler (JBS) and shared a photo of the sampler from this book, intending to write the review soon. Well, it's finally here! LOL Hope it will be worth the wait ;)

The Embroiderer's Story: Needlework from the Renaissance to the Present Day by Thomasina Beck was first published as a hardcover in 1995, with this paperback edition following in 1999. The first thing that struck me is the sheer size of the book! It's not especially thick, but it's definitely larger than average. I've put a regular size market paperback (Sharon Shinn's Quatrain) alongside to demonstrate scale.

The beautiful cover art is a painting from 1913 called "I am Half-Sick of Shadows" by artist Sidney Harold Meteyard. It shows the Lady of Shallot (from the poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson) waiting for her lover, and whiling away the hours with embroidery. The background is a vintage Morris & Co. embroidered bedcover from 1889.

Thomasina Beck's Publisher, David & Charles (which was taken over by F+W Media), followed this design theme for her other popular books: The Embroiderer's Garden (1997), The Embroiderer's Flowers (1992, later reissued in this edition to match) and Gardening with Silk and Gold: A History of Gardens in Embroidery (1998). This discussion thread states that the latter is a revised edition of Embroidered Gardens: A Studio Book from 1979. Frustratingly, there is little information about Beck online!

One day, I would love to read more of her works, especially the Gardening in Silk and Gold. Unfortunately, all of her books appear to be out of print and very hard to find. I was lucky enough to find The Embroiderer's Story in a local library collection. It's a wonderful introduction for anyone interested in historical needlework styles!

Although there is a lot of information here, and the text is well-researched, it's all presented in a very accessible tone. One chapter flows into the next and it makes for entertaining and inspiring reading! This is more of a general interest book than an academic treatise, which is unusual and refreshing. The pictures don't always line up with the text though - there will be a page of text on needlepainting, for example, but the illustrations only turn up three pages later - but it's a minor inconvenience.

There are six chapters in all, covering the major stylistic eras. The pages are thick glossy paper with some stunning full-colour pictures, and the layout takes good advantage of all that extra space with frequent use of diagrams like these:

Pages 28 and 29 from Chapter 1, "The Elizabethan Embroiderer"

Please pardon my fingers in the photos, but I had to hold the pages flat somehow!

This is a typical layout for what I came to think of as the "inspiration" pages: photos (often colour) of historic pieces and ephemera with complimentary themes/links on one side with B&W sketches showing how the motifs might be adapted for new work on the other. These inspiration illustrations were done by Belinda Downes.

Page 24, close-up, from Chapter 1, "The Elizabethan Embroiderer"

Other design examples, like this blackwork grapevine with filling stitch suggestions, actually came from embroidery books, patterns, magazines, or manuals of the time. These types of details make the book an amazing scrapbook-like assemblage of all kinds of interesting bits that place the works within the cultures of their own times. Indeed, in the Introduction (8), Beck says that it was just simple curiosity as to how and why these things were made that led her to dig deeper into the past:

"Histories, biographies, novels, diaries and poems provided some answers, and I began piecing snippets of information together, as one might a collage, hoping thereby to build up a picture of what is was like to be an embroiderer at that time."

As a result, reading the book feels like undertaking that journey of discovery right alongside Beck as she rifles through all sorts of sources and displays examples for us to enjoy. It's a general history of styles, and so is not a project book or stitch guide but rather a sort of inspirational research journal. But there are technique hints:

Pages 60 and 61 from Chapter 3, "The Georgian Embroiderer"

As an example, this small diagram actually shows the best way to work tambour embroidery, in a laced frame or the tight hoop from which the method gets its name (a tambour is a type of drum, and refers to the tight tension necessary for the work). It actually makes a great deal of sense that the illustrations of older times were so intricate as most readers had limited literacy and printers had limited book space!

Here is one of my favourite examples of historical needlework in the book:

This twining floral design, worked with silks on a hostess apron in 1736 (page 63, Chapter 3) is still so beautiful! I really like the heavy shading in the center carnation, which looks a little like a whirligig with its fringed petals, and the roses :)

This sort of twining vine-based floral embellishment was very popular in this time, as also shown on this handsome crewelwork waistcoat from the 1740s (71, Chapter 3).

Page 104, close-up, from Chapter 5, "The Victorian Embroiderer"

Brightly coloured wools surged in popularity in the Victorian era when new dyes were developed; unfortunately, many of them were unstable and many works did not survive. A style of counted embroidery known as "Berlin Woolwork" soon became a fad (much criticized for poor taste and lack of style in its time!), and was the direct ancestor of modern cross-stitch! I really love this style, which is based on florals and geometrics with shading so intense that it often clashes. It is amazing to think that the hand-painted graphed charts eventually gave way to the craft we know today :)

Among the other odds and ends, each chapter also has a delightfully imagined pincushion drawn by quilter Paddy Killer. All her illustrations for this book can be seen on this page. My favourite one is this Victorian sewing garden (Chapter 5, 115)!

Towards the end of the era, the influence of the modernizing Arts & Crafts movement lead by William Morris becomes evident, with a preference for naturalistic motifs. These tiny Christening mittens embroidered by his daughter May Morris are sweet :)

Here is my absolute favourite work in this book, a blackwork and goldwork pillow:

Amazingly, although it looks eras older, this is a 20th Century reproduction! The caption (141; photo on 140, Chapter 6) says: "Fascination with Elizabethan history and embroidery led Jack Robinson to take up blackwork, explore the intricate patterns and then devise his own, as in this book cushion, 1992."

I really love the diamond windowpane border, the way the gold sparkles against the black, and the scattering of seed pearls throughout the embroidery. No flower seems to be exactly alike in shape or filling! It's just so elegant and striking :)

In the previous eras, needlework was fairly strictly limited to the popular culture of the time, with fads that came and went. But the Twentieth-Century Embroiderer has the option to break all those old bonds as well as honor them, and so Beck spends the final chapter with new works inspired by old techniques. This colourful "Passion for Tulips" feltwork by Jennifer Wilson (1994, page 153) is an example of this freedom.

It is so easy to take our creative impulses for granted! Although this book is very encouraging and inspiring, reading through the various styles really brings home how important popular culture was to needlework. You did whatever was "in", whether you liked it - or were good at it! - or not. And then the next fad came along, and you abandoned your old work as being of no value and moved on to the newest craze.

The accomplishment was in the act of creating, not so much the actual creation. It's absurd to think today that ladies in the Victorian era once took up certain styles of crafting just to show off their wrists to potential suitors! Or that needlework was just another dreary "domestic art" one had to master in order to wed and live well.

On the other hand, it is encouraging to imagine these same ladies cozily crafting around a parlour in the evenings, chatting and laughing with friends while they worked at their needlework or crochet or knitting, proud to show off their skills to one another :) As bloggers, perhaps that is what we do too, only now we are free to create whatever we will, whenever we please. It is a privilege we should cherish!

And the final thing that caught my eye is this illustration by Paddy Killer towards the end of the book (page 154, Chapter 6). It's an imagining of The Embroiderer's Story - and Beck's other books - as a searchable digital resource. Wouldn't that be cool?!