Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pretty In Pink

It's February, and that means it's camillia time in northern California. Another favorite of mine, the shy little daphne with its heady perfume, is also in bloom now....and everywhere the bright daffodils are beginning to appear in clumps along the highways, as well as in surprising and sometimes forgotten patches in everyone's yard....

These are some of the camillias I have blooming in my yard. I do love the peppermint striped ones...Although the very first ones to appear around here are a frilly pink confection called "Debutante." They are so frothy and festive, they always remind me of plump pink corsages, and the bushes are always overflowing with them, as if they are eagerly waiting to be picked for valentine bouquets, proms and high-school dances.

As I walk my dog Katie around the Healdsburg neighborhood, I love to see which camillias are blooming. And there are LOTS of big camillia bushes here - practically trees, especially around the older houses that originally belonged to the early wine country inhabitants who built these lovely older victorians, bungalows, cottages, and country farmhouses.

After I picked a bunch of camillias this weekend, it got me thinking about some of the pink stitchery projects I had around the house. Pink and green are my favorite color combinations, so I have a lot of projects with those colors. And, left to myself, I will always prefer to do a stitchery project in that color combination.

Here are two of my favorite projects: one is the PINK CYCLAMEN piece in the background. The center picture is done in plain ole' tent stitch (well, okay, I actually do basketweave stitch), but it is surrounded by rows of little ribbon patterns that are worked in #8 pearl cottons. I've worked my piece on 24ct Congress Cloth, but every time I look at it, I think it would also look quite elegant stitched on 18 ct mono canvas, and then you need only stitch out to the wide pink ribbon - and THEN you could finish it in a box pillow with pink velveteen backing. I can SEE this pillow very clearly...sigh....if only I could SNAP MY FINGERS and have it completely stitched and finished!!!

And the smaller pillow in front is quite an old piece. The image is from a scrap of wallpaper I loved, and so I transfered the flowers and border to canvas and stitched it up with wool yarns. Although it's supposed to be a bouquet of roses, I think it looks rather like a handful of camillias....so I think it's particularly appropriate for this time of year!

If you think about it, aren't we stitchers lucky to be able to create our own gardens that never wilt or fade?....and no matter what the weather, we can be surrounded by our favorite flowers - all because we know the simple joys of using a needle and thread!

My Jewel Box

My eleven-year-old niece was helping me put price tags on a bunch of my patterns, for a craft show I was attending that following weekend. When she got to the pattern with this picture on it, she asked," Why is this one called JEWEL BOX? It doesn't look like a jewelry box to me...."

So I had to explain to her the play on words for this pattern: there are boxes within boxes within boxes, and all the sparkling sections look like jewels. Unfortunately, the photo doesn't do this design justice. You just can't see all the sparkle, hidden in all the little boxes, or used to outline the different size squares. There are even some large #8 beads sprinkled thruout the piece, but they're hard to see in this photo....

Interestingly enough, when I was at the San Mateo Sew & Quilt Show last weekend, one of my favorite stitchers, Ellie (who was working in her booth down the row) came by my booth with her finished, framed version of JEWEL BOX. She had stitched it in blues, teals and golds, and it was beautifully framed in a brushed teal/blue frame. It is so much fun for me to see someone else's version of this design! I really encourage stitchers to make their own color choices and enjoy the creative process of mixing and matching threads for their own unique project.

And I really like this design. So much so that I've started stitching another colorway (see photo below). It uses a variegated pearl cotton that I dyed myself; something that has pale pinks - almost peachy - with soft spring greens, and a touch of pale lilac. I've got this design mounted on a Grip-It scroll frame that's easy for me to carry to shows, where I can sit and stitch during the slow times. I'm in no hurry to finish this project... I've got plenty of other projects that MUST BE DONE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, but when I go to a show, I take something that is easy to work, and doesn't require too much concentration.

Although.....I'm thinking I'd like to turn this pink Jewel Box design into a panel that goes on the outside of a tote bag. One of my stitching friends, Chris, came to the craft show with a stunning tote bag custom-made by the finisher "Marlene's" in San Francisco. (Marlene is known for her fabulous needlepoint finishing, and each of her finished projects is absolutely fantastic. Check out her website.)
Anyway, Chris' large tote bag was made out of quilted velour fabric and it had a square canvaswork design inserted on the side of the bag. It was REALLY, REALLY GORGEOUS!
And of course, I thought, "Oh my gosh! What a great way to display stitchery!" I mean, after a while it becomes a challenge figuring out what you're going to do with another finished piece of needlework. I have a really small house and no more wall space for stitchery. (Yes, I already rotate my designs seasonally or when I get tired of looking at them...) And I certainly have more than enough pillows (don't we all?).......

But TOTE BAGS! One can never have enough tote bags, don't you agree?!?!?
...so here's my future tote bag panel under way......

Monday, February 26, 2007

Why "The Two-Handed Stitcher"?

Once upon a stitching time, there was a stitchery store in Palo Alto, CA called "The Ugly Duckling." It was located in what originally was a big barn belonging to Leland Stanford (as in Stanford University). Over time it was eventually turned into a charming assortment of shops plus the usual bank, hair salon, ice cream parlor, etc. But the best shop was, of course, the cozy and charming stitchery store....which at that time was primarly filled with cross stitch stuff.

They also had an intriguing assortment of classes. I was especially fascinated by a series of classes on BLACKWORK. A technique I hadn't ever seen up close and personal before. And I was smitten! The series of classes started out with a small project, just to get a feel for blackwork.... Then there was a more advanced sampler of blackwork designs....Then a medium sized medieval grouping of monks.... And finally, the PIECE DE RESISTANCE -- a HUGE elongated drawing of a medieval woman (taken from an English brass rubbing) with what looked to my dazzled eyes to be about 100 different blackwork patterns, plus gold couched outlines and real gold leather applique on her dress. WELL! I really had to take this series of classes, because I just had to learn this gorgeous technique!

I believe the teacher's name was Diane Owens, and she was a lover of ALL THINGS ENGLISH. She had extensive training in English embroidery techniques, so she was an especially wonderful teacher for this fascinating and traditional blackwork technique. I remember the class was a rather small group of women, all as excited about this piece as I was. And we all got to choose our own colors for this medieval lady; most stitched her in black, but someone stitched her in burgundy, someone else chose dark blue, and I chose a dark forest green.

We sat in a circle in the store, and each of us had a big Dazor magnifier light to use - a real luxury in those days! We even had the opportunity to buy a real English floor stand, that we learned to use properly: basting heavy carpet/twill tape along the edges of our fabric, then positioning the long, massive side bars to provide optimum stability and tautness to our long length of laced-up fabric.

Working on this huge project was so different from any other small, hand-held cross stitch project I had ever done. We all sat stitching with intense concentration, totally focused on our variety of minute and elaborately stitched blackwork patterns. And time and time again, the teacher would insist, cajole, and encourage us to use both hands to stitch. "I know it feels awkward at first," she said, "but if you work at keeping one hand on top of the fabric, and one hand under the fabric, you can pass the needle from one hand to the other, and over time it really will become more natural to you."

And she was right. Over the years, stitching with two hands has become second nature to me, and I simply don't feel comfortable stitching any other way. Of course, the advantages of two-handed stitching became immediately apparent and quite attractive to me because I realized I could stitch FASTER, and thus could get projects done quicker....which also meant I could start even MORE projects sooner. Yes, I definitely became hooked on stitching with two hands.....

And, oh, yes....I also fell in love with blackwork. Which set me off on a life-long quest to find suitable ways to incorporate traditional blackwork techniques in other, more contemporary settings.

And, yes, I'll admit there are some drawbacks to two-handed stitching.
...and as for the use of laying tools.....
....well, I'll leave those topics for another time, okay?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

February Makes Me Shiver....

Although I've been reading blogs for some time now, I've hemmed and hawed about actually starting my own blog. I've told myself that it's too much extra work; just another chore to add to the long list of stuff to get done every week....

But this last weekend in February has been grey and blustery in Northern California (great stitching weather, actually) and after printing patterns for days and days I needed a break. It was too yucky to go outside and walk the dog, so instead I went for a friendly "walk" around some favorite blog sites, just to get a peek at the stitching projects of others. I'm invariably amazed, delighted, inspired, and energized after reading and seeing what projects others are working on....

"Okay," I said to myself, "Maybe it's really time to start my own blog now, so I can share with other stitchers the projects and ideas that I'm working on." I'm planning to show some of the new projects I'm working on; give you preview "peeks" at new designs in progress, as well as show new releases that will eventually be available on my website. I intend to pass along stitchery contemplations; serendipitous stitching events that occur in my life; and also share some of the many stitching ideas that fill my head. (ah, so many ideas, so little time...and too few hands to get them all stitched fast enough)

Sooooo, here it is....the beginning of my own blog, dedicated to the love and art of stitching, stitching, and MORE STITCHING!

And to celebrate this new beginning for me, I'm sharing with you a photo of the very latest quilt in my American Quilt Collection. It's called, appropriately enough, "MARDI GRAS."
It's meant to celebrate the rebirth of hope & optimism....so, I wanted to do something a little more jazzy, with a feel of sparkling confetti or jewels, with lots of color and movement. It uses Caron Watercolours "African Sunset" - which has a fun mix of purples, pinks and oranges. And I also went a little crazy adding metallic Ribbon Floss (my latest thread addiction) and have actually sprinkled 4 or 5 different soft metallic colors thruout the design. Initially, I decided to put a calming brown border on the design, but after I stitched a good part of it, I realized a purple border would also be really zingy...and so, for you purple lovers out there, I have added that color suggestion/option on the pattern. And for you bead lovers, you can definitely add a variety of beads in the diamond centers, or maybe sprinkle them randomly thruout the overall design....
(FYI: I'll be adding MARDI GRAS to my website very soon....I'm currently printing it and sending it off to my distributors this week. After they have received their copies, I will be adding it on my website.)