Friday, August 29, 2008

How My (Stitching) Garden Grows...

When I first started designing patterns, I was totally focused on creating quilt patterns using variegated threads. I did lots and lots of them over the years.

Then I decided to venture down another path and into the garden. I've always drawn flowers, mostly in colored pencils. When I decided to start stitching flowers, I wanted to replicate the flowers as best I could with thread, instead of pencils. I decided to stitch on 24 ct. Congress Cloth, with DMC floss.

Here are a few of the flowers I stitched:




The challenge I gave myself was to try and capture the essence of each flower, using thread colors and stitch patterns. It was tricky finding very small patterns that would work in the petal areas, yet not detract from the overall look of the flowers. In many cases, I would use the same stitch, but change the direction in each petal to create movement, as well as change the light effect on the overall piece. You can see how I did it on the pansies below:

I look back and think, "How did I stitch all those flowers?!?" but when you're passionate about what you're doing, you don't think of it as work, just as a stitching challenge.... Yes, it was tedious, but in the end, the finished effect was well worth it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Here Come the Naked Ladies!

One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me was the love of flowers and plants. As far back as I can remember, my parents shared their love of growing things with my brother and sister and I in the simplest of ways - by observing and pointing out the flowers, plants and trees that grew all around us.

We would be driving in the car on a Sunday drive somewhere, and my Mom would say, "Oh, look! There are some naked ladies in that yard!" And of course, we kids would press our noses to the windows and say, "WHAT? WHERE?!?" And Mom would point to the tall pink flowers growing straight up out of the dirt, without any green leaves in sight, and say, "There they are! Look at them!"

I can still remember how funny we kids thought that was - that flowers could have such a shockingly appropriate, but silly name... And imagine my delight to find some of those very same Naked Ladies appearing in my front yard this summer!

Here they are, shyly revealing themselves a little bit every day...

until they're fully exposed in all their glowing pink glory:

They don't last long; they'll die back soon, and then their green leaves will appear, long after the flowers have bloomed in a chorus line of pink. So keep an eye out.... and don't be surprised if some Naked Ladies show up in your garden!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Drunk on Flowers

This weekend I visited my parents in the Bay Area.

Down the street from their home is a large organic vegetable garden where the gardener sells not only his many types of vegetables, but lots of flowers as well.

I took the opportunity to walk down with my camera and take some pictures (well, I took a LOT of pictures, actually). Here are just a few....

I've never seen so many unusual zinnias,

or huge dahlias growing up over my head...

And I've never seen so many bumble bees resting or actually sleeping inside the larger flowers, drunk with the intoxicating presence of so many flowers....

I could certainly relate! I too got slightly dizzy by all the flowers and after taking lots of photos, I staggered away, drunk on their overwhelming beauty and dazzling color combinations...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Twilight on the Trail

Here is another of my favorite abstract designs, TUCSON TWILIGHT. With the mellow purple and gold colors it truly glows with warm earthtone colors. When I designed it, I was thinking of the deep purple shadows of the desert, stretching out across a hot golden landscape. (But sometimes when people call to order it and call it "Tuscan Twilight", I don't correct them. It certainly COULD be a Tuscan twilight, too...don't you think?)

I enjoy thinking up fun (and easy) stitch combinations that also echo the theme of the design. I like the diagonal zig zag rows that create little spaces to add small flower motifs. This pattern reminds me of woven blanket patterns you find in the southwest. And check out the upper diagonal row of simple straight stitches - done with the variegated thread (Wildflowers 016 - "Bark") it has a very sophisticated look. Add some beads, and a very easy stitch looks very elegant.

I'm always amazed at how different patterns look when you change the texture or thickness of the thread. In these Impressionist Collection designs, I use the narrow borderlines to create two different stitching areas: the outer areas use 1 ply of the #5 Watercolours, and the central, inner area uses 1-2 ply of the finer Wildflowers thread. When the pattern "crosses the border" (as I say in the instructions) you continue the same pattern, but in the thicker thread...creating a darker, richer version of the pattern. I just LOVE the contrast between the two different areas. And as you can see in the photo of the whole design at the top, it creates depth, dimension, light changes, and drama. Looks very complex, doesn't it?

And here's one thing that's different about this pattern: I created two-colored borders. I had never tried that before and wanted to create a shadowed effect on the lower left corner. Instead of using just one color, I joined two border colors together by splicing/overlapping the colors. It's a simple enough technique, but not one that you see used very often. It's worth trying on canvases where you want the border to shadow the main design, and give it extra weight and dimension.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"For Amber Waves of Grain..."

I have to say that I love all my Impressionist Collection designs, because they are each so colorful and unique. Every one is a favorite. But... AMBER WAVES really is one of my all-time favorite designs.

The inspiration for this piece comes from the line in the song, AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL: "Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies; for amber waves of grain..." and I worked very hard to choose patterns that echoed those waving fields of grain. (Although, I have had some stitchers tell me they thought the title referred to golden ocean waves - which could also work!) I deliberately used wavy border lines in the design (instead of hard 90-degree angles) to soften the design and suggest organic movement of waving wheatfields. (Although, I confess that counting out and stitching those tent-stitched meandering lines were tedious - but well worth the effect when they were done!)

Anyway, one of the reasons I like this pattern is because I found so many of the patterns really fun to stitch. I loved the simple zig zag rows that suggest fields of grain. And the box pattern is another fun one to stitch (hmmm, I guess they could represent little cereal boxes!) The square patterns also remind me of flying over the country and looking down on all the fascinating patterns of farmland you can see from the sky.

And then the ungulating wavy rows are so simple and easy to's especially fun to watch the sequence of variegated colors appear in the rows. (The variegated threads I used were Watercolours and Wildflowers 036 "Tobacco" a satisfyingly surprising colorway of gold, raspberry and sage.) Between the fat rows, there are smaller rows stitched in metallics that add a subtle shimmer of copper and gold.

And I LOVED creating this really great wheat pattern in the lower half of the design. The gold bugle beads were added last, to create extra dimension and the added illusion of a waving wheatfield.

Notice that the same wheat pattern is stitched in two different thread weights - a fine thread in the center area, and a thicker thread in the border area. It's one of my most favorite stitching techniques, because it's actually very simple to execute, and yet it creates so much dimension, richness, and complexity to the overall look and feel of the piece.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Another Classic

The Pinwheel quilt block is another all-American classic. It's been around forever, and has always been a very popular pattern, whether done in traditional colors or more contemporary tones.

The very first pinwheel design I did in my AMERICAN QUILT COLLECTION was this one - plain old PINWHEELS:

I did it early in my designing days, and it's very simple in style and technique.
Back then, I was totally focused on highlighting the variegated thread. And you can see that there are no other solid colors - just the variegated blues and the ecru background. It's pretty plain, really.... (and to be honest, one of my least favorite quilt designs.)

Now we move along quite a few years.... and here's my second attempt, called COLOR STUDY: PINWHEELS.

This time, I've added several other simple stitches that are used in the pinwheel arms and the various background sections. All the different colors and stitch patterns create a LOT of movement in this design....maybe too much! This pattern hasn't been a great seller, but I often wonder if the thread colors didn't work as well as I intended. I used a favorite variegated Watercolours - 06, "Amethyst" - but somehow all the purples and greens get kind of muddy in this piece. No matter, I still like the optical illusion effect, and the way it takes a while for your eye to see all the spinning colors in the piece... (Oh well, you can't win 'em all....)

But I didn't give up on the pinwheel block, because - TA DA! - I used it again in this piece: PINWHEEL SPARKLERS.

This is such a happy piece. It's by FAR my favorite pinwheel pattern. It reminds me of a long summer's day - in July, maybe - with kids sitting on the curb, waiting for the parade to pass by, waving their brightly colored pinwheels in the breeze! If you look at the other pinwheel piece above, you'll notice I borrowed the same outer block border, but the layout is slightly different. And check out that wavy blue border! Doesn't that remind you of cool waves at the beach on a hot summer's day?

This pinwheel design just makes me happy every time I look at it. And it was a fun one to stitch up, too - so it gave me double the pleasure: in the doing and in the savoring after all the stitching was done! (And hey, you know what? Now that I look at it again, I'm thinking it would look really great in bright Halloweeny colors of oranges, purples and greens... ooohhh, now there's a "bewitching" idea for autumn.....)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Just a Peek...

I thought you might like to take a peek at the latest flower collage I'm working on right now... Can you guess which flower will go in the middle box?

HINT, HINT: It's a bright summer flower, and very casual.

I guess I'm in the mood for a really sunny, happy flower - done in pure yellow and peach tones (I'm using Watercolours' 88, Mountain Meadow, one of my favorite thread colors because it has so many flower colors in it.)

...And it's a perfect stitching project for those lazy, hazy days of summer!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Little Flag Waving

I've been inspired by Coni (SPINSTER STITCHER) who is starting a new project that she will be stitching during the Beijing Olympics. She's going to stitch a lovely American Flag project called "Patchwork of Peace." How appropriate!

After watching the opening ceremonies last night, I've decided to jump in to the Olympic Stitching Event by stitching up a little flag canvas I created from the photograph above. (I've been itching to have an excuse to start stitching on it, and now I have one! Isn't it amazing how eager we are to find ANY EXCUSE to start a new project? ....Never mind how many other projects we have ALREADY started in our project pile?....)

And of course, I'm off to the local stitchery store to get my threads...I'm thinking Splendor silks for the red, white and be blended with a simple basketweave stitch thruout (and maybe some discreetly padded borders!)

Well, I'm off to shop....Talk to ya later!

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Want to see some neat old embroidery charts that have been digitalized and offered free to the stitchers of the world? Visit MY AUNT'S ATTIC (click the link on the right.) You can then click on the charts shown and they enlarge for you to view them and THEN you can copy them to stitch!

Or like me, you can just browse through them and let their old-style beauty inspire you to pick up a needle and thread and START STITCHING!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It's A Classic!

Many years ago, I designed this LOG CABIN quilt design that had a decidedly Amish feel to it. The photo doesn't really show the truly rich jewel colors of the design, but you get the general idea....

Anyway, I've always wanted to do another version of the Log Cabin block. But this time I decided to focus on just ONE four-way block and have fun with the colors. Recently, I sat down and stitched up this version, which I call my CLASSIC LOG CABIN:

This version uses a variegated Watercolours (32 - "Passion") with primary reds, blues and greens and a deep navy background. And though you can't tell from the photo, I added some red sparkly Ribbon Floss in the blocks' "hearth of the home" centers, as well as along the outside border blocks.

Pure Americana, isn't it?

(DESIGN P.S.: I also wondered what this pattern would look like in another colorway. This is such a classic quilt pattern, and the design is so simple, but so strong - it's terrific for playing with color... So my Mom volunteered to stitch up an alternate version - in pinks and greens with a splash of lavender. I can't wait to see it...I'll post a picture of it when it's finished, so you can see it too.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Blackwork Mystery, part 3

I've posted the third and final part of my BLACKWORK MYSTERY SAMPLER on my website.

Here's what my finished model looks like:

I'm so very disappointed that you can't see the really bright, shiny metallic I used for the third "layer" of this design. If you look back at my threads photo, you can see the spool of shiny turquoise Kreinik blending filament that I used. Those are the tiny turquoise glints you get on this piece, when you finish adding your metallic work.

I particularly like using Kreinik's blending filament as a metallic accent in blackwork because it gives a really subtle but great ZINGY accent. It gives off these little zaps of sharp metallic lights throughout the piece, which is a surprise and delight to the eye.....Really! You'll just have to stitch with it yourself, to see what I mean....

Also, you'll see that the finished design has lots of "wagonwheel" elements in the overall piece. I've done many blackwork designs where I've stitched the wagonwheels in Kreinik blending filament and WOW, the effect is very elegant and eye-catching! You might like to try that option some time, too.

I'd like to point out at this time - after you've stitched parts 1 and 2 - that you have lots of options to fill in the remaining empty spaces. I've chosen the "wagonwheel" elements, but can you see how you can change the look of the patterns by adding other elements? Can you visualize how it might look if you put DIAMOND SHAPES or FLORAL SHAPES inside the circles, instead of the wagonwheels? And you can always put cross stitches, upright crosses or smyrnas just about anywhere. I've inserted a few cross stitches and upright crosses to show you how easy it is you add these simple elements in your blackwork patterns.

That's one of the fun things about doing blackwork: it's so geometric, you get to add or subtract the various elements you like into the pattern, thus creating new and different patterns every time you stitch. It's a good way to dabble in designing.... and a very fun way to play with colors, pattern density (how light/open or dark/filled you make your pattern) and pattern design.

And...for you bead lovers, there are lots of places to sprinkle some beads, if you so desire. On the final graph, you'll see some suggested places to put beads. Follow my lead, or feel free to bead it up to your own satisfaction!

Anyway, I hope you've enjoying stitching this little project with me!

(P.S: In my typical designer-eye style, as I was stitching this one I was leap-frogging ahead to more ideas for other projects...SO STAY TUNED FOR MORE FUN FUTURE PROJECTS!!!)

Friday, August 1, 2008

More Kimono Trios

As long as I'm showing you the kimono series, I thought I'd show you photos of the other two.....



They each use just one variegated colorway - with a trio of separate accent colors. And isn't the variety amazing? Pretty neat illusion, huh? Something to think about when you're stitching a project and you need a way to tie separate elements together. Remember: LET THE VARIEGATED THREAD DO THE WORK FOR YOU. This is a really good way to pick out thread colors. Find a variegated thread you like and then match your solid colors to it. Chances are, you won't go too far wrong if your colors match the variegated skein.

(And no, there isn't an autumnal trio. I think I ran out of kimono energy and never got back to designing the last in the series.....sigh, I'll just add it to the list of 1,534 other projects waiting to be created in my head....)