Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category
Sunday, March 27th, 2016
Counted thread is my embroidery forte. Oh, I dabble in stumpwork and crewel and random acts of needleart, but my expertise is in embroidery that can be counted and gridded: cross stitch, blackwork, hemstitching, Hardanger, etc. That means it’s based on squares, lines, and right angles.
I hate to say it, but sometimes that bums me out. Sometimes I’m drawn to circles and curves. What’s a counted-thread girl to do when she’s feeling contrary and craving curves?
Well, I’ll tell you . . .
One option is to fake curves with strategic step downs and/or fractional stitches that enable 45-degree angles. We used the step-down method to create round(ish) frames around the Portraits of the Wild Life and the planets in The Neighborhood.
We use this method a lot.
We also used a lot of fractional stitches in the wolf and other animals to get beyond the square issue.
The wolf from Portraits of the Wild Life
The Neighborhood cross stitch pattern by Funk & Weber Designs.
Stitching threads and wires to the surface by couching allows for real curves, but, then, is this really counted thread? I think not.
The curved scribbles on this bookmark are couched.
Countable Stitches that Create Curves
And then there are counted stitches that create curves. Three of my favorites are crescent stitches, button-hole wheels (spider webs and all other wheels), and something else with a name I don’t remember that works like a closed-circle crescent stitch.
So I’m doodling in my design program, playing with stitches that create curves and circles. Those stars or rotating squares or whatever you want to call them will create circles when stitched.
Curves and circles
Or maybe . . .
Curves and Circles Playground
Yeah, this is what I do.
Sunday, February 28th, 2016
In talking about this embroidery recently, I realized that multiple stories are wrapped up in this piece. It’s time to unwrap them so I can see them all.
Fall, in Pieces cross stitch pattern.
The Season and Color
First, there is the colorful autumn-leaf motif. Fall is Mike’s favorite time of year. He likes the temperature, the colors, and the end of a the busy summer season. It’s time to play outside.
I, too, am a fan of the colors. Growing up on the east coast, I loved the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows of maples, oaks, tulip poplars, and other deciduous trees. Here in Alaska, we don’t have that variety of trees: the birches, aspens, cottonwoods, and willows all turn yellow; there are no autumn-red trees and only an occasional autumn-orange one, usually an aspen on its way to yellow.
Autumn aspens are brilliant yellow.
A touch of orange on an autumn aspen.
But there is red fireweed and bearberry, orange dwarf birch. In fact, when you get down to it—literally down—Alaska has the same brilliant fall colors as the easy coast; they’re just on the ground rather than against the sky.
Autumn red and orange tundra
It’s a Puzzle
Like Puzzle Pisces, the pattern is a jigsaw puzzle. I like that. And I like the puzzle-y title, Fall, in Pieces, with its multiple meanings.
It’s a puzzle!
Another behind the Fall, in Pieces stitchery is how the delicious Gentle Art threads were used. The subtle variegation of the overdyed threads lend themselves to natural color variations and changes, but how they’re used—how they’re manipulated and stitched up—matters.
With traditional linear cross stitching, the pattern of overdyed threads is striped. But autumn leaves aren’t striped. Used this way, the natural colors yield unnatural results.
Don’t get me wrong, stripes can be a cool effect, but it wasn’t what I was after.
I stitched some test leaves to practice, stitching both legs of each cross before moving to the next stitch, and stitching randomly to avoid stripes. The first leaves were too mottled. The effect was better than stripes, but still not the more natural look I was after.
While it’s more mottled than I wanted for the project, it’s lovely on its own, so I made it a bookmark.
So I altered my approach and stitched “blobs” of color; that is, I stitched six squares that all touched in some random way, then moved on to a blob of nine squares. The groups—”blobs”—were irregular shapes that fit together like puzzle pieces.
Aside: By the way, we have a tutorial for stitching with overdyed threads.
I liked this look. It was fun to see the leaves take shape and color, as there was always an element of surprise due to the somewhat random stitching. That was different from other stitching I’d done.
I brought pretty leaves inside for inspiration. And if I didn’t like the look of a leaf in the end, I ripped it out and had another go, certain the next version would be different and excited to see how.
Mike made the oak frame. Roz (professional framer) cut the mats. I stretched and laced the embroidery to the backing. Mike put it all together.
While I had ideas for non-traditional framing of this piece, we opted for traditional because it was a model for the pattern. That Mike made the frame made it easier to give up my creative vision.
Puzzle Contest Launch
The pattern was so long in the making that I had plenty of time to plan and set up a launch. Zweigart and Gentle Art donated the fabric and threads for the first prize of a complete kit. Nine runners up got free patterns.
Five stitchy blogger friends agreed to participate, hiding pieces to the puzzle contest within posts on their blogs during the week-long contest. That means readers from all participating blogs learned about and could take part. We had over 4,000 stitchers playing our game!
So much fun!
Of course, I made things as complicated and convoluted as possible. It’s what I do. There were actually two contests: One was merely hide and seek, so anyone could participate, and players got one entry for each found item. The other contest involved solving puzzles, and players got additional entries for solving. The answers to the first four puzzles of the week were anagrams of the pattern title, Fall, in Pieces.
The final puzzle was to was to anagram those letters again to come up with the pattern title, and thus the subject of the pattern, which had not been revealed. More entries were earned for getting this one right.
Believe it or not, several people got the answer. Others got respectably close.
Entries were stored in a file; the Random Number Generator was consulted; and Bev was our first-place winner.
The Grand Prize Winner: Bev. She completed the puzzle in her version of the pattern. How great is this?
Now we all know one of the stories behind Bev’s pillow!
Building Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge
The launch took place while I was helping to build Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge. I was connected to the contest and entries via shaky satellite Internet from inside the cook tent, with black bears roaming about outside.
So, you see, this pattern contains a bunch of stories.
Have you stitched it? What story does it contain for you? I’d love to hear it!
Get the Pattern
The printed chart for Fall, in Pieces is available in our shop.
Sunday, February 14th, 2016
I am a backstitch fan and believer. I know that stitchers complain about doing it, claiming it takes a long time, but I think most agree that backstitch can have a significant impact. Many who dislike the process appreciate the result.
As is true with most things, there’s more than one way to work backstitching. The stitch is the same, but the way it’s applied to a design is different.
I’m talking about sketch backstitches versus edge-following backstitches. I don’t know if “sketch backstitch” is an official name or not, but I think it’s a good and accurate one. I was originally calling the others—the edge-following ones—”regular” backstitch, but that seemed judgmental. These are the backstitches that I’ve always known, though, this sketch backstitch is “new” by comparison. It also seems a bit localized, more used and popular in Europe than here in the US.
As you can guess, edge-following backstitches follow pattern edges. Curves and angles are stair-stepped unless the underlying stitches are fractional stitches. An example is this wolf from the Funk & Weber Designs pattern, Portraits of the Wild Life.
This wolf uses edge-following backstitches, stair steps for curves, and fractional stitches for angles.
Fractional stitches produce clean, angled edges.
The “oval” frame is stair stepped, and the wolf’s eyes, ears, and face are full of fractional stitches, three-quarters of one color, one-quarter of another. All the backstitching follows the stair steps and the angles in the fractional stitches.
Aside: We have a tutorial on fractional stitches that shows how to choose which color should be chosen for the 3/4, etc.
Sketch backstitches, on the other hand, can go any which way, crossing whole stitches on an angle, cutting off corners of underlying stitches. This example is “Frosty Friends Christmas stocking,” by Margaret Sherry, from the 2009 issue of Enjoy Cross Stitch at Christmas. Many thanks to Arctic Needle Karen for providing it!
Sketch backstitch ignores the corners of underlying cross stitches.
Note, in particular, the three areas within the green circles. I put those circles there; they’re not part of the pattern . . . in case you were wondering. See how the backstitches cross over whole cross stitches below them, leaving part of the cross outside the outlined design?
Now, let’s back away and look at the overall effect.
From a distance, do you notice the way sketch backstitches ignore underlying stitches? I don’t. I think this is adorable!
From a distance, the sketch backstitch appears similar to edge-following backstitches. Up close, however, it looks messy to me, like we’ve colored outside the lines.
Now, coloring outside the lines is a concept I support and promote, but not in this way. The feeling I get from sketch backstitch is that someone was in a hurry or being lazy and both literally and figuratively was cutting corners. The stray colors outside the backstitching draw my eye, calling attention to themselves, which I’m pretty sure is not the intent.
I also sense that the backstitches are disconnected from the underlying stitches: a separate layer on top, as opposed to being an integral part of the whole.
Overall, I’m not a fan.
An Exception (There’s Always One)
And then Arctic Needle Karen presented an idea I hadn’t considered: This is a kids’ cartoon pattern. What if we think of it as a coloring-book page? In that light, doesn’t coloring outside the lines make sense and add an interesting aspect to the piece?
I have to say it does. And that got me thinking about other ways and times sketch backstitches might be used to good effect. So far, I haven’t come up with anything I want to pursue, but this one example alone makes me think there could be situations where I’d like sketch backstitches. I welcome your suggestions and examples!
Tips, Tricks, & Brilliant Ideas
In the end, you can alter a pattern to use sketch backstitches or not, as you see fit. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to reject patterns that use them. Just use edge-following backstitches instead.
Likewise, if you hate backstitching, or if you hate fractional stitches, exchange them for sketch backstitches and whole stitches. It’s your embroidery. Your opinion matters most. Do your thing!
I’d love to see that wolf pattern in all whole stitches with sketch backstitches. I don’t think I’ll like it better, but I’d like to see it. Anyone game?
So what do you think? Do you like the look of sketch backstitches or don’t you?
Fractional Stitches in Cross stitch
In Praise of the Humble Backstitch
What Color for Backstitches?
How to Read a Cross Stitch Pattern
Stitching Over Two Threads
Sunday, January 17th, 2016
Amy Meissner, Textile Artist. Anchorage, Alaska.
Recycling needlework is a topic I ponder for a number of reasons:
- I see offloaded needlework in thrift stores and want to rescue it.
- After creating most things, I’m done with it and want to offload it myself, but there’s something about this that bothers me. Several things, really.
- I’ve received a good deal of hand-me-down needlework from my grandmother and aunt that I don’t wish to offload, but that I don’t exactly know what to do with.
My friend, Amy Meissner, is a textile artist who seeks hand-me-down needlework for use in her art. She’s actually doing what I merely dream of doing, and she’s doing it thoughtfully and beautifully, in a way that only Amy can.
As I sort out my own evolving thoughts on the subject, I asked Amy some questions which she kindly took the time to answer.
You can draw and paint and do all kinds of art. Why do you choose needlework as your medium?
My work life started when I was 17 and I entered the clothing industry. I’d learned home sewing and embroidery from my mother when I was really young, but was now learning about production sewing, cutting and pattern drafting in small factories at a young age, too. Even though I left the clothing industry when I turned 30, none of the skills left me. I feel like handwork is my default motion, some kind of muscle memory. I never have to reinvent the wheel with this art form, I can just pick a point and jump in any direction from a platform of deep knowledge and history. I still draw and paint, but sometimes it’s more to get a quick idea down or explore the conceptual nature within a series or work.
When my children were toddlers and babies, this was the one thing I could sit and do with them beside me. Watercolor? No. Paint canvases? No. Write? No. Knit? No. But I could stop and start handwork all day long, and still do.
“Reliquary #3: Catch” (25.75″ x 25.75″) Vintage domestic linens, silk organza, wool, abandoned embroideries & quilts, found object. Machine pieced, hand embroidered & quilted, 2015.
“Reliquary #3: Catch,” detail.
I know that you come from a long line of needleworkers. What was needlework to you as you were growing up? Was the handwork of your family significant to you or just something that they did?
My mother was taught embroidery in school in Sweden, along with knitting, crocheting, sewing and cooking (how civilized), so when she was teaching me at 3 and 5 and 9, there was this constant reference to my teacher: “If your teacher saw the back of a this cross stitch, she’d make you take it out,” or “You can’t leave a big snarl on the front of the canvas, your teacher wouldn’t let you pass her class,” and “Your seam allowance is less than 5/8”, your teacher would make you take out all the stitching and re-do this seam.”
Who the hell was this teacher?
I think it was my mother’s way of distancing herself a bit and trying not to be the heavy while teaching this incredibly sensitive child who cried whenever she couldn’t do something perfect the first time. I also think it speaks to some kind of European Sewing Teacher PTSD. The frightening thing is that I hear myself saying it to my 6-year-old.
So yes, the handwork was significant and it was also something one did. I think it was hard for my mom when I just wanted to curl up with a book because this wasn’t something anyone ever did on the farm when she was growing up. Reading just wasn’t productive.
“Reliquary #2: Keep” (32.5″ x 32.5″) Wool, silk, cotton voile & velvet, vintage linens & drapery, hair, found objects. Machine pieced, hand embroidered & quilted, 2015.
“Reliquary #8: Scroll” (3″ x 325″, installation dimensions variable) Vintage domestic linens & drapery, abandoned quilts & embroideries, silk organza, found objects. Machine pieced, hand embroidered, 2015.
How do you feel about inherited needlework? What do you do with it, and what does it mean to you?
I have made the grumbling choice to haul around inherited needlework for 20+ years. I had a freak out and got rid of a layer right before my first baby was born in some kind of effort to “make room in my life,” and my husband insisted on sitting there the entire time so I wouldn’t mistakenly get rid of the wrong things and regret it later when I wasn’t so hormone infused. For the record, I didn’t get rid of anything that was clearly made for me or that I knew the origins of, but there were stacks of things that had mysteriously come my way. Even Swedes need to clean out their closets and it must have seemed like a good idea to send the stuff to America.
Like, to me.
The first time I cut up a doily and used it in a piece of artwork, I think I was expecting a bolt of lightning from Great Grandmother Nanny and a smoldering hole at my feet, but instead I felt this lovely liberation and new-found reverence. Now I could live with these items without … living with them.
“Vein #3″ (16″ x 16″ x 2”) Vintage domestic linens, unspun wool fiber, silk organza mesh, found objects. Hand felted, machine & hand embroidered, hand quilted, upholstered onto cradled board, 2015. *Private collection.
“Vein #3,” side detail.
How do you feel about handwork from unknown sources, things you find in thrift stores and at yard sales? What about the sheer quantity of unused, unwanted needlework out there?
The quantity speaks to the human need to create. The resurgence of needle arts speaks to this as well, even if people don’t realize that creating makes them feel good, it still makes them feel productive and this alone feels good. Without going into brain imagery of knitters while knitting, just know this: brains are hormone infused in a good way and people other than grannies like to feel high.
Unwanted handwork makes me feel melancholy. Especially if it’s really fine (flip it over, check out the back), but even more so if it’s an unfinished kit. There’s so much hope and vision still lingering there in those (mostly) hideous projects. My mother is on a personal crusade to finish all these abandoned thrift store kits. I’m on a journey to re-use them as they are, the uglier the better.
Crowdsourced doilies, Amy Meissner
Crowdsourced potholders, Amy Meissner
What might recycling needlework do for art, the needlework craft, the individual recycled pieces, the people who made them, you, and the rest of us?
I guess there’s always the danger of making more crap out of existing crap, so I try to be thoughtful and treat each item like it’s irreplaceable — because it is. I think I’ve only cut up one thing and decided not to use it and this still feels like a travesty. If one approaches any material as an unlimited source, you end up with garbage in the end because it is difficult to respect it. The flip side is that you treat everything as if it’s precious, and then you suffer from paralysis, so I walk a fine line between these two conversations in my head: “Plan your cut because this is the only one in existence,” vs. “Oh, just cut this all up, there’s gobs more out there.” Both conversations are crucial for forward movement and reverence.
There is a difference between a “Crafter” and a “Crafts-person,” and this dual conversation is one facet of that difference. Another facet is a true understanding of a material and a willingness to continue learning from and pleasing a phantom teacher in order to know this material before you start breaking all the rules.
Cycling through these old textiles gives me far more inspiration than entering any fabric store. But it goes beyond inspiration and historical + environmental responsibility, I love the idea of story and presenting old stories in contemporary ways. It’s a huge challenge to make a doily feel contemporary.
Work in Progress, Amy Meissner
Work in Progress #2, Amy Meissner
Work in Progress #3, Amy Meissner
Jen’s Response to Amy’s Answers
And there it is: story.
This is the core of my own interest in needlework and desire to create. It’s why Mike and I started designing: we wanted images of our own story. I suspect it’s why you choose a certain pattern.
Maybe my create-and-offload practice is part of my story.
I’m pretty sure that what draws me to thrift-store needlework are the stories I imagine behind the discarded pieces.
Work in Progress #4, Amy Meissner
Work in Progress #5, Amy Meissner
Work in Progress #6, Amy Meissner
Amy is currently collecting needlework items for use in her work. She has a well-thought-out process for doing so because she wants to keep the stories and information about each donated piece intact as much as possible. That’s a monumental (sometimes impossible) job, of course. If you would like to contribute, drop Amy a line, and she will send you further instructions that will include things like this:
-unfinished or abandoned embroideries — cross stitch, needlepoint, crewel
-unused/partially used embroidery kits — the kind with patterns printed onto fabric (not color-printed, but the type with lines to follow)
-crocheted doilies or fancy hot pads/pot holders (not the normal sewn and insulated hot pads, these are more like thick, decorative doilies to hang in the kitchen but not necessarily use).
please pin a little tag to the needlework with the following information (often this information won’t be available, but every once in a while there may be a clue/slip of paper/etc., otherwise label items where you found them):
MAKER: (this can be “Unknown”)
ORIGIN AND/OR LOCATION FOUND: (If you don’t know, you can use your location as the “found location”)
YEAR: (this can also be “Unknown” or your best guess)
+ any other details you wish to include about your connection to this work if you have some. Hand written is fine.”
To see how Amy is currently using needlework donations, check out this wonderful blog post, titled “Splitting Open the Idea.” Amy is a delightful writer. In fact, I initially met her years ago as an Alaska author/illustrator.
She also has a series of posts in which she shows us, in detail, donations she’s received and the stories behind and within them. Grab a cuppa, and give yourself time to read and look. Amy is doing something important and remarkable as she recycles needlework. I feel connected to it and grateful for it, and I suspect you will, too. I just might donate some of my family’s handwork because I want to be a part of Amy’s story.
What are your thoughts on the story behind your own needlework and any recycled needlework in our life?
Sunday, January 3rd, 2016
Tropical Fish Cross Stitch Pattern
The Funk & Weber Designs Puzzle Pisces piece (say that five times, fast) is a collection of colorful tropical fish. One of the first things Mike taught me when we got together was how to snorkel and scuba dive. He had studied marine biology, had done two stints as a biological observer on Korean fishing boats in Alaska, and was a frequent visitor to Hawaii, as well as an occasional visitor to other tropical locations. Of course I was going to learn to dive!
Mike and Jen scuba diving at South Point in Hawaii.
Three guesses what I like best about tropical fish—and the first two don’t count. That’s right: the bright colors. It’s a toss up to me which is more appealing: the adorable, furry, doe-eyed creatures or the brilliant, colorful, feathered/winged/scaled creatures.
As far as stitching animals goes, it’s a no-brainer: Give me the colors!
The Pattern Puzzle
Though we had a computer and needlework design software at this point, Mike chose to work by hand with a pencil and graph paper. Mike drew all his favorite fish and those that were most colorful—which would be me my favorite fish.
Fitting as many fish as possible in the chosen rectangle shape was a bit of a puzzle. We solved it by cutting each fish out and fiddling with the arrangement, flipping some over to swim the opposite direction, separating fish of the same color, trimming some to be smaller, etc. I still have the graph-paper fish cutouts.
Fish cutouts (including a half fish!) used in the making of Puzzle Pisces.
While I loved the collection of colorful fish all on its own, I was compelled to make it different. The idea to make it a jigsaw puzzle came from the way Mike fiddled with the fish cutouts to squeeze as many into the available space as possible.
Mike wasn’t initially thrilled that I wanted to cut up and remove pieces from some of his beautiful fish, but he liked the puzzle idea and the subtle word-play title, Puzzle Pisces.
Neither of us was certain how the puzzle-piece backstitching would look. There was nothing to do but go for it and see how it came out.
This is how it came out, and we were thrilled!
I chose to have this one professionally framed because I wanted the mat to mirror the stray puzzle piece on the bottom: I wanted the mat to be cut in a puzzle-piece shape, and I believed the framer I chose could do it. This was well before digital mat cutting made complex cuts easy, but I’d seen other clever hand cutting she’d done, and this didn’t seem to me to be too hard.
I’m not sure if I failed to convey my idea clearly or if the framer chose a square cutout because the shape was too difficult or she was pressed for time or something else. Our relationship was not such that I felt comfortable pressing the issue. But I was disappointed. I would still like to see the mat at the bottom mirror the stray puzzle piece.
Will someone please have that done?
A very young Mike with lots of hair and a parrot fish. The colors are brighter when the fish is in the water.
I’m afraid I was also disappointed in the printing of the charts. The cover image didn’t (doesn’t) do the needlework justice. The image is dark, and it’s too small to show the wonderful details. Oh, the blame is all mine: My photography and file set-up skills weren’t (still aren’t) the best, but this has always been a DIY operation, and I did my best with the equipment, knowledge, and skills I had.
The chart, however, is clear and accurate. Yay!
Despite the framing and printing kerfuffles, this is still a beloved pattern, and one we are very proud to have in our arsenal.
Snorkeling with tangs and butterfly fish.
The Pattern: Several Options
Because we started with all the fish in the rectangle, and then added puzzle-piece outlines and removed some pieces, the chart includes both options. You can stitch the fish as we did—like an incomplete puzzle—or as a completed puzzle with all the pieces in and the puzzle outlines on top—or without the puzzle lines at all, just as a collection of gorgeous tropical fish.
The One That Got Away
Not all of the fish that Mike drew fit into the puzzle. The original clownfish was too big, so he became the mascot of the Funk & Weber Designs Live Trunk Show Tour. He was put into a small puzzle of his own and became the complimentary pattern that we gave away. He’s still available, if you’re interested.
Do you have a thing for tropical fish? Stitch your own Puzzle Pisces, and tell us your story!
8.5 x 11 printed chart, $12.00