Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Luxurious but Practical! (Soap)

I would imagine that almost everyone who has ever held a tapestry needle and worked needlepoint has experienced the needle turning black and starting to be unpleasant as it goes through the holes of the canvas. I discovered a number of years ago, totally by accident, that using hand made soaps with natural ingredients stops this. It neutralizes the acids in the skin that causes it, - and I haven't had to discard a needle since.

There is also the factor of constant hand washing to keep our hands clean for stitching with fine fibers, and this can be hard on the skin - especially with commercial soaps, which are detergent based. ( I'm thinking I might need to order the "white" bar, as it has no scents and no exfoliating factors and is totally gentle on the skin - it's good for infants, too.)

Recently, my son Sam gave me a bar (generous, since he had bought a whole box) of the beautifully scented Almond Kiss, and I have loved it - these things last a very long time, so are well worth what they cost - in this case, not much. I used it up, so ordered more on Monday - and received it today. (Wednesday) Remarkable mail order service! Anyway, I had put a link on the side bar on this blog under "good stuff" - (you can also click on it here) so do be sure and go visit often. The blog is lots of fun, and I totally enjoy looking at it, as well as buying their good stuff. My mail box smells awfully good, too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Mermaid - Getting Started

I'm getting ready to start on this beautifu, fun canvas - and have found zillions of really pretty shiny and sparkly things in my stash. However, I 'm resisting the urge for "overkill" on too many novelty threads, as this would ruin the overall effect of the patterns and colors - would be very distracting. She needs plenty of "sparkle and shine," but not on every square inch - just enough for emphasis of certain elements.

Gail attached the beads before she sent the canvas, and I will leave them in place - I don't want to remove them and risk misplacing or putting them back incorrectly. I think I can stitch around them - and I love the big bead in her navel. This is one glam mermaid!

I just returned from a shopping spree @ the LNS here in Austin - actually buying "refills" for my stash, and learned from Kimberly Smith, who is also a designer, that Sharpie now has a set of many colors of the ultra fine point drawing pen I like to use. She assures me it is safe, so this is exciting news. Previously, in the ultra fine point, there has been only black - or maybe a blue one or red. I believe they are available at Target.

Monday, October 27, 2008

St. Francis and the Angels

I have always loved the verse from Psalms 91:11 that says "He hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." The story is that throughout the history of the worship of one God, it has been believed that each of us is divinely assigned at birth an invisible immortal spirit - that is a Guardian Angel, God's messenger, to guide our spirits through our earthly lives. Our personal Angels are especially dear to us in their protection and for their charity and compassion for our shortcomings!

I have painted angels in needlepoint off and on for the many years I have been designing, and about ten years ago did a series of "monthly" angels for a shop here in Austin - and for my wholesale. I thought I had discarded these scans long ago, but I was digging in an old filing cabinet in the garage today, and found an amazing stash of angel pictures. This is the November angel. More maybe tomorrow.

Another serious angel binge occurred in about 2002, when Anita Perry (Mrs. Rick Perry), the first lady of Texas, decided to decorate the enormous tree in the Mansion with angels that were 40 square inches. Apparently there weren't many out there. I was asked to do whatever I could come up with in a short period of time - and managed to design and paint 16 of them in about two weeks before I burned completely out. I never saw but one of them stitched and finished, but I'm sure the ladies did a lovely job. Anyway, the first one here was inspired by the Mexican Tlaquepaque pottery that I collected while living in Mexico - there are two of them, but the color is so bad on the second one I'm not showing it. My ink cartridge was running out of color, and I didn't have time to replace it. The change of color at the bottom of her dress is due to no ink left.

The angel with the irises is probably my favorite, but the pansies were also very pretty - unfortunately, the ink was almost gone when I scanned it just before it was picked up .I also found St. Francis in the same folder, and have no idea how he got there. anyway, he is still "talking to the birds and fishes," and looks quite content.

Maybe the rest of the series of saints will surface the next time I go digging for buried treasure in the garage. Actually, I was looking for a file I need - and of course didn't find it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Freebie" alert

I just posted a brief thing on Long-armed cross stitch as an attractive and easy small border, as a finishing element both visual and to make the canvas roll over easily - it also goes faster and looks better than just doing basketweave on a two-thread border. The link to "Freebies, Etc." is on the side bar.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

TIF Challenge and October mess

October seems to be almost over, as I see my daughter busy decorating with pumpkins and ghosts, etc. I am never able to live just in the present, as I have to be working and planning ahead for deadlines and seasons - chaos. I intended, when I first saw the colors for this month and the subject, to do a post right away, but have hesitated, as my "orderly chaos" has descended into the realm of chaotic clutter. Actually, it's pretty disgusting right now.

I have blamed this situation on my children, who sold my house and moved me to my daughter's guest quarters, supposedly for a few months until we found a suitable duplex or something of that sort. That was over a year ago. Oh well. I really can't use moving from a three bedroom house into this space as an excuse, because in reality, I had all three bedrooms and all the closets and the sun porch pretty well trashed as well. The only thing missing here is my pottery equipment - no place for it. The work table isn't really too bad - you can see the necessities - the graham crackers and Reese's pieces - and of course the TV remote, my calculator, and two rolls of masking tape. (Cheez-its and Sprite in the background) No painting going on today, as I have the two stitching projects to finish before Monday.

The books are lined up on the floor so I can see them clearly and grab one when I need it. There are multiple things going on here - my passion for the Pueblo Pottery I'm studying, and also designing from. The old classic Elsa Williams bargello is a study for development of some more "Freebie" ornaments. Not seen is my "new" old book of Maggie Lane's gorgeous Rugs and Wall Hangings from the 70's - I got lucky and found it on e-bay.

This is the worst of it - I can't put these things away, as I would just have to dig them out again, as they have to be where I can put my hands on them right away. I am working right now on the magazine deadline in a few days for January publication, and have already started on the March/April project. I have my design projects going on too, as well as intense study in the realm of the Pueblo pottery - and then there is the blog thing to play with and keep up. It's good to be busy.

As for the colors, as always with the Challenge, I immediately saw something beautiful in the images I keep tucked away in my brain computer - the African Textiles. I thought perhaps I would finally get around to designing something from them, but haven't had time.

I purchased this book several years ago from the Chicago Art Institute, and get it out to study from time to time. The variety of weaves, dyes, prints, and other techniques used on that vast continent is truly amazing - and quite beautiful.

I can't take time and space to comment on the pictures, but they are different weaves or embroideries from different regions, and are inspired by the various cultures that migrated into Africa over the millenia. This first picture is of some woven shawls in a technique called "pit weaving." Interesting study! The second picture is an embroidered bed cover - gorgeous colors!

I am going to be unhappy when this Challenge of Sharon B's ends in two more months - as I have really enjoyed it as a creative endeavor and as a thought provoking exercise - it has been a great pleasure, although this month I just couldn't find a space of time for creating something from this book as I have wanted - maybe in January!!

I just clicked to enlarge the last "work space" picture. Damn that's an awful mess. But my thread stash is now in those clear plastic boxes where I can see what is where most of the time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Crazy for December Finished!

It's all done, and I have to remind myself that I like the "hand made" look vs. machine - so forgive myself for some of the irregularities I couldn't avoid. Like the raised spider webs not being equally spaced. I usually do the two outside ones first, and then center the middle one - but "haste is the enemy of perfection," and I was tired and not thinking. Oh well. It's pretty.
I have really enjoyed researching the symbolism for December. The narcissus and mistletoe have been done, and now the holly: In many ancient cultures it has been a symbol of the waning solstice, which ends at the winter solstice - the shortest day of the year, when it begins to wax again. The Druids believed that the evergreen nature of the holly made it sacred, as it remains green throughout the winter and keeps the earth beautiful. Holly was used for decoration throughout homes with its being used for boughs over entrances or for wreaths on doors. This custom originated in Ireland, since holly was one of the main plants that was green and very beautiful with its red berries at this of year, and gave poor people a means of decorating their dwellings. It was also believed to give the inhabitants of such a dwelling prosperity and peace for the coming year.
As for the turquoise, throughout history and in many cultures, it has represented the earth and sky, and protection of the body and soul. For a really really interesting read on this, click on this link and enjoy! (go to "spiritual belielfs and symbolism) As this beautiful stone is found all over the planet, many cultures have spiritual symbolism attached to it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Design Inspiration (and more beads!)

Sources for design can be quite enlightening - beyond just enjoying the look of the Pueblo pottery since I was a child, researching it has been a joy. It's much more interesting when traveling and shopping to understand what we are seeing and how and why it was made, and in so many cases, the symbolism of the motifs in art objects. I begged and wheedled these simple and beautiful ornaments from Anne Stradal (ABS Designs) as she loves these things as much as I do. The designs from the Pueblo pottery are classic graphic and geometric things, that are pleasing to the eye, and would fit into many decors - not just what we think of as "southwestern."

I plan to use beads on these - the Sundance, as always, as the ones I found in the right colors are not sparkly or glittery, so will produce the right effect. The white backgrounds will be left white and beadless (or kind of "off white" in this case with Splendor #802) so that the designs will be accented. These three pieces are small - only 3" diameter on 18 mesh canvas, so I think I will use them framed in a long, vertical format as a "threesome." I have a few other things to do first, but hope to start them soon. My reward for meeting deadlines on time, maybe.

I also plan to do the Mermaid from Gail Hendrix at the same time, as I will need to move back and forth between the muted ornaments and the brightly colored mermaid - this works for me. Fortunately, both ladies stitch paint their designs, so it's a pleasure working on them. Now - back to my magazine deadline which is in about 3 days, but with about 3 weeks of stitching left to do - and also finishing up my December Crazy Heart. It's good to be busy.

Monday, October 20, 2008


The painted canvas - beautifully painted designs on mono-canvas - exploded into popularity in about the mid to late 60's. At that time, our mothers, and grandmothers (and great-grandmothers) had done little more than stitch on the pre-worked canvases on penelope, which originated in Victorian times, and were referred to as "Berlin Work." Penelope is a canvas, usually brown, that is woven with two strands of warp and two of weft, as opposed to the single threads of the mono canvas. The purpose was to split the threads and insert petit point, as the count was usually ten mesh for the background - and 20 after splitting the double thread - so much more detail was seen in the pattern.

These pieces were done in Continental Stitch, and you can see, if you have an old piece lying around on a footstool, chair seat, or bell pull, the ugly horizontal ridges that resulted. It was a relaxing occupation for women, as they knew no other stitch. The Penelope canvas, being double woven, was strong enough to hold this stitch without too much distortion. Mono-canvas is not. Even for people who work on a frame, the distortion is pretty bad. (It's also pretty boring to stitch) There is also the factor that Continental stitch makes a flimsy, thin needlepoint fabric as opposed to the well padded and smooth one created with basketweave. For ecclesiastical work - as cushions and kneelers, if a canvas thread breaks from heavy use, or rots after a number of years, if done in Continental stitch, the stitches will fall out. If done in basketweave, the stitches hold. Incidentally, I have never used a frame, as I see no need for it - by learning so long ago the proper method of stitching basketweave, my canvases don't warp.

The illustration is of a piece I did last night for this "lesson," and is a repeat of something I used for years to teach (without the continental stitch swatch, of course) beginners. It's easy to see the ridges on the left, and also the bit of distortion already beginning even on this little 1 1/2" square. We used to dread having a person in a class who had done continental stitch previously, as the concept of diagonal was difficult for them to learn. I have taught classes of five-year-olds who learned easily in a few minutes - so it's really quite simple. Both my daughters, and my granddaughter learned by watching me for a few minutes at about ages 9 or 10, and then went off to their rooms and did it beautifully - so it is NOT difficult or mysterious.
In the 70's we put quite an emphasis on beautiful, smooth surfaces, and these ridges you can clearly see on the swatch above on the left were not acceptable - so everyone learned basketweave, which gets its name from the appearance of the back.
Basketweave on the left - Continental on the right. Where I put the arrow, you can see the place where the trip back across (actually "half cross") from left to right wraps under the one horizontal thread, which is what gives it the ugly ridge. I am told that some people turn the canvas upside down for the trip back, trying to avoid this ridge - but that isn't good either, as it pulls loose some of the fibers from the threads of the row below. This is as poor a practice as doing Algerian Eye by coming up in the center hole. (another of my pet peeves, which just involves a little common sense.)

Also, if you hold up a swatch like this to the light, you can see horizontal gaps on the one stitched with continental. The light shines through. Basketweave is solid. In this close-up illustration, the ridges are clearly seen on the left swatch.

I included the little patches of basketweave and the "scroll" to illustrate that it can be done on tiny little areas. I actually read in a popular book recently that "you can't do basketweave in small spaces." This is a ridiculous statement! My little practice teaching pieces used to consist of just such irregular, odd-sized small patches, and also some scrolls and squiggles and gently curved lines for understanding the concept of outlining. No need to call it anything else - it's just "outlining" with a bit of basketweave where the scroll thickens.
In this business of needlepoint, as with other things, there are preferences and opinions, and there are facts based on experience, experiments, trial and error, and just plain common sense. In my 40 years of designing, teaching, and writing about needlepoint, I have always been willing and eager to try new things and suggestions with an open mind, and figure out simple and effective ways to do things (like my beading techniques). If you aren't convinced that Continental stitch is not right for use on the painted canvas on Mono-canvas, just stitch a swatch yourself and see the difference!!. I have no answers for why on earth it is being taught again. I thought we had done away with it for good at least 35 years ago. Oh dear.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Silk Ribbon Narcissus for December

Getting the information together about the narcissus - the birthday flower for December - has been interesting! It is pulling together things I had never really thought about before. My mother used to always force bulbs in a shallow dish she had especially for this, and it was a ritual with us to go to the garden center every year in November to buy them. They were placed on top of some aquarium gravel in a very shallow dish with water, and the timing was intended to make them sprout and bloom by about the last week in December. I never questioned the "why" of it, and she probably inherited this tradition from her mother as well. It seems that the narcissus/daffodil, as it blooms very very early in the spring - sometimes while there is still snow on the ground - has been a symbol of new life and rebirth for many cultures.

The Druids adopted it as their national flower, and regarded it as a symbol of purity.The narcissus also symbolizes self-love, from the Greek myth of the youth who fell in love with his own reflection, and was reborn as a flower after his death - so the symbolism here is the triumph of divine love and sacrifice over death, selfishness and sin. Interesting! As for why we force the bulbs to bloom at holiday time, the Chinese believed that by forcing the narcissus to bloom at the New Year, they were assured of good luck for the coming year. I had never really thought about the different shapes and colors of this flower, as Mother's bulbs always produced the very sweet smelling ones with yellow "trumpets." My grandmother, however, had what we called "paper whites" in her garden, which had tiny little white centers with no yellow at all. I looked at hundreds of images before starting with the silk ribbon, but didn't take into consideration that creating a narcissus in SR on needlepoint stitching was not easy - so this is what we have! I used the 7mm white, which had to be stitched over for each petal to make them fluffy - and then the 4mm yellow for the centers, which couldn't be made any smaller. Oh well. The effect is what counts. They are a bit messy, I think - but will pass for narcissus. I may put one or two more, but will put it away for a few days and decide when I'm not tired of looking at it.

Bargello Alert - A New One on Freebies, Etc.

This is an easy one that looks rather difficult and impressive! (The kind I like best) Do go see it and try it yourself with stash threads - all kinds of color possibilities here as well as decorative motifs!

For the rest of the evening, I'll be attempting to plant narcissus on the December "Crazy for Birthdays" piece.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mistletoe in Silk Ribbon

Working on the holly and mistletoe again today after "chores" were finished. (painting)

I am actually rather pleased with the mistletoe! In this version, it looks like the mistletoe of my childhood in the rare years in west Texas where it actually rained enough during the previous summer to produce lots of the little white, waxy berries that make it so pretty at holiday time. There, however, it grew in the mesquite trees rather than oaks - there weren't many of those in Abilene.

I researched the meaning of the holly and mistletoe, as I was curious why they are used as the birthday plants for December - besides the fact that that's when they are at their most beautiful. There are many holiday traditions surrounding the winter solstice, and the Druids believed that anything that grew on the oak tree was sent from heaven - so mistletoe found growing on oaks was especially sacred. In the Celtic language, mistletoe means "All heal" and it was thought to possess miraculous healing powers and hold the soul of the host tree. It was a token of good will and peace when hung over the entry to people's homes.

It is said that when warring Viking armies met under a tree in which mistletoe occurred, they would cease battle for the remainder of that day. Today, many people still hang mistletoe in their homes, and couples kiss when they meet under it. There is a myth associated with this practice that stated if any unmarried women of the household went unkissed during the hanging of the mistletoe, they would not marry in the coming year. Oh Dear!!!

So much for the Winter Soltice celebrations and the legends - This mistletoe was constructed with 4mm silk ribbon from River Silks, with berries made of French knots in 2mm white ribbon. The little green stems were done with 2 plies of Soy Luster.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An new "Freebie" this evening

Be sure to jump over to the other blog - Freebies, Etc. - and see the new ornament posted this evening! Simple and quick - and great for using stash materials.

Glitter and Sparkle: (Beads for December)

I worked on this a little bit last night and today as a break from "priorities." Never mind that the Holly looks somewhat like a climbing rose - I couldn't find any overdyed 2mm ribbon, (which would have made better holly berries), so I used the Caron Watercolours overdyed cotton - and they look more like roses than berries.

The leaves are made with 7mm silk ribbon, which was another great favor from Jean Krynicki at River Silks, as I asked her to send me something that looked like holly, and it's perfect! However, my aspirations of making little spiky looking edges failed - the leaves are small, as is the area, and all I made after an hour or so fooling with one leaf, was a big mess. When doing these things, I search the internet for images of the real plants and flowers rather than going to books on the silk ribbon version. I learned the stitches from my favorites - Judith Baker Montano's SILK RIBBON EMBROIDERY and ELEGANT STITCHES. After that, I prefer looking at pictures or at the real thing and making my own interpretations with the stitches I've learned. In this case, I failed miserably at spiky leaves. Oh well. It gives the impression, hopefully, of a spray of Holly - it IS green with red berries.

I used a burgundy color Kreinik Vintage metallic braid to make the chain stitch seam treatment, as I needed something close to red in this area, but not exactly bright red- too distracting. You can also see the beginning of a branch of mistletoe, but it will probably get lost in the leaves and berries. At least it gives me a placement direction.

As for beads, I used the glittering Sundance #250 hexagonals applied with white cotton floss - against the white Petite Very Velvet, they make an effect like sun sparkling on new snow. Notice in the close-up that the beads are NOT placed end to end, which would be crowded and not nearly as attractive.
The blue patch, which will have an overflow (hopefully) of narcissus, is beaded also with Sundance #250 beads - but in the plain finish and not the hexagonal. They are applied in this case with blue cotton floss about the same color as the Petite Very Velvet background. This is so much more subtle than using blue beads - much prettier, I think. Also, these clear beads have an iridescent finish that takes on the background color. The patch needed some texture, but not as in textured decorative stitches. I always have to cheat in that I want to see what the beads are going to look like - and this is O.K., as long as the beads won't intrude where silk ribbon embroidery will be placed. It would waste time, effort, and beads, and make it difficult for the ribbon to lie where it should.
Cheating is good for impatient people like me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stitching Gail's Mittens (by proxy)

I've been watching Margaret Travis stitching on the custom mitten ornaments that Gail Hendrix did for her children this year, and had to go look at more of them in Gail's e-bay store. I found several delightful ones - but this one with "CoCo" on it caught my eye - both because it is really pretty, and because my daughter has a cat by that name. (Chanel is her idol) Anyway, just studying it on the screen, I can plan what I would do if I were stitching it.

These things of Gail's are too pretty in color and pattern and too well painted to be suffocated with a lot of textured stitches and too many different kinds of sparkle. I prefer the look of a rather plain background - basketweave - in either silk or the wonderful Very Velvet (by Rainbow Gallery), and then some great decorative stitches on appropriate design elements, plus a good scattering of beads.
I am not good at drawing lines on the "Paint" program, which is where I did this - but they will do for this, although quite squiggly. At the very top, I drew inked squares where I would put Smyrna cross "bump" stitches - probably with something like Renaissance Shimmer, as it is a sparkling thread, but not "overkill" on the sparkle as some threads are. This can be repeated at the bottom, as there are more little squares in the same color, but separated by one background thread. At the bottom also are some white dots, where I would put beads.

Back to the top: The lines pointing to the turquoise shapes indicate where more beads could be placed, wherever the "dips" of the warp threads are. Also a bead would do in the center of the little red/orange crosses. Moving down, the 3 x 3 stitch squares could be "bump" stitches, and the line under them worked in the same thread, but placing a bead on every other stitch on the warp "dip." The purple motif also would be lovely with a bead in the center of each one, and on the name, beads can be used wherever there is a warp dip, stitching the rest in thread.

If you study a small project like this, you can see many many interesting things that can be done to enhance it just a little bit without ruining the basic effect. I had to also show "Gucci" just because it's a great name - I need a new cat to name Guggi. Personally, I like Givenchy perfumes, but don't think I can see myself out in the yard at sundown yelling such a name to call the pet in for the night. It probably wouldn't answer anyway. I failed to mention that Gail told me CoCo was a Pug dog - I have no idea who Gucci was. In Austin people keep pigs, goats, and snakes for pets. Hmmmm.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Just a quick note this morning - I get a lot of questions - a few here and some by e-mail about my designs. I do design everything myself, as I have been doing it commercially for 40 years this fall - unless I state otherwise, as I LOVE other people's work also. The crazy quilt hearts and round ornaments are my designs, and are available both as painted canvas with instructions or by E-Pattern for drawing and setting up your own. The are available on my web page Elegant Whimsies - the link is at the top/right of this blog.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Blooming Roses in SRE - June CQ finished!

The rose bush is finished with mainly spider web roses, but a few French knots included. I chose the background colors, I think, for compatibility with this gorgeous Tropicana Rose I love (as well as for the soft colors of early summer on the beach) - my sister used them in her wedding.

The leafy vine below the rose bush is for the memory I have of my mother's beloved "Lady Banksia" that she trained on a trellis outside my bedroom window when I was a child. These roses were yellow, of course - but I didn't want to introduce yellow into this color scheme - just used the image in my head of those cascading branches with clusters of little roses throughout the length.I think the use of the "trellis" effect on the upper right side is probably from another image of these roses in my head.

I used my favorite effect here for a bit of sparkle/shine in a subtle way - the clear Sundance beads #250 applied with DMC floss in the lighter color - great look without creating something too busy.

There was another popular climbing/cascading rose at the same time that crawled across the entire back fence - "Paul Scarlet." These were a gorgeous red with overtones of pink. The effect of the cascading branches was the same.

I totally enjoyed working on the June birthday heart - the colors were pleasant and the stitches were simple, as I didn't want the embellishments overpowered by texture.

Now - on to December. Then I will back up and do August, as it, too, has bright and wonderful colors - those of late summer!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Growing Rose Bushes (in silk ribbon)

I had to go outside to look at my daughter's rose bushes several times to try to get the center canes right - but they were pretty wilty looking due to no rain and lots of heat in Austin this year. They couldn't be my usual twining curly vines. Anyway - the June project is coming along, but nowhere near finished. Great colors to work with! The little five point things done in 3 ply of cotton floss are for making the spider web roses - instant gratification, as they are very easy to do.

The next picture is of the roses finished on this bush - but I still need to do something with the little stem on the left - and a big spray of climbing roses growing down from the curved seam - probaby a bit lighter in value than the flowers on the bush!
Changing the subject - my friend Gail has had a tremendous response for the Mrs. Santa and her heart - and now has been asked to do a "silver heart" T-shirt ornament for cancer. She didn't know, nor did I, that there are multilple colors available for the different types of cancer. What a wonderful little piece of needlepoint to stitch and to own or give - especially as Gail donates a percentage of her wholesale to the appropriate research organization. Do look at her blog ( to see more.