Archive for the ‘Needlework’ Category

Today one of the books I’ve been editing, Redwork from The WORKBASKET, went to production, another step closer to being published, although the book doesn’t come out until next spring.

I’ve had a special place in my heart for this book, by contributing editor Rebecca Kemp Brent, from the start. Although it’s really a machine embroidery book, the designs are taken directly from vintage embroidery transfers from The WORKBASKET, a great old magazine I remember my mother getting back in the 60s. Twenty years later, I started buying vintage copies in antique malls for the wonderful crochet and tatting patterns. I won a lot of ribbons making projects from old WORKBASKETs.

A little over a year ago I learned that Krause Publications, an imprint of the company I work for, F+W Media, actually owns The WORKBASKET. That means we have all that content at our disposal, including those fabulous embroidery transfers.

The designs were redrawn directly from the original transfers and digitized for machine embroidery. Since I’ve always been into hand embroidery (well, nearly always – I started doing needlework regularly when I was about twelve), the part about this project that excites me is that all 100 vintage designs are in JPEG and PDF formats on the disk that comes with the book. That means anyone who’s as crazy about embroidery as me can print these designs right off the disk and create a fresh embroidery transfer.

I did the hand embroidery samples for the book, which was fun. I stitched a redwork horse head, which is an unbelievable design, on a dishtowel and two pillowcases with morning glory designs in hand-dyed and variegated thread. Rebecca has some wonderful projects in the book, but since I don’t do machine sewing either, I won’t be attempting the bed quilt very soon. But my fingers literally itch to tackle more of those embroidery patterns!


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It was a gorgeous fall day here in Cincinnati: near 70 degrees and sunny, a bit breezy but it made the swirling leaves really interesting.

Diamondqueen and the Hooligans decided  to hang out at home, so Mom and I made plans for a restaurant and activities that we normally can’t pursue with Hooligans in tow. We decided on lunch at The Grand Finale in Glendale, preceded by a visit to a nearby needlework store, Stitches. (As I was getting out of the car, my old friend Holly drove up, which was a pleasant surprise for both of us.)

I’ve been looking all fall for certain patterns of black fabric. I’ve been working on a cross-stitch picture in three panels of the Headless Horseman; when it’s done I’m thinking of making it into a kind of art quilt, maybe even something with a headstone motif at the top. So I’ve been hunting for black fabric that’s marbled with gray and has a some movement. I purchased a few fat quarters on our recent trip to Holmes Co. in the quilt shops up there, but I still wasn’t satisfied.

I found what I was looking for at the Stitches shop, plus I bought a bag of pearl cotton skeins in various colors. Then, on to lunch!

I have a favorite dish at Grand Finale – chicken ginger, a pounded chicken breast, marinated, with a walnut and ginger topping; a salad with house dressing (their salads always taste so fresh); and a spinach crepe on the side. I’m tempted by other dishes, but I know this is the only place I can get this particular meal, and we seem to make it to Grand Finale only about twice a year, so it’s hard to break out of my pattern.

We got to sit in the main dining room, where antiquity and Victorian opulence are abundant, in one of the small window tables that overlook the street and window boxes full of pink geraniums and, oddly, some wine bottle corks. (If you look at the photo on the bottom left of the restaurant’s website, our table was the last one along the windows before the glass room divider with the painting hung in front of it and the big stained glass piece just beyond.) Mom always orders the chicken ginger as well, and the servers always joke that we’re making it too easy for them. We certainly enjoyed our meal.

After that we drove up to Moeller High School for an antique show. Some days you just can’t stop spending money. I bought several old crochet hooks with very tiny hooks (one had to be even smaller than a size 14), two little metal Christmas bells just like the one I got for St. Nicholas when I was in second grade (and completely cherished), a big metal wall hanging of a  horse head inside a horseshoe for Mom for Christmas (yes, I showed it to her first, so I’m not ruining a surprise), and a large Ziplock bag filled with vintage needlework items: spools of thread, old buttons, crochet cotton, and other goodies.

It was the kind of can’t-beat-it day that makes you say, “Life is good!” and mean it.

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I just found out this week that there’s no longer going to be a Cross Stitch and Needle Arts section at MyCraftivity; consequently, no more free cross stitch patterns. Too bad! It looks like this week’s project (a celtic design for a trinket box lid insert) is still up. Since I’m not working on MyCraftivity in an official capacity any longer, I don’t know if someone will eventually take this project down or not. So go check it out while you can.

Since I wasn’t at the meeting where the changes were announced (I was out at a photo shoot with an author), I don’t have the in-depth details. Someone did come by and talk to me about it a little after I questioned it (no one bothered to tell me my team had been disbanded…gee…). There’s a lot of rethinking and redesigning of the site going to happen. A really interesting development is the offering of downloadable project instructions and patterns sold from the MyCraftivity Shop. Their first offerings are some great-looking knitting, crocheting, and felting projects, running from $4 to $6 per project. They’ll be adding more over time from F+W’s and Krause’s craft and needlework books, so check back often, there are sure to be some wonderful things for sale at a very affordable price.

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UPDATE: Free cross-stitch patterns are no longer available on MyCraftivity.com.

This is very late notice, so don’t delay if you’re interested in this week’s free cross stitch pattern at MyCraftivity. You’ll find a very nice flower garden alphabet chart that would be great for any number of uses.

Be sure to check back on Monday evening. I think there may be a magnet coming for next week’s project.

Last weekend the Hooligans, Diamondqueen, Mom, and I went to the Civil War celebration at Gorman Heritage Farm in Cincinnati. We found a small but impressive quilt show in the learning center; there was also a big piece of burlap stitched with appliques and stretched on a frame so anyone could try their hand at “quilting” (which was more like stitchery since there was no batting or backing, but it made a cute hands-on display for families).

I wasn’t surprised that Diamondqueen and even S.Hooligan wanted to sew a few stitches. J.Hooligan, though, tried it as well, and very conscientiously put careful, even stitches on the “quilt.” He wouldn’t be the first male in the family to be open-minded toward needlework. His uncle, my brother in St. Louis, did a high school project for which he embroidered a replica of a segment of the Bayeux Tapestry. I think he won an award of some kind for it, and possibly the teacher kept it, since I don’t recall seeing it since he completed the crewel piece back in the 70s.

It’s tempting to encourage J.Hooligan’s needlework, but he’s such a perfectionist. Diamondqueen envisions temper tantrums and fits of frustration every five minutes because some stitch didn’t turn out exactly the way J. wants. If he comes to needlework eventually, more power to him. For now, we’ll just leave him to his video games.

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Geez, what a month March has been! First, I’m going to be whiney about how many hours I’ve been putting in at work. And the sorry part of it is, I felt as if I wasn’t seeing any results all those nights I stayed until 7 o’clock or later, or those weekends I brought work home. I have to start cutting back because it really is all having a counterproductive effect on me. I’m worn out, in a state that’s comparable to being drunk (without the booze or the fun).

Not that it’s been great for others in the family. My mother had surgery last week. Thankfully, she’s doing okay now, although she’s still cautious about what she does and how long she does it. Tonight I took a Dewey’s pizza to her house for dinner — she ate half an 11″ pie, the most she’s eaten at one time in over a week — and we took a short ride. She doesn’t think she’ll be up to lunch out this Saturday, but we’re hoping she’ll feel like going for our weekly soda at the Loveland creamy whip.

Poor Diamondqueen. The big blizzard of 2008 struck the day before her birthday and wiped out most of our celebration plans. She and S.Hooligan and Mom did make it out for brunch that Friday, getting home just as the first snowflakes were falling. Mom had to cancel the Servatti’s cake she’d ordered — how sad is that? — but Diamondqueen had the good sense to go pick up a cake over the counter before the snow hit. She and the family weathered the storm with a chocolate sheet cake decorated for St. Patrick’s Day with walloping dollops of frosting. Diamondqueen was able to make it to Mom’s for lunch and gifts the day after her birthday, on Sunday, and we took her out for her big lunch the following weekend. But there’s just something about getting snowed in on your birthday, and by an actual blizzard at that…

Last week, the same night Mom spent in the hospital, with Diamondqueen doing all the waiting room duty plus running to Mom’s to let Rusty out and feed him, the mammoth rainstorm was moving through. I worked until 9:30 that night (Mom doesn’t like visitors when she isn’t feeling well, but I still resented not getting to stop by to see her) and drove home in the deluge, nearly turning my car over when I cut too close to a traffic island. It felt as if I was doing a Dukes of Hazzard two-wheel stunt, although I probably just bumped hard. Diamondqueen drove home from the hospital in that rain as well — and faced having to cope with a flooded basement. She and That Poor Man got up and down all night when the water alarm went off, running the dry vac and soaking up water with towels which Diamondqueen would then toss in the dryer to get them ready for the next skirmish.

When Diamondqueen first arrived home from the hospital, exhausted from the medical ordeals with our mother and confronted with the watery disaster in the basement, she sat down on the futon in the family room and sobbed. J.Hooligan approached her with huge eyes and asked, “What’s the matter? Did Grandma die?” It’s been hard for everyone.

And yet, amidst blizzards and floods and medical procedures and ruined birthdays, spring arrived. I’m sure something nasty and surprising still lies ahead weather-wise, but for now it’s warm out and the daffodils are starting to bloom. We didn’t even have crocuses popping up through the snow this year, so the sight of life and color erupting here and here and here is very hopeful. Especially after the kind of winter we’ve had this year.

And Opening Day for the Reds is Monday! Signs of spring indeed…

Note: The flowers above are a detail from an Easter embroidery I did a year ago. Oh, yeah — we had Easter, didn’t we…

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A few years ago I did a lot more rug hooking than I do now. I never made anything larger than a small throw rug; instead, I’d turn out little wall hangings (maybe 14 inches by 9 inches or so) like the one in the picture above. These weren’t planned at all; often I wanted to use up a lot of odds and ends of wool, and I liked the variety of putting together something quickly and with minimum fuss. Usually I simply took an odd piece of burlap, sketched something on it with a Sharpie, then drew an outline around the whole thing. Not the way the experts say to do it, but it worked okay for me, and I enjoyed doing it that way.

Some of these hangings I sold in the Coomer’s booth my mother and I shared back in the 90s; others I kept to hang in my limited wall space, and still others I simply handed over to Mom.

Of course, now I can’t remember whether the log cabin hanging above was one I made for myself and then gave to Mom when she began decorating her “log cabin” bedroom; or whether I’d given it to her years before, and it just happened to fit the room’s theme.

You don’t have to look that closely to see the results of my sloppiness and lack of planning in the cabin hanging. The moon’s misshapen (no, I probably didn’t trace around anything to make a perfect circle; although the irregularity could be because of the way I hooked the moon). Most glaring are the weird streaks of blue in the sky, especially where I hooked around the outline of the cabin roof. I can bet why this happened: I probably ran out of the main sky color and didn’t want to attempt to dye any more wool for such a small area, and then have to remove some of the sky and work in the new color. I just found something similar (probably literally a few long strands of this wool) and finished the sky up, hoping the color was close enough. Obviously, it wasn’t. It wouldn’t have been so obvious if I’d been a little more careful about working those stray lighter shades into the hooking, and if I hadn’t gone directional with it. Maybe I was just tired of the project at that time and wanted to finish it up and move on (especially if I was making it for myself).

I think about the whole “primitive” style of so much needlework when I look at my own far-from-perfect creations like this. I’m not justifying my methods (I really do try harder when I’m attempting a project I consider important); but I wonder if the women who were hooking rugs, making quilts, doing stitchery, etc., weren’t working more in this manner, resulting in the primitive or irregular style that’s so imitated now. All that work and careful planning to achieve a deliberate aged, irregular appearance — in tribute to the work of women who didn’t always achieve high art but were doing the best they could with what they had.

Note: I know that lower edge was straight when I made the hanging; it must be kind of caught up underneath (didn’t notice that when I took the picture). Also, the rusty moose straddling the hanging rod is my mother’s touch of whimsy, and I really like it.

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This is a sampler I stitched up in 2004 especially for the cabin-style bedroom in my mom’s house. (I’m sure about the year because my intials and date are in the lower right-hand corner.) It’s a chart by The Prairie Schooler, although I can’t provide the title at the moment. I’m still searching my chart stash to see if I held onto the leaflet; if I find the chart, I’ll post an update with the title and copyright year. I have a feeling it’s not a current offering, since I couldn’t find it online at any of my favorite cross-stitch sites. I bought the chart at a store I loved dearly — Creative Cottage in Madeira, a suburb of Cincinnati. The shop is long-gone, and I’ve never quite recovered from its absence.

I worked the sampler on a khaki-colored linen, 14 stitches per inch. (Sorry I can’t state the exact fabric name and maker; I’m not anal about details like that when I’m just stitching for fun, and I probably just grabbed something pre-cut that looked good in the store.) I’m pretty sure I adjusted the colors as I went; some of the original colors the chart called for wouldn’t have stood out against the darker-shaded linen. I also wanted the overall effect to be very muted and rustic-looking.

Since I make so much stuff, I don’t often invest in professional framing; and I get creative in trying to find a purchased frame that fits a completed project. In this case, I bought a barnwood-style double frame and was able to pop the smaller frame out of the larger one. It’s a little out of proportion and really squeezes in on the top and bottom of the sampler, but I didn’t want something that was too clean and perfect anyhow. (There’s also no glass in the frame.) Despite the flaws, I thought it worked out okay overall, and Mom liked it a lot, too.

I probably betray the standards of needlework too often by putting a higher value on overall effect than on properly showcasing the needlework itself. I’ll tolerate a frame that’s not quite the right size, with no glass, if the wood has the right look and the result is a sampler that looks like it might have actually hung in a cabin ages ago. In other cases, I’ve spent a small fortune to have a piece of needlework professionally framed. It wasn’t necessary in this case (in my opinion, as the creator, that is).

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