November 30 - The End

Believe me, I could go on and on about my embroidery journey, as 30 years of study has filled this house with pictures, books, study guides, and books of notes and patterns. There are framed pieces on my walls, in my closets, on my families walls, and sitting on shelves. The variety of technique and design are limitless. This week of walking down memory lane has been interesting. I feel  like I have relived the life of a person I no longer know and found a life I hadn't seen in a dozen years. One thing is sure, I enjoyed sharing with you some of my best work, but I wonder how I am the one who created the amazing pieces. I certainly was another person, with a different motivation and my hands were far more capable than they are today. 

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So, let me continue this last day of NaBloPoMo with my last, but perhaps my favorite phase of this embroiderers journey. In the late 1990s I became acquainted with the term "schoolgirl sampler". We all know what a sampler is, that piece of linen that may have the alphabet or a phrase like "Home Sweet Home", but finding out that museums had samplers as old as the early 1700s, and that women during Queen Elizabeth's time did exquisite embroideries, that this, the stitches of women, as our history. Women of means were taught to be good wives, to be literate, and to be poise, by way of samplers. This article from the MET site gives a brief history of American Needlework.

As my interest in Japanese Embroiery started to wan (late 1990s), the needlework shops were talking about the world of girlhood needlework. Not only were the shops filled with beautiful samplers, but more importantly, they were bringing in excellent instructor/designers, hand-dyed linens and threads, new silks and all sorts of little treasures to embroiderer. Plus, there were conventions and gatherings, and guilds, a whole accomplished community of people teaching even more people, like me, who wanted not only to stitch the treasures, but to learn about the lives of anonymous girls and women of the last 400 years.  

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Let me tell you a bit about the two pictures above. The first is called The Strawberry Bag. It was designed by a local artist, Carolyn Webb. She saw a picture of a bag first created during Elizabeth the First reign and decided to create someone similar to teach. Strawberry motifs were used often in that time period, a symbol of purity, and youth. The bag is stitched in the manner of a sampler with rows of different patterns and stitches. Kept inside are a Jacob's ladder needlebook, a strawberry pinkeep, and a three demential strawberry scissor fob. Carolyn made a clay mini-strawberry for each one of us to put on the string of our bags.

The Swan Lake Bag is from a class I took in Phoenix, when I traveled with 4 friends to take the workshop from Merry Cox, the designer. We stitched the designs on our bags before the class. Two sides and a bottom fully stitched, along with each of the "smalls" that are kept inside. There is a ruler holder, a button bag (which holds the thimble and a chunk of beeswax, plus a scissor with fob. The names of each friend are stitched on the bag, along with the place and date we were there. Many memories are stitched into this project, as in all my needlework. 

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How I fit so many classes, stitched the number of hours, and completed as many pieces as I did, I'll never know. I am sharing only a few of my favorites, but I have many more treasures. I traveled the country to take classes on samplers and "smalls" the little etuis or needle cases. 

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This particular piece is one of my favorite as it was stitched at the end of 1999 to commemorate the year 2000, which was the year I turned 50, and the year Smith and I would have been married for 20 years. Plus, you know, it was the turn of the century. A big WOW of a year in my life. The needlebook, 2"x3", with a linen fabric count of 34 stitches to the inch.

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Inside is a pincushion (with pins), linen pages to hold needles, and a tiny pair of scissors with a tassel fob, which is held in place with a ribbon and snap. Each one of the etuis are created so a needleworker has all she needs in one neat little compartment that is always handy and at the ready. This piece is smaller than a phone and would fit into any pocket. 

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The etui is closed with an antique button and a buttonhole stitch loop. The phrase used "Adorn thy life with love and goodness" is typical of what would be found on a girlhood sampler, as are all the motifs and stitches.

Thank you for indulging me this journey down memory lane, this step back in time. I am humbly in awe of myself. Did I really stitch all of that? Can this journey really be mine? I know I am a different person because of needlework, because of the people I met. Learning at the feet of so many masters and senseis has been a pleasure and an honor, and while it is no longer something I want to do, or can do, I know it is where I have been and I am better for this journey as an embroiderer. 


November 29 - Towards Perfection

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I met Shay Pendray when she came to SLC to teach a class in the late 1980s. She was a great teacher, a teacher who was the best of the best. When a Japanese master came to America she had taken his classes and she loved JE so much that she worked to learn the art and his way of teaching. It took a lot of convincing, but she was able to go to Japan and study for several years, learning from the master, and then, with his permission, bring Japanese Embroidery to America. 

In the picture above, Shay is on the right in bright pink. I spent 10 years of study with the women pictured and we became a formidable class. My dear friend Evelyn is in black standing next to Shay and we still meet monthly for  sushi dinner. Evelyn still studies Japanese Embroidery, but I gave it up in 2002. But, after my first class was in 1991, I was hooked. 

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The study of JE comes in Phases. When I began my lessons there were 5 intensive phases designed to teach every aspect of  Japanese technique. One had to be dedicated to learning this amazing art and art it certainly is. All our supplies came from Japan, the obi silk for our ground fabric, the flat, suga silk we used to make our own threads, and the delicate metals we used to embellish our designs. The above design is Phase I, in which I learned to twist my own silk into different weights of thread,  to stitch chrysanthemums petals, cherry blossom petals, and stitch binding cords, all very important motifs in JE. Each phase would take close to the full year we were allotted to finish our piece. 

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This is Phase II, a design with many more techniques, more motifs, and more hours needed to complete. In each phase you build upon the lessons of the previous phase and add multiple techniques to your repertoire. We made all the twisted threads, in varying weights needed to stitch the motifs. Some of the techniques I remember were "shippo" (design in the blue cloud), fuzzy effect (white cherry blossoms), shibori (white and red pin tree). 

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Because of the varied techniques we learned in the is phase it took almost the full year for me to complete this piece. Each section took hours and hours, maybe 800-1000 hours in all. I stitched nearly every day and dedicated myself to studying books and guides. The only true way was to learn was from the teacher and the only teacher at the time was Shay. We had class over 8 days once a year. Eventually, we decided to add a second lesson, but that meant travel expenses twice a year and even more dedication to the art, and that's what took me out.

I took Phase III, but it was just too much work, took too many hours out of my day. I stalled, but went back the next year because my end goal all along had been Phase IV. I LOVED this design. I wanted to play with color and create my own pansy piece. 

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And, after 4 years of study, I did. I may have had a smile on my face with every stitch I took during this beautiful journey. The pansies are stitched with perfectly laid flat silk which creates shine. Without the shine of the silk this piece is nothing. Light changes the color, depending on direction and the laid stitches. That play of light is what brings the pansies to life.

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Only one color of orange silk is used in the blue/orange pansy, but the color changes with the direction of stitch. You can also see the change in the pink pansy and the yellow one below. All the leaves were stitched with twisted thread in contrast to the sheen pansies. 

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The pansy Phase was my favorite of all the Japanese Embroidery I studied. I started other pieces, and stitched for hours on many designs, even took Phase V, but I gave up on it almost immediately. I had my win, the one thing that had been my drive. The Pansies were mine. Another reason was the expense of learning this art became more than I could bear. I had spent a considerable percent of discretionary income on this journey, one I will never regret, but I knew it was time to change in direction. Shay's motto was we were "Stitching Towards Perfection". Shay, and Japanese Embroidery, taught me so much about life, about the journey, about the process of living. It isn't patience you learn when following a pursuit of this nature, you have that in spades, but it takes curiosity, joy in creation, and dedication. 


November 28 - New World

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The Amish Quilt Block needlepoint was first class I took and it has to be one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever stitched. Each square represents a different quilt block pattern, any you might recognize, especially if you are a quilter. I remember Flying Geese, Shadow, Log Cabin, Sunshine and Shadow, Nine Patch, and Tree of Life, to name a few.

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This is when a whole new world of stitching opened up. Everything I learned was new. We had to stretch the canvas onto bars that held it in place tautly. The basic line drawing was on the canvas, no design, just lines and we were to fill each square by counting from a chart. The thread we used was embroidery floss, but we took a strand, separated the six threads and put three of them back together to thread into a needle. AND THEN, we used a tool, something with a pointed tip (I had never seen such a tool) and used it to lay each of the three threads side by side, creating a smooth flat stitch that caught the light.

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Using a "laying" tool, as I learned it was called, was more eye opening than anything else I learned in that class and I learn plenty. Seeing the effect of laying stitches hooked me into the world of "art embroidery" as it was called. I couldn't get enough. As large as this piece was, I had it stitched in record time. I worked on it every chance I got and every stitch I took helped my technique. I could lay threads as smooth as glass and get the sheen that created the play of light, which is hard to detect in my photographs. 

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The next step was the discovered of silk thread and the ease of laying the strands, as well as the enhanced sheen and beauty. Each teacher had more tips and ideas that made the process more interesting, sometimes easier, but always added to my building blocks of learning. I loved learning. At the same time I was taking correspondence classes, classes from local teachers, working from purchased charts, and also building my library. 

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As I traveled through the world of art needlepoint I became acquainted with some of the best teachers in the country. They saw potential in me and encouraged me to take harder classes and learn from better teachers. 

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This orchid was created with one strand of silk stitched in long and short technique. The shading is from light at the edge to dark in the center, always one thin thread at a time. Betty Chen Louis, the designer and teacher,  was one of my favorites, but many amazing women mentored my progress. Judy Souliotis taught me to stitch my favorite piece (below) and Shay Pendray was the sensei I who built my confidence and who took me on the most amazing journey. 

UnnamedThe Basket Man was stitched using many different techniques of goldwork and metal thread techniques. I consider it my most adventurous piece and it was certainly the most fun to do. The pictures are highly inadequate, but they can all be clicked to enlarge and you might see more detail. I am also willing to answers any questions you may have. 

Believe it or not, there is more to come, as I spent 20 years immersed in the world of needlework. 


November 27 - First Steps

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As I said a few days ago, I learned to embroider at the age of eight. By my mother's hand I learned the outline and satin stitches I needed to bring the face of a happy dog to life. Mom then made my creation into a baby's bib. From there I made simple samplers, pillow cases, and handkerchiefs. My repertoire grew over the years.  

This was the start my journey into a whole new world of art, endless learning, and community. I lived in a time when you could buy needlework supplies at the finest department stores. I loved walking through the magical department of yarns, and threads, kits, and fabrics, the walls covered with beautiful things to make. Supplies could also be purchased at any 5 and dime, like Woolworth's. Also, in the 70s independent needlework stores became a popular place to buy yarns, cottons, linens and other needlework supplies. For a time I worked at a shop on Main Street in downtown SLC. Since I was also a lover of books, I bought every new book available. Over the years I collected books right along with supplies, gaining a varied needlework library. 

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While I was working at the needlepoint shop a new phenomenon came about, in which artists painted right onto the canvas. I bought the tulips and without any instruction started stitching. Working at a shop does not mean you know everything there is to know. I was a rank beginner when it came to needlepoint. I was daunted by the outline around each motif and decided the lines would be too heavy if I filled every hole. Instead I tried to give the "impression" of a line and ended up with "ants" all over my tulips. I could see this was a mistake, but I didn't know what to else to do. I stuck it away and years later I found it, stitched in the yellow background, and had it made into a pillow. I thought it a good way to show my students how not to outline a motif. 

The other pillow was made following a chart and counting each stitch. The bottom right corner design shows a bit of hardanger, a technique in which an area is stitched and then threads cut away to create a lace effect. Stitching through my 70s and 80s continued along this line, trying this, self-learning that. It was at the end of the 80s I discovered the joy of taking classes from professionals and that changed my life. 

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To be continued...


Perfect Process

When I use my hands to create it is the act of creation that speaks to me. I love the process. Yes, the finished product is nice (usually) and I like using and wearing what I make, but it is the in and out of the needle, whether knitting needle or threaded needle, I enjoy most of all.

I work slowly, not by choice, necessarily, but it is the way I work in this moment. Once upon a time, I could whip through a sweater in a month, but those days are behind me -- partly because my hands and arms need a slower pace, and the occasional rest, and partly because I have found other shiny objects to draw my attention. 

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This past year I found one of the processes I have enjoyed most has been the sewing of Alabama Chanin projects. I buy kits from Alabama Chanin because I do not have the desire to own all the stuff needed to do my own stenciling, nor do I have the space. The fact I can buy a ready to stitch project is a big part of the draw. I need only thread a needle to be ready to go.

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The Market Bag was one of the most process heavy projects, of any sort, I have ever made. The point was to learn the different techniques used in the Alabama Chanin process and I certainly have learned that over the course of the two projects I've completed. I've also learned just how much I like it.

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The first thing I did was stitch the motifs on the two larger main pieces (the front/back) of the bag.  For one side I outlined the designs using a running stitch and on the other side I used a back stitch. The back stitch took 5 times longer, and more than twice the amount of thread, than the rest of the project. After outline, the inside of the motif was cut away to reveal the color below. Joy filled my heart, as the spots of color brought the whole project to life. However, there was much more to do once the main pieces were complete. The bag had two narrow side sections, a bottom, and two handles, plus all the pieces of the lining to sew into place. Don't forget, the cute little inside pocket with the AC label, which is the icing on the cake!

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To keep the bag stable I decided to only do the stitching of the bottom and side pieces and not cut them to reveal color. Three layers of fabric should give the bag the ability, as well as the stability, to carry heavier objects, like books or a computer. 

As with any long-term project I am going through a bit of a mourning period. I miss stitching my Market Bag. I started this project over Labor Day weekend of 2014, so we've been together a long time. It's now time to enjoy the next part of the journey with my Market Bag on my arm, full of my favorite things. I'm stoked.


Little Nothings

During my lifetime I've spent many hours learning various crafts and arts. I've learned at the "feet", so to speak, of many masters of any given art and had an extraordinary time doing so. For a few years I was able to afford travel to wherever it was the master might be teaching. I've been from coast to coast and border to border in the pursuit of my "art" du jour.

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For several years I studied counted thread embroidery, which is not only cross stitch, but many other techniques, usually stitched on high count fabric. I believe this piece was stitched on linen with 34 threads per inch. I loved every aspect of counted thread, from the history (it goes back centuries and leaps continents), to the techniques, to the threads, and the classes. I traveled from Plymouth, MA to San Diego, from Washington State to New Orleans. It was a grand romp.

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This little scissors holder is about 4" long, not including the tassel. The stitches used were cross stitch over two threads, cross stitch over 1 thread, buillon stitch, back stitch, buttonhole, eyelet, and four-sided stitch. The four-sided stitch made it possible to sew this little scissor case together with the green ribbon. The cap of the acorn slides up to reveal tiny scissors tucked inside and, when the cap is replaced, the button slides down to hold the top in place.

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I made many such delicacies, tiny etuis, huswufs, sewing boxes, reticules, and needle holders. I promise to share more of my "little nothings" as we called them, in the future. 


WIPing Right Along

Every once in awhile the desire to stitch comes over me and I set my knitting aside, and the Alabama Chanin project comes out to play. Stitching this piece has taken a little longer than I anticipated, but finally I'm finished with the running stitch outlines on the front of the market bag.

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Truthfully, I became a little too enamored of the knots on top feature and may have  overdone it, but once again, I am reminded of the lesson that less is more. Next time I'll work to be a little more discretionary with my knots.

The feeling of excitement I felt was quite electric, as I started to cut away the fabric of the petals. I took a calming breath and cut into the first shape, watching as the gray fell away and the color behind came into view. I felt a bit of pride, as well as relief, because I can tell this finished bag is going to be grand.

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When my hands grow tired of holding tiny, sharp scissors, I stitch on another piece of the bag. I have changed techniques and instead of running stitch with knots showing, I'm using the back stitch without visible knots. Thoughts of beaded petals are running through my mind, as I think of the amazing work of Mason-Dixon's Ann Shayne. Check out this blog post where Ann tells of her trips to India and Alabama, which were truly amazing in all aspects. Her resulting AC shawl is something to behold.

My stitching time is short, although I am now committed to find more time to work on this project. It would be nice if the market bag could be finished by the end of the year. There's a whole lot of hand sewing to do between now and then if it is to happen.  I hope you'll be watching my progress, as I need a little encouragement!


The Beginning

Thank you for your compliments and comments on my Christmas collection. Although, not everything is as fancy as the stocking you saw yesterday, it's wonderful to be able to share my work with you. It took years to stitch the many pieces of this collection, many years of fun, comradery, and dedication.  My skills grew with every class I took, every class I taught, with experimentation and time. It now seems like "the good ol' days".

Teaching needlepoint is one of my favorite jobs and my students have become very accomplished. They would do just fine without me, but we enjoy our symbiotic relationship and the beautiful needlework we create together.

Rainydaysanta

This little ornament is the needlepoint that started my whole fascination with Santa faces.  The way it's finished is called a "kissing ball", as it could hang in lieu of mistletoe.  The best thing about this little guy is the fabric, braid, and ribbons which are more interesting than the stitches, or even the design. The color, and stitches, of his face and beard do not add dimension or interest.  He was the reason I started to pick my stitches and threads more carefully.


The Nutty Guys

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Many of the designs for the ornaments I've stitched were painted by the same designer.  My role was to pick threads and stitches that brought the figures to life.  Pictures can't show the sparkle or contrast of the stitches very well, but hopefully, you can see the patterns and textures.  Stitching the faces, the costumes, picking threads, defining shape and texture gave me hours and hours of pleasure. 

The reason I stitched the Nutty Guys was to give Smith something he never had...a stocking of his own!  The nutcrackers were fun to do and I used a wide variety of threads and stitches.  The stocking is 12" high, quite small by most standards, but our stockings are decorative only.

There are many reasons I gave up needlepoint, but a few canvases are still tucked away in my closet, as are many of the threads.  The intention is to some day stitch a few more.


Santa Parade

HanukkahbearWe blend the Holidays in our home.  Smith has his Hanukkah menorahs and I have many needlepointed Santas. The glittering threads on each little Santa reflects the candle light of the menorah's and our home looks very festive.  It's been years since a Santa has danced across the shelves and table tops of the living room.  Taking each little guy out tissue paper and seeing his smiling face again has caused a bit of a stir and quite a bit of enjoyment.

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Skaterandgardensanta

Fruitysanta 

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 Santabear

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to one and all!