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.

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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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Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to one and all!


Designs of the Other Needle

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Needlework has been a part of my life since around the age of 8 when my mother thought me a few simple embroidery stitches.  My love of handwork has grown, continued and has always been more enjoyable than working on a sewing machine.  In the mid-1990s I fell hard for counted thread embroidery.  The variety of designs and stitches, the history (young grrls and women have been taught  the techniques of counted thread for centuries) and lovely fabrics and threads, drew me in. The items I love to stitch most were neccessairés and needlebooks.

The picture above is a small collection of needlebooks I've stitched (one was a gift from a friend) and the picture belows shows the inside of two. Needlebooks are a place to keep needles together and safely stowed. The first holds paper packets of needles and the second, more elaborate, case has linen pages to hold the needles, scissors (beneath the needle pages) and pincushion, that also acts as a pinkeep (the white dots around the edge are pins). It is also a keepsake of the occasion in which I took the class with my name and date included.

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Groupofcountedthreadnecassaires_2 Neccessairés are collections of decorative items, usually in a case of some sort, that have a purpose.  Elegant antique apothecaries, travel sets and sewing cases are very collectible in todays market.  Many a young woman through the ages were presented with a neccessairé of sewing tools when she came of age. Woman of all walks of life could make up a sewing roll (sailors also made neccessairé to take to sea) either of elegant fabrics, or of scraps, and safely keep the needles and other sewing tools together, always at the ready. Todays designers create with the past in mind, but use ideas of their own.  For several years I (almost) obsessively stitched one piece after another and have quite a collection of needlebooks and neccessairés. Several of my handstitched neccessairés are in the picture on the side.  The pictures below are of the contents housed inside: scissors with fobs, needlebooks, pinkeeps, beeswax, thread winders (to hold the precious silk threads) and rulers of ivory.

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One of my favorite neccessairés is the Swan Lake Sewing Case.  Five of us, friends and/or acquaintances, headed to Phoenix, I believe it was late 2001, to take the class. We were all in the same guild and knew we were around the same age.  As we traveled we shared stories, chatted the hours away and found we were all born in the same year.  Many other similarities were found and we all became closer friends on the trip.  Before we sewed our stitching into the finished shape we made sure all our names were included on each and every one of our neccessairés.

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There are many mementos tucked inside this little bag and each one brings back the nostalgia of the trip, the class and each and every friend who shared the event. They are dated 2002 as it took a long time to stitch all the pieces. 

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and knitting have enhanced and changed my life in so many beautiful ways.  For them both I am eternal grateful.

N is for Neccessairés, Needlebooks and Needlework.  


T is for...

Teaching.

Consider, today, that there is likely no greater gift you can give another person than that of your copious wisdom. It is only when we use our resources and talents to help others achieve their goals that we can feel truly gifted and excited by our successes. In offering the benefit of our experience to people whose dreams run parallel with our own, we channel our abundance into our efforts to improve the lives of people in need of our wisdom and tutelage. As mentors, we utilize our achievements in a benevolent fashion. As a result, we grow alongside our charges, remembering what it is like to be struggling at the start of the goal-realization process. Our own struggles for success are put into perspective, and we can take pride in all we have accomplished. When you use your resources to help others fulfill their dreams today, you’ll feel highly accomplished.

Since 1995 I have been a teacher of needlework. I learned to embroidery at the age of 8 and throughout my life have pursued many forms of fiber art and crafting.  In the mid-1970s I worked in a needlework store and and enjoyed learning different types of embroidery (and knitting).  In the mid-1980s I became more involved with organizations that promoted needlework and of all styles.  Teachers  were brought in to teach new techniques and I loved learning so much I began to travel for lessons. After 20 years of striving to learn all that I could, I am considered proficient in needlepoint, counted thread, Japanese embroidery, Brazilian embroidery, crewel, and silk and metal embroidery.  The local shop knew of my ability and, in 1995, asked if I would teach classes.  It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

In July the shop was sold and closed for over a month while the new owner redecorated and restocked. When she reopened, we (the students and I) were thrilled! 
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All the threads were hung by color and there were many more choices and the variety of painted canvas designs were  much more to our liking.  It's a good change, a much needed change and we couldn't be happier.

The classroom now holds a large table and the walls are covered with possibility.

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The beg table is very nice as the classroom can now hold up to 10 students.

JaneisalsoveryindutriouslyworkingIvadeneworkslongandhardonherdesign_1All the students are very good at needlepoint and I have been able to teach them a few techniques to improve their skills.  Together we take a painted canvas and pick threads, textures, colors and stitches to bring the canvas to life.  We strive to create needleart, not just to color and cover the canvas. 

JoanhasaverylargepiecethatisalmostfinishMargaretstitchesbeautifulllyWhile my knowledge is important in the creation of a piece, it is a collaborative effort. We discuss each choice and even try stitches and colors. Some students are very involved in the process of choice and others just want me to decide. They don't know that they really could do well without my guidance, but with my background I can teach techniques they don't know.  It challenges me each time they ask "What should I do here?" or "Is this color a good choice?"  Experience, trial and error and curiosity help in many of the choices.  We have a good time together and that makes class day very enjoyable. 

Margaret brought the last piece we worked together to class last week.  She is an excellent stitcher and, as with many of the other students, has surpassed my stitching skills. She considers this her best piece of work to date. It is truly museum quality stitching and I am very humbled to have a part in the creation of such beautiful art work.

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Rarely does anyone in class complain (any more) that a project is taking them too long.  Over the years we have worked together the students have heard me say "It's the process." so many times they could scream.  But, they believe it, they live it, and they love it.


E is for Embroidery

ZmyfirstsamplerAt the age of 8 my mother taught me to embroider. The first project was a green baby bib shaped like the head of a Cocker Spaniel.  It was mostly outline stitch, in shades of brown, with a satin stitch pink nose.  My memory is that it was never finished into a bib and I'm not sure I finished all the embroidery.  In the early years I also stitched pre-stamped samplers (the oldest one on the right) and pillow cases.  Embroidery wasn't a passion until my college years…you know the embroidered denim shirts and jeans of the 'hippie days'.  It was then it became a bigger part of my life. I worked in a needlework shop for a few years in the 70s, because I was a very accomplished hooker, and it was there I learned to knit. I also learned several types of embroidery. Like knitting, you can never know it all because of the many and varied types of embroidery.

12patchquiltstitchedin1987Japaneseembroideryphaseii In 1987 I joined the local Needlepoint Guild and fell in love with 'art needlework'.  My first class was a very extensive needlepoint piece of 12 Amish Quilt designs.  I loved it so much that it took me only 5 months to complete. From then on I took every class I could and traveled to do so when possible.  In 1991 I was introduced to Japanese Embroidery and studied it for 10 years. The teacher who taught this technique had a big impact on my life, as did the this form of embroidery.  It taught me so much about the process, and the discipline needed, to enjoy the journey of life.

Mywhitehousestocking1995_1One of the thrills during my needlework years was being asked to design and stitch a stocking for the White House Christmas Tree (as were 4 embroiderers from every State).  It was an honor and I was invited to the White House, with 10,000 others, to view the many beautifully decorated trees.  I found my stocking on the Blue Room tree and a friend was able to snap a picture.  I also did a large piece of embroidery for our Governor's Mansion (a dining room valance).

Basketmanneedlework Much of the needlework I've done has been given away to family members.  My album, SkatesantaNeedles With Eyes, has many of the 'smalls' I enjoyed stitching during the years that I studied counted thread. Several of my walls are covered with needlework but, only this piece, The Basketman, is in my living room. It is the one I love most of all.

For the last few years I have stitched only Santa's as Christmas decorations or teaching pieces. I have stayed  involved in the stitching community by teaching and also as founder of a local Sampler Guild.  Teaching has been a very enjoyable experience. My student's work is very diverse and they are all such lovely ladies.  All the years of study are put to use in guiding the students through the embellishment of painted canvases. The students challenge and delight me. I teach classes regularly and love to watch as each person grows and becomes a better stitcher.  They say a teacher is successful when a students abilities surpass their own.  My students certainly have accomplished that. You can see two examples below.

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Margaret's Geisha

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Iva Dene's Tea Ceremony

Late in 2000 I began to suffer with an upper back problem  which made it very uncomfortable to bend over an embroidery frame.  It was then I turned to knitting (which had been a part of my life since 1974) with a vengeance.  In 2004, when I started this blog, the desire to embroider evaporated almost entirely. I enjoy being a part of the needlework community and will continue to be involved.  I may knit at the meetings instead of stitch but, it is the people I go to see.

Enjoy your weekend. While March is a very unsettled month, the weather man did say that meteorological winter is over!


Once Upon A Time...

...in the far off land of Utah, there was a place that addicted knitters loved to visit. It was affectionately known as "The Haunted House". 

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Norohiddeninthisroom It must have first opened in the 1950's and Mickey Burdett was the owner of the Knit Craft Cottage. After she pass on, her daughter took over and has touched nothing...only adding new items from time to time.  If you find an afghan that your grandmother started to knit, and never finished, or a piano bench your mother needlepointed and left with only 2" until completion....this is the place for you!  You might even find the same dye lot in stock and then you can finish the project.  Each and every room is stacked to the (very tall) ceilings with yarn, yarn and more yarn. Each room has a large center island of yarn that you have to navigate around, too. 

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Pilespileseverywhere Saturday, Susan, Laurie, Emily and I left Salt Lake, took a quick side trip off the freeway for Larisa, and headed to Ogden, 40 miles to the north.  The Needlepoint Joint, which carries knitting and needlepoint, was our first stop.  After shopping for some time there, we took a little nourishment, and then headed to the wonderland or wonders.  Hidden treasures, such as Noro tucked into a cubby hole near the ceiling, were in every room. It was impossible to not hit overload, but we persevered.  Laurie and Emily came home with amazing stories that you better not miss and someone still has yarn in my trunk! It was a fabulous day with grrlfriends and we had a super good time.