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. 


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.  

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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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


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. 


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. 


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). 



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. 


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.


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. 


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


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.


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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


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


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. 


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. 


To be continued...

November 26 - Light On!

Just after dark I drove into our condo and saw Santa's reindeer practicing their Christmas Eve moves. 


They're working hard to get things off the ground and since Christmas is about 28 days away I think they'll have plenty of time. 


Lights all over the grounds have been lit and the trees near our front door are aglow! I lined all my windows with lights and have lights sparkling throughout the house, plus a few menorahs ready with candles we can light on December 12th. I count the days until the return of the light, my favorite of all the winter celebrations.  

November 24 - Three T-day Things


One of the warmest Thanksgiving Day's on record, demanded a walk on the new trail. I complied. The temperature was 65 and the day incredibly beautiful. As I took of on the trail, Smith played/worked in his garden.

The garden guys love discarded wood and often rummage through other peoples junk piles to gather up unwanted supplies. As sometime happens, one of Smith's buddies brought in a bunch of discarded wood, including an old door. Smith knew just what to do. He spent the morning building a cold frame (sans hinges) and finished just before we left for the T-day celebration. 


This picture, my friends, is of two GF pies, delicious GF pies. You have no idea how nice it is to be able to partake in the tradition of eating apple and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day. We brought the leftover pies home and that apple pie doubled as breakfast (as leftover pie should) and the pumpkin will be even better tonight after dinner (or maybe FOR dinner). Monica went above and beyond to make Thanksgiving Day special for many of her friends and family. 

Today is my day to decorate, putter around the house, do some knitting, reading, and, maybe, sewing. The last thing I'd plan to do today is shop. Not even on-line. Put your feet up, have a cup of tea, and just relax for an hour or three. You'll have a lovely day, I guarantee it. 

November 23 - Grateful Day


The first blog I read this morning was Bonny's and her quote by Henry David Thoreau, which said it all. "I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual." The perfection of that quote hit me in my heart. It is truth.

Since July 13, my last day of work. I have said to myself on a daily basis, "I am so grateful for this life." I feel it, I say it, I acknowledge it daily, because I never thought I would be here. Retired and loving it. I haven't even begun to tap all that I want to do with my one "precious life" (as Mary Oliver calls it). 

First and foremost I must acknowledge my gratitude for sharing my life with a wonderful man. I couldn't have picked anyone more kind and generous. I am fortunate and so deeply grateful. 

Second I am daily grateful for my home, the warmth, the light, the food that is there without worry. My daily life takes for granted my car, my mundane tasks of grocery shopping, or of buying dinner out. I have SO much more than so many others. My heart is near to bursting with gratitude. 

There is so much more that fills my heart with gratitude, not least of which is technology. By the grace of opening this screen, I have at my finger tips a wealth of friends, some near, some far. Friends I see regularly would not have come into my life without the internet. Friends I have never met would not be in my life without the internet. I feel I am the most fortunate person in the world. I have so much. I have a wonderful life. I could not wish for more. 



November 22 - Eve

Because you might be curious, by late afternoon yesterday our water was turned back on. A major repair will happen next week. Yes, again.


First things this morning I headed to the hospital for MRI.  Getting the MRI had taken a series of phone calls before the MRI department accepted the fact that the doctor wanted me to have an MRI. Everyone got on the same page, and now, it is done. The view of early sun on the Oquirrh mountains from the hospital parking lot made the trip worthwhile. 


As soon as I arrived home I decided to kick up the spirit of the season. My contribution to dinner tomorrow will be an appetizer, one I have never made, but it sounded too good not to try. I wrapped the sweet potatoes, got them in the oven to bake and will  make Sweet Potato Hummus this afternoon. This dish could be a hit or a miss. I'll keep you posted.


Next, I hung a new wreath on the front door. It is sparkly and looks like something from a Midsummer Night's Dream. I confess to being totally enchanted. I've opened the door a couple of times to check its lovely silveriness. How I wish my camera caught that sparkle.


I also hung a new wreath on the back gate. The swirling needles take up the whole of the width and, as I walk into the patio, I'll need to dodge the longish twigs of the outer edge. But, this wreath also sparkles with a festive sprit and I'm enjoying the happy feelings I get at the beginning of the season. 

The big box of lights, and other assorted Christmas decorations, has been pulled from the closet and I'll do what I can the next couple of days to make our home festive and bright. The lights are the most important thing, as the nights are so over long. Our days continue to be warm (65!) and clear (although, it may get a little hazy). As soon as the potatoes are out of the oven I'll be walking the trail, my knee in a brace, but walk it I must. The sun is too precious. 

May your day of prep be joyous and may it flow smoothly! Happy T-day Eve!!

November 21 - Tuesday

The first thing I do on Tuesday, after looking through my email and reading a few blogs, is head out the door to my water aerobics class. Tuesday and Thursday classes are at 8:15 and I like to have my exercise taken care of early in the day.  Smith has the day off today and we thought we'd make a quick trip to Costco after I'd washed off the pool smell. But, when I arrived home Smith told me we had no water. A water main break up the street has shut off our water and we're not sure when it will be back on. We have been through this a couple of times this summer and it's getting old, but aging pipes seem to be the culprit. 

Anyway, we went to Costco. I bought new glasses. Two pair. Unplanned but necessary.  I'm pleased as punch, as it's been six years since my last upgrade. We got a few more items, stopped for lunch on our way home and thought surely we'd been away long enough that the water would be back on. Nope. At this moment in time, the laundry is on hold, as is the cleaning of the bathrooms, and the shower I wanted to take to get the pool smell off of me.


The nice thing is it is 55 degrees (and rising) and since I can't clean or do laundry, I thought about taking a walk along the new trail, but, as it turns out, workmen have blocked the path because they are putting in crosswalks and sidewalks where the path crosses the road.  


I could sit on my patio and read with my new companion by my side. Isn't he darling? His happy continence just makes me smile and smiling makes me happy, as does clear blue sky and warm air. Tuesday is not going anything like I'd planned, but I think it's going well enough.