Another Stitchy Gift

At the stitching group yesterday, I received a wonderful surprise: a hand towel with an embroidered Charlie Harper cardinal. I've had this cross-stitch pattern at Scarlet Thread, and it's one of my favorites.
I also gave myself a present yesterday, a new camera. This picture is the first one I've taken with it.


Things Given and Received

Hey, I'm back! The holiday furor has subsided, frantic finishing has ended, and near-normalcy is returning, well what passes for normal in my world.
I can now post the gift I was stitching away on for a couple of weeks, which was record time from start to finish for me. When I started the M Designs "W," I wondered if stitching the negative space rather than the charted space would be simpler and take less time. Based on my experience stitching at least three others, the answer is a resounding, "Yes!" I only had one counting error that resulted in frogging, and a small one at that; and it did take significantly less time to complete. Part of the time factor is related to the reduced amount of frogging and restitching, but I don't think that accounts for all. So here's the piece, temporarily ensconced in its boxtop:
I received a gift of textile art that I love for the color and design: a mola from Panama.
Since I don't do applique, I may be compelled to adapt this style to canvaswork or counted thread. How hard could that be? Just a matter of finding the right stitches to produce the right effect yet make the piece distinctively cw or CT. I'm leaning toward counted thread, because I just received the samples of new colors from Picture This Plus, which include a gorgeous linen almost the same color as the background of this mola. Coincidence? I think not. In the meantime, though, I need to decide how I want to have this piece finished. A pillow? Framed? A tote bag (though it would have to be fairly large)? Decisions, decisions.
The other gift I've been eagerly poring over is a cookbook that Jane gave me. She reads ThePioneerWoman.com cooking blog, thought I would like it, and gave me the cookbook that grew out of it. I can't wait to try some of the breakfast dishes, which is about how far into it I've gotten.
And now I have to dash to the stitching group.


Progress and delay

I've made a good start on one of my mad-dash-for-Christmas projects, better than a third of the way stitched. The Sudberry box it will adorn has been purchased, and I think I can do the finishing on this myself. Yay! I may just be able to get this done.
The other project will be put on hold for later. How hard can it be? I'll tell you how hard. Try at least 7 or 8 false starts, with the 9th apparently a success. But there's no way it'll be done in the next month or even two months. I think this will become something for me. I may, in fact, go in a totally different direction now, which means the 9th start, though successful, will now be discarded. Gah!
The group project, "Stars for a New Millenium," is getting closer to an official start. I finally have all of the books for everyone who's going to be a part of the stitch-along and most of the suggested variegated threads so people can create their colorways. About half of the canvas is in and Evertites are on the way. Woo-hoo! I can hardly wait. Maybe by January we'll be ready to have our first meeting, which I envision as the color selection and planning stage.
I'm even getting closer to launching the new Scarlet Thread Web store. I see a lot of photography in the near future. Having dragged my feet on this so long, I'm finally anxious to get it done. How hard can it be?



I have a bad habit of deciding to start and finish a project under very tight deadline restraints. Why do I keep doing this to myself? This week I started two new projects that will be gifts for, yes, Christmas. Is this even possible? I'm not sure, but I really hope I don't realize one week before the holiday that I have to make a mad dash to buy something because there's no way I'll have them ready.
I mean, how hard can it be? All I have to do is nothing else but that until they're done, right?


This dreary, drizzly day has just become delightful! UPS just delivered the box of Caron Collection threads I ordered a little over a week or so ago. I'm doing my happy dance (which isn't easy to do while sitting at the computer and typing). Plans for the day are now scrapped. I'm going to pore over the threads to pick out colorways for the kits I plan to offer on the Scarlet Thread Web site when I relaunch it as a comprehensive source of all things canvaswork. I'm so excited!


WIPs and Mysteries

Last week I made a concerted effort to locate all the WIPs I've got going. I found quite a few, and there are a couple that I know exist, but just where they are precisely, I haven't a clue. Here are the ones I found.
I started this as a gift for my cousin who majored in voice, has sung in a number of choral groups, and may still be singing in the church choir. I think I started it about 3 years ago. I got bored. So sad. I really should finish it. The pattern is Eleanor Marie's Choral Sampler.
The fabric was the impetus for this piece. I fell in love with it, Picture This Plus Relic (or possibly Fossil). Regardless, subsequent dye lots have been all over the map, so the name is immaterial. I'm fascinated by the Dessins monochromatic designs, mostly because I like to totally change them colorwise. For this one, I wanted to make the dragons stand out instead of blend in. I selected a couple of Needle Necessities threads that made me think of a dragon and of fire and brimstone. Then I added a Bijoux that complemented the dragon color, blending the two in a random fashion to provide a suggestion of glistening scales. I really should finish this one because I do really like it.
I took this closer shot to try to show the metallic, but I'm not sure it's that visible. Suffice to say, it shows up in person.
This is Summer House Stitche Workes Soil and Sand. I stitched this once with Thread Gatherer Oriental Linen on a 10-ct Tula, which made a gorgeously textured piece. I thought it would be an interesting study in contrasts to do it a second time with Thread Gatherer Silk 'N Colors on a 40-ct Picture This Plus linen. Sadly, I seem to have lost the thread. I know it's in the house somewhere.
When this pattern came in, I just fell in love with it. I had good intentions, but the fabric I selected turned out to be really unpleasant to stitch on, a metallic Lugana. Ugh! I'm not a fan of Lugana anyway, but the metallic thread made it just awful. I doubt I'll finish this, so I guess it's really a UFO.
Cross Eyed Kat has a series of small Impressions designs that are really quite lovely. I thought it might be interesting to stitch it on Congress Cloth over one. Apparently I barely got started before something else caught my eye.
Isn't this an interesting selection of colors? I must have thought so, and I'm sure I had a pattern in mind when I selected them. Unfortunately, I have no idea what it was. Arg.
An interesting type of embroidery design is the mourning sampler. It's usually a fairly traditional sampler style with a verse, the name of the deceased, the vital dates, and traditional mourning symbols. When I came across this Enchanted Needle design, I had to add it to Scarlet Thread's collection of patterns in that category. It was refreshing in its simplicity and contemporary look. I decided to stitch it when a friend was killed in a tragic automobile accident. This definitely needs to be finished. I of course changed all of the colors from the original pattern.
This Orna Willis piece was one of my first attempts at stitching a canvaswork design. I think I had done one before I decided to move on to one of her marvelous needleart works. I thought, how hard could it be? Yeah, right. No surprise, I changed the colorway completely. I do plan to finish this one. It's just a matter of where it goes in the queue.
This last is one I started shortly after beginning this blog. I wanted to test the various silk flosses to see how they compared. How did the inexpensive one compare with the more expensive ones? The design is Ink Circles Pot Luck.


A stitching meditation

For the past week or so, I've been stitching the same pattern over and over again in different colors. It's "Jacob's Coat," which is in the current issue of Needle Pointers. I think of it as a form of meditation that I'm doing while I get inspired for my next design. Here is what I have so far, all stitched with one Caron Collection Wildflowers color on Light Caramel Congress Cloth:
The first one I stitched is in Fiesta.
This one is in Bark.
This is Rainforest.
And the one I'm working on now is Harvest.
It occurs to me that the naming of variegated threads may be purely random. I'm hard pressed to identify bark with the colors in that thread, for instance. No matter. I love the colors.
As I'm stitching these, I find the rhythm that I fall into very soothing.
First, I stitch the border of eyelets and double crosses, one eyelet in each corner, connected by 18 double cross stitches. Then I start in the upper left corner with the alternating Scotch stitches, moving down the diagonal. I move to the next set of alternating Scotch stitches and meander back up. Back at the top, I pick up the alternating Scotch to the right of the corner I started in and meander back down. Then I fill in the pairs of stitches from the upper right corner down to the lower left. It's very soothing and relaxing. Last, I do the sprat's head variations. I love this stitch. It's quick and looks lovely when finished.
Since I'm still a novice, my stitching goes fairly slowly, though I find I'm getting quicker as I progress through the Wildflowers colors I want to use. I haven't timed it, but I think it takes about 3 or 4 hours to complete one. Maybe I'll try to remember to note my start and stop times for the next one.
As I do this, I think such an exercise is a good way to learn the changes and nuances of these variegated threads. Maybe I should do a smaller motif that will take me through at least two or three repeats of each Wildflowers color. Think how useful that would be when trying to create different colorways for one design! I mean, how hard can that be?
I started this extended stitching meditation after I completed "Turnberry Ridge." It seemed like a good way to come down, so to speak, from that wonderful stitching experience. Here's the finished piece. I meant to take it to Clive at the Brit's Gallery for framing today, but the day got away from me.


Finish, WIP, On Deck

It's picture time! I finally have pictures of everything I want to show. Time passes by me like a rushing river lately.
First up, the final, framed "Morning Glory," which I gave to my sister for her 60th birthday in September.
I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, and it will be officially published in November.
I've made some good progress on "Turnberry Ridge." I just have two things left, I think. The fills for the triangles in the outer border and the fills, the eyebrows as Jean Hilton calls them, in the inner diamond border.
And finally, the piece by Tony Minieri, "Stars for a New Millennium," which a group of us are going to stitch together for, oh, probably the next couple of years. Hahahahahaha.
This colorway was stitched by Susie Matthews. Selecting the colors will be the first major step in the process and should prove a fun experience. There are only 38 different thread colors and 18 different thread types. I mean, how hard can it be?


I'm still here

The past month has been eventful, and most of the events not what I would call good. Suffice to say, four people I knew died, one of them my father. But I'm ready to move on now.
I've been dragging my feet on setting up the Web store for Scarlet Thread. Steps have finally been taken, though, and I hope to have it up and running by the end of the year. This may be overly optimistic, but when I really apply myself, I can get things done. Like, for instance, I am currently almost through a sleeve of Ritz crackers in record time!
I'm hoping to get some photos up tomorrow of the framed Morning Glory, the state of my Hilton piece, and a canvaswork piece by Tony Minieri that a group of women from my two stitching groups are going to work on for the next year or so a couple of times a week.


Now what do I do?

As previously noted, I've finished the two projects that had been languishing for a year. I have a vague idea of what I want to design next, but nothing concrete. I'm trying to finish up my Jean Hilton piece, "Turnberry Ridge," which is coming along nicely. I would have included a picture, but I managed to leave my camera at my niece's house in Berryville last week, an hour and a half drive. I may just have to go out and buy a new camera. Why not? The current one is getting old (2, 3 years?), and I need one with a real zoom in order to get good enough pictures to put all the inventory online. Good rationalization!
What I'd really like to do is design a canvaswork piece, the first of a possible new series of bugs. I was thinking of reworking my Jewel Bugs for canvaswork, but I'd rather do something entirely new.
The only problem, of course, is I'm pretty new to this canvaswork thing. I don't have very large stitch vocabulary yet, which I think is a prerequisite for designing such a thing. To improve that, I'm taking a class at Waste Knot Needlepoint in Arlington, a fiber and stitch notebook. It will teach me how to use the various Rainbow Gallery fibers by teaching 70 stitches. Both aspects of this appeal to me. My knowledge of special fibers for needlepoint is fairly slim, although I did learn a lot while running my shop. It's a 4-session class that meets every 2 weeks, starting in September. I can hardly wait.
My inspiration for the bug has come to me recently during my daily (well, I try for daily) walks. I aim for 2 miles every morning; note that I said "aim." I find myself ruminating as I walk because I never seem to remember to bring my iPod. These ruminations take the form of working out a solution to my inability to get going on various things I must do, writing the perfect haiku, and just processing the sounds and smells I experience.
For the past week or so, I've noticed the rise of the song of the cicadas. It's not deafening, as during the hatching of the 17-year cicadas. It's an unmistakable undercurrent as opposed to a roar. Curious as to whether it was the advent of the 17-year brood, I Googled "cicada" when I first noticed the song. Looking at the pictures of the new adults emerging from their shells, I was taken by the beauty of their wings and carapace. Keep in mind that I pretty much abhor all bugs, particularly the large, flying type that thinks nothing of lighting on your back and going for a ride until someone notices and brushes it off. This may be the perfect bug for my canvaswork piece.
The intricacy of the wings makes it all the more imperative that I improve my stitch and fiber vocabularies. I know there's the perfect combination to achieve the effect I can already begin to visualize. I just need to learn what it is. I mean, how hard can it be?


Gingko, or It Is What It Is

It's finished! I finally designed the two bookend pieces of Gingko and stitched them. I'll take it to the framer tomorrow morning.
I'm really happy with the way it turned out. I'm not so happy with the photo, though. The fabric color is just not right. It should be a lovely yellow. Eh. I'm hoping that when it's stretched, framed, and devoid of all the wrinkles and shadows, I'll be able to get more accurate color.
Now all I have to do is finish the chart. Donna LaBranche (needleworker not in paradise) came up with the blackwork fills over a year ago, so yesterday we figured out which ones they were and for which leaf, not as easy as it might sound. Donna also stitched the center panel.


Plan? What Plan?

Today's plan was simple. Sit down at the computer and finish the inventory needs assessment for making the transition to the Scarlet Thread online store. How hard could it be?
Well, I got Excel started up but haven't opened the document yet.
I had such good intentions, but first I had to check my e-mail and various Internet sites. That done, I remembered, as the window AC unit cycled up, that I have to get that window replaced ASAP, as the recent rainy days have revealed that my stop-gap measure to prevent leakage did not work. The wall's so wet underneath that I pushed a nice quarter-sized hole completely through the plaster/wallboard/whatever-it-is-that-isn't-drywall-as-we-know-it-today. It's a very nice, round hole and would make a perfect peephole if you wanted to peer into that space between the wall and the exterior wall, which is very dark btw. When my friend Steve, the painter, came over yesterday to check it out while it was raining, the paint peeled right off and the water dripped right down the wall. Gah!
So I found the number of the window-replacement place recommended by someone in the neighborhood and called to see how long it would take to get a new custom window installed. Because the house, being built in the mid-1940s, has no standard-size anything. Unfortunately, I'm faced with the same response from this window company as the original one I contacted — the one that replaced all the other windows in the house a dozen or so years ago — I can't put the window AC back in a new-style window. So that sucks.
Let's see. We're now entering what is fondly called the "dog days" of August. Oh joy! One of the hottest times of the year, and I'm looking at the very real possibility of no AC. I can only hope that the uncharacteristically mild summer will continue and not revert to the norm. I don't do well in the heat and humidity we all know so well in the DC metro area.
So what are the alternatives to a window AC? I could go with a portable unit, but that is both unsightly (has an exhaust duct that must be vented to the outside) and more inefficient than the window unit. Scratch that idea. Central AC is out of the question both economically and physically. My house is very small. My heating system is the old-fashioned boiler with radiators. No ductwork and way more construction than I care to do to install the requisite ductwork.
Last choice: the split ductless AC system. I'm not sure whether it's really less expensive than a central system, but my impression is that it is. It's installed at ceiling level and the works are primarily on the outside of the house. I really only need it on the ground floor. I have a window unit in the upstairs bedroom.
So I call the HVAC company that services my boiler. I seem to recall that the service technician mentioned this system as a possibility a few years ago. Hallelujah! They can send someone out to give an estimate this afternoon, and if it's doable, it can be done by the end of next week. I'll just seal up the window, put a screen in front of it to hide it, and wait for a new window at the end of the summer.
I mean, how hard can it be?


It's Finally Finished!

After a concerted, dedicated push, I finally finished stitching Morning Glory. Hallelujah! I was beginning to think I was stuck in a loop and would never put in the last stitch. I'm pleased with the way it came out; I really wasn't sure until I got down to the bottom right corner that was all one color (and extremely tedious to stitch). Without further ado, here it is!
The central image, the actual flower, is stitched in full cross stitches with two threads of overdyed cotton (Carrie's Creation Threads and Crescent Colours) over two threads. The background is stitched in half cross stitches with one thread of cotton (DMC, Anchor, and one Weeks Dye Works floss) over two threads. I used WDW 3550 Williamsburg Blue instead of DMC 310 Black for the darkest shadow. The black was just too harsh.
The fabric is 32-ct Silkweaver Silver Mist Belfast Linen. Even though there is technically no fabric unstitched in the design, I think using a single strand of floss in half stitches allows the fabric to add some depth that would have been missing if I used a solid white or off-white.
I don't think I'll be adding a border to this, but that may change. I'm going to mull it over for a while. I still have to show it to the Thursday morning stitching group. The Tuesday night group saw it almost completed with just a small trapezoidal shape unstitched in the bottom right corner. At that point, the possibility of a border was still on the shelf, not even on the back burner. I'm toying with putting a border all around that will allow the fabric to show a bit and suggest a lattice effect, but that may be a bit much.
This may be one that I frame without a mat because the fabric is so nice and could make a nice self-mat. I'll have to wait until I'm actually at the frame shop to see what Clive, the Brit, has to offer. Since I'm planning to give this to my sister for her birthday, I have to take her taste into consideration too.


The UPS Man Cometh

     Yesterday, the UPS man delivered a large box to my door. Yippee! Inside were two Lowery Workstands, one for me and one for a customer. If you're not familiar with this floorstand, you're missing out on an elegantly simple tool. I don't know why I waited so long to get one for myself.
     Here it is as assembled out of the box. There are three basic elements of the stand: the base, the post, and the arm.
     The attachments include the daisy dish, which is optional and can be used to hold needles, tacks, tape measure, M&Ms, whatever your small stitching essentials may be, and the clamp, in this case a side clamp. They also make a corner clamp that is useful with stretcher bars and QSnaps, perhaps even large hoops. I like the side clamp because it's good for any type of frame.
     The base of the stand allows for much flexibility in placement. It can slide under a chair and is especially nice if you like to sit in a recliner. I set it up in position by a recliner (not actually where I sit and stitch but good to illustrate).
    The Lowery is simple to transport and can be packed in a suitcase easily when traveling by bus, train, or plane. (I don't recommend putting it in a carry-on to go through security though.) Simply remove the attachments and separate the three basic elements, and you have a fairly flat, compact package.
     I'm so excited about having my own stand at last. I really want to just sit and stitch for a while, but the office beckons me to get back in there and make it functional instead of a file warehouse.


How Do You Stitch Revisited

     When I do canvaswork or hand-painted canvas, I always use stretcher bars. Someone brought to my shop a canvas to be stretched and finished as a small (dollhouse) rug. Can you say "parallelogram"? There were no squared corners. Stretching it was a real challenge, and the person doing the stretching (my partner at the time) was heard to mutter some choice words about it. Every time she took out the pins, while it might have less acute angles, it would gravitate back to the original shape. I don't know how many times she had to pin, spray, dry, repeat. It never did get totally squared up, but it was a vast improvement. I have been told if one does basketweave instead of continental or tent stitch, there is less distortion. I'm not experienced enough to know. I just know that if you put your canvas on a frame, you can pretty much eliminate that skewed effect.
     As far as I know, there are two basic frameworks to use: stretcher bars and scroll (or roller, as I've heard some people say) frames.
     Stretcher bars are the simplest, least expensive way to go. You have to buy them in pairs to match your canvas size, put them together, square them up, then tack the canvas on, keeping it as taut as possible. A woman who worked for me for a while passed along a tip for squaring your stretcher bars: place the corner in the corner of a door frame and knock it to fit snugly. This assumes that your door frame is square, which it should be. There are two styles of stretcher bars, regular and mini. The difference is the thickness of the bar. The regular size is 3/4", and the mini, 1/2". I generally use the minis for canvases up to 12" or 13" max. I just don't think they're sturdy enough for the larger size canvas.
     Having said that they are the simplest, least expensive way to go, I have to tell you about a very (relatively speaking) expensive type of stretcher bar that pays for itself over years and years of use: Evertite Stitchery Frames. These are made of a higher quality wood than the others and have the added advantage of being adjustable. Normally, as you work your piece, it will gradually loosen the tension, requiring untacking and retacking from time to time. The Evertite is made so that by using the "T Tool," you can tighten the tension without removing the canvas and retacking it. These stretchers are excellent for a piece that will be on the frame over an extended time. But from what I've seen, once you try them, you want them in all sizes for all of your projects. I haven't used them myself, but they never stayed in the shop for long.
     As for scroll or roller frames, they're pretty much the same as those I talked about for counted thread and cross-stitch. Generally, you want to use the ones that are more heavy duty, with a diameter of perhaps 3/4".
     I'm sure there are other ways to stitch canvas. These are what I've come across in my relatively recent foray into needlepoint and canvaswork. Please let me know of anything I've missed.


A New Beginning

     Phew! Glad that's over. It's been an intense week or two. I finally got everything out of the shop on Wednesday at noon. Confession: I still haven't emptied the last load from my car. I have three pieces of furniture on my side porch, awaiting purchase, or carting away if it comes to that. My home office has a couple of paths among the boxes, to the phone and to the bathroom. The basement, oddly, isn't as bad as I thought it would be. Bags and bags of threads, boxes of patterns, baskets of fabric. Ack! Where to begin? I think the office, since I can't avoid seeing it every day. The basement? Out of sight, out of mind. Haha!
     It was a real treat to go to the Tuesday night stitching group as just another stitcher. I did a little stitching, a little chatting, a little just sitting there enjoying the hubbub surrounding me. I had hoped to join some of the Thursday morning group at Panera but opted to visit my niece, back from Spain with family, including 8-month-old David whom we are just now meeting. Another confession: I also overslept Thursday morning and just couldn't get myself in gear till around 11 or 11:30. I'll be there this Thursday, though.
     As for stitching, I'm ready to apply myself to those DIPs. I think I have a color change to make on the Morning Glory. There's a really vivid green in the background that looks out of place right now. I'm going to stitch a little more of the colors around it to see if it gets balanced out. If not, I'll be rippin'.
     The Gingko, or It Is What It Is, is screaming at me from the recesses of my brain. There's not that much left. I just have to apply myself and chart those two little side pieces. How hard can it be?


Don't cry for me, needlework goddess

     I really could use the sunshine, but the heavens seem determined to pour forth the rain. I'm hoping the momentary break in the rain means they're giving me a reprieve. Perhaps they were just weeping at the loss of yet another LNS and are done with that.
     Okay. Enough with that indulgence. I'm sitting here getting ready to open the door for one last time and hoping I won't totally lose it too many times today. The stitching groups know my propensity to cry when overcome by emotion. Okay, I'm tearing up now. I better get it together and fling wide the gates. Okay, it's just a door.
     Closing up my store. How hard can it be?


So how do you stitch?

     This is one of the most frequently asked questions in my soon-to-be-closed shop. Do you stitch in hand? With a hoop? Scrollframe? Stretcher bars? My answer: Almost all of the above. The only thing I don't do is stitch in hand. Too loosey-goosey for me. I need more structure and tension. Since I don't have to worry about sounding like I'm giving the hard sell here now, I'd like to expound on the various frames/hoops I have used.
     First, my preferred frame is the Lapstitch Mini or Lapstitch Doodler, both manufactured by Images Stitchery Design. The two are variations on a basic design. I like it for two things: design and functionality. These frames are beautiful wooden standalone stitching frames. They're visually attractive, light-weight, and wonderful to handle. They are also easy to use. The scroll rods have a large fabric strip onto which you attach your fabric. You can baste it on by hand or by machine, thanks to the width of the strip. You can also just pin it on, which I have been known to do more often than not. Stitching is a better way of getting the tension even, but with enough pins, you can get even tension.
     I love stitching at a table with this frame. It sits there oh so nicely all on its own, allowing two-handed stitching. I have a nice Daylight magnifier on a base that I can bend over the top, making it even more delightful. (I always, or almost always, use a magnifier. Why suffer for vanity's sake?) When I'm at home, sitting in my preferred spot at the left end of the sofa, where I have a side table on which sits my Daylight tabletop light and magnifier (in case I haven't said it before, Daylight is my favorite brand of light and magnifier for stitching), this frame works beautifully in my lap. I prop one end on the arm of the sofa and the other on my lap and stitch merrily along with both hands. Because the frame is so light, flipping it over to anchor threads is simple and not cumbersome.
     Another frame that I like a lot but use less frequently because it isn't quite as self-sufficient, so to speak, is the Handi-Clamp scroll frame. This is a hybrid of the traditional scroll frame and the Q-Snap. Instead of the fabric strip on the rod, there is a clamp like the one used on Q-Snaps. So it combines the best features (to me) of both types of frame: no basting of fabric and easy movement within the piece being stitched. The main drawback with this frame is a functional one. You really need to have a lapstand or floorstand for it to be optimal. While it's possible to stitch without a stand, I find it more cumbersome and more likely to cause hand fatigue in my left hand (I'm right-handed). But if you already have a stand with a universal clamp, this is an excellent choice.
     Since I mentioned Q-Snaps, I'll say a little about them. Not a frame that I go to first, second, or even third; but lots of people love this style. It's a four-sided frame, so you control the tension on all sides of your fabric. I find it hard to get my fabric lined up evenly (yes, I'm a tad anal about getting things aligned properly), which drives me nuts when preparing to stitch. Then, there are just a few sizes available, so sometimes you have to move the piece of fabric to get to the next section to be stitched. And you have to go through the whole alignment thing again. Not my cup of tea, but that's me.
     Hoops are the most basic type of stitching frame to me. You can get tension all around the area to be stitched pretty easily and can align the fabric within it fairly well. The main drawbacks are hand fatigue and creases from the hoop. Creasing can be reduced (but not eliminated in my experience) by wrapping the bottom part with bias tape or, my preference, that rubbery mesh shelf liner you can get in the grocery store. You have to remove the hoop when you're done stitching to avoid really intense creasing, something I don't always remember to do. If you like hoops, though, my favorite is the Hardwicke Manor hoop. These beautiful wooden hoops feel great in your hand, so smooth. They tighten with a screw, and I highly recommend adding a small screwdriver to your stitching tools so that you can tighten the hoop properly. They're not cheap, but they'll last you a lifetime.
     These stitching frames work well with counted thread and surface embroidery primarily, although I know needlepointers who use scrollframes. I'll talk about what I like to use for canvaswork next time, along with lapstands and floorstands.


Random Thoughts and Stitch N' Pitch 2009

     I love my Tuesday night and Thursday morning stitching groups. They're such a diverse bunch of women, ranging in age from 28 (29?) to 81, who do all kinds of needlework. They do crewel, counted thread, charted canvaswork, painted canvas, punch needle, silk ribbon embroidery, surface embroidery. Have I forgotten anything? I don't know. This is what has so inspired me over the past three and a half years, the evolution of the groups and the stitchers who comprise them.
     The Tuesday night group was the first, beginning with a few stitchers and gradually growing to the current group that fills the table and spills out into the rest of the room. Most of these women come in after working outside of the home all day, but several work at home, either as full-time moms or as self-employed entrepreneurs. They unwind, get rid of the stuff that builds up over the course of the day. So many conversations crossing and blending. And all the time, stitching. The "Ooh-Aah" times are great. Someone will stand up and start unfurling or unveiling her latest finish. Gasps, oohs and aahs, and applause follow. So much fun and support for each other. Consultations about whether a particular thread is working or should be replaced, whether a stitch is being done correctly, what's wrong and how can it be fixed. I've learned a lot just by listening to everything swirling around me. That is, when I get a chance to sit and stitch for a few minutes. There's also a lot of shopping going on some nights.
     The Thursday morning group started in response to a request from a number of people for a daytime group. I can't remember how long it was, but I think it was at least for a year that the "group" consisted of me and Taryn, who came in from Bristow to stitch from 10:30 to noon, then eat lunch and head back in time to meet her kids after school. We had our favorite lunch from Jerry's Subs across the street. We were so regular, they recognized my voice and knew the order almost before I finished reciting it. Then other people started coming to join our intimate stitchfest. We now have the table filled and sometimes spilling out into the rest of the room. These are the women who keep their households running smoothly day in and day out. At times, they have been temporarily out of work, looking for a new job, and taking advantage of the opportunity to sit and stitch with a bunch of other stitchers. Sometimes there's a dose of healthy competition thrown in (who can finish a project first, with the inevitable result being Karla). And the finishes! EB brings in each wedding sampler as she finishes it, having set herself the task of completing nine crewel samplers for all of her grandchildren who are all in their 20s and will someday be getting married, she's sure. Karla puts us all to shame, seeming to bring in at least one or two finishes every week or so. They all finish much more than I do. I'm the queen of UFOs. Some things will be finished, but most of the things I start are destined to remain half-done.
     An unexpected result of bringing all these women together, leading disparate lives, is the friendships that have sprung up and the consequent tremendous outpouring of support for the trials all of us experience from time to time. These women are fantastic! I feel so honored and blessed to have met them and to get to see them every week.
     In the weeks since I announced that Scarlet Thread would be closing at the end of June, these women have worked diligently to find a place or places to continue meeting. It's wonderful and bittersweet. I was instrumental in getting these women together, and now the groups have taken on lives of their own and they're moving on, with or without me. Silly, I know, but I feel like a mother who's watching her children leave home. The house rules will no doubt change. The Tuesday night group will now have no one saying, "Okay, politics for 10 minutes, then that's it!" Boy, was the never-ending election season a tough one to get through without much commentary and discussion. But I prevailed! I have to admit, I sometimes was the one who broke the rule. I don't need to ask, how hard can it be to let go of these groups? It's incredibly hard!
     If you don't have a stitching group like these, find one or start one! It's a marvelous thing. The stitching is the common thread that gives the group a focus. There's always that moment of silence that descends. That's when you know, everyone's counting, concentrating on the task in hand.
     Saturday night was the annual Stitch N' Pitch event cosponsored by TNNA (The National Needlearts Assocation) and Major League Baseball, held at Nationals Park with the Washington Nationals hosting the Baltimore Orioles. I confess, I'm not a sports fan, so I had no problem sitting in the demonstration room, doing canvaswork and attempting to teach the occasional interested party how to do the continental stitch. Almost like the blind leading the blind, but I had slightly better eyesight.
     It was fun catching up with my fellow members of MANRA, the Mid-Atlantic Needlework Retailers Association, which also includes local designers. This is a unique group in the world of local business. We all are competitors, but we organized for our mutual benefit. Anyone who has visited the needlework shops in the area knows each one has a different focus. There's overlap, of course, in the materials we sell, but that actually works to our advantage. If a customer needs a particular thread, fabric, embellishment, whatever, that I don't have and they can't wait for a special order, I can call one of the other shops that carries that product and get it from them.
     TNNA was surprised when they first approached the metro DC region about the Stitch N' Pitch event. They didn't have to go hunt for all the shops and solicit volunteers. They had a ready-made group that was more than willing to join in this outreach effort. As far as I know, they still haven't encountered another group like ours anywhere else. (I could be wrong, but I prefer to think I'm right.)
     Anyway, at the end of the third inning, the demonstration room was closed and we were free to watch the rest of the game, which was tied at that point. Don't ask me who won. I have no idea. My goal on leaving was to get a cheeseburger from Five Guys and go home. I think they were in the fifth or sixth inning by the time I got out of there. The most popular restaurant I encountered was Five Guys. The line was twice as long as at any of the other places I passed, and I had to go halfway around the stadium to get there. Since the line was so long, I struck up a conversation with the people around me, and eventually I had to admit that I wasn't there for the baseball but for the stitching. Of course, that prompted the woman I was behind to bring out the piece she was crocheting and add a few stitches to it. I'm not sure how impressed the two young men were who were behind us and had been talking with us. I think they were bemused.


What I learned last week

     Last Monday, I went to the doctor to see about changing the medication I take for colitis. It's very expensive and I always reach the cap on my prescription coverage a couple of months before the year is up. So we discussed the only option, evidently they're all expensive except for the one that kind of dropped out of favor in the 1990s, and its possible side-effects and decided I would try it out. I have never had an adverse reaction to any drug, and I've taken a lot of drugs over the course of 57 years for the various allergies, skin conditions, and maladies I've had.
     I got up Wednesday morning and discovered that my hands and forearms were red, like a sunburn, and a little puffy. Drat, this must be the flushing he was talking about, I thought. I also had a slight headache, the other side-effect he mentioned, but since I'm subject to migraines and headaches in general, I didn't think too much of it. I e-mailed the doctor that I was stopping the medication, after only 5 or 6 tablets, and awaited a reply. Nothing came in all day, and when I got home, I was exhausted and my hands and arms seemed a bit worse than in the morning.
     Thursday morning I got up to discover that the rash had spread up my arms and onto my torso with a little on my neck and very little on my face. Worse, though, my hands were so swollen I couldn't make a fist. This did not bode well for working at the shop, combined with my feeling of total exhaustion despite a full night's sleep. So I called the doctor's office to report these developments. After much back and forth with advice nurses in various departments, it was decided that I should not take either the old or the new medication until I talked to the prescribing doctor, should take Benadryl, and should take Tylenol. Great. I was out of both and could not imagine trying to drive in my condition. Plus I was not feeling all that well. I hadn't taken my temperature but was having chills.
     Before calling on my sister for help, though, I had to try to get in touch with some of the people in the stitching group that would be convening shortly at the shop. Of course I didn't have the up-to-date mailing list at home, so I was only able to reach one person and leave word with another. They'd just have to call me to find out what was up when they got tired of waiting. So I called my sister, who went out to get the Benadryl and Tylenol. I took my temperature and discovered that I was running a fever over 100. Oh joy!
     I finally got a call from the doctor that afternoon. After much repetition, I was able to get it through his head that I was having a rather serious adverse reaction and that I should stop taking the new medication. I reminded him that I had e-mailed him, telling him that I had stopped taking it Wednesday morning. The outcome of our conversation, go back to the old medication, continue with the Benadryl and Tylenol, and just wait for the rash to go away.
     Saturday I got up, checked the redness in the facial area (not too horrible), got dressed and went in to the shop for the first time since Wednesday. My hands were still a bit puffy, so cutting fabric was a bit dicey. I wore a long-sleeved top and long pants so that no one would have to see the incredible redness that had taken over my body. Wearing clothes for the first time in a couple of days was a rather unpleasant, uncomfortable experience. I was so glad when I finally got home that night and could get back in my jammies.
     On Sunday, my hands were finally pretty much back to their normal size with just a slight redness. The flushing was making its way over the rest of my body and gradually receding in much the same way it had built up. I felt almost human again. Today, it's limited to my lower calves.
     Lesson learned: DO NOT TAKE SULFA DRUGS. I had never had any sulfa drugs prescribed before this, so I had no idea I was allergic to them. Gah!
     I'm planning to finally get some stitching in tonight.


A Couple of DIPs and a WIP

     Here's a quick update on the Morning Glory. I've stitched a bit of the background and am liking it much better this time around.
     I decided I should post what are slightly better images of the Gingko, It Is What It Is. I think these show the different blackwork leaves better.
     When I learned of Jean Hilton's death, I was shocked and saddened. Such a loss. I've been very slowly working on Turnberry Ridge, trying to learn on my own some of her wonderful stitches. This is a wonderful pattern to learn while doing, as she intended. The instructions are great, and she gives a lot of additional stitches that aren't used in the piece itself. Here is my beginning, and please keep in mind that although it's not the first piece of canvaswork I've done, I'm still are rank amateur.


And so it begins

      Yesterday, I announced the final sale at Scarlet Thread. So begins the end of a brief chapter of my life. It's been a wonderful ride. I've met some of the nicest people I'll ever know, and I hope to continue to see them. Endings are never easy, and this is a particularly difficult one. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when I close and lock the door for the last time at the end of June. I've got a couple of months to figure that out.
    I mean, how hard can it be to reinvent myself once again?


It's a bargello thing

     Last June, at the TNNA Needlearts Convention in Columbus, I took a beginning bargello class with June McKnight. What a wonderful teacher! The idea was to learn the basics of bargello so I could help people who came in the shop and wanted to do bargello. Well, I learned the basics but that's as far as it got, my time limitations being what they are.
     Later in the summer, I received an order of hand-painted canvases from the show that included a fun small piece of three chili peppers. The distributor sent me two instead of just the one I ordered, so I took this as a sign that I was to work the second one up as a model. As I pondered how to go about it (I'm not a traditional needlepointer, having had unsatisfying encounters with hand-painted canvas), it occurred to me that bargello might just be the perfect way to approach the peppers themselves. I picked a Caron Collection Waterlilies color that said "chili pepper" to me, then turned to Ms. McKnight's wonderful new book, "The Best Bargello Book," to search for a pattern that wasn't too advanced but would achieve the dimensional effect I was looking for.
     I found one that looked promising, then proceeded to tweak it on a doodle cloth. It had to be proportional to the size of the peppers, which I found wasn't easy to perfect. But I finally found what appeared to work. And voila! I became a bargello fan. It's so much fun to stitch. As a cross-stitcher, I find the quickness of bargello stitching very satisfying. It's almost like instant gratification, but it does take more than a few minutes. Anyway, I was very pleased with the result and have received many compliments on this MIP, because of course, I've never gotten around to doing the background after completing the peppers.
    I think I "finished" this sometime in early fall, right about the time that my sisters and I were making pilgrimages to our parents' home to divvy up the contents in preparation for selling it. My father was living with one of them here in Virginia, and there was no chance of his ever going back there to live. Among the furnishings were a number of small Victorian and similar side chairs. You know the type, with a small upholstered back and seat meant more for decoration than actual seating. The one I chose, ended up with, has an old-fashioned needlepoint design along with a matching footstool.
    It fits in nicely in my guest room, which has my grandmother's antique bed and dresser. It's not the same style, but it works. (The room is sort of a reconstruction of the guest room in my parents' house. I had planned to move into this downstairs room and make the upstairs bedroom the guest room, but now that it's all in place, I don't know. It's kind of creepy.) Anyway, the footstool, which did have a lot of use, needs to be reupholstered. So I've decided to design a bargello piece for it. If it works out, then I'll adapt the design for the chair. I've got a number of books in the shop that I can use as references and resources in coming up with and executing it.
     I guess I'll find out how hard it can be, won't I?


DIPs, Part 2

     My other design in progress is a blackwork piece, but it didn't start out as blackwork. It started out as a piece of fabric that needed a design.
     When Lakeside Linens came out with the Lemon Ice color, I shook my head. It just didn't fit in. It was too bright. Then I and a customer decided we had to find a design that would work with that fabric. Every time she brought me a pattern and said, "This just may be the one," we optimistically and excitedly pulled the colors and did the floss toss. And every single time we were disappointed. Nothing seemed to really work with that yellow. So somehow I came to the decision that I'd just have to create a new design precisely for that fabric.
     As I mulled the problem over in the farthest reaches of my brain, I turned to nature. What in the natural world would complement or be associated with that color? Then I had my light-bulb moment. A gingk0 leaf in autumn is very similar to that yellow. I love the shape of the gingko. Perfect!
     After much research and trial and error, I came up with the concept. But it seemed awfully simple, a bit too basic for my taste, totally lacking in opportunities for the confetti that characterizes my designs. So naturally I turned to blackwork, a style of stitching that I find beautiful, elegant, deceptively simple looking. And one that I have absolutely no experience in doing. How was this going to work? I usually stitch my own models so that I can work out the colors and solve problems as they arise. There was no way I could stitch this model. But I blithely dove in and started working on it. I mean, how hard could it be to learn a little blackwork?
     Ha! I was right. There was no way I could stitch this model. My lack of skill with the technique made it painfully clear that I was not the one to do it.
     The second ah-ha moment. I could ask one of my customers who knew how to do blackwork. It wasn't a large design. How hard could it be if you knew what you were doing? So I asked Donna (needleworker not in paradise), who agreed! Problem solved.
     I think Donna will readily admit that it wasn't as simple a design as I had thought. Well, my original concept was pretty simple. But we both decided that it was just too boring. So much for "how hard could it be?" I am indebted to Donna for figuring out the various blackwork patterns to use along with doing all the stitching. It's going to be a lovely piece. When it finally gets finished.
     The last element I design for any piece is the border. Should there be one? Does it really need one? What kind of stitch should it be? Usually, by the time I finish stitching the main part of the pattern, I know what I want to do. Not this time. So Donna and I sat down to discuss it. She went home with a few ideas and proceeded to try to find the right stitch or combination of stitches that would put the finishing touch on this deceptively simple-looking gingko design. It couldn't be too elaborate, but it couldn't be too basic either.
     This piece might be in limbo still (okay, it's more of in a holding pattern, waiting for its turn), were it not for a fresh pair of eyes looking at it one afternoon when Donna was tending to the shop while I was out. The third eureka moment came courtesy of Jill, who said, "Make this the center element of a triptych, then frame each piece and display it as a grouping." Perfect!
     Wait a minute. That meant I'd have to design two side pieces, to which we all three responded, "How hard can it be?" And it truly won't be that hard. I know what I'm going to do. I have the elements I need. I just need a block of time to chart them and then stitch them. It will happen. After DIP #1 gets finished. (I'm pleased to report that the background is going well, and a little faster than expected.)
     So here's DIP #2, the working (and probably final) title of which is, "It is what it is."
     A note about the color in this photo. It's not very good.


The Perils of Having More Than One Computer

     I just finished writing about my other DIP and tried to upload the picture of the piece that I took in the shop the other day. There's just one small problem. It's on the computer in the shop, and I'm working on my laptop at home. I didn't think to e-mail it to myself before I left. Curses. This is the second time I started doing this at home and realized I didn't have the picture. Doh!
     So I'll try to do it tomorrow at the shop if I have the time. And if I don't, maybe I'll remember to send myself the picture. That's just silly. It will take just as long to e-mail it to myself as it will to plug it into the post. I'll definitely do it tomorrow. How hard can it be?



     I've been working on a couple of designs for the past year. Seems like forever, but it's only been a year. One, I've literally been working on. The other, I conceptualized but passed along to a model stitcher more experienced than I in the type of stitching it requires.
     The one I've been laboring over is Morning Glory. This design falls in line with my usual style, up close and personal with a flower from my (or someone else's) garden. I took lots of my own pictures, looked at lots of my sister's pictures, decided on one, and can't remember whose it was. Eh. After charting it in Anchor floss, I decided to do the flower itself in overdyed cottons. I thought it might be interesting and perhaps a little less intense a stitching experience than the usual confetti I use to get the look I want. It's been a long process.
     Here's my first go at it. I had gotten pretty far along when I discovered a mistake that couldn't stay and started the process of negative stitchery to reach the point where it could be corrected. (Pardon the wrinkles; it's been rolled/folded up for months.)
     Along the way, I decided I didn't like the way the background was turning out. Not to mention, I kept finding bad things in the flower, wasn't feeling the way I'd been working the overdye, and was generally unhappy with the whole thing. Best to just start fresh than start to hate it. So I changed the fabric, tackled the focal image, and put the background on the back burner of my mind.
     I recently finished the flower and am much happier with the result.
     I know how I want to stitch the background now to achieve the soft, faded look I wanted but wasn't getting even though I had chosen washed-out colors to stitch it in. You can see, barely, where I've begun. Maybe it won't take me another year to finish stitching this.
     It's interesting to see how the color differs in these two photos. I took both on the same day, in the same place, with the same settings, but the purples look different. Perhaps it's an optical effect created by the different colors of the fabric. All I know is, the same threads were used for both. Speaking of the threads, I found the range of purples in Anchor deficient, making the switch to overdyes even more important in the final analysis. Here are the original Anchor colors along with the overdyes from Carrie's Creation Threads and Crescent Colours.
     The other design was inspired by a piece of Lakeside Linens & Designs fabric, Lemon Ice to be precise. I'll talk about that one the next time.


I love silk

     I recently received a skein of a new silk floss to play with. How delightful!
     A little background. I've been carrying Carrie's Creation Threads in cotton for a year or more, ever since Tracy Horner of Ink Circles started using them in her patterns. The colors are so rich, and the price is so right: $1 for an 8-yard skein of overdyed DMC floss. I got just the threads for both colorways of Tracy's "I Still Do" and then decided I needed them all. They are wonderful to work with, but as with all overdyes these days, they vary from dye lot to dye lot. Whatever. I've come to terms with this and always encourage people to get perhaps one more skein than they think they'll need to be sure they don't run out and can't match the dye lot. I don't mind exchanging an unused skein occasionally. Not that anyone has ever returned an unused skein of Carrie's floss.
     In February, Carrie introduced her 6-strand silk floss. At $2 for an 8-yard skein. OMG! She had a prerelease batch of Epiphany available to work the Ink Circles "Cirque des Carreaux." So I got it, to see what it was like. The color was gorgeous, just as rich as the cotton version, and not much different colorwise. You never know with silk vs. cotton how close the match will be. I sold a few patterns kitted up with the Carrie's and Lakeside Linens Vintage Tarnished Silver and waited for the reviews. Well, of course no one has started the piece yet. It's in their queue, and we know what can happen with that.
     Jump to March. I decided to go ahead and get the newest colors of the cottons along with their corresponding silks, so I could do my comparison. Carrie asked if I wanted a skein to try out, so I could actually talk intelligently about it with my stitchers. What a concept! So I set about finding a pattern that would only need one skein of floss to complete. I found just the pattern, Tracy's "Pot Luck." One small problem. It calls for two skeins. Eh. So I decided to do it over one. It would be a good test of how well a single strand of the silk would cover on a 32-count Belfast. 
     You be the judge.
     I think it's pretty good, and those who have seen it in real life agree.
     I was dubious at the outset. Would I really enjoy working with this thread? I have to admit that I was afraid it would be like another inexpensive silk available online, Vikki Clayton's, which are pretty but which I didn't particularly enjoy working with. Carrie's has been a joy so far. (I know, I haven't gotten all that much done, and I've been working on this for a couple or three weeks. Shut up! Just because I own a shop, it doesn't mean I have any time to stitch.) My biggest fear was a knotting and static problem. The static is a slight problem with the full skein, but when I'm stitching and working with the individual strands, it's not. Go figure. (When I touched the first batch, one skein instantly flew apart in a fabulous display. Perhaps it was just having a bad day.) Knotting has not been an issue either. I'm sold.
     I'm really excited that the color difference between the cottons and the silks seems minimal, based on the eight or so colors I got in. There are one or two where the intensity varies, but I think it's safe to make the color selection from the cottons I have in the shop and order the corresponding silks. This will be my approach as I gradually increase the inventory. (Gradually increasing it gives me time to find someplace to display it in my small shop, a very big problem right now.)
     What do you think?
     A skein of the cotton is on top of the silk in this picture. These are the remaining silks, btw. I've already sold out a few of the colors that came in.
     I still have yet to hear from anyone about how they like working with it.
     In case you're wondering, this is what "Pot Luck" looks like:


Best-Laid Plans

     This morning, I'm supposed to be stitching at Woodlawn, womaning the demonstration room along with a couple of women who teach at Scarlet Thread, are loyal customers, and are members of the Thursday morning stitching group. Instead, I'm sticking close to home, a bit under the weather, and hoping to be able to get over there later this morning or early in the afternoon. Ah well.
     If you're in the greater-DC metro area or within a one- to two-hour drive away and haven't been to this year's Needlework Exhibition, you have a few more days to see it, Tuesday being the last day. I've been there twice now and have yet to actually get to walk around and savor the vast array of needlework on display. The variety of styles and techniques is wonderful and inspiring. It makes one want to venture beyond one's comfort zone, something the remedial stitcher never thinks twice about. I always find the show inspirational and challenging, and it seems most stitchers who attend do as well. I hope to get over there tomorrow, my day off, to go as a visitor, not as a participant, the only way I can hope to take a leisurely walk around. I haven't even seen all the pieces Scarlet Thread submitted for its customers yet, some of them prize-winners!
     Yesterday was a fun day in the shop. Two women arrived within moments of each other, both of whom had been to Woodlawn earlier this month and picked up the Scarlet Thread flyer. They immediately started chatting and oohing and aahing about the models hanging in the gallery. I thought they must have known each other for ages from the way they were talking. But no, they'd just met. They were both so inspired by the canvaswork on exhibit at Woodlawn, something I am also consumed by these days. They wandered around together for a while, then diverged, occasionally calling each other to come look at something. One browsed for an hour or so, bought a bunch of patterns, threads, and a scroll-frame and departed with a promise to return when she had more time. The other proceeded to comb through everything in the shop. Methodically. Spending at least two hours, but I think more like three.
     While she was poring over a stack of patterns she was considering at the worktable, in walked one of the area's premiere, award-winnning canvasworkers, who had just been to Woodlawn. He had also been in the shop just the day before. I said something like, "What are you doing here?" "I thought I might buy some stuff. That okay with you?" he retorted. I wandered back to see what he was up to. It seems his visit to Woodlawn had compelled him to come up with a new piece, perhaps to submit to next year's show. Like so many stitchers this past year, he hadn't been able to stitch as much as he'd liked and hadn't had a piece that he wanted to show. Overnight, he'd come up with a design concept and some ideas for colors. Let me tell you, I can't wait to see his progress on this piece. The color pallette is to die for, not to mention the rich variety of texture he's going to achieve with the different fibers he selected. I can say no more.
     I took the opportunity to introduce the two of them when the woman started asking about changing the colorway of a canvaswork pattern she was considering. Yes, I could have answered her questions, but I love to watch and listen as two people who share nothing but a common interest in needlework launch into an animated discussion of color, texture, and design. This kind of spontaneous sharing is what makes a day in the shop successful. Well, that and a few sales, of course. I learn so much just by starting a dialogue, then sitting back and seeing where two or more stitchers will take it.


Just who is this remedial stitcher?

     Oh, hai. I guess you're wondering why anyone would refer to herself as a remedial stitcher. Or maybe not. Let me shed a little light on that, in any case.
     I'm a late bloomer when it comes to needlework. I did a few random pieces in my youth, but I never really got hooked. It wasn't until my daughter attended the Nelly's Needlers summer youth camp at Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria, VA, that I got back to doing cross-stitch. What a great way to relax! How soothing!
     I worked several projects, beginning with a ballet bag that had a simple band to be stitched that Jane had started and abandoned. I tried surface embroidery, completing a lovely floral bouquet that I had made into a pillow for my mother (note the words "had made," not "made"). This was not really my cup of tea, however, so I went back to cross-stitch. I found a funky, blue cat's head that I did for a friend and then rather naively moved on to a Mirabilia fairy. What an eye-opener! When I finished that and had it made into a pillow for Jane, I announced that I'd "done my Mirabilia." There was no need for me to revisit that type of design.
    Then I came to a screeching halt. I couldn't find anything that stimulated me, that I wanted to spend my valuable free time on. Bummer. What a world, what a world. I had been hoodwinked; I had the compulsion but could find nothing to stitch. Woe was me!
     Well, I could have continued in that vein, bemoaning the lack of enticing patterns, and I did for a little while. Then I had the proverbial ah-ha moment. What an idiot I was! A graphic designer who couldn't find something to stitch. Surely I could design something myself. I mean, how hard could it be? Consulting and collaborating with a friend, I conceived what ultimately became Merrey Design, my cross-stitch design brand.
     A few years along, as I was gaining more confidence in my stitching and designing, I was faced with a devastating prospect. My supply source was about to disappear. Yes, I know, the loss of a local needlework shop doesn't mean the end of cross-stitch supplies; there are other ways to feed the habit. But it was very important to me as a designer to be able to go into a store, pull the floss, find the linen, see how the colors looked together, and ask the shopowner what she thought. Michael's just didn't cut it. Okay. So now what was I going to do? Maybe I'd just buy the shop. I mean, I was pretty burned out on graphic design. How hard could it be to run a retail store?
     Do you see a pattern here? This is where the "remedial" part comes in. I'm great at jumping in with both feet without making sure I have all the knowledge I might need to succeed at my latest venture. So I have to backtrack a bit and ferret out that necessary information, develop that skill, whatever is required. Owning a retail embroidery supplies shop opened up a whole new world of stitching and materials that I never really knew existed.
     So while I still love counted cross-stitch, the paint-by-numbers form of needlework, I'm back in class again, learning about all these things I'm selling and wanting to work all the patterns and use all the materials myself. All the fibers I wasn't aware of, having only ever used DMC cotton floss. The gorgeous linens in such beautiful colors, with so much depth and such a wonderful hand. Not to mention canvaswork, a totally new concept for me, having only had experience with the preworked needlepoint of old, on which you simply stitched the background and then pronounced it your work. Yawn!
     That's where this blog fits in. I've been exploring new techniques and materials, so much so that I think I'm the queen of MIPs, models in progress. Come by the shop when you're in Great Falls, VA, and you'll see what I mean. I'd like to share my discoveries with other like-minded people. I'm lucky to have easy access to almost anything I want to try out, and I'm happy to pass along what I learn, both good and bad, with the understanding that all of this is totally subjective.
     I mean, how hard can it be to keep up with a weekly blog?