Sunday, September 22, 2013

ES SAL: Erica's Elegant Finish!

Whew! I'm back :) Thank you all so much for understanding, and for the very lovely comments about my Pansy ;) She's gotten so big over the last sunny week that I had to transplant her to a nice new pot today, and I noticed several new buds so hopefully she will bloom again soon! But I'm still behind in blog reading and e-mailing, sorry :(

This is also not the post I intended to write today - I'm sensing a trend here lately - but I have the most wonderful news to share and simply couldn't wait - a new SAL Finish!!! And what an absolutely gorgeous and unusual finish it is too :)

Erica, who blogs at Erica's Stitches and is currently on hiatus, always crafts very creative projects, and her bookmark is no exception! I actually consider it a Spring Garden Variation, and her work is a fantastic example of how you can easily adjust a pattern to make it truly "yours", something that fits your own personality!

Erica is not a fan of hearts, and so she replaced them with geometric floral elements:

Isn't it stunning?!!! The flowers she designed remind me of Chrysanthemums, and along with the pretty colour palette she put together (more about it here and here!), the bookmark has a crisp Autumnal feel, which is very apt given the time of year:

Here's a closer view, where you can see that the innovative layering of the light and dark oranges lends the two motifs their depth and helps give the impression of a large, many-layered flower in what is actually a very small design space!

Erica also replaced the simple spacer bars with lines of incredibly elegant eyelets!!! This is definitely something I want to try stitching in future, and I really like the way she incorporated all her palette colours, alternating light and dark shades!

With so much added detail, Erica minimized the other Specialty Stitch elements - namely the Center Diamond and Algerian Crosses - by working simplier versions, which I think was very smart, as it keeps the eye on all the elements instead of just the center tulip motif. Her bookmark is also a great example of how a few small changes in a design can make a really BIG impact, and the result is so impressive :)

And as the perfect finishing touch, Erica chose this lovely classic botanical print with an inquisitive little birdie, which ties together all her Autumnal colours:

Finally, I really admire Erica's even finishing, and she explained her method to me:

"To finish, I didn't do the sew and flip right sides together - when I do that I can never get nice corners. Instead, I backstitched around the edges of the main design and basted the extra cloth to the inside while mitering the corners. Then I cut some heavy duty fusible interfacing to the same size and fused it to my backing fabric and basted and mitered again. Then I was able to whipstitch the two sides together."

(I'm sharing her own words because her instructions are great, so clear and concise!)

This is most definitely a technique I would like to try in future! My corners, as you have likely noticed, are always wonky - and I thought that you may want to try it out too! If you do, please let me know :) For me, though, I will have to conquer one of my most dreaded Stitchy Foes, The Whipstitch ;) Although a more recent opponent than my staunchest longtime enemy The French Knot, my first effort did not go well.

For that, I will have to work up some courage, methinks, although I do have my poor Blackwork Bookmark (abandoned but not forgotten!) just waiting for its Final Finish. Or perhaps I'll have to stitch up an Autumnal Garden of my own...

Thank you so much Erica for sharing your gorgeous work and lovely pictures!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Slight Change of Plan... & A Giveaway!

Pssst...just sneaking by with a quick little note to let you know that although I've been very quiet lately, I have not disappeared! This week has been devoted to some quick gift stitching for a Very Special family event :) Hopefully some really intensive stitching this weekend will let me finish in time (eek!)! So wish me speedy fingers ;)

Thanks to everyone for your comments on my Chicken Scratch Heart!!! You'll be happy to hear that the Spirit of Spontaneous Stitching once again visited me for another attempt at Scratchin' - but with a new twist - so stay turned for that, LOL! Sorry I'm behind in all my e-mails and blog visits, thanks muchly for your patience :)

In the meantime, hop on over and enter the fabulous Giveaway that Mary Corbet (of Needle N' Thread) is hosting for your chance to win a place in Tanja Berlin's Purple Pansy Needlepainting Class! Designed for Beginners, you get everything you need to stitch along with the class, including the full kit and stretcher frames!

(Tanja is a Canadian needlework designer and specialty supplies retailer, and does very interesting work - she also has an awesome blackwork Lion - done in goldwork! - well worth seeing; it is also her Kit of the Month currently, and so is discounted a bit)

The Giveway ends on Monday, September 16th, 2013!

It already has over 500 entries, so hurry over for the full (but simple) entry rules so you can throw your name in the hat too :) Disclaimer: I haven't entered, because I just don't think that I have the patience for such delicate work (1 strand of thread!), but this is a fabulous opportunity for anyone who wants to learn a new technique.

Speaking of Pansies, here are some photos of the first bloom from the little seedling I planted this Spring, from waaay back at the beginning of the Summer:

I've been meaning to share these for some time; I planted a whole package of seeds and had riots of seedlings, but very sadly they all died off save for this one. It was so pathetic looking, but I stuck it in an old favourite mug of mine anyway (the glaze has worn off inside) and that poor little plant took root with a vengance! It's been putting forth wonderful blooms, five and six at a time, for the last few months!!!

It's been resting for the last few days after a particularly plentiful performance, but there's new little buds coming already :) The seed package was mixed "giant" species, in all kinds of colours - pink, orange, yellow - but I'm really pleased with the lovely classic colouration I got, with deep velvety royal purple shading to buttercream yellow at the edges (and every one has a slightly different pattern!):

I think they're even pretty from the back too :)

So wish me luck! Hopefully I'll be back to posting by mid-week, but if not, I'll see you next weekend :) Hope you have a great one, wherever you are and whatever you do!!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Chicken Scratch Heart, on Aida (!)

Er, this really wasn't the post that I intended to write today :) I had hoped to show you some of my fine crochet, just in case you're wondering (quite understandably) just what the heck I've talking about lately! But on a stormy Thursday night, the urge for some Spontaneous Stitching struck me, and this is what happened, LOL!

I blame my friend Karen (of Karen's Colourful Creations). No, I really do ;) Go and read her Chicken Scratch for the Soul and see the amazing tablecloth she's working on, but don't blame me if you get bit by the Chicken Scratch bug, it's catching :)

So, how did this happen? Well, I've seen Chicken Scratch hearts around before and always thought they were pretty. I hopped online and found this great free pattern, complete with instructions (and stitch illustrations) at Pegasus Originals, Inc., a cross-stitch design company who claim to have made the style popular in 1982.

This heart is their "starter project", and although I didn't realize this when I chose the pattern (oops!), they offer a detailed instructional video on Youtube that covers everything, including how to read the chart symbols. There is also a great two-part lesson with a smaller heart pattern on Sarah's Hand Embroidery Tutorials.

Armed with my pattern, I went diving into (just a very small part of) my Stitchy Guru Mother's Stash. She remembered some pink gingham, and I took this as a Sign that I was on the Right Path and should indeed start Scratchin'! Only it turned out that...

...the pink was just slightly smaller than expected LOL :) The other three are the rest of the gingham I turned up in my Stash Dive, the blue and brown are miniature too and the green is "regular" scale. I really like the blue, and my SGM thought I should go for it, but I wasn't up to trying it and - in hindsight - am very glad I didn't!

The green looks like a lovely Spring-ish colour in this photo, but on that dark and stormy night it looked, um, gruesome. Seriously, I thought the checks were avocado and tan :) Plus it's only a few long strips, only good for a bookmark and not my heart.

I had reached an impasse. A "gingham lace" pattern with no gingham on which to stitch it! The sensible thing would have been for me to put it all aside, but no. I was in The Mood. I wanted to stitch, and I wanted to stitch *now*!!! You know how it is ;)

Perturbed, I pondered. Alas and alack! If only I had some other sort of fabric with squares, I thought. And then it came to me (in a convenient and timely dramatic flash of lightning - it was very stormy out by this point, LOL) - squares = blocks. Blocks = Aida. AIDA!!! Mwahahahahaha....*cue evil genius laughter*

Now, Aida is the one thing I have plenty of. Or so I thought. The problem was that after this epiphany, I went wild and pulled out threads left and right! In the throes of the Spontaneous Spirit, I just pulled out my tote bag of floss and was immediately drawn to the beautiful DMC Colour Variations "Blue Lagoon" pack my Stitchy Guru Mother kindly gifted me at Christmas (which I'll review fully soon!) :)

I've been saving these threads for something special, but I'm trying to push myself to try them out so they don't end up sitting in the package for ten years. A noted side effect of the Spontaneous Stitching Spirit is a Devil-May-Care Attitude, which may or may not be a good thing, LOL! At least now I know how NOT to use them *sigh*

Anyway, I fell for the pretty yellow and pinks of CV 4095, and I pulled 776 (the darker pink) for the outside edges of the heart, 744 (the yellow) for an accent and later added 819 (the light pink). Although they aren't shown to advantage in the heart, I was pleased with the matches, especially once I saw them in sunlight!

I'm actually pretty impressed that I managed to pull such good coordinates in the middle of a thunderstorm by lamplight, LOL :) Just don't ask me to do it again ;)

But because the colours are so light, I needed a light Aida too! The pale yellow I used for my SAL Bookmark washed the yellow in the thread out, and my pink Adia made the pinks invisible. White was what I needed - and I had every count but 14!

Argh! I knew I was low, and I've actually been actively looking for a new package for the last few months - but Michaels has been all out of Charles Craft Gold Standard, the brand I prefer. It's a pretty sad day when you can't even buy white 14 count :(

So I used the only sizeable scrap I had, a bit of Charles Craft Silver Standard. This is the kind carried at Walmart, and I used to love it until I got this roll. CG SS is usually nice and stiff and great for working in hand, so it's ideal for small projects. This stuff is really soft, and it ravels and frays like you wouldn't believe! I've actually already ruined a bookmark project on it, but it was all I had at hand and I decided to use it up.

The Spontaneous Stitching Spirit, it seems, is indomitable and not given to practical considerations. I'm sure I'll be regretting using this soon enough when I attempt the final-finish of the heart. *rolls eyes* (I'm thinking of a little ornament)

I've also run out of Painter's Tape, my usual quick trick to prevent edge fraying, so you can see the edges raveled quite a bit, but it wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Because the Aida was so soft, it needed some stability, so I used a 5" wooden hoop.

Once I had my colours and my Aida, I just set to stitching! Unfortunately, I don't have any in-progress photos because it got really dark very fast. However, I did manage to get this one right after I had finished the outer row (in the 776):

This is the part I really enjoyed! It's just Algerian Eye stitch - called Double Cross Stitch in the pattern - done over a 2 x 2 block square! It goes super quick and easy once you decide on the directions and you quickly work up a rhythm. I definitely want to try using this stitch again by itself, I think it would look really neat :) I used three strands for all the Algerian Eyes. Then I did the filling ones in yellow (744):

It was all going along so smoothly and then - BOOM! - I hit a wall :( My plan was to use the overdyed CV as the running stitch and the wrapping (called Circle Stitch) wound around the running stitches. I thought this would pull the pink and yellow together nicely and make a pretty filling. I tried using three strands straight off the skein, but the colour repeats were too far apart for such a small design.

So I pulled four strands off my cut length, pulled two of those strands out, and then flipped them so the colourway was backward, combining the colour sections so both the pinks and yellows were together. Does this make sense? If not, just let me know!

The four strands made a fuller stitch and I'd recommend it. The blended thread was more subtle but looked so nice - until I did the wraps. Here's a close-up:

Once I had all the running stitches done (I did all the vertical ones first and then all the horizontal ones), I tried using this four-strand CV mix to wrap, but the shape of the stitch was lost. Then I tried three strands of the dark pink (776), doing two wraps as the pattern instructions suggest. It was better, but still sparse looking.

I had to cut them both out very carefully to avoid pulling the running stitches (eek!).

The wraps - Circle Stitch - was the part of the pattern that most excited me and I couldn't wait to reach them - but when I did, the whole thing went off the rails for me. Up to that point, I was enjoying an easy, quick stitch and was zipping along.

This part took me over twice as long as all the other work combined - including the fussing about with the overdyed colourways - and was frustrating! I didn't have any trouble with catching the running stitches once I switched to using a tapestry needle a size smaller (24 instead of 22), but I found the wrapping itself very finicky.

I settled on using all six strands of the light pink (819), pulled apart and recombined so they were extra fluffy, and did each wrap only once. This gave the circles a lot of height, as you can see, but wasn't bulky so the Algerian Eyes still show up.

I started each Circle Stitch at the top of the right arm of the cross formed by the running stitches, wove the needle under the top and left stitches with no problem - but that bottom stitch back up to the left arm is a doozy! No matter how I held my needle, the thread turns and twists, and makes that last stitch lie all wonky.

I persevered, obviously, but it was very hard going. Maybe I'm missing something? I don't know. I do think that using a single-stranded thread, like Pearl (Perle) Cotton, would make the wrapping easier because the twist wouldn't show so much then.

It was also really hard to make the wraps even! It's really easy to pull too tight, and if your wraps are even a little bit too loose you can't see the circle shape. The major advantage of working Chicken Scratch on Aida is that all the stitches are even, which makes it easier to get even Circle Stitches. Working on the traditional gingham with every stitch just so slightly different, would - I imagine - be quite a challenge!

And that strange name? Well, as Karen shows, the back looks like little chicken feet tracks :) Or at least it should! Mine, not so much:

Maybe if you squint a little? *tilts head*

Hmmmm. I think the chickens flew over this one, LOL :)

So there you have it! A Chicken Scratch Heart. On Aida, not Gingham!

This was a bit of a rollercoaster project for me: high ups and low downs :)

Do you ever have ideas in your head and then try so hard to make it happen only to have it turn out entirely different?! This happens to me all the time! Some turn into Happy Accidents ;) Others, like, this are just, well, Disappointments. At least at first, anyway. I finished my heart that same stormy night, and wasn't satisfied with it at all.

But my Stitchy Guru Mother wisely suggested that I wait until morning and look at it in the sunlight, and since then it's growing on me :) What do you think?!

If you'd like to learn more about Chicken Scratch, here are some places to visit:

~ Here's a beautiful example of a vintage apron;
~ Nordic Needle's Save The Stitches has a nice overview, with a free scaredy cat pattern that would be spooky for Hallowe'en stitched in black thread on orange;
~ Mary Corbet has several posts on Needle N' Thread, including a related tutorial for drawn thread work on gingham. But my favourite is this one, showing Christmas trees! And there is a a free design for a lovely tree on!;
~ Pink Paper Peppermints has an excellent tutorial and free cozy cottage pattern, with a great printable stitch guide! Evidently, Double Cross Stitch is also called Snowflake Stitch, which must be why Chicken Scratch is also called Snowflaking :)

And finally, here's a really pretty non-traditional take using sequins and seedbeads!

Many thanks again to Karen for the inspiration! Fine crochet is coming up next ;)