Friday, September 29, 2017

Tough Choices when Designing Your Stitching

Harmony with Nature Casket - Left Side for the casket bottom and the frieze top
Often a teacher just shows the final project and it looks so well thought out and I get lots of comments about the ripping and the 'I can'ts' from my students.  This is common when working the Cabinet of Curiosities as the pieces are mainly original and thus so difficult to visualize and make choices.

So I thought I would pull the curtain back and show some of the hand wringing that went on when getting this latest Harmony with Nature Casket panel done.

I had a reasonably clear vision of the center of the cartouche, the stag was to be raised and everything else inside the oval should be low relief.  It is somewhat easier when dealing with motifs that are 'something'.  A cloud isn't likely to be stitched in red, so choices get a bit smaller.  But the outside of the piece, that could be ANYTHING.  I had studied many worked pieces of this designer (John Nelham, a long story on that conclusion) and noted that often the cartouche motif was outlined in a thick silk rococo in either cream, yellow or light blue.  It does a nice job of unifing areas that are filled with highly textural threads and defining the shape.  So off to getting it manufactured (a 2.5 year job with a few yards rushed to me just in time to work this piece!)

Putting the border around the cartouche
Silk purls in pastel colors around the edge
I studied many pictures and found several different ways to treat the ovals.  There are the silk covered parchment that is folded and stitched down in overlapping layers.  Then there are silk covered purls layered around the oval.  And one I really love off a piece at the V&A, silk covered plate that is crenelated and stitched down offset so the pattern of the hills and valleys are in a brick pattern.

Since this is a really small oval, the parchment idea is out of scale.  So I thought I would try the silk purls in the tiny size that I now have.  I had seen a version that used pastel colors instead of all greens and I loved it.  So off to work padding it and cutting little silk purls.
Well it wasn't until I got about 1/3 around the piece that standing back from it - I HATED it.  I couldn't quite put my finger on why and knowing how much work was in it, I didn't want to immediately rip it out.  And I was on a tight deadline staying up to 1am most nights trying to get it and instructions done as I had been out of the country most of the month.

I reverted to working on other areas more as sometimes the choices there will help make something really not work or lessen its impact. Finally it hit me what was wrong.  I had decided to work the order of blue-pink-green-purple-yellow and then repeat.  It was the purple.  Purple on its own is great, but it was the addition of purple right next to the yellow that was the problem.  The color mixing of the adjacent colors was making the purple/yellow look muddy and not the clear pastel look I was going for.  Crud.  If I was to take out the purple or yellow, I would have to rip it all out and I was running out of time.
Trying ideas on the side

So how about the other idea?  Using the crenelated silk covered plate to fill the oval?  I could use the new green one in the Frostings box as well as some of the nice striped cordon we have.  It would be super fast to couch it down around the oval and would compliment what I have planned for the top (its a secret...).  If I was going to have to waste all that careful placement of the silk purls by ripping them out - at least I could recover time with the fast filling of those group.  So I tacked some of it in place and did what I normally do - prop the frame on a table against a lamp across the room and walk around cleaning - getting glances at it from different distances.

Disappointment.  While I really loved the look of the treatment, it was too skimpy in this size of oval.  The cream silk rococo border took up visual space and the dark interior was just too thin to compliment the heavy motifs of the rest of the cartouche.  If it was just an 1/8" or so wider it would be fine.  That is why the silk purls looked so good - the 'weight' of them made it like you were looking into the oval the way I had envisioned it.  But I hated the brown tinge.

But I knew well enough from years of experience that I should continue the rest of the piece and not take it out until I was super-duper sure that it wasn't going to work.  What if the colors I chose for the rest of the piece dominated and 'brightened' the oval.  Maybe I would decide that I needed to abandon the pastels all together at the end and do it in greens/yellows like we often see.  So I pushed on, disgusted by my stupid choices (you really beat yourself at midnight when working on a deadline!).  And honestly if I wasn't on a deadline it would still be sitting there by my work table half done like I hear from so many of you when you run into a problem.

Trying to do something new in the side motif
So to fill the side motif, I wanted to do something I had seen on a lovely mirror at the MET that has similar shapes.  The silk purls are laid down and couched over the side to fill areas and the veins were worked in loops.  So I got to work.  The idea was to fill the bottom with dark green and shade each segment towards the moss green.  Quickly I didn't like it and I also thought it was difficult and fussy.  Would the students have success if I was having a challenge myself in estimating each cut?

So again, I abandoned this side and lucky there is another motif of this type mirrored on the other side!  Leave the work in and try another idea on the other side and compare the two from afar.  I did what we have seen done most often, ignore the vein lines and overlap the silk purls to splay them.  Now I was honestly a bit disappointed - not in the look, because it looks great - but in the 'creativity aspect'.  This box has the same cartouche on each side and there needs to be some amount of sameness in the treatment so they relate in a nice overall look to the box and it focuses the attention to the center of the oval.  So by choosing this treatment, I was going to end up doing eight just like it. Sniff.  Not so out of the box as I was hoping.  But right for the piece I would have to say.

More successful
So back to the other side and ripping out of the vein example and matching the left.  So that left me with the petalled motif at the 45 degree points and the oval to figure out.  I looked at the piece from afar and it was obvious to me that the one color in the palette that wasn't used much was blue.  So I tried it and admit that I bounced around a lot between the 0072 and the 0277 color.  Dark or Light, Dark or Light?

I settled on the lighter version of it and stitched them all.  All of a sudden the blue brightened up the piece.  But I was left with it feeling a bit flat in that area.  I might need to add to the petals.  I had originally been thinking of filling it with something textural and with the blue color limiting my choices of thread I defaulted to satin stitch - somewhat because of time pressure too.  Given more time I might have made the mistake of outlining it in the cream rococo as well to put in something more loopy like the silk soutache.  But that hooked rug look might not have been so crisp as it needed next to the loop look of the oval with the silk purls.

Hey - that blue makes everything look a bit better!
It was at this point that I had to go back to working the oval.  To rip or not to rip.  I think my husband was super tired of hearing me say that it looked muddy (before the blue).  And honestly he is not my go to guy for design advice.  (Please stop wearing navy with black!!).   But my oldest boy is.  He is the one who is torn between industrial design and mechanical engineering as a career.  He is the 'engineer' chosen by the art department to go to Art All State - something he was terribly embarrassed about because he isn't choosing to go to art school.

So I said, David - should I rip it out or not and get rid of the purple?  And what did he say?  "No. It looks from here like a wreath of tiny flowers laid around the oval.  It's ok mom"

Done.  The master has spoken.  We jointly decided to emphasize the blue a bit more by making it complex by adding needlelace petals in gilt sylke twist in the darker color that I had been torn between.  So both got on it, that made the blue more layered and the glint brought the eye out to the bright part from the muddy purple.

The piece almost done with the contrast between the satin stitched blue petaled sides and the ones with the needlelace petals added in the darker blue.  There is just something about the shadows that really add to the piece as well.  It makes the oval go from standing out to being part of a whole ring of dimensional parts.

I actually really like it all now.

So that is my background story to how some of these pieces get made.  You start with some loose ideas and feelings you are going for.  Pictures of pieces you like.  And you just plow through the hard decisions, sometimes trying more than one idea and often you just need to post a picture and say "is this ok??".

Now the antlers.  If anyone recalls in the Stumpwork instructions for COC 2.  You might recall TWO sets of antlers.  Yup.  I made two complete ones in different techniques.  They are sitting in a box waiting someday for the perfect need for them on another piece.  Ha ha.

It is funny, in engineering we celebrate these failures as a necessary part of getting to the right answer.  But women in handwork abuse themselves verbally about making a mistake.  About not being perfect.  About being stupid to not see the answer the first time.  We got to get out of that mindset as it is keeping us all back from creating.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Have Embroidery, Will Travel

Stitching on the train from Italy to Austria - my pocket full of euro coins.
Sometimes when you are under a deadline, you have to do what you have to do.  In August I was under a huge deadline with a full side of a double casket plus the side of a short flat casket to get done except I was to be out of the country for over three weeks.  So the tent stitch one went with me.

A bit bulky was this smaller slate frame and you can imagine peoples faces when I pulled it out everywhere from Greece beaches to the airplane home.  But anywhere I could get a few stitches in was less late nights when I got home.

I have been looking at the 'stitching schedule' (I am trying to complete two full caskets in about 18
months) for other bottleneck points like this and see where I can work ahead a bit so I don't have to drag a big bag across planes, trains and automobiles to get stuff done!

Does make for some interesting photos.  They are kinda like a needleworkers version of those photos of the woman holding her husband's hand looking forward in exotic places in the world.  They are a Russian couple who started doing it and then it became a 'thing' which has been parodied on commercials.  He is a photographer and she looks like a model.

Well these are my photos of the world seen over the top of a slate frame.  And it looks more elegant than it was.  While I love travel, my husband is a junky and wants to eek out every last experience out of every minute we have - and that means doing quite a bit low budget things and we have never, ever taken a tour where someone else plans it for you (what nirvana).  So there were nine low cost flights involved - cattle cars with no magazine racks.  One plane I got on - I swear it was from the 1960s, renovated.  No - I know it was from the 1960s.  Sitting in airports on the floor with no air conditioning waiting for the doors to open and people to rush the plane to try to get seats - and I was hauling this huge (I can't believe they didn't make me check it) bag with a slate frame in it.  Now that I am approaching the end of my third decade doing this with him, I have my standards.  I will no longer wash my underwear in a sink.  Drying damp socks on my feet - jettisoned that in my 20s.  And I draw my line around coin-operated showers.  This time, we had to drop off a rental car at the airport and take a train out of the train station.  The night before, as we were reviewing again how to get from the airport to the train station, we saw a notice that the airport had been abandoned and lost its license.  WHAT?  Yes, the rental car place confirmed that and that their office wasn't open but we were to abandon the car there. Now how to get out of there at 8 am on a Sunday???  So he dropped us and luggage at the train.  He went there early with a plan to walk to a bus stop and if it didn't show up at the right time (we had someone translate from the Italian for us), he had 45 minutes to walk a few miles to the train station.  No taxis at an abandoned airport.  It got a bit more complicated as that morning we needed more cash to fill the car - in mountains and no gas stations open so you had to feed cash into the pump - no credit cards accepted at these old pumps.  So to make it more fun for us - our bank (and we and the manager still can't get an answer on why) shut down all our bank accounts.  Every card rejected.  Calls to the USA - 3 am their time on a Sunday.  Call back on Monday please.  But I need money!!  So all the cash went into the gas tank.  And then I was to try to figure out the cash problem while he maybe walked to the train station.  Too small of a town - no exchange office for my emergency dollars stash.  Then the unthinkable happened.  Me and the kids needed to pee.  Of course there was an attendant at the train station bathroom.  3 euros please.  I don't have 3 euros in cash.  Phone calls to VISA - wasn't there a pin set up a decade ago???  Finally cash.  Now the guy doesn't have change for a 20 euro note.  Trudge back up stairs and stand in line at cappuccino stand behind chatty Italians with a kid crossing his legs.   10 minutes to buy a bottle of water and get coins.  Phew - that was a complicated trip to the bathroom! And that is the story behind that picture of the embroidery on the train -- kinda needed those relaxing stitches at that point.

Last year I started this casket on vacation overseas too and I have a some pictures of myself working it in some exotic locations and some equally crazy stories.  It might be the best traveled casket before it is even finished.  I might need to put some of these pictures in a little book in a drawer to tell the story of the piece and I might just write down some of the travel mis-adventures that it saw along the way.  I might have to get a little ribbon custom woven like the one in Janet's casket - "This Casket Has Been Everywhere".

As I have dragged a piece of embroidery or appliqué quilt work around with me since we started traveling, there are quite a few stories to go with the embroideries and quilts in my house.  There are two samplers I did on my first backpacking adventure and my honeymoon.  I designed as I went.  In one situation in the Czechoslovakia region, my husband's job was to divert the attention of the B&B owner's son who resembled Frankenstein while I furiously charted the motif off a pair of cross-stitched curtains on my one ragged piece of graph paper I was carrying for this purpose.  Every time I look at the sampler I laugh at that adventure.  Just like the line that represents the restaurant I insisted on eating in that we passed in the Austrian alps.  Through the window I could see the faded cross stitched table cloth with a great border I wanted for the sampler.  So I kept pushing the food plates out of the way as they were set down to get that last repeat on my paper.  The day everything we owned was stolen behind the iron curtain on our honeymoon, I had decided to carry the in-process sampler in my day bag to use it to communicate in the hunt for new motifs and the needles I was running low on.  Now it sits framed on my wall - a tangible representation of the "For Better and Worse" part of our vows taken only days before.

Our Swedish friends we visit yearly were here recently and one of them exclaimed when they saw all the quilts on the walls as they remember me working on the appliqué blocks on each one of them as we traveled together for the last decade.  Nice to see what they turned into they said.   I am sure they will love the finished casket as that one has them scratching their heads, seeing two pieces of it grow in front of them so far.  And I know it won't be finished next summer either....


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Janet's Casket Goes Traveling

So last week, there was a very special visit in Boston of Janet Brandt and her amazing casket!  Janet contacted me months ago to let me know she was going to be on the East Coast for a family event and would I like to see her casket.


So we went a step farther than just having a lovely private meeting - I organized a great day.  First we would visit the staff in the Textile Department of the MFA and show them the casket and have them show Janet some of the yummy ones they own.  Then we would come back to my place and I sent out invitations to all the COC students in the adjoining states (about a 1-2 hour drive) and see if any of them would like to join us.  So we had viewing party for several hours.

Showing the casket to an adoring audience.
Janet's husband Chris decided to take a video of Janet explaining her casket and the design to everyone at the MFA and he has posted it on YouTube for those of you who weren't there.  Now you might have to go back and forth to her previous video to see the sides up close or her blog, but you can hear Janet for the first time explain the entire story of the Land of Possibilities and the objects in the casket.  It was MIND BLOWING.  We had such a good time with her original storyline and then were amazed to hear that the panel on the back is the introduction to the next story... as Janet has two children to pass her art to and there is another one to be made.

I know it is long - about 25 minutes - but if you are the type that would have loved to have been there or a fly on the wall - you can be.  The first few minutes where she explains the outside is really the best as it tells all of what we have missed.

It was a good day and made all the work on the course worth it.


The front door of the casket

This is the secret drawer in the pincushion.  If you didn't realize the answer to the question 'how
long did this take by then..."  We all laughed and laughed!

The small corner of one side - look at the work on that castle!

We added many other objects around the room for people to enjoy and look at as well.

COC student Kim Mitchell's daughter Arilyn is a harpist and offered to add music to our gathering -
it was amazing.  She is a mind-blowing musician and we enjoyed her expertise in our midst.

The house was open for houses with waves of people stopping by for a look

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Choices when Stitching

Last month while on vacation, I was working on my stitch-along panel and realized that I was making a series of natural choices that resulted in the piece looking a great deal like an unfinished panel I had seen before.

Partially finished panel for Five Senses Tent Stitch Casket
What hit me was that I had made many of the easy choices first.  It was obvious that the clouds would be the same cream colors I had used in the friezes.  And the sun in yellows.  The sky is blue and then an iris is either purple or blue - blue being harder as there is so much sky.  So it was the easy choices that I chose to do and stitch.  The bug, lady and snail have many more choices so I kept putting it off, letting the easy choices help me visually realize what colors were missing or out of balance.  

Then I return to looking at this piece of embroidery and think about how the person approached the piece, it was much easier to think about the ground, animals and flowers which had far fewer choices for each and would allow progress to go forward before the more open ended figures and canopy was attacked.  This is almost counterintuitive as in many embroideries, you start with the main elements and work out to the supporting elements.  But when faced with making the color decisions yourself with a piece piece that only has black and while outlines on it -- it is far easier to work in this reverse.

And once you have this much completed it becomes much easier to push yourself to commit to a choice and get working on the harder elements - because it is almost already half done!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Website - Take care Floridians and our Caribbean friends!!

Just a note to let everyone know that the class website - - is hosted on servers in Florida in the path of Irma.  I expect that over the weekend and early next week that the site will likely go down for some period of time.  Hopefully just short - which would mean things aren't bad for the people local to the site.

My 'system' is hosted by several different providers around the country- so the NING site is separate from the blog, the teaching site and the shop site.  As far as I know - the teaching site is the only one in jeopardy and we are taking steps to back it all up right now in case of the worst.  Our server farm provider has already alerted us to their plans for the hurricane.

So if you haven't downloaded your lessons this month and you have time tomorrow - take advantage of it and grab a few pages to enjoy.  If things go down - it might take a bit for it to come up again or for me to get the site re-hosted and the domain rerouted to new servers.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Small Running of the Lacet Peacock Class

If you weren't able to take the Lacet Peacock Class last year because one of the colors had run out, I got a new manufacturing run of the blue (277) lacet and now can run it again.  But of course, the yellow ran out so I was only able to make up 38 kits.  Hopefully we can get some more of that made!

There are 18 spots left - I hadn't even promoted it yet and people found the class available.  So if you want to join in to make this little wonder, it is a 2-month class showing how to stitch together the flat braids to make the feathers for this peacock.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Janet Brandt's Casket Video

I am excited to say that I will be seeing Janet Brandt's casket in a week and I really can't wait!!  She will be in the area for an event and we are going to be taking full advantage of the time, with casketeers in the region invited already to join us.

So you don't feel left out - enjoy the video Janet made to celebrate the finishing of her casket.  It is quite the treat!